The Woodbridge Land Trust began planning their back-cross orchard in the year 2000. Woodbridge Land Trust members Dr. James Sabshin joined TACF in 2000 with Dr. Robert Gregg joining the following year. By 2004, they, along with Dr. Phil Arnold, had identified 2 pure American chestnut trees to pollinate (mother trees) – and had developed plans for where they might plant the progeny the following spring. They had done significant research into development of an orchard plan, and had approached the Town of Woodbridge, through the Woodbridge Land Trust with the idea of providing the Woodbridge Land Trust a specific tract of land for starting the orchard. It was a tract with which Dr. Arnold has a long history – he and his brother having worked it as a farm in their youth.
The property had been the estate of David Fitzgerald, former District Attorney of the City of New Haven, and had been purchased by the Town of Woodbridge for true multi-use – including community gardens, walking trails and farm leases on its approximately 132 acres. The Land Trust leased sought to lease property approximately 350 feet by 350 comprising about 3 acres though it intended to fence and use just about half that amount. The goal was to be able to place about three to four lines of Clapper nuts – and an acre and a half would work perfectly – and would be about the limit in terms of ability to manage.
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A view across the Woodbridge Land Trust Orchard showing rigorous growth in trees planted from nuts in 2006. Photographer Leila Pinchot.
The Woodbridge Land Trust has gone to incredible lengths to acquire and prepare the site for the Chestnut Plantation. Robert and Philip have spoken and written at length about some of their diverse experiences, which included everything from negotiating with the town for the lease, to removing rocks and boulders and remediation of drainage issues. Woodbridge experiences significant deer pressure, and talk moved to experiences with spot control and enclosure fencing. They’ve benefited significantly from association with the Massachusetts ACF Chapter. Charlotte Zampini of the MA Chapter actually pollinated their flowers (as she did those on the Enfield trees) with a trainee observer, who will be expected to accomplish the same process in the future.
One of the first big obstacles was getting an agreement with the Town for lease of the property. One of the challenges was fencing – with known deer pressure we felt a fence was a requirement. With the orchard in a prominent location, and virtually encircled by the communities walking paths, aesthetics was of a big concern. We interviewed a number of fence providers and installers, and settled on using a galvanized lock link type fence, with wooden piles for posts. Dan Maltby of Vermont was contracted to perform the installation. The town agreed on the look, and installation was completed in March of 2006.
The Woodbridge orchard was planted in its first year with the 112 nuts pollinated in 2005 and gathered from the Calistro Tree. In 2006 we allocated nuts from a tree found in Manchester growing in a parking lot next to a hotel. That tree produced 149 backcross nuts bringing the total to 261. The orchard has essentially been completed with lines from Rocky Hill planted in 2008.
Under the watchful eye of Orchard Manager Phil Arnold, those seedlings have grown into small trees, averaging, 15 ½ inches growth for the first year. The trees, which started last season at three to four feet are now six to eight feet in height, and are expected to start flowering heavily this year. Chestnuts were the fastest growing hardwood tree in the northeast!
The Woodbridge chestnut orchard has a huge advantage in being walking distance from the local elementary school. In a combined ecology and exercise event the 3rd and 4th graders broke into 5 groups and walked the mile to and from the orchasrd. The event was divided into 2 days, the mornings of May 9th and 10th. Parents helped to chaperone with the teachers. Dr Phil Arnold gave a presentation to the groups consisting of history and the care and planting of the orchard. A question and answer period took place at the end of each session. Some of the students had come last year and were able to see the growth of the first years trees. The teaching staff at the Beecher School has used the TACF website, as well as the Charlie the Chestnut teaching program to educate their students about the American chestnut, the blight, and efforts to restore the tree.