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Precocious Hazel catkins winter 2023

Four decades of Growing Good Food in Michigan's Upper Peninsula
Down to Earth Information, Experiences, Thought


Hazelbert 1, 2

Precocious 1, 2

Trazel N, S


UMHDI Hazels

Bay - op

SpC 2C7- op


We are blessed with numerous wild Beaked Hazelnut bushes (Colylus cornuta) on the edges of our woods. Some years they produce quite a few nuts, other years not so many or none at all. Only once did I pick the nuts, in an early year on our homestead, a rare year of good harvest and before the rodent population had a chance to establish itself. I learned how incredibly picky the nut husks are, and how small the nuts are -- but I finished with a full quart of nuts! I roasted them and we cracked and ate a few. Very tasty -- but oh so small and a lot of work for the little meat. I gave the rest to my Dad who maybe had more patience than we had. From then on the hazelnuts were the sole domain of the wildlife, as was intended.

It was many decades later (2018) before I once again considered hazelnuts as a possibility for we humans. But these would be larger nuts, hybrids and selections by those pioneers of the slowly emerging commercial hazelnut industry in northern North America and Canada. Still in its early stages as they work for hardier selections, larger nuts, disease resistance, more reliable propagation, but slowly filtering out into the world of the backyard and small grower world. Every seedling planted is an experiment and it's fun to be a part, even in a very small way. Those that are hardier enough for our area are mostly open pollinated best selections of native hazels.

2022 - The hazelnuts had a good year. No nuts yet but both Precocious and Bert are getting serious about it.

Precocious - This one apparently loves its spot in the orchard, north of the garden by the watertank hill, next to a large autumn olive. It has grown well, 5 1/2 ft tall, with multiple stems. In late April I pinned a small outer one to the ground (with a small cut below) to root for a transplant for another part of the orchard. In early May the many catkins in the bush were in various stages of elongating and "opening", apparently having made it through winter in good shape. And on closer inspection I spied flowers! Hazel flowers are not at all the outgoing on-stage types. They are small, cute, red, and there were many. However, hazels need to be cross pollinated by another, different, unrelated hazel, via wind, and the only other possibility for Preco was small Bert with just two small flowers almost 70 feet away. I had plans for one of the closer Trazels to pollinate Preco but it wasn't in the mood yet. Such is life in the pollination world. The native wild hazels were also flowering but they are farther away and I'm not sure that they can pollinate the orchard hazels.
Precocious catkins Jan. 2022     In the fall Preco put out even more catkins. When I checked on the shoot I had pinned down in the spring it had grown roots so the end of Sept. I dug and cut it off from the main plant. There were two shoots, one with ~ 2" of fine roots and the smaller one less. I carefully transplanted it to its new home in the SE area, between a plum and a juneberry.
     I would purchase more Precocious plants but unfortunately the source, Oikos Nursery in lower Michigan, is no longer in business. They do still sell bulk seed to large growers which is good since they've been selecting for the best hazelnuts from their large plantings for decades and I'm sure happy with this one. Hazelbert catkins Jan 2023

HazelBert - Young Bert is looking good, still on the smaller side, bit under 3 feet (it's only 3 yrs old and is said to be a smaller bush) but growing new stems already. Its catkins wintered well and as stated above there were two flowers! Too early for nuts yet even if pollen from Precicious could make it the 70 feet but one has to start somewhere and Bert is obviously an early starter. He put out even more catkins this fall. 

Trazels - TrazN is growing into a nice bush, about 4 ft tall now. No catkins yet, and it did have blight spots on some leaves (wild hazels also had some blight this year) but I removed them and overall the plant is very healthy.
     TrazS remains smaller, a little over 2 ft, but is growing. As above it had some blighted leaves, removed. No catkins yet.

UMDI - There has been a lot of attention and research given to hazelnut planting for commercial production, with some of this filtering down to the home market. The Upper Midwest Hazenut Development Initiative (UMDI) group is active for mostly large growers but one farm involved, Hauser Farm in Bayfield, WI, sells small quantities of selections to the public so we can take advantage of the early research and selections and not have to wait for something to get into the market. So I purchased two open pollinated seedlings with non-exotic names of "Q09 Bay-op" and "R03 & R42 SPC-2C7-op", known as Bay and SpC for now.
     They arrived Sept. 20, nice 2 ft plants with good roots, and green leaves. I cut half the leaves off and they appear to have settled in well. Bay planted E of Haralson (fairly near Preco) and SPC between StarkeyC and Tolman (nearer to Bert and Preco2). The goal is to have enough different hazels growing near enough to one or two others to cross pollinate when they are mature enough. They are also attractive and good companions to the fruit trees. I've ordered 4 more plants to arrive next fall.

2021 - All hazels are doing fine. Precocious is ahead of the flock and in the fall I realized it has catkins! A dozen or so.

Precocious Hazelnut winter catkins 2021

It wasn't until later in the winter than I really looked at the others more closely and found that little HazelBert also has a few catkins!

catkins on HazelBert winter 2021

It's a little early to expect nuts (most folks say their first harvests were several years after first finding catkins) but suddenly I'm seeing them as possible nut producers not just pretty shrubs. I hope the Trazels will not be far behind.

Trazel hazelnut winter 2021

2020 - The northern most Trazel is finally gaining speed and looking fine. The southern Trazel is smaller but is healthy. Precocious definitely has more umph and is already a multi-stem small bushlet. HazelBert wintered well and looks good.

2019 - Precocious is growing well, looking good. The Trazels are slow but alive. I added a new hazel from Fedco -- a HazelBert, C. americana (Graham x Wrinkler) x C. avellana (Skinner) ((developed by Fred Ashworth 1920)) , planting it between the Regent Juneberries, just across the aisle from the Trazels. Small but healthy it established well.

2018 - With my new orchard becoming established I was looking for bushes and shrubs to fill in between the fruit trees. Hazelnuts were an obvious choice given their growth habits and native cousins that grow so well here. But I was somewhat reluctant. The hybrid hazel selections, though with larger nuts, are still not as hardy as the wild ones. The plants survive but the catkins and flowers sometimes don't, which sounded a lot like my struggle with plums. And I knew well how successful the squirrels and chipmunks and others were at harvesting at that first moment of mature-enough, giving little chance for humans to get the nuts. But I decided to go for it anyway, hoping for nuts someday but also appreciating the attractive bushes themselves.

I ordered and planted two Trazels (C. columa x hybrid open pollinated) and one Precocious (C.americana x avellana) from Oikos Nursery in downstate Michigan. They have been working with and selecting hazelnuts for decades, and said these would pollinate each other. Hazelnut bushes produce both male catkins and female flowers but they require cross-pollination from another not-related plant, but one of the right variety. And since they use the wind to carry that pollen from one to the other they need to be fairly close to their pollinating partner(s). So siting the plants took some thought, particularly since by now the orchard spaces have filled with few spots available. But I found room. The Precocious in the strip between the garden and the tank, east of the well growing Collet Apple. The Trazels went on either side of Black Oxford Apple, hopefully all close enough to each other for pollination.

Unfortunately the two small Trazels didn't grow but Oikos sent replacements in the fall. The Precocious took well to its new home. My hazelnut family was on its way.

Copyright Susan Robishaw


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