Friday, February 26, 2010

Reply to Tom in Dubuque #2

6° below 0 F here last night, so I'm putting off going out to cut firewood until it warms up a bit; say to +10°, a nice work temperature if there's no wind.

You'll recall we were working on answering the query from Tom in Dubuque, and the first part,

"I've planted Badgersett and others' hazels for years. I've found that the Badgersett hazels produce nice nuts, but generally don't thrive as well. "

had resulted in Big Fat Post #1.

Now, I'm going to tackle the rest, before the blog wanders too far in other directions; hopefully it won't take as long as the first bit.

"I've also found that despite my best efforts the deer keep the hazels severely pruned. "

Though that's not posed as a question, it's definitely something we need to talk about.

Whitetail deer damage to Badersett hazels is usually minimal and inconsequential. Though not always, as Tom observes. I'm aware of a couple other situations where deer have been an actual problem and delayed the growth of the bushes and production of nuts.

Truly, however- those situations are far and away the exception, not the rule.

Deer can cause serious damage to a hazel planting immediately after planting and during establishment; but there are a number of specific things to do which can nearly eliminate all attention from deer.

1) When the plants are small, do NOT keep them perfectly weeded. We prefer to cultivate between rows- but not between plants in a row. The resulting strip of "weeds" dramatically distracts the deer. As remembered by one of our Short Course attendees, if the only thing available to eat in your field is young hazelnuts; the deer will eat them. But they'd really rather eat almost anything else.

2) If your hazels are very widely spaced, that will increase deer damage per plant, according to our tests. Deer have short memories; and hazels don't taste great. If they've just taken a mouthful of hazel, they're likely to pass up the next hazels they wander past, if they're very close. If the next hazel is 15 feet away (5m)- they will have "forgotten" the bad taste- and they'll take another mouthful. When the bushes are only 2-3 feet tall, that can add up to a lot of damage.

3) If your deer are a little short on minerals; they will eat more hazels. It's a very good idea to actually provide a mineral block (salt with minors; blocks designed for deer exist) for your deer; again, according to our research, deer with good mineral access will eat almost anything rather than hazels.

4) Heavy adjacent cover will increase deer damage. If your hazels are planted right next to a bit of forest- the deer are very likely to stop there on the edge, and browse a few hazels, while they check to make sure it's safe to come all the way out into the open.

A question for Tom- have you done analysis of the nutritional status of your leaves? I'd be very interested in seeing the data on exact minors content.

"My question: About eight years ago I purchased chestnuts from you. They all struggled for a year or two and then died. I've heard since that at least three feet of matting is needed around chestnuts if they are going be become established. Is this true? Thanks."

Well, that's very lousy luck; and, no, it's not true. My guess would be that if you're seeing serious deer damage on your hazels, it would be repeated deer browse, and possible rabbit browse (they go together) that killed your chestnuts. They can stand being hit once or twice, but not constantly. Unlike hazel- chestnut is considered favored deer browse material. Spacing is important, too. A single, clean cultivated chestnut out in a field by itself is about the same thing as putting down a dish of ice cream in a playground full of 1st graders. It won't last long.

These chestnut rows were all established with no matting whatsoever; planted directly after corn. They were machine cultivated to the sides twice in year one, and hand hoed once in year 2. Then mowed to the side for several years. That's it. And again- our experience is that the closer the spacing on the plants- the LESS damage you will see; even for chestnuts. Deer like variety- if a food is very common, they may start to look for something different.

The very short chestnuts in the row to the left were coppiced a year ago- we let the shoots grow back for multiple reasons; one of them being- to feed the deer. These were inferior plants that were crowding a chestnut tree or two which we wanted to follow more closely; but rather than killing them, we let them grow back from coppice, for several reasons. One is firewood, or "biomass" fuel research; another is to find chestnuts that naturally grow good straight poles from coppice. Do you know what a good chestnut pole is worth to an organic grape grower?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Badgersett will buy your nuts. This year.

It just dawned on me that this is really major news; and should go here as a full post; so more people see it.

"Eric the Red", in KC, commented on the last post; and I answered: 

"My thoughts on cooperative were on the lines of furthering breeding lines in a different locale for the very reason you mention - lack of a solid hazelnut market in the Midwest. I know that other organizations do this and have germplasm agreements and such. Is this something that Badgersett does or would consider?

Philip Rutter: Is cooperating etc. something BRC would consider? Absolutely- it's even something in our Business Plan. We've done a little- and now have a much better idea how to go about it.

So- yes. In fact, we're going farther than that; starting this year, Badgersett will buy your harvested nuts.

So- you now have a guaranteed market.

