Part One was the history of the Sweet Chestnut Tree. Not that old Chestnut …… ? Part Two is all about growing the tree.
Important Facts about The Sweet Chestnut Tree:
- The tree grown in the UK belongs to the genus Castanea
- It is a member of the Beech family Fagus
- The official name is know by is Castanea sativa
- It’s deciduous
- It can eventually reach the scary size of 30/35 metres
- The size can be contained by a root training bag or by coppicing
- June/July is the usual flowering time
- October is the usual harvesting time, if you get the nuts before the squirrels!
- Can survive for hundreds of years, one known to be over 700 years
- A lovely tree to look at, as it ages the bark transforms into grey vertical folds which spiral round the trunk, and can look spectacular.
Why grow a Sweet Chestnut Tree?
I love the look of the Sweet Chestnut Tree, especially the bark, and because I love History, the story of how this tree arrived in this country appeals to me, plus I want to experiment all the different ways of cooking with the nuts from this tree. So that’s my reason!
Plus I am lucky enough to have this very long garden, stretching just over 300 feet from our house, facing due south, and we want to divide the garden into different areas. Nearest to the house, we will have a flower and shrub garden, with a dog-free area of lawn protected by a picket fence and gated arches, so that the grandchildren (and me) can run around on the grass in summer with bare feet.
Next we have a tree, lawn and shrub area. Weaving through it we hope to create a natural adventure playground for children of all ages, (Erik’s project gradually). Plus tucked away in one corner is my new Asparagus bed, then we come to the sunken garden.
Beyond that, past the newly planted rhodedendrons in big holes filled with ericaceous compost, we will start the Kitchen Garden. This will spread for 30/40 feet, with a greenhouse and raised beds, then we will start the mini orchard of fruit and nut trees, which will (hopefully) have a wild flower meadow in summer with a path weaving between the trees. Sound fun, and lots of hard work for me, but it both fulfills my love of growing and nurturing my own fruit and vegetables, and also my creative urge.
This last area gets a lot of sun, and on one side the garden runs along a graveyard, so we don’t think we will have any objections to our trees overshadowing them. This will be a perfect area of my Sweet Chestnut Tree. And, most of all, I want to use the sweet nuts for all kind of cooking.
How to grow Sweet Chestnut Trees:
- You can propagate Sweet Chestnut Trees from seed, or you can purchase ready-grown small trees.
- Young trees are quite strong and don’t need staking unless they are in a windy area.
- They need a site in full sun.
- They require well-drained soil, and if sandy, they thrive even more. Hurray, ours is perfect!
- Prepare a hole mixing in plenty of compost with your soil.
- Best time for planting is between November to March.
- Should be planted 7 metres apart if wanting them to grow to full size, or to coppice.
- There appear to be 2 main types for sale in the UK. The Marron De Lyon, which will grow to roughly 9 metres (30 feet) and nuts will appear after 2-3 years. Marigoule grows to full height, and fruit will arrive in 2-4 years.
As I am going to use my root-training bags, that means I have to dig a big hole about 20 inches deep, then sink the bag into it. In a wheelbarrow, I will make up a mix of good rich soil plus some compost, add water to dampen, then partly fill the root-trainer bag. Check that the graft of the tree will be just above the soil level, place the tree in the bag and fill up with the soil almost to the top of the bag. Finish off by soaking really well. For the first few days, make sure the soil in the bag does not dry out.
Sweet Chestnut Trees flower in June to July. The nuts should be ripe in October, when their outer skins burst. Squirrels are the main poachers, but the prickly outer spiny coat deters them, so once those burst, harvest the nuts as soon as possible before the squirrels beat you to it.
These trees are often grown just for their wood, which is hard and tough, and very rich in tannins, which means if used as fencing or stakes, or as shingles for cladding, it needs no preservative. I like the idea that the Sweet Chestnut wood is used in Italy for ageing the balsamic vinegar. If you want to learn about coppicing, producing your trees for their wood, rather than for the nuts, I have found a brilliant site that explains it all for you.
Click here for Coppice.co.uk
So in my garden, it won’t be a question of ‘Not that old Chestnut’ for many years to come. Mine will be a new, young Chestnut! I think that’s enough about growing Sweet Chestnut Trees for now – I’ll let you know how I get on with mine. Now it’s time to write about what you can do with the end product for cooks – the sweet chestnut. Lots of sweet and savory recipes using Sweet Chestnuts are following in the next few days – can’t wait to taste them.