Sunday, September 26, 2010

yes, we've got big nuts.

Chestnut (and hickory) harvest is in full swing; we're about 1/3 of the way into it. The 80°F, flooding rains and high winds of a few days ago (we got off easy, only 4.3" in 24 hrs) brought down a huge number of nuts. We're almost caught up with the pick up process, and the cool weather now has slowed the drop slightly to let us catch our breath a little today.

We're finding it has been an above average year for chestnuts; size of nuts and crops per tree are both up. For those who persist in thinking it's not possible to grow
"big" chestnuts in places like Minnesota, we offer the following:

Just a quickie photo there; too much contrast, and they need to be held in a human hand for actual scale to be effective. Basically; these are huge, by any standards.

Chestnut harvest is being helped out this year by our horses; we're not using them to pull carts of nuts; we put them to pasture in the mature chestnut groves. Using electric fence, they were confined inside particular rows for a short period of intensive grazing/traffic; usually about 6 days, with some variability for rain.

It was an experiment that turned out extremely well indeed. Of course they mowed the grass, saving us diesel fuel, tractor, and labor costs; but in addition they cleared brush and weeds under the trees where the tractor mower cannot go, saving huge amounts of human hand labor, and their hoof traffic proved highly effective in flattening the ground surface.

Over the years, the ground under the bigger trees has been getting rougher and rougher, from a variety of causes, right down to earthworm castings (which can build up in one place over the years, with no tillage). The rough surface has made it very labor intensive to get the nuts picked up. We use "Nut Wizards" now extensively, and great as they are, they are still not able to pick up a nut out of a hole or next to a big bump.

The horses really flattened the ground, though they needed a little watching to be sure they didn't over use one area, or pound a place into mud in rainy weather. Our Friesian stallion has extra large hooves, typical of the breed, which I think made him more effective, and with less actual soil compaction.

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