The U.S. is the only
country in the world that can grow chestnuts that does not have a large
commercial chestnut industry. The U.S. imports $20 million of chestnuts yearly
because there are fewer than 2,500 acres of chestnut orchards in the U.S. It
would take 10,000 acres of producing chestnut orchards to supply what we
LARGE MARKET POTENTIAL
American-grown nuts can
reach the market sooner, fresher, and bring a higher price than imports, which
are often low in quality, often because grocers do not know how to handle them
and the nuts spoil at room temperatures. U.S. consumption is less than 1 ounce
per person per year, but 1 pound per capita in Europe and 2 pounds in Asia. It
would take 120,000 acres of chestnut orchards to supply U.S. consumption at
European levels, and create a $300 million new agricultural industry for
America! Growers who produce high quality chestnuts in America will have a
virtually unlimited market available to them for many years to come.
VERY PROFITABLE ORCHARD
can be a very profitable crop. They begin to bear in only 3-5 years, and by 10
years can produce as much as 10-20 lbs/tree. At maturity (15-20 years)
they can produce as much as 50-100 lbs/tree or up to 2,000-3,000 lbs/acre each
year. Wholesale prices for large, high quality chestnuts are $3.00-5.00/lb, and
higher for organically grown chestnuts. Retail prices range from $3-10.00/lb.
This is a superior return to pecans, hazelnuts and many other tree crops!
of our orchardists grows his crop organically and harvests 16,000 lbs on 10
acres, selling them to Whole Foods for $6.00/lb on average.That is a nice return for a small orchard and
seasonal work to harvest and ship!
HOW TO ORCHARD
following guidelines will help you understand all of the process of setting up
and operating a commercial chestnut orchard. REMEMBER THAT THIS IS FARMING! There are no guarantees, and you will get out of the orchard what you
put into it. The following information
will give you guidelines to choose the right location, establish your trees and
take your crop to market.
CLIMATE and RANGE
Use the link below to plug in the zip code where you will be planting for specific plant zone.
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map Link
can be grown in Zones 5-9 from southern New England and New York west to
southern Michigan, south to eastern Texas and north Florida. Try to avoid planting in Zone 4. Chestnuts need
at least 100 frost free days from flowering until harvest to fully ripen the
nuts. Chestnuts flower in May in the
deep South, and not until July in northern areas. Chestnuts can survive average minimum lows of
-20F when fully dormant, but can be damaged by early fall and late spring
freezes. Grow tubes and snow pack helps
young trees survive extreme cold, such as the winter of 2014 (the coldest
winter in 30 years).
you want to grow chestnuts commercially, it is better to look for the right
piece of land than try to force the trees to grow in a poor location. If your land does not fit
the descriptions below, you will face problems with tree growth and production.
Pick a location with good soil drainage and good air
drainage such as on the top or side of a hill, to avoid frost pockets where
cold air or late frosts settle at the bottoms of valleys. Avoid areas
with soil that stays saturated for long periods of time, such as creek bottoms or
low areas that stay saturated during snow melt in spring. Areas that are too steep may be hard to
harvest with machinery.
Chestnuts prefer a well-drained sandy to clay loam with a pH
of 5.0-7.0, but will grow in other soils. Avoid heavy clay and wet soils with a high
water table or that stay saturated for long periods of time.
Look at the trees on the surrounding property. If the land supports large oak and hickory trees
naturally, it should be good for chestnuts. If the native vegetation is poor
(unless the land was recently logged), look elsewhere.
the information HERE for a complete description on how to plant and grow.
is insurance. If you do not have
irrigation, you cannot expect to get good growth of the trees as quickly or
consistent crops of nuts. Water is the
limiting factor for most tree growth, and if the year you plant is a drought
year, your trees will struggle and may not live without adequate
irrigation. If they are stressed at the
beginning, they may never fully recover and grow into strong healthy
trees. Irrigation eliminates many (but
not all) of these risks. It is
inexpensive and easy to install, and readily available at Irrigation Supply
stores such as John Deere Landscape stores. We strongly recommend using an irrigation system in your orchard.
