SONG News September 2005 no. 72
In this Issue...

Ferrero Goes Nuts in Brantford
Ferrero Factory in Brantford

The Ferrero Candy Company from Italy has established a factory to produce its candy products in Brantford, Ontario. They use large quantities of hazelnuts in their products. They could potentially use 10,000 acres of hazelnut production. Currently they will have to import all of their hazelnut requirements from other parts of the world, but they are hoping to eventually purchase locally grown hazelnuts.

The tobacco lands and much of southern Ontario are ideal areas to use for this crop. Test plantings will be established in Ontario for the European and Turkish cultivars that they currently use. This will help us to find out how well adapted these cultivars are for the southern Ontario climate. Tree and catkin hardiness as well as blight resistance will be determining factors in the suitability of these cultivars for us. A number of highly blight resistant selections have been made in by Shawn Mehlenbaucher of Oregon State University, others by George Slate of Geneva Experimental farm in New York, still others by Cecil Farris of East Lansing, Michigan, and some by Ernie Grimo of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, and Martin Hodgson of Courtland, Ontario. Hopefully, we can test these cultivars also.

Funding for test plantings must be raised by organizations or individuals The University of Guelph requires payment for any research at their facility, so it is up to us to find sources of funding. Al McKeown has agreed to help us in this regard.

The Ferrero Company has also indicated an interest in developing products for the heartnut. They will be receiving samples of the fresh crop from this growing season for study. If this comes to fruition, we will have a large demand for heartnuts in the future. Many more acres of heartnuts will need to be planted to satisfy their requirements alone.

The future looks bright for heartnuts and hazelnuts in Ontario.
Ernie Grimo


The hazelnut also known as filbert or cob nut, has native species that are widespread over North America, Europe and Asia. Our native species, the beaked hazel and the American hazel are very hardy, well adapted small, 1-2 m tall, bushy plants, producing quantities of small sized thick shelled nuts. The European hazels, on the other hand, are larger plants, 3-4 m tall, with large thin shelled nuts. Though less hardy, they will grow in the milder regions of North America. They are grown commercially in Oregon northward to the Fraser Valley of British Columbia.

In eastern North America, hazelnuts have not been commercially successful. This is largely due to a disease called eastern filbert blight, a fungus disease which invades the twigs and eventually kills the plant. The native hazels are resistant, some are even immune to this disease. The Turkish tree hazel is also resistant to eastern filbert blight. A number of breeders have crossed these species with each other, resulting in selections that are hardier than the European and resistant to the blight. The trees are intermediate in size but have the European nut size.

In recent years, eastern filbert blight has found its way to the commercial plantings of the west coast. Oregon State University scientists have been breeding hazelnuts for resistance with the intention of selecting trees with complete immunity, in time. These trees and some of the hybrid selections from the east may be suitable for commercial plantings in zone 6 regions of Ontario, near the Lower Great Lakes, including Georgian Bay.

The hazelnut hybrids tend to bloom very early, often in March, like their European parent. Though the female flower is very hardy, a cold snap during bloom can affect nut set. The catkins or male bloom are also susceptible to damage caused by freezing temperatures. Since blooming is extended over several weeks, crop failures are usually avoided. It is important as a result to have a number of different pollinators in an orchard to effectively pollinate the orchard and to overcome the periodic cold spells that usually occur in March. Pollinators can be seedlings or several grafted or layered cultivars. Hazelnuts are self infertile, so at least two different cultivars or seedling plants are needed to produce nuts.

Hazelnuts are fairly shallow rooted and do well in a range of well-drained soils from sand to clay loams. Field tiles should be used to improve the drainage and though they are somewhat drought tolerant, irrigation should be set up for long dry spells. Better nut quality and sizing of the nut will result.

Hazelnuts can be grown from seed. The blight resistant selections can produce seedlings that have 70% blight resisting offspring. Orchards established with seedlings need to be culled of the blight susceptible trees, the trees with the poor filling nuts, the small or poor quality nuts and the trees with too much bran material adhering to the kernel. New seedlings can be planted to take the place of the culls, but a better way would be to use superior replacement trees that are layered or grafted. Alternatively, layered or grafted trees can be planted from the start. This more expensive alternative will save some work down the road.

Layered trees are produced by rooting the sprouts that come up around the base of a hazelnut bush. These sprouts are identical to the tree from which they come and so can be removed from the plant and started as a new tree with the exact characteristics as the parent tree. Grafted trees are best on Turkish tree hazel root-stocks. These rootstocks are generally blight resistant, hardy and relatively non-suckering.

