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New hazelnut grove offers lessons in sustainable agriculture

If you’ve ever dreamed of making your own pralines, truffles, or even Nutella on campus, you’re now one step closer to making it a reality. Sort of.

Working with the Presidents’ Climate Commitment Committee, the Bonner Center, TCNJ’s Office of Grounds and Landscape Maintenance Services, and Professor Mike Aucott of the chemistry department, student volunteers planted a small grove of 15 hazel trees near the TCNJ Campus Garden, taking on the project as an opportunity to learn more about permaculture.

The basic idea behind permaculture is simple: create a system of agriculture that is largely self-sufficient, sustainable, improves its surroundings, and creates something that humans can use. Hazel trees—the nut of which is of course the hazelnut—can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conserve natural resources like water.

“The trees require very little input on our end, which is great for the environment and great in terms of water conservation,” says Natalia Da Silva ’20, international studies and urban anthropology double major and site leader of the campus garden who helped with the project. “There’s very little resources required to maintain them.”

These baby hazel trees will begin to bear fruit—hazelnuts—in just a few short years.

The trees are currently surrounded by individual enclosures that will protect them from nibbling fauna. According to Aucott, the trees grow like bushes, and will eventually be 10 to 15 feet tall. Once that happens, the protective enclosures will be removed.

“The real challenge will be keeping squirrels and other animals, including deer, away from the nuts once the trees start bearing,” says Aucott. Hazelnuts will begin to appear in three to four years. Once they’re ready to pick, they’ll be harvested for food.

The trees were provided by Thomas Molnar of Rutgers University’s Department of Plant Biology. Molnar has led an effort in New Jersey to develop more hazelnut tree growth, and is interested in how the trees grow in different parts of the state. The TCNJ team will collect and share data with Molnar as this new crop matures.

—Catherine Bialkowski ’18