Tubes offer many benefits in the growth and establishment of young trees. Read more about Grow Tubes HERE. We recommend their use as an important part
of establishing and protecting your orchard.
PROTECTING YOUR ORCHARD
especially deer, love to eat chestnut nuts and leaves and rub the velvet off
their antlers on young trees. Grow tubes
help protect against deer browsing and killing the young trees with their
antlers, as well as protect against rodents and rabbits chewing on the trunks,
especially during winter when food is scarce. However, if nut predation is
severe, it may be necessary to fence your orchard. An 8’ metal deer fence is expensive,
especially on large orchards. A very
effective alternative is a 3 wire electric fence, developed by Dr. James Kroll
of Stephen F. Austin University in TX as a method to exclude deer from
plantings. Click HERE for more
is essential to provide sufficient fertilizer to push trees into growing as
rapidly as possible and to make up for deficiencies in soil fertility on your
land. At Spring planting we recommend
time-release Scotts Osmocote or a similar fertilizer with a broad spectrum of
micro-nutrients. Once the trees are
established your local County Agent can analyze soil tests and determine the
best fertilizer regime for continued growth. Do not use standard agricultural fertilizer at planting as it may burn
the young roots.
and weeds are the biggest competitor for water and nutrients with a young tree
trying to get established. Weed control
is essential to orchard establishment. We recommend weed mats, and the careful use of herbicide such as Roundup
(Glyphosate). Roundup can kill young
trees even through the bark, so you must protect the trees with Grow Tubes or a
shield during application. For additional information click HERE.
chestnuts can bring as much as 50% higher prices than non-organic, in part
because all imported nuts into the U.S. must be fumigated during importation,
so no imported nuts can be labeled organic. Specialty health food grocers are very
interested in purchasing American-grown organic chestnuts.
growing organically is not easy. It is
difficult to provide enough nutrients, especially Nitrogen, organically. It requires much more work and expense. There are some good alternative sources of
organic fertilizers such as Fertrell and worm casting tea, but fish emulsion,
bone meal, blood meal, kelp products and other sources may not provide
sufficient nutrients and the growth of the trees may suffer.
other problem is if your orchard is infested with Chestnut Weevil. At present there is no organic spray to
combat this. Many areas in the east have
weevils, especially if there are old Chinese chestnut trees growing in the area
(common in Appalachia).
you are interested in organic growing, we recommend using traditional chemical
fertilizers in the first 3-5 years to push your trees and grow them as large as
possible, and then transition to organic production (3 years chemical free is
required to be Certified Organic) as the trees begin to bear.
will require additional research to learn the best ways to grow your trees
organically and may be possible if you are in a pest-free area.
Chestnuts can get large, as much as 60’ tall and 40’ wide. We recommend a 30’x30’ (54 trees per acre) or 40’x40’ (25 trees per acre) spacing for planting. Chestnuts
bear on the outer growth each year, and so maximizing sunlight around the tree
increases overall production. If the trees are planted closer (20’x20’), it
will increase early nut production but the trees will crowd out and production
will only occur at the top of the trees (15+ years). The orchard will need to be thinned, or trees
will need to be radically pruned to keep them on this spacing.
GRAFTED VS SEEDLING
orchard crops are planted with grafted (cloned) trees of particular
varieties. However, chestnuts, due to
several reasons, do not graft well, and in particular, grafted trees suffer
high mortality rates in the first few years after planting. This is due to latent graft incompatibility
between rootstock and scion, and is more severe in northern states (sometimes
as much as 50-90% loss) than in less stressful environments. Because of this we no longer sell grafted
trees. Grafting may work when young
seedling rootstock are established in the field and then grafted in place after
1-2 years. However, for best results, the seedlings must be grown from nuts
harvested from the particular varieties that you want to use to graft (and even
this does not always stop incompatibility).
