1,400 Fall-Planted trees; 2015-2017, 98% Successful; 5-STAR-Rated Chestnut Orchard

COS’ Second 5-Star-Rated Michigan Chestnut Farm

 Fall 2015—98%     Fall 2016—98%     Fall 2017—98%

After honoring Ox Heights Farm with the first Chestnut Orchard Solutions 5-Star-Rated Chestnut Farm recognition, you might think it would be difficult to find another Michigan chestnut farm worthy of such distinctions. However, COS is now prepared to honor our second 5-Star-Rated Michigan Chestnut Farm.

We leave Ox Heights Farm in Presque Isle County and travel southwest by car for 350 miles for 6 hours across Michigan and find ourselves in Silver Creek Township in northern Cass County about 6 miles north of Dowagiac, the county seat.  We have arrived at the chestnut farm of Dr. and Mrs. Chuck Jones, the largest chestnut farm south of Interstate-94 and one of the largest chestnut farms in Michigan currently holding 20 acres of young trees and soon enlarging to 25 acres.

Their successfully established tree numbers are similar to the success of Ox Heights:  2015, fall-planted survival: 98%; 2016 fall- planted survival: 98%; and, 2017 fall-planted survival: 98%.

Fall 2017-planted chestnut in Silver Creek Township showing 98% success.  Basically, they drop the trees  in and they grow.  

Fall 2016-planted chestnuts

Fall 2017-planted chestnuts.

The number of Forrest Keeling Nursery trees planted over the last three years is staggering.  In the the fall of 2015 over 500 trees were planted; the number of trees planted in 2016 was nearly 300, and the number of trees successfully established after planting in the fall of 2017 was 637.  There are more than 1400 trees planted and established over the last 3 years.  This is quite the orchard.  1-, 2-, and 3-year-old trees literally disappear in the distance as you walk the rows of trees.

Rows of trees disappearing into the distance.

With Ox Heights, you were looking at a farm smartly placed and planted above 900 feet elevation at a latitude above the 45th parallel, but in Silver Creek Township, you are now farming at a more reasonable latitude of 41.60° and at an elevation of 760 feet.  You are  not near the shore of Lake Huron, like Ox Heights, nor are you on the shore of Lake Michigan.  Lake Michigan, the source of moderating temperatures for Michigan’s spectacular display of horticultural diversity is 25 miles away. Still, Dr. Jones has created a remarkable farm.

To achieve the level of success found at this new chestnut farm, Dr. Jones had some very special help, and this help will be one of the great legacies of this farm.  But we are getting ahead of ourselves.  That story is still a few stars ⭐ away.

You might remember after reading about Ox Heights Farm (this is a website/post, so you can still find the Ox Heights article by scrolling down the through the posts), that in order to be a COS 5-Star-Rated Michigan chestnut farm, Chestnut Orchard Solutions had imposed rules stating that  success had to be met in 5 criteria.  Let’s see how well the Silver Creek Township chestnut farm of Dr. Jones measures up and why we believe this farm is worthy of all 5 stars.

One Star for Each of the Orchard’s Superior Qualities


Studied their planting site well in advance to select the best soils and slopes for frost and water drainage

Chuck and Earline have owned the land for more than 30 years and during that time, he has farmed Christmas trees and perennial plants for nurseries. He knows the lay of the land and how it handles water and temperatures. The farm does not have a terrain that drains water away quickly. However, it does drain the water to a low area within the 25 acres.  This area, is somewhat swampy and wet and they stayed clear of that area when planting. Their next planting area will surround this wet area.  When asking Dr. Jones how they started to plant the orchard, he said, “You told us to plant over there (pointing to the high spot) and we did and we have lost few trees.” Doing just about everything right, Dr. Jones has called COS for help and directions and we have been glad to offer suggestions. From the 3 dimension, electric deer fence to the irrigation system that also delivers their fertilizer, they provide their trees what they need when they need it.

A slight rise on the south edge of the field allows for water drainage.

Three trees missing from their designated stakes in center of the photo demonstrates what happens when the young trees are planted in low areas where water is near the surface.


Planted pollinizers and placed them up wind from producing cultivars like ‘Colossal’ and ‘Bouche de Betizac’

All of the standard European x Japanese cultivars produced by Forrest Keeling Nursery are present.  Wind blows west to east across the open farm land, the grower’s planting plan moves pollen from the pollinizers planted up wind to the major producers like ‘Colossal’ and ‘Bouche de Betizac’. Of course, all their pollinizers are good producers too, like ‘Mariougle’, ‘Precoce Migoule’, and ‘Labor Day’.  Removing some large trees to the south of the orchard allows more sun and wind movement, which in turn allows for more wind for pollination as well as for frost avoidance.

⭐ Have plans in place for orchard maintenance including, weed control, irrigation as needed, proper tree spacing and tree shape

Drip irrigation, mouse guards and white latex paint can be found on every tree. The 3D electric fence which allows better access to the trees makes it easier to care for the trees and deer have not been found inside the fence.  The trees are planted 30 X 30 feet, which due to the upright growth of all the new cultivars other than ‘Colossal’ should allow years of production before the trees begin shading each other. With the heavier than usual spring rains, weeds are rather heavy, but mowed.  His crew has a plan to apply the proper herbicides for reducing weed competition.

A 3-dimensional deer fence keeps the deer out of the young orchard..

The irrigation system that carries fertilizer to the trees–fertigation

Established multiple cultivars to meet the demands of current and future biological and environmental stresses

Cultivar ‘Colossal’ was planted for high yields and ‘Bouche de Betizac’ was planted for resistance to Asian chestnut gall wasp which started its dissemination only 30 miles from his farm in Benton Harbor.  Planting ‘Bouche de Betizac’ to fend off gall wasp, that is currently surrounding the farm, was a good idea.  So far, Asian chestnut gall wasp has not been found at the farm this year. However, unfortunately, it will arrive. The ‘Bouche de Betizac’ will help by maintaining growth and yields once the insect arrives.

⭐ Have established unique plans and/or novel ideas for their farm

Chuck and Earline have established a unique relationship with neighbors of the farm. When this young Hispanic family moved across the road from the farm, Dr. Jones noticed how hard the parents Ismael and Elizabeth worked and how well they raised their family.  He could not help but notice how industrious the family was including all the young children. Grown up and in their late teens or early 20’s the family was offered an arrangement by Dr. Jones.  He would account for the land, equipment and capital investment and the Moreno family would supply the labor. Both would account for their share and the funds from the farm would be shared accordingly. Dr. Jones depends on this agreed upon arrangement (sealed with a handshake) as he is now 80-years-old and having some difficulties getting around the farm.  Not to worry, Ismael, Jr., Julio and Carolina make it possible for this farm to flourish, along with their parents.  Chuck and Earline established the foundation of the orchard and the Moreno’s created it.

Dad, Ismael, Sr.; son, Ismael, Jr.; mom, Elizabeth; and Julio, stand by a 2015-planted tree in 2017. White-painted tree trunks. 

Ismael, Jr., Carolina, Julio and Dr. Chuck Jones work hard to keep this chestnut farm at 5-Star levels.

Summary ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Because they have met all criteria, and especially due to the unique work arrangement,  this large chestnut farm is more than worthy of its 5-Star-Rating. But it is not so much the successful plantings, the flourishing trees, the deer fence, or the fertigation system that make this farm so special.  It is the people here that make this story special.  It is the obvious appreciation and respect that the Jones’ and Moreno’s have for each other that really makes the future of this chestnut farm bright and shiny in Silver Creek Township!⭐

About the grower:  Dr. Charles (Chuck) Jones has a Ph.D. in plant genetics and did research at Purdue University. Later, he attend medical school at Michigan State University where he received his D.O. and practiced medicine in the Dowagiac area.



Meeting August 11 to discuss nut rot and root rot in Michigan

Registration is now open to attend the August 11 chestnut meeting at Clarksville. It will be full of information regarding a new nut disease called brown rot or chestnut rot and its potential interaction with Asian chestnut gall wasp. Also Phytophthora root rot will be discussed and a treatment will be demonstrated. An Italian chestnut processor, Aroldo Mastrogregori, owner of Mastrogregori Chestnuts will speak on the Italian chestnut industry and what they do to manage the nut rots at the receiving and storage facility. Lunch is free. You must register to attend. More information is available on the registration site. Checkout the registration link on the top bar of this website or in the Pages file to the side of this post.

Ox Heights Farm, COS 5-Star Orchard, N45.41˚ 940 feet –9˚F 99% Tree survival

Chestnut Orchard Solutions

First 5 star-Rated Michigan Chestnut Farm

Latitude:  N45.41˚    Altitude: 940ft      Low temp: -9˚F          2017 tree planting survival:   99% Fall 

You’re looking at amazing numbers–surprisingly fascinating numbers.  But if you knew this farm family you wouldn’t be surprised at all. The Johnson’s live and have planted a chestnut orchard farther north in Michigan than anyone I know. They know these numbers because they studied them, they depend on them, they live them, and they even eat them.  The motto “Up North in Michigan” is taken to its full meaning at this farm.   Ox Heights Farm in Moltke Township, Presque Isle County just outside Rogers City is owned and operated by Nickolas and Abby Johnson and their 5 children ages 3- months to 8-years-old. But chestnuts, while an important aspect to the farm’s goals is not the only focus.  Timber management, oxen for sustainable timber harvest and goats, for milk and cheese are the most important aspects of the current farm. But chestnuts may be playing a much bigger role someday.Brooke held by her dad Nick, and Abby holding Silvan stand in front of one of 9 trees planted in 2016. The other 450 trees were planted in 2017 and so far, 99 percent of the trees have survived. Yes, it’s named Ox Heights Farm for a reason.  Abby grew up with oxen in mid-Michigan and here in Moltke they help harvest timber.

To be a 5-Star Michigan chestnut farm, we have imposed 5 criteria that need to be met.  Let’s see how Ox Heights and the Johnson’s measure up and why we believe they are worth everyone of the 5 stars.

One Star for Each of the Orchard’s Superior Qualities

⭐      Studied their planting sites well in advance to select the best soils and slopes for frost and water drainage

Knowing that Presque Isle County (Rogers City) is way out of the normal range for the establishment of an orchard and that the trees need well drained, sandy soil, the Johnsons found land with the highest elevation in the area.  A ridge running through Moltke township has an elevation of over 900 feet.  It’s known as the Moltke Ridge and they used that ridge and the slopes from the ridge to provide drainage of water, frost and cold away from the orchard.  Their monitoring of temperatures in prior years proved useful.  This past winter the coldest temperature at 950 feet, the highest point in the orchard, was –9F.  Down slope at the bottom of the orchard (900 feet) the temperature was –15F.  At 800 feet on another nearby farm the lowest temperature was recorded at –19F.  Of the 450 trees planted on 7 acres in the fall of 2017, only four trees have died as of July 10th.

Standing near the top of the highest point on the farm 950 feet above sea level.  Down below, 900 feet above sea level.  

Abby standing in a row of European x Japanese hybrid cultivars. Each tree has been coded with a bronze badge indicating its row and column. 

⭐     Planted pollinizers and placed them up wind from producing cultivars like ‘Colossal’ and ‘Bouche de Betizac’

All of the regular European x Japanese cultivars produced by Forrest Keeling Nursery are present.  Long rows of ‘Colossal’ and ‘Bouche de Betizac’ are divided by rows of mixed pollinizers.   An interesting phenomenon is occurring this summer in that winds are out of east. That is interesting because there is no eastern row of pollinizers, so it will be interesting to see how well pollination takes place in those eastern rows of ‘Colossal’ and ‘Bouche de Betizac’.

⭐      Have plans in place for orchard maintenance including, weed control, irrigation as needed, proper tree spacing and tree shape

Drip irrigation, mouse guards, white latex paint, deer cages and weed barriers are in place.  They are thinking about using the 3D electric fence which allows better access to the trees. Herbicides are used when needed.  The trees are planted 20 X 30 feet which for the shorter growing season and the upright growth of all new cultivars other than ‘Colossal’ should allow years of production before trees begin shading each other.

Deer cage, weed mat (Tree Pro plastic mat, black), irrigation line , and white paint.  Mouse guards are seen attached to the deer  cage here and in other photos.

Soil under the mat is wet as it will hold slightly when making a fist; however in the photo below you can see the soil away from the mat. It is dry and will not hold together. 

⭐      Established multiple cultivars to meet the demands of current and future biological and environmental stresses

‘Colossal’ was planted for high yields and ‘Bouche de Betizac’ was planted for resistance to Asian chestnut gall wasp.  These male sterile trees will be pollinized by ‘Labor Day’, a Japanese chestnut, is blight resistant and an an early season producer of chestnuts; ‘Precoce Migoule’ a European x Japanese pollinizer also produces an early nut; ‘Marigoule’, a European x Japanese pollinizer chestnut with chestnut blight tolerance, also has shown winter hardiness in Michigan;  ‘Marsol’ also a European x Japanese pollinizer with chestnut blight resistance; and ‘Maraval’, an aggressive European x Japanese cultivar, tolerant to chestnut blight, but production may be too late to take to market in years with an early fall frost.  We’ll see.

Different cultivars in different rows.  ‘Colossal’  and ‘Bouche de Betizac’ will be pollinated by ‘Precoce Migoule’, ‘Marigoule’, ‘Marsol’ and ‘Maraval’.   ‘Labor Day’ will also be a pollinating tree, but its other role is to drop nuts early. 


⭐     Have established unique plans and/or novel ideas for their farm

Between rows of chestnut cultivars, they have planted clover and have cut and harvested that for hay to feed their oxen and cattle at another farm.  Establishing this chestnut orchard on the “wrong” side of the state and in an area “too far north” provides an opportunity to show what chestnut orchards might be able to do for the state’s agriculture in expanding orchards in areas not traditionally considered for fruit orchards.  However, we need to find areas conducive to the survival of the trees.  Also, we need about 12 more years to make any claims that chestnuts can grow and succeed in these non-traditional areas.

Nickolas and Abby have successfully intercropped with clover. Many growers talk about doing it, but they have successfully harvested and fed their oxen and another farms cattle. Mowing the hay. 

Raking the hay between the rows of trees.  A very tight fit, but pure genius .

The Johnson’s have great vision and put it to use in finding the proper location for their orchard.  We are happy that it seems the trees, after the mild fall, the cold and snowy winter, wet spring and dry summer are doing well.  That same vision was used in choosing to start a chestnut orchard in a non-traditional orchard area.  Maybe this won’t amount to much, but it might, and the Johnson’s should get all the credit.  Many miles of ridges are available in northern regions.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

All of these visions, ideas and tests were laid out in a grant proposal submitted to and funded by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Farmer Rancher Grant Program.    Lucky for all of us that it was funded.  Please note that—

Ox Heights Farm will have an open house on Saturday, September 15, 2018. More information will be available for this farm and orchard tour at a later date.

After the orchard and farm tour I was invited for dinner.  We shared venison from the farm, potatoes, delicious goat cheese and a tall glass of goat milk.  I hope they are able to add chestnuts to the menu next year.

After dinner I was serenaded by Fenlynn (8) who played a chestnut song on the piano with her original lyrics.  It was a fitting end to a perfect day Up North in Michigan.The name of this new song is “Welcome to Our Chestnut Farm” by Fenlynn Johnson.

Below, Fenlynn and Bjorn (6) and the other children will grow up playing in the chestnut orchard. 

Background of the growers:  Abby and Nick were educated in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University.  Abby earned her B.S. in Biosystems Engineering during 2009. During the evenings, she serves as the Director of the Presque Isle County Conservation District.  Nick earned his B.S. in Biology and Fisheries Management and works a fulltime job as a fish biologist to help support the farm.  During the evenings, he serves as an advisor for the Michigan Forestry Assistance Program.

