Friday, July 8, 2011

Announcing: Badgersett Research Farm 20th Annual Field Day

(click on photo for bigger views)

Badgersett Research Farm 20th Annual Field Day:
Saturday, August 20th

If you want to learn about growing hazelnuts in the Midwest; it makes sense to go and see where it's been done the longest. That would be us, we're at 32 years, and counting. No other grower or researcher has production rows like ours.

We're making a concerted effort to expand our Field Day event this year; we're inviting quite a few other folks to bring what they have to show and sell, and set up booths in the chestnut rows, where we can guarantee good shade. Stay tuned to this blog, where we'll be announcing the specifics as we have them. We're inviting hazel growers, graziers, wool spinners, wood carvers- anyone who makes a living, or wants to, from sustainable farming and integrated woody crops. And our Amish neighbors will be here, of course.

Plus- in a change from the past few years, we WILL have plants available for sale this Field Day; hazel, chestnut, and hickory-pecan tubelings will be available for purchase. (In "moderate" numbers... we probably couldn't sell you 5,000 plants right then, for example.)

The major guided tours will start at 10 AM, and will run throughout the day until 4 PM. Lots of folks wind up staying and talking until 5:30 and 6.

This year's Field Day will have 4 special focus aspects:

1: On-Farm Hazel Cloning.

Dr. Sue Wiegrefe, Badgersett Research Associate, will be running tours to see both our new field plantings of our cloned hazels, and "division parent clones" in the greenhouse. We are now outplanting divisions of some 20 different clonal hazels; from several varying processes, including direct in-field divisions.

NOTE: At these tours, we will be making public the division processes we have up to now kept proprietary.

Dr. Wiegrefe has taken our years of work on the division process, and brought the techniques ahead to a state of success where it is now time to publish so other researchers can add to it. Following the Field Day, we will be publishing the divisions research details online, as part of our peer-reviewed Badgersett Research Bulletins series.

2: Integrating Animals In Woody Crops.

Tours will look at our "chicken/guinea tractors", sheep, and horses. All of these animals contribute to grass/weed control in our crops; and all can produce farm income. We're in the very early phases of learning how to manage them profitably; but any hazel grower with more than a few years of growing knows by now that grass control is critical to any hope of a profitable hazel crop. Simple machine mowing, in the long run, will not be a competitive practice.

3: The Sins Of Not Fertilizing.

Hazels, and all woody crops, have highly complex responses to fertilizer. Fertilizer applied in the current year will have measurable, and visible, affects at least 4 years down the road. Since our goal from the outset has been agricultural style food production, all Badgersett hazels have been selected for production when supported by additional fertilizer. Leaving them unfertilized will have the same effect as if you put your herd of registered Holstein cows out to graze on poor pasture, with no feed. They will produce milk until they get sick; and you will be making no money next year. Various efforts to grow and select hazels that "can produce without fertilizer" will result in selecting for "wild-type" genetics. Bison may survive on poor range- but they won't be producing big dairy crops - or meat - for you.

Ultimately, all concepts of avoiding fertilizing are fantasy, by very simple reference to the science of physics. If you are harvesting x tons of food/acre; you are necessarily removing x amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and minors. That's a fact. If the productivity of the land is to be maintained; nutrients removed must be replaced. There is no escaping that law. The bigger the crop you are removing; the more nutrients must be replaced.

Tours will show multiple aspects of fertilized and unfertilized hazels (of course we maintain unfertilized control plants; this year they are exceptionally educational.)

4. Off-Grid Earth Sheltered Greenhouse; 18 years of Operation.

Interest in alternative energy continues to grow. Our earth sheltered, solar heated, and photo-voltaic powered greenhouse is thought to be the oldest such business in Minnesota. Tours will focus on the energy dynamics of the building, and the interplay with the needs of the greenhouse crops we grow.

We'll be posting details here on the blog continuously, as we develop them. Check back often, and plan on coming!


Notice: If you would like to have a booth for our Field Day; please email us as soon as possible, at with your details. For this first year, there will be no charge for space. If you want to bring animals, to show or sell, please let us know, and we'll try to be sure appropriate space is arranged.

Notice: Harvest Volunteers - are going to be needed more than ever. While we're trying very hard to arrange some machine harvest this year, there are still many bushes that must be harvested by hand, in order to maintain the identity of seed, and to keep research data secure. We can't emphasize the importance of this enough. For those who help out, we do provide hourly pay in the form of credit that can be used to buy tubelings in future years- a great way to learn, and earn plants. If you think you can help, please email us at and let us know what dates you may be available. Any dates from Aug 15 to Sept 20 may be helpful.

quick sheep followup

The sheep are doing outstanding work in the apples. So much so that I had to take a couple "before and after" pics to show you.

