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Lessons in harvesting and processing black walnuts

 
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I’ve never done this before. I went looking for apples and came home with 30lbs of walnuts. I didn’t know much and standing in the woods with one bar on my phone, only told me that the tennis ball sized green thing was edible. I picked up everything on the ground, filling the two bags I had - small rock hard ones, big black squishy ones but mostly soft green ones. I secured my first forager badge and started my US foraging adventure after spending 30+ years foraging in the UK.

I read a bit, looked through the treads here, watched some youtube videos and realised this was going to be a messy task. I decided to go for the Edible Acres method with a big spinning mixy thing attached to my drill in a big bucket of water.



Initially I soaked the whole lot in the tote I had put them in. This was a mistake.

I took them out and stamped on them, then put the nut in one bucket and the waste in another. When I had finished, I tipped the water from the tote into the nut bucket and started blitzing. After a couple of minutes, I let them settle and discarded the floaters. The water was like a thin black molasses, makes sense people use it as dye. I changed the water and repeated a few times. The nuts were getting cleaner but it was slow going. I then decided to switch to the pressure hose method - I had borrowed one from my neighbour and I’m a big kid, so decided to play. This was a big success. I started with an empty bucket and blasted until the bucket was half full. Then I sieved them in a milk crate and repeated a couple of times until the water was more like a light tea in colour.

Now I’m going to dry them on racks in my basement for a couple of months.

I also read that you can do the whole process in a cement mixer, but I don’t have access to one of them.

No one else appears to be collecting them, so I will be out collecting and processing more, but only selecting the green softish ones, the size of tennis balls.
0481B9C8-E835-4F7C-BB25-1FFA32DBA6CF.jpeg
Start of process with drill and big mixy thing
Start of process with drill and big mixy thing
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This was a bad idea
This was a bad idea
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Stomping
Stomping
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Casing in one bucket, nuts and water in the other bucket
Casing in one bucket, nuts and water in the other bucket
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Drill mixing
Drill mixing
F59FC44A-A01B-47A7-8D20-E8DB05156EF6.jpeg
After drill mixing method
After drill mixing method
D1A16920-A16E-45A3-85A9-1EC4E74ECEEE.jpeg
Blasting with the pressure washer
Blasting with the pressure washer
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Blasting in the milk crate - not very effective as they don’t move much
Blasting in the milk crate - not very effective as they don’t move much
084801A9-ECEE-4BF4-BD9C-AF1A36947D91.jpeg
Waste bucket - I need chickens!
Waste bucket - I need chickens!
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Nuts ready for drying and storing
Nuts ready for drying and storing
 
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I appreciate the pictures! I have black walnuts at the edge of my property but they need to come down due to location. But maybe I will find time to harvest them before then - it will be a year or two, probably.
 
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Those are very clean black walnuts you got. Nice job!
Maybe you want to crack one open and see what tool you like to use. The black walnuts are not easy to separate from shells like English walnuts do. I use a hammer and keep some big pieces for myself and let chickens pick the crumbs. They always go nuts and I have to be careful not to smash the chicken head.

I just read that walnut price this year is record high: $20 per 100 lbs hulled, jumping from $16 last year. I don't know if that is enough to motivate people to pick black walnuts and make foraging harder or not.

I did some counting last year. 200 green walnuts weighed 30 lbs, after hulling, there was only 10 lbs. So my very productive tree yielded 1,200 walnuts would've brought me $10 if I sold them all to the hulling station. Some one told me he brought a pickup truck load of black walnuts there for $50. No wonder here people just let them rot on the ground. Things might be different where the trees are less common.

 
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i love to see home walnut processing! they look great. may be worth setting up a fan in the basement. a bit of air movement does wonders for nut curing. i did some today too - some of the walnuts i grafted to cultivars 5 years ago at my place have a decent crop this year.

may - those 10 lbs will be less after you cure your nuts, too! and for wild nuts, frequently 80-85% is shell! we always have people surprised how much the nuts they bring in reduce down. i always have to say, ‘you brought in 100 lbs of nuts in-hull and you expect to eat nearly as much nutmeats? i think you were thinking of apples.’
9B203861-3FCA-4DFA-AA01-7FF5F7606E4E.jpeg
variations in hull in cultivar black walnuts
variations in hull in cultivar black walnuts
 
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they sure are falling from the trees this week. the local squirrel population is working overtime.
the black from outer husk makes a very permanent black dye. if you handle them with bare hands it can take quite a while for the black stain in skin to go away, that's been my experience anyway
native Americans  utilized it for tattoos I've been told
 
May Lotito
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greg mosser wrote:for wild nuts, frequently 80-85% is shell.’