The 5 Star-rated Michigan Chestnut Orchards

Coming Saturday, July 14, 2018

Chestnut Orchard Solutions Proudly Presents

The 5 Star-rated Michigan Chestnut Orchards

 One Star for Each of it Superior Qualities ⭐

   Studied their planting sites well in advance to select the best soils and slopes for frost and water drainage

 Planted pollinizers and placed them up wind from producing cultivars like ‘Colossal’ and ‘Bouche de Betizac’

 Have plans in place for orchard maintenance including, weed control, irrigation as needed, proper tree spacing and tree shape

 Established multiple cultivars to meet the demands of current and future biological and environmental stresses

  Have established unique plans and/or novel ideas for their farms

Here is a hint as to the first winner of the 5-star rated Michigan Chestnut Orchard program.


In this post, we reprise last year’s article along with some articles we wrote this year.

Last year, in April 2017,  we posted the article below for our clients and friends asking them to map the spring melt off and water flow across their field.  By mapping water flow, when water runs across the field, you can avoid the natural drains that form while fields drain water to the nearest creek or river.  If you have concerns about water in certain part of the field, it is probably too wet. Remember, chestnuts want well drain soils–all of the time.

A Reprise of a COS article from April 10-17, 2017

Finding Dry land

Fields are under water this spring (again, this article is from 2017).  You can use this information wisely! Perhaps the single most important aspect of chestnut orchard establishment is finding dry, well-drained land.  Many of the trees that have died in orchard settings after cold winters, even in proximity to trees that survived, had their feet in natural field drains.  You cannot always see these drainage areas, but if your field looks like the the dramatic field flooding in Figures 1, 2, and 3 you know what I am hinting about.  In dry seasons or dry years, you may not know these natural drains are even in the field until the fields are saturated in a wet year, like they are this year—then the drains show themselves.  But these drains are always present.Healthy trees that die from cold winter weather are trees that are somehow compromised.  We have learned over time that “wet roots” is one of the factors that compromise chestnut trees.  What’s more confounding is that these trees can look good in droughty times, when they are the only ones with their roots in water. But once the snow melt runs off, summer showers downpour on the field, or spring rains flood the fields, these roots are in water-saturated soils which weakens the roots and allows pathogens to infect the trees.  When winter temperatures strike, these are often the trees that die first.

Too often in Michigan, we are concerned with irrigation of chestnut a tree that needs irrigation but for a few days a year or during a drought. Chestnut trees are capable of growing in extremely dry locations where the water is added only as needed.   In other words,   if you cannot manage the amount of water the tree gets, don’t plant there.

Chestnuts Prefer it Hot and Dry

Below are European chestnut trees I saw  on my travels to Lebanon last year as a volunteer for USAID, Land of Lakes International Programs. Totally, 85 to 95 F, cloudless skies for more than 4 months, yet the trees flourished as they were only provided water when needed. These trees can withstand dry conditions.

Below, are trees planted on mountains with elevations representing 2000 feet near Aydin, Turkey. Water from small plastic reservoirs was supplied as needed; otherwise these trees are hot and dry and thriving.

Hills, mountains, slopes, drain, and dry.

Finally, below are orchard trees planted in Australia that have survived some of the worse droughts yet yield heavy each year. One year, it was so dry, the grower’s reservoir completely dried up.  In a desperate attempt to reduce water demand by the tree, the grower cut off all of the branches on the trees. The trees survived and flowered the following year.


This year  2018 in Michigan we witnessed another manifestation of wet roots, and that is bubbly bark.  It is thought that because the warm temperatures came on so fast, roots that were in wet soils tried to pump water to grafted scion that was not ready to accept the flow of water so the rootstock tissues became saturated with water. This results in bubbly bark issues where the water appears as it it is trying to exit the tree via the lenticels, natural openings in the bark used for gas and water vapor exchange.  Read below what we wrote about this a couple of weeks ago.

Reprise from June, 2018

Water and Bubbly Bark Issues

The role of water in the soil around chestnut roots has been known for several years.  When in a drought year like 2012, it is easy to see the trees struggle to get enough water to keep the leaves from wilting and the tree from collapsing.  But what about the role of water in non-drought years?  Every orchard will be different in the amount of water held in place by the soil. Some soils will hold water, more or less, based on the chemical and physical aspects of the soil.  Particle size, organic versus inorganic make up, level of the water table, location of the hardpan, and slope of the land all influence the water holding capacity of the soil in the vicinity of the roots. There are times when the soil is more saturated than at other times, such as spring snow melt, spring rains, increasing summer temperatures, summer rains (or lack of them) and added water from irrigation.

This all spells a system where orchards and the trees in the orchards deal with water differently.  This difference provides a different scenario for each grower.  In the other article I sent you, you can see where natural drains channeling water across a field may actually affect tree survival.  In drought years, it may help, but in rainy years if may inhibit tree growth.  The orchard in that article had a year where 25 inches of rain were recorded one summer and then it was exposed to one of the coldest winters in history (2013-14).  Many trees died.  While the temperatures were exceedingly cold, trees in other orchards survived these temperatures. In fact, most of the trees in the orchard did survive.  Why do some die while others live?  If we look at the role of water and the natural drains, there appears to be a role of wetter areas versus drier areas.

