All posts by Dennis Fulbright


The Story of Chestnut, Old-World Florentine Wood Carvers, Textile Print Art, and Chestnut Tree Survival North of the 45th Parallel Combined into One Unique Intersection

In northern Michigan, working artists Joann Condino and her husband Gene Reck founded Three Pines Studio and Gallery in Cross Village at north latitude 45° 38.   It’s just a few miles south of Sturgeon Bay, a part of Wilderness State Park and just off M119 near Legs Inn.

In September 2017, with the help of Dennis Fulbright and Chestnut Orchard Solutions, Joann and Gene started a small planting of chestnuts for their annual chestnut roastings by introducing ‘Marigoule’ and ‘Precoce Migoule’ chestnut cultivars to their garden area.  Grafted cultivars ‘Marigoule’ and ‘Precoce Migoule’ are now a year old and have begun to settle in for their second full winter in Cross Village along with new cultivar arrivals ‘Colossal’ and ‘Maraval’ which were just planted.  During their first year in Cross Village, ‘Marigoule’ and ‘Precoce Migoule’ slept through temperatures as low as -21°F.  When they finally woke up in spring, they grew 7 to 9 inches and produced male and female flowers.  Now we cross our fingers and hope they do it again and that ‘Colossal’ and ‘Maraval’ traverse their first winter as well as ‘Precoce Migoule’ and ‘Marigoule’ did north of the 45th parallel. The late fall and winter winds that whip off Lake Michigan as well as the chilling polar vortex make chestnut tree survival in this part of the state an interesting challenge that people are waiting to discover.

Above, chestnut cultivar ‘Marigoule’ planted September 2017 in Cross Village at Three Pines Studio and Gallery.  Dennis Fulbright of Chestnut Orchard Solutions and Joann Condino who along with husband Gene Reck own Three Pines Studio.   The ‘Marigoule’ grew as expected with temperatures down to -21 for a couple of nights last January.  

Below, Joann helps Dennis plant the ‘Maraval’ chestnut cultivar in Cross Village.  The story of chestnut trees and art unfold here at Three Pines Studio. 

It’s not surprising that Three Pines Studio holds an annual chestnut roast.  Joann is a first generation Italian-American who, as a young girl, fell in love with the shapes, colors and textures of her mother’s pasta. Joann admits these shapes have influenced her art since childhood.  Of her many talents in the studio, her textile prints are second to none. Initially printing on fabrics with antique Indian wood blocks she had found, Joann began to seek wood blocks from her homeland of Italy, specifically Florence.  At first she couldn’t find Italian wood blocks for her prints, but as luck would have it she found Flippo Romagnoli, a third generation wood carver and a master corzetti carver in Florence making wood blocks used for stamping corzetti pasta at Romagnoli Pasta Tools.  Corzetti pasta is a traditional, relatively large circular pasta that bears a stamp representing a special design, a family seal, or a symbol of the region in which the pasta was made.  It is pressed into the pasta with a wooden block containing the outline of the design, very similar to art designs hand pressed onto fabrics.  Flippo was just the person Joann was looking for.  She became familiar with Flippo’s work through a friend and cookbook author Domenica Marchetti. Working with Flippo, he was soon making wood blocks for fabric printing along side the traditional corzetti pasta as they formed a unique international partnership.  Flippo now makes wood blocks in Florence for Three Pines Studio and ships them to Michigan where she uses them for hand printed fabrics.

Below, a few of the wood blocks carved by Flippo Romagnoli of Romagnoli Pasta Tools and sent to Joann Condino laying out on the cabinets. These blocks are used to press designs on various textiles in Three Pines Studio. 

Flippo has carved different wood block designs inspired by nature including insects such as butterflies and bees, and honeycomb patterns. He also has made wood blocks representing plants such as wheat, thistle, lavender, and now chestnut leaves and nuts.  After Flippo performs his artisan magic, carving the wooden blocks, Joann gets busy pressing the images into artistic designs using fabric paints on various textiles including American-made cotton and linen. For example, she has at her disposal the images on the blocks, but she is the one who makes the linen come alive with fliting bees buzzing around plants on subtle honeycomb background patterns.

