ABOUT OUR HYBRID HAZELNUTS!
What Are They?
Hazelnuts grow wild all around the Northern Hemisphere, and wherever they are found, the local people eat all they can get. There are about 10 species, belonging to the genus Corylus, in the Birch family. Many people know them by the name "filbert" but to cut down on confusion, the industry has opted to call all the nuts from the various species "hazelnuts". We have two species in North America, the American hazel and the Beaked hazel, both of which are bushes. At present, all of the nuts in the world market come from the European species, which is a small tree. The hybrids we are developing at Badgersett are crosses among these three species. If you read much about hazels you will eventually run into the terms "hazelbert", "filazel", and "trazel" for various kinds of hybrids. We find these distinctions more confusing than useful ("New York Hazelberts" and "Wisconsin Hazelberts" are very different kinds of plants), and prefer simply to call all these plants hybrid hazels.
Hybrid Bush Hazels - Crop Characteristics
Form- multi-stemmed bush
Size- 10-12' tall at maturity, a few will reach 16'; Diameter- 5-8'
Root structure- deep fibrous roots, no tap
Plant type- seedling, not grafted or cloned.
Pollination- wind, will not self-pollinate.
Harvest- by hand now, by machine soon.
Where will they grow?
Region- absolutely hardy anywhere in Growing Zones 4 and 5, do well in 6, and very reasonable to try in zone 3. (Check any seed catalog for zone maps.)
Soils- guidelines here are guesses, since the crop is new; anything seems to work, but avoid shallow hardpan. pH 5.5-8; (5-8.5?)
Rainfall- our annual average is 28", but the bushes grew and bore crops amazingly well during our extreme drought years of '88-'89. It's not yet tested, but our guess is they will do well down to 20" or less, once established.
Site- north or south slope, hilltop or bottomland, seems to make no difference. Wind damage is rare, even on bad sites.
Sun-shade- will grow in heavy shade, but best nut production requires full sun.
Growth rate- 1st year, 4-6", 18-30"' thereafter, if well cared for.
Fertilizer- follow local guidelines for corn, but add more potash (as much as double). For plants bearing nuts; they need a good nitrogen shot in early-mid September to form good female flower buds. This has NO EFFECT on the cold-hardiness of these hazels!! (only took us 15 years to convince ourselves).
Spacing- 3-5' for windbreak, 4-10' for nuts. We alternate rows 10' and 15' apart- the 10' rows eventually get so tight you can't get a tractor through for harvest or fertilizer; the 15' rows stay open.
Pruning- none required; if they get too large for your needs, cut them to the ground, they will rapidly grow back.
Lifespan- unknown; at least 30 years; possibly 100's of years for the root system.
Establishment- hand or machine plant into firm cultivated ground; water if needed in the first year only, cultivate shallowly for 2 years; alternatively, weeds can be controlled by mowing; hazels are excellent root comptetitors. Fertilizer starting in 1st year will greatly speed growth.
Seedling size- transplanting small seedlings gives the best survival, growth, and cost. We sell "tubelings"; greenhouse started young plants that are rapidly growing at the time of transplant. This lets them make almost 2 year's growth in one year- IF DONE RIGHT.
Do they spread from the roots?- wild hazels do, and a very few of these hybrids will, also. Any that do spread are easily controlled by tillage or Roundup®.
Will crop herbicides hurt them?- no more than any other woody plant; avoid drift.
First crop- a few nuts should appear at 3 years, increasing to full crop at 5 years; crops will continue to increase until 8 or so.
Yield- note: this is a new crop: yield data are based on calculations from research, not commercial production. Yields will certainly improve as we improve genetics and understanding of plant nutrition. An average bush now produces about 1-2 lbs of dry nuts/year. Sounds small, but that translates to 1,200-2,000 lbs/acre, well within world production norms. Our best bushes produce 4-5 lbs in good years- that equals 4-5,500 lbs/acre.
When are they ripe?- most can be picked during the first 2 weeks of September here; a few will be ripe earlier or later.
Nut characteristics- slightly smaller and thicker shelled than Oregon nuts, perfect size for processing, not usually for in-shell sale. Taste is fine, often a little different from Oregon when raw, hard to distinguish when roasted or processed. Nobody turns them down!!
Harvest handling- pick nut clusters when ripe but before they drop; they will hang on the bush about 2 weeks when ripe. Allow clusters to mature further for several days/weeks in shade, then thresh husks off- we are developing small and large scale machines for this.