That's right. I cracked 50 nuts and weighed all the nuts fragments. Average 18 g per nut with shell and only 4g of net nut weight.
Your walnuts got some interesting texture, almost look like osage orange. Nuts.com is selling cultivated nuts in shell for people to crack. Do you think those has more nut and/or easy to remove in whole piece? Maybe I should buy some and grow them.
 
greg mosser
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a big part of the selection that’s been done on black walnuts is increasing the percent of nut to shell…but i think the best are still in the 35% of dry weight area, so not real great. they’re generally easier to crack out in larger pieces, too.
 
Edward Norton
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I went out today and picked up about 10 gallons worth. I’m planning ahead and starting my fruit forest, so some of these I’m going to plant out in containers for when I have my own place. I found this video to be very useful.



He goes into
1) How to identify
2) When and how to harvest
3) Cleaning a nut for sowing
4) Stratification in a fridge and outside including squirrel protection
5) Information on germination
6) Potting on
7) No BS!

I discovered half a walnut next to my herb bed this morning . . . I’m guessing it was a floater or I need to make sure my basement door is closed at all times.

92C9A696-F8C7-47CF-997A-AFDBD51788B6.jpeg
[Thumbnail for 92C9A696-F8C7-47CF-997A-AFDBD51788B6.jpeg]
 
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There are no black walnuts out here, but there are many around town when I visit friends on the weekends. This past weekend I picked up about 10 gallons and the previous weekend I filled a mesh bag which had held 8 pounds of oranges. Sadly, most of the 10 gallons I picked up this weekend were floaters... I ended up with fewer good nuts than in the significantly smaller batch I picked up the weekend prior. They've just started to fall, though, and I'm hoping things will improve now that I've picked up all of the trash. 🙄

I've seen and could use the mixer attachment to remove the hulls like in the EdibleAcres video, but I've just been using the method Rick Larson uses and find that to be a perfectly acceptable and meditative way to go about things. Rick has a bunch of black walnut videos which I'm sure you saw over the course of your research. Just slice around the circumference of the hull and twist to remove the nut. Honestly, gives me something to keep me busy when my achy knees need a break or it's storming too hard to be out in the garden.
 
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We have a lot of black walnuts and this year is about the biggest bumper crop I've ever seen. In years past, in a good season I have collected the bed of the truck completely full. No need to drive around doing that anymore as those I planted years ago are producing well. I even cut down a few bigger trees that were here when I arrived because they made comparatively smaller nuts to those I planted. In my neighborhood there is a lot of variation in nut size and shell thickness so naturally those I planted are the from the best ones.

My technique for removing the shells is to shovel them out of the truck into the gravel driveway and throw an old carpet over to keep the squirrels from stealing them all. After running over them a few time I pick out the hulled ones and rake the rest into the wheel tracks. Occasionally one is cracked or crushed but mostly they weren't the good ones anyway. A quick blast with the garden hose finishes cleaning them up. We store them outside in old metal garbage cans with lots of holes punched in the sides and bottom.

I just crack them with a hammer as needed, been doing it that way for half a century, I'm good at it. Only large pieces, free of shell fragments are taken in to eat.
 
Edward Norton
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Thanks for the updates and processing tips. Sounds like a great year in the NE for walnuts. Edible Acres just posted his 2021 walnut video



He’s got quite a production line going and introduced a pressure washer he picked up on Craigslist.

Some added tips including using wood-chip in the processing area to absorb run off and then compost with carbon to produce a soil without the harmful stuff.

I’m just doing small scale this year, but mentally logging what I’ll do in the future if I have the space and time.
 
Mathew Trotter
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I tried a hammer and kept ending up with little bits of shell fragment clinging to the nut meat and ending up in my mouth.

We don't have a vise, but we do have vice grips, and yesterday morning I discovered that they do a much more satisfactory job than the hammer. Clamp a walnut in the grips and then use a pair of pliers to give you leverage to tighten them until the nut pops. The vice grips pop right open (which might be an advantage over a standard vise) and the nut meat remains relatively whole. Repeat as necessary to open up all the chambers inside the shell.

It's certainly a bit more fiddly than a hammer, but I don't end up tossing most of the nut to the chickens like I otherwise would.
 
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I have English walnuts, not black, but the hulls aren't too different. I've dealt with black walnuts and butternuts a few times, but I don't find the flavour different or better enough to make the hassle of shelling them worthwhile.