This beautifully designed tea towel is at work as Dennis dries the dishes with American-made linen tea towels with a Three Pine Studio design.

When you go to the bakery to get fresh bread you should not use plastic or paper bags, but cloth bags that breath with the cooling bread. Here we see a wheat motif on a fresh-baked bread bag with 3 o’clock baguette from Crooked Tree Bread Works in Petoskey.

The chestnut patterns look as if the trees are raining chestnuts at harvest time. She uses Flippo’s wooden blocks to hand stamp the images onto the fabric of functional items such as table runners, napkins, placemats, tea towels, aprons, tote bags, and bags for holding fresh baked bread.   It is all beautiful and unique and, of course—there’s chestnut in the artwork!

It’s probably been 400 years since a hand carved chestnut motif from Florence  has been stamped onto linen, but it’s happening now in Cross Village with the unique international arrangement set up by Flippo Romagnoli in Italy and Joann Condino in Michigan. 

Packaged and ready for sales at Three Pine Studios.  A perfect holiday gift for that chestnut-grower in your life.

Now with young chestnut trees having survived their first year at their studio in Cross Village planted near their garden, wooden blocks representing nuts and leaves of the chestnut tree, and the production of original artwork representing chestnuts, she may be making the only original chestnut art in America.  Yes, there are wood turners and some furniture makers who have done a great job with chestnut wood, but America has lacked fine art with chestnuts for decades. First, the wood blocks commissioned by Joann to Flippo in Italy; and then second, wood blocks used by Joann in her studio in Cross Village to depict chestnut art on kitchen fabric—it’s a brilliant international venture.  The cloth is so warm and beautiful.  I am sure there is not a dish that will ever be dried by one of these chestnut-adorned or other patterned tea towels as they appear too beautiful to use.  I am guessing they will be cherished objects of art kept in dining rooms or the kitchen rather than utilitarian functional pieces. However, I must admit, the linen fabric really does a nice job drying the dishes (see previous photo, above).

To order the wood block print fabrics, especially those with chestnuts, please call Joann at

Three Pines Studio (231-526-9447).  She can describe better for you the items available and their cost.  If you happen to need a fall destination for travel, Three Pine Studio is at 5959 West Levering Rd. in Cross Village, MI 49723.

October 7th is their annual pumpkin festival and hundreds of glass pumpkins will be available in the studio, hand blown by local Michigan glass artists.

Chestnut cultivar ‘Precoce Migoule’ in the foreground and ‘Marigoule’ in the background, both trees grew 7 to 9 inches this summer after their fall planting in 2017.  Here they are in July with ‘Precoce Migoule’ doing what it does best, producing copious male flowers, and ‘Marigoule’ taking advantage of the warm July day growing straight and tall.  Within four years, these trees will be producing enough chestnuts to satisfy the art gallery’s chestnut festival.





COS’ Fourth 5-Star-Rated Michigan Chestnut Orchard

Livingston County, Michigan

 Serenity  Community Diversity Family Elevation

Perhaps you need no introduction to Chestnut Orchard Solutions 4th 5-Star-Rated Michigan chestnut farm because the LaFever Chestnut Farm is already a legendary chestnut orchard.  It may be the most unique chestnut orchard in all of Michigan, maybe the US, and perhaps all of North America. We’re in the northwest corner of Livingston County in Tyrone Township at north latitude 42°44′, and 950 feet above sea level.  Again, like our other 5-Star-Rated chestnut farms, the elevation helps the water drain away from the farm, this time to inland lakes Hoisington, Bennett and Lobdall.  These lakes take the water from the LaFever chestnut orchard and delivers it to the Shiawassee River which then flows to Saginaw Bay via the Saginaw River. This farm is amazing.  Laid out upon 10 acres, the orchard was first established in 1997.

