Black Walnut Harvesting In French Creek Valley

Last Revised: September 17, 2018

Walnuts Not Quite Ready
A Cluster Of Black Walnuts, September 2, 2013- Not Ready Yet!

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We planted over 2500 Black Walnut trees between the years of 1975 and 1978. Our soil is not the greatest for these trees (too heavy and wet in most places) so we lost a lot of them. I think that maybe 150 or so survived. Many of them are stunted, having died back to the rootstock several times, then trying to make it again (and again and again and---). The good news is that about 30 trees or so have grown well into nut-bearing age. This year was a good year for some of them, so we decided to harvest four 5-gallon pails full and process them.

The 4 pails we picked from the ground on October 4 and 5 of 2011 yielded over 600 walnuts. We left 2 or 3 times that many on the ground under just the 5 trees we visited that were big producers this year.

Here are pictures of part of our processing so far:

Black Walnuts Drying
When we brought the walnuts home, I placed them on these 3 sieves to dry. Later that day, I learned from internet sources that I don't need to do that. The are advantages to husking the nuts while the husks are still somewhat green, but just a little bit squishy when squeezed by a strong hand.
Here you see nuts on only two of the three sieves because I didn't think of taking some pix until I had already de-husked the nuts in the first one.

Black Walnuts DeHusked and drying
Here's the "After" picture. All the nuts from the 4 pails (or 3 sieves) ended up not even filling the two sieves, as you can see. By the time the nuts ended up here, they had been de-husked, rinsed and vigorously agitated several times in hot water and then drained. Now, after a few hours in the sun, it's time to warm them to about 110 degrees F for a couple of days to thoroughly dry them, inside and out, so no mold will form during the 4 week curing process at about 60 or 70 degrees F. Only then will we crack the shells and extract the nut meats.

Soaking Dehusked Black Walnuts
This pail contains about 175 husked nuts that came from the first sieve. As I de-husked the walnuts, I tossed them into this pail which contains hot water several inches deep. The water begins to loosen husk material that is still stuck to the shell of the nut. If you look closely, you can see how "slimy" the nuts look. After each rinsing/agitation cycle, the nuts look cleaner and cleaner and the water is less inky-black.
The main reason for the addtional cleaning is to make the nut meat extraction less messy.
I wore a pair of "refinishing" gloves during this process and they worked very well to keep the STAIN!!! off of my hands throughout the de-husking of the first sieve of nuts. HOWEVER, when working on the rest of the crop, I failed to notice tiny holes that appeared and now, my hands look like those of a coal miner at the end of the day. The coal miner can wash most of it off, but this stuff is permanent--- until new skin grows on, I guess.

Pail of Black Walnut Husks
Here are the husks from the 175 walnuts that were in the first sieve. I have even squished then down a couple of times during the processing to make room.
I read a lot about various husking methods, but here's what worked for me:
I picked up a nut and squeezed it between the thumb and forefinger. This would smash the husk against the hard nut inside so the skin of the husk would break open. Then I could peel the husk off the nut. Using nuts that are mostly green, but usually have a little bit of black on them, this process worked for over 80 percent of the nuts. If the husks were too firm to break the skin this way, I used a knife to score all the way through the husk, all the way around the "equator" and then twisted the two halves thus formed in opposite directions. One half would usually come off cleanly. Then I could peel the other half off as previously described.

Black Walnuts with very tough Husks
This picture shows the 10 unhusked walnuts from the first sieve of 175 that were too hard to de-husk by simply squeezing them by hand. Note that these nuts are totally green. The outer skin even seems a little wrinkled on a few of them. In the future, maybe they should be left for the squirrels or turkeys.
The walnuts from the other two sieves had a somewhat higher percentage of these hard-husk nuts. We learned from a couple of sources that you shouldn't process nuts unless you can dent the husk with your fingernail. Those nuts DID meet that standard.

By the time we got done, we had 609 nuts left to dry. The nuts are right now being warmed by a 250 watt bulb in the two sieves you have seen. The sieves are stacked one upon another and supported by the corners on pails and the whole works is covered with cloths to help hold the heat in but allow the moisture out. I will keep incresing lamp power and/or keep adding more cloths until the temperature reaches about 110 degrees F, as mentioned previously. After two days of that, they nuts will be moved to the basement for a 4 week "cure". They tell me that the "cure" is where the flavor is developed.

