By David Fried
I felt like someone was watching me, even though it was so quiet on our hill.
A wind brushed the hairs on my neck and then I saw him looking at me.
It was that red squirrel again! The pesky, persistent one that sings “get away, get away” in northern squirrel dialect whenever I forget and wander innocently under one of our black walnut trees.
I did my best to ignore him and walked on.
We have two large black walnut trees. They don’t look like much and their form is not straight or graceful. But every year they make so many nuts that we have plenty to eat, plenty to plant and plenty to sell. This is after the squirrel gets his share. I was telling a customer today at our nursery that their life depends on getting enough nuts. For us, we just WANT to have nuts for our enjoyment, but it is one of many things we like.
In the fall, when a few start to fall, the squirrel is sitting on a high branch, chewing through the nut, or whatever they do to get to it and watching me through the corner of his eye.
Then there is a windy night or a cold night, and a lot of them fall until they cover the ground. I go out first thing in the morning with my nut wizard — not a Gandalf type — but a tool that you hold and roll across the ground, and nuts fill it up. You release about 30 at a time in to a bucket or box. No more bending over to pick them up! We get a lot harvested this way. We step on the husks in our driveway and rinse the black coating off them and dry them, out of the reach of the squirrel. We rotate them at room temperature, so they don’t mold and will keep for years. You can grow your own high protein — high-oil food and it does not take a lot of work. Plant black walnuts in deep earth and to the north of other shorter orchard trees, so the walnuts won’t shade the others.
Hazelberts will begin making nuts in two or three years. They have orange red fall color and are self-thickening-they send up shoots which become trunks or branches and make a great wind-break, hedge or screen, eight-to-10 feet high. The secret to harvesting them before the blue jays and squirrels is to look within their husks-when they begin to turn tan from white, you can pick them, husks and all, and bring them into a protected place where they will turn to the nice dark brown we are looking for. Both black walnuts and hazelnuts need two or three trees for pollination.
We also grow pine nuts. They are an evergreen and you harvest the cones or wait until they drop.
Each “petal” of the ripened cone will have a pine nut peeking out from it. I bring the whole cones inside and remove the nuts during winter when I have more time. As with all nuts, only crack the shell for as many as you are going to eat that week, They keep without refrigeration in the shell, but not once they are opened.
We also grow shagbark hickory, butternuts, American chestnut, Ashworth bur oak and buartnuts.
These are all exciting and unusual and look great on any Vermont hillside.
Full disclosure: the squirrel promised to leave me some large tasty nuts this fall if I would write this article, probably hoping that all his relatives would have big festivals if more people in Vermont would plant these very useful, easy- to-grow trees…
David Fried owns Elmore Roots Fruit and Nut Nursery, located in Elmore, Vermont. This is their 34th year! firstname.lastname@example.org.