Nut storage- dry nuts quickly to below 10%; a grain dryer should work for large scale. Common dry storage is fine.
Pests- remarkably few problems, so far. Deer- hazels are not favorite browse, but deer will sometimes hit fast growing young plants. We spray egg (see below) to repel them. Not a problem for mature bushes. Deer do eat male flowers in winter and spring; they may eat ALL male catkins below 4' high, if pressure is heavy.
Mice, rabbits- rarely eat stems in winter, plants recover very quickly. Rabbits can snip off tops of young plants, which is annoying, but not deadly. In case of serious rabbit populations, spraying a repellent during establishment will likely be economically sensible.
Insects- no serious leaf-eaters so far; a borer will kill a few branches in older or stressed bushes, which are immediately replaced by the plant. Several kinds of weevil can attack the nuts; our average infestation is about 1%; worst bush ever seen was 11%. We have never sprayed for any insect, but it might be economic some day.
Disease- these hybrids are guaranteed resistant to Eastern Filbert Blight, the main disease of concern. We have seen no other serious problems so far. Some plants are affected by anthracnose or powdery mildew in wet years.
Nut thieves- squirrels and chipmunks will be a problem near woods, but not out in fields; mice can be a problem, as can bluejays, woodpeckers, and bears. If you have only a few bushes, theft can be serious, but the problem decreases as the planting gets larger. Mow grass short to discourage mice, and put up a pole for a hawk and owl roost to attract predators. We believe we get about 90% of the nuts.
What About Markets?
Annual world hazelnut production is about 455,000 metric tons (a little more than almonds). Most hazels are eaten mixed in chocolate candy. Chocolate and hazelnuts are a marriage made in heaven, and the demand for nuts that process well is always high. Some other present uses include in-shell nuts for the Christmas market, mixed nuts, "hazel butter", and premium salad oil. The oil is very much like olive oil in its chemical make-up, with a light, pleasant, nutty taste. Potential for new products and expanded markets is very high; basically, anything that can be done with a soybean could be done with a hazelnut. Historically the raw commodity price has fluctuated between 45¢ and over $1 per pound of dry, in-shell nuts; with an average of about 85¢. Last year this price hit a new low of 35¢; it is unclear if this is a trend. The small grower can realize far more return from the crop if it can be sold retail, as a local specialty, or a value-added product. Marketing co-ops are a sensible possibility; one already exists in Michigan.
Who Grows Hazels Now?
Turkey produces 65% of the hazels on the world market; Italy 20%, and the USA 3%. 98% of commercial production in the USA is in or near the Willamette Valley of Oregon, because that is the only region where the standard European varieties will thrive. The USA produces only about 20% of our present consumption.
Hazels have not been commercialized in the Eastern US because the standard varieties are not cold hardy and are eventually killed by a disease called Eastern Filbert Blight (EFB), carried by the wild hazels. Our own tests have shown that the standard Oregon cultivars Royal, Ennis, and Butler all freeze out in zone 4. Originally, Oregon growers could ignore the disease problem, because until a few years ago, Oregon had no EFB; it is now a serious problem there.
Growers in Michigan have just begun to plant grafted hybrid hazels developed by Cecil Farris. These are orchard trees, genetically very different from our hybrids.
What Are The Advantages Of The Badgersett Hazels?
Our main hybrid line is a mix of native Wisconsin and Iowa wild hazels with the commercial European varieties. In general, their nuts are 100-300% larger than the wild hazels, with thinner shells; most have kernels well within the commercial processing size range. They are completely cold hardy here, and have the native hazel's resistance to EFB. They have also proven themselves highly drought resistant; they came through our extreme drought years of 1988-89 with flying colors, bearing good crops both years (actually larger in '89).
Recommended Crop Systems For Hybrid Hazelnuts
These plants are ready for use in windbreaks, living snowfence, wildlife plantings, and as a pick-your-own crop. While we foresee a great future for this new crop, we do not generally recommend the plants we have available today for large scale commercial plantings. At prmsent, all plants available are seedlings, which means they are somewhat variable as to size, productivity, and ripening date. We are working on mechanized harvest, and expect it to be available in 5-6 years, but it is not here yet. This seedling variability would cause some difficulties for machine harvest, which is most effective when fields of clonal varieties with uniform size and ripening dates are available. In the immediate future, harvest must be by hand. Bearing can be heavy enough that it might pay to hire skilled pickers (maybe!). (note from 1998- yes, it does pay.)
