Like nuts? Like Nutella? Then maybe growing some hazelnut bushes on your homestead would be right for you.
While I’ve got some time (a couple more years) to research and plan the design of my future farm I’ve decided to look into hazelnuts. After taking the farmscale permaculture course at MOSES last year my interest in woody perennials has been piqued. Even though they never mentioned hazelnuts during the course (still scratching my head on that one) it seems like a plant that could really fit in well with keyline design and agro-forestry practices.
American vs European Hazelnuts
Apparently, the varieties of hazelnut that are grown in Europe (primarily eastern Europe, especially Turkey) have been thoroughly commercialized over several centuries. They have been selected for tree-like growth (as opposed to bush-type), heavy nut production, and suitability for mechanized nut collection. But, the European hazelnut is susceptible to Eastern Filbert Blight, which is native to North America. So planting them here is not feasible.
Because the European hazelnut is not suitable to large commercial operations in North America there has been an effort to cross the European varieties (Corylus avellana) with American varieties (Corylus americana). Breeding a new nut (or fruit) tree takes decades, so this effort is still in it’s infancy, starting about 20 years ago. Producing thousands upon thousands of crosses creates individual plants that have a variety of production characteristics. From these many unique individuals the best producers can be selected and propagated.
Interested in Hazelnut Research?
In the upper Midwest there is an effort by several farms and academic institutions to breed and track new hazelnut individuals. The Upper Midwest Hazelnut Improvement Program works to try and coordinate this research in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Badgersett Farm has put in a couple decades of breeding and research on improving hazelnuts for North American production (they offer a small amount a plant material from their research farm). They recently wrote a tome of a book on the subject that’s well worth checking out: Growing Hybrid Hazelnuts: The New Resilient Crop for a Changing Climate.
I offer this list of links more for my own future reference, but I hope they can help out anyone else out there that’s researching planting hazelnuts…
Grimo Nut Nursery (in Canada; USDA is prohibiting shipment this year, unfortunately)
Hazelnut Improvement Video
A very informative video on growing and improving hazelnuts in the upper Midwest:
The next step for me will be to buy a few jars of hazelnut oil and see if I like it – I already know I like the nuts. Liking the product you grow on a farm is important in being able to turn around and sell it to the public. If you don’t really believe in your product how are you going to get anyone else to “buy into” it either? (This is a big reason I’ve decided not to do sheep – I just don’t care for lamb, but sheep milk cheese is pretty awesome).
Hazelnuts are about 60% oil, so harvesting and selling the oil could be a potential income source for the farm. Trying out the oil in cooking application in my own kitchen will be in order. It’s also said to work well as part of salad dressing and vinaigrette.
Visiting a hazelnut farm or 2 in the next year would also be beneficial. Not only to look at how the growing and management of the plants is handled, but also the harvesting and nut processing. Shelling, cracking, drying, and pressing the nuts on a large scale seems daunting. The cost of all the processing equipment would also have to be taken into consideration if looking at it from a potential income source. Finding a market for the nuts and oil probably wouldn’t be a problem, both in terms of direct-to-consumer sales and wholesale to Nutella processors.
Off to the market!