Looking at all these photos of giant chestnuts leaves me wondering if giant chestnuts aren’t a little like 700 lb pumpkins. From the perspective of the eater, do you even find it desirable to have chestnuts that large? I’ve only eaten what I assume are rather average Chinese chestnuts, but those have seemed plenty large enough. I’d say there are two good bites to the chestnuts I’ve eaten. Some of the ones in your photos almost look big enough that I might think about getting out a fork and knife to eat them.
That’s a good point. It’s a bit of a complicated topic. American consumers generally love large fruit or shiny or pretty fruit. This is the country that still buys Red Delicious apples because they’re pretty. Most American consumers can’t tell a superb tasting chestnut from a poorer quality chestnut because Americans just don’t eat enough chestnuts to develop any expertise in what makes a good chestnut. When I post photos of large pretty chestnuts on any forum people get excited. When I post photos of smaller chestnuts and mention they have much better flavor, almost no one cares. Personally, with regard to chestnuts, I eat whatever tastes best, as long as it’s not too small. But on the West Coast, consumers buy Colossal chestnuts and growers grow Colossal chestnuts because the nuts are large. They don’t peel very well and don’t taste very good but they are still grown and eaten. No one grows Colossal in Europe, other than as a curiosity because the nut quality is so poor, but Americans will still buy them because they have very little sophistication about chestnuts (or many other food items). Colossal trees aren’t very blight resistant and aren’t very cold hardy either but growers in Michigan still grow them because the nuts are large and the trees are productive even though they lose trees almost every year to blight or cold. The nuts I mention here are all superior to Colossal and should eventually replace Colossal in the marketplace because they taste better and peel better and two of them, Gillet and Bergantz, are consistently larger than Colossal too. These nuts are much more attractive than Colossal nuts too. Another reason commercial growers prefer large nutted trees is that if you have lots of grafted trees, many times the grafted trees will produce smaller nuts than the original tree. Colossal is well known for producing a lot of smaller nuts on some grafted trees. So if you’re planning on planting grafted trees, and are planting a variety that produces medium sized nuts at its best, some of your grafts will produce small nuts. If you start with large nutted varieties and get some shrinkage from subpar grafted trees, you still get some good sized nuts. This is more true of Chinese trees than of European/Japanese trees, but it’s still a factor. Here’s a photo of a superb Chinese chestnut, possibly the best tasting Chinese chestnut grown in the US, but it is not large and not pretty and not normally going to get anyone excited -
I just planted a colossal a couple years ago, looks like I’ll need to plant some better grafted selections.
This how I make my seedling hybrid chestnut nuts look big
Castanea, you are a gold mine. The next question is, what is the blight resistant cultivar that is consistent with our figures of merit (good, relatively large, peels)? Hardy and not hardy? I know I am asking for a lot.
Those are some monster nuts! The nice thing about planting Colossal is that you can top graft Gillet or Bergantz on to it. They are very graft compatible with Colossal.
Where are you located? Zone and state?
currently in MI, Zone 6. But considering a retirement move in a few years to mountain zone 8 in Italy.
So do you want thoughts about trees for Italy or Michigan?
as I do not know my fate yet, perhaps both? it depends on my wife’s job and where my daughter will end up. If she stays in Michigan, we stay too.
As a guy in zone 5, i would be curious as well (wisconsin)
If you move to Italy, talk to Guido Bassi, Bassi Vivai, Via Tonello 17, 12100 Cuneo, Italy. He’s one of the most knowledgeable Italian growers and researchers. He is always up to date on the latest chestnut news in Italy. Italy has some special challenges. It’s a huge producer of chestnuts but Italian growers are dealing with chestnut blight, root rot and gall wasp and they really need to get some new hybrid trees that can deal with root rot and blight. The Italians and the French have been working on hybrids since the early 1990s because the pure European trees often have problems with blight and root rot.
For zones 5 and 6 in the Midwest, the best source of grafted trees is Greg Miller at Empire Chestnuts in Carrollton Ohio, He has a website. He has more varieties than anyone else. The best source of seedling trees is probably Tom Wahl at Red Fern Farm in Iowa. He also has a website. Tom grows a few really good varieties of chestnuts next to each other and the seedlings thus have really good pollen parents. Jenny is one of the best pure Chinese chestnuts you can grow. The tree is vigorous and taller than the average Chinese tree. The nuts are much larger than average but one of the first nuts to drop in the fall. And they have much better than average flavor. Szego (photo above) is a complex hybrid, mostly Chinese and Japanese, that has very large nuts with exceptional flavor, The tree is larger and more vigorous than Chinese trees. It is also very cold hardy. It does have some susceptibility to blight but so far it has never exhibited any serious blight infection. Luvall’s Monster is another hybrid (Japanese?American/Chinese) that has very large nuts that also drop early in the Fall. It is very cold hardy. The nuts have very nice flavor. It has some susceptibility to blight but I don’t think blight has ever killed a LM tree. The nuts do often have split shells so its not a good commercial tree but it’s still a good tree to have for yourself. Tom Wahl sells seedlings of LM and that is a very good option. Other good pure Chinese trees are Gideon, which Greg sells as well as Shing, Hong Kong, Kohr, Peach, Qing, and Sleeping Giant. In the future Greg will be selling Jenny. Greg also sells selected seed nuts which is the cheapest way to start a new planting of chestnuts. Szego is sold by Rolling River Nursery in California and Washington Chestnut Company in Washington.
Deleted my last post by accident, I wanted to thank you for all this great info and inspiring phots, descriptions. Thanks! I hope to someday grow my own, currently have some 2nd year seedlings from selected parents growing in my nursery that will be planted out next spring.
thanks so much.
I have an interest in chestnuts but dont know if its even possible where I live. I ordered some seed from http://store.route9cooperative.com/Default.asp that Im going to try to germinate. It gets cold here in ND and the soil is quite basic. Not sure how much sulfur to add to give chestnuts a chance at growing, or if its even possible. Anyone have any luck growing chestnuts in a more northern climate with non ideal soil?
I can’t tell you about the soil ammendments to add, but I’m pretty far north. I’m on the east coast of Canada.
The soil is naturally acid here, so I’m no help on that. They do seem to be more cold hardy than you might think,
even if the first bloom is killed by frost, they try again. I hand pollinated burs Aug the 2nd this year and got nuts.
Normally, they set nuts early July at my location. I sent nuts to Estonia, and they have made several winters.
So what variety is that?
I don’t really have a name for it. I’ve been calling it Nanjing Select just to have something to identify it. It’s a seedling from a handful of nuts I received from a gentleman who worked at the Nanjing Botanical Gardens in 1993. Other people had been giving me nuts during my 2 day visit and when I was just about to leave he gave me these nuts and said through an interpreter that “these are special”. It took many years for this seedling tree to start dropping nuts and since they weren’t very attractive or very large it took me even longer to give them some serious attention.Now I understand why he thought they were special.
while that unnamed variety is special, the provenance is even more!
I feel kind of stupid though because for years I ignored this tree. But now, even when I have hundreds of chestnuts lying on the ground that will never get picked up, I crawl though the bushes looking for nuts from this tree. I try to pick up every single nut.
The weird thing about Chinese chestnut trees in the US is that while almost all of them produce decent nuts, the average nut is not nearly as good as the average nut in China. The US has only a tiny amount of the chestnut germplasm they have in China. We have maybe 1% of what they have.
amazing how that 11th-hour souvenir proved itself-- ultimately, after all those years.
and to think you’ll never get to thank the gentleman who gave it to you, if he is still alive, that is.
across the pacific and after >two decades, wow… Your tree transcends space and time.