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Neohybrid Hazels

hazel-nuts in a cupWelcome to Campo di Fiori’s new adjoining webpage highlighting our work growing neohybrid hazels, production of hazelnuts, and hazel nursery stock. As a subject all of its own it is enough to warrant its own section, providing information about this unique, valuable and fascinating genus of plants. The term neohybrid means our hazel plants are crosses of three different Corylus species (americana, cornuta,avellana),which are open-pollinated, and with each individual plant wholly unique and new to the species. My utmost goal is to provide the necessary inspiration and nursery stock to help others pursue this form of staple food production in the state of Maine, largely with a focus on the resilience and versatility of hazels as very important attributes of a food-bearing plant, as we move into the future. At the formation of this website, Campo di Fiori is the only source of neo-hybrid hazelnut seedlings in the state of Maine. Due to the nature of growing hazelnuts and the long-term commitment involved in understanding this new crop, one is beholden to the most experienced sources, in my case Badgersett Research Farm. At times you may find the text to be a bit long-winded, but I feel, considering the circumstances, it necessary to provide a thorough personal and transparent account of my own experience with the crop, notwithstanding information gleaned elsewhere, to help ensure the customers confidence in the quality of our seedlings and our intentions. As you read through the information you will not find any specific cultural instructions, for this I recommend the current bible in hazelnut production – Growing Hybrid Hazelnuts, by Philip Rutter and friends.

 

The Big Picture

First and foremost it must be stated that one should not enter into the production of hazelnuts with the goal to get rich. This is not an endeavor for those who are simply business-minded. Happily make a humble living on the land? Surely, in time. To undertake hazelnut production one should be settled into another trade, be it farming or not, and to own their own land. Unlike most other staple crops, hazels are long-lived, woody, perennial plants which take several years establishment prior to bearing. In the meantime, it is all care and maintenance: forward investment. And yet, to think of this crop solely in terms of nut production would be missing half the picture. It is the whole of the plant and its many uses and attributes which must be equated when assessing its worth. Furthermore, this assessing of worth must be perceived, once again, with an eye to the future. Who can predict the future? Nobody can, but everybody is trying, and it will depend on what you wish to believe. I believe the worst is yet to come for humanity and that we are deeply in trouble in myriad ways. There, I said it. Now you know. I hate to dwell on it, but given the evidence, it is hard not to consider. That the worst is on the way is once again only part of the picture.

As of now, there is still much to desire in the world of crop production. In a very real way, the growing of hazels counters all the current bad news concerning mainstream agriculture: pesticides, soil erosion, crop loss due to extreme weather, loss of biodiversity, water pollution, air pollution, global warming, GMO silliness, and so forth. Even when compared to mainstream organic annual food production, it is clear that growing perennial staple food crops is a whole different paradigm which increases the likelihood of a truly sustainable agriculture. In light of all this, I see hazels, as do others, as one of the best tools available to humanity to help counter what seems to be a more uncertain future than ever. Finally, let it be said: nothing can keep the behemoth that is humanity afloat in its present incarnation. Any tools for the future, to be useful at all, will be in light of a diminished and more humble state of existence, either by choice or by force. Ultimately, it is for these reasons and more, and not fame or fortune, that one should pursue this crop – the big picture. If not, then fine. The pleasure remains, as does the utility, and the potential for happily making a humble living on the land.

The Mighty Hazel and BRC

Badgersett Research Farm or Badgersett Research Cooperation (BRC): Here is where I beg permission in information sharing. Hands-down, BRC qualifies as the number one source of hazelnut growing information, seeing as they are the only ones to have published a book specifically about growing neohybrid hazelnuts, which is the result of their unsurpassed experience. Maybe they will forgive me if I tell you that their newly published book Growing Hybrid Hazelnuts is the most essential reading material concerning this crop, and so you must buy it. In it you will find much of the information I will not be discussing here, lots of basic cultural information, but much more. BRC also is the origin of my own hazel plant stock. I chose to purchase their seedlings as they are reputed to be the best (a topic much discussed). After eight relatively short years of growing experience I can confirm that 95% of what is empirically able to be confirmed, concerning the basic cultivation of the crop, is true. The other 5% will come with time. No, I have never met any of the authors. Even to talk on the phone is near impossible. Until the book came out in 2015, one was kind of floating about, gleaning information from whatever sources they could find, some incorrect. That’s how relatively new this crop is and the paradigm it supports. There are still many questions I would like to ask in person, particularly on-site in an orchard setting. They do offer what they call a short course in which one can travel to the farm in Minnesota to learn hands-on but, that happens exactly as the nursery season takes off, and the cost is considerable. I have purchased a recording of the short course on DVD, but it is still not the same. So I am beholden to their written resources, isolated as I am, here on my little piece of land. They do make it clear, that like other major agricultural endeavors in crop-creating (maize being the clearest example), one of the greatest needs is to have numerous people in numerous places growing and selecting hazels. So, in that vein, I spread the word (and seed), for them. All the following quotations in the text will be from BRC.