The first hint that water is detrimental— mountain trees: Chestnut trees are mountain trees that grew/grow in the Appalachians or in the mountains of Europe and even Asia.  I saw them successfully planted and growing in the mountains of Turkey and Lebanon. Mountains are important for chestnuts and especially Mediterranean mountains for the European trees.  Water in the mountains moves away from the trees rapidly.  The trees do not sit long in saturated soils.  Root rot caused by Phytophthora (a water mold) and wet soils normally occurs in the mountains along points of natural drainage.

Water and tree death in Michigan: flat land trees die where water is left on the orchard floor. Trees have died in orchards with drains running through them and where naatural springs are found.  It doesn’t have to be flooded, just damp, wet soil.  Chestnut trees cannot grow in damp, wet soil.  Christmas tree growers learned that their favorite tree, Fraser fir, can’t grow in damp, wet soils; it is not out of the ordinary to find trees that require soils to dry between rain and irrigation events.  Chestnut trees require well drained soils. We have been saying that for decades now.  Wet soils bring on root rot diseases and it has been implicated in seasonal start up issues (see below).

Here is some evidence suggesting that water in orchards is problematic.  

1) Grafting—After several years of successful grafting at MSU and at a local Michigan nursery, failures began appearing and the stems of those trees that failed were water soaked and damp.  We discovered, by accident that if the pots were watered heavily before grafting, the rootstock would pump water up the stem, and when the rootstock is cut (as in grafting), the water will push out at the cut end of the rootstock. This water will prevent a successful union of the scion wood to the rootstock.  Water is the enemy of grafting.  Sure it can seep into the graft from external rains, but it can also be pushed up through the rootstock as the rootstock tries to eliminate the water in the soil of the pot.

2) Hills—Trees in the lowest rows on a hillside in an orchard are usually where it is most difficult to keep the trees alive.  We used to think it was where the cold air was located, but now I am sure it is due to the wetter soils found at the bottom of the hill, and probably a little of both.

3) Leaving the water on:  For some reason, over the years, we have had a few instances where growers have left the water on their trees.  When this happens, trees die. Young trees, old trees, a few or many, but when the trees are overwatered, they have the tendency to die off.

4) Orchards—After reading and hearing reports about bubbly bark disease, Chris Foster, a Portland, Oregon chestnut grower came to MSU to report on bubbly bark disease.  Chris has figured this out on his own and has reported it previously. Basically, it is when chestnut trees in wet areas of an orchard try to eliminate water from the area surrounding the roots. The trees pump it up the stems faster than the tree can eliminate it.  The lenticels, the air exchange organs (white dots on the bark) cannot eliminate the water fast enough, and the bark begins to become saturated.  It swells and lifts off the cambium layer of the trees.  This usually leads to the death of the trees. He has found it to be more common with grafted trees than seedling trees.

Here is Chris’ explanation in his own words:  “My postulate as why this is largely a problem in grafted trees is due to a type of mismatch between seedling rootstock and the cultivar above. The mismatch is the timing of emergence – perhaps by just a few days. Hybrid seedlings will, to a very high degree produce seedlings that emerge earlier than their parent tree. What happens in spring and especially aggravated by a quick transition to warm weather is a root system that pushes sap up before the cultivar above can properly manage it. Wet soils of course are a key ingredient too. A tree with only buds and no leaf stoma, can only rely on lenticels for respiration and that’s simply not adequate.  The excess sap stagnates and eventually damages bark tissues. The lenticels become hypertrophied or swollen in response to the overload. Sun exposed bark becomes extremely sensitive to heating and dies (often mistaken after the fact as winter freeze damage).

While Bubbly Bark is typically a problem in young trees (say ages 4 to 8), we had the same quick transition to summer temps that Michigan experienced. For the first time ever, I had a few limbs from older trees affected.

If I am correct, the remedies are obvious. Stay off wet sites, promote better drainage, pray for a slow transition into summer, and for the ultimate solution, either stay away from seedling rootstock or somehow select roots for later emergence than the cultivar above.”

A young healthy tree and its bark

Chestnut trees with bubbly bark problems

Chestnut trees with bubbly bark problems–close up

Should we take Chris’ advice and stay away from seedling rootstock?  Using clonal rootstock?  Currently, this is impossible. Plant seedlings and your yields will suffer dramatically.   Grafted trees are grafted to seedlings.  However, as Chris suggests in his last paragraph about getting away from seedling rootstock, well, that may be happening right now as MSU has rooted cuttings of 5 or 6 cultivars.  The choice could be a cloned rootstock that does not push water faster than the cultivar can take it up or just a cultivar on its own roots. So maybe the answer is, find that one clonal rootstock, that will agree, water wise, with the scion wood grafted on top.

MSU rooted cuttings of chestnut

Why don’t we see large numbers of trees die every year?  Fortunately, we don’t.  Even this year, we have orchards in Michigan that simply did not experience any tree death, yet they planted the same cultivars from the same nursery.  Orchard water maybe one of the culprits.  Flat orchards are usually the most problematic and always have been (remember, chestnut trees like slopes), from the first 1997 plantings.

Has bubbly bark been an issue in Michigan before?Here is an orchard map that shows the death of trees (open areas on the map) on a farm in the western part of the state. There was this particular area where tree death occurred and it was worse years ago than it is now.  It seems to have stabilized.  The part of the orchard with the highest percentage of tree death was down hill from a perched woodlot that drained into the chestnut orchard. Snow melt and rain drained from the forest into the field.  The water is draining from the perched woodlot to a large river meaning the orchard is part of the river’s water shed.  The trees closest to the wood lot experienced more water than the trees distant from the wood lot.  I can tell you, because I was called the farm to check it out, that the trees that died had bubbly bark disease.

Below, we see the map of an orchard where trees at the north end of the field were subjected to a continuous draining of water which saturated the soils as water drained from the woodlot down through the orchard. Water was moving to a river and the orchard functions as a water shed for the river. The woodlot is perched above the orchard floor by a few feet.

And that was before we knew it as bubbly bark or knew what was causing it.  Why didn’t all the trees die?  Not sure, but if you use Chris Foster’s explanation, some the rootstock were good matches for the scion wood and perhaps other weren’t.  When we say match here, I am not necessarily saying there is a genetic miss-match (which has not been seen), but a physiological mismatch where particular seedling rootstocks push water to the scion portion of the graft before the scion can eliminate the water. It might look like a graft incompatibility as the damage will take place at the graft union, but it is really water being blocked by the un-activated cultivar at a time that it needs to be moving water.

If you look at some of the dead 2017 young trees, you may see some of the bumps or what one grower called pimples.  This is just bubbly bark, but in miniature.  The water was pumped up by the roots of the rootstock, it could not escape as the cultivar had not activated quickly enough, the tissues swelled in the rootstock, and the water disruption of the plant tissues killed the scion and sometimes the rootstock.

Above, a planted tree with rootstock showing signs of water logging and swelling. Perhaps this is the equivalent of bubbly bark in young grafted trees.

Water In the Orchards and Its Effects on Chestnut Trees

A grower showed me this when I was out looking at mature tree die off. We walked the wet areas of his farm and it coincided almost perfectly with his tree death. These wet areas were not really noticeable until he took me to his property line and showed me how his neighbor’s property drained across his field. These natural drains would not be seen in the summer unless a lot of rain fell. They are more obvious in the spring, after snow melt and heavy spring rains. It was amazing. As the water crossed his orchard, the Colossal bordering this natural drain were dead whereas the other Colossal trees were hardly damaged. I became a believer that wet roots and cold winters are complicit in chestnut tree death. Since then, I have been saying, do not plant in areas that are wet. Chestnut is a Mediterranean tree and survives best in the hills and mountains where the water drains fast. They will struggle during droughts, but die in wet soil.

Below are two maps of a farm (not the one I just wrote about, above) and if you look at the unmarked orchard map first, you will see there are areas where trees are missing or smaller than the rest. If you use imagination, you can see the natural water ways or drains that move from the bottom (neighbors field) and run downhill to the top where a big pond can normally be found in spring.

In the second map, I have marked some, but not all, of these natural drains. They were ground verified. In fact, there is a natural spring below the line of wild trees that bisects the orchard. I am a believer in water, wet roots and low winter temperatures as strong factors determining why chestnuts die in orchards.


Something to Keep in Mind

In 2016, we visited 3 orchards, all with the same problem. They were all non-grafted Chinese chestnut trees.  Our goal in visiting their orchards was to determine, to the best of our ability, the cause of the tree deaths.  After visiting the orchard and looking at the trees, we believe all the tree deaths were due to Phytophthora root rot.

1)  In these orchards, the wet/damp sandy soil was  conducive to Phytophthora root rot a fungus-like pathogen, called a water mold, which thrives and reproduces in wet soil. Depending on the species of Phytophthora present, it can attack and kill chestnut trees.

Phytophthora Root Rot

We have seen much more root rot in the past three years than if the previous 20 years.  I think it may be due to the tremendous amounts of wet springs we have encountered for the past 7 years.  There are several ways to check the presumptive diagnosis of root rot.  These methods can be more or less time consuming or expensive.  I first use one of the cheap methods in orchards which meant cutting away bark on the trunk at the soil line.  I look for darkened areas on the trunk where the root rot may have killed or begun to kill the root collar.

Most of the trees dying from root rot were either in southeast Michigan or west Michigan.  The trees were relatively large 20 to 30-year old Chinese chestnut trees and they were collapsing.   Almost all of my experiences with root rot in Michigan orchards has come from Chinese chestnut trees.  This is somewhat surprising as Chinese chestnut trees are supposed to be resistant to root rot, but other than a few examples, most root rot in Michigan has been on Chinese chestnut.

Water drainage from soils in Michigan is diverse and as we move toward the center of the state the soils are heavier with more clay and hardpans.  But as we move toward shorelines, rivers, ponds and watersheds, soils may retain water longer. Wet periods like our recent springs, saturated soil for several weeks.  A non-aggressive Phytophthora root rot organism can begin to infect the roots and it may take years to finally kill the tree.

Root rot is primarily the cause of death of large old chestnut trees in Italy and elsewhere in Europe and Turkey.  Again those are European chestnut trees which are known to be very susceptible. Chinese are supposed to be root rot resistant, but we have found root rot on Chinese in Michigan before and we know we have a species of Phytophthora in Michigan that can kill Chinese chestnut trees.  At the August 11 meeting, we will discover there may be an answer to this problem.