I find adding water to the hulling process just makes the whole thing way messier than it needs to be. If the husk flies are bad and the hull is really black and slimy, well, that's different. Whatever you do is going to be messy.

I try to get the walnuts early before the hulls really break down. If a hull is black, but pretty dry I might pick it off. Otherwise, I only bother with hulls that still have some green and some structural integrity left. If the black hull stays in contact with the shell for too long, it starts to make the nut inside bitter. I wear rubber gloves, stomp on each nut to break the hull off, and put the clean or nearly clean nut in my bucket. They get put in mesh bags and hung from the ceiling near the wood stove. As they dry I move them to more out of the way parts of the ceiling.

I've gotten to the point where I pick enough in good years, that if there's a bad husk fly year and the hulls are really slimy, i can skip a year cause I've still got nuts from a year or two before.
 
Mark Reed
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Mathew Trotter wrote:I tried a hammer and kept ending up with little bits of shell fragment clinging to the nut meat and ending up in my mouth.

We don't have a vise, but we do have vice grips, and yesterday morning I discovered that they do a much more satisfactory job than the hammer. Clamp a walnut in the grips and then use a pair of pliers to give you leverage to tighten them until the nut pops. The vice grips pop right open (which might be an advantage over a standard vise) and the nut meat remains relatively whole. Repeat as necessary to open up all the chambers inside the shell.

It's certainly a bit more fiddly than a hammer, but I don't end up tossing most of the nut to the chickens like I otherwise would.



Ha, didn't say it was easy. I've just had a lot of practice. The nut has to be oriented correctly to receive the blow, pointed end up and the correct force has to be used.  If done correctly it splits on the seam, or I guess that's what you'd call it, the same way it splits when it sprouts. Also there should be some secondary cracks in the halves. Individual halves can also be tapped lightly in the same orientation. From there you pick it apart and get up to four nice clean chunks. Any that protest as in crushing or shattering are just discarded as are any little bits stuck in the unfractured pieces of the shell. As a kid my mother had a zero tolerance policy on bits of shell in the nuts and I still do. It's not a perfect science but still I have probably an 80% success rate on getting it right. I just toss the other 20. Like I said we have always had a LOT of walnuts, so no worry over waste.
 
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A common way to remove the husk is simply drilling a hole in a board and knocking it through with a hammer. I remember my grandparents had an area of their driveway that permanently had husk remnants there from where they placed them to run over.

The husks were once used as a laxative, but I am unaware of the dosage. Many people seem to be concerned with the juglone from walnuts harming other plants, so disposal of the husks may need thought. I've never noticed any effect myself. They say that if nuts are left in the husk until they are brown they can absorb some of the bitterness, but I've never noticed that, either.

Something beneficial for shelling many nuts is to crack all the nuts at once and let them dry for several days. When the meat dries it becomes tougher and shrinks, buth good traits for extracting them from cantankerous shells.
 
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I built a cage in the back of my truck for removing the husk and cleaning the shell. Toss them all in a drive around for a few weeks. You’re left with clean nuts ready to be shelled.
 
Mark Reed
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Jordan Holland wrote:A common way to remove the husk is simply drilling a hole in a board and knocking it through with a hammer. I remember my grandparents had an area of their driveway that permanently had husk remnants there from where they placed them to run over.


That board with a hole might work good for smaller numbers, I've also heard of folks using an old corn sheller. There are often quite a few husks in my driveway as well.

Jordan Holland wrote:
The husks were once used as a laxative, but I am unaware of the dosage. Many people seem to be concerned with the juglone from walnuts harming other plants, so disposal of the husks may need thought. I've never noticed any effect myself. They say that if nuts are left in the husk until they are brown they can absorb some of the bitterness, but I've never noticed that, either.


Never heard if the laxative thing, don't think I'll try it. I've also never noticed any ill effects to plants from disposing of the husks, I just toss them where ever is convenient . And I've also never noticed any issue with bitterness from leaving the in the husks. Actually I think the best ones are when the husk has rotted or been eaten off by maggots.

Jordan Holland wrote:
Something beneficial for shelling many nuts is to crack all the nuts at once and let them dry for several days. When the meat dries it becomes tougher and shrinks, buth good traits for extracting them from cantankerous shells.


That's an interesting idea, might work. I've found in general it's better to let them cure up for lack of a better term for a least a few weeks before cracking. If they are too fresh they have too much moisture, are harder to remove from the shell and don't taste as good. I just leave them whole in the garbage can and only shell out what we weed at a time.
 