Having said all that, for inspiration and to help convince, here is an excerpt of the above mentioned book written by chief scientist and CEO, Philip Rutter, further condensed by me. Beginning with some ominous thoughts, the following list is probably the best outlining of information as to why one would find this crop appealing to grow. The excerpt is Chapter 13: Climate Change, Resilience, and Neohybrid Hazels. Once again, thank you authors at Badgersett for sharing your tremendous store of information.

Philip Rutter

“Our planet, and many of its biota, have been through extensive climate change in the past, but our own species has not ever lived through anything like the broad, rapid shifts now being measured. Most particularly, the technology dependent species we have become in the last 200 years has never faced anything like what lies before us. I know just enough about science, and climate, and climate change to warn you that anyone who makes certain predictions about our future does not understand the situation. We do not know what we are facing. We absolutely do not know what will happen next. How do we prepare for that? There are three choices. Give up. Pretend it isn’t happening. Or try anyway. For me, as an evolutionary scientist, the choice is obvious. The first two options will lead, quite certainly, to non-survival; your genes will be de-selected from any future. Pessimism and despair are philosophically pointless, I think. And I will bet you anything that trying will be more fun. So here’s my motto: Adapt. Why not?”

“Whether we will really face The End Of The World As We Know It, we cannot know until we get there. I am not among those who believe it is absolutely inevitable. But I do think it will take great resilience along with some extraordinary – and unforeseen at this point, development to avoid it. In reality our world is actually getting hotter, but the effects on climate and weather are already much larger and faster than you’d guess simply looking at average temperatures. We expect more storms, bigger storms, and in general more extreme weather variations, more often. It is obvious to many scholars what many of the possible ramifications of climate change could be possibilities that have still not really hit world public awareness. Water sources for entire countries will disappear. That causes war. Starving people from collapsed countries will cross national borders, laws, walls, and guns notwithstanding. Slavery, in all its variations, usually thrives then. Hunger, from chronic undernourishment to famine. Diseases will migrate with people and new weather. Despair and paralysis of will. All those things are already happening. They’re almost certainly going to get worse, and closer. If you believe in gravity. And physics.”

“In the face of despair, I say: Adapt. Why not? Humans have a bone-deep primal need to be useful to our families, our villages. Doing nothing of value kills us, fast or slow. I contend that working to find a way forward is useful. And will be satisfying. Do hazels, and/or their hybrids, have characteristics that might help them to survive in potentially semi-chaotic weather and climate? In fact, they do, and not entirely by accident. Although I originally conceived my quest for a new food crop as an answer to agricultural problems such as erosion, water degradation, and loss of biodiversity, I looked for species that were tough under multiple threats, too. It turns out some of the characteristics that hazels evolved were to cope with disturbed climates.”


Twelve Advantages of Neohybrid Hazels

1. A long, long track record

– at least 40 million years old, thus have survived many severe climate shifts.

– first woody plants to occupy land recently vacated by glaciers, thus thrive in disturbance (harsh/changing climate).

– bushes may easily reach 1,000 years old (roots and crown).

2. Lots and lots of genes

– enormous genetic variation unprecedented in agriculture is in the neohybrid gene pool.

– genes from Mediterranean, temperate, and extreme northern temperate regions.

3. Superior coppice ability

– all three starting species have periodic wildfire as part of their evolutionary past.

– across Europe and Middle East hazelwood has been coppiced by humans regularly for at least 20,000 years. For 6,000 years, up to 500 years ago, al European cultures depended heavily on coppiced hazel and could not have progressed without it. Regrowth tends to be uniform in diameter, straight, and branched at much wider intervals, making them much easier for humans to use.

– at the very earliest edges of history, houses in Europe were largely made of wattle-and-daub construction (hazel-rod framework). Split coppiced hazel made hurdles (sheep fence). Fish weirs in Mesolithic Denmark. Bundles of coppiced hazelwood were used to pay taxes in England. Live hazels make very durable fences hedges.

– in North America both hazel species were used for baskets and arrows, as well as fish traps. Sometimes areas of wild hazel were burned as method of coppicing and found it increased the number of bushed and nuts.

