SONG News September 2006 no. 75
In this Issue...

Annual SONG Summer Meeting

Hosted by Irene & Bruce Thurston at their Nut Grove/Farm south of Cambridge on Saturday, July 29th, 2006. Present were 16 SONG members. We toured the beautiful mature -17+ years old - nut grove and the exotic gardens.

SONG Business Meeting
Chris Cunliffe, closed the nomination of officers, seconded by Barbara McNab. The following are the current Executive of SONG:
Bruce Thurston President / Editor SONG News
Andre Flys Vice President
Ernie Grimo Treasurer
John Flys Secretary
Martin Hodgson Director Marketing & Research
Chris Cunliffe Chair Nominating Committee
Joyce Branston Auditor
Marilynda Fraser-Cunliffe Director
Bohdan Kowalyk Director
JimHarvey Honorary Director

Ferro/Roche, confectionery manufacturers in Brantford, Ontario, consume tons of hazelnuts which are supplied by European and Turkish nut growers. The hazelnut must be round and of a very specific size for Ferro and current Ontario orchards are not able to produce these nuts in the quantities required.

Martin Hodgson has communicated with Ferro regarding their interest in supplying hazelnut-trees for planting at a number of Ontario sites. The cultivars are of Ferro's choosing i.e. European/Turkish, which may survive Ontario weather conditions but may not bear nuts. The chosen growers would supply land, labour and all related materiel.

Martin feels that a better approach is to utilize North American varieties that are blight resistant. He will endeavor to meet with Ferro at his hazelnut orchard to show what he has accomplished and some possible candidates that appear to survive the blight and may be of commercial value.

Hazel/Filbert nut trees contain taxol which is utilized as a cancer treatment. Taxol is found in various parts of the hazelnut, leaf, and bark. Oregon U. has carried out research in this area and it seems hazelnut trees resistant to the Eastern Filbert Blight are the better producers of TAXOL. Martin will contact various levels of governments for funding to promote propagation of Ontario hardy hazel-nut cultivars.

Dr. Rong of U of G has done research on Heartnut phenol compounds and their positive effects on good health ie. anti-oxidant qualities. Linda Brigham made a motion seconded by Irene Thurston for SONG to donate $1,000.00 for Dr. Rong's research. Motion passed. Ferro is also interested in the Heartnut as a confection. SONG should encourage increased production.

Cyril Bish and Cecil Ferris passed away in 2006. Their dedication and contributions to nut growing will be missed by many. Cyril donated $50,000.00 to NNGA for research, etc. and Both Cyril & Cecil authored books on their work with Hazel/Filbert nut growing .

Marilynda Cunliffe is organizing the digitizing of The NNGA Annual Reports for The Guttenberg Project. Dr. Robinson of The Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton, Ontario will be contacted by Marilynda Cunliffe to arrange for the transfer of the NNGA/SONG library to The University of Guelph. Public access to the publications at RBG were somewhat limited which will not be the case once ensconced in the U of G library.
John Flys

Blight Immune American Chestnut A Reality

A 15 year culmination of effort has resulted in the first blight immune American chestnut. Researchers at Syracuse University led by Dr. Charles Maynard and Dr. William Powell have successfully produced a transgenic American chestnut described as being ten times more resistant to chestnut blight than the most resistant Oriental chestnut. Tests still have to be conducted to prove the resistance genes will work and USDA and other government agencies have to be satisfied that the genetic change is acceptable environmentally and otherwise.

The ramifications of this development are enormous. Except for a small packet of genes, the tree is unchanged from its original species. Not only was it one of the most successful and important timber trees in Eastern North America up until 100 years ago, it provided humans, animal husbandry and wildlife with its annual crop of nutritious nuts. The American chestnut grew to gigantic size. It was described as the sequoia of the east. In pioneer times it was common to find trees 100 feet tall and more than 7 feet in diameter. It dominated the east-era Appalachian forests and was native in the sandy plains of Southern Ontario as far north as Georgian Bay. Scattered remnant trees that are out of the chestnut blight prone regions can be found in far flung locations including Ottawa, Montreal, St. Ste. Marie and Halifax, Nova Scotia to name a few.

One hundred years ago nothing could be done to stem the devastation that took place. Chestnut blight (Cryphomctria parasitica)was first discovered and identified in a New York City park. The tree had very little resistance to this disease unlike the Asian species which developed resistance through thousands of years of evolution. By 1940, three and a half billion American chestnuts had perished. The disease finally reached Maine and Southern Ontario in the north and Georgia at the southern end of the range completing its destruction. The devastation was complete. These majestic trees were reduced to ghostly rot resistant stumps which for years stubbornly sent up suckers that were in turn encircled by blight and killed.

