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The Farm Log for the Year 2010

This year we have a few goals we would like to take on. In the order of importance these goals are:

1. Continue researching post harvest processing techniques to keep chestnuts at their best for up to 12 weeks without reducing the moisture content.

2. Start converting the Colossal chestnut trees to a better producing European chestnut tree for our growing conditions.

3. Establish pure American chestnut trees so we can provide grafted American chestnut trees. Grafted chestnut trees start producing chestnuts in just 2 years instead of the usual 4 - 7 years.

4. Design a proper soil ammendment plan based on the soil conditions and the specific needs of chestnut trees.

Considering the chanlenges of the weather here in Northwest Washington state, the chestnut trees will again find something they don't like that will need to be compensated for. These are called the suprises.

Late Winter 2010

The winter has been mostly mild. There is no sign of winter freeze damage on any of the chestnut trees. Rain and snow so far are about as normal as it gets for the Pacific Northwest. This year the plum trees are blooming about 2 or more weeks early. Locally, we had a kind of warm late January and most of February. The chestnut trees don't look like they will bud out any time soon (as of mid March). This is time of year we are putting the germinating chestnut seeds into pots to finish germinating. So far we are achieving about 96% germination rates once the seeds are placed in the pots. Our goal we set for ourselves this year was 80%. Last year we had less than 50%. The germination problems we had in the past were almost all self induced. Here is a list of some of the problems.

1. Some of the chestnut seeds froze
2. The chestnuts were placed in peat moss instead of long fiber moss
3. Some chestnuts were placed in a hot water bath to try to reduce problems with seeds rotting
4. Chestnuts were placed in sealed plastic bags

So far we have over 1000 chestnut seedlings in the greenhouse. About 80% of these are European hybrid chestnut trees. The remaining 20% are American chestnut trees. We have about 2000 American chestnut tree seeds starting to germinate. These seeds will be placing into seed beds in about 2 weeks. The trees will remain in the seed beds until fall. Trees that make the grade will be moved in the fall to a new location with more spacing to allow them to grow to 4 - 6 feet by the end of the second growing season.

Spring 2010

Spring weather started out looking good. That was for March and the first half April. Since April 15 we have had only 3 nice warm days. The end of May has cloudy wet weather with long range forecasts keeping the same weather in place until at least the 10th of June. Lets hope the weather turns for the better because chestnuts need nice weather during the bloom period. In 2008 the weather was to cool for the chestnuts to successfully pollinate. The day time high temps were below 60 degrees for the entire bloom period. The experts at the big state universities had not seen this problem before. Since we are one of the only commercial chestnut orchards this far north there are going to be a lot of problems not encountered on commercial chestnut orchards.

The chestnut trees started this year in the greenhouse are ready for the field. The seedlings will be transplanted starting the first week in June. The trees to be placed in the field are removed from the greenhouse about a week before transplanting to harden them off. Since there is no more frosts at night this harding off period may not server any purpose other than to open up some room in the greenhouse. The seedlings will remain in the field until this fall when they will be available for sale. Research performed by researchers on the state university farms has demonstrated that it is better to transplant trees in the fall once they go dormant instead of waiting for the following spring. This is dependent on your location. If the ground freezes and stays frozen all winter then it is better to wait until the ground thaws in the spring.

Mid Summer 2010

Chestnut burrs on the chestnut trees are starting to get big. It will still be about 6 weeks before the first chestnuts drop. Nut set looks very good. The weather during the pollenation period was as good as we can expect here in NW Washington state. We had many days where the day time high temperature was above 70 degrees F. In addition, our soil moisture has remained high enough that we have not applied water to the orchard.

This year, for the first time, we are attempting to summer bud graft chestnut trees. There are about 20 seedling trees that are available for grafting, left overs from last year's starts. We also have about 100 seedling trees started this spring that are big enough to graft. The seedlings from last year were bud grafted and the grafting went just like the text books say. The seedlings from this year could not be bud grafted because the bark could not be seperated from the cambian layer of the tree. The lesson learned here is that if you want to bud graft chestnut trees you have to wait until Auguest of the second growing season to bud graft.

Late Fall 2010

The poor spring weather noted above resulted in a poor harvest. We were expecting over 1000 lbs this year. Instead the harvest was a little over 100 lbs. We sold less than 30 lbs and packed the rest away for starting new trees. Some chestnut tree cultivars faired better than others. The best performing cultivar this year was the Bisalta #3 trees. This was followed by Belle Epine (lots of nuts but size was a little smaller than normal). The rest of the chestnut cultivars had far fewer nuts with almost all the nuts having blank kernels. An attempt was made to try to forecast production for the orchard. Using a random sampling of trees along with counting the burrs on each tree initial estimates were a harvest of about 1400 . 1600 lbs. This was so far off from the actual harvest the forecast method will have to be modified to try to adjust for poor weather conditions.

The goals we started with this year provided excellent guidance in focusing our energies into positive outcomes even with the poor harvest. Our first goal was to research post harvesting processing techniques to keep the chestnuts at their best. As of the end of fall (December 20 . 10 weeks post harvest) the test group shows no molds/fungus present and a few chestnuts were cooked and evaluated for taste, texture, and flavor. The evaluation provided the tasters with a very high quality chestnut with only a small degradation in texture. We feel we have exceeded our post harvest goal while also keeping environmental impact to an absolute minimum.

The conversion of the Colossal chestnut trees to a different higher quality European cultivar did not go so well. The poor spring weather did not provide days with daytime temperatures high enough for graft until the second week of July. This did provide an excellent opportunity to evaluate a few different grafting techniques on chestnut trees. The evaluation had 150 grafts in it split between cleft grafting on last years wood, cleft grafting on current years growth, and bark grafting. The evaluation showed the cleft grafting method provided the highest percentage of takes with the most vigorous growth. If you are planning to graft chestnut trees consider using the cleft grafting technique.

Aside from the poor weather setbacks an additional setback was experienced in the starting of new trees from seed. The new trees were dying from the roots with random distribution among the trees being started. With the help of Dr. Fulbright the most likely cause was the potting soil used with the new trees in the pots. A soil analysis was performed and here are the results:

TestResultsOptimum Range
pH:4.65.5 . 6.8
NO3-N ppm:21370 . 200
NH4-N ppm:550 . 100
PO4-P ppm:1315 . 25
Potassium ppm:160100 . 150
Magnesium ppm:13470 . 150
Calcium ppm:309100 . 200
Sodium ppm:4650 . 80

Of these results the pH level is the likely cause of the deaths of the seedlings. The proper target for pH for seedlings should be no lower than 5.5 and no higher than 6.7. Since discovering the problem in June a new potting soil (bedding plant mix) has been select for using in the new trees for 2011. Our goals for 2011 will include increasing the survival rates of the seedlings to greater than 90%.