Dunstan Chestnut trees are grown from seed harvested from an orchard of grafted
trees of our largest nutted varieties all inter-pollinating each other, and we
plant only the largest nuts. Chestnuts
are affected by metazenia, in which the nut size of the male pollen parent
determines the nut size of tree grown from nuts planted from these trees.
35 years we have learned that our Dunstan trees bear consistently good-sized
nuts, averaging 20-35/lb, which brings the highest prices in the market. This has been proven by many of our growers
who planted these same trees. We believe
it is better to have trees bearing large but sometimes variable nut
sizes than to have dead trees in the orchard from graft incompatibility.
is important to have a grass cover in the orchard under the trees that can be
mowed close to allow for easy harvest. Finish mowers or flail mowers are used
that mow closer than Bush-hog style rotary mowers, and grass species should be
chosen that have low growing profiles. Your local County Agent can make
recommendations of different types available for your region.
along the rows of trees on both sides can be kept clean with herbicides such as
Roundup and pre-emergent herbicides to keep weed seed from sprouting, or the
areas under the trees can be covered with nursery ground cloth (weed mats) for
the area you are planting was not in field agriculture before (that has been
plowed regularly and is relatively smooth), you will need to remove stumps and
level the surface by plowing first as much as possible so that when grass is
established it will be on a smooth surface that can be mowed for harvest.
are grown in a central leader form, with the main trunk growing straight and
branching beginning high enough off the ground to be able to mow and allow
machinery access underneath (6’+). Getting hit by a low hanging branch with a chestnut burr while mowing is
not pleasant! The trees grow in the
pattern somewhat naturally, but some limited pruning to remove branches that
get crossed or hang down may be necessary. Do not over prune – they are not like peaches that require annual
have relatively few pests and require spraying only for Chestnut Weevil. Grasshoppers can be a problem in orchard
establishment but can be controlled by keeping the orchard floor mowed – they
like old field situations.
Beetles can be a severe problem in certain areas. Click HERE for USDA recommendations on
Chestnut Gall Wasp – introduced by accident on
budwood brought in illegally from China, this small wasp lays its egg in the
growing shoots of the tree, causing a red colored gall to form and contorts the
growth of the shoots. It can
dramatically affection nut production. However, there is a predator wasp of the
native Oak Gall Wasp that also preys on Chestnut Gall Wasp, and the population
rise in Chestnut Gall Wasp usually triggers a rise in the predator wasp, and eventually
the Chestnut Gall Wasp population declines and gets back into ecological
balance. For more information click HERE.
best prevention is to never buy trees from nurseries that are in Gall Wasp
territory (essentially all of the eastern U.S. except Florida). You cannot tell if budwood or trees are
infected because the larvae are microscopic and not visible to the eye.
Chestnut Weevil – this pest is spread throughout
much of the eastern U.S. It is a small
insect that lays its egg in the forming nuts on the tree, resulting in a worm
inside the nut. The nuts fall to the
ground, the worms crawl out of the nut and burrow underground, emerging the
next summer as adults to repeat the cycle. Prevention is by spraying an insecticide (such as Sevin) during adult
emergence, usually 1-2 sprays in August across most of the nation, and clean
harvesting the orchard to break the cycle. Wormy nuts are separated in post harvest treatment (see below). These prevention techniques are very
effective unless there are old trees nearby that are not treated and serve as a
reservoir for re-infection. For more information click HERE.
Ambrosia Beetles - Ambrosia beetles were introduced
into the Southeastern United States from Asia. Although it is still
primarily a southeastern pest, the beetle is spreading into other areas.
They are rarely seen because
of their small size and the fact that they spend most of their lives
Most ambrosia beetles attack weakened, injured or
dying trees and shrubs. Some attach fresh-cut wood as well. A few
species attack apparently healthy trees and shrubs.
