Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Nuts For Thanksgiving! Chestnuts!

In spite of everything Mom Nature has thrown at us this year, (starting with an actual tornado), Badgersett will be getting chestnuts shipped out to our customers in time for Thanksgiving.

We'll be shipping the first orders out tomorrow, Nov. 16; later than our usual target date of Nov. 10. We delayed shipping for the extra days to allow the chestnuts' flavor to develop further; because of the extraordinary harvest weather- temperatures well above normal for us, and high winds, day after day, the "curing" process we put our chestnuts through simply took longer than usual. We didn't want customers to be disappointed with nuts less flavorful than they're used to.

Chestnuts fresh off the tree taste bland- little sweetness or complexity. Genetics does make a difference in flavor; and we've got the best there- but the other factors involved in bringing a chestnut to peak mouth and stomach joy require time, and knowing the secrets. One of the secrets to developing maximum chestnut sweetness is drying them - a little. Some of our secrets, though- are secret. :-) And we'll be keeping them that way.

So you'll know: our chestnuts this year will average a little smaller than usual. The growing year was bizarre, from start to finish; so cold early on that the trees flowered later than we've ever seen them do it, entirely in July; then finishing up hot, but with cold flashes. The chestnut trees seemed to be uncertain about when or how to ripen their nuts; then with the heat, decided to ripen everything all at once. Trees that normally ripen late were dropping nuts at the same time as early trees, and dropping them unusually fast. But a little smaller.

From the "food crop" standpoint, we did far far better than our neighbors with corn and soybeans. Both those crops grew slowly and poorly- and had their development stopped dead by an early frost. Soybeans were estimated to be only about 80% "ripe"; corn only a little better. Those crops were still harvested; but their value, both monetary and nutritional were down considerably. The chestnut crop was abundant; not affected by the little frost at all, and fully ripe.

In case you haven't run into it before, we have had authoritative expert opinions that Badgersett chestnuts; "intensely flavored nuggets"; are among the best anywhere.

You'll recall, of course, that we put out a new video about "how to peel chestnuts" last year. The video is thriving on YouTube - the original, very crude one, is still the all-time most viewed clip; but the "improved" versions are gaining steadily!

We have (of course!) learned something from the responses to the video- in particular; there are times when our cut/steam/plier peel method doesn't work.

We now know why. We were truly puzzled at first, because it always worked, either literally perfectly (on our own nuts) or 98% perfectly, even on store-bought European nuts we bought for testing. The thing is; we were always careful, whatever nuts we tested, to buy nuts we were sure were fresh. That's the problem, right there.

Chestnuts that have been dried moderately will likely not peel so very perfectly, using our pliers method. Two things happen; partly dry nuts may actually cook, during the steaming, and will then crumble when you try to squeeze them out of the shell; and not uncommonly, the "skin" of the nut, the pellicle, may stick tight and refuse to slip off.

We found this out looking for reasons why the peeling method didn't work so well; and found this year that some of our own chestnuts, dried far more than usual by the hot winds during harvest, are "sticking" when we peel them. You can predict when you may have this little difficulty; if you squeeze the nut, and the shell dents, or gives, more than 1/8 inch; it may be dry enough that peeling will take a little more work.

The upside is- the dryer nuts are almost always sweeter. And- the plier peeling method is still light-years ahead of older methods, or the old "cut an X on the palm of your hand" method.

Do remember that we have full instructions (some looking for 1 sound bite think too full!) on chestnut handling posted on our website; as well as a good sampling of recipes.

Now- the really amazing news! We can now offer you another nut, ready (now!) in time for Thanksgiving. Due to a very recent change in food regulations in Minnesota, we are now allowed to sell pre-cracked hickory/pecan nuts. Nutmeats are now considered "produce" in Minnesota, and can be sold directly by the grower, without the farmer having to become a licensed "manufacturer". Next post- hickory/pecan hybrid nuts arrive!

And; just to keep you on your toes- the hickories this year- are uniformly bigger than last...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Chestnut fed beef?

A comment from the previous post- my answer started getting long, and it dawned on me it would work best as a post-

"Hello, my name is Elinor. I am a farmer from MN and today I read this article. http://www.allaboutfeed.net/news/chestnuts-for-cattle-feed-12326.html

"This story fascinated me! I wanted to learn more about chesnuts and see if there were any growers in Minnesota.

