A note on walnut sprouts

June 12, 2008

Note to visitors:

The actual purpose of this blog is to disseminate information about the culture of black walnuts, so please feel free to ask questions by entering comments in the space below each article. I’m no expert, but Neil Thomas is, and we have access to the library and the many years of experience of the Northern Nutgrowers Association, as well.



May 14th the new seedlings started popping up. They are still at it in the new field. Some of the early ones lost some leaves to a late frost, as did the new plantings of resistant butternut, but all have recovered from the setback.

I checked your earlier response in which you indicated that normal sprouting time is early to mid-June. I’m wondering if the early risers are from cracked nuts from last fall’s runs through the huller before the tolerances were set correctly. I tried to sort the damaged nuts out, but it proved too time-consuming, so I just dropped them into the ground along with the others.

Almost none showed signs of mould, most likely due to my use of toxic levels of potassium metabisulfide. To check for the viability of cracked nuts, I guess the only thing would be to dig up the seeds in a non-producing hill and see if they are 1) cracked and spoiled or 2) intact and goofing off, waiting for next year or 3) intact and slow to sprout.

After the Eureka! moment, of course, one must stop to ponder the potential value of early-sprouting nuts.

Much growth this week with the heavy rains and warm weather.


Update: June 13, 2008

A drive over most of the new plantation showed that about 90% of the hills have one or two seedlings growing at the moment, though some are little red shoots and others are sizable plants which already dwarf the yearlings transplanted in early in the season to replace seeds stolen by squirrels. At this point I’d have to say that the fertility of the cracked kernels is no longer in question. How vital the sprouts turn out to be is another question.

As usual, the grays didn’t take many of the nuts far. About six feet from the hills, lots of volunteer seedlings are growing right where I need to mow.

The apple and pear trees in the orchard are loaded, as are two young walnut trees adjacent to them. The older trees nearer to the woodlot are less willing to commit this early. I had noticed that last year and concluded they were taking the year off, but they produced good, late crops.

Update: June 18, 2008

With the aid of Joseph Booth, a summer visitor, I filled the empty hills in the new field with transplanted sprouts from hills with an extra seedling. After a steady overnight rain the ground was nice and damp, so we took advantage of the weather and put in a total of three hours at the task. There are still many hills with double sprouts, but there are very few now without any.

Just wait: in another week I’ll be writing here complaining that I now have a lot of hills with three walnuts growing out of them. Some hills in the display field have up to five seedlings, after last year’s overplanting. My mayhem with the string trimmer had little long-term effect upon the extra seedlings, though it did reduce numbers somewhat for the display at the plowing match. Roundup or transplantation will take care of them eventually.

Anybody want a hundred or so seedlings for immediate transplant? They’re healthy little devils.

Update July 3, 2008:

The Roundup burn in the new plantation is now complete, and the seedlings have recovered from the minor setback. I sprayed a 3′ square around each seedling. Afterward, a few low-lying leaves grew black and spotted and the overall size and strength of the plants seemed to diminish for a week or so. They seemed less green and vibrant as the vegetation around them dwindled and died. Now they’re coming back with new growth, though, and looking stronger (though less pretty) than before. Some sprouts are still rising. In the whole field I don’t think I killed a single walnut, so my skill with the backpack sprayer seems to have improved.

To date only one of Joseph’s transplants has died: it was in the lowest point of the back field and it flooded out during heavy rains. The rest appear nearly as lively as the other seedlings near them.

Update August 4, 2008:

The new sprouts seem to have done their growing for this year, as few are showing much new growth even though they are receiving abundant rainfall. I suspect the plants are devoting their energy to root development, though, as at some point the seedlings develop the tap roots and become much more difficult to transplant. Last year in late August the seedlings responded to my watering efforts with new growth after a lull at this time of year, but then the crusted snow last winter broke most of the new stems off and they had to start again anyway.

The seeds planted in the fall of 2005 are growing very well this year, with the odd one exceeding six feet in height now. Perhaps because of the rapid growth, the branches are very brittle, and I have to mow very carefully around the larger plants lest I break their limbs.

The middle-aged walnut trees in and around the woodlot are now showing substantial nut development on most trees. As usual, I see no nuts on the butternuts.


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