All posts by Kathy Dice

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

You-Pick at Red Fern Farm 2019 – $15 minimum

You-Pick at Red Fern Farm has closed for 2019. Below is the information we posted for the season when it ran.

You-pick at Red Fern Farm is still 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.

Red Shed - Customer checkout shed
Our new Red Shed – where we weigh out customers’ harvests.

New this year is a $15 minimum. This $15, paid when you first arrive, covers the time it takes us to show you around the groves, train you on what and how to harvest and taste samples of fruit and nuts. After paying the $15, you don’t have to buy anything at our farm. If you do make a purchase, the first $15 is already paid for. How cool is that? The $15 is per group. As an added bonus we will be utilizing our new “Red Shed” to weigh you out at the end of your harvest. No need to drive back to our house for your weigh out.

The weird weather from fall of 2018 into the spring of 2019 has caused severe damage in our groves. Some trees will take years to recover. Each crop has been affected differently. You will see notes below. We will not be able to host as many customers this year in the pawpaw patches and there will be NO Chestnut You-Pick.

Mother and son walk into food forest for you-Pick
Burnham Family starts a morning of You-pick

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:  The Aronia bushes are loaded this year. The berries are available free for you-pick (see note on $15 visitation minimum above). They will hit the peak of ripeness during early September. We only have a few bushes still bearing fruit. They are located in the shade of chestnut and heartnut trees. Call for more information.

Hazels:  (Still available as of 9/29/19) A decent crop of Hazels are available. Hazels are available at $1.00/pound for un-husked  clusters or $2.00/pound husked nuts for you-pick. The season for hazels usually 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. One gallon of un-husked nuts (an ice cream bucket full) will yield about one pound of husked nuts. If you are interested in saving hazels for seed nuts, we have free information available – just ask.

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

Cornelian Cherries: (Season is over for 2019) 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).

Pawpaws:  80% of the pawpaw flower buds froze off this past winter. There is a much smaller crop available for 2019 and it is ripening later. For 2019, the pawpaw season runs from late

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Picking-pawpaws-cropped.jpg
Brandon Family members enjoying the pawpaw patch fall of 2018.

September 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, but took a hit from the past weather. We have a smaller crop, but still plenty for our customers at $2.00/pound when you pick them, $3.00/pound when we pick them. The 2019 season starts in late 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. Only orange persimmons will continue to ripen off the tree.

Heartnuts: Heartnuts got through the crazy weather just fine. 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. 

Asian Pears: The only Asian pears we will have this fall are Korean Giants that ripen in late October. The fruit of Korean Giants are large and excellent keepers, even at room temperature. They are available at $2.00/pound when you pick them, $3.00/pound when we pick.

Spicebush: Our spicebushes froze to the ground this past winter. No spicebush berries for 2019.

Chestnut tree on June 14 showing damage from severe weather.

Chestnuts: Not available for You-Pick in 2019 – Sorry –  What happened? Very unusual weather. The fall of 2018 was very wet. The soil was saturated from September 2018 through June 2019. In October the weather was still warm and the trees did not harden off for winter. In early November, the winter hit with very cold temperatures. The trees that had not hardened off enough for winter took severe winter damage. Then when Spring came, we got record amounts of rainfall. During May and the first half of June we averaged one inch of rain each day for 6 weeks. Chestnut trees like well drained soil. All that water kept soaking in and keeping the ground around the roots saturated. Our tree roots started dying. In June many trees had still not leafed out. We were afraid we had lost 80% of our mature chestnut trees. In July we started to see recovery. Now in August we think we only lost 10% of our trees, but there was no chestnut bloom in June and hardly any burs on the trees. We now believe we may only have a few nuts, but not a real crop in 2019. As such we are not opening our grove specifically for chestnut harvest. You are welcome to harvest what you find while here (see $15 minimum above), but we discourage people to come just for chestnuts.

See the previous you-pick season posts on how we ran the you-pick in 2017 & 2018 for chestnuts.

Healthy chestnut branch in August with no chestnut burs.

2019 Chestnut You-Pick Prices:
If you manage to find any chestnuts, you pay $2.75/pound for everything you picked up. We discount that price by 25¢ 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.

Field Day at Red Fern Farm Saturday, July 20th

We will be having a field day with the help of the Savanna Institute on Saturday, July 20, from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. We are limiting this to just 50 people. The field day is free, but you do need to pre-register at:  https://savannainstitute1.wufoo.com/forms/zwti6jv0ecrq7g/ .