"What do you folks do with leftover chesnuts?

Hello Elinor, and welcome. Many thanks for the link to the chestnut fed beef story, we'd missed that. After googling it, I can see why; as far as I can tell there's only one farm selling it right now- and they're in Australia.

The farm in Florida is just feeling their way into it. Reading as much as I could on the Titania Farm beef; they mention having to learn how to feed it to the cows, which concerns me slightly. The well known problem of cattle eating acorns is a major reason we have not tried it; while acorn poisoning in cattle is usually attributed to tannin related chemistry, I've also heard that if cattle eat too many acorns they can get gut blockages from the rather indigestible acorn "shells". Chestnuts have shells that are quite similar to acorn shells, and while the nuts themselves have virtually no tannins, the shells certainly do.

So- there may be a serious learning curve to it all- it would be good to go slow.

On the positive side- we have been feeding chestnuts to ruminants here, pretty much daily, over the past few months. Our Icelandic sheep came "trained to corn"- a common practice. Icelandics in particular don't usually need supplemental feed, but giving them a little corn at regular times keeps them trained to come to you, and the promise of the treat can be used to lead them, from one place to another. They're pretty good on rough feed- they eat Japanese honeysuckle, wild parsnip, and prickly ash- by preference, not just when the pasture is low. So I decided to try- just a little- chestnut in their diet, and see how it worked out.

At this point, I've replaced the corn entirely with chestnuts- in this case, very old, very sprouted chestnuts from cellar storage; and the sheep jump on them with exactly the same enthusiasm they do corn; it's candy to them, apparently. Still not feeding much, though; the equivalent of a 1/4 cup per animal per day; this is just for training. While we intend to eat lamb someday, that day is not in the next year; we're building the flock; so there's no push to fatten them. No signs of a bellyache anywhere, at least.

Those nuts in the cellar are our "leftover" nuts- a small supply we didn't get around to selling last season. We've also tried, a little, to work on chestnut fed pork, a much more common practice than feeding them to beef. The attempt did not last too long; primarily because of logistics. Picking up nuts, storing them, then feeding them to pigs - is just really expensive, from the human labor input aspect.

It will make far more sense to let the pigs pick up the chestnuts for themselves- someday. But the problems of containing pigs on pasture are not trivial of course, and again, we've been stymied there by a shortage of labor. It's on our list of things to try soon- but it also needs to be done in a fashion which does not damage the trees, and hogs are notorious for rototilling pastures. But- it was one of the reasons we got sheep- we intended to learn how to use moveable electric mesh fencing, with the pigs in the chestnuts very much in mind. We're getting used to moving the mesh fence, and it really is pretty easy. Pigs coming soon.

One thing that concerns me about the stories from Australia- I'd like to see the nuts they're feeding their cattle. My guess is that they are actually chestnuts; but that's not a given. Particularly when dealing with other dialects. In the UK, when a person says "it's a chestnut tree", about 95% of the time they mean it's what we would call a buckeye, or horse chestnut; genus Hippocastanum, not Castanea. What we call simply "chestnut", they call "sweet chestnut" or "Spanish chestnut" - never mind that chestnuts were brought to England by the Romans.

And in Australia, it's worse; it's not impossible they have a grove of Castanospermum, Moreton Bay Chestnut; which is in fact native to New South Wales, where that farm is located. The info on Moreton Bay Chestnut states that "The seeds are poisonous, but become edible when carefully prepared by pounding into flour, leaching with water, and roasting." But- lots of things can be fed to animals that would give us a tummy ache; I'm just not sure about this one. The fact that one of the chefs talking about the chestnut fed beef attributes some of the characteristics to the "oils" in the chestnuts, makes me wonder-

"Compared to wagyu, it's a little bit leaner and the marbling is not as pronounced. "It's slightly younger beef but the thing I noticed is the texture. It's got this quite buttery, silkiness to it which comes from the the oils in the chestnut," he said."

Chestnuts are unusual among nuts in that they are very low in oil, an almost negligible 5% or so dry weight. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Moreton Bay Chestnut, which is actually a member of the legume family, had more oil.

