Tag Archive: growing


Hazelnuts- Wikipedia image

Quick Hazel History  

Pollen counts reveal that Corylus avellana was the first of the temperate deciduous forest trees to immigrate, establish itself and then become abundant in the post glacial period. Evidence of the cultivation of hazelnuts exists in excavations sites in China that date back over 5,000 years ago. An ancient manuscript also listed hazelnuts as one of China’s five sacred foods. Archaeologists have found large quantities of hazelnut shells in Mesolithic and Neolithic sites in what is now Sweden, Denmark, and Germany. The Mesolithic era, or Middle Stone Age, dates back around 10,000 years ago until the Neolithic period, which started 7,000 years ago. Hazelnuts were a large part of the prehistoric hunter and gatherer’s diet, and the nuts probably provided them with enough nutrition to sustain them between hunting seasons.

Throughout history, it was believed that hazel trees and their nuts possessed mystical powers and healing properties. Divining rods were made out of Y-shaped hazel tree branches to locate underground springs, buried treasure, and minerals and ores. Ancient Romans would light hazel torches during wedding nights as a sign of fertility and to ensure a long and happy marriage.

Hazel trees were introduced to the United States by European immigrants. The first hazelnut tree in the Pacific Northwest was planted in 1858 by Sam Strickland, a retired English sailor in Scottsburg, Oregon. Today, hazelnuts grown in the Willamette Valley make up 99 percent of hazelnuts produced in the United States. The remaining 1 percent is produced in Washington. In 1989, the hazelnut (commonly called the filbert by Oregonians) became the official state nut of Oregon.

Hazelnut-producing regions of the world are all close to large bodies of water, which moderate the climate. About 70% of the world’s hazelnut production comes from the Black Sea region of northern Turkey. Italy produces about 20% of world production. Spain, France, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and the United States produce most of the rest. World production and supply of hazelnuts—as well as the supply of other nuts—influence hazelnut prices in the United States.

The dominant feature controlling the distribution of commercial hazelnut production in the United States is the moderate climate of the Pacific Northwest coastal valleys, which is influenced by the Pacific Ocean. Virtually all of the hazelnuts produced commercially in the United States are
grown in the Pacific Northwest. Approximately 99% are grown in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and Washington produces the remaining 1%. Pacific Northwest production represents 3%–5% of world hazelnut production.

The Squirrel Hack

Your adorable nemesis

If you live in an climate that is favorable to hazelnut trees, I bet you’ve run across more than a few sprouting in the lawn, or the bushes, or in the garden where they aren’t supposed to be, set down in ‘secret’ spots by enterprising squirrels.  I spent far more time pulling new saplings out than planting them, truth be told. There’s an interesting way to ‘hack’ this habit of squirrels to steal and hide your nuts:  Give them places to hide them. A gallon pot hidden near a tree, a bucket of sawdust, cinder blocks with accessible holes, all of these represent a great storage space to a squirrel. Let them do your collecting for you, and steal them right back!

Side note on keeping squirrels at bay, and this is just personal observation.  I don’t know why, but ducks seem to despise squirrels. My ducks used to chase and harass any visiting squirrel to my two trees in the backyard, and when I had hanging out them there, I sure had a lot more nuts to collect!  If you were keeping a small orchard of hazelnuts, running ducks under the trees to pasture them might just reduce the amount of robbery.

You could also eat the squirrels.  Just sayin’.  Apparently they taste like nutty rabbit.

How to Care for your Hazels

Mostly, caring for your hazels is about pruning, since they grow pretty quickly, and apart from a few diseases like Eastern Filbert Blight, they are very easy to care for. Pruning frequently makes your tree more productive, as it puts more energy into making nuts than new branches, which it will happily do if left alone. It also extends the life of the tree, in the long run.

Basics: Ideally, you’re looking for a not too dense tree with good air circulation with an open crown to let the light in evenly.  Select the best 3-5 trunks with sturdy branching, and prune the rest out.  Any branches that cross and rub against each other should be taken out. Branches that grow outward at too sharp an angle or downward should also be pruned out. Branches that grow taller than 10-15 ft. can be lopped, you want a tree that’s sturdy, and not impossible to reach the top of. Be a little cautious with chopping it short though, as the tree will bush out below cuts and if you do it too much, block out light to the lower branches. Just do the branches that go rocketing straight up.

