I'm obsessed with nuts. I'm from the Southeast and I dream of harvesting nuts from abundant chestnuts, hickories, oaks, hazelnuts, and native fruit trees (pawpaws and persimmons). However everytime I try and think about the specifics of implementing/managing such a system (especially on the site I have in mind) my head starts spinning. I thought maybe someone here has some ideas or would like to dream with me
I don't own or manage any land, but for a project I'm designing this sytem on a site that I've spent some time on. It's in mountainous western NC at about 2000 ft. and gets about 40-45" of rain. The slopes are intense (15-30 deg.), the soil is thin (past clearcutting left just a couple feet of soil over shale and conglomerate), however what is there is of a nice texture. This is all theoretical so I'm not concerned with getting it perfect. Here's a topo map of the site and some of my goals (The yellow lines are the property boundary (property is shaped like a boot). It's about 30 acres, and that creek at the bottom runs all year, and it gets quite shady down there due to a ridge to the south.)
1. Harvest enough chestnuts, acorns, hazelnuts, hickory nuts to eat myself, share, sell some and earn some cash. Not necessarily cash crop scale, but a nice chunk of change.
2. Graze animals below the trees. Not sure what animals work best, but I would love to get benefits of understory control for ease of nut harvest. Stocking density doesn't have to be production scale, more like ecological-benefits scale.
3. Use fire as a management system in the fall or early spring, much like native cultures often have in oak/hickory/chestnut forests to clear understory and reduce pest pressure like acorn weevils.
Now I'm not totally crazy. Even though I harvest and enjoy acorns and hickories every year, I realize the market potential is lacking to say the least. Part of a good design would include plans to develop those markets locally or look into shipping to cities that have large populations of people whose ethnic cuisine includes acorns (looking at you Korea). Nut crops are also heavy N-feeders. My idea is growing productive N-fixers and using chop-and-drop, or something like that. Autumn olive comes to mind. I'm very open to other ideas. The biggest problem I'm having is thinking up a way to develop the degraded topsoil, and stop more from eroding. What are the pros and cons of creating berms and swales on such a steep site with little topsoil to begin with? I'm worried about the logistics of getting heavy machinery up to this spot, and the compaction of the soil from the machines themselves. And if there's only a little soil to start with the berms or terraces would have to be tiny unless we brought in soil. And then the trees themselves. There's been a little work on breeding annual-bearing oaks (to avoid the mast cycle, which would make production hard) but I'd love to hear if anyone else has thought about this. Pecan-hickory hybrids are also super interesting to me (tastier nuts like shagbark hickory, but easier cracking and more annual-bearing like pecans).
There's a lot here to chew on and I'd love to hear if this makes anyone else excited! Or if there's some super big problem I'm missing feel free to tell me.