Chestnut Trees: A Sustainable Alternative Land Use for Small Farms in Jefferson County

2007 Annual Report for FNC06-598

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2006: $5,996.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:

Chestnut Trees: A Sustainable Alternative Land Use for Small Farms in Jefferson County


Before the start date: April 2007
– Choose three different field ridge tops to apply the research
– Layout each field for row establishment
– Prepare rows using an agriculture roto-tiller and farm tractor
– Mark tree sites in each row for planting 20 feet apart within the row
– Each of the three fields is to have five different cultivars planted, using three different approaches

– The five cultivars are:
o Peach
o Qing
o Sleeping Giant
o Eaton
o Homestead
– The approaches are:
o Direct seeding
o Seedlings from my Garden Nursery
o Commercial Nursery Grafted Trees
– Each field is on a Ridge Top, which is dry and has poor soil quality
– Each field was prepared the same and the distance between each field is at least 3,000 feet

May 2007 {NCR-SARE Start Date is May 26, 2007}
– Direct seeding
o I used a tree-planting bar to open the ground to plant three seeds (all of the same cultivar) about two inches deep in each opening
o Close the opening and install a twelve-inch square chicken wire mesh over the planted seed. The mesh was held in place by inserting a six-inch “U” shaped wire staple in each corner. The wire mesh has proven to keep the squirrels away from the nuts for lunch or dinner. All the seed sites in a field were planted before starting the direct seed planting in the next field.
– Nursery seedlings
o I obtained the required 12”x4” Styrofoam drinking cups from a local Gas/Food station. A 2” diameter hole was cut in the bottom of each cup. This was done to stimulate good root development. The same approach performed by a Commercial Nursery known as Root Prune Management System (RPM).
o A large box type container was wrapped with chicken wire to keep the squirrels out. The container was placed on timbers to keep it off the ground. Wooden pallets were inserted on the floor inside of the container. The round cylindrical cups were placed on top of the pallets. Each cup was marked with the cultivar name with three nuts planted in each cup. The container holding all the Styrofoam cups was watered each morning through the growing season. As the seedlings gained good growth, sheets of metal (tin) were placed around the container box to control the high winds at times. When the seeds sprouted, I kept the strongest one and removed the other two. I was amazed how the seeds developed into strong upright seedlings.

June – July – August – September 2007
– Cultivating for grass and weed control with the major concern being water.
– Watering was done at least once per week to stimulate and maintain growth. The water was supplied from a deep well. Water was transferred to a 300-gallon tank and then transported to each field for distribution. Plastic buckets, each 5 gallons in size were used as a cheap, but practical drip irrigation system. Each bucket had a small hole placed near the side bottom. By that method the bucket full of water took minutes to distribute the water. The bucket was placed next to the tree with a stone inside to keep it from falling over from wind or deer.
– Inter-seeded between each row the first week in September, seeded with Wheat, Oats, Clover and appropriate fertilizer using a no-till drill and a farm tractor. The seeding was done to assist with soil erosion and green cover for wildlife.

October 2007
– The Nursery Seedlings were moved from the Garden Nursery to their permanent field locations. The field plant sites were prepared by using a posthole digger attached to a farm tractor. The hole was about 12 inches deep and 12 inches in diameter. The Styrofoam cups were gracefully and carefully removed from each seedling unit. Cutting the cup from top to bottom on each side was a good method. This exposed the long log type soil/root wad-shaped unit. With the cup removed, the seedling was properly placed in its new home to grow with all the new ground placed around to grow as a new plant.

The field inventory is as follows:
# Direct seeded, # Seedlings, # Commercial Grafts
Field 2A: 17, 33, 13
Field OTTO: 31, 51, 11
Field Ziegler:34, 28, 24
TOTAL: 82, 112, 48

Grand Total = 242

November 2007
– The grafted seedlings were grafted at a commercial nursery and grew all summer at their location. The trees were transported form the nursery to their permanent farm location in Cedar Hill, Missouri. The planting holes were prepared in the same manner as for the seedling plants. The trees were removed from their black plastic containers in a gentle manner. It was kept in mind not to disturb their growing media. They looked so proud being at a new home that will nurture them to grow to their fullest. Each tree was watered before planting was started at the next field. Each row was roto-tilled for the last time that year. A 16-inch inner tube-shaped ring of year-old wood chips 4 inches thick was installed around each tree in each field. This was done to prevent erosion and assist with holding moisture. The hole opening in the middle acted like a funnel to collect rain and direct it to the tree trunk and root system.

