Sunday, July 31, 2016

Everything Done Right

If you come to visit Badgersett Farm, it can be a little difficult to visualize the process of establishing productive nut plantings.  For one thing, our plantings, hazels, chestnuts, and pecans, all neohybrids, are now so extensive it takes several days to actually see them all.  For another, our plantings are insanely variable from a grower standpoint, because of the 40 years of necessary, and ongoing, research.  A field with 10% stocking can look like a failure; and be an enormous success- since it identified the plants for the next generation.

But now, you can visit a planting where the process is crystal clear - and it's a bit easier to get to than SE Minnesota; north central Ohio; about 15 minutes off of Interstate 90.

The planting of Badgersett neohybrid hazelnuts as part of the Oberlin College Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies is a stellar example of “how to do it right”.  The establishment success, growth rate, and early nut bearing in this planting are simply the best it has ever been done- and approaches even theoretical limits.  It may be a long time before it is done better, anywhere.  And- we learned some things here that may change future plantings.

The Lewis Center is globally recognized as one of the most important examples of “green architecture”.  The hazel planting was conceived both as a demonstration of a biomass fuel crop, and an ongoing living experiment used for teaching.  The decision to immediately implement an experiment in fertilization was directly responsible for the outstanding success - meticulous individual fertilization was performed, starting in fall of 2011.

Planted under the guidance of Philip Rutter, Badgersett founder and CEO, the field was installed June 14, 2011, on a bright sunny day, with abundant participation by students and faculty.  Note that summer, and sunny days, are not usually associated with tree planting success - but the tubeling system worked exactly as planned.

June 14, 2011
Soil preparation was unconventional; but needed for the deeply compacted heavy clay soil.  Leaf compost from the College supply was incorporated with about 12” of tilled clay; leaving ridges that were sure to subside.  Several larger clonal hazels were included as reference genetics, but the majority of the planting is straight “standard” hazels; the same thing we recommend to growers.

As always recommended, the newly installed tubelings were provided with 0.5 to 1 gallon of water, on the day of planting.
June 14, 2011

Oct, 2011
By October of 2011, the tubelings had made very little top growth and were close to disappearing under the white clover that had been planted as cover, nitrogen, and rabbit diversion.  Some judicious mowing next to the rows and a little hand weeding kept them with their heads up in the sun.

This is the usual experience with the tubelings - they will look unimpressive, even worrisome in year one.  Long years of comparative research, however, have consistently shown that by year 3, they will far outgrow bare-root dormant transplants.  And that was demonstrated once again at Oberlin.  The ridges from the compost amendment are still evident here; but you will see they have subsided in the 2013 photos.

Planted in 2011.  So far we have been unable to locate and photos from 2012.  The planting looked like not much of anything that year.  But regular care, mowing of grass/clover, and most importantly - fertilization - continued on schedule.

Remember these plants were seeds in spring of 2011, outplanted when they were around 3 months old.  In spring of 2012, they were one year old.  In spring of 2013 — two photos.  From this point on, we have photographs; and they are — astonishing.  Pay very close attention to the dates on the following photos:

May 23, 2013
At right is the field on May 23, 2013; these plants are actually not quite 2 years old.  Already, however, as big as the best bare root nursery stock ever gets.  
And below - is the field in the same year; 2013; but on August 5.  In 2 months time (count them) the same plants are now easily equal in size to 5 year old bare root transplants.

And below - is the field in the same year; 2013; but on August 5.  In 2 months time (count them) the same plants are now easily equal in size to 5 year old bare root transplants.

August 5, 2013 

August 5, 2013
Above, with the Oberlin hazel team at the time, are the prize-winning hazels in the field; the same day; August 5, 2013.   These plants are 3 1/2 years old —from seed.  The tallest member of team is 6’3” tall - the tallest hazel is well over 7 feet tall.

May, 2014

Clusters of nuts showed up on many plants in 2014; indicating that plant mass is likely more significant than plant age in determining onset of nut bearing.

August, 2015

Harvest for class analysis in  August, 2015 - plants are now 4.5 years old. The photovoltaic array for the Lewis Center is in the background.

July 2016

 To the right: this year, 2016; the plants are 5.5 years old.  All of the bushes are bearing crops; some of them extremely heavy.  If you are familiar with the patterns of neohybrid hazel branch structure - you can tell this plant bore a crop last year, too -

This is, simply, the best and fastest these neohybrid hazels have been grown in the field  

The Lewis Center neohybrid hazel field, July 13, 2016.  5.5 years old.  Unfortunately, the young man in the photo is 6’5” tall - making the plants look a little smaller than they actually are  (humor.).  The very large hazel just to the right of him is a G-029 tissue cultured reference clone, and was 4 years old at planting; not a tubeling.

Note that the field is fully populated; initial survival over 90%.  It’s not hard to duplicate this success with these plants – it’s just necessary to follow the instructions – all of them — and remember, they are NOT bare-root dormant nursery transplants.- and treating them as if they were; will kill them.  Note also that EFB (Eastern Filbert Blight) is present on campus; this is what genetically fixed EFB resistance looks like.

If you wish to visit; the Oberlin College Lewis Center welcomes visitors {they get plenty coming to see "The Most important green building constructed in the last 30 years" according to Architect Magazine (July 2010)}.  It's easy to find using any modern map app; or you can just ask the friendly folk to direct you.  If you would like someone to show you around, Ben Hobbs, the Facility Manager will try his best to be available; best arranged ahead of time: or cell phone is 216-407-1351.

Phones: 815-275-1632 or 815-598-3264.  


  1. Would it be possible to ship 5 to nw ill. I would really like to have some, and im not really able to make the trip there. Thank you, sue beaty

    1. Sue- the plants are IN NW Illinois- the folks with the plants have never shipped them, and it's not easy - but you could call the phone numbers here and ask; it's your only hope- :-) Otherwise; we do ship from Badgersett, but it will be next year-

  2. I thought you might be interested in another success story, this one not far from the coast of Maine. Planted 32 tubelings in June 2013, another 12 in 2014, lost 3 (so 93% success). Formerly wooded area, cleared for the purpose of planting the hazelnuts. A few plants have reached 8', three years and two months after planting. (Yes, I followed the directions.) Some plants produced catkins last year, and some grew nuts this year. I'm not sure mass is the main factor, since the plant which produced the most nuts is maybe 5'. You can see some photos here: