Holistic Chestnut Orcharding

Here at the Chestnut Hill Agroforestry Research Site in Madison County, NC we are creating a holistic chestnut orchard as part of a perennial staple food crop system. We are trialing specific chestnut cultivars, experimenting with new propagation, planting and orchard maintenance techniques, and trying several different companion/guild planting strategies.

Our Chestnut Guilds:
1. Perennial Nurse Tree coppicing system with Black Locust and Goumi
2. Perennial Herb Guild for nitrogen-fixers and mineral accumulators with Licorice, Astragalus, Maryland Senna, Dandelion, Burdock, Yarrow and Comfrey
3. Annual Staple Crop Guild succession with Potatoes, Squash, Beans, and other Root Crops
4. Pollinator Garden Guild with early and late season pollinator plant species and insect habitat
5. “Go Wild” guild with the native and non-native “weeds,” nitrogen-fixers, and other plants that volunteer their services

Our 2011-2012 Castanea Cultivars:
1. Eaton River: Chinese x (Japanese x American) hybrid. Large, very sweet nut. 30-40 nuts per pound. Ornamental tree. Ripens early. Very sweet. Consistent bearer of high quality nuts. Zones 4-8. Originated in Connecticut, 1980.
2. Qing: Chinese. Vigorous grower and consistent productive bearer of large nuts with excellent flavor. Peels easily. Excellent keeping quality. Ripens midseason. Nuts 20-25 grams. Original tree in Hickory, Kentucky, planted c. 1960.
3. Sleeping Giant: Chinese x (Japanese x American) hybrid. Medium to large, high quality nuts. Peels easily. 40 nuts per pound. “Timber-type,” upright growth pattern. Developed in Connecticut, 1958.
4. Mossbarger: Chinese. A very productive tree with very large sweet nuts. Properly cured nuts peel easily and store well. Excellent keeper. Originated in Glendale, KY, 1983.

The Ramial Debris “Hugel-swale” Planting Method:
This is a long-term soil fertility planting strategy that involves filling a swale with ramial woody debris, similar to the  Austrian “hugelkultur” raised bed system. After the swale is dug to capture water, and the ramial woody debris (deciduous woody material not more than 2.5 inches in circumference) is packed down, the woody material is covered with soil or compost. We usually use a mixture of forest and field soil, and mix in some manure, compost, seaweed, and a tad bit of homemade inoculant (from other chestnuts). On steeper hillsides the entire pile is staked in place with a few stakes made from the larger branches of the woody debris.

In The Holistic Orchard, Michael Phillips, explains that the newest growth of deciduous woody plant material contains soluble lignins with a high proportion of nutrients (N, P, K, Ca, Mg, etc…), and a lower Carbon:Nitrogen ratio (30-170:1, as opposed to 400-750:1 as in normal stem or trunk wood). Sapyrophytic microbes that cause white rots break down the hardwood organic matter creating fulvic and humic acids from the lignins (as opposed to polyphenols and allapathic compounds caused by brown rots decomposing softwood cellulose).


This type of woody carbon-based planting technique will create a deep and mycorrhizal-rich soil that will hold water and nutrients. The mycorrhizal associations you’ll be creating from planting this way will help your trees get off to a good start with supportive mineralization processes, healthy anti-biotics, and fungal secretions to stimulate feeder roots.

Coming Soon:
Companion plant profiles
Succession management phases
Design maps and pictures for orchard

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