The Wigwam Brook property in Litchfield is located along scenic Route 254 just south of the Lipeika Road intersection. It was purchased by the Litchfield Hills Audubon Society (LHAS) in 2008. The property is bounded to the west by East Chestnut Hill Road, and is intersected by the beautiful Wigwam Brook for which the property is named. Wigwam Brook and its watershed is a Class I waterway and supplies potable water to the City of Waterbury. Roughly one-third of the property is grassland with five beaver ponds and the old beaver meadow. The property was purchased with the aid of a DEP grant, neighbors’ donations and a grant from a community organization in Litchfield – the Seherr-Thoss Foundation. There are 12 animal species of Greatest Conservation Need that have been identified on this property. With almost thirty-six acres and a variety of habitat, LHAS was interested in creating some large tracts of meadow Northern Bobwhite habitat, but they were also looking for ideas for other areas, and the success we’d had creating exclosures that encouraged diverse forbs, their insect pollinators, and the birds that preyed on those insects was of great interest.
In 2009 members of LHAS and the CT Chapter of TACF (CT-TACF) started an extensive process of looking at a variety of habitat for suitability in growing chestnut. LHAS had contracted with field botanist Bill Moorhead to help define the available resources. Bill was a terrific resource in helping understand how different areas might work for growing the chestnut. Soil samples of several locations provided additional understanding of the local conditions. The combination of attributes – well drained deep soils, large fairly square area (fencing efficiency), accessibility, and meeting the LHA goals for land use started pointing to the conifer plantation (highlighted in yellow on aerial photo above) as the best choice for the research orchard.
The conifer plantation is west of the brook and is comprised of primarily Charlton-Chatfield complex soils of 3% to 15% slope. Test pits showed the soil to be generally very deep with a few rocky outcrops in areas that could be avoided. The enire report can be downloaded but a brief synopsis [click here to see] is that the soils are a common match for eastern forests and growing chestnut.
Using an analytical and methodical approach for choosing an orchard site, in additional to the practical test of an actual test planting if warranted, provides great feedback on whether a site is suitable for a back-cross orchard. Besides the physical aspects of the property, a test planting provides good insights into the operational team. Some have thumbs greener than others.
Plans were put in place to secure funding for the orchard and also to test the site to ensure the partnership had a clear understanding of issues associated with growing chestnut on this site. On Saturday, May 23rd, John Baker and Bill Adamsen met to plant a test of 30 pure American chestnuts. John brought the nuts and soil mix, Bill brought the blue-x tree tubes, bamboo stakes and clothes pins to seal the tubes. John had prepared the site in advance including digging the holes and marking them. He then figured out the exact amount of soil mix required. Thus prepared, it took no longer than forty-five minutes to complete the planting. A summer afternoon storm provided the only missing element – water.
The site and managers proved equal to their task and recorded one of the highest one season survival and growth records among test orchards and the test also proved that we would need protection against the deer. The moment the tasty seedlings emerged from the blue-x tubes the deer were there to sample the trees like a tasty salad (see image to left). Clearly some protection against deer and other herbivores would be required.