Here are our youtube videos further detailing the project up through the initial drying:
Black Walnut Processing, Part One Half

Black Walnut Processing Part 3 (Improvements to Part One Half)
The video above show a major husking improvement.
This simple step will speed up husking black walnuts by a factor of two or three, or more and it will reduce the strain on your hands considerably.
All you have to do is to pour a pail of nuts onto a hard surface and then walk on them with twisting motion of each foot as you go. Each twisty step will flatten the husk to a degree and it will begin tearing the husk away from the nut shell. Once you are satisfied that you have contacted each nut with a shoe, gather the nuts up and put them back in the pail. Now continue the husk removal process as I have described previously.

You will want to wear your garden shoes, since it would be a bad thing to track the walnut stain juice into the house. The rougher the soles on the shoes or boots you wear, the better the result.

Black Walnut Processing, Part 1

As of November 10, 2011, the cure is complete. Check out this video for the nutmeat extraction process:
Black Walnut Processing, Part 2
As of November 12, I have extracted nutmeats from about 400 nuts. It is taking me about 2 hours to extract the nutmeats from 100 nuts. About 200 nutmeats fill a one quart Mason jar. It is recommended to store these sealed jars of nutmeats in the freezer if they aren't going to be used within about a 4 month period. This is to keep the oils in the nuts from becoming rancid.

To make the job less of a hassle, I started extracting the nuts in my favorite chair, in front of the TV set. That did provide a distraction, but sometimes the walnut shells would pop into the air several feet from me. To stop this from happening, I cut most of the side out of a plastic 5 gallon pail, leaving about 2 inches at the bottom of pail intact on the side that I cut.
My Black Walnut Shell Catcher Walnut Shell Catcher in my Lap
The pail sits right in front me on the chair and the full height back side acts as a backboard, catching almost all the flying objects. The bottom 2 inches of pail provides a handy receptacle for the empty shell fragments.

Update on Walnut activity since the fall of 2011


Hardly any black walnuts grew anywhere on our place in 2012. I found 12 total nuts! Was it due to the mid/late summer drought that we had? Who knows.

2013 Walnut maturity report

About Aug 15:
I pulled a nut from a tree. It was small, a little over 1 1/4" dia and very hard. I couldn't push my thumbnail into it at all.

Aug 22:
I found 3 nuts on the ground. They must have been blown off by last night's storm that left .8 inches of rain. Still as hard as the earlier one. I let them sit on my bench for 3 days, then squeezed 2 of them in the vise. The hulls are very thin and tightly attached to the nut shell. Both the hull and the shell are quite flexible. The shell is almost pure white.
There isn't any real nut meat in them. Just a paper thin layer of dark brown material. If these nuts were to be found on the ground later on, along with "good" nuts, I'm pretty sure they'd be floaters.

August 30
Nuts on trees this year:
-No nuts on the two driveway trees, that I can see.
-No nuts on the tree just inside the sugar house drive entrance.
-No nuts that I can see across from the mailbox.
-One tree on Neal's corner has a pretty good supply of nuts.

Lane down to the creek:
-Turn left at the end of the lane.
One tree about 50 feet away has plenty of nuts. I think I saw a few nuts on a tree 50 feet south of that one.

-Turn right at the end of the lane.
Behind the evergreens:
No nuts on the first couple of trees. One or two trees have some nuts. I'm not sure that I am seeing them if they are there.
It seems to me that, as summer marches on and the nuts mature, the leaves lighten up in color. Those changes seem to make the nuts stand out better; they seem to look blacker against the sky and the foliage.

The nuts that I did see today are still small and have those really hard hulls. I doubt that they would yield useful nutmeats if they fell from the trees. I think the squirrels feel the same way since there are no freshly cracked nuts on the ground.

Places I haven't yet checked out:
-South side of the creek in back of the little field
-Up by the pond

September 2
I visited the trees on the south side or the creek.
There are actually 14 trees there, in sorta two staggered rows. I will name them #1 at the far west zigzagging to #14 at the east end of that grove.
There were a few nuts on the ground under several, but not all of these trees. Almost all of the nuts on the ground look to be very immature, with hard hulls. A few of these nuts have had their hulls removed completely. Deer?
I did see nuts on 2 or 3 of trees. Tree #7 has lots of nuts. I took several pictures of a particularly full cluster of them (see top of this page) to show how they form on the end of the branch.

