Recommended Crop Systems For Hybrid Hazelnuts
These plants are ready for use in windbreaks, living snowfence, wildlife plantings, and as a pick-your-own crop. While we foresee a great future for this new crop, we do not generally recommend the plants we have available today for large scale commercial plantings. At present, all plants available are seedlings, which means they are somewhat variable as to size, productivity, and ripening date. We are working on mechanized harvest, and expect it to be available in a few years, but it is not here yet. This seedling variability would cause some difficulties for machine harvest, which is most effective when fields of clonal varieties with uniform size and ripening dates are available. In the immediate future, harvest must be by hand. Bearing can be heavy enough that, for larger crops, it pays to hire skilled pickers.
In Oregon, hazels are grown in traditional orchards, trained into 25' trees with intensive pruning. At harvest the nuts are allowed to fall onto a carefully flattened and cleaned orchard floor, then swept up.
Our hybrids cannot be pruned into trees, nor is it necessary. Hand-picking is all done standing on the ground. Nuts are picked when they are mature but before the husk opens and drops the nuts—this minimizes losses to rodents and birds and decreases exposure of the nuts to spoilage microorganisms that can be picked up from soil. The nuts are mature as much as 2 weeks before the husk will open, giving a very long harvest window.
Unlike other windbreak plants, these can offer farmers at least the chance of producing an annual money income from the windbreak itself.
Most of our hybrids will reach a maximum height of 8-10', (a few taller hybrids, up to 15', are available as experimentals). The bushes are quite dense, making effective windbreak both summer and winter. If a taller windbreak is needed, single rows of hazels on the outside, with tall tree rows on the inside, works fine.
Plant spacing within rows depends on your primary goal for the windbreak. Hazels will tolerate spacing as tight as 3' between bushes and still bear good nut crops; 3-4' spacing will give a very tight windbreak. They will bear better with more space, however. Our general recommendation is to space the bushes 5' apart. Spacings wider than 6' may not close tightly, but will bear good crops.
One row of bushes will function as a windbreak, but two rows definitely work better. Space between rows should be between 5 and 10'. At 5', the bushes will close very tightly, shading out most weeds between the rows but making nut picking difficult. If you contemplate machine harvest of the windbreak when that becomes available, 10' is the minimum space needed for machine travel. If you are planning to plant a windbreak anyway, this is a no-risk way to learn if hazelnuts are right for you.
Where feasible, a living snowfence can be cheaper to maintain than traditional kinds, and it provides year-around wind protection and wildlife cover. Unlike wood or plastic fence, there is no yearly labor for installation and removal, no storage problem, and no replacement costs. Hazel snowfence does require time to grow to effective size, of course—3–5 years, depending mostly on weed control and fertility of the soil.
Plant 4' between plants for a tight snowfence; 3' for earlier closure; 5' if you can wait for closure. Two rows 5–8' apart will grow and catch snow better than a single row. "Wildlife" grade plants will work fine, but if planted to a higher grade, hazel snowfence could produce a salable crop (remember, you are likely to need at least 10' between rows for picking machines).
Our hybrid hazel bushes provide dense year-round cover and food for many kinds of wildlife, from songbirds to deer. The nuts will be eaten by many animals, including turkeys, bluejays, raccoons, deer, bears, and of course squirrels. Windbreak and snowfence plantings will serve wildlife well, and can provide badly needed travel lanes. In addition, single bushes planted across meadows, and thickets formed by planting bushes in blocks will add needed food and cover diversity to wildlife habitat. Larger block plantings should have some open interior space to be most effective.
If you already have or are thinking about a pick-your-own business, you need to plant hybrid hazel bushes!!
A strong statement, but we think it is absolutely true! Pick-your-own (PYO) is a special kind of business, and one of the factors leading to success in PYO is diversity. No other nut really makes sense for PYO—big trees are a liability hazard, walnut hulls are too messy, and chestnut burrs are too painful for most customers. Hazels can be picked standing on the ground by anyone from 3 to 90 years old, with no danger. They are easy to pick, don't stain clothes, and easy for customers to crack and eat.
At Badgersett, we have planted a maze of hazel bushes. It is a half acre in size, with a central goal that has room for a picnic table or two. Aisles are 10' wide, and will close to 5' when the bushes mature (just wide enough for 2 people to walk hand-in hand). The maze can serve as entertainment and diversion for children at any time of the year, and will also be a delightful place to pick during harvest. The puzzle is designed so it is not extremely difficult, and children can push through the bushes without damage to either themselves or the maze if they get lost. Publicity possibilities are great, and best of all, your harvest problem is solved!
We are extremely enthusiastic about this possibility: you don't have to wait for any future machine, and these plants are well suited to this use right now. Please study what it takes to make a success of PYO before you plant, however, since it is certainly not a business that suits everyone.
Although we do not recommend this for everyone yet, there are folks who are going ahead anyway; also, this may be sensible for large PYO operations. Spacings we think make sense are 6-8' between plants, with rows alternating between 10' and 15' apart. The larger row will allow truck or tractor access for fertilizing and harvest. A field entirely planted at 10' row spacings will close too tightly to let standard machines through. We are now making just such large plantings, about 30 to 40 acres each. The whole-field plantings at Badgersett Research Farm and Arbor Day Farm are currently the most advanced and most easily visited.
At present, plantings are made with seedlings, which have proven to be more predictable than might be expected. Mechanized planting is possible. Weed control during establishment has been most effectively achieved by mowing or cultivation. Although the hazels will generally survive even without weed control, their growth will be seriously slowed. Harvest at the moment is by hand, an easy and economic task for skilled agricultural workers. Mechanical harvest is expected within a few years, using pickers similar to those presently developed for blueberries.