More thorough instructions on training a young tree here

Luckily, the suckers you will need to remove most often are whippy and flexible, and easily used for things like wattle fencing or basketry, and the wood, once seasoned, makes pretty good firewood. A little on the faster burning side, but if you have lots of free wood from pruning, then that’s no big deal.

If you’re not worried about producing a big nut crop, hazels can be coppiced, or cut back down to the ground so that they produce many thin, straight branches in the following year.  These are great for fencing, making chairs, hoops and other garden supports, and anything else you want a flexible wood for. Coppiced hazels can be harvested in a year if you want thin bendy stakes, or in a few if you want nice thick poles.

Fertilizing: Honestly, hazelnuts are very easygoing in their requirements and you don’t need to fuss too much over the fertilizer. If you’re growing a proper orchard, by all means, then get a leaf tissue analysis or soil test done at a lab and respond accordingly, but for the average homeowner,  some nice compost or a balanced fertilizer around the drip line in spring should keep your tree happy. Hazels don’t appreciate drought, so in the Pacific Northwest, a few good deep waterings during the drought season are a requirement. All the usual rules apply:  Keep your soil happy and full of life with organic amendments, mulch, make sure drainage is good, water deeply if there’s a period of drought.

Production: Hazelnut trees might produce a few nuts when they are 2 or 3 years old, but they are not considered commercially productive until 4 years of age. Mature orchards produce from less than 2,000 pounds of dry nuts per acre (2.24 metric tons per hectare) to more than 4,000 pounds per acre (4.48 metric tons per hectare). An orchard can remain productive for about 40–50 years if managed well and kept free of disease. Assuming you aren’t growing an orchard, one mature tree can produce up to 25 lbs. of nuts.

So, you actually want an Orchard? Check here.

Getting Nuts: Mow under the trees before nuts start to fall, it will make it easier to rake up the nuts.  It takes about six weeks for them to all fall off, but you can hurry that up a bit by shaking the tree. If you feel really enterprising, you can put an old bedsheet under it first, to make everything cleaner. Not all the nuts will be good, but that’s easy to tell, simply float them in water. If they float, toss, if they sink, good. Chuck any that have holes in them, unless you enjoy eating bugs.

Most sources go straight to the drying, but don’t miss out on the fresh ones- they are delicious, they just don’t keep as long. Try a few just as they are, they’re more tender and moist but just as tasty. Harvested early, just before they start to fall, the British call them cobnuts.  Yes, they are specific varieties, but they are still hazelnuts, and if you collect green nuts in August from your own tree, they will taste the same. At this point the frilly skin is still green, and nuts are still on the tree.  They are fresh and milky and delicious, so give them a try!

Once hazelnut picking has been accomplished, it’s time to dry the nuts out. Start drying them within 24 hours after picking. Lay them out in a single layer on a screen to allow for good aeration. Place them in a warm, dry place and stir them around every day. Hazelnuts dried in this manner should be completely dried in 2-4 weeks. To speed up the process, you can use a food dryer. Set the temperature of the dryer to 90-105 degrees F. (32-40 C.). A food dryer will shorten the drying time to 2-4 days. You may also dry the nuts over a furnace or radiator, whatever will keep the temp around 90-105 F. and no more than that. Also, if you shell the nuts prior to drying them, the dry time will decrease significantly. Once the hazelnuts are dry, the meat will be cream colored and firm. As long as the nuts are not shelled, hazelnuts can be stored at room temp for several months. Shelled nuts should be used within a few weeks or stored in the refrigerator or frozen for up to a year.

Eastern Filbert Blight: A total bastard.

Rather than cut and paste a huge amount of information here, how about you just check out Pacific Northwest Pest Management Handbooks.

EFB is the main disease you need to worry about, but it’s easily identified, and if you are going to the trouble of purchasing new stock, then be sure to ascertain if it’s an EFB resistant strain of hazel.  If you want to grow from seed, or layering an unknown tree, you are taking your chances! You will still get nuts from an infected tree, but not nearly as much, and the tree will have a seriously shortened lifespan.

