What feeds people, horses, cows, pigs, sheep and goats, produces a by-product of wood, anchors soils, preserves moisture in the soil, creates plant material that breaks down into compostand creates microclimates with shade and windbreaks? Nut trees, in particular the chestnut tree, according to J. Russell Smith in his 1929 book “Tree Crops – A Permanent Agriculture.”
Smith championed tree crops used in a planned and integrated way long before Robert Hart stated talking about “Forest Gardening” in 1980.
Low Work Feed for Livestock
In his book Smith describes the efforts of Georgia farmer R. O. Lombard who eventually had a wide variety of nut trees and other fruit producers including”two hundred everbearing mulberries, two hundred hog plums, two hundred wild cherries, three varieties of haws, and mock oranges.” In all he had twenty-six crops growing wild and cultivated on his three hundred acres. In addition to those mentioned he had huckleberries, blackberries, acorn bearing oaks, hickory nuts, chestnuts, chinquapin nuts and hazelnuts.
These plants required little care from him and they kept him with a continuous supply of food for forty hogs who fed on the fruits of these trees throughout the year. YOU don’t need three hundred acres to take advantage of tree crops. A lot can be accomplished using a regular suburban lot. With some research, some careful thought and planning, you can start taking advantage of the space above the soil. This is a broad topic but in this post, as I suggest in the first paragraph, I want to narrow our focus to nut trees because of their special nutritional attributes.
Nutritional Values of Common Nuts
There are a wide variety of nut bearing trees and bushes. Stretching from northern lands down into southern latitudes nuts have provided food for man and beast alike. There are about a dozen nut trees that have become important from an agricultural point of view.
For a technical paper on the impact of nuts on cholesterol and cardiovascular disease see this.
First Steps in Raising Nut Trees
No matter where you are you can probably find at least some these trees and their hybrids available from local nurseries. By crossing different cultivars growers have produced varieties with a wide level of tolerances to varied climate zones. Your local providers will be a big help in making the correct choices. Most areas, provinces or states also have nut tree growers associations. Meeting and talking to other growers right in your locality will give you a strong start with nut trees. In my province of Ontario, the Society of Ontario Nut Growers has a host of information that is directly applicable to me. You can find local or regional associations by doing a simple Google search for “<your region> nut tree growers” or some variation.
Smith referenced the Georgia farmer Lombard who wisely diversified his plantings. You should consider doing the same to the best of your ability. Most nut trees need two varieties for best production, yielding hybrid vigour in offspring and in nut production. Some trees come in male and female types, so you will need to pay attention to this after having selected what nut trees you want to raise. Talking to local nurseries or growers is an important way for you to receive advice tailored to your local conditions.
No Land, No Problem
Don’t forget to assess trees off your land and in your immediate area. You may be able to harvest from neighbours trees. Coming to an arrangement with the folks next door or down the street in which you gather some of their tree’s nut harvest and you give your neighbours some of your tomatoes or the use of your rototiller each spring is good for everybody. It might be worthwhile to encourage neighbours to plant nut trees of their own. Increase varieties, diversity and the likelihood of produce in any given year. Some trees produce large harvests once every two or three years, as opposed to consistently on an annual basis.
Are you close to crown or state or federal land? If there is open access land near you, what are the requirements around harvesting. Most jurisdictions are very liberal if your harvest is for personal use. What about empty lots or acreage? If you spot some nut trees on land that is not currently occupied, the absentee owner might be willing or even happy to have you harvesting nuts from his trees. Possibly you can exchange some kind of labour for the right to harvest.
Nut trees are infrequently thought of when people look at the “fruit of the soil.” But they were an important food crop in earlier times, in advanced societies as well as developing ones. They could be again. I highly recommend you consider downloading Smith’s book, “Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture.”
Note: Let give you some information about the source for this download. Here is a statement from their “Home” page:
“This website provides free downloadable e-books about radical agriculture, natural hygiene/nature cure and self-sufficient homestead living. There are secondary collections involving social criticism and transformational psychology.
There is no fee for downloading anything in this library.
The library’s topic areas connect agricultural methods to the health and lifespan of animals and humans. A study of these materials reveals how to prevent and heal disease and increase longevity, suggests how to live a more fulfilling life and reveals social forces working against that possibility.”
They do accept donations. For a one time payment of 9 Euros, through Paypal, you can download as much of their library as you like and you can avoid future requests for donations. Certainly a fair request. I paid without thinking about it.
When talking about “tree crops” there is a lot more to cover, especially if we also include shrub and bush providers of fruits and berries. We will be covering some of these topics in future posts soon.