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

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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.