A Hardy Heartnut Project

ECSONG has started a research program to select new heartnut cultivars that will bear nuts reliably at Ottawa, zone 5a. Several commercially successful heartnut cultivars (Imshu in particular) have proven to be root and wood hardy at Ottawa. The weak spot is bud hardiness. Since heartnut is a terminal grower and bearer, bud loss not only means no crop for the year, it causes a commercially unacceptable setback to tree growth. Bud hardiness is therefore the first condition that must be met before any further useful attributes can be selected for.

Once we have bud hardiness, fruitfulness is the next necessity. Heartnuts are well known to be unfruitful where they are hardy, even more so than black walnut. Not only that, but seedlings often do not produce the heartnut form. We hope that at at least one or two seedlings will qualify on all counts to reliably produce acceptable heartnuts at Ottawa.

These bud-hardy trees, however many there are, can be cross pollinated. The resulting nuts will be a second generation of selection which will be planted on site and at other SONG sites to continue the selection effort. At the same time, the fruitful trees with the best nuts will be used for grafting, both on site and at other SONG sites.

A site has been chosen near Wendover ON on the organic farm of Gordon Wilkinson. The plan is to plant about 5000 open-pollinated nuts from quality trees the spring of 2011.

5 year goal: to select the resulting trees that are reliably bud hardy at Ottawa while under 1 m in height, hopefully a few hundred. Several growers have found that full grown heartnuts are more bud hardy than when small; this should give a safety factor for future work.

10-15 year goal: to select at least two cultivars from the bud-hardy trees that have nut quality required to be commercially viable at Ottawa, and to begin grafting of them on root stocks which will accept them, including heartnuts from the original planting that are not themselves bud-hardy.

20+ year goal: to select at least two further commercially viable cultivars from the offspring of the bud-hardy trees and to begin grafting of them.

On 3 May, the project began with Gordon and John Sankey laying out a 60x80 m plot. On 7 May, a local farmer ploughed and disced the site and on 8 May, we were joined by John Adams and Richard Viger to sow a first crop of buckwheat to smother the grass. Despite a sleet storm and 3C wind, the job was done. It was lousy weather for humans, but excellent for buckwheat; germination was near 100% and a good cover crop obtained except for gaps where hand sowing missed.

On 24 July, Richard joined John S. with his 10 hp 2-wheel tractor with tiller and cutter attachments. Due partly to equipment limitations and partly to human limitations on a hot day, four test areas resulted:
Area #1234
buckwheat 8 Mayyesyesyes 
tilled 24 Julyyes   
cut 24 July yes  
buckwheat 13 Augyesyes yes

the four areas 13 August 2010: tilled, cut, spring buckwheat left, buckwheat missed in spring

Gordon with a not-bud-hardy heartnut

The buckwheat planting crew 8 May 2010: John Sankey, Gordon, John Adams.

Richard Viger tilling in buckwheat 24 July 2010.

On 13 August, John S. sowed the second crop of buckwheat in areas 1, 2 & 4. As of 7 September, regrowth of buckwheat was best in the tilled area, intermediate in the area where the first crop of buckwheat was just cut, and poorest in the area where forbes had been able to grow after spring discing. All four areas were disced under on 15 October to be ready for planting.

3000 nuts from Imshu trees, 1000 from Campbell CW3, 675 from trees selected by Murial Braham from Elton Papple's orchard at Brantford ON with Calendar parentage, and 340 from a heartnut from Smithfield ON selected by Ernie Grimo, were contributed by SONG. They were enclosed in wire containers to protect from squirrels, filled with sand, and buried for stratification at John S.'s home.

7 May 2011, planting began. Joanne Butler, Richard and daughter Monique joined John S. and Gordon to plant the 3000 Imshu nuts. On 9 May, we were joined by Valerie & Keith Olson to complete planting.

17 September 2011: Germination of the Campbell & Papple seeds appeared to be about 1/3; of the Imshu & Smithfield about 1/5. The best of the germinated seedlings are about 25 cm high.

12 May 2012: Roman Popadiouk, John S., Richard and Gordon cut squares of carpet to place around all the heartnut seedlings we could locate to help suppress weeds and to aid in locating them. They were not yet in leaf. Carpet was donated by Denise Rasmussen & Richard.

17 September 2012: John S. & Gordon surveyed the plot and found many more healthy seedlings than had been found in the spring, especially encouraging given the extreme drought of July. Germination now seems to be about 50% overall. Most of the seedlings had died back last winter and resprouted from close to the base, so maximum height remains at about 25 cm, however many more have reached this height than last fall.

14 October 2013: The -37C temperatures of last winter have almost wiped out the seedlings, only a few could be found in the Imshu section.

28 May 2015: 21 surviving seedlings have been counted, all in the Imshu section.

16 October 2012: A slight frost turned the goldenrod brown but not the heartnut seedling leaves; a total of 30 have now been located, still all in the Imshu section. 99 planting holes have been dug at 8' intervals by Gordon & John Adams in a section where no seedlings were found to receive further seed promised by Ernie Grimo next spring.

To be continued ...

John Sankey

The heartnuts ready for covering in sand 30 October 2010

The planting crew 7 May 2011: Monique Viger, Joanne Butler, Gordon, Richard Viger, John Sankey

the carpeting crew 12 May 2012: Roman Popadiouk, Richard Viger and Gordon

a carpeted seedling spring 2012