Every few years we have a big crop of black walnuts. On a few occasions we have decided to gather a few gallons of them to harvest the nuts. Other years we just let the squirrels take them.
There was only one year about 30 years ago when I collected half a pickup bed load of them. We spread them on the driveway and drove the truck over them to crush off the hulls then swept and shoveled them. It was a messy business and it took a while for the stain to disappear front he drive.
If harvesting walnuts is a serious business there are commercial machines available. I’ve never collected enough too make that worthwhile. After I was set up with ironworking equipment I made a tool which suits my needs. It costs virtually nothing, is small and indestructible and easy to store. I came across it when reorganizing the garage a few days ago.
I made it from a couple of pieces of heavy bar stock scrap - 2” x 1/2” and welded a cross assembly. Then I heated the ends and bent them down to fit over a piece of 8.5” pipe about 18” high. Finally, I cut a 1 3/8” hole in the center with the torch.
I set it up so I could sit comfortably when using it. It is about as low tech as it is possible to get. I place a nut on the hole and tap it with a hammer. The nut shoots down into the collecting pipe as almost all of the hull strips off. I brush off the hull mess and place another nut. It goes pretty fast. The nuts are put in a five gallon bucket and washed with a garden hose the laid out to dry (away from the squirrels). After a few weeks they are ready for cracking.
The ritual is just one way of staying in touch with early American traditional living. Cracking walnuts in front of the hearth fire was a form of entertainment before TV and all our other contemporary distractions. Cracking is another issue entirely and I’ll write about that when I get the time.
This year we had a scant crop of walnuts, probably related to a late spring hard freeze, so I left them for the squirrels. As it turned out they would have had plenty to eat anyway as there was an enormous acorn crop. It was a good year for the hickories and pecans too. Pawpaws were scarce but persimmons were plentiful. I can never guess how it will work out.
My pin oaks had the largest crop ever and from my shop I could watch a group of blue jays work the tree for several weeks removing the nuts. There activity was so apparent that a couple of hawks took up a vigil in nearby trees and I saw them make a couple of unsuccessful attempts to grab a jay.
One bad experience with hulling walnuts stands out in my mind. After I built my tumbler I tried it with about 50 walnuts. They were clean in a jiffy but it took weeks for all the hull gunk to leave the tumbler.