We're grow­ing nuts!

Alberta Gardener Magazine - - Contents - By Tania Mof­fat

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.

Har­vested wal­nurs.

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