Red Fern Farm & COVID 19

Tom Wahl talking about shelters at Red Fern Farm
Tom Wahl talking about shelters at Red Fern Farm

Here at Red Fern Farm we are taking the need to slow the spread of COVID 19 very seriously. Our entire permanent staff (our family) already work from home (the farm) and we already require people to call ahead to schedule a visit.

We are still open for business and plan to remain so unless required by the government to shut down. We will transact all business outside, in the fresh air and sunshine, keeping a proper 6 feet apart.

Son and father harvest American persimmons
Harvesting persimmons can be family fun time.

We realize guidelines and restrictions will change in the weeks and months to come. If you have ordered trees that will need to be picked up this spring or summer, call or email us to discuss your options or restrictions.

We do plan to offer you-pick again this fall. We see our groves of trees as a valuable resource to people this fall for a way to gather fresh, wholesome food. We will be looking at options to allow people to harvest on shares or to barter for fruit.

Weighing out you-pick harvest fall of 2019.
Customers proudly weigh out their harvest of pawpaws, chestnuts, hazels, heartnuts and Asian pears at Red Fern Farm the fall of 2019.

Ordering Chestnut Seedlings for 2020 can Begin!

Stacked seed trays in walk-in cooler
Chestnut seed trays stacked in walk-in cooler for winter stratification.

We have all the chestnut seed nuts in their seed trays bedded down for their long winter’s nap. We can fairly predict what we will be able to grow for 2020. Because of the almost complete failure of our chestnut crop, we were not able to harvest seed nuts from most of our outstanding chestnut trees. You will see a great change in what varieties we offer this summer for chestnut seedlings.

Because of the almost complete failure of our chestnut crop, we were not able to harvest seed nuts from most of our outstanding chestnut trees. You will see a great change in what varieties we offer this summer for chestnut seedlings.

One bright point is the new variety  “Resilient”. This 29 year old chestnut tree is the only one out of over 1,000 bearing trees that was able to stay healthy and put on a full crop of nuts despite all the weather extremes. We will be offering seedlings from this tree as well as ‘Ohio Outstanding’. ‘Ohio Outstanding’ seedlings are from some of the best trees in a large commercial planting in Ohio.

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Our chestnut trees will be in either small or medium sized pots.

You will also find we are offering chestnut trees in two sizes this summer: “small” and “medium”. To fulfill the demand for early planting in May, we will be offering chestnut trees grown in 58.6 cubic inch pots that will be available a month earlier than our standard/medium sized trees grown in 78 cubic inch pots. Both pots sizes are 9 inches deep and are designed to keep trees from becoming root bound. Because the trees can quickly fill the smaller pots with roots, the smaller trees will be released from the nursery earlier at a discounted price. These trees will be available by pre-order only. We are potting them up based on the orders we receive.

You will notice a price increase as well for small orders of trees and for trees of known parentage. The cheapest option for trees, at $4 each, are for orders over 100 of our small trees from the PQK selection. The PQK selection are seedlings who have either Peach, Qing or Korh for a mother tree and another grafted variety as a pollinizer.

Please feel free to email or call with your questions before placing an order. Remember you can mail a check with your 25% deposit to hold trees at our nursery to avoid using PayPal or paying credit card fees.

Chestnut Tree Seedlings for 2020

The weather extremes of 2018 – 2019 in southeast Iowa will be affecting Red Fern Farm into 2020 as we deal with the shortage of good quality chestnut seed nuts for our nursery. Our chestnut trees were damaged by weather events and for the most part did not set a crop in 2019. As a result, we were not able to gather seed nuts from many of our own named varieties or any of their crosses (Red Fern Super, Shotgun, QingSu, BadgerQing, Giant Badger I or II, Large Badger). We purchased seed from other sources. As a result we will have a limited number of seedlings available from known grafted mother trees. These seedlings will have a price mark up to reflect their limited numbers.

We will have a cheaper option that includes what was sold to us as a “bulk” seed. We know the bulk seed came from 3 types of grafted mother trees: Peach, Qing and Kohr.