The first signs of damage by this beetle are fading or wilting of the
foliage on the terminals of infested twigs and branches. Close
inspection will reveal the presence of a tiny entry hole on the
underside of the affected branch.
The symptoms of an infestation and granulate ambrosia beetle damage are
unmistakable. As the female beetle tunnels, strands of boring dust,
which look like toothpicks, extend from the tree. Young trees infested
with the beetles usually die, but older trees may survive.
These beetles carry a fungus in their
mandibles with which they inoculate the trees they infest. The larvae
feeds on the fungus colonies, and it’s the fungus that is usually fatal
to the tree.
Ambrosia beetles sometimes attack healthy trees, but they
are especially attracted to trees suffering from stress. The insects
enter at sites with damaged bark. Most ambrosia beetle
prevention begins with reducing stress associated with trees.
Prevent stress as much as possible by watering the tree deeply during
dry spells and keeping it on a schedule of regular fertilization as
recommended for the species. Remove and destroy severely infested trees
to prevent the infestation from spreading.
attack by this beetle occurs in the spring. The first major adult is in
mid-to late-February when temperatures exceed 65F.
As the female bores into the wood, a thin, toothpick-like strand of
sawdust is pushed from the tunnel. This may extend an inch or more from
the surface of the bark. While the females prefer to attack stems under
three inches in diameter they will attack stems up to eight inches in
diameter. The entry hole is about 2 mm in diameter. The tunnel goes
straight into the heartwood and then opens into a cave-like brood
gallery with one or two side galleries.
major emergence of females occurs in early spring. Host plants may be heavily attacked at this
time. If the host is vigorous enough, the beetles may be drowned or
forced out by heavy sap flow. If the host is weak or not producing large
amounts of sap, the attack will be successful.
Sprays that contain pyrethroids are effective at preventing ambrosia
beetles from entering a tree. Use the spray according to the label
instructions when you know that there are ambrosia beetles in the area.
You may have to spray as often as every two or three weeks
these treatments fail, and the trees die, all the research says to cut
down the dead tree and burn it. Chipping does not get rid of the
Homeowners with valuable trees on their property should consider
consulting an arborist. These professionals can assess a tree to
determine the extent of the infestation and help you decide whether to
try to save the tree. They also have additional products at their
disposal that may help prevent the spread of infestation.
ripen beginning in early September in the deep South, in mid September in the
central states and October in northern states. Harvest lasts 4-6 weeks depending on varieties and climate. Most of the growth in the size of the nuts
occurs in the last month before harvest, so if conditions are not optimum
(enough moisture or an early freeze) the crop can be affected.
are borne in spiny husks called burrs. These burrs open naturally when the nuts ripen and both nuts and burrs
fall to the ground.
harvest is done by hand. We call this a
U-Prick operation! Heavy gloves are a necessity. Pickers can be paid by the pound or by the
bucket to incentivize them to work quickly, and to control costs. Some growers
offer this as a fund-raiser to schools or church groups, etc.
warmer climates nuts should be harvested daily if possible to lower desiccation
and spoilage of the nuts in the field. In northern areas nuts can be harvested less frequently, however without
fencing, predation by deer and other animals can dramatically lower harvest
and burrs are brought into the barn and separated by hand or by using a machine
called a Pecan Cleaner (see photo). This has a rotating drum that rubs the
burrs off the nuts and a separates them.
nut harvesting machinery used in California for almonds and walnuts will work
on chestnuts, but the orchard floor must be smooth and flat for this to be
effective. The nuts are swept into a
windrow between the orchard rows, and picked up with a machine and deposited
into bins for hauling to the barn.
suction harvesters are made in Italy by FACMA that work like a giant vacuum
cleaner are available that suck the nuts and burrs off the ground, separate the
nuts from the burrs and puts the nuts into bags (see photo above). These machines are
run off the tractor PTO and can pick up as many nuts per hour as 10 workers
with only 2-3 people to run it.
