Black walnuts tough to harvest

  • Article by: NANCY ROSE , Contributing Writer
  • Updated: October 11, 2000 - 11:00 PM

QI have five black walnut trees in my yard. How do I harvest the nuts, and what can I do with them?

AThe black walnut (Juglans nigra) is an impressive native tree that grows up to 50 feet or more and has an irregularly rounded, widespreading crown. Its beautiful dark wood is highly valued in furnituremaking. It also makes a good shade tree, but many people don't want to deal with the litter created when the large nuts fall off the tree in early autumn.

Black walnuts yield tasty nutmeats, but it takes quite a bit of effort to get to them. The nuts are larger than a golf ball, smaller than a tennis ball, and have a leathery green skin. This somewhat spongy outer layer covers the nutshell. The shell is deeply fissured and very hard. Within the shell lies the tasty edible part of the nut. Black walnuts have a unique rich flavor.

To harvest black walnuts, pick them up when they drop from the tree, usually in early fall. The outer layer has a pungent smell and leaves yellow-green stains, so wear gloves and old clothes when you handle the nuts.

Getting the outer layer off is a messy process. I've heard that some people spread the nuts out on a driveway, then drive a vehicle over them to grind off the husks. My neighbor collects butternuts (Juglans cinerea), a closely related species that also has tasty nuts, then places them in mesh onion or potato bags and hangs them outside. This keeps squirrels from getting them but allows the husks to dry so they're less messy to peel off.

Cracking the hard nutshell requires a heavy-duty nutcracker, or a big hammer and good aim. Use a nut pick to extract the nutmeats once you have the walnuts cracked open. Black walnuts can be used in baked goods and ice cream, and they're also good when toasted and sprinkled on vegetables or pasta. They have a more pronounced flavor than common English walnuts, so be sure you like their flavor before you go to the effort of shelling them. Store shelled nuts in airtight containers in the refrigerator or freezer.

QI was given some tomatoes that appeared to have white residue spots on them. When I asked about the spots I was told that they had been sprayed with fungicide. Are the tomatoes safe to eat?

AFungicides are used in the production of practically every fruit and vegetable at the grocery store. These chemicals are used to prevent a wide range of fungal diseases, including leaf blight and fruit rot.

The safety of fungicides used by home gardeners depends upon whether or not the directions given on the container were followed. The information on fungicide labels comes as the result of much testing and it should not be ignored.

In your case, the important things to know are the name of the fungicide, whether is it labeled for use on tomatoes, and what is the acceptable number of days to harvest after the last spraying. This time span can range from two weeks to no waiting time (same day), depending on the chemical and the crop it's used on.

For example, I just read the label for a fungicide called Daconil 2787 (a trademarked form of chlorothalonil), and the number of days to harvest for green beans was seven, but for broccoli and cabbage and tomatoes, it was zero. This means that you could spray it and harvest it with no waiting time.

As a general rule, thoroughly wash all produce to remove most surface pesticide residues. If you have any doubts about the tomato giver's ability to follow instructions on a chemical label, discard the tomatoes.

QWhy is my hibiscus dropping its flower buds just a day or two before they would have opened?

AHere are a few possibilities. One could be shifts in temperature, especially toward the low side. The tropical species of hibiscus are sensitive to lower temperatures, and anything below about 50 degrees can set them back.

Another possibility is uneven soil moisture. If your plant is in a container outside, perhaps the soil is drying out too much between waterings. Try to keep the soil evenly moist, and move the plant to a larger pot if necessary. Excess nitrogen fertilization tends to reduce flowering, but I think this would show as lack of flower buds, not dropping buds.

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