Back Story: How I got started with Chestnuts

Back Story: How I got started with Chestnuts

I've been interested in the Chestnut tree ever since I was a little kid and my mom got some roasted English Chestnuts from a street vendor.

For a lot of years, that's about where my interest level sat. It would be neat to have chestnuts around again, but with a 1/8 acre lot in a suburb, I wasn't going to do much.

This started to change when my wife and I got a good deal on 25 acres of land. This land is partly wood, partly swamp, and partly fallow farmland. Since I intended to plant something on the fallow field, American Chestnut thoughts started burbling to the surface.

In late December, my alma mater, SUNY ES&F called to make sure I'd be sending them my usual contribution. While I had them on the phone, I asked about the American Chestnut reforestation project I'd read about in the alumni news.

SUNY ES&F houses one of the many groups trying to find a way to bring the American Chestnut tree back into the forest.

The American Chestnut went from being the dominant tree along the East Coast to being nearly extinct in the first 40 years of the 20th century. The cause of this was the Chestnut Blight: an oriental fungus that found its way to the new world. The Chinese and Japanese Chestnut trees are resistant to this fungus, but the American Chestnut had never seen a fungus like this and had no resistance. The fungus is easily transported by wind, birds, bugs and people. It spread like wildfire. Despite honest efforts to control the blight, it destroyed entire forests.

The work at SUNY ES&F is not far enough along for me to beg, borrow or steal any trees, but they sent me a packet of sprouting seeds that were no longer needed for their work.

This led me into e-mail conversations with several other groups that are doing much more serious work to restore the Chestnut tree than I'll ever do. It also led me to realize that I know nothing at all about what I'm doing.

Fortunately, that's never stopped me in the past. After all, ignorance is correctable.

I got several pointers to more information from these folks. One of the online resources is the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences Chestnut pages. In particular, this booklet on growing Chestnut trees had exactly the info I needed.

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