Silvopasture and Agroforestry

Update to walnut stained skin

Walnuts were harvested and processed on October 7 leaving my hands severely stained.

By October 27, the stains were much less noticeable, but still apparent to anyone who might have looked at my hands for more than a fleeting moment.

Now on November 2, only a ghost of the stain persists:


Silvopasture and Agroforestry

Harvesting the fruit of Juglans nigra, aka Black Walnut

Harvesting walnuts is a very easy process. The fruit will simply fall from the tree when it is ripe. Creepy crawlies that get into the fallen fruit before they can be gathered don’t penetrate the shell of the walnut, thus do not ruin the fruit. If those nuts gross you out, let them lie to nourish the wildlife!

Even in years where the trees produce only a modest yield, the ground beneath a mature walnut tree looks like a hastily abandoned tennis court…especially after windy days:


Luckily I have so many native mature trees that competition with squirrels is not an issue. Last week I was gathering nuts along side a fox squirrel that might have been bigger than my parents’ small breed dog.

Actual harvesting process:

  • Grab some containers keeping in mind that they WILL be dyed by the hulls of the walnuts
  • Similarly, grab a few pairs of nitrile gloves
  • Head out to a walnut tree and gather the fruit that has fallen

This year, my average time spent harvesting is filling a 5 gallon bucket in 7 minutes. I enjoy the workout of carrying 2 buckets at a time 100 or so yards back to the barn for storage/processing, but it does cause my arms, shoulders and trapezius muscles to burn intensely.


My favorite part about harvesting walnuts is that I get to directly observe the variations in tree genes. I have two trees that look like twins, but one produces walnuts that are so large (between a baseball and a softball) that they don’t feed well into the corn sheller I use to dehull the nuts. The other produces nuts that are close to a golf ball in size. So while harvesting walnuts, I can identify trees to propegate, or if I want ot get more involved in breeding, harvest pollen to be applied to another tree that produces large nuts.

The same information helps me identify trees to focus on human consumption, while the rest are perfect candidates under which to put hogs when they come to the farm!

Basically walnuts tap into my deepest levels of tree nerdom.


Silvopasture and Agroforestry

Harvesting and processing Walnuts

Many of the productive native trees in the pasture are American Black Walnuts, Juglans nigra. Harvesting and processing is quite a physical, labor-intensive process. If edible nuts were the only goal, taking on those processes may not be too attractive. By making use of the the fruit in its entirety, the process makes more economical sense.

As yesterday’s post demonstrated, walnut husks are extremely effective and permanent dies:


While I dyed my own living skin, the same process can be used to dye and preserve animal skins. By utilizing the water-soluble tannic acids present in great proportions in the hulls, animal hides can be preserved as well as tanned. This process is better known as tanning!

So in an upcoming series of posts, I’ll show my process of harvesting and processing the fruit of a Juglans tree. The tanning parts will have to wait until I have an animals skin to experiment with.

I am also working on creating a video series for the farm activities, but I have a lot to learn when it comes to shooting video, capturing the audio and all the work that goes into processing that data into a good product. I’ll keep you updated!


First pumpkins!

Last week was busy with the harvesting of the productive garden volunteers that were not knowingly cultivated. Amongst those plants was the first batch of pumpkins.

Along with the corn, something also dragged a small but ripe pumpkin off, likely a raccoon but maybe a groundhog. It is a safe assumption that it had grabbed it by the stem, either with digits or by mouth regarding the two suspected pests respectively, to haul it off as I found the pumpkin itself laying stemless in the pasture.

Potentially due to the lack of rain and possibly due to my relentless hacking of the pumpkin foliage to keep the plant from smothering the blueberries and asparagus, one of the pumpkin plants yielding 14 small fruit had turned brown and with the stems and foliage being reclaimed by the soil beneath. It was time to claim those fruit before something else did. After adding a few scarred or slightly soft pumpkins to the compost pile, the total count harvested was 11:


Excitingly, two other pumpkin plants bearing huge mostly green fruit are still developing. Even more interestingly, those plants are still blooming heavily. As such, the practice of combating aphids and leaf eating pests with neem oil sprays  are kept well away any blossoms on the farm. Even though neem oil is a very safe organic spray, bees can still carry contaminated pollen from treated flower back to the hive resulting in the poisoning of their brood. Thus even organic -icides are used strategically and in a manner that protects the human food as well as the creatures that work to provide it.