Turn left at lane---- 4+ trees:
-First tree, right by biggest brush pile, has no nuts that I can see.
-2nd tree has a few and I found a couple on the ground.
-Third tree has quite a few nuts.
-Fourth tree didn't have any that I could see. The top has been broken out of it recently. Behind fourth tree is another walnut tree, but It looks in pretty sad shape.

Turn right at lane---:
There are supposed to be two walnut trees there, but I only noticed one of them today. It does have some nuts on it. There is one nut right at eye level, when on the Case VAC tractor. It is coming along well but you can barely poke a thumbnail into it at all.

Three trees on our driveway:
None of them have any nuts that I can see. The one closest to the road is the one that had 9 or our total of 12 nuts last year and they were all good. The other two trees have never yielded anything.
Summary, for September 2:
I don't think ANY of the nuts are really ready to harvest. I picked up about 2 dozen nuts from the ground and brought them in dry or to "mature" between screens. A couple of them at least seem to be the right size.
Between Sep 2 and Sep 29
-I have checked the tree(s) on Neal's corner a few times for nuts on the ground, but haven't seen any yet.
-Still haven't seen any nuts on trees across from mail box.

Butternuts, about September 23 (I digress!)
Roger Degner brought me 3 plastic bags of butternuts (about 1 1/2 five gallon pails) at the Guild blacksmith conference.
I discovered that the pointed hulls don't come off the same way that black walnut hulls work. It took me at least a half hour to scrape the hulls off of about a dozen or so nuts, so I gave up on hulling the rest of them for now.
I washed the dozen butternuts and dried them, as in black walnuts.
After a few days, I cracked a few in the vise. They have pointed ends and that makes the vise process a little harder because the nut slides sideways as the point(s) break off and I have to reposition it again to crack the main part. The nut meat is shaped differently from a black walnut and seems to come out the shell more easily.

In the pictures below, note how differently the inside of the shell is shaped for each kind of nut.
The Butternut (left picture) appears to have a two "seams" 90 degrees apart on the outside of the shell. You can see what I got when I sawed one nut on one seam and a second nut on the other seam.

When I sawed two Black Walnuts apart, (right hand picture) I first sawed with the flatter side down and got the shape on the left. When I turned the next Black Walnut 90 degrees from the flatter side, I got the pattern shown on the right of that picture.
Interior of the Butternut Black Walnuts in Cross Section
Two Butternuts sawed in half at 90 degrees from eachother     Two Black Walnuts sawed in half at 90 degrees from eachother

I asked around about getting the husks off the butternuts and was told that you need to dry the nut until the husk becomes almost powdery. Then, I guess, you just crack the nuts with the husks on and pick out the nut meats.
We will see.
All those butternuts are currently on a covered sieve drying in the sun.

September 29
I gathered about 1 1/4 five gallon pails of black walnuts today.
Most of them are on the smaller side in size than the average nut from 2011.
90% of these nuts came from the grove on the south side of the creek.
There are still a fair amount of nuts still on the trees. After searching around on the ground a while it occurred to me that the trees that still had nuts on them were probably the best trees to look UNDER for nuts on the ground.
And it did work out that way.
I did not see any recently cracked nuts, but I did see a lot what appears to me to be turkey activity in brush under the trees at the south of the creek.

Particularly along the creek behind the evergreens, walnut trees with trunks in the one foot diameter range continue to die.

I think it would be a good idea to wait about a week and go back there again.

September 30
Today I checked the ground under the trees across from the mailbox. I was CERTAIN that these two trees has no walnuts on them at all. WRONG! I picked up a full pail of nuts in about 10 minutes. There are still plenty of nuts left on these two trees. It is interesting that 90 percent of these nuts still had completely green husks. I can, however, dent the husks with my thumbnail.
Not like 2011 where most of the nuts didn't fall until they were at least partially yellow. Maybe we've had more wind this season.

After that, I checked the tree at the entrance to the sugar house. I would have sworn that there weren't any nuts at all on that one, either. Only one or two nuts on the ground, but now that the leaves have turned yellow and dried up some, it is easy to see that the tree is full of them. So much for my visual powers earlier in the season!

October 8
My goal for this day was to collect the last 2 pails of nuts that I will want to process this season.
Not many nuts left on the trees across from the mailbox. Got a dozen nuts. Lots of squirrel/turkey activity here. Still a LOT of nuts on the tree that's at the sugarhouse corner, but only found 3 or 4 nuts on the ground.

