- I see a lot of potential in trees as food crops. Once Planted and
established they need no yearly ploughing, they hold and enrich the
soil, they put more chlorophyll into the light and and fix more
carbon, they do not need weeding which too often is done with
weedkillers. It's not a new idea, we have apples and bananas.
My main project is to develop alder as a grain crop, but to learn from
other tree-crops, I looked at the Kentish cobnut industry.
Cobnuts, so called in Kent, otherwise Hazelnuts, have a long history
of cultivation and not only for their nuts. The small timber got from
coppicing used to be important, but it's doubtful if it can be again.
Cobnuts grow all over the country, but Kent was a main centre, it
developed cultivars, cobnuts were used as rations in the Navy, so it
was well documented, probably to the neglect of other areas.
I went to Kent, looked around and talked to the leader of the Kent
"Most orchards are kept going by Turks coming in on a pick-your-own
basis. Nuts are in important in Turkish culture. The Turks like their
nuts fresh, and pick them from the tree, but they can be shaken down
when ripe, but that gives the problem of getting them up off the
"Abroad, most nuts are harvested when ready to fall off the tree. A
mechanical shaker grabs the trunk and shakes the tree, the nuts fall
to the ground, are swept by another machine to the centre of the
windrow, and then hoovered up.
"Here almost all nuts are picked by hand. Most of the trees are in
clusters of suckers. The problem of a machine might be getting into
the centre of the tree and difficulty of manipulating the machine
round the tree considering the high density of trees in most places.
"Some orchard grow their trees in the form of hedges and attempt
mechanical harvesting, but it has not been successful.
"There is one grower who is working hard on developing methods, but he
won't let you in to see what he's doing. "
Apart from this one grower, I got the impression of an industry which
has given up. The trees were old, fences and buildings neglected,
every sign of having given up.
If cobnuts are to be developed as major food crop, what needs to be
done? There may be problems with trees themselves which I don't know
of so I can't comment. Mechanical harvesting seems easy enough, a rake
with tines1-2 cms apart pulled through the branches seems the obvious
way and it can be mechanised. It may be a problem for mechanical
harvesting may be that trees grow to 3-4 M high and then produce
suckers to produce a bush. Is this a problem?
One solution might be to plant the trees in a narrow line. We can mow
down the suckers that grow on one side, but allow suckers to grow out
to say 50 cms on the other side. In the fullness of time, we can cut
down the original line, to be replaced by the sucker-line, and so the
line will creep across the field.
A chain-saw can cut the trees, the branches will have to be burned,
let's hope usefully as fuel, and the trunks might be sold as thin
wooden poles, or maybe they will also have to be burned, maybe we
could get a better price for them as logs for wood-burning stoves. And
can the process be mechanised so that the whole process can be carried
out by a single machine driven by a single man?
Marketing is not my field, but I see the need for it. How is it going
to be presented to the public? As a staple, ground into a flour and
incorporated into pies, bread, pasta etc.? (Don't be too
narrow-minded. Remember that there is "Weizenbier", beer made of wheat
rather than barley. It tastes noticeably different) As a luxury
delicacy? But the market for that is small. As something to take with
you on an outing? (Women are disgusted at men's use of a Mole wrench
to break open nuts. Is this an obstacle to be overcome or a selling
point?) How are the shells to be disposed of? There are all sorts of
decisions to be made.
A lot of work over a lot of time! I'm not going to do it. Europe has a
food surplus. I am discussing this crop as a commercial crop which it
ought to be worthwhile to develop as a commercial crop. But I have
only heard of one grower who is putting the work in. Prices are too
low! An established industry is bowing out.