Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Prairie Plum Farm Hickory-Pecan Plantation 2012

Many folks are aware of the NeoHybrid Chestnuts and Hazels being bred and tested at Badgersett.  Less well-known is the hickory-pecan group (Carya).  A major reason for this is the longer generation time - typically 10 years to first seed crop from a seedling - resulting in fewer generations present on the farm.  (That is, in addition to just not enough personnel or hours in the day...)

Now - I really like wooden items - their lasting beauty and luster pay tribute to the tenacity of trees overcoming the odds to persist to lumber or even veneer size.  When I lived in Illinois, I joined a wood carvers' club and had chosen hickory as the flooring of choice if I had been able to afford the upgrade to my tiny ranch home.

Soon after coming to work for Badgersett I learned that Philip shared my admiration for hickories.  He has a grove of hybrid hickories, both shagbark and bitternut, interbred with pecan.  Compared with the other nut crops, they are easier for the smaller grower to harvest/gather (unless renting a blueberry picker for hazels), and easier to extract from the husk.  In my humble opinion, the flavor is better and the range of culinary uses is as wide or wider than the others.  The wood of the bole is downright gorgeous as lumber, smaller parts yield great btu generation per unit, and the branches are valuable as smokewood. 

I decided, when provided the opportunity, I wanted to plant a bunch for myself.  Well - a year or so ago I purchased a 14.5A former Amish farmlet and am working towards the goal of becoming at least 80% energy and food self-sufficient.  I don't aim for 100% - at least not until I find temperate strains of coffee and chocolate.  The dairy end of things will also, at least for now, need to be bought or bartered for.

Last month I purchased 5 dozen of Badgersett's last year's hybrid hickory tubelings and began my orchard!
Being a geneticist, I set it up as a progeny test plot, with blocks and reps and all that.  Contrary to many recommendations, I did minimal field prep - planting into a recently mowed alfalfa/grass mix.  We hand dug  the holes using a tile spade at 6 foot within and 30 foot between row spacing.  Since then we've had NO rain and temperatures in excess of 100F.  Watering has been done approximately every other day with water pumped to a former ethanol industry carboy and gravity fed through a series of garden hoses.  I started with 5 gallon buckets and jetisoned that approach real fast.  So far I have about 10% looking peaked, but resprouting could still occur. 

Having attended Badgersett field days and short courses, as well as seen the perpetrators and consequences in the fields there - I'm paranoid.  Already I'm seeing burrowing in gthe vacinity and even IN the planting holes.  The next step I'll be taking to counter the Enemy is to erect some wiring fence exclosures aimed at large herbivores (deer and my flock of sheep).  As all other vegetation seems likely to dry up, these succulent tidbits could become beacons in the landscape to any and all hungry plant eatters.  Stay tuned for later developments...


  1. I enjoyed reading this post!!! When the nut trees get big you should use these machines I saw called baganut. I know they have a web site but not sure what it is.

  2. We actually have one, bought a couple years ago. In perfect shape! Would you like to buy it?

    : - )

    The problem is; it works perfectly on perfect lawns. But- if the ground is bumpy (it is) or has twigs that fell off the trees (there are plenty) or a lot of fallen leaves (very often) - then it just doesn't work- at all. There ARE more advanced machines in existence; so far, we can't afford them.

  3. A question about managing nut thieving and tree-munching wildlife:

    For insects, we know there's benefit to having hedgerows/wildlife habitat between ag fields so there's an established niche supporting the top predators that eat the bugs wholesale.

    Does that work for nut farming? Can you have enough of a hedgerow to support hawks -- so they can make their living off the hedgerow, but will favor picking off any squirrel or gopher they see out in the adjacent and far more exposed open field where your trees are growing?

