Nov. 26th, 2015

halifaxearthtech: Photo by Joe Shneid of Louisville Kentucky, from Wikimedia Commons (Pattern)
Long-term gratification or How else can twenty bucks last three lifetimes?


A lot of people are surprised to hear that we can grow many varieties of nuts here in Nova Scotia, including Chestnuts, Almonds, Hazels, Walnuts, pine nuts and some pecans as well as more exotic varieties like yellowhorn and ginkgo. Bill and Elizabeth Glen of PEI have been growing hazelnuts commercially since 2013, pioneering both a local market and best practices for Maritime nut growing.

We should be investing in planting perennial crops anyway, and trees in particular. Planting trees fixes carbon, mitigating climate change. And nut tree crops have the added benefit from a resilience standpoint of producing a harvest for 200-500 years, meaning they can be an asset well into the future in case of many potential scenarios of food scarcity. Walnut hulls and bark are useful as mulch, medicine and as a natural dye. Some people plant walnut as a retirement fund for one's grandchildren. Country Wisdom and know-how's Woodlot Management by Jay Heinrich writes that "A single huge flawless walnut tree can sell for several thousand dollars (one such tree reportedly brought 30'000 on the stump)".


The Sex life of nuts

If you want to obtain nuts from your trees it is is important to plant nuts that are compatible, that will pollinate each other. Nut trees finish putting out male flowers before starting to put out female flowers, and so often can't pollinate themselves. Trees must be from two different seedlings to be able to pollinate each other. Some nut trees will self-pollinate but even these will fruit better with a friend. If that fails, you can pick off male flowers, keep pollen in the freezer for a week or two and then throw them at the trees.


Identifying Hardy Walnuts


A Japanese variety with huge 6' leaves and heart-shaped nuts. There is a heartnut outside of St Mary's University.


Black Walnut and Butternut


The two species hailing from North America. Butternuts are endemic to the St John River valley. Black walnuts are extremely hardy and tasty but hard to get into or extract meaty bits

Leaf shape and scars

The black walnut can be identified by leaf scars that look like three line segments of half-circles like a monkey face or clover leaf with some imagination. This way they can be identified in winter.


As you can see here, the butternut monkey face has eyebrows




Butternut leaf scars

(Raisin River Conservation authority)


Stem pith of black walnut


Stem pith of North American walnuts is honeycombed and dark brown.


Buartnut Juglans x bixbyi

The unfortunately-named first generation of children between a heartnut and butternut. Buartnuts have heartnut's easy crackability and blight resistance while having butternut cold-hardiness.



Buartnut cross section


The grocery-store variety we are used to seeing, the English or Persian, is not yet quite hardy to our winters. Two exceptions are Carpathian and the totally safe for work Manregion, which will live in our zone 6. Some will survive even zone 4 which endures winter temperatures of -30 and includes such regions as Calgary.


Starting nut trees from seed

Credit to Sylvia Mangalam for teaching me to start nuts in pots buried in the ground in the fall, after they are thoroughly cleaned. In the spring, check the nuts for sprouted roots out the bottom, and of those that are sprouting, cut the main root tip to encourage surface side-branching roots. Then pot them back up and keep in dappled or part shade for a year or two before final planting in full sun. Time to first harvest varies from seedling to seedling and different variety grafts, but you can expect nuts after 5 to 10 years.


Planning for centuries

An urban legend has been going around of the foresters of Oxford University in England who set oaks aside for 300, 600 or 800 years until the ceiling beams of the main hall got too "beetly" and needed to be replaced. The tale grew in the telling it seems, and it's not true (though the trees were several hundred years old at harvest) but it's an appropriate sentiment.


I think it's high time to at least supplement our instant gratification with some long-term gratification. What were you doing five years ago? Starting school? Worrying about whether your pants are tight enough without being "too" tight? Convinced you would never grow a beard? The time went by faster than you thought. Trees move us beyond the treadmill of the next apartment, or the next election. They destroy the capitalist illusion of the perpetual present., connecting us to the gifts of our ancestors, and our responsibility to our descendants.


A fun article about ways to get into the shell and extract the delicious reward within


An exhaustive guide to growing nuts in Ontario


Walnuts secrete a substance called juglone that kills some plants that would grow underneath. Here are some resistant plants compatible with walnuts.


A good forager never reveals her secret stash, but I'm going to go ahead and say there are black walnuts growing behind the Dal Sportsplex. Now go nuts.


halifaxearthtech: (Tree Canopy)
Marijuana is about to transform our legal landscape. But how has it already raised a generation of gardeners? Full disclosure, I have inhaled. And while I am not a heavy user, I fully support decriminalization as a public good to decrease organized crime, increase tax revenue, start to dismantle the prison-industrial complex and help addicts, all the good reasons to go down a path away from the war on drugs I remember so vividly from my youth.