Seedling and layered hazelnut trees will need to be suckered once or twice during the growing season. Hazels have a bush habit, that is, they produce multiple stems and annually add more sprouts from the root crown. This habit is undesirable to the orchardist as it interferes with the mechanical collection of the nuts. By training the bush to a single trunk right from the time it is planted, a tree form is established. Then it is a simple matter of spraying the young sucker sprouts annually to maintain the single trunk form.

Important Hazelnut Characteristics
Medium to large size nuts are most desirable. Medium round, thin shelled nuts are important to the processing trade, while the larger nuts, either round or oval, are attractive for the in-shell market.

Eastern Filbert Blight Resistance
Sprays and pruning can reduce the effect of this disease, but resistant selections are more desirable, and ultimately immune cultivars.

The orchard trees must produce good crops annually. There should be a minimum of blanks (empty nuts) and the nuts should drop clean from the husks.

Bud Mite Resistance
Small tight buds tend to resistant the penetration of the bud mite and so limit infection of buds by this hazelnut pest. These mites feed inside the bud and destroy shoot and flower tissues, limiting the crop. Sprays are needed to control this pest where resistance is not high.

Hazelnut Cultivars for the East
A few of the most blight resistant selections are listed here indicating some of the desirable characteristics.

Keystones and Cops: An Eco-Mystery Thriller part 2

A Bird Made for Flight
There was never a sight in all the world we humans have known to match the splendour of the passenger pigeon in its flights. Vivid in their red, gold, and purple plumage, with long tails and streamlined bodies, they were grace incarnate as they sped by overhead in veritable torrents of birds, wheeling and turning, rising and diving with a thunderous flapping of their wings, as if the whole were an avian embodiment of the aurora borealis. Perhaps the great herds of wildlife moving over the Serengeti may inspire a similar feeling of awe.

Numbering, like the chestnut, about four billion individuals in the early 19th century, the passenger pigeon may have been the most successful social bird ever to have lived. Completely dominating the skies within its range, it may have been as much as 40% of the bird population of the continent, the most numerous higher animal species on earth at the time. Intensely gregarious, it massed in numbers beyond comprehension. J.J. Audubon describes a flock that passed him over Kentucky. He began tallying groups as they passed overhead but soon gave up as the sky was darkened with their vast number for more than three days. Hundreds of millions of birds in each mass may have flown together. The largest roosting of passenger pigeons ever recorded was seen in Wisconsin in 1871, it spread over 850 square miles, and was estimated at 136 million, over 250 birds per acre. This, however, was after their numbers had already begun to decline significantly.

The pigeons were adapted to prime functions: they fed voraciously and systematically, and they flew like mad. Having effectively escaped the limits of predation, they drew strength in sheer numbers and great speed, overwhelming the ability of any predators (save ultimately humans) to seriously dent the size of the colony. Audubon again reports that birds taken in New York had undigested grains of rice in their crops, seed that could only have been eaten fresh from the fields in South Carolina or Georgia. Since the power of the bird's digestion is great and complete passage of food takes no more than 12 hours, he concluded that they must have exceeded a sustained speed of 60 miles per hour in their marathon flights.

With keen eyesight they could survey the countryside at high speed to assess the availability of large food resources. After locating a sufficiently rich country the colony would roost in dense forest, settling into the upper branches at such densities that large limbs regularly fell crashing through the masses of birds perched below, and "many trees two feet in diameter, I observed, were broken off at no great distance above the ground..." wrote the master artist and naturalist. On their departure the roosting areas would resemble "very much a section of country over which has passed a violent hurricane", noted Col. David Crockett in 1835.

Once roosted, the colony would range, en masse, up to 200 miles a day in search of food, returning at night to the woods. They ate like the whirlwind, observers commenting on the rolling wheel of birds that would move through an area. The colony would land and the lead birds would move systematically through the fields or wood, eating seeds, nuts, berries, earthworms, grasshoppers, and even burrowing with their beaks for tubers and legume nodules. As the front exhausted an area, birds in the rear would rise up, swoop over the flock, and settling to earth just ahead of the colony's advance, take their place on the feeding line. This continued patiently throughout the day or until predators menaced, then the whole mass would take wing and speed off to another area. They continued harvesting until the resources of the whole region were depleted; then they would depart to find the next landscape of surplus. In their migrations they never took the same path twice, but always sought territories rich with food.

