A Big Find at Brady Farm
In 2007, Congaree Land Trust worked with the Brady family to conserve The Brady Farm, a working family farm situated directly across from the Congaree National Park in Calhoun County. A key parcel within the COWASEE Basin Focus Area, the Brady Farm provides outstanding protection and buffer for the Congaree River as well as the southern flank of the Congaree National Park. The property has been a working farm and forest for five generations of the Brady family, providing sustenance for both the people and wildlife living (or passing through) its diverse 927 acres of bottomland hardwoods, wetlands, agricultural fields and fodder.
As part of its agricultural efforts, the Brady Farm family has been converting some of the property's former corn fields back to bottomland hardwood forest, planting oaks and other hardwoods (swamp chestnut oak, primarily). CLT recently received some photos from landowner Andy Brady showing massive nuts produced from another type of oak planted on the farm. . . a type of Burr Oak.
In 2003, Andy Brady was researching oak tree species, and came across a nursery in Kalamazoo, MI that was marketing a "Maximus" Burr Oak which had a history of producing large acorns. Having never planted anything like this at the farm, Andy wanted to give it a try. The site he chose to plant these trees on the farm is "some of the richest land in the state of SC, and it will grow just about anything." But he had to be patient. The planting information indicated these Burr Oaks would take 20-30 years before the tree would bear the first acorns; one source even said it would take 35 years.
"Well, on the site I picked, which was in full sun and with virtually no competition, some of my trees actually began producing in 11 years!" Mr. Brady tells us. "The trees are 17 years old, now, and are producing fairly well. (Seedlings were 1 year old when he bought them, plus 16 years in the ground, here.) Certainly, the quality of what mast is produced by these young trees is exceptional."
While planting some Swamp Chestnut and Cherry Bark oaks this past Fall with his farm hand Juan, Andy decided to take one last look at a grouping of his young "Maximus" Burr Oak trees to see if there were any acorns still there to use for seed. He was leaving the state for a few days and didn't want the large nuts from these trees to fall for the feral hogs to simply devour. As they pulled up to the site, they saw a few acorns on the ground in the leaves below the trees and picked them up. Andy glanced up into one tree, in particular, and saw quite a few "hangers on" still attached to some of the tree's top limbs. After getting close enough to climb into the tree, reach the lower branches and give a firm shake to loosen the nuts, massive nuts from the young oak started to fall.
Sidney says: "The big nuts from the young oak started to fall, and I quickly got myself out the way as they struck hard on the ground below with thuds and wallops. Juan shimmied down the tree and worked his way to the ground as we picked up the fallen nuts together. One nut was truly a super sized specimen. I've never in my life seen an acorn this large anywhere before. I measured the circumference of the super large acorn with its cap still attached, and it totaled 6.75 inches. You literally could not get your hand to close around this acorn...not by a long shot. I literally couldn't hold two acorns of this size in the same hand!" Andy did note that this year's state champ for the Burr Oak in the state is located on the campus of Clemson University.
Sidney ordered and planted more Burr Oaks for the farm in 2017, this time getting seedlings from The Wildlife Group in Tuskegee, AL. He will plant the acorns from his own “Maximus” Burr Oaks in pots, such that they can be pulled and transplanted in 2021.
"I really like this tree because it is very stately, has unique bark that feels like cork, is long lived (200-400 years) and is a white oak," Sidney says. These trees are thriving in the rich, alluvial soil along the Congaree River, and will continue to provide sustenance for future generations of wildlife and people on the farm.