Essay - growing nut trees in the field and wild

Germination, growing on and planting out ideas

Germination and cultivation of nut trees can be tricky especially with non native species. Martin Crawford of the Agroforestry Research Trust is the UK’s foremost expert in this field. ART has published leaflets on this subject, and Martin also runs courses on nut tree growing and cultivation. Also check out the reading list:

READING LIST Forest Gardening/Farming/Nut Growing etc

This one is good:

The Improved Nut Trees of North America and How to Grow Them by Clarence A Reid and John Davidson

..and links:

LINKS Forest Gardening/Farming/Nut Growing etc

Martin Crawford’s new Forest Garden book covers nut tree germination very well. Martin will supply walnuts and sweet chestnut seed from the Agroforestry Reseaserch Trust’s trial crops. I select the best specimins and use these for germination stock. The more usual nut seed (buartnuts, pecans, hicans and the like) can be obtained from Grimo Nut Trees in North America (email and ask what is available this year), Sandeman seeds (good for Querus Ilex ‘ballota’ a true breedling edible ilex cultivar, needs a dry and sunny site in the UK), Oikos Tree Crops of North America (unusual and useful oaks. Will consider a seed trade) and Schumacher Seeds of North America, (lots of useful trees and shrubs). These large nut seeds will often need cold sratification, which can be reliably done in the fridge in bags of damp sand. (ideal for Pinus Pinea/stone pine). I have germinated large amounts of nuts in labelled cut down compost etc sacks filled with leafmold type soil. The seed needs to be placed in the sacks by new year I would say and stored outside away from where mice and grey squirrels can get them. As you can see from the photo:

This method can work well. Other years attempts have been less successful for me.

Some photos of nut tree germination etc:

When planting out in woodlands and the like these sorts of trees you will need to maintain the space around the trees…and ideally plant in shelters or tubes also, this makes it easier to spot where the trees are, and help them to make headway against native tree growth. I have planted an area of such plantings in newly felled woodland which currently looks a bit chaotic, with chopped timber, bracken and bramble on a hillside…but the trees are there and I cut back weed growth with a chainsaw as part of the yearly maintainance schedule. Slowly the fruit and nut trees get bigger each year. If planting in a grazing meadow the BTCV guide to fencing has some reasonable designs for wooden tree shelters…but I saw a better design in the Limburg province of Holland made from cylinders of about 60mm square heavy duty wire supported by 2 stakes, the wire cylinders being around 40 centemetres across – see:

Photo - Dutch Agroforestry System

Make plans/mappage so you know what you have and can find them again.

If the trees are not planted on land that you have control over, ideally you could get permission to strim/sickle/chainsaw even around trees to keep space open for them. It is not really worth doing otherwise because the native vegetation will just smother them. They might be ok in hedgerows planted as largish trees (5 or so foot tall) – but remember that most hedgerows are uniformly cut back each year, so again, more wasted effort. Its possible that your introductions might infiltrate the hedge, but again, the native vegetation, especially under a hard cutting regime tends to dominate I think.

Ideally they need to be planted out in a field setting as standards or possibly in a woodland grove setting. The later especially for trees grown from nut seed rather than grafted specimens. You can’t be sure of the quality of tree from seed, and grafted specimens usually start cropping earlier than seed trees. However, new cultivars can only be found by growing out seed. It is possible to graft on cultivar varieties to seedling species. I like to give away the odd couple or so of trees for people to plant out in their gardens. They make nice gifts.

Areas of newly abandoned grassland are good for planting as with freshly cut conifer type woods – as long as they dont get planted subsesquently with conifers. They need locations where they have clear ground and open sky. 15 foot fruit trees will have little chance, and larger forest type trees like pecans also will need looking after until they have got firmly away as 20/30 foot trees, to the extent of chain sawing/hacking/strimming away competition. The greenwood is just manic – lush green irepressable growth! Also you can find that suddenly your planting area is cleared by the landowner, destroying all your hard work..unless you are the landowner or have authorisation to grow the trees in this proactive way.

Despite the various potential pitfalls, I am still experimenting with planting nut seed and a few trees in the ‘wild’. Hazels/Cobnuts can work well in the UK, where they are native. I discovered in the American nut growing literature the technique of tainting nut seed with creosote to prevent predation. I don’t know for sure if this works against the nutters nightmare – the grey squirrels, but I should think so because the stuff reeks. I don’t really know the correct amount to use, just a drop or so in a bag shaken around and left for a couple of days is what I’ve tried so far. I did this for most that I’ve planted in the cut down plastic sack method, and they seem to be sprouting ok, so the creosote is not killing the seed. Some of the best potential land is Forestry Commission land that has just been felled. If you buy some you’ll know the trees will be safe, and if its not on an official ‘ancient semi natural woodland’ site then you should be able to plant non native broadleaf and conifer species, doing it officially with Forestry Commission approval (and grants!) also:

If you know of some Forestry Commission etc land that has just been cleared and there are no plans for replantings, (you can get hold of the felling and replanting schedules from the regional FC offices) why not infiltrate some nut trees grown from see or the nut seed itself? You can cut a hole with a spade and drop the nut in. I’ve even tried throwing creosote tainted nuts onto suitable land as I walk through. If this is done in autumn on abandoned grassland for example, then the seed will settle down into the vegetation layer. Again, if you plant 15 foot maximum growth height fruit tree cultivars, then they will need year on attention to stop them from being swamped by native trees, plus attention to the ground layer of vegetation. Select the most vigorous root stocks. I’ve planted out a small areaof fruit trees in a mineral soil (rather than peat) clearing in FC estate…just going back each year to check they are ok and maybe to much with the surrounding bracken. Avoid peaty soils which are very acidic.

Ideally I’d like to see local people rise up and take the Forestry Commission estates back by non violent direct action (NVDA), and enact these sorts of visions and others. Other ideas in tribal tenure forests are: small sawmill, local occupancy residential eco cabins, etc etc. There is a lot that could be gained for people by transcending fear of arrest! Recall that my thinking on this developed in North Wales, where you have a genuine tribal entity – Y Cymro (The People). Unfortuntely a suppressed and kowtowing tribe relative to what old Cymru was collective denial/unawareness of its fate in this aspect of tribal sovereignty – tribal/collective forest tenure…Collective/tribal ownership of forests, rather than private ownership, is really where its at.

Pecans, hickories etc have a long taproot and so should be planted out sooner rather than keeping them in pots for too long. American chestnut hybrids hate wet seedlings…they can be really difficult I’ve found. I sometimes use 4 foot tree shelters supported by staking. This vastly speeds up the growth of many trees turning them into sizable woodland trees at a very speedy rate instead of staying as small shrub like plants for years.