What do chestnuts yield and how are they harvested?
Under good conditions, a chestnut orchard will have its first worthwhile yield 4 to 5 years after planting. Under less than ideal conditions it may take a few years longer. Maximum production will begin after 10 to 20 years depending on spacing and genetic material. Seedling Chinese chestnut orchards in full production usually yield 1,000 to 2,000 lbs. per acre per year. Much higher yields have been reported from grafted orchards and from orchards with intensive inputs such as irrigation. High yields of 4,000 lbs. per acre or more may be possible. When forecasting yields, it's always better to underestimate.
For the best quality and size, chestnuts should ripen on the tree until they fall, and then be picked up (harvested) promptly (the quicker the better). Nut drop usually occurs from mid-September through mid-October. They should not be shaken or knocked from the tree until the nut shells have turned brown. If they lie on the ground too long after they fall, they are subject to animal depredation, and they may dry excessively. Contrary to popular belief, freshly fallen chestnuts are not harmed by moisture (the Europeans routinely soak them under water for a week after harvest). At current prices, hand harvesting is affordable, but probably not the most economical. Mechanical harvesters exist, but thus far do not work well on the hilly, rainy sites where chestnuts do best. With the rapidly increasing acreage of chestnuts, though, better chestnut harvesters surely will be developed.
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