MISSISSIPPI CHESTNUT PROJECT
It was the story of the chestnut blight that drove my interest in tree diseases as an undergraduate at Mizzou. As a child, I would listen to stories of the Old Country while watching my dad roast chestnuts over the stove. In the fall in the late 1960’s in central Missouri, we’d drive to the Schnabel tract just outside Columbia, or down to Rosati, Mo. near Rolla to pick American chestnuts. The trees at these two locations were remnants of planted trees that were slowly dying and giving us their last crop. Who would have thought that – 50 years later – we would be bringing them back!
Starting in 1971, we picked some Chinese chestnuts off the Mary Plantation along the Mississippi River, in Braithwaite, Plaquemines Parish. But, those trees and others I’ve seen around here were in poor condition and not thrifty. Perhaps Chinese trees are not suitable for our southern environment. Perhaps, chestnut trees don’t like the thick, wet, gumbo soils here. Before the blight, chestnut ink disease, a Phytophthora was killing trees. Phytophthora thrives in wet soils. Then, I encountered Gerd Oppenheim at his Crane’s Run Farm near Norwood, La., in East Feliciana Parish. His Dunstan variety American x Chinese hybrids were 40 feet tall at 15 years and thrifty producers of nice, big nuts. They were growing in an upland, Piedmont type soil.
I manage a 10 acre property in Poplarville, Ms. that has a small blueberry patch in it and plenty of open space. In 2011 I drilled out over 200 holes on a 30 x 30 spacing. The holes were 2 feet wide and pierced through the hard pan to a depth of 5 feet. A bit of amended compost was mixed with the dirt and a chestnut tree planted in the spot. Since Dunstans are expensive, I mixed in 5 other varieties of chestnut trees in a mixed array. Since chestnut is self-sterile, cross pollination with a bigger diversity seems ideal. A group of beehives was placed in the field to aid pollination. In just 2 years, most of the trees are running 4 to 7 feet tall and about 4 inches caliper and we hope to get a crop soon.
Download a FREE copy of my pamphlet:
“A Roasted Chestnut” (PDF, 3pp, 824KB)
We get a small crop from Mr. Oppenheim and sell roasted nuts on a limited, irregular basis at the Covington Farmers Market on Saturdays in October through December. As the crop size increases, we will hope to start selling and shipping nuts in bulk.