Chestnuts do best in regions with cold winters and warm summers. USDA Zones 4-8 are just dandy for growing chestnut trees.
Like the old Christmas jingle “Chestnnuts roasting an open fire” Chestnuts are generally roasted rather than eaten raw. The aroma of roasted chestnuts from street vendors is a familiar scent in most bustling urban areas, the chestnuts probably don’t sell a whole heck of a lot but the smell attracts buyers for knishes, dirty water dogs and whatever else is being peddled.
Raw, the shells are difficult to open and they also have a very bitter taste. Cooked they are quite tasty.
Starting Your Tree
Trees can be started via seed or seedling/sapling. The planting site should have well-draining soil. Chestnut Trees will not tolerate soggy wet conditions. Full sun is good – partial shade will suffice. Soil pH should be 4.5-6.5
Starting from seed – Seeds are best started in containers in order to produce a sapling for transplant. They can also be direct seeded into the ground.
Seeds require a cold season, a simulated winter or actual winter period before they will sprout. Plant your chestnuts outdoors in the autumn and they will overwinter and germinate in the spring. If you have a squirrelpopulation of any size in your area they may pose a problem by digging up your nuts before they can grow. Covering the spot with boards or a wire screen will not only prevent this – but mark your spot as well.
To start seeds indoors, place your seed nuts in a sealed plastic bag with some wet sawdust or peat moss. Place the bags in the refrigerator until ready to plant, either outdoors or in containers. They should have at least 60 days of chilling.
Come spring when you plant the seeds outdoors, dig a hole about a foot deep and then back-fill most of it . The seed should be about 2 inches below soil surface. The soil above and below the plant should be uncompacted – which was the reason for back filling the hole with loose soft soil.
From seedlings / saplings dig a hole larger than the root ball and break up the soil at the base of the hole to allow for easy root expansion and adequate drainage. The roots shouldn’t have to be folded over on themselves in order to fit into the hole.
Do not add compost or manure as it is believed to promote fungus on this type of tree. A light organic mulch wont hurt, but leave a small gap between the tree trunk and mulch.
You’ll need at least 2 trees, chestnuts are not self-pollinating. A solitary tree will never produce chestnuts – you need at least two. Trees should be at the very least within 30-40 feet of each other to pollinate, preferably closer.
Find a suitable location. Loosen the soil to a depth of about a foot, then back fill most of it. You want the soil under the seed to be loose and uncompacted. Plant the chestnut about an 1 1/2 inches beneath the soil surface
Chestnuts will begin bearing 3-5 years after planting.
During the trees formulative first year water it generously. More frequently in the summer. Come spring, fertilize with aged manure and or compost. It is safe at this point to add compost or manure it wasn’t when you first planted the tree.
Another thin layer of mulch near the base of the tree is also a good idea once the compost or manure has been worked in. Leave a gap between the mulch and the trunk to help prevent rot.
Harvest and Storage
Chestnuts do not store well at all. Fresh chestnuts can be stored in the refrigerator while still in the shell for about a month. Frozen, their storage time is about 6 months.
In the early autumn, mature trees will begin to drop their nuts. Harvest your nuts off the ground. You might want to wear some gloves as the husk has prickly spines.
When you finally do cook them, be sure to pierce the shell a tad as the nuts will actually explode otherwise.