It's going to be wild pain figuring out how to price everything- obviously we'll have to vary prices with crop quality (weevils, blanks, etc..) - and distance-

But still. We'll buy what you have (ANYBODY out there with our hazels) - which will really help give us a pool of nuts to work with; on processing, and marketing.

A good part of the reason we can do this this year - we've had another substantial infusion of investment cash; gives us more latitude to work.

But don't count on getting rich at it! :-)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Word gets around-

I'm going to strive NOT to provide a steady diet of heavy complex discussion here, rather substantive information punctuated by sideways excursions.

Here's an excursion.  It would be good for people to know that Badgersett ideas get around- here is an unexpected comment on the blog of a UC Davis professor, who has written a well received book on "radically rethinking agriculture".

Three comments, actually:




Saturday, February 20, 2010

Big Fat Post #1

 We are suffering from information dysfunction here at Badgersett; some of it due to human nature, some of it quite possibly due to my past training (making my statements less comprehensible to normal people.)

  That's a huge part of the intended function of this blog; to start straightening information out.

  We've had two very tough questions posted already, and I'm going to tackle one here.  First of all, the initial discussion:
Anonymous said... Hi,

I've planted Badgersett and others' hazels for years. I've found that the Badgersett hazels produce nice nuts, but generally don't thrive as well.  I've also found that despite my best efforts the deer keep the hazels severely pruned. My question: About eight years ago I purchased chestnuts from you. They all struggled for a year or two and then died. I've heard since that at least three feet of matting is needed around chestnuts if they are going be become established. Is this true? Thanks.

Tom in Dubuque Co.


  Ok, bit by bit:  "I've planted Badgersett and others' hazels for years. I've found that the Badgersett hazels produce nice nuts, but generally don't thrive as well. "

  Glad to know you like the nuts ok.  Now, about "thrive".
  Something everybody needs to keep in mind is the history of hazelnuts in the Upper Midwest.  If you can, find a copy of "Growing Nuts in the North: A Personal Story of the Author's Experience of 33 Years with Nut Culture in Minnesota and Wisconsin by Carl Weschcke".   To my astonishment, when I googled, it's not hard to come by.

  Flatly; if you are thinking about growing nuts seriously in the Upper Midwest; read this book first.  For one thing, the foundation stock for our Badgersett hazels came from the survivors of Carl Weschcke's plantings.  We've updated their genetics considerably, but if you just look at the plants side by side, it's hard to tell the difference.

  Weschcke's experience with hazels was not good, actually.  Something missing in his book is the "and then what happened!?" part.  Something DID happen.  He decided to go into business, and make and sell hazel butter.  He wound up buying hazels from Oregon to meet his obligations, and the project went broke.  He really lost hope for hazels in this region; not reflected in the book.  (How do I know?  Extensive/intensive personal communication with many of his friends from the Northern Nut Growers Association, of which I am a Past President.)

  A huge factor in that failure was a big epidemic of "Eastern Filbert Blight (EFB)" that moved into his hybrids and reached epidemic proportions shortly after he wrote the book.  Experts from Oregon came and looked at them, and told him there was really no hope- they were all going to be seriously susceptible to the disease. 

  They were wrong.  And this may be the place to point out that I have a track record of saying "the academics are wrong" about a forest disease- and being proven correct.  I was the founding president of TACF.  At the time, chestnut blight was "known", after 50 years of extensive research, to have no solution; but a mere 25 years later, we are planting out the first trees which may bring the species back; and the science behind it is recognized as entirely sound.

  Ok, hang in there Tom!  :-)  I know this may sound off the track; but it's really not.  Just to keep you reading, and your appetite whetted: this is a photo of plain Badgersett hazels, 18 months old.

  When I decided to try to carry on Weschcke's 35 years of work, around 1982, the state of knowledge about growing Corylus for nut production in the Upper Midwest was this:

  European hazel will not grow reliably here.  A) It's not cold hardy enough for test winters, and B) it's lethally susceptible to EFB.

  American hazel will not make a useful crop.  A) All of them eventually are attacked by EFB and knocked back, and B) crops are small and erratic, with small nuts (i.e. "wild")

  That's what "everybody knew", and they had decades of experience to back it all up.  All of those statements, however, turn out to be only partly true; which leaves a lot of room for finding individual plants that do perform.

  Without getting into ALL the details of the initial generation of Badgersett hazels, you can see that the barriers were formidable.  My training in evolution, though, had led me to be quite aware of the fact that populations of everything on Earth periodically must, and do, go through "bottlenecks" - some change in their living situation which means 90% of existing organisms now are inadequate; hence only 10% will survive to pass through the bottleneck, and launch the renewed population on the other side.