So- some of that doesn't quite add up. Which doesn't mean the beef isn't terrific. I think we should find out! But we do have a lot to learn, from harvest on through feeding.

Friday, October 7, 2011

More wind; more good press-

We have a new aspect to the chestnut harvest: the Armor Warning Flag is flying today.

If you have to be among the chestnut trees, for harvest or any other reason- you really better be wearing armor; head, face, shoulders, legs, feet and hands. The trees are throwing bombs, all over.

The high winds are not funny for us, at all; particularly combined with this record hot spell; it's making the chestnuts ripen all at once, drop fast, messily, with leaves and burrs hiding them, and subject to rapid drying (which is NOT good for chestnuts) from the wind and hot sun.

So, we're trying to pick up nuts working just on the north sides of the trees; away from their target areas, today. Can't afford to just not pick them up; we need them for all the reasons there are.

The good press bit: today, Oct. 7, the Rochester Post Bulletin is running two stories on neohybrid hazels, that are nicely complementary. Take a look- if you go on line, you'll need a subscription to see the entire article. Or- pick up a copy of the newspaper, if you're anywhere in the region here.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Urgent harvest

The weather has been weird all year- and while it hasn't been urgent for the tree crops before; the heavy rains early, record heat later, record dry September, early frosts- all have been tolerated well; we're getting slammed now by - again, near record heat; and high winds.

The chestnuts in particular, ripen and drop rapidly when the temperature hits 80° in October. It always does, and is usually welcome, to get the crop in. Right now, though, we've got a string of 80° days; and a wind warning up for tomorrow.

That's not only going to have the trees throwing nuts far from the normal drop area; it's going to be ripping off leaves and burrs, making the harvest all the more tricky.

So- we're in "max" harvest mode; dark to dark. Not much time for anything else for the next few days.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

More harvest updates

We've machine picked the hazels here in Minnesota for the second time; one week after the first picking, and the results were again- better than anticipated. Many bushes which refused to be picked the first time, were very successfully machine picked on the second pass.

Right at the moment, though, our next emergency has arrived. We work with two other crops here, as not too many folks realize; chestnuts and hickory hybrids are also quite important to us.

Because of the rather strange growing season, we've been unsure until quite recently whether we would get any chestnut crop this year or not. They flowered extremely late, in mid July, and developed slowly, as from extreme heat we shifted to cool drought.

All these nut crops have the ability to alter their ripening behavior, from year to year. This year, the chestnuts have decided to all ripen at once; early and late varieties; and in a hurry; many of the nuts now dropping are not fully colored.

Then, today- we've had heavy winds; steady at over 30 mph, gusts over 45 mph, all day-

(the quality of this video was low to begin with; shot in very low light- but it looks like Blogger still has no clue about how to handle it. But you get the idea.)

Far far from ideal weather when you have ripe nuts in tall trees-
the wind throws loose nuts far from their normal drop zone; and due to the fuss and hurry associated with the new machine hazel picking- we don't have the chestnut and hickory plantings mowed down tight enough for easy harvest. Too late now. And today; it was really too dangerous to be out in the fields picking up nuts- the air was full of bombs; some of them with not-funny weaponry-

You truly do not want to risk being hit by one of these, flung at 30 mph from a height of 30 ft. Yes, you can wear protective gear, but a hard hat is not enough; you need a heavy jacket at the least- all of which adds up to nearly impossible working conditions.

Tomorrow; we hope. Meanwhile- if you have an urge to help out with harvest- now would be a really good time.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Catching our breath- or not...

The First Minnesota Machine Harvest of hazels went well; we estimate about 20 hard-core hazel growers came to see and investigate, as well as neighbors and folks who were "just interested.

As we use the machine to pick here on Badgersett Farm itself, it dawns on us more and more- the world has changed.

We will certainly be harvesting twice as many hazelnuts this year as last; at least, even with many nuts still left on bushes that refuse to be picked. Part of what that means is- all the other machines needed, huskers, cleaners, etc; are now an order of magnitude too slow.

We did also get great TV coverage from our Rochester Minnesota NBC affiliate, KTTC. I couldn't figure out how to embed the video here, so the link will have to do.

