Portland Tennessee Chestnut Project 2021


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What Kills Our Chestnuts When We Try to Grow Them?

#1 Main Killer Is Moisture!!! We over water them. We think Miracle Grow with Moisture Control has to work - look who is selling it. Avoid the moisture control stuff. More chestnuts will rot before they break soil than a first timer would ever guess.
#2 Wrong Type of Growing Medium - We don't need soil - we don't need moisture control. Chestnuts like to get to the point of dry before they like water. Using the right growing media helps the roots and allows you to learn what watering plan works. Roots need air for oxygen and they need space to grow.
#3 Mold Kills - We put them in airtight container with no chance to breath & we put too much moisture inside the container.
#4 Sunlight & Heat Kills - We collect chestnuts but we put them somewhere and forget about them. When chestnuts are collected - get it cleaned and inspected to see if it is a firm chestnut with no rattling in the hull. Leaving them in a hot vehicle for a week after collecting - just reduces your chances greatly.
#5 Chestnuts Smell Good to Critters. Chipmunks, Squirrels, Rabbits, Deer, Turkeys, field mice, etc. Our chestnuts get killed because we don't protect them. If you plant a chestnut in the wild outdoors - you better protect it for a couple of years. Better to plant 4 trees well than plant 50 trees without protection.
#6 Chestnuts Get Killed / Setback by Sunlight. Grown inside with electrical lights means we must gently push them into the sunlight. Baby steps required here. I use a pine tree that protects them from mid-day and pm sun. My seedlings get early morning sun for an hour or so for a few days before I increase their direct sunlight gradually. The chestnut have long since been removed but I still cover them with a cage even at this point.
#7 Lack of Moisture During Dogs Days of Summer. Depending on your containers and location, in July and August if you go three or four days without watering seedlings that have many leaves, you can lose all of your work. Shade cloths are what nurseries use and they water twice a day.
#8 Chestnut Seedlings is in Perfect Health, then it gets planted in the wrong location. Sunlight is the power plant that generates the chestnut bur and nuts inside that burr. We have to get pollinated by another chestnut tree that is nearby (pollen get weak at distances greater than 25 feet). Location of tree and proximity to other trees matter. We avoid stream sides due to the risk of standling water during certain months.
#9 Neglect will kill your Chestnut Seedlings / Trees. Every two or three days you better check on chestnuts under grow lights. In summer heat, you better water at reasonable intervals for your climate. I like to feel of the chestnut leaves with my eyes closed. What does the touch tell me? If you check ten seedlings -one of them may really need some water while the other nine show no stress.
Folks I am no expert, nor am I a rookie! I am motivated to accomplish my goal - improve my deer's habitat. It is certain I left something off the list above. I have written the hard lessons I have learned. If you like to cut corners - your success rate will go down! Mine did until I wised up.
(Updated October 2, 2021 for
Portland Tennessee Chestnut Project 2021)
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ABC's of Planting Chinese Chestnut Seedlings

1. Your seedlings need to be planted 20 - 21 feet apart. They are air pollenated which requires them to close to one another to produce viable chestnuts (burs with mature nuts). Chestnut Pollen begins to fail at distances greater than 24 to 26 feet range.
2. Seedlings need full sunlight in order to grow the burr and chestnuts. The sun is the energy factory. If you want chestnuts to eat or become mature trees thru seedling growth - avoid the shade!!!
3. Chinese Chestnuts don't like to have their roots wet (in standing water). You don't plant in a spot where standing water will occur. A slope is good - stay away from streams that will pool rising water in the periods of great rainfall.
4. Dig a hole deeper than the height of the soil found in the container you grew the seedling. If you soil is 6 inches tall in the container - dig the hole 9 to 10 inches deep. Put loose dirt back in the hole so that when planted, the seedling stem hits the soil about one inch higher that the surrounding ground. The seedling will settle over time putting it at the right elevation. By digging a deep hole we help roots establish quickly because chestnuts put down a deep taproot and we have soil that is prepared to accept them.
5. Rabbit and deer are the critters that will kill your Chinese Chestnut seedling. This requires us to protect our seedlings. This is accomplished either with a tree tube or a wire cage. To protect the top of the seedling, we need protection 5 feet high as the seedling grows. First year seedlings are not close to five foot - they will get in another 18 to 24 months though.
6. Stem protection in the beginning matters. If you use 18 inches of window screen, hardware cloth, short tree tube, pvc pipe, or metal flashing - you will keep the rabbits from eating the tender bark. Mice and groundhogs also hit the tree trunks. Hardware stores sell window screen. If you have a wooden stake, PVC Stake, Rebar Stake, or Conduit Stake this will protect the stem. This approach will be used where a wire cage was protecting the growing leader (top of the stem) form being browsed by whitetail deer.
7. When first planted a seedling requires watering at the time of planting and during the first month and first summer if planted in the spring. Water each seedling well at planting to eliminate air pockets. Water well means to water - wait for that to soak in & then water again. If you can't visit the seedling often - get a five gallon bucket for each seedling or a 2 liter soda bottle. Drill two 1/16 inch holes in the five gallon bucket (drip bucket) at a location one inch above the bottom of the bucket. We locate the drip hole up one inch to allow the dirt and sediment to settle below our holes. Get a brick or a large stone to place in the bottom of the bucket to prevent wind from moving it or blowing it away to never be found. Clean the brick or stone of any loose debris. Mark the drip holes so it is easy to align them next to the seedling.
8. If you use a two liter soda bottle, drill the plastic cap with a 1/16 bit. Get a stake and place the 2 liter bottle upside down. It will water the seedling slowly . If you need to mound some dirt to elminate water run off - do this - the seedling will respond positively to your efforts. A gallon milk jug accomplishes the same thing - drip hole in the cap.
9. Elminating Competition: I use landscape fabric around my chestnut trees. You can weed eat the ground and spray roundup on day one at each planting location. Roundup does not transfer to the seedlings once it hits the soil or dries on vegetation. If you spray vegetation and the roundup is wet - should that contact the seedling you probably lose the seedlling due to the chemical. That is why I say spray on day one, then plant on day two. I like to spray in about a 24 inch circle around where I have marked the hole.
10. Don't fertilize in year one. I have placed Osmocote Plus in the growing media (a slow release fertilizer that will not burn the roots).
We never fertilize after July 4th because it gives a growth spurt that will leave tender leaves that get slammed in fall colder temperatures. In most growing zones, the following April 1st you can fertilize the seedling. Chestnuts like acidic soil. Orchid food by Miracle Grow is good to feed them (water soluble). A small box goes a long way, I like to feed plants on a Wednesday (keeps me on a schedule).
11. Don't add any potting soil or any other product to the hole. Use the soil in the container and what is near the planting site. Adding potting soil will cause a pooling of water & too much water puts us at risk of drowning the roots!!!
12. Best planting approach: east to west 20 to 21 feet apart. This allows the sun to cross the trees all day long.
13. If you have a black fabric pot, cut the fabric off with a pair of scissors. While still in the container, water the seedling good in advance of your planting time (right before or hours before planting).

As of October 2, 2021 I have distributed 21,700 chinese chestnuts. Portland Tennessee trees have produced chestnuts that have been distributed to 32 states in the Eastern US. (Written for the Portland Tennessee Chestnut Project 2021)
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Facts I Wish to Disclose
1. I don't own the trees where I collect most of the chestnuts I distribute. That means I am not in a position to spray those trees to prevent weevils attacking some of the chestnuts. A chestnut with a weevil hole can still germinate (usually about 1 in 5 will). I am collecting 1,000's of chestnuts in a short time period. I do my best to discard those with a weevil hole. However, some get by or occur after I have shipped.
2. I lose money on my chestnut projects. I do them because since the age of 12, I have been a dedicated deer hunter. This is my way of giving back to the animals I admire, respect and love. I made this my retirement project and it have been very rewarding!
3. Regardless of how well you grow a seedling and plant it in the wild, Nature has the Final Say. Nature will reclaim the weak. It is a numbers game, if you plant 20 seedlings, I want to see 15 or 16 of them make it if they are protected. If you started 25 seedlings in a growing situation and get 20 or 21 viable seedlings, then you are very successful. If planted seedlings are unprotected, IMO you are foolish.
4. You have no control over the temperatures and the amount of rainfall. The periods of drought are beyond your control. Nature has the final say. Losses are natural in the real world. So if you lose 25% of what you plant, I am excited for you because of what the remaining 75% will do for the wildlife. Nature has taught me the hard lessons. I remember when rabbits cut my best seedling down my first year when I was sunning them unprotected in the yard.
5. When you pick a location and dig the hole for the seedling, you have no reasonable way of knowing what is below the ground. Remember Chestnuts Tree put down a deep tap root. In some locations, the soil is shallow, others it is deep. Not all locations are good.
6. The American Chestnuts was destroyed by the bllight. It was driven by the wind and birds. Likely in my grandkids life, researchers will restore the American Chestnut trees to the Eastern Forest. I deal with Chinese Chestnuts because they are plentiful and blight resistant.
7. My chestnuts are provided for the purpose of growing seedlings. If you want a good chestnut to eat, contact a commerical orchard as they have the types of trees that provide the best taste for human consumption. My whitetail deer, they are not that picky.
8. I don't eat chestnuts because I am a diabetic and chestnuts are high in carbohydrate. So it a health and medical issue for me.

My rewards: 1) I want to leave the whitetail world better than I found it, and 2) I love seeing pictures of trees with chestnut burrs on the lands of others that I collected and shipped the chestnuts to get them started. That is what puts a smile on my face and why I sweat and battle the squirrels and mosquitoes to collect chestnuts each year as long as I am able.
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How to Float Test Chinese Chestnuts

Get a container that is not too deep, but we want as much width and length as we can locate. Fill that container with cold water say 3 inches deep. Take the chinese chestnuts you received (or collected yourself) and spread them across the floor of the container. Make sure you have room so no chestnuts are stacked. I take my hand and circulate the water around.
Allow the chestnuts to soak at least an hour, you can leave them overnight if you wish, but no longer.
We are looking for the floaters. We collect the floaters and discard them - throw them away. They are believed to not be viable (meaning they will not germinate - produce a radicle). I use a container that I can get about 70 nuts in it at one time. I follow the TV Schedule, when the hour is up, I collect the viable nuts and dry them on a towel and have used a fan to dry them if I am in a hurry to process a large number.
I place a new batch in the water and allow them to soak. And again the floaters get thrown away. Now don't get excited, I am collect well over 1,000 chestnuts at an outting.

If you see a chestnut with a weevil hole, throw it away too. If you see a chestnut a squirrel eaten a chunk out of, throw it away too. If you see a chestnuts that looks darker, give it a squeeze test between your thumb and fore finger. If it is squishy, throw it away because it is or soon will be rotten.
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Chinese Chestnuts & Cold Stratification

In the woods a squirrel will collect a chestnut and take it away to his preferred locations, bury it in the ground for an upcoming hard winter. So the chestnut is high in carbohydrate and in the ground it gets it chill on (cold stratification). Squirrels are animals with small heads so they don't remember everything they bury but with an excellent sense of smell they find their nuts hide away. Only they miss some.
In April in our Tennessee Region, the ground begins to warm up in April. At that point that chestnut germinates, it produces a radicle (roots if you want to call it). It will push down the root and push a stem above the ground.
So we have to expose the chestnut to a chilling process to get it to germinate. Do Not Freeze Your Chestnuts as this will prevent them from germinating! The chilling process needs to be in refrigerator in the 32 to 40 degree range.
Method One (Refrigerator). I use a sandwich zip lock bag and put my cleaned, floate tested chestnuts in the bag with one of two item. (Item One I Can Add) I can add a damp paper towel that was wet and them squeeze hard to remove water so it is not dripping but is still damp. I set that bag in the bottom of my fridge to chill at temperatures between 33 and 40 degrees. I will set an alarm on my phone for Nov. 1st, Dec 1st, and Jan 1st. I inspect at that dates to see if my damp paper towel has dried out. If it has I discard it and put in a new damp one.
(Item Two I Can Add) I add Sphagnum Moss Long Fibered. This product is not Peat Moss! This item has become difficult to find now. Warmart and Lowes are not selling it 2021 in my area whereas 4 to 6 year ago they were. This Long Fibered Sphagnum Moss has be soaked in water first and squeeze in a fist to elminate all of the dripping water. Our goals is to keep a small amount of moisture in our sandwich bag.

Some nurseries will add moist peat moss or moist sawdust to their zip lock sandwich bags. I have not used either of these methods but it works for them. If you use peat moss, you would add water to in a small container and then use the fist method to eliminate the dripping water. Grab a handful of the wet peat moss and then with all your might squeeze to push all the water out of it. When properly done, you now have damp peat moss. This is important - too much moisture will cause some chestnuts to turn soft & rotten.

I use my pocket knife to place 6 or so vent holes in only one side of that zip lock sandwich bag. This is true for both methods (with paper towel & with long fibered moss).

Mold is our enemy and if we have too much moisture instead of dampness, white mold can apprear in a bag of chestnuts chilling in our fridge. Throw away moldy or soft chestnuts. If you received 30 chestnuts from me, divide them into 2 or 3 bags. In that situation if mold gets out of control it is limited to one bag.

Somewhere around 90 days or so, the chestnut will prodcue a radicle. At that point we can put it in a pot to grow our seedling.

But this post is about how to properly Cold Stratify a Chestnut.
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Cold Stratify in the Ground


The photo above is a two gallon bucket with chestnuts laying in sands. This has multiple layers of chestnuts. The sand is moist. I have holes drilled in the bottom of this bucket to allow for drainage if water becomes an issue while in the ground. It will have a nice air tight lid added before the bucket goes in the ground.


Three buckets with chinese chestnuts to be placed in the ground to cold stratify over the winter. The label of Hackett identifies the trees where all these chestnuts were collected. This location where they will be buried is on the shady side of the building away from the sun.


The three buckets are about 2 inches below the level of the ground. I encountered heavy rock in the ground so I was not able to bury them as deep as originally planned. I will add a wooden box to add soil over this location. When everything is completed, the top of the buckets will be 8 1/2 to 9 inches under soil. I added about an inch of driveway gravel in the bottom of the hole so the bottom of these buckets have the ability to drain. Two of these buckets contain sand as the media holding the chestnuts in place. The middle bucket has long fibered Sphagnum Moss holding the chestnuts in place.

I have two dorm fridges full of chinese chestnuts so these three buckets have approximately 475 to 500 chestnuts total. They will cold stratified by the earth with me spending no $$ to power this process. My two dorms fridges cost me on the electrical bill.

What is a Catkin and What is a Burr

A number of Portland West Middle School Students will be reading this thread, so a few basic questions should help them.

A catkin looks like the tail of a kitty cat, thus the name. The photo above is a close up the catkins in the late spring. Also, the photo shows the chestnut leaves clearly.

In the last half of May and the first half of June in Middle Tennessee you can find a Chinese Chestnut by sight on a sunny day, the catkins give the tree a fuzzy lime green appearance. I use binoculators and drive country roads if I am looking for new source trees. The photo below shows a tree on my wife's grandfather's land I once collected chestnuts from.


Notice the contrast in colors, the chestnut tree is a fuzzy lime green color. The tree to the right of the photo looks normal.

The photo below shows a chestnut tree with limbs sagging toward the ground because the tree is full of burs. The chestnuts in the buckets I buried in the ground came from this very tree.


The photo below shows burrs swelled up which means this tree will produce plenty of viable chestnuts. Getting timely rains in August makes it possible for chestnuts to gain size. Never grab a chinese chestnut bur, it is best avoided at all cost.


A healthy bur can have up to 3 viable chestnuts inside it. If rainfall is limited, you can see one healthy nut, with 2 that are paper thin (not viable). If a burr has a single chestnut, you can pick it out of pile of chestnuts, it looks like a jaw breaker with no flat sides.
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Great thread,Wayne

My stratification is a variation on the themes you taught me

I first soak them overnight. Discard floaters. I gently towel dry them.

Then, I place 20/bag in open zip lock without moss/media,etc

Into the beer fridge for 90 days

Condensation in ziplock seems to be adequate moisture

This has worked well for me for the past 6 seasons

Cold Stratify in Ground Update

The first photo shows the frame in place. The side boards are 5/4" wooden deck boards. The stakes in the corner are not in the soil. They are how the sides are attached securely. The frame is wider and deeper than the original hole dimensions.


The second photo shows the metal stakes in place with soil added. The soil is close but not topped off just yet. As rain helps settle the soil to a lower level, I will come back and top the frame off. The daily temperatures in mid October are still very warm. No direct sunlight lands on this shady location so I am relying on rainfall to help things settle. My wheelbarrow had a flat tire so what you see was accomplished with a pair of 5 gallon buckets at a time.

With Soil.jpg

I will not use straw in this situation because it promotes mice building nest which I want to avoid. If I get concerned about bitter cold temperature later on, I will added insulation board with a tarp over the top.
Products Not Always Available or Things Change

Long Fibered Sphagnum Moss.jpg

I have always been a fan of Long Fibered Sphagnum Moss. The product bag on the left with Old over the image has been available in my area for many years - but not in 2021. It was once carried by Lowes and Walmart stores here.

