As other crops start to peter out, another one is getting ready to be harvested in Ontario—tree nuts. One of those edible nuts has crept into the spotlight in southwestern Ontario recently due to its presence in Nutella and Ferrero Rocher, and the fact that it has flourished in the Great Lakes region and other fruit orchard areas. If you are still guessing which nut it might be, let me introduce you to the hazelnut.
The folks at Ferrero were smart when they decided to put hazelnuts into their delicious bite-sized chocolate treats. They are full of protein, folate and complex carbohydrates, as well as a great source of dietary fibre, iron, calcium and vitamin E. They are low in sodium and sugar, plus have no cholesterol. For those of you on a gluten-free diet, you are safe here too, as hazelnuts contain no gluten. The only drawback is for those with allergies, as tree nuts can cause severe allergic reactions in those with an allergy to them.
For those who want to cash in on the growing nut-tree industry, for starters you need to have the right growing conditions. Corylus prefer moist to sandy loam with good aeration. They are not especially cold tolerant, so benefit by being situated close to the Great Lakes in already established fruit tree areas (ie. Niagara peninsula, North shore of Lake Erie). Hazelnut trees are also susceptible to eastern filbert blight, so selecting varieties that are disease resistant is key. The Beaked hazelnut is native to Ontario, so a good choice, but if you are planning on establishing an orchard, make sure you purchase from reputable nursery stock.
Hazelnut trees have a shallow root system, so require frequent watering, especially in the first 3-4 years. It also makes them drought intolerant, so if you want a bumper crop keep the water flowing. If you want to produce nuts, you must have more than one tree, as they do not self-pollinate, rather get pollinated by the help of the wind. Once your Corylus produces nuts (at approximately 4 years old), you are in luck though, as they are a fairly short tree or shrub, so harvesting is an easy task. Of course, as with many nut trees, you can let the ripe nuts fall to the ground and collect them from there. Keep an eye out for mice, squirrels and hungry jays who also love the taste of hazelnuts though. They can reduce your crop quickly, if you don’t collect your nuts promptly.
Other things to take into consideration when growing a hazelnut tree is their maintenance. They require pruning in their second year to establish a central trunk, preferably in late winter or early spring before their active growth starts. After that you need to keep on top of their suckering nature to keep your tree to a single trunk. As the tree sets fruit on new wood, don’t go overboard with your pruning. Remove dead or damaged branches, as you would with any tree. After that, watch for pests and disease, but expect to reap the benefits of your work for the next 60-100 years. Not a bad deal at all in our books.
Yum, I think it’s harvest time! Pass the nutella…