Meanwhile- the other two neohybrid nut crops we work on are just in the early stages of ripeness; and chestnut harvest, and hybrid hickory harvest, are looming. Hazel harvest is NOT finished, meanwhile; we will be machine picking our fields here in Minnesota a second time; about a week from now. The plants definitely have differing maturities, and harvesting bushes within a tiny 3 day window (we've picked everything here, in 3 days) is hardly an accurate idea of what will really respond to the picker. Plus; we're well aware; the hazels with the earliest maturity were picked a month ago. Next year.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Hazel Machine Harvest Press Release

This is the official press release we're sending out- if YOU would like to send it on; please do! The photos included here on the blog MAY be good enough for publication; but I never really know what Blogger will do with the pics next. If they're not; email us; and we'll email you publication quality files.

Press Release - 9/20/2011 - For Immediate Release
Attention: TV, Print, Electronic, & Radio

Badgersett Research Corporation: 18606 Deer Rd, Canton, MN USA 55922
phone (888) 557-4211 email: philip.rutter@badgersett.com web: badgersett.com


Hybrid Bush Hazels Can Out-Produce Soybeans

keywords: Sustainable Agriculture, Hazelnuts, Soybean Replacement, Machinable Crop,

The Public and Press are invited to attend and observe the First Machine Harvest in Minnesota of a highly promising new crop; hybrid bush hazelnuts. The machine will be working where visitors can watch up close and personal this Thursday, September 22nd, at Badgersett Farm in SE Minnesota. No reservations or fees are required; hours are 10 AM to 3 PM. The company’s blog will carry updates, and has more photos and video available; http://badgersettresearch.blogspot.com/

Easiest instructions for how to find the farm are at Google Maps, or at the company’s website, badgersett.com.

“We’ve been working toward this day for 2 decades. The dozens of growers who already have hazels planted have been counting on our prediction that we would be able to machine harvest these neohybrid hazelnut bushes. Now we’ve made the prediction come true: the machine is here - and it works.” says Badgersett CEO and Chief Scientist Philip Rutter; “The reason it took two decades was not the lack of a machine; we needed big enough fields of big enough bushes to warrant the machine. We actually had the field ready last year, but weren’t able to arrange a machine in time- the nuts mostly went to feed wildlife. This year, a grower came through, took the leap, and purchased a machine. He’s already glad he did, and we’re ecstatic.”

Hybrid hazelnuts were developed and introduced to the Midwest by Badgersett Research Corporation (BRC). As early as 1994, major plantings of Badgersett hazels were installed at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, and at Arbor Day Farm, Nebraska. Seen by many as an “oilseed” crop, the USDA recently awarded a $1.3 Million grant to 3 universities to pursue development across the nation. “It’s actually more than an oilseed. Sure; the oil is hugely important; the hazel kernel is about 60% oil, compared to 20% for soybeans. In addition, the hazel oil quality is fabulous; it’s literally the exact chemical twin of olive oil. But these plants produce far more; every year, for example, they produce nutshell, which can be used as fuel in a dozen ways; and don’t forget they’re woody plants- we harvest the wood as another crop.” Rutter says. “That’s more money in the farmer’s pocket. Ask any farmer if he could use a little more.” he grins. “Even the nut husk is going to be a money crop someday- wait and see!”

The machine being demonstrated is a used blueberry harvester, previously working to pick Michigan highbush blueberries. “Our goal from the outset was to develop a sustainable crop that real farmers; corn and bean row-crop farmers, could actually adopt. The neohybrid hazels are exactly that- you plant them just once in your lifetime; harvest now with a machine that drives like a combine; dry it in the grain dryer you already own; store it in the grain bin you already own, and in time you’ll sell it at the elevator, just like corn and beans. The nut is similar enough to soybeans that we could convert a soybean crushing plant quite easily to hazelnut processing- and not put anyone out of work.” says Dr. Brandon Rutter, an engineer and BRC COO. “It likely jobs will be added- as an industrial feedstock, the hazels are actually more versatile than soybeans. We know the soy people won’t believe that- but we can prove it.” he smiles. The company uses the term “neohybrid” to distinguish their plants from hybrid corn; “What’s going on in the chromosomes of these plants is utterly, totally, diametrically different from what happens in hybrid corn. Both kinds of hybrid genetics have huge advantages; but they are completely unlike, and yes, it’s going to be important for farmers to understand that, at least a little.” says founder Philip Rutter.