Root rot dying Chinese chestnut in Michigan

In the figure above, you will see root rot symptoms  on Chinese chestnut trees in Newaygo from 2016.  The black on the root collar is called the flame.  The is the diagnostic symptom of root rot.


We have a tendency to overwater chestnut. If it doesn’t get enough water it will die, but it can survive better than you think under dry conditions.  Water can be detrimental to the chestnut tree and it needs slopes or well drained soils to help it thrive.  If you are looking for orchard land, find land without water issues where adjacent land at a higher elevation doesn’t drain through your land.  Look for higher elevations and well drained soils for the best land. One of the best chestnut orchards in Michigan is nested about 800 feet while the land around it is more like 600 feet.






























Figure 2. Better photo of the trunk and how you have to cut away at the bark from trees at Newaygo.  Yes, we did isolate Phytophthora from this tree.




COS Goes to Italy To See Our New Harvester and Timely Tips Continue Under the Pages Menu

Since Chestnut Orchard Solutions made the decision to purchase the largest chestnut harvesting unit known, we travelled to Italy to see it being assembled at the FACMA facility.  We are lucky we did this because while there we found an accessory for the machine that makes it even more friendly for all Michigan orchards, especially smaller ones.  This new addition is a bin that fits on the back of the harvester, meaning we don’t need to pull a large trailer through the orchard for just a few hundred pounds.  FACMA is always coming up with new innovations.

The FACMA 380s is the biggest machine FACMA makes.  With an 80 hp EPA-approved diesel engine, it is more than double the power of MSU’s FACMA 180s machine.  More power means a faster harvest which means more orchards can be harvested in the harvest season.  Here are some photos of our 380S as they are assembling it on May 29, 2018.

Remember, FACMA makes machines that “harvest and clean”, we are emphasizing that the FACMA machines not only pick up the nuts, but also separate them from the burs, flat nuts, leaves and small sticks before sending them to the collection bins or bags. No other harvester does all this.  The machine will be shipped soon to it new home in Michigan.

Turbo-charged diesel engine

COS members Carmen Medina Mora and Dennis Fulbright with Raffaella and Michela who work so hard at FACMAComing soon to Michigan

30 Weekly Timely Tips Starting Today to Help with Your Chestnut Orchard

From now until Thanksgiving, COS will post Timely Tips to help you decide what tasks you should be working on in your orchard.  Take a look here, each week to find out the tasks on which you should be working.  On the right sidebar, under the pages menu, you will see our Timely Tips file.  Click there to find the weekly Tip.   Last week’s Tip will disappear, so be sure to follow them each week.  Remember, the task may last longer than the tip!

Hello Chestnut Growers -COS is back with big plans for the year

New Chestnut Orchards Solutions President Carmen Media Mora, Secretary Dennis Fulbright, along with our Treasurer, CPA Doug Jaaksi welcome you to a new chestnut season.  It  has been slow to start due to extended winter weather, but once it starts and buds break we will be racing to the first big hurdle, which you all know is the Mother Day’s frost. Then, once we skirt that event, we will head directly toward flowering and pollination time, around the end of June.  Check here often and we will have articles and photos from around the state to let you know what is happening in Michigan with chestnut.

We are glad to be here again and look forward to helping you.

Frost and Asian Chestnut Gall Wasp Meeting



Scroll Down for Information on Frost and the Asian Chestnut Gall Wasp Meeting

  1. Asian Chestnut Gall Wasp Field Trip

An Asian chestnut gall wasp (ACGW) education session combined with field trip will be held at the MSU Southwest Michigan Research and Extension Center (SWMREC) on Sunday, June 4th from 1:00 to 3:00 pm. Everything a grower needs to know about the ACGW will be presented during the Sunday meeting including what to look for, what to do when if/when it arrives, opportunities for experimental treatments, and spread of the parasitoid. We will explain the infestation process, the biological control parasitoid that is following the infestation and the outcomes of this infestation. See for yourself the galls, the damage, and parasitoids. As always, clients (owners of the same farm) and family members of clients are free and non-clients are $25. Water and snacks will be provided. We guarantee that if you don’t take any parts of the chestnut trees home, you will take the insect back to your orchards!

  1. Coming out of the May 8th and 9th frost events

In the early morning hours of May 8 and then repeated on May 9, a serious frost struck the Michigan landscape. Many different types of fruit trees, were advanced because of the warm weather experienced earlier in the spring. After driving around looking at various orchards it is obvious there is little pattern to the severity. In southwest Michigan, which was supposed to miss the frost, serious damage was done to trees in low lying areas. Orchards on high land in southwest Michigan, did not suffer as much as those where the frost drained or settled. In the northern lower peninsula, the trees were not advanced enough to experience severe damage, similar to the frost event of 2012. Between southwest Michigan and northern regions, a large range of frost damage can be observed from light damage to heavy, severe damage.

Focusing on the MSU Clarksville Research Center plot is probably the best way to describe what was seen around the state as Clarksville is 50 miles from the coast of the climate moderating Lake Michigan, 80 miles north of the Indiana state line, and on the 42nd parallel.

In the two tables below, from the MSU Enviroweather program, you can watch the temperatures drop during the morning hours of May 8 and then again on May 9.

