The Middletown Garden Club's Chestnut Orchard

In the spring of 2009, the Middletown Garden Club approved a proposal by one of its members to plant a small experimental American chestnut orchard on land owned by the City of Middletown.

This project, devised with the support of the Middletown Urban Forestry Commission and the Connecticut Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation, was promptly approved by the mayor of Middletown, who noted that Thanksgiving wouldnt be complete without chestnuts at his familys gatherings.

The purpose of the orchard is to assist the American Chestnut Foundation in growing hybrid, back-crossed trees that will eventually produce blight-resistant trees. The Chestnut blight which devastated the species is not a problem for Chinese and Japanese chestnuts, so a breeding program has been developed to produce trees with the resistance of the Asian species, but the growth habit and productivity of the American trees. The American chestnut was, until afflicted by the blight, the most common and economically valuable tree in the Eastern deciduous forest.

On May 23, 2009, a small group of MGC volunteers and spouses, with assistance from the American Chestnut Foundation, planted 20 chestnut seed nuts in holes dug for them by the Alternative Incarceration Center. This assistance was most welcome, since the American Chestnut Foundations instructions advised loosening the soil 12 to 18 inches deep, so that the soon-to-emerge tap root would have no impediment to growing straight and deep.

Of the 20 seed nuts planted, 100% germinated quickly. In what proved to be the wettest spring and summer on record for Connecticut, the young trees, encased in Blue-X tubes, quickly shot up toward the intermittent sunlight. Fairly soon after that, the ever-present white-tailed deer found the seedlings, and began their own pruning program.

Of the 13 trees that survived (and were soon protected by tomato cages and bird-netting), most are now vigorous, but shrubby, multi-stemmed trees, thanks to their early decapitation. A secure deer-proof fence is expected to be installed in November or December.

Phase one of the project will be concluded in April of 2010, assuming that the trees continue to thrive. If that is the case, Phase two will begin when the American Chestnut Foundation provides hybrid seed nuts as part of their ongoing hybridizing and back-crossing. The eventual goal will be trees that are approximately 95% pure American chestnuts.

The garden club plans to dedicate this orchard to the Garden Club of America in honor of GCAs centennial in 2013.

Reforestation efforts for the American chestnut are ongoing in many parts of the trees native range. More information is available at:  http://ctacf.org    and    http://www.acf.org.

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