– if a climate related disaster, from fire to a direct hit from a tornado, knocks down your hazels, they will grow back very well. In the event of war, local or larger, smashing, cutting, and burning a hazel field will not destroy the hazel bushes – they will grow back.

4. Storm-Proof

– hazels will survive more frequent and more destructive climate change induced storms involving heavy winds, flooding events, and hail storms; not invulnerable or immortal – just much, much tougher than annuals.

– deep structure of the bush allows upper leaves and branches to effectively shelter the lower ones (and the nuts). Flexibility and vertical alignment of stems also plays a part.

– tolerate being partly under water for at least a week, with no damage at all to all parts above water (floodplain habitats).

– soil erosion is non-existent in a hazel field, even during downpours, due to grass/herbaceous cover between hazel rows and hazel roots cling very tightly to soil particles. No annual tillage allows rodents to create ‘bathtub drains’ (rodent holes) which carry water dep in ground to be absorbed.

5. Very low inputs

– no annual tillage = lower fuel use/pollution.

– no pesticides (ecological management)

– traditional commercial hazels require annual soil tillage to prepare flat naked soil for harvest, multiple applications of pesticides and anti-sprouting hormone nearly every month of the year.

6. A diverse supply of products

– exceptional diversity of products with an exceptional range of utility.

– fuel (biodiesel and wood/nutshell).

– food for family and animals.

– construction materials (dwellings, fences, weirs, arrows, trellises).

– materials easy to sell and trade

– crops can be interplanted between hazel rows

biochar (soil-building additive)

ramial (chipped compost building material)

7. Weathering bad weather

– hazels can pull stored resources from previous year’s to ripen a crop despite bad weather during the growing season, up to 3 years in a row. Many fruit depend on current year’s photosynthesis.

– annual crops by nature will never do this.

8. Local climate modification and moderation

– compared with a field of corn, a field of densely planted hazel bushes, most over 10 feet tall, will increase local humidity, reduce surface evaporation, cut wind speeds, moderate temperatures, increase water infiltration and retention, slow snowmelt, and provide habitat for thousands of species, making the entire landscape more resilient, not just the plants themselves. If neighbors start growing hazels too, the advantages will spread.

9. Non-local climate modification and moderation

– capture 2-3 times as much carbon as row crops, and much is sequestered from the global carbon cycle for much longer periods.

– hazel roots penetrate soil much deeper than annual crops where much of the carbon is sequestered for a long time.

– burning hazelwood/nutshell = “current budget carbon”, which replaces fossil fuels carbon.

– biochar made from hazelwood/nutshell can stay out of the atmosphere for thousands of years.

10. Local energy production

– large-scale production a local resilient energy source – wood, nutshell, oil – much better than cutting wild forest.

11. Flexible scale of production

– amenable to both large and small-scale production

– harvest by hand or by machine.

12. Hope

– might help us to get through the bottleneck ahead, and if we make it, possibly create a new pattern for a genuinely sustainable agriculture.


Campo di Fiori Hazels

On-Farm Breeding and Selection

As of now, for all major growers of neo-hybrid hazels, orchards born from open-pollinated seedlings are the norm. “The hybrid hazel swarm is producing an unexpectedly high number of commercially acceptable plants relative to saving the seeds from, say, apples or oranges. A large proportion (approximately 60 percent) bear an unusually strong resemblance to their seed parent.” One of the most important questions regarding breeding is the origin of one’s stock. In our case, BRC. Our orchard plants have the rating of Select-Parent Guaranteed Hazels, of the medium size. To quote the catalog, “Select parents available will differ from year to year, but these are our very best plants and best parents. The seed from these tubelings is from plants with the longest consistent records; highest, most reliable production; and best nuts.” I chose the medium size nut as it is reportedly the most productive from a shear biomass standpoint, though the nuts are not as big as the hybrids are capable of producing. Do read the article Does Size Matter? at the BRC website. My goal, and I believe what is most useful concerning this crop, is value-adding, not in-shell sales. This is merely my opinion, and others will strive for whole-nut sales. When value-adding, to a degree, the size of the nut does not matter, but more so the amount of useable nut meat.

