Great Mountain Forest Orchard
By Ellery Woods Sinclair
Member of the Board of Directors
CT Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation
Orchard Manager for the TACF/GMFC Back-cross Orchard at Great Mountain in Falls Village
For those members who might not be aware, Canaan Mountain’s Great Mountain Forest in Connecticut’s Northwest Corner was an active participant in the USDA cooperative evaluation of Chestnut survivability under forest conditions. Fifteen test plots were established by Dr. Jesse D. Diller of the USDA, with Great Mountain Forest — a forestry laboratory founded in the early 20th century by the Childs family — established as Site #1 and planted in 1947. The trees for these plots originated from the USDA Glenn Dale Nursery and from the CT Agricultural Experiment Station. Trees were monitored annually until 1963 and then again in 1978. Some of those specimens grown under their stewardship still exist in old, now abandoned groves on Canaan Mountain.
Lincoln Foster of the Great Mountain Forest and Dr. Arthur H. Graves at the Robbins Pitch Plot (USDA Site #1) May 1948
I conducted a tour and presentation at the Great Mountain Forest orchard. Each year the Housatonic Heritage Walks, co-sponsored by the National Park Service, organizes area programs – a variety of hikes and presentations in the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area. This orchard event’s success was indicated by attendance from as distant as fifty miles, in addition to local participants and press coverage. Using photographs and a dried branch with burrs and catkins, I attempted to demonstrate the techniques of bagging and selective pollination.
Dr. Jesse D. Diller and Russell B. Clapper
at the Robbins Pitch Plot at Great Mountain Forest
(USDA Site 1) Sept 1963.
Housatonic Valley Regional High School Students and Teachers at Great Mountain Forest Orchard spring planting and cleanup. Students have participated in planting each year since the orchard’s inception.
Again this spring as in 2007 and 2008 – horticulture students from the Housatonic Valley Regional High School Agricultural Science and Technology Department laid out and planted the orchard with another 120 back-cross nuts along with 30 seedlings. This fall another group of students from the Ag Sc/Tech Dept. designed and constructed, as a class-room and on-site project, a very handsome orchard/chestnut information kiosk with lumber donated by the Falls Village Saw Mill. The kiosk features a large illustrative CT-TACF poster, a box containing brochures, and information and news items, along with a notebook for visitor comments.
A crowd of participants in the annual Housatonic Heritage walk gathers to hear Ellery Sinclair talk about the purpose of the Great Mountain Forest Chestnut Orchard.
At the Great Mountain Forest orchard in late September I presented – as orchard manager for the CT Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation in association with the Berkshire Litchfield Environmental Council – a program for the Housatonic Heritage Walks. One of their many programs, the American Chestnuts Lost and Found presentation was well-attended (as pictured) by those interested in the history regarding the loss of this valuable hardwood and the rationale for and method of bringing the American chestnut back to forest our landscape again – until a century ago, a primary tree.
The land – donated by Great Mountain Forest for TACF use – is an acre and a half lot on the slopes of Canaan Mountain. This perfect setting is conveniently a few hundred yards from Chubby Bunny Farm, a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) operation owned and farmed by Dan and Tracy Hayhurst. I asked Dan whether he would be my back-up when I was unable to tend the orchard; his reply: Wow! American Chestnuts! That’s great! I’ll help any way I can. Dan has deep roto-tilled to prepare the land for planting and watered when I was unavailable, as well as providing me with the watering equipment for those dry summer weeks. In addition to my initial brush hogging of this old Christmas tree lot prior to planting, I have mowed twice – with the red tailed hawks swooping from high pine perches on the sides of the field to snatch voles and rabbits.
In the photo to the right Ellery Sinclair points to several distinctive features on one of the Chinese chestnut controls in the Great Mountain Forest Orchard. Note the strong alternate but regular leaf arrangement on the green stems as well as leaf shape, color, shine and prominent petiole at base of leaf. These are all notable features of Chinese chestnut.
In addition to planting back-cross trees, which are 15/16ths American chestnut, we plant a variety of controls – that is trees that will help us to understand the degree of resistance offered by the back-cross trees when inoculated. In the photo to the right, Ellery Sinclair points to some distinguishing features on a Chinese chestnut planted to help show how a highly resistant tree might react to inoculation.
The Great Mountain Forest orchard, maintained in partnership with the Housatonic Valley Regional High School Ag/Science Department students, contains about 300 saplings (15/16ths American & 1/16 Chinese from the back-cross generations) awaiting selection and the first inter-cross generation procedure in five to seven years.
The reward of this endeavor is it’s being about the future, rooted in the past. In another half-century our great grandchildren will harvest the nuts and the timber, as did their forbearers a hundred and fifty years ago and before.