For many of Oregon’s staple crops, summer is a time of abundance. Juicy strawberries are harvested in June, followed by blueberries, raspberries, peaches, tomatoes, and more. For hazelnuts, harvest won’t begin until early autumn. Despite this, summer is a vibrant season in the orchards, as growers stay busy tending to their growing and maturing crop.
By now, clusters of nuts are filling out the branches. They start out green and sheltered in a protective husk, but as the weather warms up, the nuts take on the shade of their namesake: hazel. As the leaves crowd the branches, orchards develop a dense overhead canopy that provides shaded shelter for hazelnuts to ripen and to keep weeds at bay.
Hazelnut growers work diligently to protect their trees from pests, with the help of nature’s tree guardians like red-tailed hawks and owls that instinctively patrol the orchards. As summer begins to fade, growers are busy grooming the orchards and clearing any branches and debris that may have fallen throughout the summer to make room for ripe hazelnuts, which will begin falling in September. Aside from orchard maintenance in the summer, growers are taking care of all other farm activities to prepare for the busiest time of year in a hazelnut orchard – fall harvest!
Meet Brenda Frketich of Kirsch Family Farms, third generation farmer and fourth generation Oregonian. Brenda and her family have been growing hazelnuts on their Willamette Valley farm since 1990. Hazelnuts make up 75 acres of their 1,000 acre farm where they also grow grass seed, wheat, tall fescue, crimson clover and peas. Due to increased demand for hazelnuts overseas, Brenda and her family recently planted 25 additional hazelnut orchard acres which will begin producing nuts in 4 years.
Spring on the farm has arrived! As tender, green buds bloom on the branches, the window of opportunity to assess and trim trees is limited. Brenda and her crew have just about finished pruning for the season and are moving on to another crucial task: tidying up the orchard floor.
“Although harvest is still months away, the process of cleaning our orchard floors starts now,” says Brenda. “It’s important for us to keep our orchard floors clean because when we harvest, we pick the nuts up right off the ground.” Weeds, grass, fallen branches and debris are removed and the orchard floor is flailed – or mowed – so only hazelnuts are collected from the orchard floor come harvest time.
Another springtime task is fertilizing the orchard which will give trees the nutrients they need to thrive throughout the year. The rest is up to Mother Nature. “So far, this sun-rain-mix weather has been great for our hazelnut trees and other crops,” she explains. “The blooms are expanding, making way for a great hazelnut crop this fall.”
Brenda is a busy lady. She and her husband Matt have recently begun managing her family’s farm – everything from day-to-day operations to long-term farm planning. Her mom and dad remain farm mentors, but now have more time to fish, travel and be grandparents.
What else is growing? Brenda and Matt are soon-to-be parents of a their first child and expect this summer to be a busy one!
Be sure to check out Brenda’s blog, Nuttygrass, for farming photos and updates.
With over 37,000 family farms and ranches in Oregon, we’re honored to produce one of our state’s prized products! To celebrate the bounty of Oregon agriculture during National Agriculture Week, local hazelnut grower Judy Olsen teamed up with Celebrate Oregon Agriculture and KATU News to create a video with tips and information about how to enjoy Oregon’s official state nut. Watch it here!
For more videos featuring local farmers and ranchers, click here.
Winter is a time when many of us slow down and keep cover, but hazelnut growers know all too well that there is always work to be done. The frantic pace of fall harvest has subsided and the last of the leaves have dropped, exposing bare trees for growers to gauge the health and growth of their orchards.
Grower James McDonald of Inchinnan Farm in Wilsonville, Oregon is no stranger to the wintertime work that hazelnut orchards require. “This is the time of year to prune healthy limbs in order to stimulate new growth. For a year or two, pruning will decrease our production, but after that, the trimmed limbs will produce many more nuts than if they were left alone,” he explains. “Racing against Mother Nature, there’s a small window of opportunity between December and March to get into our orchards and prune before the heavy spring rain comes and the leaves cover the canopy, making it hard to see inside.”
Inchinnan Farm was purchased by James’s grandfather and a hazelnut orchard was planted by his father in the 1970s. James is a second-generation hazelnut farmer and grows three main varieties of hazelnut trees: Barcelona, Willamette, and Jefferson. Most recently, a new hazelnut variety named McDonald was released in memory of James’s father, Peter McDonald. The McDonalds have been instrumental in the Oregon hazelnut industry, a tight-knit community of growers.
Aside from growing hazelnuts and a few other crops, James keeps a portion of his property out of production for conservation and wildlife habitat.
As growers prune and trim this winter, the trees are readied for new growth and nut production come spring. Next, we look forward the buds and blooms that warmer weather brings.
Is your go-to afternoon snack a handful of nuts? Good news! In two separate new studies, frequent nut consumption was found to significantly reduce risks of pancreatic cancer in women and reduce the risk of dying from heart disease.
Published in the British Journal of Cancer, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School found an association between nut consumption and decreased risk of pancreatic cancer in women. Eating a one-ounce serving of nuts at least twice a week was associated with a lower risk of pancreatic cancer. Find more information here.
Weeks later, reported by the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that people who ate nuts everyday enjoyed a 20 percent lower death rate after four years than individuals who did not eat nuts. Find the study here.
Next time you’re reaching for a snack, help yourself to hazelnuts or any other tree nut for a whole handful of health benefits!