EFB resistant Hazelnuts

Hazel Varieties: A few nuggets of wisdom on hazel varieties from Michael Dolan of Burnt Ridge Nursery: Hazelnuts are one of the most widely-adapted nut trees on the continent. Some are even hardy to zone 3.
Bush hazels (Corylus americana) typically only grow to 10′ and can easily be kept at 6′. The nuts fall free of the husks; this variety native to Eastern US. Hardy to zone 3. Small nuts.
Beaked hazels (Corylus cornuta) are the West Coast native with smaller bushes than the commercial varieties, and give smaller nuts that are challenging to get out of their husks (which have a pointed, or “beaked” collar at the non-stem end).
European hazels (Corylus avellana) are the most commonly cultivated commercial varieties, and Oregon State Univ has come out with blight-resistant varieties in the last 10 years or so – Jefferson is most commonly substituted for the old favorite variety Barcelona – and pollinators for Jefferson include Yamhill, Theta, Eta, Felix, Dorris, McDonald, York, Wepster. Sacajawea, Halle’s Giant and Tonda Di Giffoni are older varieties that are somewhat less blight resistant, but Tonda Di Giffoni is the favored Italian variety due to its ability to blanch perfectly and remove the inner husk.
Turkish Tree Hazels (Corylus colurna) are a tree form that yields smallish nuts in a highly decorative husk grouping – each cluster has multiple husks that have a hard, scrolled pattern to the pointed ends, giving the entire cluster a crazy, fist-sized brown snowflake-like appearance.

Extra Bonus Level: Truffles! You can now get hazelnut trees which have been inoculated with truffle mycelium. What better deal than to be able to get two crops in one space, the aim of permaculture and agroforestry? This new tech is still not very widespread, but there are producers out there selling Oaks and Hazels which should produce truffles in about the same time it takes to get a decent crop of nuts. Truffle harvest generally starts just after hazelnut harvest is over. If you’re trying to get the maximum out of your plantings, it will be worth the extra cost output to begin with. Now all you need is a properly trained dog!

Getting Some: That all depends on where you are. Oregon has most of the dedicated hazelnut growers, if you’re in the states, I’d look there first for bare root stock. In Canada, there’s quite a few nut growers but some don’t ship to certain provinces. NatureTech looks to be the best source of EFB resistant trees on the west coast. Your local nursery might carry hazelnuts, or they might not.  Nut trees are not as popular as fruit trees, so be aware you may have to go the extra mile to get what you want. If you’re lucky enough to know someone with EFB resistant trees, layering to get new trees couldn’t be easier, or remove a sucker from the base that has some roots attached.

Happy growing!

 

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Oh, Onions.

Ode To The Onion 
by Pablo Neruda
Onion,
luminous flask,
your beauty formed
petal by petal,
crystal scales expanded you
and in the secrecy of the dark earth
your belly grew round with dew.
Under the earth
the miracle
happened
and when your clumsy
green stem appeared,
and your leaves were born
like swords
in the garden,
the earth heaped up her power
showing your naked transparency,
and as the remote sea
in lifting the breasts of Aphrodite
duplicating the magnolia,
so did the earth
make you,
onion
clear as a planet
and destined
to shine,
constant constellation,
round rose of water,
upon
the table
of the poor.You make us cry without hurting us.
I have praised everything that exists,
but to me, onion, you are
more beautiful than a bird
of dazzling feathers,
heavenly globe, platinum goblet,
unmoving dance
of the snowy anemoneand the fragrance of the earth lives
in your crystalline nature.
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Red Soldier Beetles making sweet, sweet love on an onion flower.