POST HARVEST and STORAGE
the nuts have been removed from their burrs, they are washed in a water
bath. If you have a weevil infection,
the nuts must be soaked in hot water (122F) for 30 minutes and immediately
cooled to 32-35F in a cooler. This kills
weevil eggs before they hatch. Nuts with
worms (young weevils) float to the surface and are removed and destroyed.
washing, nuts are run on a sorting line for inspection and then through a
sizer. The sizer is a rolling drum with
different sized holes, allowing the nuts to fall through to bins below (see
photos below). Nuts are sized by diameter and #
of nuts per pound.
sized, nuts are placed in a woven breathable polyethylene bag (the type used
for rice), typically in 26 pound increments, to allow for desiccation and net
chestnuts are living seeds, if they dry out the embryo dies and the high levels
of carbohydrate allow mold to infect the nuts. The nuts must be stored under refrigeration as soon after harvest as
possible. Traditionally in Europe they
were stored in caves, or under chestnut leaves on the north side of a building
in the shade.
the nuts at 32-33F in a walk-in cooler. These may be purchased from restaurant supply houses (those specializing
in used equipment) or a reefer shipping container can be outfitted with an
electric cooling unit (instead of the diesel).
cooler should be sterilized with Zeritol or other cleaner and kept clean. The bags of nuts should be rotated regularly
as this decreases the spread of mold between nuts and bags. Nuts stored this
way should last 2-3 months through the selling season.
Plants are propagated in nurseries to clone, or reproduce identically,
varieties that have desirable characteristics. In most cases, trees
grown from seed are genetically variable (like your children) and don’t
come true to type (unlike planting vegetable seed). Most nurseries clone
plants by grafting (splicing) buds or a small section of stem from the
desired variety onto a rootstock grown from seed, and this bud grows
into a new tree exactly like the parent. The other method is rooting
cuttings, where shoot tips or stems from a mother plant are treated with
rooting hormone and placed in a mist bed or greenhouse. The process of
propagation is complex and time-consuming, with different methods and
techniques required for each type of plant. The tree you buy from us
often takes 3-4 years to grow up to this size.
SELLING YOUR CROP
market for chestnuts is virtually unlimited. American nuts get to market
earlier, fresher and in better condition than imported nuts and can bring a
higher price. The present growers that have established markets do not have
nearly enough chestnuts in supply to meet the demand for their crop.
you will have to work to make the connections to sell your crop. If you have never sold anything before
(except maybe a car or a house), it can seem daunting to walk into a grocery
store and try to pitch the produce buyer to purchase your crop. The following is a list of different buyers
of chestnuts in the market today.
that the cost of freight (delivery to the customer) is a key component of the
final price to the buyer and must be factored in when quoting prices.
are several regional Cooperatives in Florida, Ohio and Michigan that already
have markets for their crops, and you can join a co-op and sell through
them. The co-ops typically deduct a fee
for handling and storage, and may have cleaning lines and storage facilities available,
lessening the initial investment. The folks
that run the co-ops are also excellent sources of information on how to grow
and sell, facing the same problems as you.
Grocery stores and
grocery stores and even chains are promoting buying local produce. Ask the produce department manager if they
have the ability to buy from local growers. This can work quite effectively for selling your crop. However, some larger chains need sources that
can supply many stores over the holiday period from before Thanksgiving through
Christmas, and there are no orchards or co-ops in the U.S. today that have this
capacity – they can only provide enough for a few stores in a limited area. The natural food chains such as Whole Foods
Market, Earthfare, Fresh Market and even Safeway all support local sourcing,
and will pay a premium for organically grown nuts.
that to be set up as a vendor to some grocery chains will require a large
liability insurance policy (as much as $2 Million) with the chain listed as
additional insured, plus may have a lengthy Vendor setup process, require UPC
Food Brokers and
brokers work between the suppliers and the grocery chains. They are also the major importers of
chestnuts into the U.S. They will charge
a 6-10% fee for handing the sale, depending on volume. They know the markets that buy the nuts, and
may be a valuable outlet.