Mathew Trotter
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Mark Reed wrote:
Ha, didn't say it was easy. I've just had a lot of practice. The nut has to be oriented correctly to receive the blow, pointed end up and the correct force has to be used.  If done correctly it splits on the seam, or I guess that's what you'd call it, the same way it splits when it sprouts. Also there should be some secondary cracks in the halves. Individual halves can also be tapped lightly in the same orientation. From there you pick it apart and get up to four nice clean chunks. Any that protest as in crushing or shattering are just discarded as are any little bits stuck in the unfractured pieces of the shell. As a kid my mother had a zero tolerance policy on bits of shell in the nuts and I still do. It's not a perfect science but still I have probably an 80% success rate on getting it right. I just toss the other 20. Like I said we have always had a LOT of walnuts, so no worry over waste.



Oh yeah. I figured it would split about like a coconut with practice. But I don't have that practice, and I only have access to nuts once a week at best, and only what I can pick up in a handful of minutes and carry about a mile. Waste is a big deal. With a hammer, my ratio was pretty much the opposite of yours—80% waste and 20% good nut neat. Vise grips do the same thing, causing the nut to split at the seam, so to speak, but it applies progressively more pressure until the shell gives out so that I don't end up applying too much pressure. I'm sure a hammer is significantly faster once you get it dialed in, but until I have nuts growing on site, the practice just wastes too much of what is a valuable for source for me.

Once I have nuts growing here I'm sure I'll get plenty of practice with a hammer. Or I'll invest in one of these bad boys.

But, like Jan, I'm wondering if maybe this is one instance where working with natives, if they aren't already present on the site, just isn't worth it. They're worth it right now because they're available and I need whatever food I can get. But if I plant something, it may be English walnuts. Or they may make up a small portion of my diet once I have other options.
 
Mark Reed
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Mathew Trotter wrote:[
Once I have nuts growing here I'm sure I'll get plenty of practice with a hammer. Or I'll invest in one of these bad boys.

But, like Jan, I'm wondering if maybe this is one instance where working with natives, if they aren't already present on the site, just isn't worth it. They're worth it right now because they're available and I need whatever food I can get. But if I plant something, it may be English walnuts. Or they may make up a small portion of my diet once I have other options.



Planting nut trees is certainly a long term project but in my climate black walnuts are the fastest of the natives to start producing. Mine started putting on a few at maybe 7 - 8 years old and now at about 20 or so, are producing nicely. It's nice having my own in the yard rather than having to drive or hike to collect them. Also mine are the best of the best from the area and I'm especially glad that I planted some from my favorite tree as it's owners, for reasons unexplained, cut it down a few years ago.

If I wanted to process a lot at a time I might want one of those fancy gadgets but they keep just fine just left in the shell outside as long as protected from critters so just for our use it's fun to grab a hammer and crack them as needed.

I think English walnuts don't grow all that well here and I don't like them much anyway, only thing they got going on is the easy opening packages. Pecans are great though, will they grow in your area?

 
Mathew Trotter
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Mark Reed wrote:Planting nut trees is certainly a long term project but in my climate black walnuts are the fastest of the natives to start producing. Mine started putting on a few at maybe 7 - 8 years old and now at about 20 or so, are producing nicely. It's nice having my own in the yard rather than having to drive or hike to collect them. Also mine are the best of the best from the area and I'm especially glad that I planted some from my favorite tree as it's owners, for reasons unexplained, cut it down a few years ago.

If I wanted to process a lot at a time I might want one of those fancy gadgets but they keep just fine just left in the shell outside as long as protected from critters so just for our use it's fun to grab a hammer and crack them as needed.

I think English walnuts don't grow all that well here and I don't like them much anyway, only thing they got going on is the easy opening packages. Pecans are great though, will they grow in your area?



7-8 years ain't shabby for nuts. I can't say that I've found any trees locally that stand out as especially better than others. They're all a pain in the ass to get into, have a relatively small amount of nut meat, and like Jan, I don't think the flavor of any of the ones I've had especially surpasses that of the English walnuts. I'm not sure how much, if at all, the flavor changes as they cure. The ones I've tasted so far have all been relatively fresh. But they do have almost 60% more protein than English walnuts, so they have that going for them. I'm definitely on the lookout for trees that produce superior nuts for planting out here, but I have a lot more sampling to do.