Undaunted by cold (they ranged north to Hudson's Bay and to the south end of Lake Winnipeg, 58 degrees and 62 degrees N. latitude respectively), they were recorded moving north in early March while temperatures hovered at -20°F. Winters were spent in the upland of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas. They reached the Atlantic only sporadically, but inhabited both flanks of the Appalachians and ranged west of the Mississippi River and south to the Texas Hill country.

Long-lived (the last passenger pigeon died in captivity at 29 years of age), the birds bred in affectionate, talkative pairs, nested clumsily, and raised one or two squabs per nesting, most typically one male, the other female. The nests, made hastily of coarse twigs, were so poorly constructed that often one of the two eggs laid or the two squabs hatched would fall to the ground inadvertently, there to make a meal for some eager animal. The breeding cycle took a little less than a month and was repeated several times each season. Audubon estimates their increase to be two to four times their number per year. Since the population had probably peaked near the capacity of the subcontinent to support their profligacy, it can be imagined that several billion passenger year (at 10-12 oz / 280-335g each, some 10 to the 9th power kilograms of protein) were consumed by various organisms, and that they converted an immense amount of vegetable and insect matter into meat and dung
"...and their dung would fall like hail."
"The dung fell in spots not unlike melting flakes of snow."
"The dung lay several inches deep covering the whole extent of the roosting places."

They favoured beechnuts, chestnuts, and oaks, eating so avidly that on swallowing a particularly large acorn, a bird might be seen to gasp for some time as if choking. Undoubtedly they preferred the smaller beech and chestnut mast for its ease of consumption. They harvested not only fallen nuts but those still on the tree, having perfected a method of grasping the nuts in the husks and flapping their wings backwards to extract the kernels.

What the observers imply, but do not record, is the action of the birds in concentrating nutrients from the surrounding territories onto the soils of the larger forest tracts. For the birds always sought out large unbroken woodlands for their roosts (so much so that late 19th-century deforestation together with commercial hunting almost ensured the pigeons' doom). No more perfect description of a nutrient pump ideally matched to the demands of the shallow-rooted deep-forest dominating chestnut could be conceived. The birds, which began their nesting in mid-May, would lay down a thick mat of mineral-rich manure just ahead of the chestnut's June-July bloom, a delivery of trace elements well-timed to support the chestnut's profuse flowering, its white blossoms giving the mountains the appearance of freshly fallen snow at mid-summer.

In addition, the devastation wrought by the pigeons' roosting would have been an advantage for young chestnuts growing understory, opening holes in the canopy that probably allowed the trees to consolidate their hold on an area.

But the flocks Audubon had observed in the 1830's began to diminish after the Civil War. By the 1870's clearing of forests for farmland accelerated their decline as the telegraph and railroad networks allowed commercial hunters at last to compete with the birds' prodigious speed. Markets in teeming eastern cities made wholesale slaughter financially attractive and literally trainloads of pigeons were shipped to the cities. Huge volumes were fed to hogs. Michigan recorded its last large nesting in 1878, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania in 1886. By 1890 the passenger pigeon was functionally extinct, though isolated birds were still seen in the wild for another ten years. The last wild pigeon was shot about 1900.

Though they had bred successfully in captivity since the 1870's, efforts to raise the pigeons artificially failed when they disappeared from the wild. The first phase of the crime was complete. "Martha," the last captive pigeon in the Cincinnati Zoo, took with her to eternity the heartbeat of this remarkable race on September 1st, 1914.

The thesis that these two great American extinctions may be causally linked appears to have received little attention. Popular historians and ecologists of every stripe list them in virtually the same breath as landmark, human-generated events, yet the ornithologists seem to not be communicating with the forest biologists. Ecologists might seem a likely group to have given this notion a passing glance. Surely a few have at least entertained the thought.

A Possible Test
This hypothesis, which, absent one of its main components, is not susceptible to ironclad proof, could nevertheless be tested by exploring in greater detail than has been done heretofore, the link between mineral availability and blight infection in chestnut. My brief researches turned up some references to present-day blight-free (though stunted) populations of chestnut in association with mineral tailings from a zinc mine in Pennsylvania. If zinc tailings (containing who knows what, at undoubtedly hideous levels of acidity) can keep chestnut blight-free, what about two or three inches a year of bird manure?

