Nut season is upon us in Kentucky. We are fortunate to have several native species that feed wildlife and people. And of course, we can plant nut trees in our yards as they provide nice shade in the summer and of course, provide food in the fall. Nut trees can get large, depending on the species, but are well worth it if you enjoy fresh nuts. In Kentucky we can grow shagbark and shellbark hickories (and their hybrids), northern pecans, black walnuts, butternuts, Chinese chestnuts, English walnuts, hicans, and American halzelnuts.
So how do we go about harvesting and storing the nuts? With the exception of Chinese chestnuts, all nuts from trees listed above are high in oil. They store best if nut meats are extracted, placed in air-tight containers, and frozen because the oils turn rancid at higher temperatures. Frozen nuts can be kept for several years without loss of quality.
Unshelled nuts should be kept in a cool, dry, well-ventilated location like a garage, shed, or root cellar. Put them in mesh bags to promote good air circulation. Properly cured nuts may keep a year or longer in a cool place.
Walnuts and hickory kernels are easier to remove if they are soaked in water for one to two hours, drained, then held in a closed container such as a covered bowl or jar for 10 hours.
Black Walnuts. They are ready to harvest when enough have fallen to make picking them up worthwhile. Nuts should be hulled quickly as the stain in the hull will penetrate and discolor the nut meats. It can also impart a disagreeable flavor to nut meats.
English Walnuts. They should be dried within 24 hours of harvesting. They are usually dried in the shell but will dry faster if shelled first. The best temperature to dry them is 95 to 105 degrees F. This might take 3 to 4 days. Walnuts are dried when the divider between the halves of the shell breaks crisply when bent.
Butternuts. These are harvested and stored the same way as black walnuts. However, the surface of the hill is sticky.
Chinese chestnuts. They should be gathered as soon as they fall from the burrs. Keep them out of the sun because it will dry out the nuts. Harvesting is easier if they grass under the tree is kept mowed low. The nuts drop over a two-week period and should be collected every two days. Place nuts on a screen in a shady, cool, rather humid, well-ventilated place for several days to cure. Flavor of cured nut is much better than a fresh nut.
Chestnuts should be cooked before eating and are often boiled or roasted. Don't let nuts dry out, they should remain as plump as they were at harvest.
Hazelnuts. They are harvested when they drop to the ground. They should not be exposed to direct sunlight. Separate empty nuts (blanks) by floating the nuts in water. Dry them on a screen in a shady area with good air circulation. As hazelnuts dry, they change color and texture. Store hazelnuts as you would English walnuts.
Heartnuts. These nuts are harvested when they fall from the tree. The thin hull always remains attached at harvest but falls off after drying. Dry nuts for several weeks in a cool, dry place. Crack a few nuts every few days to check their dryness before storing. Heartnuts store well and have a long storage life.
Hickory Nuts. These nuts vary considerably in size. The best nuts are generally produced by shagbark hickories. Shellbark nuts have thicker shells. Gather hickory nuts as soon as they fall from the tree. Hull them and place on screens to dry. Crack a couple every few days to check on dryness. When kernels are crisp, store nuts in their shells in a mesh bag.
Hicans. Harvest hicans when they fall from the tree. Dry and store them like hickory nuts.
Pecans. They are mature when the shucks around the nut split and expose the nut. The percentage of nuts recovered can be increased in the grass is mowed and a tarp is spread beneath the tree. If pecans are allowed to drop to the ground, don't let them remain there long because their quality will be reduced. Store the nuts in a well-ventilated area where they can dry without molding or sprouting. They can then be refrigerated or frozen.
For more information, call the Pulaski County Extension office at 679-6361 and request UK publication ID-77 Nut Tree Growing in Kentucky. Become a fan of Pulaski County Horticulture on Facebook, follow @hortagentbeth on Twitter, and kyplants on Instagram.
Make plans to attend an upcoming class Grow Great Garlic on October 24 at 1pm at the Pulaski County Extension office. Garlic bulbs will be available for sale after the program.
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