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Does Size Matter??

From Root & Branch #5 Spring 1998

(One of the world's most ancient and persistent questions...)

Something there is that does not love small nuts...

If you will forgive my mangling Robert Frost. Given a choice, virtually everyone will reach for the largest nut in the bowl. I'm convinced it's a basic primate brain response, going back to the days when hunter-gatherers wanted to grab the most food they could, as fast as possible.


How big is a grain of rice?
How big is a grain of wheat?

Tiny, in fact, compared to even the smallest thing we would call a "nut". And yet it is rice and wheat, and the other small grains, that feed most of the world.

Some of our customers, hunter-gatherer-like, will head straight for our "Extra-Large" type nut seedlings, even going so far as to check the box that says "Will NOT accept substitutes". They want the XL's, or nothing.

We try to keep everyone happy, so we do offer the XL's, though always being in short supply, they cost a bit more.

But we also tell EVERYONE WHO WILL LISTEN that we DON'T think the XL's are our most PRODUCTIVE plants.

Simply put; sometimes, a plant has nuts that qualify as "XL" because there are FEWER of them on the bush.

Think of it this way; say a bush has 100 energy units available to put into nuts. If there are only 25 nuts on the bush, each nut will be 4 units big. If there are 50 nuts on the bush, each one would be only 2 units big. There would be more nuts; but smaller.

Sure, I'd rather harvest my 100 energy units by picking 25 nuts, instead of 50. IF every bush had the same amount of energy available for nuts. But it doesn't work that way. The genetics involved in how much energy goes into nuts, and in how many nuts the bush can set, are INDEPENDENT of each other.

So- bigger nuts does NOT equal bigger CROPS. And just for fun; smaller nuts does NOT equal bigger crops, either.

I can show you plants with tiny crops of big nuts, and plants with tiny crops of tiny nuts. Keep in mind that the development of these hybrid hazels is still in a relatively early stage; and they can often be variable. SOMETIMES big nuts are big because there are just not very many of them. We try never to sell seedlings of plants that are really unproductive; but variations do occur. I hope the day will come when we can promise bushes with HUGE crops of HUGE nuts; but that day is not here yet.

IN FACT: the most productive plants, at the moment, are frequently rated MEDIUMS by our statistical analysis. And often, they are considerably more productive, in terms of pounds of total production, than the majority of plants rated Large, or Extra Large. This seems to be because these plants have genetics which provide them with lots of nuts per bush, and lots of energy going to the nuts. And often the nuts are a little smaller than "Large" mostly because there are so very many of them. (Our size classes, incidentally, are based on a combination of kernel weight and whole nut weight- NOT volume.)

So. When you order your plants; think about what it is you really want; big nuts? or big crops? They may not be the same thing. If you just want a few pounds of nuts to crack out by hand over the holidays, maybe you really do want the XL's; but if you are looking to tons per acre type production, where harvest and cracking will ultimately be handled by machinery; it will be over-all productivity that counts.

And remember how big a grain of rice is.