neohybrid-hazels-selectionSo what does that actually mean in real time as expressed in my orchard? First, it became apparent that there is genetic variability, intentionally. Anyone solely looking to make money and to streamline production would have quit a few years back, or not started at all. As a result, some plants are true to their rating (as quoted above), some have larger nuts but are less productive, and some have smaller nuts which are only useful for wildlife. Lastly, some are plain runts which are culled as soon as this is obvious. From this diverse array of plants, having culled at least 40% of our 120 plants currently available, we are left with a much smaller orchard then intended, but one that contains superior plants in one form or another. Out of this 40% we are only selecting seed from 10 plants. Our original BRC seedlings came from the best of 1,600 plants in their database, out of multiple thousands, examined over the past 20 years. Soon we will have more parents to choose from as our orchard continues to expand with our breeding efforts. A few years back it became apparent to me I was no longer concerning myself solely with the production and harvest of nuts, but have become increasingly concerned with stock improvement – breeding. Why? Because ultimately this is a never-ending task for anyone who enters into growing open-pollinated hybrids at this time, as the plants continue to show more and more untapped potential for true domestication, which is the ultimate long term goal. It is also an enjoyable process which will be of benefit not only to you but many others. “What we are intending to do ultimately is the equivalent of creating a new species at least to the extent that very few biologists could look at maize and imagine teosinte as the progenitor, or a Chihuahua and imagine the wolf ancestor. We know those are true now, and that genes can indeed be that plastic.”

To a large degree, within the hazelnut growing/breeding community – large universities, BRC, big Mid-West growers, Arbor Day, etc., there is a genetics race underway. Who will have the best genes available, seems to be the question and the goal. Anybody who buys plants now will find their genetics inferior to anyone who buys their plants next year, given the right source. It reminds me a lot of the high-tech industry in which inventors are forever trumping last years models of computers, I-Phones, cars, what have you. Yet, in the domestication of hazels, this is a true necessity, and last year’s model will not become obsolete, at least in the hands of someone willing to work with them. And you can still eat the nuts! At one point in time I became increasingly concerned that the genetics in my orchard would pale in comparison to the newer genetics being issued by more seasoned professionals. But then it became apparent that, one: there is no way for me to keep up with this race. I am a small farmer with limited means: land, money, time. That in itself puts the lid on it. Two: what I have discovered in my orchard is very promising. The parent plants which I have chosen for seed production, based solely on pictures I have seen, from wherever I could find them, show a similar quantity of nut, as often portrayed in the purposeful displaying of a single branch laden with nuts. Our seedling parents could be displayed similarly. What you do not see in such a picture is everything else. But, quantity is a big one. I must also bear in mind my orchard contains plants which have proven themselves exactly where it counts – on my land. No other plants have done that. My seedling stock, as well, will be the only seedlings available to express this. Three: most importantly, time is of the essence. In other words, if one desires to engage in this process, seeing as the plants take at least 4 years to bear, and several more before breeding improvements become apparent, they must get started now. Now is the time, and there is no time to wait and wait and wait for the perfect seedling genetics or clone to arise, as it will most likely not happen in your lifetime. In order for hazels to remain adaptable in the face of a changing climate, it is paramount that genetic diversity prevail, despite the potential, and often premature, introduction of a superior clone, which most likely will embody the best current genetics, though a comparatively narrow expression.

Our parents have a few choice criteria in common – nut size: medium-large, nut quantity: 3-8 nuts/cluster, 5-7 clusters/bearing branch, and plant vigor and shape: medium-small sized plants with healthy/full branching and foliage, and good upright, rounded shape. Luckily, but not intentionally, these parents also produce a moderate number of stems at the soil surface (suckering), not so much they need to be thinned (as in the case of straight Corylusamericana), but enough to make vegetative propagation a sound possibility. We are not concerning ourselves with very large nuts, husk type, growth type (European or American), nut flavor, shell thickness, or pest-resistance. In other words, these are things which will remain more diverse in our genes. The other traits we hope we are moving forward and solidifying through our selection criteria. This criteria allows for plants to be slightly above or below this median, as long as these traits are well represented, in comparison to the rest. It is all about comparison, in which I am quite isolated to my small orchard for reference. All the parents bear mature nuts mid-late September. They have all done well during the drought of 2016 without any supplemental watering in a particularly dry location. Our 1-year old bare-root seedlings are grown under fairly intense water pressure in the field, which further selects for drought tolerance. I have never seen EFB (Eastern Filbert Blight), even though I chose a small percentage of my stock (by the way) to be plants under the experimental rating. This means they are not guaranteed to be EFB resistant like the select seedlings, with the purpose of introducing blight pressure so as to further help in the selection process. EFB resistance and hardiness, having been the priority in genetic improvement for several decades, are both fixed traits in my orchard. Insect pest problems, though the pests are present (caterpillars, Japanese beetles, and weevils, etc.) are not a detriment to the plants. As hazels flower very early in the spring, ours have been subjected to frost with no significant damage to the crop. And lastly, there is the missing 5% experience (as I mentioned), part of which, in our case, involves coppicing – cutting the plants completely to the ground. As you begin to investigate this crop you will hear that coppicing is the method for rejuvenating the bushes into increased productivity, as well as the coppice wood being a resource in itself. This we are intending to do this coming year (2017). It is significant that a hazel be tested for coppice-ability as this is essential in their cultivation and consequent productivity. Our orchard parents have not been coppiced yet, but their BRC parents have.