December 2007 – January 2008
– Wire cages were built and installed around each tree site. The cages were 5 feet tall and 1.5 feet in diameter. The wire was purchased in 100 foot long by 5 foot high rolls. The wire was mesh which is 2 inches by 4 inches in size. The wire was cut into 5-foot lengths and shaped into a cylinder. After being built they were installed over each tree, with the tree located in the center. Re-bar, 3/8 inch in size was purchased wholesale and cut into 5-foot lengths. Two re-bar rods were installed 180 degrees apart and then string tied to the cage. The reason was to keep the cages upright during heavy winds and deer encroachment.

February 2008
– Soil from each field was obtained and sent to the University of Missouri for analysis.

March 2008
– Applied manure and soil nutrients over the top of the wood chips outside each cage, as determined by the soil test submitted in February.

Lessons Learned:
– The need for chicken wire mesh to protect the seedlings from squirrel damage
– The need for wire cages to prevent deer damage
– The wind encouraged the Nursery Seedlings to develop a strong robust main leader
– Miracle-Gro MirAcid spray mist on the nursery stock assisted with leaf development and positive growth

– Obtain a leaf analysis from each of the three fields to determine any lack of good growing nutrients
– Control grass and weeds for maximum tree growth
– Cultivate (roto-till) each row to maintain good moisture and blend in any needed soil nutrients
– Water each tree site, as needed using the basic 5-gallon drip system
– Replant all tree sites that have failed
– Prune as needed to develop a single hardy main leader stem
– Maintain the wire cages to prevent any deer damage
– Improve the between row areas to prevent erosion and provide green cover for wildlife
– Record growth results at peak leaf development and again at time of leaf drop in the fall

– On March 17, 2007 I had a display booth at the 83rd Annual Jefferson County Soils and Crops Conference. The booth was a display of many nuts that grow in Missouri, including the Chinese Chestnut.
– A photo and news article was in the Missouri Nut Growers Association (MNGA) newsletter pertaining to our booth. The MNGA is a Missouri Organization that promotes the planting, research, harvesting, processing, marketing and expansion of all consumable nuts in Missouri.
– Attended the Chestnut Growers of America conference in East Lansing, Michigan on July 20-22, 2007. The conference had on-site field trips to producing chestnut orchards. We also were able to see a Commercial State of the Art Chestnut Peeler and a grading processor in operation. Had a good exchange of thoughts about the chestnut growth from Dennis Fulbright at Michigan State University and Mike Gold from the University of Missouri.
– A month later we had a newsletter article and photo in “The Chestnut Grower” newsletter. It pertained to the SARE grant I’m working on in Jefferson County, Missouri.

– I was invited to be a guest on our local Radio station (KJFF – 7:30 A.M.) at Crystal City – Festus, Missouri on January 23, 2008. The format was sewing, antiques, and agriculture in Jefferson County. About 15 minutes of the air time was dedicated to the wide world of nuts. I was able to express my niche about growing Chinese Chestnuts for market in my county of Jefferson.
– Attended the MNGA nut evaluation and membership meeting in Nevada, Missouri on February 1-2, 2008. It contained a session on the exchange of ideas and new information pertaining to Chinese Chestnuts from the University of Missouri.
– Participated in the 28th Annual Missouri Small Fruit and Vegetable Conference in Springfield, Missouri on February 18-20, 2008. It was a meeting for me to expand my networking associated with the processing and marketing of my Chestnut products in the future. The main item of interest for me was that you need a WEB presence on the internet because the younger generation seems to obtain all their needed information from the internet. They seem to not use the newspapers, paper newsletter, radio or television as much as the older generation has in the past.
– On March 22, 2008, I plan to have a booth at the 84th Annual Jefferson County Soils and Crops Conference to again make the local farm community aware of Chinese Chestnuts as an alternative crop on their farm.
– Attend the Chestnut Growers of America annual meeting on July 25-26, 2008 at Chico, California to interact with fellow Chinese Chestnut orchard growers to exchange success and failure experiences. The main reason to attend is to learn methods and procedures that are successfully administered in the Western States.
– On August 10-13, 2008 I plan to attend the 99th Annual Northern Nut Growers Association (NNGA) {The National Organization of Nut Growers} at College Station, Texas. Once again, to build my network of contacts and ideas pertaining to all areas of nut production (that is from the time of the nut germination to the time the nut is marketed and consumed for human enjoyment and nutrition).

Future – 2008
– I plan to have an on-site field day to show the local farmers the success of a niche crop that will work in our county.
– If the schedule permits, I plan to host a field day session for the MNGA. Its purpose will be to demonstrate the ability of a new ethnic crop that has a good market for the Asian families in St. Louis, Missouri.
– Attend various field demonstrations associated with the MNGA in Missouri.