During the afternoon we will be touring the groves of chestnut trees, pawpaws, American persimmons, Asian pears, heartnuts and much more. We will also discuss how we market using you-pick for our fruit and nuts. We will not be talking about our tree nursery or how to raise trees (that is a field day in itself). Part of the afternoon will be spent discussing the damage our trees took with the recent

Chestnut tree on June 14 showing damage from severe weather.

volatile weather and our plans for replanting dead or dying trees.

This will be a relaxed, low key field day with lots of time for questions and answers and touring the groves. Feel free to contact us with your questions but head to the Savanna Institutes website to register at https://savannainstitute1.wufoo.com/forms/zwti6jv0ecrq7g/. – Kathy Dice

Rain or shine we hold our field days. How we look after 3 hours of drizzle during a field day.

Black Raspberry You-Pick – New this year!

This was posted June 28th, We have now closed the Raspberry patch for the year.

We have a bumper crop of black raspberries this year. We are offering them to you-pick customers for $3.00/pound. If we pick them, they are $10.00/pound.

Picking wild black raspberries at Red Fern Farm.

Tom started mowing paths around the berry patches back in May. Now there is a network of paths in our “wild” woods edged with wild black raspberries. This is rough ground. In some places there are stalks of plants sticking up or munched up thorns from Honey Locust on the paths.  There are mosquitoes and black flies. There are also lots and lots of berries. Two customers the morning of June 28 casually picked 5 1/2 pounds in about two hours. You will need to

bring your own boxes, but you can drive up close to where the paths start.

Part of the 2017 wild black raspberry harvest from Red Fern Farm.

If you are interested in picking, contact us. We will try to schedule you so you have a huge area all to yourself. You can call 319-729-5905 or email kathy@redfernfarm.com .

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 https://nutgrowing.org/nnga-2019-annual-conference/ . 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 kathy@redfernfarm.com 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

Chestnut Growers Workshop

Practical Farmers of Iowa has been working with Red Fern Farm to put together a full-day chestnut workshop. This workshop will cover all aspects of chestnut production and marketing in the Midwest and will be held at the Iowa Arboretum, Madrid, Iowa, on February 2, 2019, from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Topics will include site selection, planting and tree management, varietal recommendations, grafted versus seedling trees, harvesting and curing, marketing, and financial resources.

3 Chestnuts in opening bur.

Chestnuts are a valuable nut crop that can be grown in a low-input, chemical free agroforestry system that includes permanent ground cover. Depending on soil types, they can be an excellent crop for land designated as highly erodible. Seedling chestnut trees of superior genetics can begin bearing nuts after 3 – 4 years on a good site and with good management. At 12 – 15 years they can produce 3,000 or more pounds per acre. In Iowa, chestnuts wholesale for an average of $2.30/pound.

The profit potential of chestnuts has encouraged the planting of chestnut groves throughout much of Iowa. Roger Smith, manager and owner of Prairie Grove Chestnut Growers, buys and sells chestnuts.  In 2018 he sorted, bagged and sold over 84,000 pounds of chestnuts grown in Iowa, Missouri and Illinois. He sees no end to the market potential of chestnuts and plans to plant an additional 20 acres of chestnut trees to his existing chestnut groves.

Speakers will include Roger Smith, Tom Wahl of Red Fern Farm, Aaron Wright District Forester with the Iowa DNR and Mike Gold, Associate Director of the Center for Agroforestry – University of Missouri. Preregistration is required and costs $10 to $60 depending on membership in Practical Farmers of Iowa. For more information, or to register, visit https://form.jotform.com/tamsyn/pfi-chestnut-workshop or call Debra at Practical Farmers of Iowa at (515) 232-5661.

Ordering Trees for 2019

We will be updating our website as to what trees will be available for purchase in 2019 around the end of November, 2018.  At that time we will know what our seed supply looks like for chestnuts, heartnuts, pecans, pawpaws, and persimmons. Also in November we  count the trees we plan to make available for bare-root in April of 2019.  The only chestnut variety we will have available as bare-root trees in April 2019 will be Mossbarger.

Each year we will have limited number of some varieties of chestnut tree seedlings. Some will sell out very quickly. All trees we sell are good  for Iowa and usually for adjacent states. Pay attention to hardiness and know your growing zone.  – Kathy

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).

Spicebush
:(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, debra@practicalfarmers.org or
(515) 232-5661 by Monday, September 3.

Agenda:
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 https://www.practicalfarmers.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/2018-Field-Day-Guide_web.pdf .