A Message from VT/NH Chapter President
With pollination behind us and catkins now looking like your grandfather’s used pipe cleaners covering the ground, lazy days of summer are here. There isn’t much to do in the field. Burs are growing, hopefully with fertile chestnuts. Recently planted trees are throwing roots and tap roots. Trees planted before are growing up, hopefully straight and tall. Everything and everyone are thirsty. It has been a hot, dry summer. Just ask our friends in Maine. It’s worse there.
Unsure Covid is behind us, I went on tour to meet up with chapter board members and enthusiasts. Part of what interests me in serving our chapter is meeting all of you. You each have a different connection to chestnut, a different passion for it and observations to share. Hopefully a desire to serve too, now or in the future.
Some interesting things have come from this tour so I’m writing to share them. National had another board meeting recently, which I attended virtually. There’s a symposium on chestnut in Asheville NC in late September that is open to all and we have scheduled a chapter board meeting for late October. I’ve learned about what other states are doing by attending National’s Chapters Committee meetings. Years of backcross efforts are being evaluated. Everyone is waiting anxiously to hear what the government will decide about Darling58, and eventually Darwin strains of the transgenic chestnut tree. So, it’s time to update all of you on what’s happened since pollination and our last newsletter. First, I’ll highlight some things from the tour, then get down to business and what comes next.
On Tour …….
I visited Hope Yandell at her beautiful orchard in Williston, VT. We exchanged seedlings and collaborated on Gypsy moth control. Her orchard was devastated by them last year, and she thinks she got them early enough this year. She was kind to share some seedlings.
Lewis LeClair and I met in Walpole NH where he began a Germplasm Conservation Orchard (GCO) last year that is doing well. The seedlings are emerging from their root throwing phase, ready to climb skyward. He’s keeping exact records of what sources he has and Kendra has a detailed map. With any luck, this nice orchard which overlooks the Connecticut River Valley and Vermont’s mountains to the west, will become a nut producing orchard in the early years of the transgenic rollout. We visited a neighbor of his – Nicole – who first noticed a persistent, stump sprouting chestnut along their side road. Now she is contemplating the removal of competing trees around a tall, beautiful chestnut tree she didn’t notice before. It’s real healthy, flowering with burs. Kendra is testing some samples; it could become one of our new sources and a pollination target next year. We left Nicole with some Buxton seedlings to replace free nuts she got this year but which weren’t planted. No time lost!
Our chapter got a report of two trees on the property of a church in nearby Westminster VT. Lewis and I checked them out. Big, beautiful, but unfortunately very Chinese looking. We’re getting them tested but these probably won’t pan out. This is the “sometimes” reality for our Location Committee.
I left Lewis that day, continued west, and climbed the green mountains between Brattleboro and Bennington to meet with Ed Metcalfe. Ed is one of TACF’s early VT/ NH Presidents and was once a development director for TACF working with Marshall Case. He planted a couple trees 25 years ago. One died and another grew beautifully. It’s heavily laden with burs, but now shows signs of blight which he fears will soon kill the tree. He had hoped we could pollinate it this year, but we couldn’t get to all the flowering Americans (which his almost certainly is). It’s a perfect target for next year to preserve a source, and that may be all the time we have with it.
Then it was on to Bennington and a visit with Jenny Wren, a new member loosely connected to both Bennington College and at least one student, who we hope will apply for our chapter’s new “One-year Free Student Membership” program. National approved this initiative to accept 20 college students from VT and another 20 from NH. I left Jenny with some Buxton seedlings too, since she joined after our free nut distribution.
Will Abbott and I spent a day with John Holland, a member in Lyndonville, VT with some beautiful 25-year-old trees, laden with burs and very little blight. These trees must like the amazing view to the north, overing Lake Willoughby and the northeast Kingdom. His trees are open pollinating and we’ll get a great harvest from them this fall. I’m sending a sample to Kendra to confirm their identity, but their character and form appear to be American. They look promising. John has some beautiful chestnut furniture and a great story about a guy in NC who made some of it from railroad trestles which got cached when an old chestnut bridge was replaced with modern steel. John was one of the bidders on the rocker made for our auction two years ago. He lost that auction bid, but had another made just like it, after finding a salvage source. We’re grateful to John, who is a retired NY environmental education teacher for helping connect us with NVU and maybe NEC, so we can share our free student scholarship program with students at both colleges.
