The Apostle of Nut Growing

E. L. CHICANOT October 1 1930

The Apostle of Nut Growing

E. L. CHICANOT October 1 1930

The Apostle of Nut Growing

The story of the man who taught the Okanagan Valley that dollars grow on nut trees


THIS is the story of a man who has one consuming and abiding passion—the growing of nuts: walnuts, chestnuts, pecans, ginkos, hazels, almonds, filberts. His name is J. U. Gellatly, and his farm near the station of the same name in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, is one of the most curiously unique farms in the Dominion, for it is devoted not to the raising of cereals or cattle or vegetables but to the production of hardshelled tree fruit. It is literally a “tree farm” and yet it is not an orchard in the ordinary sense. “Grove” is the only word that seems to describe it at a'l adequately.

For years, Mr. Gellatly has been trying to hammer home to his fellow citizens the significance of the fact that Canadians annually pay other countries five million dollars for nuts, most of which could be grown at home. An ardent believer in the doctrine that money spent in Canada is money saved for Canada, he is convinced that most of this five million could be kept at home, to the ultimate profit of a not inconsiderable group of growers. And being a practical man, as well as a crusader, he has proceeded to demonstrate his theory by growing nuts for profit on a scale that has made him the outstanding nut culturist of the Dominion.

Jack Gellatly’s early years in the neighborhood of Sudbury, Ontario, were those of the average healthy boy fortunate

enough to be brought up in the country. Every available minute from school and home duties was spent with the gang in the woods. From an early age nuts had a peculiar interest for him, as for days before they ripened the gang would scout the woods to find where the hazel bushes grew thickest or promised to bear the heaviest crops. Right there began his study of nuts.

He was in his ’teens when the family moved to British Columbia and settled at Vernon in the Okanagan Valley. Here again he found himself among native hazel trees.

A few years later his father, who had been engaged in camp construction work, purchased a piece of land at Okanagan Lake. It was virgin timber land and the task of clearing it was a heavy one. but with the help of the boys it was eventually developed into a fine fruit and vegetable farm. The elder Gellatly had his own

enthusiasm, which was tomatoes, and this and tne assiduity it engendered so triumphed over inexperience that he came to be widely known as the Tomato King of the Okanagan.

Jack Gellatly’s interest in nuts was still desultory and directionless when in 1908 he learned that the gov ernment experimental farm had nuts for distribution and trial planting. He secured some and planted them. Trees developed rapidly and he became enamored of their unique leafy beauty. A warmer interest was born,

Creating Interest in Nut Growing

nut growing.

He became steadily more enthused as his first trees developed. He secured new varieties of nuts from other countries, going to infinite pains to do so, and steadily added to his collection. With initial successes, greater possibilities seemed to open up. With the idea of learning more about nut growing, he paid visits to Florida and California, to study the walnut and pecan trees in commercial settings there. He brought back cuttings from those States and set them out in his orchard to observe their growth and progress.

He was impressed with the rapid development and heavy bearing of, in particular, the Japanese walnut and filbert under local conditions. He became convinced, however, that for development on a commercial scale it would be.necessary to locate or breed hardier varieties than those procurable from southern nurseries.

WITH this end in view Jack Gellatly and his brother set seriously about cross-breeding between the hardier Japanese walnuts. They succeeded in definitely hardening the shell of some of the rapid growers. Eventually, some very interesting hybrids were produced, exhibiting

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The Apostle of Nut Growing

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hardness of shell, early maturity, beauty of leaf and flower, and precocity of bearing.

With such a basis of knowledge to work upon, he became imbued with the idea of extending his knowledge to other people and encouraging the cult of nut growing throughout the Dominion, looking to development along commercial lines. He started in by making a survey of nut trees growing in the Okanagan Valley, and in the course of several years given up to this work travelled hundreds of miles and engaged in voluminous correspondence. During this period he was successful in inoculating a number of horticulturists in his immediate neighborhood with his enthusiasm, with the result that at Gellatly, Westbank, Kelowna, Peachland, Summerland, Penticton, Keremeos, Naramata, Oliver, Vernon, and Salmon Arm, groups of enthusiastic growers developed.

What are claimed to be the finest and loveliest nut groves in Canada are to be found in this section, and the combined activity constitutes a nucleus which gives every promise of expanding into a healthy commercial industry. A survey conducted over these points in 1927 showed a total of 5,559 trees and bushes of various ages, a great many over eighteen years of age. Of these, 4,015 were walnuts, the remainder filberts, almonds, chestnuts and ginkos. Jack himself had four acres interplanted with walnuts and filberts just coming into bearing; and his brother, D. Gellatly, had walnut trees equalling the setting of 2Vi acres, a large proportion in full bearing, as well as forty-four filberts eighteen years old and several hundred from five to seven years of age in their early bearing stages. Another grower, William Todd of Kelowna, had several acres in walnuts and filberts just starting to bear. The approximate tonnage of green walnuts which could be obtained in the Okanagan was placed at fifteen tons and of green filberts at two tons.

All the while Jack Gellatly was continuing his own work of collecting and experimenting. In the course of his

wanderings he got together many outstanding types of nuts, covering almonds, chestnuts, hazels, filberts, and walnuts of many kinds. On locating a new tree of merit he obtained nuts or scions for propagation. The work has been prosecuted with undimmed enthusiasm. As a result his gr'oves now constitute the finest collection of new and rare varieties of nuts in Canada.

Early in his work Mr. Gellatly discovered that the best results were to be obtained by setting out several strains in mixed order so as to take care of pollinization. The main effect of this, as far as the chance visitor is concerned, has been to make of his orchard a place of varied and somewhat exotic arboreal loveliness.

Beauty Combined with Utility

IT IS here he is generally to be found by the occasional visitor, and inevitably the conversation will turn about the topic of the development of a nutgrowing industry in Canada. He is unselfishly devoting his entire energy to this end, and is peculiarly qualified to speak on the subject by reason of his lifetime’s study and practical work. His face lights up with the radiant enthusiasm of a lifetime’s purpose as he conducts his visitor through his lovely groves.

“What I want to see,” he told me as we started down between the rows of trees, “is every farm home in Canada where a hedge or windbreak is wanted, every city and town where there is room for other arboreal beauty or utility, planting nut trees. There is ample variety to choose from. It would soon add millions of dollars to the wealth of Canada, gladden the hearts of boys and girls for generations to come, and not upset any established business.

“The Dominion has no commercial nut production and pays other countries five million dollars a year for nuts, the greater part of which she could be producing herself. It seldom occurs to Canadians to think of the possibilities of a nut-growing industry in their country, yet clearly Canada was intended to have one. Nature pointed the way to domestic cultivation in the generous manner she distributed nut trees in all sections of the country.

“Native hazels, for instance, are found growing in Newfoundland, Labrador, and the Hudson Bay country, and all through the prairies right up to the Peace River country of Northern Alberta with a winter temperature of fifty degrees below zero. How far north butternuts thrive is not known, but it has been definitely ascertained they grew in Iceland, Alaska, Greenland and Spitzbergen.

“Last year Canada imported 1,296,239 pounds of unshelled filberts and hazels with a value of $115,245, nearly ten

cents a pound. This money could just as well have been retained by Canadian growers. In my experience four-yearold filbert trees have yielded an average of from to 'l]A lbs. per tree. Plantings of filberts can be expected to yield profitable returns in from six to eight years of planting, though a few nuts will be found in the second and third years, gradually increasing until they reach maturity. It is not certain at just what age they reach the maximum production per acre. Trees have been known to increase in production for twenty years, and plantings of filberts forty and sixty years of age are still producing good crops.

“There is no reason why the Prairie Provinces should not be producing large crops of hazels and filberts. They would be just as effective in binding drifting soils and holding the snow for moisture conservation, while providing superior shade and beauty and returning a regular profitable crop. What the northern districts want is someone to take up the native hazel as a hobby on a large scale, getting specimens from all over, crossbreeding, and selecting from several generations of trees. As much could be done for nut culture there as has been done elsewhere for the native blueberry.”

He led the way down between trees of distinctive shape and individual leafy loveliness, each with its heavy crop.

“The more generally favored agricultural districts of Canada can, as far as climate is concerned, grow some of the hardier butternuts and ginko nuts, and also some of the thin-shelled black and Japan walnuts.”

He indicated a sturdy poem of delicate foliage, limbs heavy with ripening nuts.

“See those black walnuts, unsurpassed for full flavor. They sell for from 50c to $1.00 per pound, but there are few Canadians selling them. Last year 1,703,593 pounds of unshelled walnuts worth $250,194, and 4,674,891 pounds of shelled worth $1,130,677 came into Canada from the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Malta, Belgium, China, France, Greece, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Spain, Syria, the United States and other countries. Canadians might just as well have had that money.

“That tree the year after it was planted produced six burrs filled with nuts. In the following year it yielded three pounds. It consistently increased its production thereafter until as a sixteen-year-old tree it returned a harvest of 140 pounds.”

He moved on to pause again before a young heart nut tree, sturdy of limb and exquisite of leaf, with large clusters of nuts, ten to twenty on a stem.

“There is scarcely a limit to what can be produced in the fruit growing districts of Canada. In addition to those I have mentioned, many of the latest introductions of English walnuts can be grown, and there is a choice of many lately discovered and propagated black walnuts. Then there are the newer types of the Japan walnut, yielding heavily even when quite young. There are several types of large sweet chestnuts having commercial possibilities, and some very satisfactory almonds.

“Think of the money to Canadian growers if they took hold of nut growing seriously. For 1,106,981 pounds of unshelled almonds Canada bought from a host of countries last year $148,199 left the country, and for 2,029,952 pounds of shelled almonds the sum of $733,946. No one dreams of growing almonds in Canada, yet the fruit-growing districts could produce all the Dominion consumes. The almond is, as a general rule, extremely susceptible to the slightest frost, but these have been developed to withstand twenty degrees of frost during the dormant period and through the entire bloom period two to six degrees.

“I am not advocating anyone jumping heavily into commercial nut tree planting, but I do believe that the man with an acre or two to spare, where suitable

types for the locality are procurable, ; would make no mistake in planting nut j trees thereon.

“To go back to walnuts. They thrive admirably and produce abundantly on rough land. Trees are usually planted about fifty feet apart so that a substantial orchard can be established on a small acreage. They make excellent shade trees, being the equal of maples in this respect, and are splendidly adapted to smaller areas, backyards, and about houses. In ten years, in addition to their beauty and shelter, they will be producing a heavy crop annually, while the commercial value of walnut wood is consistently high.

“In marketing walnuts, the high grade is selected for dessert purposes, the remainder being divided into lesser grades for cooking and candy making. Two hundred pounds per tree is not a high yield, which, sold at the low estimate of 25c per pound, returns $50 per acre. An orchard of 100 acres at this rate would give annually the very comfortable income of $5,000. The money going out of Canada each year for walnuts would provide three hundred such incomes.

Possibilities for the Future

'-pHERE is no reason why Canada should not have a commercial nut growing industry, once she realizes this is possible and sets out to think seriously along this line. The Dominion has everything to gain by embarking upon a vigorous campaign of nut tree planting. In nutbearers utility is combined with great beauty, which makes them more valuable than purely ornamental trees for planting. In addition to yielding a nutritious food, they beautify the landscape, provide shelter, and furnish valuable timber when their usefulness as nutbearers is over. An entire failure of the crop is unknown, little work is involved in pruning and spraying, and the product may be disposed of at leisure. Once matured, nuts are not materially damaged by winter frosts or snow and are often gathered in the spring as full of flavor as if collected in the fall. Of the waiting market there can be no question. Canada is importing nuts to the extent of about 15,000,000 pounds annually, over ninety per cent from countries outside the British Empire, which might be produced on her own soil.

“Altogether nut culture is a comparatively recent development on the North American continent and the United States has shown Canada what can be done in this connection. Certain western and southern States years ago adopted the course of action advocated for Canada today, and they are now harvesting large quantities of fine nuts annually and have added millions of dollars to their revenue. It is highly significant that Professor J. A. Neillson, probably the foremost authority on nut culture in Canada, who did such fine work collecting data on nut growing in Ontario, was lured away to occupy a chair specially created for nut culture research and investigation at the State agricultural college in Michigan.”

Mr. Gellatly led the way in the gathering evening gloom through the lovely groves of his orchard back toward the house. His supreme confidence in the future of nut growing in Canada, especially when one has observed the remarkable results he has achieved on his own farm, and scanned the amount of data he has collected from all parts of the Dominion over a number of years, is contagious. Walking around with him one comes to share his vision of Canada dotted with nut groves, adding a new touch of beauty to the landscape and bringing into existence a new industry to relieve the Dominion of a substantial dependence upon foreign countries. It is impossible to be unaffected by the enthusiasm of this man who early discovered a unique way of furthering the interests of his native land and has unflaggingly pursued it.