The first chestnut trees, mostly Colossal, were planted with some other cultivars and seedlings by the current owner’s father, Ken LaFever.  The orchard has since passed down to Mike, Norma and their son Wade who have improved it.  There around 250 trees representing 20-year-old to newly planted trees  spread out on 10 acres of land. Each tree is given its rightful place in the orchard spreading without touching the branches of another tree.  This gives each tree the chance to produce and drop chestnuts in a complete 360o circumference without interference and shading from other trees.  Under these spreading chestnut trees amazing things happen which we will discuss, below.

Trees loaded with burs and nuts continue to mature in September waiting for their grand drop into the hands of an appreciative audience at the LaFever chestnut farm in Fenton. (Click photo to enlarge)

The farm is tucked into the back roads of Fenton, what some people might call the Detroit suburbs, less than 2 miles from US23 and 4.3 million people (the 13th largest metropolitan area in the US).  This unique location, which will be hard to copy, combined with the chestnut orchard makes for one of the great chestnut stories in the United States.  Every weekend for 6 weekends in September/October, hundreds of people make their way to the LaFever chestnut farm following exits off US23 through dirt roads, wetlands and lakes and finally to the chestnut orchard.  Mike says the people who come to gather chestnuts can get their chestnuts at the store, but they come here for the experience.  Again, more on this aspect later.


Buckets set up around the trees are ready for customers to fill up with chestnuts and weigh.  Sometimes the customers eat the chestnuts before weighing which is simply the cost of doing business. 

So, why did this farm become our 4th, 5-Star-Rated Michigan Chestnut Orchard for 2018?  Well, lets see what hurdles they had to jump through to achieve the coveted 5-Star status set up by the Chestnut Orchard Solutions team.

Mike stands under the chestnut tree showing how the tree’s canopy blocks the sun reducing weed growth under the trees.  Empty burs are falling during windstorms as they wait for fall. 


One  ⭐  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

It is at this farm that I learned a lesson; a lesson I have tried to pass on to you.  I was lucky that Mike took the time to show me something important about his farm.  His father, Ken, primarily planted the European X Japanese hybrid chestnut cultivar Colossal and any pollinizers he could get his hands on.  That was because in 1997 we tried to be like California and plant the pollinizer tree Nevada. But it was too winter sensitive for most of the areas of Michigan, especially 150 miles from the moderating temperatures of Lake Michigan.  So Ken planted other chestnuts.  Mike noticed that most of the planted trees survived, but he was constantly replanting trees in the middle of his acreage.  He says he is stubborn and will continue to do it, but he showed me something that day 4 years ago.  He took me to the east boundary of his land where it adjoined his neighbors land which has a higher elevation than Mike’s orchard.  He told me, look at this. I cannot keep the Colossal trees alive in a line as it crosses the middle of the property.  He said, look, this is the natural drain for my neighbor’s land which crosses my land right here, and on either side of that natural drain, the chestnut trees were dead.  Nowhere else on the property, just here where the natural water course keeps the roots wet.  It was true, this natural drain went across the farm heading west, where the water went into woodlot and drained to Lake Hoisington to the north of his property. What I remember about that day was observing the dead chestnut trees which appeared to be on opposite shores of this not-so make believe creek that traversed his farm.  Other trees were doing well, but if planted on the edge of the drain from the neighbors acrage to the east, they had more than a 50 percent chance of dying.  That was in the spring of 2014, after the first of two devastating back-to-back winters.  Perhaps if the winter had not been so cold the trees may have pulled through, but for sure, with the second horrible winter of 2014/15 on the heels of the first horrible winter, they probably would have succumbed, anyway. So, that was an important day, because with that information, with the bubbly-bark symptoms Chris Foster was discussing in Oregon and with the help of other growers willing to take the time to think and evaluate the patterns of tree death in their orchards (especially with the help of Pete Ivory in Lapeer), I began to see the outcome of trees planted in areas that were not WELL DRAINED.  This was made even more dramatic by the number of successful trees planted on this farm.  Today, most of the mature trees are 20-years-old and they are providing a generous income for the owners and becoming an important chestnut venue for southeast Michigan.

