Bread of the Woods
Since prehistoric times, wild chestnuts have likely been harvested across Europe and Asia Minor for winter nourishment. After the domestication of the tree and its introduction to orchards, it gained the mark “bread of the woods” during the Middle Ages when it became part of the essential European diet. In times of scarcity, chestnut flour was used in place of wheat.
While today’s global consumption does not rely this heavily on it anymore, Christmas time is often accompanied by the sweet smell of roasted chestnuts and infused with festive chestnut dishes. This article, written just in time for the roasting season takes you from planting to caring and picking the best chestnuts to enjoy on an open fire.
Chestnut Trees in Lebanon
In Lebanon, chestnut planting began about fifteen years ago. Many people established orchards that included 20–500 trees. The trees were acquired from whatever source was available at the time and planted randomly, which led to some failures in growth. However, some chestnut orchards are thriving nowadays, especially in the mountains of Tarshish and demonstrate the potential for chestnut success in Lebanon as its cultivation begins to perform best at a height of 1,000 meters above sea level.
Several factors need to be considered before planting chestnuts. Like many other fruit trees, chestnuts require “cross-pollination” for the development of nuts. Even if the female flowers don’t receive any pollen, burs will still form, but the nuts within will be flat and unable to grow. Get two or three trees and plant them close together (30m apart at most) for the best nut production, or use the pollen from a neighboring tree. Chestnuts of all kinds can cross-pollinate.
Chestnut trees can withstand low temperatures reaching down to -20ºC, and reach extreme temperatures of up to 27 to 31 °C. They can also endure frost and might live through lower temperatures if transitioned slowly. However, it is important to remember that if trees are not yet familiar with cooler temperatures, sudden late spring or early fall frost might harm them.
Chestnuts thrive on acidic, fine-sandy well-drained soil and do not like alkaline, calcareous soils.
Make sure the chestnut tree is placed at the same level as it was in the pot when you plant your trees. When a tree is planted too deeply, oxygen is unable to reach the roots. The top 20 to 25 centimeters of soil are where “feeder roots” grow. The latter, are responsible for absorbing water, oxygen, and nutrients. Additionally, chestnuts produce “tap roots,” which bury themselves deeply and serve as anchors of the tree.
Chestnut trees require an average of 800mm of rainfall annually.
During the first summer, water the trees once a week unless a considerable amount of rain has fallen during that week. Usually, one gallon of water is sufficient for each tree. They might require a second watering input during the week if the weather is hot.
It is important to keep the space around the trees clear. Grass and weeds should be kept out of a circle about a meter wider than the diameter of the trees. This protects trees against damage from weed and lawn mowers. To aid in water retention, mulch can be used, but it shouldn’t be applied deeper than two inches or right up against the tree trunks (allowing easy access by rodents in the winter).
By Eng. Maryse Bou Zeid