What would our meals be without onions? Like a kiss without a hug, I say! Sure, it lacks the structural necessity of eggs, or the  essential savour of salt, it’s not like you couldn’t live without the onion, I suppose.  But who wants to??  Cook up a pan of onions, and it already smells like FOOD in the kitchen, you pull drifters off the sidewalk and husbands from the yard, sell boy scout hot dogs by the pound, all because of the delicious smell of onions.  Now, I won’t go into the cookery of them (other than to say you can’t caramelize an onion in ten minutes no matter what anyone tells you so don’t try…) because that’s not my wheelhouse.  Nope, I’m going to talk about
growing them.
So, why can’t you grow big, fat onions like the grocery store sells?  WHY?? Onions are actually tough bastards.  Anyone can grow an onion and they’ll probably be okay no matter how terrible a gardener you are. But big, fat, juicy, resplendent onions luscious as the globes of a lingerie model’s bottom?  That’s trickier.
Firstly, onions grow in layers, which I’m sure you figured out already, but may not have realized that each leaf corresponds to one of those crystalline shells. If you have 12 leaves you get 12 rings.  Fat juicy healthy leaves make-well, you get the picture. Those leaves will transfer their carbohydrates into the bulb, making that sucker plump up- this is the ‘bulbing’ stage. After that starts no more leaves will be produced. So before you get to the big fat onion satisfaction part, you have to grow the top bits as big and green and leafy as possible.
So how d’you do that?  First, we must begin with where you live and what kind of onion you’re going to grow. We’re talking about Allium cepa here, the bulbing or common onion.  I’ll save the other members of the family for another post.
There’s short day, intermediate, and long day onions.  Which one will do the best for you depends mainly on your latitude, and a little bit on how early you get started. The goal is to pick a variety that gives you as long as possible to grow as many large leaves prior to bulbing. The variety, however, must not require so many hours of day length that your area will not reach the bulbing threshold needed to trigger the start of the bulbing process. In the Northern Hemisphere, the farther you are from the equator, the longer the days will be during the summer and, therefore, the longer period that you have to create foliage. In general, long day types are better keepers than short day types.
So essentially, if you live above 35th parallel of latitude you want long day onions, below it you want short day onions.  If you’re right on it, within a few degrees, there’s intermediates. Or you can try an intermediate pretty much anywhere as they start bulbing when the day length reaches 12 to 14 hours. Almost all areas of the country reach that range of day length.
SO which ones are those, Miz Helpful, right? I won’t be cruel and tell you that your nursery knows best and will automatically carry the ones best suited.  They might, but many companies are terrible at being specific about their onions.  For instance we get bags of sets listed as ‘red’ ‘white’ and ‘yellow’. Gee, thanks a lot. There’s too many damn onions to give you a really full and complete list but here goes with some of the most popular:
Short Day Onions:
Georgia Sweet (aka Yellow Granex, Maui, Noonday)
Texas Legend, Texas Early White, Texas Grano ( if it says “Texas“, it’s probably a short day, ok?)
Red Creole
Vidalia
Southern Belle
Red Burgundy
1015 Supersweet
Contessa
Pinot Rouge
Mata Hari
Rio Bravo
Milky Way
Intermediate Onions:
Candy
Super Star
Red Candy Apple
Cimmaron
Australian Brown
White Portugal
Southport Yellow Globe
Southport Red Globe
Early Yellow Globe
Italian Red
Flat Madiera
Rich Sweet White/Yellow Exhibition
Rossa Di Milano
Red Ruby
Red Amposta
Balajo
White Wing
Zoey
Long Day Onions:
Red Torpedo (borderline intermediate)
Ailsa Craig
Kelsae (if you’re trying to grow huge prizewinners, this is your onion.)
Spanish
Walla Walla
Copra
Highlander
Red River
Red Zeppelin
Red Bull
Cipollini
Big Daddy
Cometa
Calibra
Cabernet
So, aside from planting the correct type of onion, what else?  Fertilizing.
Nitrogen.
I know they’re growing under the ground, which means we tend to go heavy on the phosphorus as if it were a potato or beet, but onions actually like a very healthy dose of nitrogen, more like leaf crops.  See, we’re growing leaves to grow the bulb, right?  You want a very fertile soil overall to grow big onions, they are heavy feeders.  However, excess N applications can result in late maturity, large necks that are difficult to cure, soft bulbs, and poor storage quality. A higher percentage of fertilizer N is absorbed by the plant if the fertilizer is applied when the onion root system is well developed. Split applications of nitrogen are used more effectively by the plant than a single pre-plant broadcast application. Fertilizer N applied before planting should be banded well away (6″) from the seed on the furrow side of rows in two-row onion beds. Side dressed nitrogen applications or nitrogen applied in irrigation water can be an effective means of providing supplemental nitrogen to the crop during the season. If rainfall is very heavy, or temperatures are cool, you may want to increase it a little as both of these things will decrease available nitrogen.  Back off the nitrogen applications in mid July.  Too much delays maturity and affects storage quality. My favourite organic high nitrogen fertilizer is blood meal.  You can side dress with it and/or water it in, and it keeps the rabbits and deer away from new greens nicely.
