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Planting black walnuts from seed.

For the past 25 years, off and on, I have been planting black walnuts and, using the same methods, sometimes butternuts, acorns, hickories, and chestnuts. It seems each year I learn more.

There are two basic methods: using tin cans for individual seeds, and using wire mesh or screening for beds.

To use tin cans, chop slits or some kind of opening in the bottom of the cans with a hatchet. The point is to make an opening large enough for the emerging seedling but too small for a squirrel to get its paw in. Use the hatchet to chop a small hole in the ground, put the nut in, and with the hatchet (or whatever) pound the can down over the nut. The advantage of this method is you won't have to transplant the seedlings. As the plants grow the cans deteriorate.

When using the bed method, transplanting is necessary. You can work up the ground or just put the nuts down, side by side, and cover with a thin layer of dirt or even hay. Cover the bed with any kind of wire screening that keeps squirrels out, such as old window screens or quarter-inch mesh.

Now some details:

* When in doubt, consider what Mother Nature does.

* The root of the nut will be where it was connected to the tree; put that end down.

* It is not necessary to crack the nuts (there is a persistent myth about this).

* It is not necessary to remove the green husk from the nut.

* The nuts have to freeze. Don't store them in your garage or basement for Spring planting; they will die.

* A black walnut that floats in water is dead and will not grow (I don't know about other nuts).

* If you use screens over a bed, remove them in the spring after you see the first shoots. Too soon will mean lunch for the squirrels. Too late means you will have grass and weeds fastening your screen to the ground.

* Transplant only when the seedlings are dormant. They will die almost immediately if you move them in the summer with leaves on.

I have had black walnuts grow like weeds, four and five feet a year. Mostly, however, they grow slowly. I don't know the secret for rapid growth.

Incidentally, this past summer I had flourishing tomatoes growing right next to a five-year-old walnut sapling. Supposedly that shouldn't happen.

Another way to crack black walnut?

Regarding Kit Kennedy's method of cracking black walnuts (77/6:80): he wastes a lot of energy and may eat a lot of small bits of shell. You don't have to hammer a walnut to get it out of the shell.

All you need is a jackknife, paring knife, or a four-inch screwdriver.

Hold the nut in your left hand and insert the blade into the stem end, giving it a good twist. The shell will split in half and you have all of the inside with no damage.

Butternuts you have to stand on end and use a hammer.

If this works for anyone... terrific. We don't have any nuts to try it on right now, but I'm a bit skeptical. Sometimes they do crack in half when a hammer, but even then we generally have to smash the halves to get the meat out.

But it won't cost anything to try--if you're careful with that knife. My guess is it will work for some and not for others... possibly because of different strains of nuts. Try it and let us know how it works.
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Author:Reger, Roger
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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