However, this year I had to scramble around to find the product bag on the right with New over the image at a Home Depot store. Same product from different companies carried by different big box chains. I purchased 4 bags and have already used 2 of the 4.
Chestnut Top Growth (What We Work to Achieve)

Chestnut Top Growth.jpg

The top growth on the lower right is easy to see in this photo. I added the red circle to draw attention to the other top growth which is about a day behind the prominent one.

This is 4 gallot square bucket with play sand. It is located in one of my grow boxes in my basement. My older dorm fridge had 4 bags of chesntuts left off from 2020. My grandson, Hunter and I went thru the bags and pulled out chestnuts we believed might make a seedling. Here are two that are on their way. Sure hope some others catch up to them. One year I did a month long analysis on germination. The first that germinated were 4 weeks sooner than the last ones that germinated. After 4 weeks I declared death on a very small number of chestnuts.

You have to be patient wtih chestnuts, they move at their speed, not yours. Also, it is not where or when they start, it is where they finished. Some that germinate slowly can over time make your strongest seedling. It is more of a marathon that a sprint.
chestnuts Sept 2021 Reduced.jpg

This bowl of chinese chestnuts were collected from one of my 5 yard trees planted in the fall of 2014 to make collection easy for me. I collected these 7 years later in 2021 primary from the best of those trees. These chestnuts are choice, be hard to fine a tree putting out anything better.

This tree has never suffered other than one ice storm which forced its limbs down to the ground. It has always been watered if we went long periods of no rainfalls. It was feed in its early years, sometime with compost tea. The best tree in this bunch provided me over 550 chestnuts in 2021 that I collected, the squirrels got their share too.

I am looking for young growers in Portland, TN area that are interested in growing chinese chestnuts like these. I will speak to Portland West Middle School Students on Oct. 20th in Kim Bond's STEM Classes. In past years, I have shipped chestnuts out of state to help hunters and farm owners improve their deer habitat.

2021 is about helping people in the Portland, TN Area. I have shipped one order to Illinois and one to Kansas City. I intend to grow at least 250 seedlings in early 2022 to provide seedlings to farm owners and hunters.
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West Middle School STEM Class Oct. 20th (Portland, TN)

Kim Bond is the STEM Teacher at West Middle School in Portland, TN. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathmatics. She invited me to speak to her 8th Grade, 7th Grade and 6th Grade Classes. It was a very productive day, especially with each period only 45 minutes long.

I will return to the Middle School and help students in each class bury 3 small containers on chinese chestnuts on the school property to chill the nuts in preparation for growing seedlings in 4 or so months from now. Additionally, we are going to grow 2 Trays of 18s of Chinese Chestnuts in her classroom. Right now they are growing herbs and a few flowers.

The students ask thoughtful questions and were well behaved. I didn't shy away from the fact I am a deer hunter and have been one for the last 56 years, since the age of 12. I expect to get hooked up with a number of these students later on and help them grow their own seedlings. My goal was to find a few work horses that will grow seedlings with the right encouragement. Achieving that goal should work out just fine.

I was shocked at how many of these students have climbed on a tractor, cranked it and use it in the field or in the garden. I didn't keep specific count but about half of the 70 or so kids have been on a tractor. About 60% have been in the garden and helped grow food that hits their dinner table. I had some preliminarty questions to determine their experiences.

I allowed two classes to watch one of their classmates drive the nut wizard to collect about 18 chestnuts off the floor.

Ms. Bond has a pet rabbit named Roger, he is jet black and such a lover boy. I was amazed at how attached all three classes are to holding Roger during class. Roger does get to hop around during class but since I was guess speaker they held Roger.

I taught Elementary PE in the late 1980s and STEM class is a new program. I was very impressed with the opportunities these students have. She gets a new batch of students every 9 weeks. If our progress goes according to plan I expect we may be planting some chinese chestnuts trees on the edge of the school property close to a woodlot that holds some deer. So the 6th Grades will get to track the growth of those chestnut trees for their 7th and 8th Grade Year.

I want to Thank Bonnie Fussell and Jim Butler with Portland Radio who had me on a few weeks back. That Radio Show is what opened the door for my invite to Ms. Bond's classroom. Also, Bonnie Fussell wrote an excellent article in the Portland Sun Newspaper.
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