Went to the right at the end of the lane. I had seen some nuts on trees here, but not a lot. Wrong again. Nuts everywhere. Found several black walnut trees where I didn't even know they existed.
Picked 1 1/2 pails in short order. LOTS of nuts still on the trees. the wildlife won't be hurting at all.
Note: I am NOT picking up those small nuts with real hard husks that fell a month or two ago in the wind storm. Experience has shown both me and the wildlife that there's nothing in the shells.

Still had some room left in one pail. Turned left at the end of the lane. The first tree, one which I thought had no nuts, proved me wrong once again. between it and the next two, I filled that bucket to the brim in no time.
If I divide our black walnuts into three categories by size, I'd call them small, medium and large. Most of the nuts I picked up so far today were small or medium.

Even though both my pails were full, I went across the creek to the stand of walnut trees on its south side. Here, I had already found quite a few nuts from several of those trees and I had seen LOTS of nuts still on the trees. That was true today. Still lots of nuts on the trees AND lots of nuts on the ground.
Most of the nuts on these trees are of the large size!

I took my pails home and reported the day's find to my wife and a visiting friend of hers. I mentioned that I hated to leave all those large nuts out there, but that I had collected all the nuts I wanted to process this season.
The visitor offered to take one pail of the small to medium nuts off my hands so I could go back and get some of those larger nuts. I obliged.
Then I went back across the creek and collected another 1 1/2 pails of mostly large nuts.
I could go back in 4 or 5 days and gather at least as many as I did today, if the squirrels don't get them.

October 10:
Went to the neighbor's house to pick up some more empty pails.
On the way home, I stopped at the two or three trees on Neal's corner. Lots of large size nuts on the ground and some still on the trees. It is interesting to note that a few of them look to have "pointy" ends to the husks, more like butternuts than black walnuts. I will try to keep track of them when I husk them.
Couldn't help it, but I picked up another 5 gallon pail of nuts, even though I really don't need any more work to do.

2014 Walnut maturity report

October 7th:
Well, this certainly is an off year for black walnuts here. I have only found about 6 trees with any significant quantities of black walnuts.
Last year, we had a couple of late summer wind storms that blew a lot of immature nuts off the trees, but that didn't happen at all this year.
The good news is that the tree on our driveway that only started producing in 2011 did a really good job this year. Last year, I think it had 9 nuts. This year about 100!
All in all, I have only harvested about 1 1/2 five gallon pails of nuts this year.
Today I did look around some more and I found 2 trees down by the creek that were loaded with nuts, about half of them on the ground and the other half still up in the air.

2015 Walnut Maturity Report, to date:

September 16, 2015:
This looks to be a moderately good year for our black walnut production. Today, I checked out about 30 of our trees and most of them have produced a "good", but not "record" number of nuts. The best news is that there are hardly ANY nuts on the ground yet. None of the nuts on the trees have started to turn yellow yet, either.
The tree in our driveway looks to have about 70 or 80 nuts this year. That surprised me a little, since most of our other trees do have sharply defined on and off years. But---- this tree and two others like it, also on the driveway, came from the Pepin Wisconsin area as seedlings. The trees down there don't seem to have so much of that on and off cycle, either. As I said, there are two other black walnut trees along the driveway that I haven't mentioned before because they had yet to produce any nuts. One of them is barely surviving year-to-year and is only about 6 feet tall, whereas the other two are in the 15 to 20 feet tall range. The second tree has finally started producing, too. It has about 2 dozen nuts.

October 1, 2015:
First frost 2 days ago.
Nuts are finally starting to drop. They are mostly just starting to "yellow" when they do drop. Tiny areas of black on some. I'd guess they are currently dropping at a rate of about 2 percent per day, but that will surely increase rapidly now. Most of them have husks that are just soft enough for de-husking to begin.

October 9, 2015:
90 percent of the nuts are on the ground from some trees, but only about half have fallen from others. There are hardly ANY green nuts around now. About 10 percent are black and the rest are yellow to yellow with black spots. This is the ideal time to gather and husk them.

October 15, 2015:
All the nuts are on the ground now, here in west central Wisconsin. Time to race the squirrels, deer and turkeys for your share.

