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?


  1. "I've heard since that at least three feet of matting is needed"

    Boy, watch out for those guys. "I tried everything, then I did this, and it worked- it's the ONLY way..."

    It's amazing how many people are willing to tell you "only this works" - when they have only done it in one place- probably once.

    REALLY nice to get that sort of nonsense sorted out here.

  2. Robb- exactly. I've had a normally sensible man tell me he knew for absolutely positively sure that chestnuts could NOT be started in full sun- no way, no how, they must have shade.

    Never mind that I've started around 50,000 (fifty thousand) in full sun.

  3. Thanks for the post & picture, very much to the point for my (small!) planting in Maine.

  4. This is Tom again.

    I'll try your suggestion of the salt block to satisfy the deer. I've also heard that putting in a small patch of corn can help. The deer are going to eat something, so you might as well give them something you won't miss.

    I'm going to plant pawpaws for the most part this year, but will try a few chestnuts as well.