Placing seed chestnuts in a sprouting tray for overwintering.

As we create our seed trays, we will create an estimate of how many trees we will have available of each variety and list them as available for ordering on our website. You can then order your trees. You have the option of paying in full with a credit card on the website (requires an additional 3% fee to cover the credit card fees) or mailing a check. The check option includes no extra fees. The check option allows you to pay down a 25% deposit on the order. The deposit will hold your trees at our nursery until August 31.

We will have no bare-rooted chestnut trees available for shipping Spring of 2020. – Kathy Dice

Nut and Fruit Growers Unite in Iowa City in Late July, 2019

A great conference will be held in Southeast Iowa at the end of July 2019.  the Northern Nut Growers Association (NNGA) and North American Fruit Explorers (NAFEX) will be holding a joint conference at the Graduate Hotel in Iowa City, Iowa from Sunday July 28 to Wednesday July 31. You can see more details on the NNGA’s website at . The cheapest, early bird registration fees, end July 3rd, so check it out soon. You can still register up to the day of the conference.The conference will include over 40 speakers with topics on hazels, chestnuts, sour cherries, pawpaw, walnuts, currants, pears and more.  Tom Wahl will be helping with a grafting presentation along with talking about seedling versus grafted chestnut trees.  Registration is open and there are many options. You can attend one day and skip dinners or splurge and take all the offers to network with other nut and fruit tree growers. Contact Kathy at if you have questions.  – Kathy Dice


Planting Chestnuts for Deer?

Numerous articles and advertisements in outdoor and hunting magazines are promoting the idea of planting chestnuts for wildlife. It is true that chestnuts bear heavy crops of nuts that are very attractive to a wide variety of animals. On the other hand, some of the claims aimed at deer hunters are wild exaggerations, or downright lies. Chestnuts do not make good trees for attracting deer during most deer hunting seasons. Chestnuts tend to ripen very early for a nut crop. They begin as early as late August in the Deep South and even in the North they are usually all finished up by the middle of October, well before most deer seasons. Chestnuts are very attractive to deer, but only for about one month out of the year. After that, the deer will be off looking for other food. A few late-ripening chestnuts are available as grafted trees, and while these may be useful to both deer and deer hunters in the Deep South, such trees are utterly useless in the North. Chestnuts ripen and fall early for a reason – the nuts are absolutely ruined by freezing temperatures. Once the temperature of the nut falls to 24 F, the embryo is killed. When the nut thaws, it begins to decay. At that point, even the squirrels won’t eat it. How often does your deer season start before the first hard freeze in the fall?  
The American Persimmon is actually a much better choice for attracting deer to a property and then holding them there through the hunting season. Persimmon fruit is just as attractive to deer as chestnuts are – maybe even more so. While some persimmons ripen and drop their fruit at the same time as chestnuts, others produce a massive crop of fruit that begins dropping from the tree in November and continues all winter, right up until early spring. Freezing temperatures do not damage the fruit, and wildlife will continue to consume it all winter long. Deer are known to bed down near persimmon trees and listen for the sound of falling fruit. Hunters report deer often come running from several directions at the sound of a persimmon hitting the ground.
One thing to keep in mind is that persimmons come in male and female. Normally, only female trees produce fruit, and normally only when there is a male tree in the vicinity. 
Another tree that is exceptionally good at attracting and holding deer is the dwarf chinkapin oak, Quercus prinoides. Most oak trees don’t begin bearing acorns until they are at least 10 to 15 years old, and then only bear a good crop once every few years. Dwarf chinkapin oaks can begin bearing as early as 3 years old, and tend to bear a heavy crop every year.

Furthermore, their acorns are among the sweetest and most attractive to wildlife, of all acorns. The acorns are not damaged by freezing weather and remain palatable all winter long. The trees are broadly adaptable and will thrive just about anywhere except on poorly drained soil.
If you are interested in attracting and holding deer on your property during hunting season, give us a call or email. – Tom

You-Pick at Red Fern Farm for 2018

You-Pick at Red Fern Farm is by reservation only. You can call a day ahead to see if there is an opening or schedule your harvest day weeks in advance. We have lots of openings on weekdays, but weekends fill up quickly.

