Agrinut: Nuts for the Farm
If you’re choosing to grow nut trees on your farm, it probably means you want them to be useful. Nut trees can perform one or several functions on the farm
- For sale and/or for on-farm consumption: nut trees are a potential cash crop. If you’re planning to sell nuts at the farm, it will be important to select nuts that fit with your goals and context. Compared to fruit, vegetables, and livestock, nuts are relatively low-maintenance and long storage times. Nuts can be sold wholesale or directly to consumers via markets, U-Picks, and CSAs. If you are considering a significant planting of trees, please feel free to get in touch with us. We can recommend trees that are a good fit for your soils, goals, and labour processes on the farm.
- Animals: nut trees can be a great complement to livestock. Sheep have been successfully used to keep grass down in chestnut orchards, and the bushy habit of hazelnuts provides excellent cover for poultry. Trees will need protection from livestock (sheep, goats, and cows will all happily browse most nut trees). This can be achieved by keeping animals enclosed (e.g. electric fencing) or by enclosing trees (cages or tree tubes).
- Riparian buffers: if you have streams, ditches, or other water flows on your farm, nut trees can be a great riparian buffer. They can help reduce erosion and stabilize slopes while providing a yield. In particular, hickories and hazelnuts tolerate flooded/saturated land during the dormant season, so they are a great candidate for the wetter areas in your farm
- Marginal land: chestnuts and pine nuts can thrive in rocky/sandy soils, hillsides, and other underutilized areas of your farm. They are also among the hardiest and drought-tolerant of all nut trees, so they can be planted further away from centers of activity.
Nut trees tend to be relatively hardy and low-maintenance, making them a good candidate for farm diversification. Farmers already have plenty to do, so successful integration of trees requires a plan for efficient installation and maintenance. Here are some important considerations:
- Protection: your tree will need protection from deer and voles. Other than pines, all of our nut trees will get browsed by deer. Even once they get above browse height, they remain vulnerable to buck rubbing (male deers rubbing off the bark). We offer 6’ tree tubes that effectively prevent browsing and buck rubbing. We use them here at the Woven Grove and so far they’ve proven highly effective.
- Water: depending on rainfall patterns in your region, you should consider irrigation for your trees. Even if you have regular rainfall in the summer, young trees may require regular watering during the first few years as they get established
- Mowing/mulching: especially as trees are getting established, you will need a strategy to reduce competition from grasses and other nearby plants. In general, this can be achieved by regular mowing or mulching. We sell hemp mulch mats, which help exclude grass while your tree is getting established. We also offer ground covers that can support tree growth. Mulching with a thick (6 inch) layer of wood chips is perhaps the best way to support young trees, but it can be time-consuming and expensive. We do not recommend mulching with straw or similar material because it creates a habitat for voles and other rodents, which can destroy tree roots. For a deeper dive into mulching strategies, see our ‘mulch musings’ post.
- Planting: depending on your context, we recommend ‘overplanting’ in rows or clusters. This means planting more densely than the final spacing of mature trees. Planting at double or triple density in rows allows you to select the most vigorous/productive/hardy trees. The same result can be achieved with clusters: at our farm, chestnuts are planted in clusters of three, and we will select the tree with the most desirable traits and cull the others.
- Amendments/fertilizer: nut trees thrive in a variety of soils, but especially if your soil is degraded or depleted, it may be important to amend. We sell soil amendments and mycorrhizal fungi designed to support nut trees. The best way to optimize production is by testing your soil and adding specific amendments based on the analysis. If you want support with this, we offer consulting on soil remineralization. We can have your soil analyzed and recommend specific amendments and quantities for the types of trees you want to plant.