SONG News Spring 1975 no. 6
In this Issue...

Promote Nut Growing With Our Youth

Nut growing can be promoted with any age group. One of the most satisfying groups to do it with is children. Young people are a captive audience for activity-oriented studies in their schools or church groups. Germinating a nut tree and studying its growth is a very enriching experience in schools all across the thirty mile breadth of the Niagara South Board of Education region.

I am a school teacher in Niagara Falls. Each year I provide other teachers in Niagara South with free nut seeds to be used in classroom studies. This year alone about 2500 seeds were sent. At this writing, some orders were still coming in. Along with the seed, a teacher's guide was sent suggesting ideas for the use of the seed. My classroom packages the seed and the Board courier service delivers them.

The growing process is simple. The seed is planted in 48 oz. juice cans and held in the classroom until they germinate. Then the children take them home and study the growth, making notes, drawings, graphs, etc. After a month, the trees return to the classroom for evaluation and reports. Afterwards the trees go home for final planting.

I use this approach with fine success on grade five children. They look forward to the topic which begins early in April, with great expectation. Even the grade sixes are eager to talk about the trees which they planted and grew the previous year. The survival rate of the trees is quite good.

What are the benefits beyond the achievements of the children? One main benefit encourages me to continue the seed distribution program. That is, the chance that possibly a few of the seedlings being so disbursed will be superior trees. It is my hope that these trees will be discovered and named, thus adding to the selection of cultivars available. Keeping this general aim in mind, I obtain seed from the best sources available, often from named varieties, thus enhancing the possibilities of superior seedlings. I must thank Horace Troup for his generous donations of named hickories and black walnut varieties over the years for this program.

How might SONG members initiate a similar program? I would be glad to provide free teaching booklets to SONG members who would like to promote nut growing this way. You will need to write or phone local schools and offer them the seed and teaching guides some time in March. Send the letter addressed to "Science Teacher". This might get better attention. Of course a supply of seed should be in the stratifying beds.

SONG Goes Metric

Canada is now well along the road toward converting to the "SI" metric system as its official system of weights and measures. SONG now assists in this leadership role by giving evaluations of nut samples in the metric system---starting with this issue. Note the chestnut evaluations. Remember, you saw it first in SONG News! Perhaps of the conversion following is useful it should be further explained. The extent is to use kilograms rather than pounds. The r approximate purposes:

2 pounds = 1 kilogram (kg) approximately

The practical difference is that it takes a bit more than twice as many nut kernels to make a kilogram compared to one pound of same. Simple, isn't it!?

Chestnuts - a North American Tradition

The Village Blacksmith
Under a spreading chestnut tree
The village smithy stands.
The smith a mighty man is he
With large and sinewy hands
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are as strong as iron bands...

When the first settlers from Europe arrived in North America, they found that the king of the eastern forests, was the mighty chestnut tree. On each ridge the mammoth chestnut trees stood proclaiming their supremacy over the forest lands. The American chestnut was particularly competitive on the poor sandy soils often found in upland locations. The deep-seeking tap roots of the chestnut found it easy to reach below to the refreshing ground waters. The abundant game such as deer, squirrels and wild turkeys aided in the spread of nut seed and therefore the presence of the chestnut was nearly universal. The early North American Indians found the chestnut a very welcome addition to their food supply in the fall seasons. So too the European settlers looked with anticipation to the chestnut harvest season. No doubt the first Thanksgiving turkeys were abundantly fed on the wild chestnuts and what a treat they must have been to hungry palates. The chestnut provided something for everybody---food for man and beast, saw-logs for the busy lumber mills and towering shade trees for the weary. The Monarch of the forest, the Chestnut was often regarded as the American symbol of strength.

In the late 1800's some of the early nut-growing pioneers started to develop improved cultivars of the American chestnut so that chestnut trees could be adapted for commercial orchard production. Soon there was one commercial chestnut cultivar which towered above all the rest...and its name was Paragon. Often it was referred to as Colonel Sober's Paragon. What an apparent paradox--a military man of seeming teetotaller inclination and a peddler of nut trees! But America was a land of paradoxes and thus it welded together its strengths for the common good.

