Chestnut Update

So… we’re still not at production yet, and that’s no surprise considering we do nothing to support the trees. Why the hands off approach? At EEC Forest Stewardship, we attempt to acclimatize all our plantings to the ecology of the land, without human inputs, beyond initial instillation. We know that this means we loose a lot of species and have a lower production rate, but in the long run, those that survive will be hardy and successful, if not on an industrial scale, on a small farmstead level which will offer us a wonderful harvest without the pressures of commercial expectations. Yes, this also means we will not ever be producing chestnuts for a larger community- feeding the people- so to speak, but that was never our intention with the nut trees. Our acreage cannot support a large nut orchard for commercial output. We are not in an ideal climate for that kind of production- right now. In future, with more hot, dry summers and colder snow heavy winters, we will most likely become a better ecosystem for chestnuts, and have planned ahead with our early plantings.

This year, 2021, we saw our first burrs on the nut trees. What excitement- our first chestnuts. Well, after waiting for the trees to shed their bounty, we were able to locate only one burr, with a sad shriveled nut in the middle. Still, we were excited to find a nut husk, and know that the trees are able to pollinate and produce. It being year five, we had hoped to see the start of decent production this year, but we were also aware of the drought, and no irrigation on the nut trees. This reality is part of what the chestnuts will have to adapt to, along with the rest of the forest, which is designed with temperate rainforest in mind. The good news is, even without irrigation, these young plantings are developing nicely, putting on added feet of height each year and spreading out beautiful deciduous canopy to cover our back pasture in much needed cool shade in summer, and wonderful rich carbon with leaf littler in the Fall. Our long term vision is to finish a few pigs in this grove each year, letting the pigs enjoy most of the chestnut goodness, even the drought stricken ones we would pass up. The nuts are just an added bonus, and not a financial obligation we’ll rely on.

The livestock at EEC Forest Stewardship provide our main protein intake. Chestnuts are wonderful food, but not as predictable as sheep. The diversity of a small farm like ours thrives through all kinds of unpredictable change. When the droughts are prolonged, and plants struggle, sheep are also challenged with less pasture, but as the trees shut down nut production, the sheep will keep putting on meat as they graze, and our chosen breed, the Katahdins, are fodder to meat production experts- as in- they put on good weight gain even with minimal grazing opportunity. The chestnuts cannot adapt in the same way, but as they grow and mature in time, their roots will sink deeper into the ground until they find a better water source, and by the time they are great trees with expansive crowns full of nuts, we’ll have phased out sheep entirely, and welcome the nut production when it comes.

Waiting is not the way of our modern military industrial complex, but its the only way with land. Soil builds over thousands of years, and trees over a lifetime, but people have such a drive for instant gratification now, the natural world can’t keep up, and its not trying to. We attempt to dominate with chemical additives and mechanical conditioning, but we’re fooling ourselves with short term gains at the cost of long term viability, and its starting to show in agricultural production world wide. In much the same way civilization has put money ahead of health, happiness, and abundance, our misguided struggles to control have put us at great risk as a species, and we’re still not grasping the whole picture of this complex living system we’re a part of. By diversifying our vision beyond single shortsightedness, we can expand our understanding and cultivate abundance, offering stability instead of empty profits. All the money in the world cannot buy back our natural world, even with extensive restoration like those of EEC, we’re in for some great change, and as of now, humanity is unable to adapt to keep up.

We may not be able to see far down the road, but at least understanding the rhythms of the natural world helps us form a plan. The narrative of the chestnuts tells me there was little rain this year, that the trees are still young, and that we cannot expect a cash crop from our nut trees for at least another decade. That the trees are growing strait and tall with good branching is enough for now. The pasture they are establishing in continued to host our herd of Katahdin sheep, and there is room to plant more trees when we’re ready. A neighbor has been germinating chestnut seed from other established chestnuts in the area, and we’ve put a few of those in to mix up our genetics even more. To be clear- we’re introducing grafted verities that are resistant to Cryphonectria parasitica. The west coast has never played host to native chestnuts, but the climate is shifting quickly, and these new tolerant verities are folding into our cultivation plans well. Within a few more decades, we hope to have a vibrant nut tree population with abundant nut production.

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