Looking down the hillside at 2 rows of apple trees. The second row is obscured by the unmowable stuff under the first row of trees.


To my astonishment, they eat not only the tops of thistles and wild parsnip; they ate the leaves off the invading honeysuckle and sumach, and pruned the apples up to boot.

If we'd had to clear all that brush/weed stuff by human labor- there's really no question it would have take twice as much work, time, and sweat as it took to set up the mesh fence and move the sheep.

And the sheep seem to be getting big and fat off the process.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Sheep come to Badgersett

The 4th of July is exceptionally appropriate for this development. We're hoping to become a little more independent of fossil fuels. After decades of mowing grass between nut bushes and trees, and paying for endless and increasingly expensive (now to the point of ruinous) gas and diesel fuel; we've acquired sheep.

The hope: we can make it actually pay. Not this year; of course. But we've chosen two breeds to try out at first, and both are versatile in their produce. Sue wanted Babydoll Southdowns, which she'd been studying about for some time; and I wanted Icelandics; likewise. Both breeds bring high prices for their meat and fleece, and the Icelandics have also been selected for milk production, for hundreds of years. In case we ever want to go there.

Two of the Babydoll lambs; we have 3 lambs and one ewe. And;

Three of the Icelandics; we have one ram lamb, 4 ewes, and a wether.

Today, for the first time; we really put them to work. We've had them for a month or so; but have spent that time in getting to know each other, and doing a little training. The movable electric mesh fence, could be a little iffy with the Icelandics, if they challenged it and got their horns stuck in it. So we did a few days of training, first; combining both the non-portable electric fence originally set up for the horses, then upgraded to "almost" sheep tight, with the mesh. Both together were apparently quite convincing- because on moving them today into the apples; not once have we seen any of the sheep "test" the fence; they respect it, all the time.

And that; we hope, can make it easy.

Time, perhaps, will tell. We're doing tight accounting. Meanwhile- if you're mowing grass- maybe you should come see the integrated animals, on our upcoming Field Day (Aug. 20 - more soon).

Moving the sheep was an adventure- neither any of us, nor these sheep, had ever done it. If we're lucky; Brandon may post a movie of the drovers and sheep...

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Chestnut blight arrives at Badgersett Farm

When we started growing and breeding chestnuts here in SE Minnesota, there was no chestnut blight (Endothia parasitica at first, then Cryphonectria parasitica; though my own preferred name is Cryphodothia pseudoparasitica*... long conversation...) known, for at least 50 miles, perhaps 100. It had been identified in Ames, Iowa, and seen once briefly around Zumbrota, Minnesota; but it certainly was not here.

For the first 20 years, as our chestnut plantings expanded, we never saw it. When we were ready to test our chestnut genetics against the blight, we sent seed both to Auburn University in Alabama, and to the Hubei Academy of Agricultural Science in China. Tests in both places were overseen by Dr. Hongwen Huang; I will put his reports here, originally published in our Root & Branch #4:
Date: Fri, 05 Apr 96 11:18:53 EST
From: hongwen huang

Subject: RE: report of blight resistance of your breeding lines in Alabama

Dear Phil:

In response to your request for the results of my
performance tests of chestnut blight (Cryphonectria parasitica) resistance of your advanced breeding lines grown in Auburn, Alabama, the following statement is based on my observations and best knowledge.

As you know, I collected seeds of some 25 trees, representative of your breeding lines in your breeding orchard, and 4 random selections of pure American chestnut at West Salem, Wis. in Fall 1991. Twenty to 50 seeds from each line and selection were germinated in the greenhouse and transplanted in 18.93-liter polyethylene containers in Spring 1992. All seedlings remained in the containers in an outside growing area under daily sprinkler irrigation. This area was a designated plot for my research on evaluation of blight resistance among Chinese chestnut cultivars
using artificial inoculation of virulent C. parasitica strains. Three strains were used: SLA-155 and SLA-389 (provided by Dr. Sandra Anagnostakis, Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station) and AL-W ( a wild strain obtained in Alabama).