View of back of car after an afternoon of gathering chestnuts at Red Fern Farm.
Back of car after an afternoon of gathering chestnuts ( and other treats) at Red Fern Farm.

What to Expect: You can usually drive up and park close to the spot you will be harvesting. We have clean latrines, hand washing stations and picnic tables at each parking area. This is a safe area for children, but no dogs or cats are allowed (food security issues).

The grass will be mowed, but not as fine as a lawn. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes, prickly chestnut burs are scattered on the ground. Our orchards are in a rural setting, close to “wild” timber. Bring bug repellent. Your children are welcome to observe and catch  the frogs, insects, spiders and snakes they encounter.  Please ask your children to be gentle and release all creatures before you leave the groves.

Aronia Berries:  (Done for 2018) Aronia berries are available free for you-pick. They will hit the peak of ripeness during early September. We only have a few bushs still bearing fruit. They are located in the shade of chestnut and heartnut trees. Call for more information.

Hazels: (Done for 2018) Hazels are available at $1.00/pound for un-husked clusters for you-pick. The season for hazels starts in late August and continues to mid-September. Hazels can be picked from the bushes or from the ground underneath. Bring bags, buckets or boxes to collect into. It can take 30 minutes for one adult to pick clean one 10 foot tall bush and gather about 1-3 gallons of hazel clusters.

Theresa Wahldice holds 4 large pawpaws in pawpaw grove at Red Fern Farm.

Pawpaws:  (Done for 2018) Pawpaw season runs from late August to late October. Pawpaws are $3.00/pound when you pick them, $5.00/pound when we pick them. Bring buckets, boxes or crates. Ripe pawpaws are very soft and should not be stacked no more than 2 deep. Weekends are very popular, so call early to reserve a time slot. Tuesday – Thursday is an excellent time to have the pawpaw patch to yourself. It only takes about 15 minutes to get 5 – 10 pounds of pawpaws. Late afternoon is the best time to pick, but ripe pawpaws will be available all day. Recipes are available. There is no minimum or maximum for the amount of pawpaws you pick. We do ask you only pick what you plan to take home.
We have many grafted trees. If you want to see what grafted variety you like the flavor of best, bring a black sharpie with you. You can write on the outside of the pawpaw what the variety it is. When you eat it later, you can compare it with other varieties.

American Persimmon: Persimmons are available  at $2.00/pound when you pick them, $3.00/pound when we pick them. The season starts in early September and continues to mid-October. Persimmons are very soft when ripe. They should not be piled deeply in your gathering container. Bring bags, buckets or boxes to collect into.
They can be gathered from the ground or picked from the tree. Slightly under ripe persimmons are very astringent. They will ripen at room temperature if picked early. We have nets spread under grafted persimmons in front of our house. You are welcomed to gather from the nets, the trees or anywhere in our groves.

Heartnuts: Heartnuts are available at $2.00/pound for un-husked clusters or $4/pound without husks (they husk very easily) for you-pick. The season for heartnuts starts in early September and continues to mid-October. The nuts are gathered from the ground under the trees. Theresa Wahldice lady holds 4 large pawpaws in pawpaw grove at Red Fern Farm.

Three ripening Cornelian cherries on grafted bush.
Three ripening Cornelian cherries on grafted bush.

Cornelian Cherries: (Done for 2018) Cornelian Cherries are available at $2.00/pound for you-pick. The season has been mid-August to mid-September. We recommend bringing a gathering cloth to spread under the bushes. The ripe berries are soft and sweet. Under ripe they are firmer and very tart. They will continue to ripen after picking. We have none available already picked (the family eats them up too fast).

:(Done for 2018) Spicebush berries are available for $8.00/pound or 50¢/ounce for you-pick. The season runs from early September to mid October. (Tom reported ripe, red berries on 9/7/17.) You only need a few ounces of these potent berries to add to a variety of recipes. Kathy uses them in pawpaw jam and persimmon margaritas.