No other chestnut species matched it for hardiness and great tree size. Even hybrids with Oriental chestnuts were unable to grow more than 60 feet tall. Unless the tree overtops the other forest trees in its native area, it would not be able to return to its former dominance. It is imperative that the tree is maintained almost unchanged. In Meadowview, West Virginia, the American Chestnut Foundation is conducting a back-cross breeding project. Its objective is to start with an American x Oriental chestnut hybrid with high blight resistance and back-cross it to another American chestnut. By testing for blight resistance and back-crossing the best offspring with other American chestnut trees for several generations, it is hoped that the point could be reached where 96% of the genes are American chestnut. At this point the tree will be essentially American chestnut with all of the genes including the blight resistance genes needed to make it successful in the forest again. This project is nearing its goal also.

In Ontario, the Canadian Chestnut Council in a project with Guelph University at Simcoe Station is also using a back-cross technique to hopefully develop a blight resistant Canadian adapted American chestnut. Several generations of crosses are planned. At our summer meeting, we visited Onandaga Farms which is part of the Tim Horton's Foundation where donated land is used for the out-planting of their crosses. We wish them success in this venture and follow it with interest
Ernie Grimo

Harvesting Heartnuts Commercially
Ernie Grimo

The earliest heartnuts begin to ripen and drop mid September in the north and continue dropping nuts for about two weeks. For best nut quality it is important to collect the nuts and de-husk them within a few days of harvesting. The husks on nuts that remain on the ground for a long time may begin to dry and become leathery, or the meat may darken or discolor making them less attractive. Nut collecting may take several passes over the same area. To hasten the harvest and to make it more efficient, it is best to shake the tree when about 20% of the nuts have fallen. At this point all of the nuts are ripe and will break loose as soon as a trunk shaker is applied. The same equipment that is used in the pecan industry in the south will work with the hearmut harvest, including the harvesters. Pecan growers have a similar rainfall and growing conditions as heartnut growers further north. Ground cover needs to be maintained to prevent erosion and to provide a base for harvest. The blowers help to move the nuts away from irrigation lines and tree rows while the harvesters sweep up the nuts. Buried irrigation lines are best to be sure they are out of the way. With this equipment, very little hand work is necessary and the harvest is efficient and completed quickly. For those with small plantings, hand harvesting machines and tools including the "mac model Bag-A-Nut" and "Wizard", can also make short work of the harvest and avoid stoop work.

Once harvested, the nuts need to be de-husked. The husks are softer and easier to remove than black walnut husks. For small growers of less than ten acres, a rubber paddle dehuller similar to those used to remove the husks on black walnuts can be used. Paddles that travel slower than the speed used for black walnuts or about 400 rpm seem to work well and break a minimum of nuts in the process. A wire brush de-huller like the current systems used for pecans and Persian walnuts or the Barton once used in the Persian walnut industry in California can be incorporated in an automated cleaning line that can handle a ton or more of nuts per hour.

After the hulls are removed, the nuts need to be washed, inspected to remove rocks, broken pieces, and other debris and then dried. Again, equipment used in the walnut industry works well requiring a minimum of hand labor. For the small grower a modified cement mixer and large wash tubs can be used to wash and sanitize the nuts. For small amounts, the nuts can be spread out on screens or placed in bushels several layers deep and flipped daily to rotate the nuts for drying.

A simple dryer can be made at low cost. A wooden plenum large enough to have an old furnace blower at one end with openings on top forms the base. Wooden boxes with wire bottoms made to fit over the openings on the plenum are filled with the wet nuts. Boxes can be stacked 3-4 levels high. It is possible to dry as much as 2000 pounds of nuts at one time on a plenum eight feet long made with plywood and 2x4 lumber. The air from the blower is forced up through the nuts, drying them in about 7 days, shorter if heat is applied.

The nuts are ready for sale in the shell at this point, but since they are too hard to crack with a regular soft shell hand cracker they are best sold as an unsorted cracked product as many native pecans are sold at farm markets, or shelled and sold as whole nuts and pieces. Until commercial Sheller's are developed, farm gate purchasers can be taught how to use the "hammer and brick" method. While some heartnut cultivars boast a narrow split at the tip that can be opened when a knife is inserted, these cultivars are unacceptable as commercial nuts because the nut is not well sealed. On the other hand well sealed nuts have a shelf life of a year or more kept in a cool area. Some people enjoy the more pronounced walnut flavour that comes after a few months of "curing" in storage.

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