Chestnuts Anyone?

| 10/8/2014 8:49:00 AM

Country MoonWhen I saw the sign proclaiming “Chestnuts” in front of Rose and Ron Harvey’s U-Pick fruit and vegetable farm just outside Tekonsha, Michigan, I just had to stop. The first thought that came to mind was a big bonfire on a crisp autumn night with good friends drinking mugs of cider and roasting chestnuts over an open fire. Then it occurred to me that I didn’t know the first thing about these intriguing little nuts, the least of which was how to begin roasting them.

So, I stopped for a visit and Ron and Ruth spent the next couple hours educating me about their “fun crop.”

They led me out behind their house to their 1-acre chestnut grove consisting of 68 trees from which they are harvesting this year. The harsh winter of 2013-2014 killed seven mature trees that were more than 21 years old. To keep up with the new demand for chestnuts, they planted 77 new winter-hardy trees on their farm during the spring and fall of 2014. They also planted 100 new trees on their son’s farm, just three miles from theirs.

The Harveys' original trees were started from Chinese Hybrid seedlings that produce a larger variety of nut than the American chestnut. The American variety grew wild in Appalachia and was known for its lumber. They were a big part of the food supply for not only the deer, wild turkeys and other game, but also for the livestock. When the blight killed many of those trees it was a contributing factor to the poverty in that area.

“That’s where grafting comes in,” Ron noted. “You take the best qualities from different varieties and try to make one that is superior to the originals. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t because rapid freezes sometimes damage trees in low areas and spoil the grafts.”

Looking at the trees, I noticed that all the trunks were painted white about six feet up from the ground. Rose explained, “Chestnut trees are real sensitive and they are prone to sunburn in the winter when the sun reflects off the snow. So, we paint the bark to protect them.”

10/10/2014 5:59:40 AM

Lois, thank you for such an interesting piece. I had no idea how chestnuts were grown, but I can say to peel them is arduous work. I finally discovered that in city grocery stores they are often found as a peeled and ready product (in asceptic packaging) in the kosher section of the grocery store. So I get them that way sometimes. I can't imagine a you-pick chestnut farm, though! What a nice find.

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