3 Chestnuts in opening bur.

Chestnuts: (only small amounts left for 2018) We offer you-pick under our chestnut trees. The season often runs mid-September to mid-October. We provide tools and buckets for harvest and designate an area all your own to pick for a day. We weigh and bag your nuts afterwards. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes, prickly chestnut burs are scattered on the ground. The best time of day to gather chestnuts is mid to late afternoon. Plan on coming after lunch and harvest up till sunset.
We have a very long waiting list of people who want to gather chestnuts on weekends. If you are new to our You-Pick, your name goes to the bottom of the weekend list. If you can only come on a weekend, it may be years before you get a chance to gather chestnuts. If you can come on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday you have a much better chance of getting to gather chestnuts. We have started scheduling people to come pick chestnuts on weekdays for 2018. Call or email us to get on our list. We can schedule you now for weekdays or call you when other dates open up.

Husband and wife team gather chestnuts with nut wizards.
Husband and wife team gather chestnuts with nut wizards provided by Red Fern Farm.

2018 Chestnut You-Pick Prices:
If you want to keep all the nuts you pay $2.75/pound for everything you picked up.

We discount that price by 25 cents if you come on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. On these days the price is $2.50

If you don’t want all the nuts, we will pay you 50¢ for each pound of chestnuts you gather and don’t take home.
Be sure to bring water and snacks. It takes about one hour for one adult to gather 25 pounds of nuts.
Maps and directions are available or call if you need help finding us.
We are outside a lot this time of year. Be ready to leave a message.

September 5th Field Class

With the encouragement of Practical Farmers of Iowa, we will be having a field class on Wednesday afternoon from 1:00 -4:00 pm.

Agroforestry class listens to Tom Wahl near pawpaw grove.
Agroforestry class listens to Tom Wahl near pawpaw grove.

This field class will focus on a variety of tree crops suitable for forest farming systems in Iowa. Attendees will learn about
the production, maintenance and marketing of a handful of the 75 species of crop trees and shrubs found at Red Fern
Farm. Tom and Kathy will take guests on a tour through their agroforestry farm that specializes in nut, fruit and berry
crops, as well as medicinal forest plants, and discuss how they market their crops through U-pick. There will also be an
opportunity to sample some of the non-traditional crops featured throughout the day.

Registration is required: This event is free, but attendance
is limited to 50 people. To register, contact Debra
Boekholder, or
(515) 232-5661 by Monday, September 3.

1:00   Welcome to Red Fern Farm
1:05   Practical Farmers of Iowa Introduction
1:15   Iowa Farmers Union Introduction
1:20   Sustainable Iowa Land Trust Introduction
1:25   Split into two groups and heads to groves
1:30   Group lead by Kathy Dice learns about chestnuts.
Group lead by Tom Wahl learns about Asian
pears, heartnuts, and pawpaws.
2:30   Snacks back by farm entrance
3:00 Groups switch and go to new groves, learn from other guide
4:00 Finale questions and head home

See a field guide of other Practical Farmers of Iowa events at .

Bare-root ordering closed for Spring of 2018

On Monday, April 9th, we closed the website for ordering more bare-rooted trees for Spring of  2018. We will reopen the site to ordering bare-rooted trees for spring of 2019 when we know what and how many trees will be available for spring of 2019.

We shipped all orders of bare-rooted trees today and Tom is packing orders that will be picked up from the farm. If you have  an order of bare-rooted trees for local pickup, give us a call or email to schedule your pickup time.

Bags of bare root trees.

Grafting Class at Nahant Marsh Nature Center, May 5th, 2018

Tom Wahl is an experienced grafter. He enjoys helping others learn this skill. He will be teaching the modified-mega-chip-bud-inlay-bark graph (also known as the double flap mega chip graft) on Saturday, May 5th at Nahant Marsh Nature Center. To register or for more details go to Nahant Marsh Events Ca lander.

The bud from scionwood in place on rootstock using the Megachip-double-flap grafting method.