It was not long until Paragon was The nut tree to buy. Almost overnight extensive commercial plantings of chestnuts came into being. The American chestnut was well known by the consumers. In a society where many had been born on the farm but had subsequently moved to the city, the demand for high quality chestnuts was high. Paragon provided extraordinary quality in a product which was already regarded as exceptionally good. The crisp, sweet goodness of Paragon was about to catapult chestnut growing into the position of a major agricultural crop. Several of the states, such as Pennsylvania became famous as suppliers of chestnuts and the chestnut products became firmly fixed in the consumers' eye.

Then It came...the chestnut blight, an insidious thing with an obscure Latin name, Endothia parasitica. Nobody was quite sure how it entered North America. Some said it was through the port of New York; others claimed it entered through ports in Pennsylvania or the New England States. The source of the chestnut blight was clear however. The fungus was introduced from supplies of chestnut logs which were brought in from several points in the Orient where chestnut blight is common.

The first infection of North American chestnut trees was viewed with puzzlement because it was unusual in that time to see middle aged trees decline and die so suddenly. Puzzlement gave way to alarm as the blight spread slowly but inexorably across the states of New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland. It was hoped at first that the barrier of the Appalachian chain of mountains would prohibit the spread of the fungus into the states of Ohio, Indiana and the province of Ontario etc. However, the devastating fungus kept marching steadily westward and beyond all hopes of confinement. The first fungus infections were noted in the late 1920's and by 1940 the fungus had advanced well into the mid-western areas.

At first the young orchards of Paragon to be relatively immune to the blight. However, went by a few trees in the commercial orchards started chestnuts seemed as the years to show signs of the chestnut blight. Then some of the trees died rather suddenly and right to the ground although they were standing right beside other healthy trees of the same variety. Thereafter the trees died, one-by-one until whole orchards perished. Once a stand of chestnut was visited by the blight, it was doomed.

Toward the end many frantic efforts were made to save the few remaining orchards of Paragon. A few isolated growers such as those in the northern parts of Michigan hoped that their very remoteness would help them avoid the ravages of the chestnut blight. Great care was taken in these areas to avoid introducing nursery stock from any area known to have the chestnut blight.

In the end all efforts to isolate the chestnut from the blight failed. By the 1950's the Paragon chestnut had practically disappeared from existence and now it is uncertain whether any scion wood of Paragon is available anywhere. The once proud chestnut which had shown such promise of supplying the burgeoning and profitable eastern markets had collapsed. Great disarray spread through the ranks of nut growers who had pinned their hopes on making great riches from the bounty of the chestnut. Many orchardists were financially ruined. Colonel Sober, who had died several years before the fate of the chestnut was definite, passed from this world a very disappointed man.

Even the wild beasts of the forests came upon hard times with the passing of the chestnut. The deer, wild turkeys and squirrels were deprived of one of their most essential staple foods which was most necessary in helping the animals to store up accumulations of fat to withstand the long eastern winters. Many naturalists have commented that the passing of the chestnut was very much responsible for the great decline in forest game animals during the 1930-50 period.

There were many recriminations concerning who was responsible for introducing the chestnut blight and who was to blame for all the financial losses. No doubt in the current era of very mobile populations and international trade it is ultimately impossible to keep a continent entirely free of foreign disease organisms. It may be concluded that the native American chestnut as we knew it was doomed by the very nature of modern civilization and progress.

Although the sad fate of the chestnut had discouraged many nut growers there were many others who were equally dedicated to the prospect of rebuilding. The chestnut blight came to be regarded as a body blow at the integrity and strength of North American character and this insult had to be redressed. Thenceforth nut growers have embarked upon one of the most ambitious nut tree development projects of the century. Some researchers have attempted immunization techniques to provide resistance for chestnuts against attacks of blight; others have initiated breeding projects to promote genetic resistance to the fungus; some have hybridized American chestnut with foreign types to produce crosses which may retain the good characteristics of the native chestnut but incorporate the disease resistance of foreign types; still others have used nuclear radiation techniques to artificially rearrange the chromosomes of the American chestnuts and thereby realize that once in a lifetime chance of getting a disease resistant chestnut with all the other desirable characteristics.