I don't think pecans grow here (at least not yet... who knows with climate change.) I know they aren't native or naturalized here. And One Green World carries just about everything benign and exotic that will grow here and pecans are suspiciously absent from their list of nuts, which makes me suspect that they don't like our climate. Hazels and black walnuts are pretty much the staple nuts here. We're also supposed to have a native chinquapin out closer to the coast, but if I've ever seen one I didn't know what I was looking at at the time. There are a smattering of chestnuts in the broader region that have been protected from the blight by the physical barrier created by the mountains and by extensive quarantines on most nuts. I haven't found any locally, and have been able to make it to any of the trees I know about that are further out. I'd definitely like to get some of those started here.
 
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Hi.  Jordan mentioned this already, but my grandparents also simply tossed the walnuts into the driveway and drove over them to pull get the outer shells off.     I'm a big fan of that approach due to low effort.

Also, my dad reported that shelling walnuts was one of the things they did winter nights in the 40's and 50's, and he also reported that if you hit it juuuuust right it comes apart along the seam.    I'm not certain I'll achieve that level of proficiency any time soon.  

-C

 
greg mosser
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a well-cured black walnut has a sweeter, slightly fruity (i’ve heard people say ‘that tastes like black cherry!’), aromatic and slightly floral flavor. i’ve never found an ‘english’ walnut that came close. i’m not particularly a fan of english walnuts, but black walnuts are a whole ‘nother thing. fresh, uncured black walnuts taste, to me, something like a not-super-sweet sweet corn.

i don’t know if i mentioned it anywhere else in this thread, but i’m part-owner of a facility that processes nuts. we did a run of about 400lb of last year’s nuts yesterday, partly to make room for the new ones coming in. thought i’d get a quick shot of our pretty jury-rigged crack’n’trommel set-up.
pictured is our big cracker on the right, funneling down into our homemade trommel, which sorts the cracked nuts into 4 size groups. this pic is just for fun, no need for anyone to feel a need to approximate it at home!
D686DB61-8473-4F10-9F69-1F715936B132.jpeg
strategic structural cardboard on display
strategic structural cardboard on display
 
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I think I'm leaning towards hammer for the initial split and then vise grips for the additional splits beyond that. The hardest part with the vise grips is the initial split, which is rather trivial with a hammer. Sorry that, the vise grips are the trivial thing to use and produces clean splits without a lot of splintering. Tried a few this morning entirely with the hammer, and it might be down to the size and internal structure of my nuts, but it's pretty much impossible to get clean splits on the increasingly smaller pieces of shell. The first pic is hammer for the initial split and then vise grips to free the nut. The end product is clean and relatively whole. With the hammer I just end up with pieces like the second pic where more and more shell flakes off but the nuts aren't any freer. Striking that with the hammer just pulverizes the nut, whereas it's pretty trivial to split that and get the nut meat with the vise grips. And I'm sure you're thinking that you'd just toss that and move into the next nut, but a lot of my nuts are smaller and that represents a significant percentage of the nut meat.

Granted, I'm sure the nuts don't hold so tight to the shell after a good cure either, and most of my effort stems from needing the fat and protein now and not being able to wait until they're well-cured.
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Mark Reed
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greg mosser wrote:a well-cured black walnut has a sweeter, slightly fruity (i’ve heard people say ‘that tastes like black cherry!’), aromatic and slightly floral flavor. i’ve never found an ‘english’ walnut that came close. i’m not particularly a fan of english walnuts, but black walnuts are a whole ‘nother thing. fresh, uncured black walnuts taste, to me, something like a not-super-sweet sweet corn.


I don't try to describe flavor, I'll just say that to me black walnuts have no rivals when it comes to flavor. Not macadamia, not Brazil nuts, not cashews, nothing compares to black walnuts. Tied for second place would be pecans and hickories and both of those grow here too so I'm pretty lucky.

We have a wide variety of all three, flavor can differ from tree tree with hickory and pecan but all black walnuts taste pretty much the same. They vary mostly in size of the nut and some on shell thickness, sometimes shape varies a little bit with some being a little oblong.  Only bad tasting black walnuts I ever saw in a plastic bag from a store, I don't think they stay good very long out of the shell. O' and if they aren't cured they're just kind of wet and kind of nasty.

Greg, I have people that live not far from Cherokee. How far are you from there?
 
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There was a thread on here a few years ago of someone documenting their collection process. They had identified a whole bunch of trees in their neighbourhood and negotiated with the owners to harvest their nuts.

