Nuts are good for your health; they are truly super foods. Like anything else worthwhile they do require a bit of work to grow, harvest and make use of. However, doing so can be rewarding and is a way to add some healthy, locally grown food to your diet. The best adapted nut species for NYS are black walnuts, butternuts, chestnuts (depending on your hardiness zone,) hazelnuts, and shagbark hickories.
Hazelnuts are easy to grow and come into production in roughly 4 to 5 years depending on how well you take care of them. They will grow on a wide range of soil types though a well-drained site is best.
When purchasing hazelnuts, be aware of the difference between layers (clones) and seedlings. With a hazelnut layer you are getting an exact copy of the parent plant with all its good characteristics (and bad.) However, with seedlings you may end up with a plant that is even superior to its parents, or more likely one that isn't. The longer, more in depth the breeding/selection program the greater the likelihood that a seedling will produce a plant with the desirable characteristics of its parents.
Hazelnuts are wind pollinated and you need at least two different plants (not identical clones) for good pollination. Greater diversity in a planting will result in better pollination and nut set. Avoid planting on windswept sites if possible. A porous windbreak on the windward side of a planting is ideal; you want good air movement to reduce the incidence of fungal disease, but not too much to negatively affect pollination.
Well drained soils are best. On sites with less than perfect drainage planting on a slightly raised bed aligned so it's on a roughly 1 percent slope may provide the best compromise between good infiltration and slow removal of excess rainfall during downpours.
A soil test prior to planting, actually a whole year ahead is a good idea. Aim to raise the soil pH to roughly 6.5 throughout the top 1-foot of soil (follow the liming directions you receive with your soil test report.)
Dig a square hole so that the roots don't circle around the outside of the hole as they grow. Plant so that all the roots are straightened out leading towards the sides of the holes. It is better to widen out the hole or clip off long roots than to bend them to fit into an existing hole. Adjust the height of the plant relative to the surrounding soil level so that you just cover the topmost roots of the plant with soil.
On less than perfectly drained sites you can raise the hazel 4 to 6-inches above the surrounding soil level and use extra soil so that you have enough to cover the topmost roots of the slightly elevated plant. Hand weed or use cardboard to control weeds during the first few growing seasons. Water the hazels well at planting and then once per week during the first growing season.
I've had good luck with hazels from Z's Nutty Ridge (znutty.com,) Grimo Nut Nursery (grimonut.com,) and Oikos Tree Crops (oikostreecrops.com.) It is getting late to order so many of the better selections may not be available at this time. You can find more information about growing hazels on the websites of the above mentioned vendors and at the NY Nut Growers Association homepage at www.nynga.org.