If you remember this guy you are over 30

Drug plants have been a frontier for me, I rarely meet a plant I do not like. And here were a class of forbidden, fascinating plants that I will not be lucky to cultivate personally for perhaps some time. I'm happy to see a class of gardeners grow up around me who are more fortunate, and take the legal risk to come to know plants through psychogenic specimens: Marijuana cultivation has done much to educate people new to gardening to a lot of botanical concepts.

Plant sexes

Plants and flowers can be one sex or both

There are a number of plants with "male and female" individuals, like hardy kiwi, holly, yew, and many others. In plant parlance, "male" is the part that disperses genetic information (the pollen) and the "female" part receives that information and combines it with its own (an ovum, like in animals) before feeding and caring for the resulting new entity that will become a seed. Most flowers have male and female parts on the same flower, like roses, apples and dandelions. Other plants have male flower and female flowers, like squashes. Cannabis occupies a group of plants that are known as dioecious. To set seed, there needs to be a male plant and a female plant. Of course, in cannabis horticulture the presence of male plants is something to be avoided, as it causes female plants to put their energy toward seed rather than resin (Pollan, the Botany of Desire). Which brings me to my next point:

Cloning is an important technique for many plants, not just cannabis. We clone to preserve traits of the plant that might not exist in its offspring. We living beings evolved sex to create diversity, which helps thrive in a changing environment. But plants also clone themselves a lot in nature, by spreading roots, sticking their branches into the ground to take root, or dropping bits of themselves to float away in the water or wind that then become self-sufficient like willow and tradescantia.

There are many more ways than these that plants clone themselves in the wild, mostly to take over spaces or find new habitats in which to thrive. They do this so much because of a difference at the genetic level. It is hard to clone complex animals. To turn a skin cell to a tooth-implant takes an expensive lab and a lot of coaxing. Even though our skin cells contain all the instructions for a human body, the tooth instructions are blocked out, as well as every instruction for anything but skin. Animals are more difficult to genetically combine than plants But any part of a plant can become any other part with relative ease. A tree with a pocket of compost in the crook of some branches can grow roots there to eat up some of those nutrients. A petal can become a leaf, and a leaf can become a petal. This is called topipotency, and it means we can make almost any part of plants into whole new plants.

This is much easier to accomplish with plants

We use this to create apples of consistent quality, or preserve nut trees with blight resistance, or any trait that shows up in plant offspring that we want to keep. It also means we can make large quantities of plants from tissue culture, like nursery stock or chemically consistent cannabis. In any type of gardening, it is a skill worth knowing. A buried branch taking root before being cut off and moved, a process called layering It is worth experimenting to see which sticks you can cut from a plant and stick in the ground just to see what will take root.

Seed saving
Illegality has brought a black market network for seed exchange that is for the present mostly out of the control of seed giant corporations. Though subject to unpredictable offspring, seeds are a convenient way to transport and store plants. It's worth noting that besides the cold-hardy Cannabis indica, the Himalayan region also supplied North America with winter-hardy pomegranates and mulberries. Hybridizing and sophisticated breeding techniques have entered common parlance: back-crossing, F1 hybrids, and interspecies snorgling.

Sometimes crossing two parents to make seeds creates just the diversity you want to yield unexpected and desired traits that you want to then preserve through further breeding and stabilizing seedlings or as is more common in cannabis horticulture, cloning. In an energy-constrained future, it is possible that extensive cloning in heated greenhouse spaces will be impractical, and we will once again resort to seed-saving as a means to get desired plants through the winter.

Interspecies snorgling: the beginning of a great new hybrid?


Cannabis has brought hydroponics to a generation of gardeners who might not otherwise have gotten into plant-raising. Indoor growing is a critical part of agriculture in our climate and has vast space-saving potential, essential for dense towns and cities who need to farm vertically to be a self-sufficient as possible, as well as for shrinking our footprint on the greater wilderness.

Of course there are loads of political dimensions that I need to bone up on. From a resource for racialized, forced prison labour to one of a lot of legal cash, a lot of big interests are getting involved. The plant is not to blame for this complex flurry of interest when it only really wanted to get insect pests high enough to forget what they were doing, or go get the munchies on some other plant. I hope we can maximize this situation's potential for good, and nurture our new generation of gardeners into productive livelihoods of growing. They will be assets to our community in an energy-constrained future.



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