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Archive for Friday, December 11, 1998

COUPLE BANKING ON CHESTNUTS

December 11, 1998

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A Lawrence couple hopes to grow enough chestnuts to roast on an open fire next year.

They're nuts. Chestnuts, to be exact.

Tree farmers Debbie Milks and Charlie Novogradac are banking on open fires, kitchen recipes and people who like the nuts as much as they do.

"It's turned out to be more of a project than we thought," Milks said of their chestnut tree farm north of Lawrence.

The project began when Novogradac read an article in National Geographic detailing the demise of the American chestnut tree. He decided to help bring back the dying breed.

Milks and Novogradac returned to the United States from Sipan, a small island in the Pacific where they had been living for several years, to start their new venture.

Novogradac's father at one time had planted and harvested Christmas trees, so Novogradac had some tree-farming experience.

The couple bought land just north of Lawrence on U.S. Highway 59. They planted 1,200 chestnut trees on 12 acres and have seven acres left to go. Between the chestnut trees they planted Christmas trees, which they hope to sell in the future.

"The book we have says it should be four to six years before the trees produce," Novogradac said. "This is our fourth year. We were disappointed. We only got a dozen nuts or so this year."

Milks and Novogradac have high hopes that, barring any future disasters, the trees will begin producing in earnest next September.

"It's way too early to tell," Novogradac said. "We might have a severe winter. I don't think the warm weather (now) is hurting. What hurts is warm weather in the spring, then a sudden frost."

Frost isn't the only culprit, Milks said.

"We're always dealing with voles (small burrowing rodents) or Johnson grass," she said. "If we don't stay with it, the weeds outgrow the trees."

Then, there are the deer that come and strip the bark from the trees.

Nevertheless, Milks and Novogradac say it's worth the risk and the pests.

"We're committed to the land and all-natural organic food sources," Milks said.

--JL Watson's phone message number is 832-7145. Her e-mail address is jwatson@ljworld.com.

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