Friday 20 December 2019

Regenerative Landscape Consultancy/Design - Site Visit to Gökömer, Ordu - Where most of the hazels on the planet come from

I've just returned from a beautiful location in a village called Gökömer in the Pontic Mountains just outside of the Black Sea coastal town of Ordu in North Turkey.  It was a great trip and very interesting to learn how the orcharders of this region use the rugged terrain to produce more hazelnuts than any other place on earth.

Gultekin Savaskan who joined us for our Design and Build a Forest Garden Course last October with his family and friends, invited me to take a look at his land in Gokomer. The village was founded by Gultekin's ancestors and although Gultekin has spent much of his life away from the area he has always stayed in touch with the place and is now planning on establishing a learning center for regenerative practices on the property. I was there to consult on the possibilities for regenerative development of the plot and to work on a design for the area in the near future. Yigit Tasdemir (an incredible artist btw) also joined us on the trip and is planning on overseeing the design of the property in the future.

Here are Gultekin on the left and Yigit on the right  during a walk into the valley

This is the southern side of Gultekin's 5 ha property. The small dots you can see on the landscape are Corylus sp. -  Hazelnut and there are approx 5300 trees on the land that produce anything from 4-5 tonnes per year of dry shelled hazelnuts.

To gain some perspective as to just how vast the hazelnut production is in this region, go to google Earth and search for Ordu, Turkey. Now zoom into any part of the mountainous landscape south, east or west from the city. All of those dots (depending on what time of year the photo was taken) you can see are hazel and if you have been buying hazel products recently this is probably where they came from. 

The hazels are planted on the slopes on contour approx 2 m apart. They are the multi stemmed cultivars as opposed to the French single stemmed shrubs. Tombul, Çakıldak and Foşa are the most popular cultivars and there are over 17 cultivars grown in the region mainly from Corylus avellana - Hazelnut  but also Corylus maxima and Corylus colurna 

Some of the male catkins are already starting to open. I noticed a number of female flowers already on display which is super early.

The Hazels grow well on the relatively shallow soil that sits on a silty rock substrate. The silt between the rocks make it possible for roots to penetrate the substrate but water retention in the substrate is probably very low. The area receives a quite high and even distribution of rainfall throughout the year, and the whole region's hazel nut production is rain fed. It's probably one of the reasons Hazels were grown in this region to start with.

Bearing in mind it is December, I was surprised to see so much flowering activity within the orchard. here are just a sample of plants I photographed. One of the perks of living in Köppen climate classification -  Cfa :)

From the North Side of the property looking over the canopies of the hazels there is marvelous view of the Black Sea and the nearby city of Ordu 

All around as far as the eye can see and beyond are hazel orchards 

Some of the plantings are on very steep slopes and it's a wonder how the orcharders manage the trees.
Planting on contour certainly helps.

Cattle graze between the plants when the plants are dormant and help to keep the vegetation down. Flocks of sheep are also integrated into the orchard until April when they are moved to higher ground for fresh pasture. 

At least 3 species of Lichen and 2 species of Moss grow on the older stems of the stools. This foliose lichen is very common in the orchard. Some lichen species are able to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere partnering with cyanobacteria and can provide a significant portion of nitrogen to the ecosystem. I'm not sure whether this is a nitrogen fixing lichen. Any lichen specialist out there? 

 Towering above the Hazels I was pleasantly surprised to find a few Diospyros lotus - Chinese Date Plum trees . The fruits had dried on the tree and were delicious, very similar to the taste of dates with 3 or 4 relatively large seeds inside. I've collected some seeds for growing back in Shipka. It's USDA hardiness 7-9 so will need a favourable micro climate and a bit of genetic luck to stand a chance.

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A sign of soil acidity, Bracken Pteridium sp. forms clumps in areas across the site. On a neglected slope of a neighbouring property these plants are forming an extensive mat under the hazel stools 

What I think is Indigo Woodland Sage - Salvia forsskaolei, a very common herb in the area. This plant is commonly used in ornamental gardens for its long flowering display. Coming from USDA hardiness zone 5-6 a it's remarkable to me that it is still blooming and providing nectar and pollen to the few flying insects around in mid December. 

An un- thinned coppice stool, producing excellent material for wood craft such as hazel hurdle fencing 

I was told that Castanea sativa - Sweet Chestnut grow wild on the mountains, and forests of them can be found around the area.  Much of the forests in the area have been removed to make way for Hazel orchards but as I walked the area I often came across seedlings and young saplings of the Chestnuts looking to reclaim back the slopes. 

Finduk (hazelnut in turkish) joined me for my observations. A lovely dog that has a remarkable appetite for the nuts he is named after. 

The bracts of the nuts (the leafy bits that envelope the base of the nut)  are mechanically separated from the shells after the harvest and heaps of them can be found around the landscape.

Some growers are using the decomposing bracts as a mulch/feed for their plants.

The thing that surprised me most about the hazel cultivation of the region was the quantity of chemicals including fertilisers and pesticides that are applied to the land each year and how this had seemingly not adversely affected the variety of plants, lichens and mosses that inhabited the orchards. A local entomologist from Ordu University that visited the site with Gültekin in the summer reported thriving invertebrate diversity.  It seems with this perennial "productive monoculture" a balance between biodiversity and production is apparent. Of course I say this tentatively as I only surveyed a small part of the region and I have no measure of what the land was like before but it was certainly a surprise to me. A trip into the wild places of the area the day after revealed a much richer tapestry of diversity and even here the hazels were grown as you can see in the picture on the right. 

  There are of course separate issues beyond the effects on biodiversity with this productive perennial monoculture. The chemical inputs are expensive and time consuming to apply, the whole industry is vulnerable when warm winters and late frosts devastate the hazel harvest, which occurred back in 2013 and 2014 and resulted in a world shortage of nuts. Notably Nutella (the hazel based chocolate spread) that is one of the main buyers of hazels in the region raised prices of its product due to the shortage of nuts. Higher Nutella prices is not such a big deal when you consider the economic havoc wreaked upon the local growers during this period. These types of  intensive monoculture will also often produce skewed markets with big buyers being able to dictate prices and create multiple layers in the middle that take a share without adding value.

 It seems the way we manage our land to meet our needs, as well as our environment's, is a spectrum, with broadscale annual monoculture on one end, probably causing the most damage, and small scale perennial polyculture at the other, probably providing the most promise for truly regenerative agriculture. 

I had an opportunity to speak with Gültekin's relatives that manage the orchard before I left and they shared with me a year in the life of their work as Hazel Orcharders. I'll be posting that along with some suggestions of how this annual schedule might look under a regenerative regime, some draft plans for the site design and some more photos about the beautiful wild areas we visited in the next blog.

For more information about growing Hazels in your garden/farm/landscape see our previous post -The Amazing Hazel - The Essential Guide to Everything you need to know about Hazels

Thank you to Gultekin, Yigit and family for your hospitality and the outstanding Turkish food :)

Thanks for reading and if you enjoyed the post please comment, like and share it.

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  1. Thank you for this extremely interesting article!

  2. Aloha from Maui ~ This is thrilling to see and read...thank you for bringing regenerative design to hazelnuts! And, for illuminating such a hopeful path: my passion for 30 years has been Permaculture globally woven into a cohesive tapestry of this diverse beauty and healthy balanced abundance, for all life, everywhere.

  3. Glad to hear you enjoyed it and wishing you success following your passion