Forest clearance has been widely understood as contributing to the demise of the pigeon, but the bird's pre-eminence - let me now call it a keystone species - in cycling nutrients over the eastern half of the continent cannot be underestimated. Writers have noted, in the context of pigeon extinction, the "inexplicable" shrinkage of the beech forests since early colonial times, but have made little of it. I posit that the chestnuts (which did indeed succumb to the blight organism, truly imported from the Orient) were rendered dramatically more susceptible than they might otherwise have been by the choking off of a main nutrient flow in the generation immediately preceding 1904. Indeed, the blight, probably present from the 1870's onward, may have been kept in check by the residual effects of the great nutrient pump. I suspect that European chestnuts weathered the attack of the blight and survived because of agricultural cycling of nutrients in the orchards by the sue of swine, a creature whose manure is even higher in zinc than that of poultry. We must ask ourselves: Might not more of the American chestnuts have survived had the pigeons still been roosting in them, and had the trees not been mowed down in a kind of "salvage-logging" hysteria, which surely eliminated any evidence of native genetic resistance?

These surface-feeding trees required a powerful replenishment of mineral nutrient for their steady production of mast and their rapid growth. In the high-rainfall environments of their native range, soils are readily leached of these nutrients unless continuously "topped up". The balance is a delicate one.

A Modern Parallel
Though no one cognizant of modern ecological theory was able to record the interactions of pigeons with chestnut trees, I have personally observed parallels with other surface-feeding nut trees.

Macadamia nuts were established in Hawaii from about 1964 to diversify an agriculture heavily dependent on sugarcane. These large nut plantations, managed by the Big Five sugar companies throughout the islands, were treated to the full range of conventional agro-technology: chemicals and mechanical harvesting. By the early nineties a mysterious fungal organism had appeared which caused many macadamia trees to die suddenly, within 90 days of infection. I witnessed in one orchard the harvesting of nuts by mechanical vacuum action that sucked everything of the orchard floor up to and including stones the size of golf balls. Simultaneous with the pillage, a scientist on the other side of the orchard was explaining earnestly to a group of tourist about the grim fate of trees growing sick with this mystery fungus. Since the macadamia is a surface-feeding rain forest species, it should have been no surprise that 30 years of abuse to the roots of these trees, even on rich volcanic soils, would result in nutrient depletion, and weakening, for which the mystery fungus was only the cleanup crew.

Restoration of the chestnut proceeds and I await it as eagerly as any, but the eventual re-establishment of chestnut groves would be greatly supported by the incorporation of an element of rapid nutrient cycling such as the pigeons once supplied.

Our confounding by the germ theory of disease and a century of phony medicine has crippled our civilization's ability to understand biological phenomena holistically, especially in the arena of death. The same focus on actors and objects rather than processes and energies has crippled our political understanding as well. But let me conclude with a brief consideration of the concept of key species.

A Keystone of the Continent's Arch
I believe that the passenger pigeon was a key nutrient cycle that maintained forest health on a sub-continental scale throughout the eastern forest biome. By the nature of its scale it could have but few parallels. Two others that come to mind immediately are the bison, which numbering in excess of 50 millions maintained the tall and short-grass prairies over a million square miles of the mid-continent - and which were also ecologically extinguished in the late 19th century; and secondly, the salmon, whose final days we may be tragically fated to mark soon. These anadromous (ocean-living, river-spawning) fish translocated huge quantities of marine minerals and protein to the headwaters of western rivers where they form a key link in the food web, supplying, with the help of top carnivore bear and birds of prey, phosphorus, calcium, and trace minerals of inestimable value to inland ecosystems. These minerals moved not in the salmon's feces, as did the nutrients harvested by the bison and the passenger pigeon, but as their bodies, which are sacrificed annually by the millions of pounds.

Of course the bison and the pigeon all fed large numbers of carnivores and small consumers. Nutrient flows from the pigeon may have reached 10 billion kilograms/year or more (concentrated on the forests); from the bison herds, two or three times as much, though more uniformly spread across the grasslands. In aggregate these volumes approach the scale of modern commercial fertilizer use (much of which is wasted anyway). Salmon harvest (over a smaller though still significant territory) may have reached approximately 500 million pounds annually in Washington, Oregon, California and Idaho; we can only guess what prehistoric quantities were involved, to say nothing of the Canadian and Alaskan streams.

