Tucked safely in a blanket of peat moss, more than 500 Chinese chestnut (Castanea mollissima) seeds wait out cool winter storage in a plastic bin. I’ll plant them this spring. Meanwhile, several hundred more seedlings sleep contentedly—some in pots in a cool garage, others “heeled in” the frozen soil of a protected raised bed mulched with leaves.
I’ll wager most of you never gave as much thought to chestnuts as I have. But I would encourage you to take another look. For starters, they are easy as pie to grow. Keep them watered and protected from vermin—that’s about it. They’ll accept most soils other than water-logged or highly alkaline. And they are drought tolerant once established.
Second, they grow quick. You can go from a small seedling to a 5-foot specimen in under three years [even quicker growth for American chestnut (Castanea dentata), although that suffers from a blight disease and is usually grown as a shrub that dies back every so often]. Quick growth also means you can harvest nuts in just 6 or 7 years. That’s pretty fast turnaround for a nut tree.
Third, they flower in June, so late-spring frosts won’t hinder the crop. This means you can pretty much depend on a nut crop every year (as long as you supply a second specimen to cross-pollinate).
Fourth, chestnuts are delicious, nutritious, and heart-healthy. You can eat them raw (after letting them “cure” for a few weeks), roast them, or grind them up and use them for many recipes.
Grow a couple chestnuts and experience the same delight crooner Jerry Vale must have felt singing this song.