Neohybrid Hazels

hazel-nuts in a cupWelcome to Campo di Fiori’s web page highlighting our work growing neohybrid hazels, production of hazelnuts, and hazel nursery stock. As a subject of its own, it is enough to warrant its own page 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, and avellana) which are open-pollinated, and each wholly unique and new to the genus.

Our 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. 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 our case Badgersett Research Farm.  As you read through the information you will not find any specific cultural instructions.  For this we recommend the current bible in hazelnut production – Growing Hybrid Hazelnuts, by Philip Rutter and friends, or the Badgersett website.

The Big Picture

First and foremost it must be stated that one should not enter into the production of hazelnuts to get rich. This is not an endeavor for those who are simply business-minded.  To undertake hazelnut production one should be settled into another trade, be it farming or not, and own land. Unlike most other staple crops, hazels are long-lived woody perennial plants that take four to five years to establish before bearing.  In the meantime, it is all care and maintenance, a forward investment.  And yet, to think of this crop solely in terms of nut production is missing half the picture.  It is the whole of the plant and its many uses and attributes that must be considered when assessing its worth. Furthermore, this assessment 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 depends on what we choose 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 that increases the likelihood of truly sustainable agriculture. In light of this, I see hazels, as do others, as one of the best tools available to humanity as we adapt to what seems to be a more uncertain future than ever. Finally, it must be said, that 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 human existence either by choice or by force. Ultimately it is for these reasons and more that one should pursue this crop – The Big Picture.

The Mighty Hazel and BRC

Badgersett Research Farm or Badgersett Research Cooperation (BRC): Here is where we 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 their book Growing Hybrid Hazelnuts is 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 hazel plant stock.  Until the book came out 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.  So I am beholden to their written resources, isolated as I am here on my little piece of land. They do make it clear however 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 light of this, I spread the word (and seed) for them. All the following quotations in the text are from BRC.

Having said all that, for inspiration and to help convince, here is an excerpt from 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. As this list makes apparent, “it is not just a single food item that is being developed but a whole cluster of related products and industries that can bolster the economic health of producers and rural communities”. 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 the Middle East hazelwood has been coppiced by humans regularly for at least 20,000 years. For 6,000 years, up to 500 years ago, all 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 a method of coppicing and found it increased the number of bushes 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.
– the 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 play a part.
– tolerate being partly underwater 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 deep in the 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 the 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 years to ripen a crop despite bad weather during the growing season, up to 3 years in a row. Many fruits 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 the 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 fuel carbon.
– fixed carbon as biochar made from hazelwood/nutshell can keep carbon out of the atmosphere for thousands of years while greatly enhancing soil productivity.

10. Local energy production
– large-scale production of 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 genuinely sustainable agriculture.

13.  Biodiversity

There is no number 13 on the list, but I am going to add one because it is of particular importance to me and many of my customers. If I were to remake this list this would be closer to the top.  Good mention is made at number 8 but I would like to single it out.  A genuine question: what annual crops, even when grown organically, support biodiversity, and to what extent?

“There is broad agreement among scientists that maintaining biodiversity in our future is possibly as important to our own survival as any other issue, including climate change.  We will not survive if we cause the collapse of too many ecosystems around the planet.  Modern agriculture creates artificial biological deserts; nothing is allowed to live except the crop.  The basis of modern agriculture is total warfare on all species except the crop.  The urgency of preserving as much biodiversity as possible may be the aspect of climate change that has been most difficult for scientists to convey to the public.  It has been painfully difficult to get the world to see the invisible web.  But without our web, we will fail”.

– provides habitat for everything – all year (birds, insects, rodents, tree frogs, etc.)

– ranks number 17 in a list of the 20 best plants for supporting Lepidoptera species (131 species of butterflies and moths).  Oak is number one, and hazels like oaks, also provide another very valuable form of food, one which numerous larger species of animals depend on – nuts!

Campo di Fiori Hazels

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 sheer biomass standpoint though the nuts are not as big as the hybrids are capable of producing. Do read the intriguing article Does Size Matter? at the BRC website. My goal, and I believe what is most useful concerning this crop commercially, is value-adding, not in-shell sales.  When value-adding, to a degree, the size of the nut does not matter but more so the amount of usable nutmeat.

neohybrid-hazels-selectionSo what does that mean in real-time as expressed in my orchard? First, it is apparent that there is genetic variability, intentionally. Anyone solely looking to make money and 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 that are only useful for wildlife. Lastly, a small minority are plain runts which are culled as soon as this is obvious. From this diverse array of plants, having culled at least 75% of our 250 plants currently available, we are left with a much smaller orchard than intended, but one that contains superior plants in one form or another. Out of the remaining 75%, we are only selecting seeds from 3 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.

Our parents have a few choice criteria in common – medium-large nuts, multiple clusters/bearing branches, medium-small sized plants with healthy/full branching and foliage, and good upright, rounded shape.  I have never seen EFB (Eastern Filbert Blight), even though I chose a small percentage of my stock (by the way) from plants under the “experimental” rating. This means they are not guaranteed to be EFB resistant like the select seedlings, with the purpose of possibly 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.  Of the many insects that use hazels as habitat, the only pest (caterpillars, Japanese beetles, weevils, etc.)  that have been a significant problem are big bud mites, and we are currently selecting for resistance.

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 are needed for pollination. Zones 4-6. Their parents exhibit the following characteristics: medium-large nuts, multiple nuts/cluster, annual bearing, excellent vigor, drought-tolerant, cold-hardy, EFB resistant.

They are multi-stemmed bushes that will reach a height of 10-12′ and 5-8′ in diameter. They have deep, spreading, fibrous root systems that 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 fences, wildlife plantings, and sales of hazel products.

Hazel 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 3 months old and 8-12″ tall, ready for planting by early summer, available July-Sept.  Good for those looking to establish larger plantings with a mind toward production/breeding. $10 each.
1-gallon pots – 1-year-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. $20/plant.

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

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.
Bowdoinham, ME 04008