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The Farm Log for the Year 2007

Farming can either be low risk with low return or it can be a high risk undertaking with little chance of recovery of the investment in time and money. The Washington Chestnut Company Farm is a high risk undertakeing because there are so few others are entering into the commercial chestnut production in the United States. This year we are proceeding with planting about 3 acres of chestnut trees.

Winter/Early Spring 2007

This year we selected trees from two different nurseries. For the second year in a row we have selected Burnt Ridge Nursery as our our primary provider of trees. The other nursery is Fowler Nurseries in Newcastle, California. Fowler Nurseries has been working with chestnut trees since the 1950's. Commercial growers have counted on Fowler Nurseries for consistant quality in nursery bred trees.

At the end of last year's log several suggestions for new growers was presented. One of those is so important it should be made again: Chestnut trees will not tollorate water saturated soil. This is so important there is now a web page dedicated to the subject: Wet Trees

chestnut tree leafing out
Here is an example of a soil saturated with water to the point that water is present in the hole. This soil is too wet for most types of chestnut trees. The nearby chestnut tree with the blue plastic protector has died. The small hole in this picture was created when a pine tree that had been blown over by a wind storm was pulled out of the ground.

When the chestnut tree was planted in the spring of 2006 the soil was not this wet. The area was known to be wetter than surounding soils. The experts were telling us chestnut trees will not tollorate clay soils. What we should have been told is "Chestnut trees do not perform well in most clay soils, but if the soil become saturated with water the tree is at risk of dying.". There are exceptions to this rule but most growers will confirm this finding.


Spring 2007

The new chestnut trees for planting this year arrived the last week of March and the first week of April. We started planting new trees into the orchard on March 29th. These trees are being planted in some our best "sandy loam" soils. Some of the trees are being planted in a type soil that transissions between the mineral soil (sandy loam) and peat soil. Of the 250+ trees planted 17 are planted in peat soil where winter flooding is common. Usually the nearby lake water level is is present over the soil in the months of November through Feburary for up to a week or two. This year March was very wet. We recieved about 5" of rain when in a near normal year it will rain about 2". The result was high water covering soils where we are planting new chestnut trees.

Soil ammendments were applied to the soils around the trees in mid-March. Ammendments included boron, copper, dolmite lime, urea, potassium sulfate, and ammonia nitrate. The process of determining the amount of each and the how and when was very labor intensive. Overall the experts were of little help. The local agronomy companies don't what to give time to a small time chestnut farmer since they have very big customers with big fields of corn, grass for forage, and berries. Of the ammendments only the boron could kill trees if applied at to high of rate. Nitrogen in the form of urea and ammonia nitrate can burn tree roots in the first year after transplanting. With soil and leaf analysis in hand we turned to information we could find from the internet and from the Western Chestnut Growers Association quarterly news letters from previous years. In a pioneer industry such as commercial chestnut production, one must be a true pioneer and figure things out for themselves.


Summer 2007

June was mostly cloudy, cool and wetter than normal. The effects on the trees appears to only cause slow growth. We lost about 5% of the newly planted trees. Most of these losses can be related to inadequate root structures on the new trees.

Experience with last years trees has demonstrated chestnut trees do not tolerate clay soils. Two Colossal trees planted this year in heavy soil were moved to peat soil the last week of June. The failure rate of newly planted chestnut trees in the peat soil is very low. Of the 75 trees planted, only one failed. By moving the two trees from the heavy soil to the peat soil, we are hoping to demonstrate the compatibility of chestnut trees in peat soil. A week after the moved the trees are starting to show new growth.

There are some more suprsies this year. There appear to be two varieties of chestnut trees tolerent of wet spring soils. In the sprint of 2006, 5 Precoce Migoule and 10 marival trees were planted in the orchard. All of these trees survived and are doing well. Nearly all the Colossal layered trees died the first year. None of the marival layered trees died. The Precoce Migoule seedlings did have two trees die just after being planted. These deaths can be attributed to weak plants at the time of transplanting. These two chestnut varieties, marival and Precoce Migoule appear to be tolerent of wet soil but will not perform in heavy soils. If you want to grow nuts in heavy soil then chestnuts are not a good choice, you could try hazelnuts.

The bloom of the chestnuts started the first week of July. Some of the trees in bloom have ants harvesting the pollen. We went to the local Ace Hardware store and bought a product called Tanglefoot. We applied it to the base of the trees with ants. We failed to remove an alternate path to the tree so the ants were still getting to the blooms. The alternate path has been removed and we hope the problem is solved.

July 11, today was the hotest day since record keeping on weather has been kept. The high today was 101 degrees F. at the farm. Bellingham airport sits on the edge of Bellingham Bay so it remains much cooler than the areas 8 or more miles away from the water. The official high temperature at the airport was 94 degrees, matching the warmest day ever recorded there. In the past 20 years the hottest most people remember was about 92 degrees F. Chestnut trees can take the heat. Some of the trees curled their leaves to help reduce transpiration of water. The soil still has lots of moisture 2-3" below the surface so there is no concern about lack of available moisture. There could be some concern for chestnut blight but the humidity was below 50%. Here in the Pacific Northwest when it gets very hot it also gets very dry. So chestnut blight is normally not a concern.

Leaf Analysis of Chestnut Leafs
This year we took leaf samples from two different fields based on the soil types the trees are growing in. The samples were taken on August 21, 2007 and sent to the lab for analysis. Here are the results of the analysis.

Leaf Analysis of Chestnut Leaf Samples - Mineral Soils
Component Results
Nitrogen (NO3) 3.16%
Sulfur 0.22%
Phosphorus 0.18%
Potassium 1.12%
Magnesium 0.26%
Calcium 1.74%
Zinc 60 ppm
Manganesse 1138 ppm
Iron 231 ppm
Copper 10 ppm
Boron 41 ppm

Leaf Analysis of Chestnut Leaf Sample - Organic/Peat Soil
Component Results
Nitrogen (NO3) 2.69%
Sulfur 0.24%
Phosphorus 0.16%
Potassium 0.83%
Magnesium 0.39%
Calcium 1.31%
Zinc 46 ppm
Manganesse 476 ppm
Iron 150 ppm
Copper 9 ppm
Boron 46 ppm

When these results are compared with the soil sample analysis there is a lack of correlation. With the peat soil, the expectations were that the nitrogen levels in the tree leafs would be higher than the leafs from the minerial based soil. Some background information can be helpful. The trees in the minerial based soil received about 1/2 of nitrogen per tree. The trees in the peat soil did not receive any nitrogen soil ammendments. Ammending the soil with nitrogen appeared to provide more available nitrogen than if the soil already contains sufficient nitrogen but may not have been as available. The root zone of a tree is very important when considering ammending the soil. Here is a short discussion of the root zone and root clusers of trees.

When growth patterns are compared one soil condition not present in any of these analysis is soil moisture. There is a chestnut tree in slightly damp minerial based soil, possibly because of a near by spring, that is performing much better than other trees 40' away. The grass around the tree is lush with green. The trees in the peat soil are performing just as well and they have a constant soil moisture that provides the trees with as much water as they want without the need for providing supplemental water.