Notes from the nut fall, 2010

September 20, 2010

It looked as though the three nights of frost in late May had done in this year’s walnut crop, but after supper tonight Bet and I gathered about 40 gallons of walnuts from five trees growing together in the woodlot and one in the garden.

The young garden tree yielded 530 nuts (4 white oil-pails full) before I ran out of space and desisted for the evening. That was about 2/3 of the nuts on the ground. The tree still has a lot of nuts on it. I’d call that a best fruiting ever for that young tree. Perhaps it’s because I pruned a large extraneous limb off it last year. Stress seems to encourage walnuts to bear.

Update: 22 September. From the garden tree I gathered another 560 nuts from the ground and low-hanging branches. There are still perhaps 500 nuts on the upper branches of the tree, but they don’t seem ready to fall yet. About fifty nuts lay under the small tree in the shade of the barn, with a few on the upper branches. Competition from the nearby red mulberrry tree and vines crawling over the upper limbs have limited this tree’s productivity. In the woods again there are nuts not yet ready to fall, but I gathered only about 60 more from beneath the clump of frost-evading trees there. A search of the remainder of the woods turned up no more bearing trees, so it looks like a short nutting season in 2010.


Squirrels again!

November 17, 2007

The lead article in this edition of The Nuttery cites an European study which claims that red squirrels have population explosions timed to take advantage of bountiful nut harvests. In other words they predict the boom year and have extra litters to exploit the resource. Scientists are still scratching their heads about how they do this, but there was no mistaking the huge increase in the number of red squirrels underfoot two summers ago. The population had settled down considerably by this fall’s stingy harvest.

Good riddance to them, and to chipmunks, too, if they would ever leave.

Over the last two years, on the other hand, my esteem for grey squirrels has increased steadily. While they may not be psychic like their red cousins, they show amazing adaptibility and a strong work ethic. I’ve already mentioned how they changed their harvesting tactics due to the demise of the old coyote and the presence of Zeke, the local red-tailed hawk. They stayed on the ground this fall until the day after Zeke flew south, and then they took to the trees with a vengeance.

Perhaps the current wolf became the target of a bored deer hunter, because now the greys have discovered my new walnut seeds. They started at the corner near the large trees and have worked their way into the field about forty feet. Another individual is picking the outer row off quite methodically, most likely using the posts and burned patches from Roundup to help him find the nuts. So it’s Elmer Fudd time again. My choices seem to be to:

1. ignore the losses and plant more nuts;

2. fence the squirrels away from the seeds;

3. shoot or poison the little demons;

4. find a way to gross them out.

Years ago I found the easiest way to get rid of fish entrails in the country was to find a convenient woodchuck hole and drop everything down the vertical chute. The chucks didn’t like this. They kept moving away until I ran out of holes within walking distance of my fish-cleaning bench.

When emptying ancient squirrel nests from the soffits of my mother’s house two summers ago I was struck by the cleanliness of the nesting material. Unlike mice, greys seem very fastidious in their personal habits. Maybe I can use this to my advantage.

If I can introduce a substance around the new plantings which the squirrels find repugnant, maybe they’ll leave the seeds alone.

Fresh cow manure would be my first choice as it is in good supply in my area, has benefits as a fertilizer, and is unlikely to attract racoons and coyotes in the manner of fish entrails. Mind you, neither of the above eat walnuts, and they have been known to munch on the occasional squirrel. Hmmm.

The outer two rows of the field seem to be the most vulnerable to predation. That would be seventy forks-full of green, gooey stuff. Will it work? Will it last? Of course it would be a lot quicker just to plant another fifty nuts to fill the gaps, but that didn’t work two years ago or last year, and the other patches still have few trees in the outer rows.

More on this later.