Category Archives: Chestnuts

Tom Wahl on Site Selection and Care of Chestnuts

Tom Wahl spoke on site selection and care of chestnut trees at the Chestnut conference in Letts, Iowa on February 11, 2017. The conference was video taped.  This video is 1 hour and 20 minute long. It covers hardiness zones, drainage needs, Ph requirements and more for chestnut trees.  Information from the conference is available.

You can  watch the vidoe and others from the chestnut conferce on you tube at

Commercial Chestnut Growing Conference

Handouts from the Commercial Chestnut Growing Conference held on February 11, 2017 at Letts, Iowa

Iowa Chestnut Primer

Establishment of Chestnut Plantings with video of Tom Wahl’s talk.

Woodland Suitability Table (Because of multiple errors, Tom Wahl no longer recommend using the Woodland Suitability Table)

Mike Gold’s Chestnut Cultivar Handout and video of Mile Gold’s presentation.

All videos of the presentation are availabe at Red Fern Farm’s You Tube Channel

Details on the past conference:
Tom Wahl and Roger Smith are working together to provide a program on growing chestnuts commercially in the Midwest. It  will be held at the Letts Community Room in Letts, Iowa on February 11 from 9:30 am to 3:00 pm. Topics to be covered will include markets, cultural practices and economics. The outstanding potential for economic return of chestnuts will be stressed.

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 $2.60/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 2016 he sorted, bagged and sold over 49,000 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 25 acres of chestnut trees to his existing chestnut groves.

Speakers will include Roger Smith, Tom Wahl of Red Fern Farm, Drew Delang of the Natural Resource Conservation Service and Mike Gold of the Center for Agroforestry – University of Missouri. Preregistration is required. The registration of $20 includes lunch, snacks and a 26 page primer on growing Chestnuts in Iowa. Registration is available on line at .  For more information or other registration options call Kathy Dice at 319/729-5905. This program is being sponsored by Practical Farmers of Iowa, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Louisa County, Red Fern Farm and Prairie Grove Chestnut Growers.

You Pick at Red Fern Farm for 2016

 Pawpaws: We will have ripe pawpaws by mid September. 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 more than 2 deep. Call to schedule a time to stop by our house and we will show you the pawpaw patch. 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. Picnic tables and portable toilets are close to the pawpaw patches. 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 repellant. 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.

Aronia berries: Aronia berries are available at 25¢/pound. They will hit the peak of ripeness during early September. We have over 2 acres to choose from, with some shade from young chestnut and heartnut trees. Call for more information. Link to map below.

Chestnuts: We offer you-pick under our chestnut trees. We provide tools and buckets for harvest and designate an orchard all your own to pick for a day. Picnic tables and portable toilets are close to the orchards. 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. The best time of day to gather chestnuts is late in the 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. If you are new to our You-Pick, your name goes to the bottom of the 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. Call or email us to get on our list. We will call you when dates open up to see if you can come.

2016 Chestnut You-Pick Prices:
If you want to keep all the nuts you pay $2.50/pound for everything you picked up.  We discount that price by 25 cents if you come on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. On these middle of the week days the price is $2.25 pound.

If you don’t want all the nuts, we will sort the nuts by size and you will pay a higher price, but only take what you want.
Small: $2.50/pound,   Medium and Large: $2.75/pound,   X-Large $3.00/pound

And 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 10 – 30 pounds of nuts.

Maps and directions are available or call if you need help finding us.
But be warned, we are outside a lot this time of year . Be ready to leave a message.

Agroforestry – Comfortable Income from only 10 Acres

Sometime in December 2014 Tom Wahl made a claim on the Practical Farmers of Iowa list serve that 16 families could make a living farming on 160 acres using an agroforestry system. Below he gives more details on his claim. Edits have been added.

These figure comes from my own personal experience in growing and marketing chestnuts, plus yield data from the University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry and from Kansas State University. The full answer would be long and complicated. I am working on a book (to be published by Chelsea Green Co.) that will explain this all in detail, but for now I will give the “short” answer.
As you could probably guess, the most important component in my agroforestry system is chestnuts. I have been telling people for years that one reasonably fit adult should be able to manage 10 acres of chestnuts by his or herself (labor for harvesting being the limiting factor). 10 acres of chestnuts, well managed on a good site, should be able to produce 3500 to 4000 lbs per acre of nuts, for a total of 35,000 to 40,000 lbs on the 10 acres. This would be for a “mature” level of production, but that can be reached in 12 to 15 years from the initial planting. In Iowa, the nuts wholesale for $2 to $3 per pound, so the 10 acres should generate $70K to $120K per year.

Chinese Chestnut tree loaded with burs.
Chinese Chestnut tree loaded with burs.

That is just for chestnuts. You could put a pawpaw tree underneath every chestnut tree. Pawpaws are natural understory trees and can produce 50% to 75% of a full crop even in fairly heavy shade. Dr. Patrick O’Malley estimates that pawpaws in Iowa should bear around 14,000 pounds per acre (in full sun). Pawpaws can wholesale for as high as $7 to $10 per pound. [we plan to sell you-pick pawpaws for $4.00/pound in 2015] Under the pawpaws and chestnuts you could add shade-tolerant berry shrubs such as gooseberry, currant, and honeyberry. On the ground, in the more exposed areas, you could grow perennial vegetables such as asparagus, rhubarb, and horse radish. In the shadier areas you could add high-value medicinal plants such as ginseng and goldenseal.
Even though this takes 12 to 15 years to reach this level (and that is assuming no disasters such as extreme weather events), this does not mean there is no income leading up to this point. Chestnuts can begin bearing in as little as two years from planting, and can reach 350 lbs per acre by year 5.
I am sorry that I can’t point you to university research documenting all of these figures, but there just aren’t any universities doing this. The best university info on agroforestry comes from U of Missouri Center for Agroforestry, including a 12 page summary on chestnut growing. – Tom Wahl

Table 1 shows a conservative projected production and income for chestnuts assuming 108 trees/acre and $2/pound selling price.

Year of growth

Pounds chestnut/acre

Gross income/acre


0 0
4 56



432 $864
10 1,512


15+ 3,348


Table 2 shows a conservative projection for pawpaws assuming 108 pawpaw trees/acre (growing under chestnut trees) and $5/pound selling price.

Year of growth Pounds pawpaw/acre Gross income/acre
1-6 0 0
7 216 $1,080
10 756-972 $3,780 – $4,860
11 864-1188 $4,320 – $5,940
14 1,404-1944 $7,020 – $9,720
15 1,620-2,160 $8,100 – $10,800