Phosphorus is essential for early growth and best applied before planting, banded 2″ below and to the side of seeds.  That way the rather stubby roots can get to it easily. Bat and bird guano is about the best source possible, rock phosphate is pretty good, bone meal is too slow unless it’s powdered. Fish emulsion or meal is just about perfect if it’s around 4.2.2. or 5.2.2.
Potassium isn’t a huge need in most soils, but it is needed, and as long as your soil isn’t alkaline, a sprinkling of wood ash in the soil before planting is great for onions.  (From a nice clean fire obviously, not one you threw plastic wrappers or garbage into because eeeew.) You could also use greensand, granite dust, banana peels (composted), & kelp.
Magnesium.  Epsom salts is not a magic cure for everything- but in this case, it can be really helpful as onions need a decent amount of it, and in the PNW where I live, soils are often magnesium poor. Acid sandy soils often need a little extra.
Sulphur.  Since sulphur is what gives onions their characteristic smell and taste (And tear-inducing qualities) it stands to reason that they need a good dose of available sulphur. Careful with it though, as sulphates acidify soil and onions like it on the sweet side. If you use flowers of sulphur on your soil do it well in advance of planting as soil bacteria can take up to a year to convert it into a form that plants can use.  Plus you’ll get a big bounce in pH as it works that can be hard to keep track of. Kitchen veg scrap compost generally has plenty.
Irrigation: Onions usually have smallish root systems, (although very loose soil can help them grow much bigger,) so attention to irrigation is absolutely necessary for big juicy onions. There’s lots of veg you can force into growing huge deep roots to compensate for less frequent watering, but onions are not one of them. Also, maintaining an even soil moisture is important in reducing incidence of double-centred bulbs. Moisture at the very top of the soil is quite important, so a good mulch (I like straw) is helpful if not essential.  Onions also do not do well with competition from weeds, so- mulch.  You can quit watering when the green tops fall over, which means the onions are imminently ready to come out.
Seeds or Sets?
Most people do buy onion sets, (Those mesh bags with teeny little onions in them) because it’s easy and they’re widely available. Technically, sets are second year plants and they can flower instead of growing a nice bulb if not treated well, or if you get a solid drop in temperature after they start to grow. But hey, if you’re late to the game and feel like the spring is definitely sprung, go for it. I like to know what I’m growing and they are quite often inadequately labelled. I prefer, if I remember to do it early enough, to grow from seed. It is also ridiculously cheap. Your nursery will probably carry young onions ‘in the green’ in pots in spring, looking quite a lot like tufts of grass and those are just fine too. Separate them!  Each little onion needs some space to become a nice big bulb. 4-5 inches apart is good.
Starting Seed
Do it early. February or March is about right for spring sowing.  You can also do it Octoberish if you have very mild weather and plan on planting in fall, or a great growing area indoors to overwinter them in. It’s a good idea to use fresh sterilized starter mix to be on the safe side.  I have also completely disobeyed this rule and been fine. Worm castings enhance germination and I like using them in my starter mix to start seeds.  This is anything but sterile.  It also complicates things, in that any seeds in the castings already will germinate and grow like crazy, so you might have to weed it a bit and that can be irritating (and confusing if you have grass seed germinate).  So- duly warned, make your choice.
Bottom heat is extremely helpful to get even, fast germination of seeds (not just with onions, with pretty much everything.) Onion germination is fastest as 68-77°F (20-25°C), with slight temperature drops at night. You can cheat if you don’t have seed warming mats by putting trays on top of the refrigerator.  Put tops on the trays or put them in a bag so the moisture stays even- in just over a week you should have sprouts. After they sprout though, you need some light.  A couple of fluorescents are totally adequate for this. Seedlings are ready to transplant to larger containers (or possibly outside, with protection like reemay or row covers if you have an early spring) when they have three leaves each. If it is too cold out- definitely wait! Consistent exposure to temperatures below 50°F (10°C) for more than 10 days can cause onions to bolt (produce flowers) rather than producing big bulbs.
Planting out
Not too deep!  The neck of the bulb should be just under the surface. Space 4-5 inches apart for large onions, you can crowd if you just want green onions. Make sure you’ve banded your fertilizer or soil amendment into the soil before planting. Mulch to suppress weeds, or sow some fast growing greens like lettuces, something you plan on pulling/cutting young so it doesn’t shade out the onions too much.
How MANY?
Important question- if you’re going to try to grow all your onions for a year, how many would you grow? Average consumption is somewhere around twenty lbs. per person, per year.  Assuming you do a good job you can expect 10-15 lbs per 10 ft. row. Always expect lower than average yields to be on the safe side.  You have no idea what’s coming your way. So if you really want to be hedging your bets with extra onions to give away or french onion soup all winter, twenty feet per person!