Walnut bombardment

Buckeye Farm Beat

It might kill you, but there is some serious cash to be made in this fall's black walnut crop.

Published on: October 12, 2011

We are blessed to be surrounded by a woods that is full of black walnut trees. The last few weeks the trees have been shedding their fruit and the plop…plop…plop-plop-plop-plop makes it somewhat dangerous to pass under them right now. Even our dog has had to abandon his favorite sleeping spot under the walnut in our yard. I too detour around it when I am heading to the barn and my wife Kathy mows the lawn at her own risk.

Seems to me like it is a very good year for walnuts. I first noticed this last July when one of those strange weather systems sent mini-hurricane winds through the farm. The heavy gusts took down a lot of branches. All of them walnut branches and all of them heavy with walnuts.

I secondly noticed it when I went to put my walnut roller to work. You know the tool I am talking about? It’s a wire basket on the end of a shovel handle. You roll it along the ground and the spring-like wires separate as they roll over the walnuts trapping them inside the basket. Then you use a nifty hump-shaped bracket that fits on the edge of 5-gallon bucket to separate the wires and shake the walnuts into the bucket.

NOT A BALL: Flash has no interest in walnuts even though they look strangely similar to his favorite toy a tennis ball. He will chase the ball all day. The nuts don't get a second look.

I got mine at Farm Science Review several years ago. We use it every fall. It’s really cool. Kind of reminds you that kid’s toy that pops as you roll it along the ground. I just looked it up on-line and the site referred to it as “the Nut Wizard is also known as a nut picker, nut roller, gum ball picker, nut picker-upper, basket nut tool, nut grabber, yard roller, walnut roller, walnut tool, nut tool, lawn sweeper, walnut rake, lawn whisk, nut collector, acorn rake, sweet gum ball rake, acorn gatherer, acorn picker upper, pecan picker upper, and walnut picker upper.”

Unfortunately this year the walnuts are so freaking abundant the Nut Wizard is really of little use. And we only try to gather the nuts from one tree. Over the years the four huge walnut trees that shaded our southern exposure have been thinned by Mother Nature and man. Wet soggy ground was the culprit for two of them. Both managed to fall in the pond making it challenging to clean them up. My wife saw the first one go -- just moments after she weed-whacked the bank it was resting on. It just slowly eased on into the water. “I could have been killed,” she still reminds me – as if I had pushed the 10 ton-trunk in her direction.

LOOK OUT: Even though the ground is covered with walnuts the trees are still loaded with fruit waiting to drop on an unsuspecting passerby. Or even a suspecting one.

The second was more like, “Good morning honey. You better get the chain saw there’s a tree in the pond.”

The third was leaning a bit more toward the house than the pond. So it was removed before I got a wake up call through the roof.

However, the fourth tree is still there. Usually my daughter Ginny rolls the wheel barrow under the tree and uses the Nut Wizard to load it with several buckets of fruit which are them dumped in the woods for squirrels to gather up. Since she has now moved to Nashville, I took the Wiz out there a few days ago to start cleaning up the walnuts.

Good God. I was nearly killed immediately. The baseball-sized green bombs fell in a constant barrage. Plop, plop-plop-plop, plop, plop, plopidty plop plop. I worked the edges where there seemed to be a little more safety. In a matter of minutes I had filled two 5 gallon buckets. In a matter of several minutes more I had filled the wheel barrow. I looked around. I had covered about 10 square feet. I tried to estimate how many buckets of walnuts were already on the ground. One, two five, fifteen, thirty, fifty, a hundred…and I was still only along one side of the edge of the tree. Along the shore of the pond the walnuts had rolled up into a solid surface that looked like the top of a crate of green oranges I had once seen in a Florida orchard. In this case the “crate” extended for 30 yards.

THE WIZARD: Is this a cool tool or what. If you had about 50 people each equipped with one of these you could pick up all the walnuts in my yard in about five days or so.

This is one walnut tree, I thought as I admitted I really could not begin to guesstimate how many fruit were now on the ground – not counting the hundreds we have already mowed over and were turning black in the soil. How many walnut trees are there in our 40-acre woods? I have no idea. They are thick.As many trees in the woods as walnuts on the ground easily.

OK. You are farmers. You know there has to be an economic outlet for all these walnuts right? I looked on line and yes there are two walnut processing companies in the United States. They process the nuts for food and use the hulls for industrial purposes as well as fuel. One is in California and one is in Stockton. Missouri. It’s called Hammons Products Co. and it has been buying and processing black walnuts for 60 years. They sell their nuts at Wal-Mart, Costco and Sam’s Club.

At their site hammonsproducts.com. you can type in your zip code and locate the nearest buyer. They buy in 16 states and I found 11 buyers within 100 miles of my home in Lancaster. The closest was Joe Hietter in Pataskala. I called Joe and got a recording that reported he was paying 11 cents a pound for green walnuts. That would be 50 to 90 cents a 5-gallon bucket the recording noted. Furthermore it would translate to $50 to $100 for a full-size pickup load. He said he prefers green walnuts, but will take them when they are turning black too.

So here’s what I’m thinking: I will just take the pickup out in the yard and park it under the walnut tree. When it’s full I will drive it over to Joe’s and dump it. then I find another tree. How’s that sound? Say $75 or $100 a trip. After I pay for the broken windshield and the dents in the hood and fenders, I should clear some good cash. Right? Right?

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Those walnuts get pretty nasty too when they start to turn black. You should probably have more kids or train the dog to start helping you get all those things up! Good luck :)

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the input. I'm pretty sure the Bag-A-Nut harvester is a more likely option than more kids! As for teaching the old dog a new trick? Doubtful. tw

  3. Anonymous says:

    Tim, What a bunch of nuts. Thanks for pic. of nut roller,never saw one. To make a million dollars you need to develop a market for black walnuts. I suggest sending black walnut cookies to Alice Waters and Gordon Ramsey. Black walnuts have fallen out of favor. Why?too expensive to process? Today's public doesn't know the taste. Time to start a new foodie trend in Ohio. Get a used tank to collect them..then off to market. just my thoughts. JSB in California

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the article Tim. Flash is a beautiful dog! While the wizard is good for small jobs you might be interested in Bag-A-Nut's Black Walnut Harvesters (http://baganut.com/nut-harvesters/black-walnuts/). Built specifically for homeowners and small farms, they do a great job of picking up a lot of walnuts quickly. Dispensing is a breeze as well.