The amazing abundance of trees from seed. Reforestation happens through a range of approaches, and from seed is one of the simplest, cheapest, and most time-tested of ways. It comes with pros and cons, the bad including relatively high loss and diversity of traits (such as shell thickness or fruiting time, which industrial operations seek consistency in). In such chaotic times diversity is good. This low-tech approach embraces loss en route to life. Life of the critters enjoying these trees & their seeds along the way, life that comes with the space and legacy of endings, life from letting life be as it will. Seed is a powerful source of sustenance, survival, and succession toward better local adaptation for chaotic futures.
Like the idea of trees and long-term improvement, enjoyment, environmental restoration, and if needed, sustenance? Hazelnuts are a tree you can trust to thrive easily and be enjoyable company. Measuring in at 18ft high and 15ft across, these beautiful bushes have been at the heart of our ancestors’ lives for many, many millennia. Food; some of the healthiest fats available to us. Fiber for homes and many essential crafts. Fuel as both coppice1 firewood and as-energy-dense-as-coal residues (shells and husks) for burning (is that true? nearly2).
Hazel is a gift in social resilience as well. A folk hero. How do all the gifts hazel offers sound as renewables, compared with other strategies for food, fiber, fuel, health and wellness? Fossil fuels and ‘renewable’ energy that depends on mining and toxic processing at industrial scales is degrading the foundations of life: water, soil, air, weather, ecosystems. How about a hedge of hazels instead?
How about a biocultural renewal? A deep adaptation? A relational agriculture that reciprocates and enhances nature’s gifts rather than degrading them.
A hedge of hazels can be a first step. A few bushes here and there, maybe just 3 at first. The gentle joy begins within a year as they grow quickly and show beautiful, textured leaves and soft buds. In around 3 years you’ll see hazels’ fruiting bodies, lovely little bright red flowers and subtle catkins. Wind will pollinate these cold-hearty champions and they’ll emerge pollinated in spring. Nuts will form, and as you watch them near fullness for harvest, …
You find you’ve fed some fat squirrels. Cute, and frustrating. Well, we’ve all got to eat. Wildlife love hazels, and while our mammalian cousins may be a nuisance to food harvests, what’s the worry? We can share with nature when we didn’t spend much energy for the goodness anyway; hazels are a fount of life. Hazels enable low-input systems that turn sunlight into so much for so many.
- Food: opportunities for nuts, high in healthy fats, a staple for oil, flour, raw or roasted snacks.
- Fiber: homes and fences, posts and baskets, furniture and tools, who knows what else?
- Fuel: high energy density husks, where waste becomes heat and wood does good too. I mean well. And while on ‘wells’ think how this compares to petroleum wells.
- Fodder: food for wild or domestic animals.
- Farmaceuticals from healthy lipids, chemical and genetic information that can serve human or industrial scale medicine and material making.
- Fun. Wouldn’t it be nice to plant a hazel? To enjoy it with someone? To harvest or hang out in rows of these breezy bushes, knowing these woody whips offer so much sustenance for us and have sustained our ancestors since long, long before we came? In the name of relinquishing environmental degradation, restoring open-access distributed and relational lifeways, and cultivating resilient long-term life, I say:
How about hazels? Get a few today and start the adventure of sticking them in the ground. You don’t need much space, effort, or resources. We do need to find a way to fulfill our basic needs without fossil fuels and dependence on self-degrading systems. How about it?
Looking for small rugged trees to plant near you? Try https://treesforbasicneeds.com/nursery or a local low-input nursery or forest near you.
Looking to enjoy hazels and other forest fountains of life? Engage the ongoing process of turning to rural and urban communities of people and trees meeting basic needs and living fulfilling lives in mutually beneficial ways. From forest gardens to food forest parks and places, wood products and traces of supply chains that support treed environments. Gather, grow, harvest, enjoy and add value, distribute and reciprocate. Think of the source of life’s ingredients around oneself. What is one’s relationship with the sources of one’s wellbeing? For fuel? Food and water? Fiber? Animals and all life you interconnect with and inter-depend on? Farmaceuticals? Fun?
May peace be upon you, as it is upon filberts3.
- What is coppice, you ask? A forest management approach that mimics natural disturbance and benefits from natural regrowth-from-stump by some species. After you plant a hazelnut, in 7 years its many stems of 1-3+ inch diameter will be ready to cut. Hazel will proceed to grow back, offering renewed branches and an ever-improving (potentially for thousands of years) root system that enjoys the coppicing cuts. This branch management encourages root growth and contributes to hazel’s physical resilience.
- Hazelnut shells have apx. 20MJ/kg specific energy (Hebda et al. 2018), as compared with coal’s apx. 24MJ/kg specific energy (Fisher 2003). Of course the beauty of hazel shells are in their relatively very low embodied energy and their very high and life-sustaining co-benefits.
- “filbert” and “cobnut” are synonymous with “hazelnut”, plants of the Corylus genus