Mike checks the winter damage on a chestnut tree in the orchard. Thee amazing chestnut trees can take a lot of weather abuse, but produce wound tissue and keep growing. Water around the roots can promote the early death of the trees.  

Most trees heal the damaged bark and, as in the photo below, the trees continue to produce flowers, burs and nuts

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

In 1997, this was not such an important aspect of establishing a chestnut farm.  After finding that the Nevada trees would die from a lack of genetic-based winter hardiness, Ken LaFever threw everything he could into the orchard.  American chestnut and Chinese chestnut seedlings and grafted trees, including a rare Carolina grafted cultivar from Florida that has surprisingly survived.  Now Mike is taking the time to establish other cultivars, mostly on the west side of the orchard so the pollen can blow across the orchard. Also mixed into this farm with its large 20-year-old Colossal trees are newly planted Marigoule, Precoce Migoule, and Labor Day, trees that throw out their pollen and also produce nice nuts.

American chestnut tree in the LaFever Orchard. It produces lots of pollen but not many nuts.  Notice its upright shape and height. 

New chestnut cultivars are added to the west side of the orchard to help promote pollen distribution through the orchard.

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

This eclectic orchard was established with some rows, but very little thought was given to an orchard plan, tree spacing (except for lots of space), with little or no irrigation, weed control or insect control. This is the hallmark of a sustainable chestnut orchard, typical of Europe, right here in southeast Michigan.  We do not recommend this orchard management style for other growers starting new orchards. For them, their lack of orchard management, other than good mowing, leads to the most positive and important aspect of this orchard. While not certified organic, it virtually is an organic chestnut farm. The only disease management that is continually done is adding a little biocontrol (hypovirulence) to trees showing chestnut blight cankers.  Most of these trees healed their cankers in one or two years and Mike is quick to show one tree that we thought might be saved with treatments, but overall, we really had our doubts.  Today, that tree, which some thought should have been cut down, is surviving and producing burs.

Chestnut tree with chestnut blight that would normally be cut down has been treated with a biological control (hypovirulence).  This and other trees treated like this continue to grow and produce flowers, burs and nuts. 

Mike and son Wade discuss the weevil traps set up under some trees to see if there are any weevil infestations in the orchard. Monitoring for blight and the weevil is part of their orchard management, otherwise, they do not do any spraying. 

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

As we saw above, Mike is smartly planting pollinizers to the west side of the orchard, but he is also planting the pollen-sterile cultivar Bouche de Betizac because it is Asian chestnut gall wasp resistant.  If and when this insect makes it to his orchard, the Bouche de Betizac trees will resist infestation and maintain terminal growth, flowering, bur production and yield.  If the insect never makes it all the way to Fenton, Bouche de Betizac is still a great cultivar producing an excellent nut.

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

Mike, Norma and Wade discuss in front of me where the idea originated for the most important and unique aspect of this farm-‑U PICK CHESTNUTS.  It was a brilliant idea–an act of genius.  2.5 to 3 tons of chestnuts falling from roughly 100 trees spread out across a 10-acre lawn. “If you ‘plant it’ they will come,” comes to mind.  But it didn’t happen that way.  A fortuitously-timed article in a midwest-based Japanese newspaper by a respected Japanese journalist alerted the Japanese community in the region to this farm. Today, 80 percent of the people that come to pick the chestnuts are of Asian descent, but recently the LaFevers have noticed a shift to eastern Europeans as well as those with ties to the middle east and Asia Minor.  These people come by car and bus from communities all over Michigan and even further.  Mike makes the observation that they don’t all come just for the chestnuts, they come for the the serenity.  The green grass, the well spaced trees, and the ability to cook on open fires. They come to prepare and eat ethnic dishes and roast chestnuts. Some people come back each year, staking claim to certain trees where they know there are always good tasting chestnuts.  Some want large sized chestnuts that have a characteristic look. And for those chestnuts that are difficult to peel having just fallen from the trees, Mike tells them to apply more heat to make peeling easier.

