The Walnuts Finally Get In

December 14, 2006

Banished from the fridge at Thanksgiving, the processed nuts have sat in the gazebo while I worked every available hour on the renovation of the second story of the house. A heating season can=t begin until the building is closed in, so the walnuts had to wait. With great relief I watched last week the first time a gust of wind made the vapour barrier flex like an enormous, complex diaphragm. I turned on the heat and the new room immediately became the warmest in the house. Then came this week=s run of mild weather. Perhaps the nuts wouldn=t have to wait until spring after all. I opened up the first bag. The nuts were damp, fresh-smelling, and as usual ready to stain everything they touched. Just in case I took a sample in to the work bench, encased it in the jaws of a pipe wrench and hit it a sharp crack with a hammer. Quite a lovely nut, actually. Maybe it=s the hydration, but the shell was completely filled with meat. It had a pleasant flavour — perhaps a little young, but definitely palatable. So little then remained to do but to seize the window, not look gift weather in the mouth, and get all my nuts in a row. Off I went to the back field with a large hamper full of wet walnuts, my magic planting stick, and not quite enough clothes for the deceptively cold and windy day.

The plan was to fill in the spots where walnuts hadn=t grown last spring. A secondary plan was to double the number of plants in the field to encourage a taller growth and to generate some mowing efficiencies. I would plant enough new hills to convert the existing 20′ X 20′ grid to 10′ X 20′. I had read that even nurseries only expect 50% germination from black walnuts, so I decided this year to hedge my bets by planting three nuts per hill, rather than last year=s two. I have read that some plant as many as six, but with my tendency to bond with each seedling I=d end up unable to cull the extras and then what would I do? Put them up for adoption? Grow a hedge? Anyway, out I went with the golf cart and in went the nuts. The gloves got soggy, and all my other clothes became filthy as I wrestled the first thousand nuts or so into the ground. It looked like a nice, sunny late-fall day. It felt cold and raw in the brisk wind. Still, the ground was soft and the nuts were going in. I finished off the back field shortly after lunch and then moved to the field closer to the house. I like its park-like aspect so I may not pack more hills into it after all. The rest of the afternoon went by quickly as I inspected each hill and replanted to fill gaps. I ran out of light, energy and seed with about an acre left. If I get another good day I=ll grab the remaining bag of nuts in the gazebo and have at this last patch. What have I learned from my day?

  • From a look at the bare patches after last year=s planting, it is clear that walnuts don=t like wet feet. Butternut seedlings seem much more tolerant of standing water. While most of the walnuts which did not grow had been planted in wet areas, some spots seemed to be relatively high and dry, but when I re-planted them I hit the kind of silt one finds in low-lying areas and the ground was wet. I think the silty soil had retained the water from recent rains. Successful hills seem to have more grit in the soil and don=t hold the water as well.
  • If they are stapled down so that they don=t become kites and destroy the seedlings, paper mâché mats greatly enhance the chances of the seedlings they surround.
  • Roundup application is highly dependent upon the weather and the skill of the applicator. Both the best seedlings and the worst bare spots in the fields show the effects of Roundup. Too little doesn=t work and too much produces a mini-wasteland where nothing can grow. On average, however, the spraying gave the seedlings a much-needed boost. In the overall scheme of things all of my hours of weeding last summer didn=t count for as much as one bad spray-job.
  • Where walnuts like to grow, they really like to grow. Many of the hills I visited today had two little seedlings, standing straight and as tall as one summer=s growth can let them.. Volunteers planted by squirrels and seedlings snipped off by mowers in previous years have wrecked any semblance of an orderly grid in the best area, an abandoned pasture with tired soil and much less aggressive grasses than those in the working field next door.
  • While August=s drought caused the seedlings to drop back early while the butternuts charged forward, I saw no evidence that any had died from the lack of moisture.
  • A one-year old walnut is mainly leaves. At this time of year there isn=t much left to see.
  • It is still cool planting a tree.
  • When one plants 1500 walnuts in a day, even with the magic planting stick, expect UNBELIEVABLE LEG CRAMPS later in the evening when you try to climb a set of stairs.
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