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Saturday, October 3, 2015

Black Walnut Harvesting

American Black Walnut - July 2015

Back in March and April (2105), when all of the trees had begun to leaf out, this one lone tree in the middle of the pasture remained leafless.  Earlier in the winter, my husband had cut vines as thick as my wrist from around her.  As all the other trees stirred to life, we thought that perhaps we were to late in rescuing her from the strangling vines.  By May, however, she began to leaf out, and as Summer brought warm rains and sunshine, she came into her own.  By July we knew she was going to gift us with many gallons of walnuts.

In less than 5 minutes I had gathered a 5 gallon bucket full.
There are at least 15 more gallons from her, and twice as much from her sister.

Fast forward to Autumn:  October has been cool and drizzly so far.  Portents of winter, but also the harbinger of garlic planting season and the walnut harvest.  I donned a sweat shirt, shorts, and mucky boots (after all, I'm from Northern Nevada, and it wasn't that cold), and headed out to try my hand at preparing walnuts.  Native North American Black Walnuts, to be exact.  I had watched my YouTube videos and read various blog posts, and now I was finally going to do it.

Being too lazy to find my small hammer, I substituted my small crescent wrench.

I only harvested a small 5 gallon bucket of fallen walnuts, and I was pretty sure I could process those by hand.  I had seen a video where the hulls were tapped all around with a hammer and then twisted off of the hard shell.  This seemed like an easy, no stress, low tech way to spend a Saturday afternoon on the back porch looking out at the drizzle.  Since I couldn't find my small hammer, I convinced myself that the back of a crescent wrench head was probably a better shape for mashing walnut husks, anyway.  And, indeed, it worked well.  As walnut juices stain, I was forewarned, and wore heavy dish washing gloves.  I listened to some TED talks and got into the rhythm of tap-tap-tap and twist.  I got to where I could hull one in less than half a minute.

After hulling 5 gallons of walnuts, the husks still added up to nearly 5 gallons.

Hulling the walnuts takes off the husk and most of the "fruit," but the walnuts are still covered in a fair amount of gunky stuff.  I can see where pressure washing them might make the final cleaning much easier than the method I used, but walnut husks and leaves contain juglone, and juglone prevents other plants from growing.  So I used the wash 'em in a bucket method and scrub 'em with a wire bristled grill brush.  I poured the resulting black water and sludge where I did not want anything to grow.  While husking 5 gallons of walnuts by hand was not a major ordeal, hand cleaning was.  Definitely going to look for a better method of washing them.
5 gallon bucket of un-husked walnuts equals one large mixing bowl of shell-on nuts.

All and all, I spent four hours to get on mixing bowl full of nuts.  And I haven't even shelled them yet.  They will need to hang out and dry for a few to several weeks, depending on temperature and humidity before I can crack them and find out what the actual harvest will be.  Still, even though I need a method that will scale, I'm pretty happy with this modest haul.

Can't wait for them to dry so I can crack some open and eat them!

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