We're growing nuts!
So, you want to grow nuts, do you? Here’s what you need to know before you even go out looking for a tree.
What a nut needs
Some trees take several years to bear fruit, but others may start producing a crop within the first year, this depends largely on the type of tree you buy, where you plant it and your climate. Climate and soil conditions will factor greatly on the outcome of your crop and your tree’s overall success. Some trees can be grown in lower than recommended zones, however, cooler climates may prevent fruiting. Your local garden centre should be able to tell you which species perform well in your region and whether you need one or two trees for proper pollination. You will also need to consider your available space, how quickly you want to enjoy a crop, how quickly you can harvest and how much work you are willing to do to keep your tree healthy.
Nut trees love the sun and will reward you with a bountiful crop if placed in a spot that gets sun for at least half of the day. If you only have a part-shade location you may want to try planting a variety that will produce in shadier spots, but know that it will not produce to its fullest potential. Nut trees also require well drained soil and proper spacing.
Nuts about planting
Bareroot trees need to be planted in a hole large enough to allow you to spread out the roots fully without touching the edges. The root collar should be even with the surface or slightly below. You can amend poor soils by adding in peat moss or compost with the removed soil as you fill in the hole. Tamp down the soil to remove any pockets of air and water.
Bareroot trees should not be fertilized at this point or you risk burning the roots, however if you are planting a potted tree, a slow release fertilizer is beneficial if mixed into the surrounding soil. Potted trees require a hole just a little larger than their pots. If the tree is in a five-gallon pot, remove around seven gallons of soil. Be careful not to dig too deep.
Plant trees with the recommended spacing or more, trees that crowd each other will produce less fruit. Do not plant a tree too close to your home or other structures.
Trees should be watered regularly until new growth appears and then watering can be reduced to weekly unless temperatures are soaring, then water accordingly. Established trees require fertilization every two weeks from spring to the end of June; use a N-P-K ratio of 20-20-20.
Keeping nuts picked up off the ground surrounding your tree is one way to keep it safe from pests and disease. Branches that are diseased or broken should also be pruned regularly.
Losing your nuts
Nut kernels start out as a liquid which turns into a jelly like substance and then to a dough-like substance when they are still green before becoming hard at maturity. Squirrels, chipmunks and blue jays are just some of the thieves you will encounter when growing nuts, especially if you are growing next to a woodlot. You can try to scare them away by playing recorded noises of birds in distress or the calls of predators, however, you will be left to their mercy. A cat or dog that is allowed to roam free may help to some extent as well.
Nuts, nuts, nuts!
Harvest time and the number of years you can expect before your first harvest will vary from species to species, but once trees begin producing, harvesting will consume a large portion of your time especially if you have several trees.
Gathering, preparing and preserving nut harvests take a significant amount of time and effort. Hulled nuts can be inspected by placing them in water as damaged, diseased or old nuts will generally float to the top.
Nuts then need to be dried in their shells for storage to reduce mold and improve flavour and texture. To do this, spread the nuts out in a single layer on a screen and keep them in a cool, dry, well-ventilated space. Drying time can take from one to three weeks depending on the nut. Once they are dry nuts can be stored in their shell in a cool location. Nuts can also be kept for years if frozen in their shells. Freezing will keep their oils from oxidizing and causing them to go rancid. To keep them from absorbing flavours from other items in your freezer keep them in plastic or glass containers.
Chestnuts are different from other nuts, in that they should be eaten fresh. Species are available with a growing zone of 4, such as the Chinese chestnut (Castanea mollissima) and Dunstan a cross between an American and Chinese chestnut. Chestnuts should be kept refrigerated until eaten.
Whatever nuts you choose to plant, know that it will take time for trees to become established and bear their first crop. Do some due diligence before purchasing a tree, you will be glad you did.
Imagine... grow your own nuts.
Juglans nigra unopened flowers.
Juglans nigra fruit.
Walnuts begin to reveal themselves.
Of course, once the word gets out, you'll have to compete with your neighbours for the harvest.