A chestnut farm visit

1chestnutfarmCoals to Newcastle. Robyn and Mark have come for a visit. All the way from Kookootonga chestnut and walnut farm in the Blue Mountains in Australia.

So what is the first thing you do when they arrive? Why, you subject them to a nut farm visit.

Our chestnuts are decidedly scruffy. So I organised for us to go and see Veronique and Philippe who own Le Pâturage, in the next village of Silhac.

Veronique took us on the tour and revealed one of the things I love most about her acres of trees. 1chestnutlabeldetail

Each of them has a name.  Veronique takes part in long distance horse races with her Shagya arab horses, and on those 70km races, she has time to think and plan.

One year she thought it would be fun to start naming her trees according to Greek legend. And then move on to the names of Saints.

There are an awful lot of trees.

So you can find your way alphabetically around the farm if you have had a good Classical education. Or you know your Odons and Odiles.

1chestnutcreamVeronique was also keen to point out all the difficulties the French and Italian chestnuts are experiencing.  First there was the phytophera that swept through the regions in the 1870s. Some of her trees still show the effects of that one.  And now it’s the chestnut gall moth.

The creatures came into the orchards from Korea around 2005; first to Italy and now it has spread to France.

It’s called cynips in French (dryocosmus kuriphilus in latin) and is reducing the harvests by as much as fifty percent.

There is a biological control against this gall moth. Also from Korea. But it is going to take years for the wave of moths to be controlled.

If you read French, you can learn more than you ever wanted about the chestnuts here. http://www.chataigne-ardeche.com/fr/filiere-chataigne/1chestnuttreenames

Needless to say Robyn and Mark kept well clear of all pests and diseases as we walked around the steeply sloping orchard.

Some trees have been struck by lightning but still thrive, others are getting less productive, but to counter the pests, every tree counts.

Veronique and Philippe don’t sell their chestnuts to the cooperative like most here; they turn their product into the most fantastic chestnut cream. Not sickly sweet and cloying like some you can find. But textured and low in sugar.

My computer, for some reason has decided to only scale full size for the pictures today. So I will set out the tree that was stuck by lightning below in glorious full blown chestnuterry and the view of their beautiful farm.

We couldn’t stay for crepes and chestnut creme alas, there was another compulsory fun visit after this one. But I’m pleased to show my dear Australian friends just what it is like to be a chestnut farmer in our region. And we came away with pots and pots of souvenirs.