The actual hands-on breeding and propagation process is straightforward. Since our orchard is relatively small, I am able to remove all of the male flowers (with the help of deer) from the plants which have not been selected as parents; what is called a semi-controlled cross. Because deer browsing on catkins can be enough of a problem to jeopardize adequate pollination, the parent bushes are wrapped in orchard netting for the winter. In this case the selected parents can pass on their compliment of genes, but these outsiders cannot. The seed from the other bushes is used for my family to eat and experiment with in making different value-added products. To date we have been eating whole nuts, mixing with chocolate, or making butter. In the fall, nuts are strategically hand harvested prior to being stolen by rodents and such, allowed to cure in plastic bags for a week, then laid on drying racks until they are dry enough to dehusk. Then the nuts which are for seed (only) are soaked in 4-5 changes of water to help remove water soluble germination inhibitors. Any empty nuts will float to the surface, whereas the good solid seed will sink. Then they are immediately layered in damp peat inside a plastic bag, and placed in a buried chest freezer until early spring. Come early March the nuts are routinely inspected for the slightest cracking of the shell, which indicates the swelling of the seed and the soon to be emergence of the shoot. Some of this seed is potted, while the rest is planted into nursery beds. At every stage of the process plants are being selected for particular traits based on the continual influence of multiple environmental factors, beginning with how easily and readily a seed will germinate, and its ability to produce a vigorous enough seedling to handle the rigors of the big world where they will have to fend more for themselves.


Nursery Stock and Sales

Plant Characteristics

Our seedlings are from our very best parents, which are descended from crosses of many generations of American, Beaked, and European hazelnut species, bred and examined (at BRC) for nearly 20 years. Two bushes needed for pollination. Zones 4-6. Their parents exhibit the following characteristics:

medium-large nuts, multiple nuts/cluster

heavy bearing, good vigor

drought tolerant, cold-hardy

EFB resistant, insect resistant

They are multi-stemmed bushes which will reach a height of 10-12′ and 5-8′ in diameter. They have deep, spreading, fibrous root systems which are very competitive and have the capacity to live for hundreds of years. Broadly tolerant of varied growing conditions, even heavy sod. Full sun to part shade. Begin bearing at 3-5 years, peaking at 8-10. For a comprehensive look at the many properties and uses of hazels please read: Twelve Advantages of Neohybrid Hazels, under the heading ‘The Mighty Hazel’.

Various uses are windbreaks, living snow fence, wildlife plantings, and pick-your-own. Not recommended for large scale commercial plantings due to variability.

Seedlings

Hazels plants are most commonly sold as 3 month old plants, which are said to be the most cost-effective and resilient. We sell plants of a similar age in square quart pots, as well 1-gallon, 1-year old plants. 1-year old bare-root, special order only. We are a small producer and supplies are limited. We strongly suggest you order ahead. This also helps us to plan accordingly. Large wholesale/discounted orders are welcome.

Quart pots – size 4″ x 4″ x 6″, these seedlings are roughly 2-3 months old and 6-12″ tall, ready for planting by early summer, available July-Sept. Good for those looking to establish larger plantings with a mind toward production/breeding. $8 each, or tray of 15 at $120.

1-gallon pots – 1year old seedlings, 18-24″ tall, ready for planting May-Sept. Sturdier plants, particularly good for those growing in difficult conditions, and who want to plant early to get a jump on weeds and dry weather. These have already been preliminarily tested for drought-tolerance and cold hardiness. Also less likely to fall prey to browsing animals. Require more time and effort to plant. $16/plant.

Delivery: We are not a mail order business. Customers must come to the nursery to pick up their order.

Contact

We are happy to provide you with any information you may need toward your effort in growing hazelnuts. It is our pleasure to be working with this newly developing crop and to be able to provide Maine-grown stock to all those who are interested. Please contact us:

212 Fisher Rd. phone (207) 666-841

Bowdoinham, ME 04008

email: andrewfiorigardener@gmail.com

phone: (207) 666-8419