Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Nutty for Walnuts

Walnut tree in the winter

Until we moved to this property, I’d had very little experience with walnut trees. I had bought those delicious nutmeats in a bag but never harvested my own.

From over ten years of experiencing acres of walnut trees, I’ll describe some of the challenges. I use the word “challenges” because that is the foremost and best description of owning Black walnut (Juglans nigra) trees.

1. Walnut trees are the last to get their leaves in the spring and the first to loose their leaves in the fall.
2. Walnut trees not only loose their leaves in the fall but they loose the one to three foot whips that hold the leaves.

3. Walnut trees have a beautiful rugged shape. The wood, when grown to perfect standards, is highly prized by woodworkers for it’s beauty, ease of carving and veneer. Walnut furniture, musical instruments and gun stocks are of the most beautiful examples of American crafts. Illinois has some of the most valuable walnut trees in the world.
4. Walnut trees are tough, often growing to 100 feet. It is favored by termites and carpenter ants. Damage from these pests weaken the tree. Because it is so tough, the entire tree doesn’t just fall down, it falls down in stages during high winds.

5. It feeds and houses small animals, supports the nests of birds and is a feeding source and storage unit for woodpeckers. In the fall, they provide overnight lodging for migrating monarch butterflies.
6. It is seldom killed by disease but can be distorted by insects and lightening.

7. It provides bumper crops of walnuts more years than not. The meats are a valuable crop and continue to get top price per pound. The task of gathering, peeling the husk, shelling and picking out the meats is a difficult and arduous task for the noncommercial harvester.
8. The nutmeats have a wonderful flavor all it’s own. The rind has been used for centuries for it’s black/brown staining qualities. It takes almost that long for the stain wear off your hands.

9. Walnuts laying on the ground can destroy a mower blade. Even if they are the bits and pieces of shells shed from squirrel dinners, they will shoot out of the mower like little missiles. Raking is a backbreaking task.
10. The walnut tree produces a non-toxic, colorless, chemical called hydrojuglone. Hydrojuglone is found in leaves, stems, fruit hulls, inner bark and roots. When exposed to air or soil compounds, hydrojuglone is oxidized into the allelochemical Juglone, which is highly toxic.

Plants killed or damaged by Juglone:
birch, white
crocus, autumn
grape, domestic
mountain laurel

There are things you can do to help the situation but for further information on what thrives and what doesn’t, check out web sites for walnut trees and Juglone.

Death of a plant from Juglone poisoning is usually a slow process leaving the homeowner wondering what happened. Even though you may have some success growing walnut with some of the above, why risk the investment?

If you inherit a woods full of walnuts, as I have, you may have to use barriers, raised beds, and be diligent about cleaning up the walnut debris. Cutting down a walnut will not help because Juglone in the soil will take a very long time to neutralize.

Walnut trees are not for the faint hearted but they do have considerable value for their unique qualities.

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