Visitors and press who come to see the harvester at work at Badgersett Farm should be aware that they won’t be seeing a full scale harvest. Philip says, “Most of our best bushes on this farm have already been picked, by hand; so we can gather the data on the individual bush performance. Everyone will be able to see the reality, though- this machine picks hazelnuts just fine, and we already have specific modifications in mind. There are still lots of nuts. We’ll be able to harvest quite a few plants and rows we haven’t been able to get picked in other years; we just didn’t have the time. The truth- just before I left for Illinois, to use the machine there on that large experimental field, I was depressed. We have so many hazel plants here; thousands of them; we simply haven’t had the time to collect the data we need and get them picked. I was thinking we should stop adding to our plantings, so we could evaluate the huge number of genetic variants we already have. But- coming back from using the machine? It hit me. We need a lot more plants, a lot more fields. We just jumped the scale of the crop way, way, up.”

Photos sent on request.


Badgersett Research Corporation; Philip Rutter, President/CEO; (888) 557-4211
be prepared to leave a message detailing how and when to call you back.
web: badgersett.com for many details, and a map of how to get to Farm #1

ADDITIONAL PHOTOS are available for press use; contact us via email.

A research tray of neohybrid hazelnuts; each nut from a genetically different bush.

Dr. Brandon Rutter driving the harvester at the Illinois hazel field, 9/17/11

The harvester swallows a hazel bush; hazels are more flexible than blueberries, and the bushes are not harmed when compressed by the picker.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Machine harvest video

We're trying to catch our breath today, not that it's working. I managed to get a crude video of the machine working, and put it up on YouTube; catch it there if Blogger is not working satisfactorily.

This was a good bush; you see it go into the machine, though it's much wider than the machine (the hazel bushes are extremely flexible) - then there's a wait for travel, then the nuts start to come down the chute. Also bugs; you can see a few Japanese beetles- consequently, we did NOT bring the harvested nuts back to Minnesota; we'll have to process them in Illinois. We could use some help there...

At the end you see the conveyer; this bush did not clog the machine, but the conveyer was full. I never managed to get a movie of one of the really huge-crop bushes- they actually overflowed the conveyer and everything else; we had to hit the panic button and stop the machine completely, in order to catch up.

This only shows one side of the machine; there are two; which means there were just as many nuts coming out the other side also.

More soon.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Machine WORKS-

Better in fact than I'd hoped. Though it will need some modifications on the nut/cluster handling/cleaning eventually- right now, it will let you pick a big field. Perfect? No. Just- way better than the slow hand picking process. We had two farmers, a PhD engineer, and a professional machinist studying the machine end of it, and two farmers and two biologists studying the plants- and animal end of it.
stick insect, picked out of harvest bag, after going through the machine

Yesterday was shakedown; we found several ways to do it wrong, but also how to do it right. Today is our first attempt at full day work. We're not sure we can get all the bushes picked in the time available- it's a big field; but we're going to try. Some of the bushes are not ripe yet - of course- and we may bring the machine back to this field in a couple weeks, to re-pick. We'll see.

bushes coming out

bushes going in

cluster bearing twigs; picked clean

picking an easy row; Brandon driving

The press event for Illinois will be Saturday, Sept. 17; from 10 AM to 2 PM (although we will try to accomodate other needs.) Stockholders are strongly encouraged to come! It's an experience you'll tell your grandchildren about.

The Minnesota press event will be Thursday, Sept. 22; rain date Friday Sept. 23. Picking will be going on in Minnesota starting on Tuesday (we think: transport permitting), and the public is welcome to come and observe- and maybe help wrangle the bags of nuts...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Machine Harvest- This Week!

To our surprise and delight, we find that Badgersett Research Corp is going to be harvesting neohybrid hazelnuts by machine, the very first time this has been done anywhere - this week. Thursday, Sept. 15th, to be exact, if present plans stay on track. That will be the first day; we plan many more to follow. First harvest will take place on the Illinois hazel field we picked by hand last year; after several days there, the machine will come to Badgersett Farm #1, in Minnesota; picking in MN will be Sept. 20, 21, 22; press event to be set. (Yes, we did pick a few some years ago, from the Badgersett hazel field at Arbor Day Farm, but that was just a demo/trial, not a real harvest. This is- real harvest.)

