Harvesting and Hulling Black Walnuts, Revisited

Since my first post about black walnut harvesting, I’ve learned a lot.

First and most important, I was wrong to store the whole nuts in the wire racks.  The hulls should come off immediately as when they decompose, the hull juices seep into the nuts and make them even more strong-tasting than they already are.

There are many, many websites that talk about how to remove hulls from black walnuts.  Most of the “professional” sites (no one can make a living from black walnuts, but some people have professional-level experience!) sneer at the old-fashioned way of running over the nuts with your car.  ” Too inefficient” they say (if they are dedicated) or “too dangerous” (if they are cautious).  Both agree that you have pieces of hull and walnuts flying everywhere and it’s a bother to pick them all up — or can be embarrassing if the walnuts and/or wet, slimy hulls hit someone.

The most accepted method is what I call “The Booted Foot.”  Mochachino, the barn cat, is supervising me as I execute this procedure:


I have a box of walnuts on the right, put six of them on the driveway macadam, then put my work-booted foot over each one and press into the macadam.  The hulls slip off and then I toss the hulls into the box on the left and walnuts into the bucket beyond the box.

We used this method during a Tuesday Night Potluck and Weeding Session and it worked well even with Tina and Sue wearing sneakers.  About 10% of the walnuts wouldn’t press out fromt the sneakers and I had to re-press with my sturdy work boot, but we managed to hull all the nuts in a reasonable amount of time.

You do want to wear gloves when hulling black walnuts; however, no matter what type of glove I wore, my thumbs were dyed brown from the nuts.  A friend suggested putting Vasoline on my thumbs and then wearing the gloves which I may try in the future.

The Web is divided about composting the hulls — some say that if the composting is done completely, the juglone from the black walnut which inhibits the growth of other plants, will be broken down and gone, while others say to simply put the hulls somewhere to break down where they won’t interfere with beloved plants.  I used them to fill in some sunken areas around the farm, away from crops I care about.

The other widely endorsed manner of hulling black walnuts is to put them in a cement mixer with water and a handful or so of grit and let it rip!  I am SO haunting Craigslist next year if this year’s crop of black walnuts is worth spending the cash for my own “home-sized” cement mixer!  The best of the articles I read on harvesting/hulling black walnuts (and includes the proper ratios for the cement mixer method!) is here:

The other advantage of the Cement Mixer Method is that the walnuts are nicely washed and hulled with this method.  Most sites recommend washing the remaining walnuts in a wire basket with a power washer to remove sticky hull pieces and remaining juices.   The rinse water is brown, brown, brown with juglone, so do this in a spot you aren’t picky about what does (or in this cause, doesn’t) grow there.

Next, the walnuts are laid to dry in a protected (so the squirrels don’t find them!), but airy place for a month to six weeks.  This gives you time to find a vise to crack them (no kidding — Frank wanted a vise and it took us trips to several stores to find a sturdy one!) because everyone agrees that not only will a regular nut-cracker not crack a black walnut, but black walnut crackers listed for sale on OTHER websites won’t do the job either!

Right now, I’m still at the harvest, hull and cure stage.  Check back in 6 weeks when the Tuesday Night Potluck and Weeding Crew tries to actually crack the black walnuts and extract the nuts so that we can all have black walnut cookies for Christmas!





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