Former councillor’s labour of love yields results

Jon Harris began growing hazelnuts in the fall of 2000.

Former councillor’s labour of love yields results

It took a while, but long-time Maple Ridge resident Jon Harris has finally joined the ranks of such venerable agronomists as the Mesolithic Scots (circa 700 BC), first dynasty Chinese and Pliny’s Romans in becoming a bona fide hazelnut farmer.

The former district councillor and notary public began this exercise in growing local back in the fall of 2000 when he planted 265 trees over 2.5 acres, using a mix of three cultivars (‘Barcelona’, ‘Ennis’, ‘Butler’) in order to cover the necessary cross-pollination.

Hazelnuts are wind pollinated (although bees are also attracted to the pollen), with the long male catkins releasing their dusty yellow pollen from late January into February – fertilizing the minuscule reddish-purple female flowers that are held closely to the stems.

Hazelnuts (Corylus avellana) get their common name from the Anglo-Saxon word haesel which means headdress or bonnet, an apt description of the nut’s fringed husk.

Its other namesake, Filbert, is thought to be a reference to Saint Philibert’s Day (Aug. 22), a date which also coincides with the beginning of the European hazelnut harvest.

Whatever you choose to call them, to Jon they are a labour of love which involves propagating new plants, regular pruning (particularly sucker removal) to keep his trees to a single stem, fertilizing with compost, and flailing the turf about five times a year.

Like any farmer growing a specialized crop, Jon has experienced a few setbacks along the way – in particular bears and eastern filbert blight.

The bruins are a relatively new occurrence, as Jon doesn’t recall any when he first bought the property back in 1958 but speculates that the recent boon in blueberries has drawn them closer to town.

Last fall, upwards of five bears at a time ate enough hazelnuts to push his modest profits below the amount needed to claim farm tax status, with the cubs climbing the trees and causing a lot of damage.

This year’s yield was about 800 lbs including the losses to the bears, although the year before it was 1,200 lbs and it should get better as the orchard ages (mature trees produce about 18 lbs).

Harvesting is a relatively simple process, as a tarp (with a slot to accommodate the stem) is placed below each tree to catch the nuts as it is shaken – this usually takes place from the second week in September, for a month, through to October – as different cultivars ripen at different times.

Eastern filbert blight arrived after Jon had planted, with the initial infection occurring in Abbotsford in 2001 and having now spread throughout much of the Fraser Valley. Diligent monitoring and pruning has kept this problem in check but Jon plans to replant with newer blight resistant cultivars (‘Jefferson’, ‘Sacajawea’) that have been recently introduced by the University of Oregon.

Another of these introductions, ‘Yamhill’, is more compact than the others and will probably be your best choice for residential gardens, although these cultivars are just coming onto the retail market and may be hard to locate.  In any case, you can find more information on this disease concern and a comprehensive listing of resistant cultivars by visiting and typing “eastern filbert blight” into the search engine.

Challenges aside, Jon takes well-deserved pride in his recent harvest – after all, there aren’t many people who would bother starting an orchard from scratch.

And if all goes well, he will be offering his delicious hazelnuts through local stores and we can enjoy yet another crop that is proudly grown in Maple Ridge.


Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author. (

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker at his former law office. (News files)
UPDATE: Becker suspended from practising law for 14 months

Statement from former Pitt Meadows Mayor says anxiety and depression played role

If you have a letter you’d like to submit to the editor for consideration, please email us at <a href=""><strong></strong></a>. Look forward to hearing your thoughts.
LETTER: Pointing out an issue is not ‘shaming,’ reader argues

Duncan has been as strong advocate for the community, and hopefully can continue in that role

If you have a letter you’d like to submit to the editor for consideration, please email us at <a href=""><strong></strong></a>. Look forward to hearing your thoughts.
LETTER: Hair salon discriminates based on gender

Maple Ridge reader wonders if other women share her feelings on the matter

Developers are moving mountains to create a new heli park at Pitt Meadows Airport (Neil Corbett/The News)
New infrastructure at Pitt Meadows Airport

Rebuilt terminal building one of many projects at YPK

Pitt Meadows resident Bruno James de Faria shared a picture of Pitt River Bridge taken from the West Coast Express. (Special to The News)
SHARE: Commute flies by – literally and figuratively

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon

A bus shelter in White Rock is emblazoned with an ad from B.C.’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. (Black Press Media files)
VIDEO: ‘Am I racist?’ campaign asks British Columbians to confront their unconscious biases

Signs asking British Columbians to think about racial injustice have been put up across the province

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond speaks to a reporter in Vancouver on November 13, 2015. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
No evidence that B.C. ER staff played blood alcohol level game, but Indigenous racism widespread

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond releases findings of independent investigation

(Dave Landine/Facebook)
VIDEO: Dashcam captures head-on crash between snowplow and truck on northern B.C. highway

Driver posted to social media that he walked away largely unscathed

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Menno Place. (Google Street View image.)
B.C. care home looks to hire residents’ family members amid COVID-19-related staff shortage

Family would get paid as temporary workers, while having chance to see loved ones while wearing PPE

B.C. Finance Minister Carole James and Premier John Horgan announce $5 billion emergency fund for COVID-19 unemployment and other relief, B.C. legislature, March 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
Carole James stays on to advise B.C. Premier John Horgan

Retired finance minister to earn a dollar a year

A pedestrian makes their way through the snow in downtown Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Wild winter, drastic swings in store for Canada this year: Weather Network

In British Columbia and the Prairies, forecasters are calling for above-average snowfall levels

NDP Leader John Horgan, left, speaks as local candidate Ravi Kahlon listens during a campaign stop at Kahlon’s home in North Delta, B.C., on April 18, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Most Read