Planting walnuts

December 3, 2017

It was a perfect day for it this afternoon, so after our walk I grabbed the “Nut Wizard” Tom Stutzman gave me a while ago and had at the matt of blackened hulls under the walnut tree in the orchard. In no time a five gallon pail was full of mostly-hulled black walnut seeds, perfect for planting.

Over the years I have observed that black walnuts grow best from seed planted in late fall, and they’ll grow tall and straight if they have to struggle to get to sunlight because of competition from overhanging trees. The shelter belt of white pines on the north side of the property has quite a few young walnuts fighting their way to the top of the canopy, giving the hope of long, clear, veneer logs in sixty years. The nearest mature walnut tree is a half-mile away. Never underestimate the ambition and the horticultural talent of a grey squirrel.

For the last two years in November a pine-boughs merchant has sent a crew in to trim the lower branches of my white pines as they mature. The foliage ends up in a variety of Christmas decorations resold by vendors in the Toronto area. This activity enables the businessman to keep his construction crew working for an additional month in fall. They’re pretty good guys and they care about the trees. Ministry of Natural Resources personnel approve of this trimming procedure as it encourages the growth of higher-quality logs.

These five guys had spent a month walking around the stand of pine, so the grass was well packed for easy planting between existing stems. I kept a careful eye out for the shagbark hickory, yellow birch, and various oaks planted in clumps along with the pine. I left them to grow on their own, but I interplanted walnuts between the pines, every second row.

On an earlier planting project MNR Forester Gary Nielson told me that the black walnuts will eventually kill the pines and we’ll end up with a hardwood forest. That’s the theory: the pines are a nurse crop.

So on this lovely afternoon in late fall I picked my way down the long rows of healthy, seven-year-old pine saplings, pushing walnuts into the soft ground with my custom black-walnut planting stick. I put one in about every twenty feet. After I’d stomped 137 nuts into the turf the stained pockets of my oldest coat were empty and I decided to leave the remainder of the seeds for another day.

Should anyone care to try this pleasant task, I’d be happy to show you where to gather nuts. Be sure to wear gloves. While there is zero risk of infection from the walnuts because the rotting hulls are a powerful antibiotic, the dye contained in the dark mush will stain your hands so as to give you the once-in-a-lifetime experience of “seal flipper.” Donna O’Connor told me that high test gasoline will remove the stain, but I have yet to try it.