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General News · 12th February 2024
Carrie Saxifrage
There are 38 small trees in a co-op garden bed. Please come and take as many as you can plant. If you find them all gone, contact Tianna Barton for more. We dug out less than half of the little trees which are available.

Chestnuts have been a famine food across many cultures and over many ages, a sort of insurance policy. If the wheat or potato crops failed, villagers harvested from the chestnut trees which grew the on the hills. Planting perennial food trees on Cortes Island seems like a positive choice.

Chestnuts don’t have much protein or fat like other nuts. They do have twice the protein of rice and a lot of Vitamin C. It takes time to get the shells off. They can be ground up to make flour for bread or crepes. They can be roasted, boiled in soup and even eaten raw.

We planted our grove of chestnut trees 25 years ago. Every year, new seedlings come up in the grove, from chestnuts we missed or ones that were buried by squirrels and jays. Their fate could be the brush pile, but it seems better if they are planted out wherever there is possible site.

In addition to their food, chestnut tree wood is rot resistant, mills well, and can be easily split for fencing and posts. They coppice easily.

The young trees will do best in full sun with soil that drains well. Unfenced, they will be eaten by deers. Plant in twos for good pollination. Give them a weekly drink during the first year.

These chestnut trees are from a hybrid variety called "Paragon", a cross between North American and European species (Castanea sativa x dentata). We also have a couple of "Layeroka", a hybrid cross between European and Chinese species (Castanea mollissima x sativa).

In the early 20th century, a blight destroyed the chestnut forests of eastern North America. These trees are blight resistant, not blight immune. As with any hybrid, trees grown from their seeds are a roll of the genetic dice. So far, the young trees planted out have been productive, bearing in about nine years.

Our orchard took a little over a decade to start bearing a significant number of nuts. The trees might grow for hundreds of years so they will benefit future generations of islanders. Meanwhile, we are enjoying chestnut crepes, gnocchi, liqueur and flour. We add them to soup and bake them in the oven with oil and salt.

There’s an abundant supply of trees, don’t hold back! There will be more next year as well.

Thank you Tianna Barton (Climate Resiliency) for helping dig the trees and thank you Amy Robertson (Cortes Community Food Co-op) for finding the space and helping to heel them in.
To find this seedling bed - there will be a sign
To find this seedling bed - there will be a sign