Toby Hemenway has written in the magazine (PcA #48) of the profound role played by beavers in shaping North American river valleys. To encompass the full suite of ecological functions now derelict (not merely species extinct), we must look beyond the beaver, the pigeon, the bison, and the salmon, to see the key role of elephants (gone a mere 10,000 years) in maintaining the nearly vanished American savannas of the southern plains, and of camels (more distantly removed) in cycling nutrient through the deserts of the Southwest.

We are looking out at a landscape bereft of its most dramatic living forces. If we are seriously interested in restoring North American ecosystems, we must at least admit the abundance that once was here and that humans have destroyed, before we can hope to reclaim it. We might also entertain, as ecologist Paul Martin and others have proposed, the return of a few elephants. It might give the California condor (our top-order avian scavenger, which once ranged to New England) an invitation to move east again.

Ecologists argue over the meaning of the term keystone species. Strict constructionists prefer the definition they attribute to R.T. Paine, a biologist who coined the term in 1966, which insists that keystone species are predators whose selective predation helps to maintain greater diversity at lower tropic levels (that is, among smaller prey organisms). The other school of thought holds that keystone functions can be played by many actors on the ecological stage: prey species, habitat modifiers, predators, and more. I prefer the latter view, as it invites free play of the imagination; we are in a situation where the scientific method alone will not save us. Great engagement by the public in scientific inquiry is desperately needed.

At the level of events and organisms, ecological systems are inherently chaotic. To understand the dynamics of North American ecosystems we must lift our view. We can't afford to neglect either history or the system's fundamental organizing processes. Upstream, upwind, and antecedent factors are frequently decisive. Where once the surplus energies of the continent were channelled through animal bodies, great storages that have been squandered, today they are harnessed to human constructs, the greatest of which are our cities. And just as we have seen the collapse of the largest-order populations of the crucial birds, ruminants, trees, and fish due to sporadic action based on the bottom-up fragmented, or strictly social thinking, we are likely seeing the incipient collapse of our largest-order settlements from the same kinds of action; this time I fear, from a very different kind of thinking. Camels, elephants, pigeons, bison, and salmon. These are the keystones. Now, where are the cops?


  1. American Chestnut Foundation.
  2. American Chestnut Co-operators Foundation,
  3. Judy C. Treadwell, Mar. 1996 NC Natural
  4. D.B. Vandermasta, D.H. Van Lear, B.D. Clinton. "American chestnut as an allelopath in southern Appalachians", in Forest Ecology and Management (2002) pp. 165, 173-181. 5. F.L. Paillet. "Chestnut: history and ecology of a transformed species: in Journal of Biogeography, 29, 1517-1530
  5. Chipper Woods Bird Observatory.
  6. Illinois Natural History Survey Reports, May-June '98.
  7. David E. Blockstein, "Passenger Pigeons, Lyme Disease, and Us: the unintended consequences of the death of a species."
  8. Adeha Feustel, "Bacteria: Pathogens or Agents of Decay," in Permaculture Activist 45, Feb. 2000
  9. Associated Press, "Salmon are Natural Recyclers." March, 2000
  10. Brock Dolman, personal communication, October, 2000
  11. Connie Barlow, Ghosts of Evolution. 2000
  12. R.D.Davic. 2000. "Ecological dominants vs. keystone species: A call for reason." Conservation Ecology' 4(1): r2.
  13. David Holmgren, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability. 2002
  14. Mike Davis, Dead Cities. 2001
Peter Bane is the publisher of Permaculture Activist.

Balsamic Baked Beets with Hazelnuts

1/4 cup hazelnuts
6 medium beets, trimmed
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1-1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1/8 tsp salt
finely ground pepper
1 Tbsp minced fresh parsley
Place the hazelnuts in a preheated 350°F oven and toast for 10 minutes, until skins start to crack. Remove from oven and cool slightly. Place in a kitchen towel and rub to remove skins. Chop the nut coarsely. Wrap the beets in a large piece of aluminum foil and place on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated oven at 425°F for 45-50 minutes, until just tender. When cool enough to handle, peel and slice thinly. In a small jar, shake together the vinegar and olive oil, pouring over the beets. Season with salt and pepper. The beets can be eaten warm or marinated in the refrigerator for several hours. Just before serving, stir in nuts and parsley. Per serving: 93 cal; 2g pro, 7g fat(66%), 7g carb, 82 mg sodium

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