Long-handled roasting pans are used to roast the chestnuts at the chestnut farm. 

Chestnuts are a traditional food for some ethnic groups and the LaFever orchard provides a place to gather and eat these nuts.  

Mike, Norma and Wade did not start out as experts in chestnut cultivation, but they have learned so much by listening to his dad, attending meetings,  and caring for the trees.  This orchard has become a destination farm in a busy part of the state.  The farm and trees provide serenity and nourishing food that take people back in time, back to foods of their native cultures.  The LaFevers are hardly a farm family, they are more like hosts providing a weekend remedy to those seeking foods that remind them of home.  Families and friends, restaurateurs, and store owners can be found on October weekends at the LaFever chestnut farm gathering chestnuts, eating foods of their homeland and having memorable time in Fenton.

Mike, Norma and Wade LaFever in their U–Pick chestnut farm waiting for autumn.  Notice the burs on the trees in the background. 

We remember Ken for allowing us to do experiments in his orchard.  Ken was always ready to discuss each and every tree; its strengths and weaknesses.  Ken was open-minded and took the time to think about the conversation and continue the conversation weeks later when we were visiting him again.  By studying his farm, we learned a lot about the microbiology of the chestnut.  We also started our pollination biology in this orchard and studied the genetics of the trees. Thanks Ken for the legacy you gave to your family and to each of us.

About the growers:  Mike LaFever is a barber at the Korner Barbers in Farmington, Norma is a retired greenhouse manager, and Wade is a chef at the Local Post restaurant in Cincinnati, OH









 COS’ Third 5-Star-Rated Michigan Chestnut Farm

Jackson County, Michigan

            15.3 acres   Elevation:1000 feet   Chestnut &  Hay 

Alan Brent and his family farm, Brent’s Chestnut Acres in Napoleon Township, Jackson County is seemingly centered in the middle of Michigan’s southern lower peninsula.  Whereas, our first 5-Star-Rated orchard, Nick and Abby Johnson’s Ox Heights Farm is above the 45th parallel, halfway to the North pole, and our second 5-Star-Rated orchard, Chuck Jones’ Silver Creek Township orchard is south of Jackson County, Brent’s chestnut farm is at 42°10′ north latitude.

Dr. Chuck Jones’ orchard near Dowagiac is a long 25 miles from Lake Michigan and here Brent’s Chestnut Acres farm is more than 100 miles from the moderating effects of Lake Michigan–basically no moderation.  In fact, the farm is closer to Lake Erie than Lake Michigan.  When in the northern latitudes such as 41-45 and far from a moderating source of water like Lake Michigan, the Pacific Ocean or the Mediterranean Sea, extreme winter cold can kill trees.  It is important to find those that can handle the low winter temperatures.  But, water, too much water, can dish out more destruction to chestnut trees than winter.  Therefore, one special fact that might not be noticed when you are in Jackson County is the elevation–it’s relatively high.  The average elevation is 970 feet and and Alan Brent’s farm is at 1,005 feet. The watershed on his farm feeds Stoney Lake, a lake about 1-mile south.  Jackson County, where the MSU Rogers Reserve Endowed Research Farm is located, is the origin of two of Michigan’s largest rivers, the Grand River and the Kalamazoo River. Both of these waterways eventually whisk away Jackson County water to Lake Michigan. On the very southeast corner of Jackson County, River Raisin helps drain Jackson County to Lake Erie. The water shed of Napoleon Township drains mostly into the Grand River, Michigan’s longest river which drains into Lake Michigan after a long meandering trip north and west.  The Portage River drains lands from 3 counties and in Jackson County the Portage River drains lands from 5 townships, channeling the water to the Grand River. At a 1000 foot elevation, the water is always fleeing to the lower elevations of Lakes Michigan and Erie and eventually out to the Atlantic Ocean.  Therefore, Brent’s chestnut acres and Ox Heights Farm near Rogers City both have elevation in common. Both Nick and Abby Johnson and Alan Brent grow chestnuts above 900 feet. ( Click on photos to enlarge.)Above, photo of Brent’s Chestnut Acres in early May 2016,. COS met at Brent’s Chestnut Acres to tour the new planting.  These Forrest Keeling Nursery grafted trees were beginning their second season after fall planting in 2014.  Below, this same field in August 2018. The trees, in their 4th season have burs and are growing with vigor. Click on photos to enlarge.