The machine is an older model self-propelled BEI blueberry picking machine, purchased in Michigan, by hazel growers and close friends who wish to remain entirely anonymous. And while Badgersett does not own this machine, we nonetheless have exclusive use of it for 2011, and will have continuing use of it for several years. The owners wants to pick their own hazels with it next year; and BRC is providing engineering consulting and extensive field testing, to jointly begin the process of fully adapting this type of harvesting machine to the task of genuine hazelnut crop picking.

As part of the agreement, in the coming years Badgersett will be able to offer custom machine harvest to other growers. If you've been finding your increasing hazel crops are becoming just too much for hand picking- you might want to contact us and start making arrangements for us to bring the machine to your farm - very soon.

This is the back view, showing the mechanism. The "tunnel" is 6 feet high, which we think will be adequate for most of the hazels at the Illinois farm, and the younger hazels we'll be using it on in Minnesota.

The side/front view. The machine has hydraulic adjustments for the wheels to allow compensation for field slopes.

Everyone needs to realize; as we do; that having this machine does not mean "machine harvest" for bush hazels is here, fully developed and ready for prime time. It means we can now truly begin the process of adapting the machine to the plants; and adapting the plants to the machine.

For at least 20 years now, we've been noting in our hazelnut data whenever a particular hazel plant was "machine pickable"; meaning the nut clusters were not yet dropped, but would come off with a little moderate shaking - and - the bush was of a size and flexibility that would be likely to work.

Starting in 2012, we will be taking the next, and highly important, step in adapting plants to machines: we will be planting ourselves, and offering for sale; hazelnut tubelings from nuts that - were picked - by machine. It's an authentic evolutionary step; if you'd like your field to have a better chance of being machine harvestable; planting it with seedlings from nuts that were successfully picked by a machine is a huge step in the right direction.

Stay tuned here for more information. The harvest event at the Illinois farm is a closed event; open only by invitation to Badgersett stock holders, past volunteers, and the press; but the harvest events at Farm #1 in Minnesota will be open to the public. You're welcome to come - and maybe even lend a hand.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Booths at the Field Day

Still some other possibilities, but we will have the following friends here, selling and showing off.

People here:
NOTE - it would be a good idea for you to bring a cooler- you may want to pick up some of the great local meats available, and other produce might benefit, too- and maybe a small-animal transporter if you'd like to take home a hen or two...

Booths/info, maybe without people:

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Field Day Schedule

Here's an outline of the schedule for the field day; pretty close to set at this point.

Friday: Arrive and set up camp, if you like. Primitive camping under our 1993 Chestnut planting west of the maze, portajohn and water available.

  • 9:30 AM - 5 PM Registration and Registration-Tent Sales Open
  • 10 AM - 6 PM Plant Sales open at Greenhouses
  • 10 AM - 5 PM Vendor and Displays Open (not all vendors/presenters will be there all day)
  • 10:30 AM First Tours start, 1 1/2 -2 hours
  • Introduction to Woody Agriculture: for first-timers, and a refresher/update for experienced growers who haven't taken this tour for a couple of years.
  • Integration of Animals in Woody Agriculture Fields: Advanced tour for those interested in fitting animals into their woody ag operations. This includes people who don't want to burn as much gas for mowing.
  • 11:15 AM Greenhouse Tour. Off-grid, solar-heated four-season greenhouse; in operation for about two decades. We can show you some things that work, and others that don't!
  • 12:30 - 1:45 PM Lunch- Eat under the hickories, get pies, bread, jam, cookies (THIS YEAR WITH BADGERSETT HAZELS AND HICKORIES) from our Amish friends, enjoy live music, and visit our vendor/display booths!
  • 1:45 PM Afternoon tours start:
  • NeoHybrid Hazelnuts: 1 1/2 - 2 hours. Including some introductory material, as well as touching on our latest developments and discoveries in management of establishment, fertility, pest control, harvest and more.
  • On-Farm Cloning: The first public full disclosure of our on-farm cloning method, presented by Dr. Susan Wiegrefe, our research associate, who is continuing to refine this technique.
  • 4-5 PM: What's New short talk, and question and answer session.
  • 5:15 PM: Demonstration of post-harvest processing machinery down by the greenhouses.
  • Evening: Camp out again! See if you can convince Brandon to light the bonfire!