In Oregon, hazels are orown in traditional orchards, trained into 25' trees with intensive pruning. At harvest the nuts are allowed to fall onto a carefully flattened and cleaned orchard floor, then swept up.
Our hybrids cannot be pruned into trees, nor is it necessary. Hand picking is all done standing on the ground; nuts are picked when they are mature, but before the husk opens and drops the nuts. This minimizes losses to rodents and birds, and decreases exposure of the nuts to spoilage microorganisms that can be picked up from soil. The nuts are mature as much as 2 weeks before the husk will open, giving a very long harvest window.
Windbreak- Most of our hybrids will reach a maximum height of 8-10', (a few taller hybrids, up to 15', are available as experimentals). The bushes are quite dense, making effective windbreak both summer and winter. If a taller windbreak is needed, single rows of hazels on the outside, with tall tree rows on the inside, will work fine.
Plant spacing within rows depends on your primary goal for the windbreak; hazels will tolerate spacing as tight as 3' between bushes and still bear good nut crops; 3-4' spacing will give a very tight windbreak. They will bear better with more space, however. Our general recommendation is to space the bushes 5' apart; spacings wider than 6' may not close tightly, but will bear good crops. One row of bushes will function as a windbreak, but two rows definitely work better; space between rows should be between 5 and 10'. At 5', the bushes will close very tightly, shading out most weeds between the rows, but making nut picking difficult. If you contemplate machine harvest of the windbreak when that becomes available, 10' is the minimum space needed for machine travel If you are planning to plant a windbreak anyway, this is a no-risk way to learn if hazelnuts are for you.
Living Snowfence- Where feasible, a living snowfence can be cheaper to maintain than traditional kinds, and provides year-around wind protection and wildlife cover. Unlike wood or plastic fence, there is no yearly labor for installation and removal, no storage problem, and no replacement costs. Hazel snowfence does require time to grow to effective size, of course- 3-5 years, depending mostly on weed control and fertility of the soil.
Plant 4' between plants for a tight snowfence; 3' for earlier closure; 5' if you can wait for closure. Two rows, 5-8' apart will grow and catch snow better than a single row. "Wildlife" grade plants will work fine. Planted to a higher grade, hazel snowfence could produce a salable crop; remember you are likely to need at least 10' between rows for picking machines.
Wildlife Plantings- Our hybrid hazel bushes provide dense year-round cover and food for many kinds of wildlife, from songbirds to deer. The nuts will be eaten by many animals, including turkeys, bluejays, raccoons, deer, and bears, and of course squirrels. Windbreak and snowfence plantings will serve wildlife well, and can provide badly needed travel lanes. In addition, single bushes planted across meadows, and thickets formed by planting bushes in blocks will add needed food and cover diversity to wildlife habitat. Larger block plantings should have some open interior space to be most effective.
If you already have or are thinking about a pick-your-own business, you need to plant hybrid hazel bushes!!
A strong statement, but we think it is absolutely true! Pick-your-own (PYO) is a special kind of business, and one of the factors leading to success in PYO is diversity. No other nut really makes sense for PYO; big trees are a liability hazard, walnut hulls are too messy and chestnut burrs too painful for most customers. Hazels can be picked standing on the ground, by anyone from 3 to 90 years old, with no danger. They are easy to pick, don't stain clothes, and easy for customers to crack and eat.
At Badgersett, we have planted a maze of hazel bushes. It is a half acre in size, with a central goal that has room for a picnic table or two. Aisles are 10' wide, and will close to 5' when the bushes mature (just wide enough for 2 people to walk hand-in hand). The maze can serve as entertainment and diversion for children at any time of the year, and will also be a delightful place to pick during harvest. The puzzle is designed so it is not extremely difficult, and children can push through the bushes without damage to either themselves or the maze if they get lost. Publicity possibilities are great, and best of all, your harvest problem is solved!
We are extremely enthusiastic about this possibility: you don't have to wait for any future machine, these plants are well suited to this use right now. Please study what it takes to make a success of PYO before you plant, however, since it is certainly not a business that suits everyone.
Whole-Field Plantings- Although we do not recommend this for everyone yet, there are folks who are going ahead anyway; also, this may be sensible for large PYO operations. Spacings we think make sense are 6-8' between plants, with rows alternating between 10' and 15' apart. The larger row will allow truck or tractor access for fertilizing and harvest; a field entirely planted at 10' row spacings will close too tightly to let standard machines through. We are now making just such large plantings; about 30 acres last year, and another 40 this year (1998).