We focus on water, because chestnuts require well drained soils and Jackson County is the “home court” of water in Michigan with its artesian wells, wet lands, lakes and sources of rivers. In fact, Alan Brent points out that he has a spring in the front 3 acres. Lucky for him that it is at the lower end of a long slope and that water does not impact most of the front orchard. When he planted too close to the wetland, only the carcasses of trees are found.

Top photo, the rows of trees stop short as they come down the slope approaching the wet area in the 3 front acres of Alan Brent’s chestnut farm.  In the lower photo, a spring (background) keeps the area damp. This water kills trees as shown in the foreground with the missing trees.

Photos of trees in various locations among the 15 acres.  Different ages, different cultivars, different micro-environments. Strips between trees are planted to alfalfa. 

Overall, the farm looks terrific and it’s laid out well. But let’s run the numbers to see how well he measures up to the five COS-established criteria to be considered a 5-Star-Rated Michigan chestnut farm.

  Alan Brent in his Napoleon Township chestnut farm, Jackson  County, Michigan.                                                  

⭐ 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

Two important points here.  First, this is the land and farm on which Alan Brent grew up. He knows this land and its water courses. Second, his parents planted and grew a few Chinese chestnut seedling trees on the farm–so knew chestnut would grow well on the land. He is now grafting those large Chinese trees over to European X Japanese cultivars. Yes, there could be some incompatibility issues when grafting a Chinese chestnut tree to a European X Japanese hybrid cultivar, but good grafters can do it and it will eliminate the potential of IKB in the orchard as IKB is caused by pollen from Chinese trees pollinizing his European X Japanese hybrid orchard. He has had no issues with frost since he started planting in 2014. He stays away from wet areas.  He has been studying other parcels of land in his vicinity and will begin to plant a new 20-acre orchard in a couple of years.  By-the-way, there were 11 Dunstan Hybrid seedling chestnut trees planted on his farm that he says never did much. They are gone now.

⭐      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.  Almost all of the acres in this location are planted now and what isn’t planted will be filled with this year’s Forrest Keeling Nursery shipment.  However, his closest call with chestnut disaster came in 2014 when he ordered cultivars from an unnamed western US nursery for spring planting.  I know some growers are looking for changes in the planting time, but Alan lost more than 70% of those spring-planted trees, meaning the death of 150 out of 214 grafted trees.  Most died in the first year and the rest a year or two later.  The Forrest Keeling Nursery fall planted trees representing the same cultivars were fine that year and have  done well for Alan. So far, there have been no miscues with Forrest Keeling Nursery trees, including the planting of fall 2017 where close to 100% of the trees survived except a few where an irrigation line failed to deliver water. Generally, he doesn’t even count the trees.  He tells us to look at the trees and that they’re growing just fine.  There’s no problems here. Of those 214 unnamed western US nursery trees, only about 65 are are still alive and they too are growing fine.  Spring planted–Western Nursery, not necessarily the panacea some think it will be. The majority of those small trees that died were pollinizers and so he had to replace the pollinizer trees in 2016 with Forrest Keeling Nursery trees and they too are doing fine, 100 miles to the east of Lake Michigan at an altitude of 1,000 feet.

In he photo below, the difference in height of the first tree in the row and tree next to it was due to the the spring planting tree death.  The tree to the left survived the spring planting in 2014, but the next to it (right) is a replacement from Forrest Keeling Nursery planted  fall 2016. In other words, the tree at the end of the row is 2.5 seasons older than the tree to the right. 