Figures 1 and 2. Tables on temperatures May 8 and May 9 (https://enviroweather.msu.edu)

With as many weather stations they have reporting, you would think we would have specific knowledge regarding the low temperatures experienced in orchards those mornings, but it is not that simple. In Shelby for example, a grower, using multiple independent thermometers recorded temperatures in the low 20’s in his orchard and he was 5 miles from the reporting weather station. Another factor is that the station reporting may malfunction or be in the process of malfunctioning. Finally, the actual damage to the plant is based on a series of factors such as stage of bud development, microorganisms present on the plant tissue, length of temperature experienced, moisture, wind speed, dew point, height from the ground and topography of the orchard including elevation.

Taken together, it is no wonder why we see a spotty picture of severe and moderate frost events across the state with severe to moderate amounts of damage on chestnut trees.

Look at the figures below to assess the type of damage you may have had in your orchard. What we already know is that we will not be breaking any yield records in 2017. Some orchards will be reduced in yield, some severely. But some orchards have not been touched. Learn how to determine how much the frost hurt your trees, then determine how much per tree and then in October determine the final amount of yield from those trees.

In most cases damage is obvious after a frost with damaged leaves, dead buds, and with new buds pushing up and down the stems.  Sometimes it is best to go back and review how the chestnut tree would have grown without a frost like in 2016.  Below is a photo of a Colossal tree at the MSU Clarksville Research Center breaking bud without any significant frost damage.  Just below the blue arrowhead is the growing bud that is continuing to extend and push, showing no damage.  But this branch did go through the frost as the frost damage can be seen inside the red circles, so we know that this branch was involved with the frost, but it was either not cold enough long enough to kill the bud and the main stem continues to elongate. A lot of frost damage was seen at the CRC and yields will be reduced in 2017.

Trees with not much frost damage included those in the north where the buds were not pushed far enough to have received damage. Examples include the MSU Northwest Michigan Horticulture and Research Center on the Leelanau Peninsula, an established orchard in Kewadin close to the 45th parallel, and a new orchard in East Jordan on the 45th parallel.

No frost damage observed on one-year-old trees at the MSU Northwest Michigan Horticulture and Research Center (photo taken on May 16th a week after the frost), below.

No damage observed on 15-year-old Colossal trees in an orchard near Kewadin (photo taken on May 16th a week after the frost), below.
No damage observed on one-year-old grafted trees in a new orchard near East Jordan (photo taken on May 16th a week after the frost), below.
Damage was observed in Southwest Michigan, spotty along Lake Michigan coast line, frequent in mid-Michigan. Above are mature trees in Oceana County. No severe damage was noticed on any large mature 15-year-old Colossal chestnut trees in this orchard, below 2 photos.

Similar to the photo above, not only was this Colossal tree not damaged by frost, it was already pushing its sterile catkins, called catkin initials. The few dead branches that can be seen on the stem were dead before the frost.

However, in this same orchard in Oceana County, you can see some damage on the younger trees, but they were planted in a lower area. Therefore, it is difficult to determine if it was the location in the orchard, the fact that they were young, or a factor of them being young, that is short with branches more involved in lower, colder air. In the photo below you can see the dead bud circled in red, and all the surrounding laterals buds that break on make new branches, some with catkins. It becomes a mess of leaves and catkins, until there is enough growth to sort it out.

What’s going on inside the the buds that had pushed but ran into the frost? In the photo below, you can see the dead internal tissue. Those buds are dead and new lateral buds surrounding the dead bud will initiate growth. Even through the outer tissue may look green, if they tissue inside the stems die, then the bud will cease to elongate. Remember, the branch grows from the tip. Behind the dead bud, the leaves may enlarge, but that stem is not elongating from that bud, but from the buds that break around it.

The buds that break around the dead buds are called the lateral buds. They may have broken sometime during the season, but that they begin to push now is a sign that the terminal buds were damaged and the lateral buds will form the new leader. Here you see in red either dead buds or stems that pushed and then the buds died. Only the blue lines show the buds and stems that will grow into this summer.

Here is a stem from a Colossal tree at the MSU Clarksville Research Center. The red circles surround dead buds, the blue circles and lines show living buds and growing tissue. The circles show damaged leaves from the frost, not from insect damage. Later, this frost damage may look like insect damage. Here are catkin initials being produced, indicating a chance for female flowers being produced on the stem growing from lateral buds.

Here are buds on young trees (2-year-old) Bouche de Betizac where the bud died in the frost, but for every bud there are at least 2 more in that bud area ready to break. Odds are that young strong, young healthy trees that run into a frost, these lateral buds will break, push and grow into a new leader for the tree. As usual, red circles are dead buds and blue lines show living buds.


Preparing for the up coming frost event

Please check out the COS Hint #49 for information on the frosts expected this week.

In Hint #49 we cover

  • The forecasted frost event for May 8 and 9, 2017
  • What MSU says to do about it, and how to prepare
  • A History of Chestnuts and Frost in Michigan


To follow the temperatures around the state, please go to MSU Enviroweather at https://enviroweather.msu.edu/

Click on a weather station of interest. Then follow weather events by clicking on the

  • NEW Meteogram:Real-time observations in graphical format
  • follow the red line in the first graft for real time temperature data.
  • Scroll to the second graft which is rainfall
  • Then scroll to the third graft which is wind. Wind speed is really important. If the wind keeps blowing, frost will not be as bad.


Feel free to use the history links on the enviroweather website to see the results.