West Virginia Hazelnut Orchard Finds Local Cultivars
John Kelsey has been growing hazelnuts on his farm in Mason County, West Virginia, since 2011, when the Thousand Cankers Disease outbreak damaged the black walnuts he had planted for timber in 1970. John subsequently planted a mix of Eastern Filbert Blight (EFB) resistant and immune cultivar varieties cited as proven production winners by nurseries.
Despite the mix of 35 varieties, most trees could not survive the unpredictable mid-winter weather during the hazel’s pollination period.
“It takes a lot of time to get it right,” says John. “We now know a few good varieties, but they are not the Oregon favorites.”
The majority of hazelnuts grown in North America are from the Willamette Valley of Oregon and cultivars are specifically suited to that climate. After ongoing experimentation, John is gradually changing the expanded mix from nursery hyped varieties to locally successful cultivars.
John’s 2021 crop was 1100 in-shell pounds and the 2022 crop looks equally promising. As a retired automation engineer, he developed equipment to clean, crack, and separate crops to keep up with production.
“Roasting, and chocolate or honey make things vanish even faster,” John says of his hazelnuts. “Few can resist!”