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Growing Nuts in Pennsylvania

Posted: August 2, 2010

We can grow great edible nuts in Pennsylvania. There are many other outstanding nut varieties that perform well in Pennsylvania. Each one of these varieties was selected from seedling trees. All it took was for one observant person to recognize that a particular seedling produced outstanding nuts and start to propagate it through grafting. By grafting pieces of the outstanding tree onto other rootstock, the graft grows into a clone of the tree that it came from.

You might be familiar with the wild hickories and black walnuts that come up from seed, and know that wild nuts are often small and really tedious to crack out. But, did you know that there are a lot of outstanding named varieties of nuts that produce bigger nuts and are a lot easier to crack out?

The variety in the picture is Keystone. This hickory nut is huge; just compare it to the size of the quarter in the picture. It also cracks out fairly well, often in perfect halves.

In Pennsylvania we can grow the familiar hickories (shagbark and shellbark types), black walnuts, and Chinese chestnuts very well. We can also grow less familiar types including heartnuts, filberts, English walnuts, and even northern types of pecan. Each type of nut tree has preferred growing conditions and some disease and insect problems to watch out for, so it is important to learn as much as you can about them before investing in trees to plant.

Not many people offer locally produced nuts, so there is a lot of opportuniy to sell them considering the increased interest in local foods. In Europe chestnuts are a huge cash crop. Worldwide,the annual chestnut crop exceeds one billion pounds. Annual chestnut production in the United States accounts for less than 1 percent of that figure, so we have a lot of room to grow.

The nutrition benefits of edible nuts are also well documented. The can lower blood cholesteral, and contain heart healthy fats. Chestnuts are low in fat and gluten free.

If you are interested in growing nuts, you might want to connect with a group of nut enthusiasts called the Pennsylvania Nut Growers Association. These friendly folks are a great source of scion wood for grafting, always ready to talk about their nut trees, and some of them even sell small trees, ready to plant.

Another source of information on nut crops is the University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry. This Extension service has fact sheets on how to grow chestnuts, black walnuts and pecans. Of course, the information at this site is specific for Missouri conditions, but it provides a good place to start learning.

Consider planting nut trees. They are a long-term crop that will bear for years and provide diversity to your harvest.