Harvesting black walnuts

If you have black walnut trees and harvest the nuts, you have to grab them before the squirrels do. They seem to know exactly when the nuts are ready.

Michele Warmund is a state fruit extension specialist at the University of Missouri. She says squirrels are smart because nuts harvested off the tree are the best quality. Those that fall to the ground are over ripe and not very tasty.

Black walnuts are ready when the husk is still green and they pass a dent test. This is done by pressing the husk with your thumb. When most of the walnuts dent, the tree is ready to be picked. Warmund suggests using a tool called a fruit harvester.

"You often see people using those for apples, this tool has a wire basket with fingers on it attached to a 10-foot pole, and it's used to pick the nuts off the tree," explains Warmund. "Also, people can use just a long pole and hit the limbs to dislodge the walnuts."

Once the walnuts are harvested, husk them soon to prevent the kernels from turning black and developing off-flavors. Warmund says homeowners often use creative methods such as running over the nuts with a vehicle, or using other abrasive means to remove the tough husks. 

After husking, hang the walnuts in loose, woven bags to air dry for about five weeks. Then, inspect each one.

"If any of the shells are cracked, or have little fissures in them, throw those out because they may be already infected with molds, or some type of microorganism," she says. "And the way you can tell that you have infected kernels, they're often yellow, or orangish-colored, or they may even have blue streaking in the kernels."

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