DemosNews: Nuts for Nuts
Nuts for Nuts
By: Sara Hartley

Spring finally reached New York City today after a seemingly endless, raw winter (snow still fell till a few days ago in Maine where I plant.) Suddenly, gardeners' fingers itch to touch earth again and set the next cycle of edible bounty in motion. But why limit the urge to vegetables and fruits? There’s still time to add an entirely new dimension to your land that’s statuesque, valuable, and luscious: gracious nut trees.

We tend to overlook them in favor of more avid, soft-fruit contenders like peaches, cherries, plums, and grapes. Plus, they must be moved small and patiently in order for their tap roots to reestablish themselves under ground before propelling growth upward. Once nut trees achieve good size and productivity, however, they bring unique satisfaction. Nothing matches the deeply resonant tang of black walnuts or the creamy flavor of butternuts. Nuts look marvelous fluttering their distinctive compound leaves, and the American tribe of hickories and pecans morph to lovely soft yellow in the fall. Some timber, such as black walnut, fetches a price as dear as mahogany for veneer, to fatten your descendants’ coffers in years to come. Even if your space is small, you might enjoy a cluster of hazelnuts, which stand shrub height, fruit prodigiously in 2 to 3 years, and transplant with ease.

Last year’s marvelous memoir by Mildred Armstrong Kalish about growing up in the Midwest during the Depression, The Little Heathens, included many evocative reminisces about nuts: family picnics each autumn to gather them, the huge quantities of shells kids cracked by hand (she avenged that gargantuan task as an adult by breaking the recalcitrants smugly under her Cadillac wheels!), the smell and finger stains from the husks, wounds inflicted when small fry hurled them at one another, which tasty cakes and cookies demanded hickories, which hazelnuts, which butternuts... Everyone in her extended family knew the exact location of each bearing tree scattered over their many acres of fields and woods. They felt devastated when some villain felled a prolific giant by their house to haul away its valuable trunk for sale while they were absent.

Nut trees can be hard to locate in commercial nurseries because the tap root precludes transplant when large. Luckily two dedicated mail order growers, Oikos in Michigan and St. Lawrence Nurseries in (frigid) upstate New York, offer a large selection of bare root or potted choices. Both venders discuss in detail which trees thrive in which milieux. Both offer an array of different variants within each nut type, and note the characteristics of each mother tree or geographic source: which bear precociously, which trees grow straight and tall for timber, which have a proclivity for the curly grain most valuable as veneer. Both have bred and selected material over decades in order to extend the range of tender nuts north, e.g. pecans that fruit in Michigan. Neither gooses up the seedlings with chemicals to look snappy but fail later. I have dealt with both happily for many years.

I should add that St. Lawrence also offers an enormous range of heirloom apples, as well as all sorts of edible fruits and berries. Oikos tantalizes with oaks of great variety, many unusual fruits (native and not), and uncommon shade trees. It also offers the fruit of extensive breeding programs to reintroduce American Chestnuts buffered by blight resistant genes.

Lastly, I suggest one important growing tip: to encourage and protect your young nut trees (or any hardwood seedlings), consider the “Tubex” 5’ high plastic sheathes offered by Oikos. They are no great lookers. They are certainly counterintuitive in concept; who’d imagine that a tree could thrive corseted in such a narrow confine. But in fact, the tube protects against animal browse and girdling, and from biting winter wind. Dew gathers on its interior surface and drips to the roots. Desirable CO² – O² exchange intensifies, as in a little greenhouse. Skeptical me has done A/B tests in which our Tubex seedlings grew at half again the speed of their mesh fence protected companions. After 6 or 7 years, the plastic tubes photo-destruct and drop away if you’ve not removed them already.

© 2024 Sara Hartley of DemosNews

April 10, 2008 at 8:02pm
DemosRating: 4.67
Hits: 2909

Genre: Home (Flora & Garden)
Type: Creative
Tags: pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, hickories, buternuts


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