by Peter Jakey–Managing Editor
On a perfect, early fall afternoon, about a half dozen people gathered at Nick and Abby Johnson’s farm in Moltke Township for a tour of their property affectionately called, Ox Heights.
The field day event, put on by the Presque Isle Conservation District (PICD), was designed to share what the Johnsons have learned about growing chestnuts over the last two years and provide more information to those interested in growing them in Michigan. The group also perused the forest on their property. It was a chance to learn more about hardwood tree planting, improving timber quality and on-site milling of trees.
“I have known Nick and Abby for a few years and I just think they are model landowners,” said PICD forester Brittany VanderWall. “I think they do a lot of great things out here.”
Abby said the purpose of the event was to highlight some of their conservation projects.
“By sharing what has worked and what hasn’t, we hope to inspire others who might be looking to do tree planting or forest management projects on their own property,” said Abby.
Of course, chestnut production was the highlight.
It was two years ago, the Johnsons planted their chestnut orchard on a ridge that doesn’t get as cold as some other areas of the county. Consequently, they have survived two winters and are bearing the fruits of the couple’s labors as the trees are already starting to produce.
Edible chestnut production is a growing industry in Michigan.
“Chestnuts can also be planted to improve wildlife habitat, especially for deer,” said Nick.
Historically chestnut plantings have been located on the west side of the Lower Peninsula in known orchard regions because they are cold sensitive.
“Our project was designed to evaluate chestnut cultivators for establishment in northeast Michigan, specifically in the high regions of Moltke Township,” Nick added. “Additionally, we partnered with Brege Farms to look at hay cropping in the planting to improve soils and ease the economic burden of tree establishment.”
“They have a nifty little microclimate where the temperatures are not as extreme in the negative, so the chestnuts won’t die,” said VanderWall. “The coldest it got on the ridge (the last two winters) was -13 (Fahrenheit).
“Everything they have out here is uncommon to Presque Isle County. Everything out here is different and interesting – unique.”
Abby said, “Whenever people can gather to share experiences and knowledge, it is a success. We had a great group consisting of landowners, foresters and conservationists that were able to discuss the projects around our farm and woodlot.”