I’m still not sure how we ended up selling trees, it’s great we can provide what are very hard to find cultivated nuts but it can be time consuming.
When I started looking for walnut cultivars to plant on the farm to trial the sole aim was to find cultivars that would work in our conditions as there was no bank of knowledge in the UK on commercial walnut growing other than the experiences of individual growers. These people had planted what was recommended at the time and I think mostly based on what was actually available in the quantities they wanted.
We were looking for certain cultivars and our ideas of what we should plant was based on their knowledge kindly shared and what we could glean off the internet from articles produced around the world. In reality we couldn’t actually source what we wanted and so we, like many others, took what we could get initially and started looking for others to trial.
That searching led me to a few very helpful growers in the Netherlands and Bulgaria who sent us a good selection of what I thought might work, this was before Brexit so it was a bit easier than today. With the serious plant diseases in the world moving into Europe now having tighter controls has to be much better, I expect the controls intra europe to tighten a lot over the coming years.
As we already had a customer base for the dried walnuts and oil we were selling and as we made more contacts with other growers and people in the horticultural industry we started getting asked if we could supply a few trees to others who were struggling to source them. Initially this just piggybacked onto our existing orders every autumn but when Ton Friesen of De Smallekamp asked if we’d take on UK customers and enquiries we agreed, Ton doesn’t do mail order and shipping 1-2 trees internationally certainly isn’t cost effective nowadays.
At this point we’d already started planting Carya cultivars, Pecans, Hicans and Hickories along with Red Kernelled cultivars and all the other cultivated walnut species like Butternuts, Black Walnuts, Heartnuts etc. We realised that we could meet a demand for these cultivars that no-one else was meeting and hopefully make a bit of profit to help with the machinery and planting costs of our own walnut business.
It was around this time that we started sourcing larger bare-root trees to finish our orchard, these were generally 1.2-1.5m tall and were cultivars we are pretty confident will work well in the UK, most having all proven themselves either here or similar climates in northern Europe. These are generally much cheaper to produce as they’re summer bud grafted rather than winter grafted (and heat callused) and the source material is available in far greater quantities, scion wood for Carya and other species is usually very limited and therefore expensive.
We still view our tree supply as just a part of our walnut business and a service that complements the harvesting, drying and processing business. One of the great benefits is the large array of different people interested in nuts that we meet, a benefit that goes both ways with information flows.
We’ve also learned just how hard it is to graft walnuts successfully which is why we’d never be able to supply everything 100% UK grown and I doubt the UK ever will. We simply don’t have the climate (yet?) to grow the large vigorous rootstocks required and scion wood needed for 1000’s of trees and we’ll always have to winter graft which means warm-callusing. The real experts in this average about 90-95% success I think and some have been doing it all their lives, summer bud grafting gives far more consistent results if you have the climate and the trees are much larger and more vigorous.
We are grafting a small number of our selected seedlings for genetic diversity and heritage reasons and small numbers of some of our cultivars as scion wood is available but success rates aren’t fantastic. Below is a Butternut (Chamberlin) that I grafted this January, the mother tree is still small (2m) but there were a couple of small spurs on the main trunk that needed to be removed, you’ll see this had already started shooting in the heat bench so is now in my greenhouse! Why this woke up when all the others are still fully dormant I’ve no idea, welcome to the weird world of walnut cultivation!