Sunday: For those sticking around, we may be able to use your help planting hazel tubelings. Hazel harvest is a bit late this year, we've got a lot of research plants to get in the ground, and the ground is actually dry enough to work!
NOTE: the week following the field day is the first volunteer planting opportunity we've offered for a while, and we're planning to do some full-scale machine planting. Let us know if you're interested!

Monday, August 15, 2011

2 new reasons for you to come to the Field Day

Hazel grower Don Price called us this morning to let us know that he will be bringing a harvest processing tool he's been working on with him; and we'll set it up and run it.

Don's been working with rebuilding and adapting what used to be a standard tool for all farms, a fanning mill. He started working with one at least 3 years ago, and provided one for us to play with here at Badgersett, too.

We haven't had the time we've wanted, to work with the really excellent machine he brought us; but he's done some tinkering with his, and has been using it to clean (at least) his hazel nuts. It's likely that with a bit of remodeling, these things can be made to size nuts, also; and remove blanks and lightweights.

It'll be here, set up and demonstrating, for the Field Day.

Item 2; Sue Wiegrefe has been systematically collecting data on soil pH in a variety of our hazel plantings, with known fertilization/lime treatments. And- we've got results to show. We've actually learned something; quite important. There's more to learn; but we already have some information that will change the quality of your crop.

Come and see- and learn! I could just "tell you"; of course- but - it's about 1000x more effective if you SEE it.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The curse of being first-

We arranged to demonstrate machine picking of neohybrid hazelnuts 9 years ago. I'm astonished it's been so long. The entire world has changed, in the meantime; for one thing, the machine company we dealt with, BEI, Inc; has been sold. 9 years ago, I'd been talking to their founder and president, Butch Greiffendorf, for 15 years already. He was an enthusiast for the hazels, and came to one of our Annual Field Days, to see the crop for himself, and meet potential growers.

But he sold the company, the rascal, a year or so before I called BEI to arrange a trial, on the 9 acres of Badgersett hazels at Arbor Day Farm. Enough enthusiasm survived that the trial did happen.

We're trying to arrange real machine picking, now, this year; and so far it's been an uphill battle. These are harder economic times, of course. The Illinois planting we featured here is loaded, and really needs a machine.

I of course made a video of the picking trial; but it wasn't easily available for me to send around. Remember- 9 years ago? There was no YouTube. It finally dawned on me; there IS , now. So I put it up. Imagine that.

Hopefully this will help to explain to the picking companies where we are, and how we got here, and what it looks like when a blueberry picker picks hazelnuts.

The thing is; this video is ancient; and primitive, by today's standards. I shot it on one of the first digital cameras that could also make short videos. But this was so early, they had no sound capability, at all. And of course, the resolution is a long way from HD.

But it was simple; anyway. This whole thing was cobbled together from 4 or 5 short clips, all entirely edited within plain old QuickTime.

When you're the first at something- it means working with whatever tools there are; and later comers can look a lot slicker. But; they can't be first. :-)

How did it work? It worked just fine. If there were ripe nuts, the machine picked them. (There weren't many; they Arbor Day people set aside the rows right next to the woods for the machine trial- and the squirrels were active...) The unripe nuts stayed on the bushes, as did the leaves, and next season's catkins. The force these machines use is adjustable, in sophisticated ways; the force needed to pick hazelnuts was allowing walking-stick insects to come all the way through the machine into the harvest bucket- and get up and walk off.

We will need different innards for the machines - a cluster of 10 hazelnuts will not behave like a blueberry on the conveyers or in the cleaners; but the picking mechanism itself- was just fine.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Field Day update

Here's a little updated information on the Field Day- it's looking like attendance will be great, and even the weather seems to be cooperating. This is a version of the press release we sent out:

Press Release: For Immediate Release 8/10/11


20th Field Day; 30+ Years Of Progress With New Sustainable Crops

If you’ve ever heard anyone say the word “hazelnuts”, in the Midwest, it’s a sure bet they’re talking about the hybrids developed first by Badgersett Research Farm, in Fillmore County. Unknown to many, Badgersett has also been developing two other crops, for the same 30+ years; hybrid chestnuts, which they claim will someday be comparable to corn as a mainstream crop, and hybrid hickories, now in the early years of showing what they can do.

