Lawrence has an abundance of walnut trees and squirrels. What the squirrels don't hide - or bury - we may need to pick up, because picking them up, even in competition with the squirrels, can be beneficial. Walnut meat is not hard to harvest and becomes a flavorful addition to cakes, pies, cookies, salads and more.
The black walnut (Juglans nigra) is a valuable timber tree and plentiful to all of eastern Kansas. In the fall, the walnuts ripen, changing color from a solid green to a yellowish brown, softening as they do, then fall to the ground. Unripe fruit may fall, too, with the wind or critter activity. If you can press into the hull with your thumb, the fruit is ready to harvest.
There are three steps to walnut harvest:
¢ Remove the husk and wash the nut.
¢ Dry the nut.
¢ Remove the meat from the nut.
There are many ways you can go about these three steps, but let's keep them simple.
Newly fallen fruit already may be shedding its hull. Placing it on a hard, open surface will allow the hull to soften as it turns brown. Walking around on these or mixing them will get off some hull; the rest can be removed by hand. Warning: Walnut juice will stain. Wearing durable waterproof gloves and old clothes are recommended.
In the hull, you most likely will see larvae of the walnut husk fly. These are harmless and are destroyed when the husk is removed. They do not affect the shell or nut meat. After the rough hulling, the nuts should be washed, with vigorous water agitation, to remove the final hull remnants. Any hull left on will penetrate the shell, discolor and taint the nut meat, so two or three washings are recommended.
Note, too, that the hulls and this rinse contain "juglone," a chemical that is toxic to many vegetables, plants and trees, such as tomatoes, azalea and silver maples. Composting any of these remnants is not recommended; discarding is the best alternative.
Once completely rinsed, the nuts need to dry. This hardens the nuts' shells and loosens the nut meat for removal. Place them out of the sun, if possible, and spread out no more than three deep. Dry them for two to four weeks.
A hammer is a good tool for removing the nut meat, but it can be messy and somewhat dangerous. A good 4-inch steel vise is my choice. Hold the nut end-to-end in the jaws, thumb on top, fingers below. Apply pressure until the nut breaks but not so much that the fruit is crushed. Dropping the cracked nut into yet another bucket will break loose some of the nut meats. A small electrician's wire cutter (side cutter) can then be used to nip one or both ends of the chamber to allow the rest of the nut to fall out. If they are not dry enough, this will be a tedious process.
Sort through the precious nut meats carefully to remove any remnants of the shells. Store the nutmeat in the refrigerator or an airtight container. For long-term storage, freezing is recommended. Enjoy.