An evaluation for blight resistance was initially started in Summer 1992 and repeated in 1993. Resistance was rated in 4 scales: very resistant, resistant, susceptible-resistant and susceptible. All pure American seedlings were completely susceptible to C. parasitica and were girdled by blight within 3 weeks and died. Variation of blight resistance was found within and between each seedling progeny

of your lines. Most seedlings showed resistance to C. parasitica, ranging from susceptible-resistant to resistant. There were 2-8% seedlings that were completely susceptible and died like pure American chestnuts. To my knowledge, all 25 lines you developed are resistant to C. parasitica, but heterozygotic for at least one gene of blight resistance (2-3 genes involved). Seedlings from each resistant parent line should be expected to segregate for blight resistance genes and the 2-8% susceptible seedlings found in this study should be those homozygotic for all alleles of the related 2-3 genes. This roughly fits the model of 2-3 genes regulating blight resistance. Since this experiment is not formally carried out in an official project, no records are filed and reported. I am personally responsible for the results stated above.


Hongwen Huang
Associate Prof.
Wuhan Institute of Botany
The Chinese Academy of Sciences


RE: report of blight resistance of your breeding lines in China

Dear Phil:

I would like to give you a report on an evaluation of your advanced breeding lines for resistance to chestnut blight.

Seedlings of the thirty-six hybrid breeding lines you sent to the Hubei Academy of Agricultural Science were planted at 2 x 4 m spacing in an experimental plot of the Fruit and Tea Institute of the Academy in Spring 1992. When I went back to China in June 1994, I evaluated all lines for resistance to chestnut blight in August. All lines looked healthy and have grown very well in Hubei. Most lines were rated as very resistant (defined as canker width = 1.0 to 3.0 mm on the trees when they were infested by the blight) to resistant (canker width = 3.1 to 5.0 mm). The resistance observed on these lines is comparable to what is usually found in resistant pure Chinese chestnut.

The cankers on these lines were gradually walled off after the initial infection. If you have further inquiries regarding the performance of your breeding lines in Hubei, P.R. China, please don't hesitate to contact me or Professor Zhang at the Fruit and Tea Institute, Hubei Academy of Agricultural Science.

Best regards

Hongwen Huang Ph.D
Associate Professor
Wuhan Institute of Botany
The Chinese Academy of Sciences

The test orchard in China is still growing there, and was also inspected by Brandon Rutter during his work in China some years back. Most of the trees are thriving, the primary complaint of the managers there being that some of the local folks insist on climbing over their razor wire fences to steal chestnuts from our trees. Hubei is a major chestnut producing province, so that's really quite a compliment.

Being quite familiar with the blight, and knowing it was only 50-100 miles away, I always expected it to get here in my lifetime. And now, it has.

Although I certainly know chestnut blight when I see it, I nonetheless asked MN State Forest Pathologist Ed Hayes to come and do the positive identification. This is his photo, in fact. It's the blight.

It showed up first on one of my "canaries in the coal mine". At the outset, expecting blight to arrive, I planted pure American chestnuts in two locations on the farm, expecting them to show any blight presence sooner than the resistant and semi-resistant hybrids. One on the north fence, where they are reproductively isolated from the hybrid breeding work; and a small population of male-sterile pure Americans among the hybrids. It was one of those male-steriles that showed it first.

This tree took 3 years to kill to the ground, and is now re-sprouting vigorously, as American chestnuts do. In those years, we've started to see blight elsewhere among the hybrids, a few trees succumbing slowly; a few with an affected branch. Most show no signs, but in the nature of epidemics, the true testing is yet to come. The blight is now here, permanently; as expected. More trees will die in the coming years.

Most folks respond "oh, that's terrible!" when we tell them; but we don't feel that way at all. It was expected; we prepared for it; and in fact we can now directly test our newest hybrid chestnuts against the blight right here, and all their lives long (the only kind of testing that counts in the real world). In many ways it's a relief.

But - it does mean that our chestnut tubelings can no longer be expected to be blight free (although they probably are); and should not be shipped to or planted in areas still free of the blight, to protect any susceptible trees still living in such places.

And it means visitors should be careful about carrying blight from here back to uninfected areas. It doesn't mean you shouldn't visit; just that you should be careful about what you touch, be sure to disinfect shoes (chlorine bleach is the standard), and generally think about what you do when.

*The blight fungus in this case is not actually a "pathogen" or parasite, an organism that causes disease for a living. In China it mostly lives as a free-living "saprophyte", an organism that lives by breaking down dead matter. It lives that way in North America, too; extremely well. Judging from the infection patterns we see in our plantings, that's most likely how it got here. Not from some visitor bringing a disease; but just as the natural spread of an invading fungus, slowly taking over more territory. It grows quite well on oak bark, and in forest litter; it's here to stay.