purchase the product and hold it in storage to resell to their customers, both
grocery chains and restaurants. This can
be a valuable avenue to move your crop. Distributors that specialize in fresh produce are the best target to
Asian Food Stores
and especially Koreans still consume large quantities of chestnuts as part of
their cuisine and are avid buyers of chestnuts. Every major metropolitan area has an extensive network of Asian food
stores and distributors. They will
bargain to pay as low a price as possible. Some prefer smaller nuts, considering them sweeter and more
flavorful. By contacting stores near
you, you can learn who the buyers are.
local is a major trend for many upscale restaurants. These can be excellent markets, and also
eliminate the middleman in the sales process. Develop relationships with area chefs that specialize in this
cuisine. This is also a great way to
gain publicity for your farm. The chefs
will have time slots in their schedule for reviewing new foods. They are approached by many vendors so set up
an appointment and give them samples to try and suggestions for how to prepare
chestnuts to taste and for sale at farmers markets is an excellent way to sell
your crop and educate consumers on how to use chestnuts, as well as promote
your farm. You also get retail instead
of wholesale dollars and this can provide more income, especially in the early
stages of orchard development.
Internet direct to
process brings the highest dollar return per pound, but also entails a
substantial amount of time, answering emails, processing orders and shipping
individual orders by UPS or USPS. You
will need to set up a Merchant Services account with your bank for accepting
credit cards online using a shopping cart. There are a number of smaller
orchards selling this way currently in America, and prices vary.
of the key issues with selling online is getting found among all of the other
competing sites, through design to enhance Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or
paid searches such as Google Adwords.
Value added products
growers have had excellent results with selling nuts or dried nuts to breweries
that make chestnut beer (links), and for manufacturing into other products.
Europe, chestnuts are dried and ground into flour, which is used in a variety
of cakes, pastries, pasta and desserts. Chestnuts are also ground into a puree and sweetened with cane sugar and
other flavorings, resulting in delicious jams and preserves.
is no organized marketing of chestnuts in America. This is a major need for the
industry and will increase the consumption and sales of chestnuts.
Chestnut Growers of America (www.chestnutgrowers.org) is
the only growers association devoted to chestnuts. The CGA publishes a newsletter and holds
annual meetings in different parts of the country where growers can meet and
learn from each other.
following is a list of different marketing techniques to help you sell your crop:
is clearly the first step in the process, to give customers information on
where and how to buy. There are many
inexpensive website design and hosting solutions available today, depending on
the complexity of whether or not your site is informational only or you intend
to sell directly from the site. It is
important to update your website regularly. Search engines pick up on new information, and having a news section on
the home page helps inform customers what is going on.
Email and Facebook
is a very effective tool for selling and you should build an email list at
every opportunity, such as when meeting people at Farmers Markets, etc. You can also build target lists of customers
such as local produce buyers, restaurants, etc. Make sure you have a “join our mailing list” link on your site.
can be an effective tool but requires effort to post updates and build a “Like”
Newspaper and local
columnists look for new ideas all of the time, and chestnuts are a perfect
seasonal topic. Feed them information such as a fact sheet, website address,
how to buy, etc.
a fall farm tour, during or after harvest, is an excellent way to spread
knowledge about your products, and is easy to promote through local newspapers,
etc. Your County Extension Agent will
have a valuable network and mailing list to promote farm tours. Make sure your website is always mentioned.
of purchase fliers on how to handle chestnuts at both the store level and at
home, and recipes are an effective way to educate consumers.
of the goals of CGA is to establish a national marketing program. Point-of-sale fliers and recipe cards are
simple and universally useful. National
advertising is very expensive, and there is not sufficient nut supply at this
current time to afford a national campaign.