Branching out: Hobbyists go nuts with crop trees

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LONDON, Ohio – Oh, what to do, what to do…

From farm land that can’t be planted with row crops to easy integration with livestock, crop nut trees are a diversification option for farmers.

Although growing crop nut trees is typically a hobby, according to Bud Luers, president of Ohio Nut Growers Association, there is a market for the product.

Some growers are able to sell the nuts at farmers’ markets or from their homes and there are also a few commercial chestnut growers in Ohio.

In addition to providing shade and landscape appeal, these trees “can also provide nourishing food for home use or for wildlife,” according to the association.

Market. Nuts can be sold at farmers’ markets uncracked, cracked or with only the meats. Although it is tedious cracking the nut and separating the meat, the meat sells for $8 a pound, while the uncracked nut sells for $1 a pound, Luers said.

There is the biggest demand for black walnuts, however, Luers also sells butternuts, Persian walnuts, hazelnuts and hickory nuts.

The hickory nuts are the highest dollar resale nut, Luers said, and he can’t produce enough to keep up with the demand. He sells the meats for $11 a pound.

Growing nut trees is a diversification option for farmers or orchard people who have land that isn’t suitable for other crops.

For example, planting nut trees on an otherwise unusable hill, may offer an additional income source, Luers said. At the least, it would be a way for people to produce the nuts for their own consumption, he said.

Grafting. Speaking at the Farm Science Review Sept. 18, Luers gave tips on how to graft trees. Grafting is attaching a small, good-growth branch from a mature tree to a young tree. The trees callous (fuse together) and grow more quickly, cutting the nut production time in half, Luers said.

The benefits of grafting over planting seedlings are the production time and the ability to breed better nut producers. Growers will also know exactly what nut they are producing rather than the hit-or-miss problem with seedlings, Luers said.

The wood that is grafted to the existing tree, the root stalk, is called scion wood. Scion wood is the shoot from a mature tree. Although this wood can be taken from a good-growing tree in the yard, it can also be purchased through groups like the growers’ association for approximately $1-$1.50 per 12-inch strip.

Preparing. Luers said he usually gathers his scion wood in February or early March. He seals the cut ends and puts the sticks in a bag, along with a water and Clorox solution. This solution keeps the wood’s moisture, but also keeps away mold.

Store the bag of scion wood in the refrigerator. Then in May, cut off the tops of the root stalk. It should be bleeding, or sapping. Wait until the root stalk stops bleeding.

After cutting the scion wood to the desired point, slip it into the edge of the root stalk so that it is just inside the wood.

Seal the ends of the wood with wood glue and secure the graft area with a rubber band tie. Then cover the area with aluminum foil and put a bag over the top to create a greenhouse effect.

When there are two leaves on the scion wood, take off the bag and be sure to put up a post by the tree so that birds don’t land on the fragile scion wood and rip it out of the graft.

The root stalk can be up to 4 inches in diameter during grafting, and the stalk and scion wood should be in the same tree family.

The best temperature for grafting is approximately 70 degrees, Luers said.

Fruits of labor. Production after grafting can occur within three years for hard nuts and in seven to eight years with hickory and pecan trees, he said. The trees will continue to produce for as long as they live.

For more information visit http://ealnet.com/nonprof/onga, or www.icserv.com/nnga.

(You can contact Kristy Alger at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at kalger@farmanddairy.com.)

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