The fruits of the many developmental experiments have been bountiful. Now chestnuts of satisfactory quality and productivity can be grown wherever peaches are growing and even considerably beyond that range.The most successful chestnuts are probably those of Chinese origin and their hybrids with certain American types. It is possible that chestnuts may again become the important commercial crop that they were back in the days when Paragon was king of the nut orchards.

Samples of Chestnuts

Last fall your editor took a considerable interest in evaluating a number of sources of chestnut. Several of these were named Chinese chestnut cultivars and others were Chinese x American seedlings etc. There were even a few original American chestnut seedlings which were spotted and these mature trees had apparently been missed by the chestnut blight, or were resistant? Several of the American chestnuts were particularly productive and free of blight although high winds of a previous summer had taken some branches out of the crowns of the trees and had left enormous scars. The nut evaluations from the fall samples were as follows. Chestnut Samples Fall 1974
of tree
of tree
per kg
% KernelKernels
per kg
American Chestnut
74CD1Hancock Co. IL82.687.294.833
Chinese Chestnuts
74CM1Greene Co. IN87.387.010123
LarokaNiagara Region10687.812123
OrrinGreene Co. IN11886.313623
CraneGreene Co. IN22482.127224
American Chestnut x Allegheny Chinkapin
74CDCP1Franklin Co. PA24080.030023
Allegheny Chinkapin
74CP1Franklin Co. PA118076.5154023


The inspiration for this article originated from a private chat between your editor and Ted Morgan. Shortly after the visit Ted presented me with a poem which is probably the most fitting epilogue to this article:

To A Chestnut
Beneath the spreading chestnut tree a happy nutgrower stands.
Above him the benignant crop to fall into his hands.
For now, the flowers of Spring are gone and surging from the root
The alchemy of earth and air hath burgeoned into fruit.
O sweetest, crispest of the nuts beneath your weathered shell:
Forbear that tantalised teeth should crunch your earthly knell!
Yet still, thou richest mellowest meat of nature in the sere,
Fate has decreed that you should fall. And I perceive full clear,
While holding you within my hand - Temptation's not with Eve,
Whatever Eden may have held - but here, as I bereave
The kernel of its hiding place. Gustatory delight!
So was the Tempter well 'yclept the fallen Son of Light

Under a spreading chestnut tree a grateful nutgrower stands.
May its ambrosial seed embrace mankind in nutty bands.

Messages to the Editor

I've just purchased a farm near Toronto and I would ;ike to plant as many different varieties and cultivars of nut trees as possible--including some of the harder to grow types. I'm hoping that you will be able to help me.
Mr. Howard Litchen 11 Christine Crescent Willowdale, Ontario

On the John Bradshaw radio program it was announced that SONG makes available information on the growing of nut trees. I would appreciate receiving a sample of what information you can provide.
J. M. Harris Gravenhurst, Ontario

I'm now using the container system for starting off seedling trees. I've planted a variety of trees in my woodlot, including paw paws--in hopes that they will establish themselves. I examined upwards of 50 samples of black walnuts from wild seedlings last fall. A squirrel would have given some up in disgust. None were outstanding.
D. A. Hill R.R.#6 Wallaceburg, Ontario

A year ago I had some difficulties with rodents eating the bark of my walnut trees during the winter period. I have upwards of 1500 seedlings. This year I'm using latex-thiram paint and tree guards to control rodent damage.
R. A. Elliott R.R.#1 Codrington, Ontario

I want to experiment with nut trees in the Orillia area, The experiments will be started with small plantings of hickory and persian walnuts.
H. Bourne R.R.#6 Orillia, Ontario

My husband and I are especially interested in attending the spring grafting meeting. When will it be held?
Mrs. C. E. Miller 922 Waterloo Street London, Ontario

Provided by SONG. Feel free to copy with a credit.