Sowing Chestnuts

HMNs Tina and Zack filling pots for chestnut seeds, February 4, 2022.

Master Naturalists Volunteer with the American Chestnut Foundation

On February 3 and 4, Headwaters Master Naturalist volunteers joined up with Rivanna Chapter VMNs and members of The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) to sow chestnuts at the Virginia Department of Forestry’s Center in Crimora.  The TACF organizers were happily surprised with the total number of volunteers that came: 20 on the 3rd and 15 on the 4th.  Representing Headwaters were Karen Milne, John Bauman, Peggy Plass, Tom Engle, Tina Dove, Zack Perdue, Dave Forrer, and Cindy Westley (who has just transferred from the Rivanna Chapter to Headwaters- Welcome, Cindy!).  A number of other HMNs had signed up for the 5th (Saturday), but due to the large turnout on Thursday and Friday, there was no work left for Saturday.  Thanks (and regrets) to those who signed up for Saturday!

We planted over 1,600 chestnuts (seeds) in containers in those two days.  Specifically, our work included mixing soil (in a child’s swimming pool), filling 4”x 4”x 18” deep containers with the potting mix, and sowing one chestnut in each container.  While we were working, the organizers, John Scrivani, Tom Saielli, and Tom Wild – with TACF, spent some time educating us about what it is their organization is doing.  And it’s very impressive. 

We sowed roughly 600 pure American chestnuts, 100 Chinese chestnuts, and 900 hybrids.  The seedlings will start off in the greenhouse at the DOF center.  Rather than being sold and/or planted in forests, these trees will be used for research: selecting for resistance, testing for effective fungicides, and for further cross-breeding.  

The American Chestnut Foundation will be asking for assistance with these trees and with other future projects.  TACF’s Virginia Chapter President, John Scrivani, emailed the following message:

Our Chapter needs a group of Citizen Scientists dedicated to the restoration of this iconic tree.

Some citizen science activities you can engage in include:

Tree Hunters – You can start by downloading the TreeSnap app and following the links to the AppStore or GooglePlay.  On this webpage, you can manage your account and apply to join groups. Our group is named “Virginia TACF”.  Here is a YouTube video that may help you get started. Let me know if you would like suggestions on where to search. This may include collecting leaf samples for genotyping.

Greenhouse Work – work in our greenhouse to assist in raising our seedlings, conduct small stem assays, and collect data

Field Plantings – direct sow or plant seedlings in our American germplasm conservation orchards or breeding orchards

Orchard Work – work in our orchards to maintain and cull trees, perform field inoculations, make and record scientific observations

Pollinators – collect pollen and control pollinate female flowers to create families trees

Harvesters – collect chestnuts for our orchards and in the wild to grow new trees

Restoration planters – assisting with possible restoration plantings and field trials

I will keep you informed of opportunities and possible training sessions (Zoom or in-person).  Much of our work is seasonal, but coming up in the next couple of months are some greenhouse work and orchard maintenance, followed by orchard plantings. When the leaves come out, tree hunting! Followed by pollinating, and so on.

John Scrivani, President, Virginia Chapter, The American Chestnut Foundation

We’ll keep you apprised of any future CE and volunteer opportunities with TACF.

– Dave Forrer, Cohort VI, February 2022

Photos by Dave.

John and Cindy at work.
Mixing potting soil.
Filling pots.