“This 20th Annual Field Day is a fantastic chance for folks to see the realities involved in these new crops. At this point, with 5 universities picking up our hybrid hazelnut research, some of the information floating around can be conflicting. Very simply- our plantings are the oldest, by decades; besides being the largest, by tens of thousands, and the most diverse.” says Philip Rutter, Badgersett Research Corporation founder and CEO. “The USDA has just invested $1.3 Million in hybrid hazel research; a grant awarded to a collaboration by 3 universities, and based on the promise these new hybrids have as a crop that can be grown for energy and food- both, at the same time. We’re delighted. But managing a crop you plant once in 50 years is very different from corn and beans. The plants still surprise us, every year. For people who are interested, there’s just no substitute for seeing the fields, first hand.”

Badgersett’s hybrid hazelnuts are touted by many as a replacement for soybeans - in terms of markets, hazels can do anything soybeans can, and more. “They’re 60% oil, and the oil is chemically the twin of olive oil; so you can understand the interest.” says Rutter. “It actually tastes better than olive oil, in our opinion- plus; we burn it in our diesel engines.” Only for demonstration purposes at this point, he smiles, “Diesel is still cheaper, but the hazel oil smells better.” The hybrid chestnuts are producing wood as well as nuts now (“We’re drowning in woody biomass!” Rutter wails.) and the hybrid hickories are coming on strong; “The hickories are going to be important very soon,” Rutter says, “The same machines used for the pecan crop will work for these hybrids, so we don’t have to invent anything. Plus we can grow them in Minnesota- where pecans freeze out.”

Guided tours start at 10 AM, and run into the late afternoon. Visitors are welcome to bring a picnic lunch, and folks traveling from greater distances are welcome to camp overnight, before and after. “We usually have folks coming from 2 and 3 states away”, Rutter says, “all we can offer is primitive campsites, but it’s a growing phenomenon.”

This year’s Field Day has 3 areas of focus; on-farm cloning techniques, the off-grid solar greenhouse, and the integration of animals with the crops. “We’re working on pastured poultry in the hazels, and using horses and sheep to control grass in the chestnuts and hickories. So far- we think we need more animals.” says Rutter. “The idea is to use tools to control grass and weeds that have some chance of producing income- instead of just paying for tractors and diesel fuel forever. Even at the small test scales we’re using; it’s looking promising.” One of the things to see: “The hazel rows where we’ve been pasturing poultry for 2 years look better than any on the farm; they’re gorgeous. Better than expected, in fact.” grins Rutter; “Much better. Now we need to figure out why. It’s not just the nitrogen, we’ve proven that.”

Badgersett’s first Field Day was held in 1991, funded by a grant from the Minnesota Dept. of Agriculture. “The Field Day has really grown over the years; at this point we’re working on turning it into a one day Local Food / Sustainable Agriculture Fair. All our fellow members of the Lanesboro Local market (www.lanesborolocal.org) have been invited to come and sell their wares at the Field Day; we have hopes of a great turnout. Our Amish neighbors will be there, selling baked goods and more, and this year we’ve added music; the well known local country duet, Brother Music, Sister Rhythm (www.brothermusicsisterrhythm.com/) will be playing for us during the midday.” Rutter says. “That’s the direction we want the Field Day to go- a solid community and family event.”

The regional Clean Energy Resource Team (www.cleanenergyresourceteams.org) is bringing a group for a special tour of the greenhouse, which may just be the oldest off-grid business in the state.

Hazelnut, chestnut, and hickory plants WILL be available for sale this year; for the first time in several years.

A map to the Farm can be downloaded from the Farm website: www.badgersett.com, or is available by searching Google Maps for “Badgersett Farm”. Updates on Field Day events at: badgersettresearch.blogspot.com

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 info@badgersett.com 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 info@badgersett.com 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.