On May 5th, 2009 The Honorable Sebastian N. Giuliano, Mayor of Middletown, signed land-use and germ-plasm agreements with the Connecticut Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation. With those agreements in place, the Middletown Urban Forestry Commission and the Middletown Garden Club kicked off a process to create a 1.5-acre American chestnut orchard on land near the city’s Higby Reservoir. The much larger site will be also be used for City side-walk tree growing – a compatible multi-purpose use.
On May 30th, twenty American chestnuts were planted by a group from Middletown Garden Club to test the site for actual growing conditions. The seedlings were carefully watched and measured and the results indicated great growing conditions.
In a back-cross orchard a large number of trees are grown, with an expectation that the best will be selected for breeding the next generation of blight-resistant American chestnuts. In the first year trees might be expected to grow two feet, and add two feet or more in subsequent years. After about five years of growth, threes have grown to twelve feet, with trunks several inches in diameter. At this point the orchard looks like an orchard! Trees are inoculated with blight, and then those most resistant to the blight, and possessing the best American character are selected for breeding. The balance are culled to prevent flowering. In this fashion, an orchard that has perhaps five hundred trees after three years, will be reduced in population to fifty trees or less after the selection process. The following series of drawings shows how the orchard might evolve in density over the life of the orchard.
Arborist, CT-TACF Board member and orchard manager Jane Harris rounded up an impressive crew of volunteers for a planting on May 2nd 2010. Volunteers from the Middletown Garden Club, Middletown Urban Forestry Commission, Mercy High School, Allan’s Tree Service and the Alternative Incarceration Center all helped to get a lot of work done on an unseasonably warm day. CT-TACF orchard manager Richard Bailey, who manages the Chapter’s Swann Farm orchard in Ellington, brought his experience to planting day, as well some extra supplies. Richard showed up early, stayed to the very end and was a big help to the newer planting crew. His father was the former caretaker of Higby Reservoir and he grew up on the property, passing the now-orchard site on his daily walk to school. Seeing an American chestnut orchard installed near his childhood home was not something he wanted to miss and all were glad to have his assistance and experience close at hand. By 1:00 the heat did get the better of most of the planting crew and Jane worked with a few dedicated helpers to finish the planting in the cooler hours of Sunday morning.