  What was needed for hazels was a strict and harsh bottleneck, artificially imposed in this case.  That's what I set out to do; not cold hardy?  die.  Not resistant to disease?  die.  

  Those, actually, were the ONLY two criteria for passing through Generation 1 here.  For scientific reasons; if you do the math on finding individuals in a random population that meet 1 test, and the number that will meet 2; and the number that will meet 3- it turns out 3 is far too high a goal to set.  

  I would strongly recommend that you read this paper, from 1988, which outlines our goals.  One bit: 
The major long range goal is to pursue the domestication and development of woody perennial plants for agricultural purposes. It is not our intention to be satisfied just with finding new cultivars better than those currently available, for purposes of commercial production of luxury crops such as pecans and walnuts. We wish to begin to realize the potential of such species to become producers of staples. In order for that to happen, however, we feel that a basic change in philosophy is necessary, moving away from the searching of natural forests for interesting trees, and turning to intensive breeding with the specific intent of altering wild trees, which basically have no reason to produce large, regular crops for human use, into genuinely domesticated plants.
  That's really very different from "gosh, I'd like to find some hazel bushes that would make good nuts."  It's a commitment to creating an entire crop system- which is a very complex undertaking.

  Ok!  Finally!  Here's why your Badgersett hazels don't "thrive" as well as others!  :-)

  In the desire to create a working crop system, I inadvertently added a 3rd criterion to the 2 I was thinking about, EFB resistance and cold hardiness; that was "survival, in adversity".

  Real farmers don't have a lot of time to baby their plants.  Planting huge fields of corn works because it's done with great precision, in a very small window of opportunity.  Done exactly right, it works.

  Farmer's record with growing trees is typically not good; they'll plant 100 black walnuts, with good intentions to "get back in there and control the weeds and deer...  when I can..."  which means the deer and weed control mostly do not happen.

  Plants coming out of University research stations have an even worse record than farmers.  The "three year grant cycle" means your work won't get funding if you don't have results in 3 years- which means they use every tool at their disposal to speed up the plants' growth in the University test plantings.  Which means- when they give those to the farmer- it's a dead loss.

  I'm not making this up.  It's well known and admitted that the entire first generation of "hybrid poplars!", supposed to be "wonder" plants, the result of advanced scientific techniques; were simply not VIABLE in the real world.  They would die.

  I didn't want to do that.  So we put all our initial 2 generations of plantings through 3-5 years of intentional, total, neglect.  2 years of good weed control and some fertilizer for establishment; then oo weed control; no fertilizer; for years.  If they weren't there 3-5 years later- good.  Plenty survived.

  What we now know, however, is that in selecting plants that survive stress, we inadvertently selected for plants that will shift growing programs- and shift into survival mode, if they are, or have been stressed.  And transplanting is stressful, no getting around it.  

  IF THE STRESS IS HIGH ENOUGH, BADGERSETT HAZELS WILL "SHUT DOWN"- often until next year.  What that means is, instead of risking resources on making new leaves and shoots, the plants will put virtually all their time and energy into making roots.

  In many cases, on poor soils, they may wind up making roots- for years.

  Which can be very discouraging.  But- if you planted your tomatoes on broken bricks, would you expect a good tomato crop?  

  At this point, 35 years in from my own beginning, my opinion is that Badgersett hybrid hazels will often take 10-15 years to build a "mature" root system.  The root system is immense- basically a hemisphere at least 3 meters in diameter full of roots.  It takes a lot of NPK to build it.

Folks have, now, grown our hazels this rapidly in the field.  This is Norm Erickson, looking at some of his 2.5 year old hazels (with Nancy.)  As you can see- he's doing extensive cultivation (which is a kind of fertilization you know- it makes resources available) and multiple fertilizations.  Plus, his hazels at this point have their deep roots well into the local aquifer.  The water table is about 4-5 feet down, and that water is jam packed full of agricultural nitrogen; all you can eat.

  So.  If your Badgersett hazel plants are struggling for any resource- water, NPK, sunlight - when they are very young, they may grow very slowly.  If you treat them like an agricultural crop- weeding, water, and food- they can and do grow just as fast as anyone else's.

  One other thing- Tom, do you have active EFB growing in your hazels there in Des Moines?  I would guess likely not, or just a little.

  EFB is a very specialized fungus; it must have hazelnut to grow in.  Consequently, in many places, it could now be considered an endangered organism.  It can be very rare.  

  I have many many stories to tell of people "back east" who had some European hazels growing "for 40 years!"  in their backyards- only to have them suddenly collapse and die, completely.

