How to Harvest Black Walnuts

Gather Your Black Walnuts

black walnuts on ground
Photo © Erin Huffstetler

Have access to a black walnut tree, and interested in harvesting the nuts? Here's a step-by-step guide to what's involved, beginning with the collection of the nuts:

How to Identify Black Walnuts

Black walnuts have a yellowish-green husk that turns brown as it ages. They are about two inches in diameter, and fall to the ground when they are ready to harvest (which is September-October for most of the U.S.).

How to Gather Black Walnuts

Black walnuts contain a juice that will stain your hands for days, so be sure to put on a pair of gloves before you get started. Then, simply pick up all of the black walnuts that are laying on the ground, and haul them home.

Remove the Husks from Your Black Walnuts

black walnuts ready for husk removal
Photo © Erin Huffstetler

Once you've gathered all of your black walnuts, it's time to remove the husks. Roll the first walnut under your foot, and that husk will slip right off. Then, repeat with the remaining walnuts.

If you have a lot of walnuts to do, you can also lay them out on the driveway and drive your car over them several times to remove all of their husks at once. This works well, but will stain your driveway, so just keep that in mind, if you decide to go this route.

Note: Don't worry if you see any worms inside the husks. These are from husk flies, but they seldom affect the nuts. They're very well protected by their tough shells.

Clean Up

Toss all of the husks in the trash when you're done. You may be tempted to throw them on your compost pile, but don't do it; they contain a chemical called juglone, which inhibits plant growth.

Wash the Black Walnuts Off

cleaned blank walnuts on drying rack
Photo © Erin Huffstetler

With the husks removed, you are now left with just the walnuts in their shells and lots of black gunk. Place the nuts in a bucket, and spray them off with a hose to remove as much of the gunk as you can.

Toss any nuts that float; it's a sign that the nut meat didn't form properly. Then, lay the walnuts out to dry.

If you opt to leave them outside to dry, make sure they're protected from direct sunlight, rain and squirrels.

Cure the Black Walnuts

cured black walnuts
Photo © Erin Huffstetler

Give the black walnuts two to three weeks to dry and cure before you store or crack them. This will ensure that you don't lose your harvest to mold.

How to Store and Crack Black Walnuts

black walnut cracked open
Photo © Flickr user vastateparksstaff

To Store Black Walnuts

Once your walnuts have had plenty of time to cure, you can store them as is in a cool, dark place for up to a year (though they may turn rancid before then). Your best bet, however, is to shell them, and freeze them.

How to Crack Black Walnuts

To crack your walnuts, place them on the ground pointed end up, and hit them with a hammer until they crack, or place them in a vice grip and tighten it until they give. Then, careful pick out the nut pieces. Walnut shells are very hard, so this process takes time.

It's very common for the nut meat to get broken into pieces during the cracking process. If you really want whole nuts, soak the walnuts for a couple hours before you crack them. The nuts will absorb a small amount of water, and be less likely to break. If you go this route, allow the nuts to sit out at room temperature for a day before you freeze them, so you don't end up with freezer burn.

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