You know the best presents? They are the things that you really would like, but don’t buy yourself because they are just that bit extravagant. Well my clever sisters got it spot on this year. First to arrive was a pack of mushroom spawn to inoculate logs. There are three different varieties of edible mushroom, and enough spawn to inoculate two largish logs. What I may do is use half to innoculate a log each, and the other half to try again with newspaper ‘logs’. I had a go a couple of years ago making huge rolled up newspaper logs fron unsold papers from the shop (we don’t get them collected so just recycle or otherwise use them locally) and incorporated spawn dowels in the layers. Nothing happened. I think that what went wrong was I was over concerned with the logs not drying out, so I wrapped the newspapers in black bin liners, and I think the mushrooms suffocated. Given our rainfall, I think I will just stack them somewhere out of the sun and just water them a bit if we do get a dry spell. In the meantime the spawn should be safe in the fridge door.
The second part of the present (it was a joint one) was a hazel tree innoculated with truffle spawn. I could be digging up my own truffles in seven years or so! I had looked at these a while ago, but decided against buying myself one since I had many other plants to spend my money on. It really is a bit of a long shot anyway. I hadn’t realised for example, that the truffle fungi likes it quite alkaline. Thin soil over chalk is what they like. I’ve got thin soil, but generally rather acidic. What I’ve done therefore is select a spot, as close to south facing as I’ve got, on a slope, so well drained. It hasn’t got a huge amount of shelter yet, but isn’t as exposed as some spots either, and as the surrounding trees grow up (other hazels and oaks) they will shelter each other.
I dug my standard, two spade width turf turned over, hole for the tree and used all of a bag of ground dolomite limestone (probably 1kg? the label had long since gone). I bought the linestone when I thought I might be doing more annual veg growing. I mixed half in the soil below the top turves, and sprinkled the other half around the tree once planted, for a distance of about a metre radius. Hopefully that will just give the truffle spawn enough of a pH change to get it started. If the truffle fungi doesn’t make it we should at least have another hazel tree!
I meant to do a separate post about hazelnuts, but it’s bit past time now. Suffice to say that I got a fair share of the bumper harvest that happened last year. In a few hours at the start of October I collected a carrier bag and all my pockets full. Normally the birds and mice strip the trees, but there was enough for everyone this year.
I dried the nuts on top of the stove (I think that some may have got a bit scorched). They have kept well in the shells, but I have shelled most of them with a hand cracker and have got about 8 Oz of hazelnut kernels. A fair proportion (maybe 20% – 30%) had no kernel, or a shrivelled up one, but the rest were fine, if a little small. Apparently getting empty nuts is quite normal for hazels. The full ones should sink in water, so I may wash them next time to save some of the labour until I get a nut cracking machine! Interestingly one of the trees appeared to have quite a few nuts with twin kernels. Not really what you want however, since they end up a little small.
Anyway, this bumper harvest has inspired me to look again at hazels as a nut crop tree. We may not have the optimum climate for nuts, but that hasn’t stopped me planting apple trees, which also won’t crop well here most years. What we do have is no squirrels, which are such a pest elsewhere in the UK as to present quite a challenge when getting any of the harvest. I’ve still got a lot of other projects on the go this year, but I think over the next nine months I will try and work out where hazels for nuts might do best. As usual they want somewhere sheltered and sunny (!), but I’ll also need to fit them into the existing tree planted areas. Maybe interplanted in with the ash is one option (if I do lose the ash, there will be plenty of space) but there are other possibilities.
To help with nut tree selection and planting planning I also asked for and got for xmas, Martin Crawford’s book on nut growing. This has got me over-excited about all the other nuts I could try. Maybe not almonds (even I’m not that optimistic, although maybe in the tunnel…) but walnuts, or japanese walnuts may be a possibility to try, and perhaps I could find a more sheltered spot for some sweet chestnut, and there’s a few cute little nut trees related to horse chestnuts that are edible and may crop here…..