We decided it was time to take advantage of the hundreds of walnuts that fall from the half dozen or so walnut trees edging our property. Our neighbor has been collecting them for years, and though the process sounded like a bit of work, we thought it would be wonderful to have our own walnuts to crack open on a snowy winter evening while sitting around a cozy fire... and the idea that our own land had yet one more way to provide us with sustenance intrigued us. How hard could harvesting walnuts possibly be?
Our window of opportunity was quickly closing. The squirrels were looting what they could grab, and numbers of walnuts were rotting away on the ground, untouched. Winter was obviously approaching....
My mom and I grabbed a harvest basket, and headed to the brambles. Ducking, dodging, and weaving in out and out of thorny , prickly vines and covered in burrs, we searched for fallen walnuts hiding amidst the leaves. Much to our surprise, walnuts look incredibly like limes, a vibrant green, the size of a small rubber ball.
We managed to fill our basket in less than 30 minutes. We had Alex shake a small walnut tree that was still hanging on to a couple dozen ripe walnuts- a risky proposition, we realized, as they bopped him on the head during their fall to the ground.
The best (and, as our neighbors might say, most cheatin'est) way to de-husk the walnuts is to run them over with a car. This smashes the husks, which can then be easily removed. (Warning: this process will stain your driveway.) The husks can't be added to the compost, because walnut husks contain a compound that is toxic to many plants, including tomatoes. Apparently, this is an evolutionary adaptation that helps keep competing plants from growing too close to the walnut tree and stealing vital nutrients.
Now, we had read a recommendation to wear gloves while removing the husks, because the juices in the husk can stain your hands. We thought it would be "interesting" to see how bad walnuts stain your hands. I think it is fair to say we both regret that. A week and countless harsh treatments later (I caught my husband pouring turpentine and gasoline on his hands in desperation), they are still black as black can be (see photo of Alex's hands to the left). We are told to expect the stain to last about 2 weeks- until the skin and nail cells have had a chance to replace themselves. Yikes! So anyway, we recommend gloves. Strongly recommend.
After running over and removing the husks, we threw the walnuts into a cooler full of water to wash off as much of the black goo as possible. Though a lot of it came off, the walnuts were still full of black and yellow, mushy husk bits, but that's OK. After a few days of drying out in the sun on a screen (we put them inside a portable greenhouse to keep squirrels away), they were ready to go into our cement mixer for
an hour to tumble off all the dried husk. It worked phenomenally well! The walnuts came out perfect! (If you don't have a cement mixer available, I would suggest putting them in a large bucket or barrel, and stirring them aggressively with a stick- though the cement mixer was certainly a lot easier!)
Finally, we hung them in some old onion and garlic net bags, where they will hang to cure for about 3 weeks. They are hanging off our coat closet door in living room, near the wood stove, to speed up the curing process.