Clise’s Cornucopia- Chestnuts and other memories

I cautiously say spring has finally sprung in central West Virginia. And spring being here is great by me. It couldn’t get here quick enough.

People are out mowing their lawns, getting their gardens ready if they have not already planted a few things.

My father-in-law Don Pickens is heavily invested in onions early this garden season. I’m not sure what his plans are for later on in the garden season. He’s always coming up with something.

His sweet potatoes are like the size of a football each year. I know it sounds like I’m exaggerating. I’m really not. He has quite the green thumb when it comes to gardening.

I haven’t gardened much in my life. Mostly just watched or assisted other more skilled gardeners.

I’ve been thinking about chestnuts lately.  Do you remember picking up or trying to pick up those prickly cocoons the chestnuts came in before popping out for an orderly collection. As a child I got my finger stabbed more than once or twice looking for those delicious nuggets.

I probably wouldn’t mind getting stabbed with a chestnut shell one more time.

Speaking of chestnuts, I came across some chestnut timber a while back. That was quite a find. I’m not sure what exactly I will do with it. If you have any suggestions, email them to me at [email protected]

According to my good friends at Wikipedia, the chestnut blight was accidentally introduced to North America around 1904 when Chryphonectria parasitica was introduced into the United States from Japanese nursery stock.  It was first found in the chestnut trees on the grounds of the New York Zoological Garden (the “Bronx Zoo”) by Herman W. Merkel, a forester at the zoo. In 1905, American mycologist William Murrill isolated and described the fungus responsible (which he named Diaporthe parasitica) and demonstrated by inoculation into healthy plants that the fungus caused the disease. By 1940, most mature American chestnut trees had been wiped out by the disease.

Infection of American chestnut trees with C. parasitica simultaneously appeared in numerous places on the East Coast, most likely from Castanea crenata, or Japanese chestnut, which had become popular imports. Japanese and some Chinese chestnut trees have some resistance to infection by C. parasitica: the infection usually does not kill these Asian chestnut species. Within 40 years the nearly four-billion-strong American chestnut population in North America was devastated— only a few clumps of trees remained in Michigan, Wisconsin and the Pacific Northwest. Because of the disease, American chestnut wood almost disappeared from the market for decades, although it can still be obtained as reclaimed lumber.

It is estimated that in some places, such as the Appalachian Mountains, one in every four hardwoods was an American chestnut. Mature trees often grew straight and branch-free for 50 feet and could grow up to 100 feet tall with a trunk diameter of 14 feet at a few feet above ground level. The reddish-brown wood was lightweight, soft, easy to split, very resistant to decay; and it did not warp or shrink. For three centuries many barns and homes near the Appalachian Mountains were made from American chestnut. Because of its resistance to decay, industries sprang up throughout the region to use wood from the American chestnut for posts, poles, piling, railroad ties, and split-rail fences. Its straight-grained wood was ideal for building  furniture, and caskets as well. The fruit that fell to the ground was an important cash crop and food source. The bark and wood were rich in tannic acid, which also provided tannins for use in the tanning of leather. Many native animals fed on chestnuts, and chestnuts were used for livestock feed, which kept the cost of raising livestock from being prohibitive.