2016 Walnut maturity report

August 29th:
We had a severe frost in late May this year. Frost isn't all that uncommon at that time of year here, but the severity was. Most of the black walnut and ash trees on our place had their leaves and little sprigs that turn into flowers go black and die off. Later in the year, the trees did survive and generate new leaves but I haven't seen even one walnut so far on our driveway or across the road on the south 40. I do need to take a more complete survey, though.
One other change of note: We sold the 40 to the east of us where we had a few black walnut trees (and a bunch of other trees) on the 3 southeast acres. The new owner intends to farm every square inch that he can, so he cut down almost all the trees, including the half dozen black walnuts that were there. So, of course, those trees won't be included in my report anymore. He gave me 7 logs from them, though, and that wood, mostly 2" thick boards, 8 and 10 feet long, is now air drying in my shed.
August 30, 2016:
I just got back from surveying the rest of the black walnut stands. That's the area down the lane to the west of the house. Of all the 30 or so trees in that whole area, only one had any nuts (that I could see) on it at all! That tree has, maybe, 30 to 50 nuts. One interesting point: about 400 feet north of the tree that did have nuts, I found ONE yellowish colored black walnut stuck in a "Y" crotch of a dead sapling, about 5 feet off the ground. No other nuts in sight, on the ground or on any tree nearby. And--- I think I have seen this same thing happen before on some previous year, but never when THAT nut was the only one around! Do we have a super smart squirrel, or what?
Looking back on previous yearly surveys, I see that I have been wrong before when predicting the crop, so we will see what we see in a few weeks.
October 5, 2016:
During our annual mid-September weekend at the Laura Ingles Wilder Days celebration, we saw that the black walnut nut crop in Pepin, Wisconsin was somewhat lighter than normal, but I was easily able to collect about 4 dozen nuts from under a tree close to our demonstration sites.
On our place, about half of the leaves are gone from the black walnut trees. We have had some pretty nice fall weather so far and not even a close call of a frost. I don't see ANY nuts at all- in the trees or on the ground! There apparently was lot of animal activity around the one tree that had some nuts on it. Maybe the squirrels and turkeys got them that quickly.
Well, here's the only evidence of walnuts that I can find:
Walnut Remains On Rock
I guess that's it for this year.

2017 Walnut maturity report

August 31st:
This has been a somewhat cooler summer, but no big frost like we had last year. So far, I'd say the walnut crop is "spotty". A few trees are loaded but many trees have hardly any nuts (that I can see).
The tree on the driveway that produced over 100 nuts a couple of years ago seems to have only about 17 nuts. The other two driveway trees have no nuts at all.

September 3rd:
Took another tour today, and found one area with about a half dozen trees where the nuts are already starting to fall.
What is interesting is that it's only this one area that's about 50 feet in radius and that the nuts are all still fully green. This area is pretty well protected from wind, so I can't blame it on that. Do we have a resident squirrel who is shaking them loose? I don't know. I should have brought a pail, so I could have brought some home to see if they are mature.

October 10:
Almost all of the walnuts have fallen to the ground by now. Most of them are yellow and black which is the right time to start processing them. The driveway tree that I thought had only 17 nuts finally yielded 70. My mistake again. I see a lot more signs of squirrel and/or turkey activity this year.

October 26:
Now 99+% of the nuts are on the ground and there are a lot of them. Local animals can't keep up. Weather has been nice until now. Tonight comes the first real frost and the temperature will go below freezing every night for the next 10 days. All the leaves are gone. Although it's sorta off-topic, the corn is at 24% moisture now.
A few days ago, I gathered half a 5 gallon pail of nuts for a "floater" test.
After I husked them and cleaned them off in my normal way, then dried them in front of the utility room furnace for a couple of days.
Just before I emptied the last rinse water off the nuts, I separated out the floaters.
The "TEST" will be to crack the floaters to see how many, if any, are empty or haven't filled out fully.
Report to come in a couple of days.

2018 Walnut maturity report

July 8th:
I just saw the first walnuts on one of the 3 trees along side the driveway.
Again, I KNOW they must start out small, but I never locate them until they are about 80 percent full grown. Of course they aren't developed internally yet.

August 21st:
Only about one in ten of our trees seems to have any walnuts on it at all. And even then, not very many.
Unlike last year, we haven't had any wind storms to blow the nuts off the trees. Well, I have been wrong before, but this certainly is a major "off" year for our black walnuts.

Research About Black Walnuts

Here's the best article that I have seen so far about how black walnut trees grow and how the nuts grow and mature:
How Black Walnuts work, U of Missouri