History buffs already excited about San Ramon Valley history can really go nuts.
Volunteers from the San Ramon Historic Foundation spearheaded the development of a nut orchard at Forest Home Farms, a 16-acre farm on the west side of the city that serves as a window into San Ramon's agricultural history. Located next to the David and Eliza Glass House Museum, the orchard will eventually produce three types of nuts originally planted by the Glass family.
"Orchards were fairly early in the valley because there wasn't a lot of water, the water table was very shallow," said Historic Foundation Board Member Dell Barley. "We got an opportunity to replicate, in a small way, some of the orchards that were planted in the valley."
Walnuts became popular after 1873 when Alamo resident Myron Ward Hall grafted a Persian walnut (also known as English walnut) onto a native black walnut tree, producing an easily cracked, flavorful nut, according to an article by Ralph Cozine. Scions from that tree were used for the earliest walnut orchards, and hundreds of acres of walnuts were planted by the early 1920s.
Walnuts grew in Walnut Creek, Alamo and Danville as well as San Ramon, which was home to the biggest pear orchard west of the Rockies for many years. Growers established the Contra Costa Walnut Growers Association in Walnut Creek which graded, packaged and sold most of the County's production.
Travis Boone of Forest Home Farms and others provided harvesting, hulling and drying services into the 1960s.
The 15-tree demonstration orchard at Forest Home Farms features almonds, pecans and walnuts. Three almond trees have existed along the front portion of the farm for several years and are a great source for legume-loving neighbors.
The orchard has been an ongoing project, with irrigation efforts beginning in 2010. Barley, along with other SRHF members and volunteers from throughout the community, helped dig holes for trees and pipelines to irrigate the orchard.
The trees were purchased with grants from the Doughtery Valley Rotary Club and a women's garden club, at a cost of slightly more than $1,000.
Barley said he'd like to see the orchard incorporated into the local history school curriculum, which already has third-graders visit the farm and Glass House for a tour and hands-on experience. It will take a bit of time to figure out how to add the orchard to the tour, he said.
In the meantime, Forest Home Farms volunteers are waiting for their orchard to really go nuts. One walnut tree has a couple of specimens but has mostly been decimated by hungry deer; there are also a few pecans and many almonds from mature trees near the front of the property.
"These are all fairly immature trees. Trees can have a life of 30-40 years and they typically will start bearing after the first couple of years," Barley said.
"You'll get a few nuts on spare young trees but it takes probably between four to five years before you have a sizable enough tree that it can bear nuts."