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

 Asked where he gets most of his information, he says the MSU chestnut website and he doesn’t deny a quick drive over to Rogers Reserve for a talk with Mario.  Drip irrigation and deer cages are in place.  He wants to set up a deer fence as he says the cages are obstacles to caring for the trees.  He has a well and he uses fertigation for fertilizing like Chuck Jones at Silver Creek Township Chestnut Farm.  Herbicides are used when needed; however Round Up just didn’t stop much this year and he wisely didn’t want to take a chance with Round Up once the leaves of the trees broke bud.  He interplants the rows to alfalfa. The alfalfa is doing well and coming back after the dry summer. Making turns with the hay cutter in his orchard is a bit challenging.  He says one mistake he did make was to over prune the young trees.  Some are just now coming out of it.  During a survey of his young orchard, he found a chestnut blight canker on a very young tree.  He took out that tree and burned it so it would not contribute spores to the rest of the trees in the orchard. Everyone needs to survey and this is a great example of why.

Irrigation system with fertilizer added to the water.

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

 Since he is in the Asian chestnut gall wasp corridor, he has planted ‘Bouche de Betizac’ which is established in orchards for its resistance to Asian chestnut gall wasp.  ‘Labor Day’, a Japanese chestnut cultivar, is planted in the pollinizer rows and will pollinize the male sterile trees (‘Colossal’ and ‘Bouche de Betizac’). ‘Labor Day’ is completely blight resistant and an early season producer of chestnuts. Besides ‘Colossal’, ‘Bouche de Betizac’ and ‘Labor Day’, Alan has planted many of the European X Japanese cultivars available through Forrest Keeling Nursery:  ‘Precoce Migoule’ because this produces copious pollen and good nuts early in the season like ‘Labor Day’ as well as ‘Marigoule’, ‘Marsol’ and ‘Maraval’ because these have either tolerance or resistance to chestnut blight. All of these European X Japanese cultivars serve as pollinizers to each other and to the male sterile cultivars (‘Colossal’ and ‘Bouche de Betizac’) in his orchard. With so much diversity of cultivars, some growers worry about the time of maturation of the nuts of some of these cultivars. This is not a problem for people who grow chestnuts at the 41-43 parallel.  All nuts on all cultivars will be out of the bur and into storage well before a hard frost.

Third and fourth-season trees with bur and fertilized nuts. 

⭐       Have established unique plans and/or novel ideas for their farmBetween rows,

Alan has planted hay and has plans to do the same in his new planting about 2 miles away.  Working with government officials he usually finds programs that align with his professional and personal goals.  Another example, Brent’s Chestnut Orchard is now MAEAP certified.  The Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program is a voluntary program that helps farms of all sizes and all commodities voluntarily prevent or minimize agricultural pollution risks.  MAEAP verified farms represent the agricultural community’s commitment to a sustainable environment.  The land that Alan grew up on will be protected from pollution providing one of the best gifts of all to his own children as they grow up on the chestnut farm.

Alan and Magan Brent with Gavin (6-years-old), Lian (4-year-old), and Audrey (14-months).  The land, the environment, and food production are important to this family.  

Brent’s Chestnut Acres is an important farm for COS and for Michigan.  He had one planting problem when changing nurseries and planting times and he is now back to Forrest Keeling Nursery chestnuts.  During those stressful times, he allowed COS to tour the farm and show the growers what had happened.

To maintain his success he followed recommendations on the MSU website.  He sought information from experts. He joined government programs that will add value to his land for decades and he is looking forward to his first large crop.  He is currently in that time when the trees are getting older and larger and producing more flowers each year.  The pollen will fly farther and the receptive female flowers will delight in their capture of the pollen over the next decades.  Last year, with only first, second and third season trees he was able to harvest about 250 pounds.  This farm is well suited for the 5-Star-Rating it has earned.  Congratulations, Alan and family!


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!