An oldtimer had advised them that fallen nuts quickly get contaminated with maggot/worm things. The strategy they recommended was to rake the area on day one to clear all the existing fallen nuts. Then each day come past and collect any fresh fallen ones. Repeat daily for the week or two that nuts are falling. This should help make sure that you are collecting nuts in good condition, not wasting effort on ones that may be manky inside.
 
greg mosser
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my experience has been that wormy hulls are commonplace and not at all a reflection of the quality of the nut on the inside.

mark, i’m about an hour and a half east of cherokee.
 
Mark Reed
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I've always regarded the worms as a good thing. When you find a bunch under a tree, all wet and sloppy, ate up with worms all you have to do is kick them around a little, most of the husk is already gone. They can be a tad juicy at that stage so gloves are a good idea. Most of the rest just kind of goes away on it's own as they dry.

We had some big trees in the yard when I was a kid, so per protocol we had walnut wars. Just throw them like base balls or launch them in numbers by catapults made of tree branches and bicycle innertubes. Our own version of paint ball I reckon, no denying you had been hit.  
 
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Great posts, info, experiences & photos! We’ve got wild black walnut trees all over our property here in western North Carolina. It’s our first year gardening the land and now I’ve been harvesting & processing the black walnuts. I got a paint mixer which works well with 4-5 go around w rinsing in between.
I have them on a framed wire screen to dry them before bringing them in the house to cure. One batch had a tiny bit of white mold growing on them so I cleaned them again & they look fine.
The curing is 3-4 weeks?
 
greg mosser
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curing outside, with ambient temps and humidity, 6 weeks is the traditional time. 4 might be alright inside. text crack a couple to see - the meat should separate from the shell easily.
 
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Thank you Greg! My husband just built me a frame w screen for drying & I’ll be curing the walnuts on our screened in porch. It is on a creek so I’m a little concerned about dampness.
Can mice get into the nuts? Seems we have one little visitor occasionally.  
 
greg mosser
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mice can chip their way in, but it takes them awhile so losses aren’t usually huge. squirrels are nut enemy no. 1. rats can do some damage too. where in western nc are you, neighbor?
 
Jan White
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Matt, I'm pretty sure you can grow pecans where you are, unless they don't like the wet winters you get. I know someone in the Okanagan who has some trees scattered around on various properties belonging to friends and relatives. Extreme tmperatures there are much colder than yours in the winter, comparable in summer.  Not sure about averages. Winters are much drier than yours and they have very dry summers like you.  I don't know what variety they are, but the pecans are really small, about the size of the big oblong hazelnuts.

I wonder if location has much effect on black walnut flavour? The ones I've tasted growing here are arguably a bit nicer than the English ones that are more common, but nothing dramatic or worth the serious extra effort and (with my cracking ability anyway) much lower yield.

The English walnuts grow everywhere here. My parents have two in their yard and just within two blocks of their house there are at least five other trees. There's quite a bit of variation in flavour and shelling ease between trees. One of my parents' trees has nuts that are almost smooth. You can crack most of them by squeezing one in your fist, and the inner bits of the shell flake away from the nutmeats. That tree has very sweet nuts with almost no bitterness. Their other tree has nuts with a seam around the middle and much deeper grooves. They're harder to crack. Some will crack by squeezing two together in your hands, most need a typical nut cracker, some need a hammer. The inner shell is hard and you end up wasting quite a bit of nutmeat, especially if you've just been spoiled shelling nuts from the other tree and can't be bothered with the extra effort. The nuts on that tree have a little more bitterness to them, as well. My brother in law gathered a bunch of nuts from his neighbour's tree, and those ones were twice the size of my parents'. You needed a nut cracker to get in, but the inner shell flaked away easily, and the nuts were maybe even sweeter than my parents'.  So huge variation.

Walnuts from the store are waaaay too bitter compared to the ones I'm used to. I find that nuts I gather that sit in the black husk definitely take on bitterness. Not to the point you don't want to eat them, but noticeable.

I've never noticed the husk flies getting into the nut itself, either. They just hang out in the husk until they're done with it, then go into the ground to overwinter.
 
greg mosser
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for what it’s worth, the range of the eastern black walnut doesn’t extend all the way across the great plains. my understanding is that the vast majority of black walnuts on the pacific end of the continent are crosses, either with the claro walnut of california (J. hindsii) or with english walnuts. i wouldn’t be surprised if the taste was noticeably different on the two ends of the continent, but have never had access to western nuts to compare. maybe we should set up a walnut exchange program to find out…
 
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