  That is the eventual fate of almost all hazels- if they have not been through 10 years of REAL WORLD screening for resistance to EFB.  And, so far as I know, we're the only ones who do that.  We don't sell seedlings from plants less than 10 years old.


  OK!!  I'm gonna stop.  You're probably as tired out as I am.  More soon.

  The intention, here, is to get all these replies linked up in a really functional FAQ- so folks can browse through the answers at their own speed.  Hang in there.  Didn't get all Tom's points addressed; but we will.


ps, for reasons not clear to me, my control of fonts and text sizes here sucks- I'll work on fixing that and getting all this readable.

Friday, February 19, 2010


 Just climbing out of bed here, after 3 days sleeping like the dead.  It's one of the great benefits of having a small child in school; every virus in circulation winds up in your circulation.  All 3 of us were hit and knocked down; just getting back on our feet.

Getting some real answers up here is very high priority; but so is fixing the wood stove (our only heat) which has a stubborn clog in is somewhere and will not draw correctly.

Hang in there.

Friday, February 12, 2010


After seriously launching this blog- of course- I accidentally let one of my mailboxes fill up.  It's an older email address, but still-

If anyone made a comment in the last two days; or sent me an email, and you haven't had a reply- it would be good if you could send it again.  There's a good chance the automatic notification might have been messed up by the full mailbox.

My bad.

More soon.

We're still husking hazels here, working hard on it today.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Badgersett Growers Blog- Thanks, Jim (and family!)

 If you're here, we're assuming you're familiar with Badgersett Research, so we'll dive right in.

If you'll take a look at the dates separating the first post on this blog and the second, you will immediately be on the road to understanding the purpose of this change in our blog, and the purposes it will serve.

Dec. 17 to Feb. 5 is an absurdly long time for any business to allow a major public aspect to languish.

The fact is; we're desperately overloaded here.  We need about 8 people, full time, to be doing the day to day work.  We have 3.  We'll eventually get into how that happened, but not just now.  The reality is; the overload is so bad, and has been going on so long, that it is literally affecting our health; not for the better; and when one of us winds up with 4 sick days in a week, we get further behind.

All our communications channels suffer from this.  This blog is an attempt to make communicating about grower's concerns easier.

We've had a blog since 2002 - if you know your internet history, the word "blog" was just barely becoming current then, and services like Blogger and WordPress barely existed, and the entire phenomenon was just taking off.

So- we wound up being one of the very first "nut" oriented operations to have a blog- of any kind.  And the software that supported it; though it was state of the art in 2002- is now seriously out of date.  That's exactly why our entire website is a little behind (about 4 years).  We have one of, if not the, first website of any nut business in North America; maybe the world.  Using the software then available; which of course is now orphaned.  We're working on a total overhaul- as of 5 years ago.

Being the first one to stick your neck out is always expensive.  For us- the entire expense of setting up- and hosting, all those years- our original blog has been donated by Jim Stegman and his family business; as a way of supporting Badgersett.  It was a huge help, and very important to us; but the software had a bunch of built in limitations; by today's standards, it was very hard to use.

Now- on Blogger- it's easy.  If you have a comment (civil) - make it.  It'll appear sometime the same day, usually; and if you have a question, we'll actually try to answer the same day.  On the old blog, we had to go to it, and check for comments; alas, far too easy to forget, or postpone.  With the new blog, when a comment is made, it will be emailed to 3 people, any of whom can moderate it.  Probably; one of us will not be sick that day; and we'll try hard to get it done.

We want to answer your questions; never doubt that.  And provide a forum where growers can talk.  We're aware that a couple other efforts have been made to launch hazelnut forums, in particular; but if you've tried them, you've discovered a basic problem- they really don't have anyone there who has any more experience than you do.

We have 30 years- which is about 20 more than anyone else; and many tens of thousands of plants more than anyone in the midwest.  And scientific standards actually greatly more stringent than any of the universities doing work in this area.

You can "subscribe" to this blog; i.e. arrange it so that whenever we make a new entry, you get an email notice.  It's down at the bottom of the page.  I'm pretty sure you can also ask to be emailed if/when someone responds to your comment.  (If not, we'll fix that soon.)

This blog is not only for questions, comments, and a growers forum; it will also be a place for news, and statements from us about what we're doing; not only for our hazels, but for all 3 of our "NeoHybrid" crops; hazels, chestnuts, and hickory/pecans.  And other news about operations; for example- did you know the farm here now includes horses?  No?  We'll post about that soon.  (Horses eat grass, you know.)

(you can click on the pic for a bigger version)