Ann Hazelrigg and I met up in Burlington one day just to meet and chat. She is very involved in the Master Gardener program. She thinks there may be a service project opportunity benefitting our chapter. Whereby we can benefit from a service project for the master gardeners, who also benefit by keeping their certifications current through such projects. Ann is also exploring an education and outreach opportunity through the television show “Across the Fence”. Stay tuned.
Gary Hawley and I met in E. Montpelier for lunch at the old, classic Wayside Restaurant. We went to the Berlin tree site where earlier this year, new member Marla Binzel met with Kendra and researchers from Penn State to evaluate natural regeneration going on there, which is most unusual. Gary and I evaluated the salvage opportunity of two remaining big trees – three trunks – which have succumbed to blight. They are standing dead, but amazing specimens. It’s probably this winter or never for the amazing logs in these trees. New member Jeremy Hodge has the equipment to perhaps harvest, saw, kiln dry and plane the lumber if we get permission from the landowner and can nail down needed funding.
Tom Estill and I had breakfast in Rutland, VT with Don Merkle and toured Tom’s GCO there, as well as numerous school plantings which are a huge part of our outreach and education initiative. Don helped with our GCO planting in the Windsor Highlands. Only recently did Don realize he lived so close to Tom’s GCO, having walked by it before. Don’s friend Bob Harnish in Pittsford is now interested in planting a small orchard. I’ll meet with him in a couple of weeks to evaluate a site there which sounds promising, maybe a GCO.
I met with Grace and Randy Knight, whose farm in Weathersfield has been an important part of our chapter’s breeding program. Grace is also a previous President of our Chapter. A fifteen-year commitment they made is ending, with some clarity gained about source resistance among the many trees they’ve grown. Every tree there has been inoculated now and some look strong. Others that are less resistant have died. It’s admirable and unselfish adherence to our science program on Randy’s and Grace’s part – survival of the fittest for the trees. Trees lost to inoculations are being removed and brush readied to burn. Randy needs a grapple. I think I made friends with Randy when I argued on his behalf to Grace that he should have one. Not so sure about Grace!
In June I worked with an energetic group of volunteers who informally call themselves the “Windsor Chestnut Coalition” to plan and plant a GCO on VT Fish & Wildlife Department land in Windsor, VT. Hard-working volunteers showed up to help plant 30 pure American chestnut saplings from three different sources which will ultimately be pollinated with transgenic tree pollen. This GCO evolved as a unique model of collaboration involving chapter, local, and State Fish and Wildlife organizations on public land dedicated to wildlife. It’s also a target for eventual nut production using transgenic pollen by incorporating the efforts Dr. Tom Klak, professor at the University of New England in Biddeford, ME, and the Maine Chapter. National has requested we consider making a film clip about it for a documentary they’re producing, set to be released on Earth Day, 2023.
Another GCO may be planted in Wonalancet, NH during 2023. Board member, Curt Laffin, was recently invited to give a chestnut restoration presentation to the Wonalancet Preservation Association (WPA), which wants to learn about creating and maintaining an orchard. WPA representatives will visit Doug McLane’s GCO in Plymouth, NH for a hands-on demonstration of what is involved. Our concern about creating orchards is not finding places to put them; it is assuring that there is a local organization willing to take on a 12-15-year orchard management commitment.
I’ll stop here, except to say it ended with some Karma. During the tour we realized an unexpected financial donation, and out of nowhere, a lady named Virginia Rasch who contacted us through TACF. She told me a long and interesting story. Over twenty years ago, chestnut set her on a course to become a botanist. She studied in the Blue Ridge, then returned to VT and served the State’s Conservation Commission. She got a grant in 2001, contacted TACF about purchasing seedlings with it, but was told they had none. So, she turned to a source in Michigan and bought forty “American” seedlings. Then she had twenty local conservation commissions in VT each plant two. She moved away to British Columbia for many years, and lost track. But now she’s back, looking to track down the trees and find out how they are doing. One, pictured below, is growing in Plainfield, VT and producing burs. Kendra is testing a sample of it. If it tests American – it was represented in 2001 to have partial blight resistance (sound familiar?) – we may find another source already growing and flowering in as many as twenty places in VT. Just waiting for transgenic pollen. Virginia lives in southern Quebec now, has a daughter in Burlington. I hope to meet Virginia sometime. We’ve agreed to collaborate on tracking these trees down after all these years, finding out what they really are and what they have become. Virginia intends to publish her results.