Great guest blog from Phil Pritchard, of the Oxford City Farm.
Good news! The European Union has recognised the need for high-energy perennial food production in agriculture. In the last few years agricultural policy has started to enable large scale agroforestry. “They must be nuts!” I hear you say. “Yes, crackers!”
Cracking chestnuts, walnuts, hazelnuts and hicans,
Almonds, butternuts, heartnuts and pecans,
Hickory, buartnuts, black walnuts and chinkapins,
Pine nuts, oak acorns and monkey puzzles will help the state we’re in
Please excuse the poor poetry but this is serious. Research suggests that on average for every calorie of food energy produced by industrial chemical dependent agriculture, 7.3 calories of energy is expended in the production process. Now, that is nuts.
I’m writing this on the train back to Oxford from a “Growing nut crops” weekend course with Martin Crawford at the Agroforestry Research Trust (ART) in Dartington. My head is full of the hangover of crackingly poor nut puns, my mouth has been treated to a feast of new nutty flavours and recipes and my mind is overflowing with nutty facts. For example tree crops need virtually zero fossil fuels to be burnt to produce up to 50 kilogrammes of nuts per tree per year.
There are examples of working agroforestry systems and nut orchards all around the world. I learnt that China has millions of hectares. Some nutteries are examples of working agroforestry where tree crops are grown in the same fields as arable or other food crops. There are a few pioneers in Britain but unfortunately we are lagging behind in the progressive development of a low carbon, high energy production agriculture.
Some nuts are high in starchy carbohydrates like sweet chestnut, chinkapins, and Araucaria. Oak acorns are high in carbohydrate and protein. Walnuts, hazelnuts, butternuts and the beautiful and romantic heartnut are high in protein and oils.
Nuts do need drying and processing to be stored and eaten and as I discovered some have a really tough shell. Martin has developed some good small to medium scale technologies for drying, cracking, and cleaning a variety of nuts from his inspiring nuttery.
One of the biggest threats to the aspirational new nut farmer is unsurprisingly squirrels. A single tree damaging, nut-thieving, non-native immigrant rodent can eat or store up to 25kg of nuts each year. That 25kg heist could be the equivalent of a whole tree’s annual production! There are some good deterrents that work for a while like snake toys coiled in the tree branches, large bird of prey kites fluttering from tall posts in the orchard. But for the really ruthless and determined nutter trapped squirrel casserole may be the permaculture solution. You have to be careful though as there is a public health warning concerning the eating of squirrels. You’ve guessed it, yes, they may contain nuts.
If you would like to learn more about growing nuts or other perennial edible plants check out ART’s courses and plant catalogue https://www.agroforestry.co.uk/