  4. Hank; it absolutely works. We have "hedgerows" of pines in the hazel rows, and hawk roosts for the hawks. We have multiple species, the most visible being red tails, northern harriers, and kestrels- and actually certified merlins; to everyone's astonishment. Just as much present, but much less visible are the Cooper's hawks- they're fast and sneaky. The Cooper's take a chicken now and then- last year the only one of our chickens I ate I took away from a male Cooper's who'd just killed it. But; the guineas normally warn the chickens in time. Normally. All a balance. And none of these hawks are functional against the newly invading red squirrels; too small; too fast. We need pine martens..... :-)

  5. > pine martens
    > hedgerows ... roosts

    When Dr. W. is putting in fences against deer and sheep, splicing in some taller more complicated poles in the mix might work (and fence lines might offer some corner bracing).

    (How's the availablility of old phone poles when they're removed from service, say?)

    Pictures -- Google image search turns up a few:

    I'd guess there must be specific information available from the birdwatchers/restoration people on height, and spacing, and arrangement of upper branches to provide conditions for different kinds of raptors, and for letting them cohabit in an area -- I haven't found that though.

    Hm, Wikipedia doesn't even list North America as red squirrel habitat -- and says pine martens are reducing the invasive N. American gray squirrel in Europe.

    Any hope that any native predator will eventually learn to profitably go after red squirrels in their nests?
    -- crows? Owls?

    Judging by the bits of green on the map you're near the tip of what might be a decent wildlife corridor down to the river to the east, but surrounded by more farm than woodland in all the other directions. Is there anything that you'd expect to migrate into your site that you could somehow encourage? Got weasels of any variety?

    I guess to encourage owls you'd want nest boxes (and shade structures built above the boxes?)
    Do you also have burrowing owls there?

    (I read that one of the common fatalities along California's highways is the small burrowing owls that find the grass strips between and alongside freeways ideal habitat, except that they don't handle the wind from large vehicles when they're hunting over the highway)

    "... she swallowed a spider to catch the fly ..."

    1. Hi, Hank- actually our "front sign" incorporates a raptor roost; which we've seen everything from kestrels to bald eagles using. We stick them in where they're needed, when we have the time; takes about a half day for a crew of 4 or so to get one erected. Ours need to be a minimum of 20' tall, in order to overlook 14' tall hazels. We grow our own poles now- we've put up black locust and chestnut poles in the last few years. We do have some retired utility poles- but they're lying on the ground still. very heavy, bottoms in poor shape; no branches...

      Info on roosts for different birds is VERY sparse; I'm aware of only like 4 peer-reviewed studies, and their applicability is very restricted; birdwatchers info is wildly erratic. We put them up and watch- virtually always, a new roost is utilized by raptors the very next day; they're not shy. First one we ever erected, I saw a Cooper's hawk using the next day- and they're seldom recorded using "sit and wait" tactics. But they do if there's a place to sit.

      We have seen and documented ALL possible local mustelids here, except spotted skunk- and they're probably here sometimes. Had a huge population of ermine about 8 years ago; it's crashed at the moment. Might be the "barn cats" we have around the houses; but they really don't travel out to the corners of the farm; we watch tracks in winter (which is most of how we knew about the ermine), and they hang around the houses

      No burrowing owls here; screech and saw whet, usually restricted to forests. Once saw 3 Great Horned owls sitting in the absolute top of one of our roosts at the same time. Guessing it was mom, pop, and junior; they're not usually so chummy.

  6. Thinking about squirrels -- have you any farm cats there? Just speculating here. While they can be a plague on wild birds generally, I wonder -- some organizations trap, neuter and ear-mark ferals then place them somewhere they can live tolerably well. Cats, particularly ferals according to Wikipedia, will group in a "clowder" in a good location. And they're stealth hunters, perhaps better suited to picking squirrels out of trees than your hawks. Might put some limit on your squirrel population.

    1. yep, plenty of cats these days; go with the horses and poultry; both of which attract mice and rats from the next farm. The cats are mostly anchored to the buildings though. Mostly.

  7. Good. I was going to say, scratch that idea, they eat way more birds than was thought: