About the Farms
We are an eco-friendly and pesticide free fruit orchard.
In 1996, we bought a 28 acre farm and started with a few persimmon trees. After a decade, it turned into hundreds of persimmon, peach, nectarine, chestnut, apple and Asian pear trees. We also have an assorted variety of Muscadine grape vines and blueberry patches.
You can pick the above fruits during harvest seasons. Visit our "U-Pick Calendar" harvest schedule and get more information about our fruits at highspringsorchard.com.
We have recently started keeping honey bees. They are doing a great job of pollination. We hope to harvest 100% of local honey.
L & E Farms, a "Fresh From Florida" member of the Florida Department of Agriculture, started with 200 trees in 1992. We slowly expanded over the next several years to over 2500 trees today. Each new tree was planted from the best seed nuts from our own trees. Pesticides are not used in our orchard, as is the case with all member orchards. If you are in the north Florida area, please give us a visit. To order chestnuts, please visit our website: chestnutsrus.com
Mockingbird Farm, between Newberry and Trenton, is owned by Judy Martino. In the two acres of chestnut trees, miniature donkey Carlo is her hardworking farmhand (or, “farm-hoof”).
Sand Ridge Chestnuts
Clara and Richard Beeson
Sand Ridge Chestnuts is a true family farm, where 3 children, now adults, have learned farming and many of the skills that go with it. Sand Ridge Chestnuts is located about 14 miles East of Eustis, FL off US 44A. The farm took its name from the location. At 82 ft above sea level, the farm sets on a sand ridge. Two miles to the east the ridge drops rapidly to 15 ft above sea level continues for the next 40 miles to the Atlantic Ocean.
Sand Ridge Chestnuts was founded in 1993. However the first chestnuts were planted a year earlier to determine if the winter was cold enough for the trees to achieve their dormancy chilling requirement. The first trees consisted of 10 Dustin hybrid seedling and 10 grafted hybrids budded from a superior tree. Dustin chestnuts are a cross between native American chestnuts and Chinese chestnuts and are immune to chestnut blight. Within 7 yrs all grafted trees and several of the seedlings were removed for inadequate growth. Only 7 proved hardy enough to thrive and produce large chestnuts in deep sand soils. By 1996, another 640 trees had been planted to cover 8 acres of the farm, all on micro-irrigation.
Since its inception, growing chestnut trees and bring in the fruits of harvest have been challenging and followed a steep learning curve, even for a farm boy raised in the central Piedmont of North Carolina. Over the years we’ve learned growing chestnut trees on old sand dunes is a bit like hydroponics, especially before the trees obtain a minimum of 3 inches in trunk caliper. Before this size, they have little to no lateral roots, only advancing taproots.
There was no equipment in the USA until recently to pick up chestnuts in small groves, except by hand. Even now the cost of mechanical harvesters are prohibitive on a small grove such as ours. Once picked up, nearly half of all chestnuts still have to be shucked from the burrs. Until a few years ago, this was all done by hand at Sand Ridge Chestnuts. We found it doesn’t take long before the spines have made “minced-meat” on the fingers on a good pair of leather gloves! To combat this problem, we started wrapping quality duct tape around a glove’s thumbs and next 3 fingers. At the peak of harvest, the tape lasted about 4 days before the spines had torn open all but the last wrap or two of tape.
Shucking burrs by hand after they have been collected in the grove.
Knowing there had to be better way, and using farmer ingenuity, in 2006 we purchased an old, single row corn pick, circa 1959. It was brought mainly for its transmission and belly chains. After removing the unnecessary parts, we rebuilt it with a friction roller to roll the burrs and most of the time expel the nuts from the burrs. Though we affectionately call it our “burr grinder”, it actually rolls the burrs down a spring-loaded stationary belt, which expels the chestnuts from the burrs, or at minimum cracks the burrs along their seam to make them easier to shell by hand.
The business end of the “Burr grinder”. Burrs are loaded by hand onto the angled paddle conveyor (far right), which tosses them into the hopper where they descend through the stationary belt and roller and fall onto a horizontal conveyer (middle) and pass over a fan (screened box) to blow out small debris and dry pieces of burr. Chestnuts and partially opened burrs roll out the back chute (far left) into a plastic tub for further sorting. (Shown with belt guards removed.)
Front view of “burr grinder” with the elevating belly chain towards the right side and the remnant pto shaft on the left. The pto shaft was retained as a backup should the electric motor go down.
Richard and Patrick shucking burrs after passing through the “burr grinder” and separating out the “green” burrs for a couple of more days of riping before they are passed through the burr grinder again.
After passing through the “burr grinder”, the mixture of burrs and chestnuts have to be sorted, and chestnuts remaining burrs extracted. At this stage, its all hand work and in the past was pretty much a family affair. Now in 2013, the two oldest have occupations outside the farrm, but still help some in the evenings and on weekends with the hand processing during the peak of the season.
After all the chestnuts have been shucked from the burrs, they are put through a rotating sizing tube to separate the chestnuts into sizes. As a small family farm, again we have had to improvise, building our own sorter according to the specfications of the Co-op, and tweaking it over the years to select the right slope and rotational speed to give us the best separation. Even then, the sized chestnuts are examined by hand, each one, again for size, and more importantly for decayed or dehydrated nuts.
Front of the sorter, where shucked chestnuts are loaded by hand in to the first of 3 screens with increasing hole size.
After sorting, the chestnuts are surface sterilized with a dilute solution of bleach, washed and then left to rehydrate in clear well water overnight. They are then surface dried on racks and stored in 25 lbs. mesh a bags in a cooler until transported to the Co-op facilities.
Looking down the sorter from the loading end. The sorter was made from a 12” diameter duct pipe slipped into 14” corrugated drain pipe used as wheels. It has 8 – ½ inch spacers to made the pipe tight and round within a wheel. The wheels provide space between barrel and bearing blocks. This was sorter was built in 3 section over as many years of trial and error.
At Sand Ridge Chestnuts, we hold the quality of our chestnuts in highest regards. Following the philosophy of my father, who switched from dairy cows to flowering landscape plants: “If you sell someone a good plant, they may tell someone else. But if you sell them a bad plant, they will tell everyone they see.”