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A Window On My World

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Black Walnuts

Every few years (too few for me), there is a spring so wicked that young buds freeze, resulting in scarce food for wildlife and scarce seeds for reproduction to assure survival of plant species.

Spring 2007 was like that here in the garden at Crocker Croft. Consequently, rebounding (as Nature is prone to do) the following spring (2008), overly abundant, even copious, buds, blooms, and seed-filled fruits were produced to make amends for the previous stingy spread at Nature's table.

Oh, me, that boom then bust in reverse sends a message to the gardener. Where we had almost caught up with the digging of wild trees, shrubs, and vines from the flower beds, borders and slopes, and thought the end was in sight, now there will be many times more planted by the wind and birds. The work load increases.

While the holly trees are gorgeous with their heavy crop of red berries that we enjoy, the black walnut trees have dropped the largest crop of fruit that I have seen since we moved here. That, I do not enjoy.

Don't get me wrong. I like the flavor of black walnuts, but I do not collect them for shelling. The process is too long and bothersome. If I were starving, I would take the trouble; but I am not.

On my grandfather's farm where I was born and reared, there was one black walnut tree. It had been planted at the front corner of the garage right at the driveway. When the nuts dropped, my grandfather swept them over behind the parked cars. That way, every time any one drove out and back in, they drove over the walnuts which mashed the green husk covering the nut. After they had been driven over for a few weeks, it was much easier to remove the rest of it, but the
juglan still stained our hands brown.

The next step was to crack the super hard walnut shell, it had to be done by hammer with the nut placed on an iron anvil. After they were all cracked, many hours were spent with nut picks probing the tight, circuitous little tunnels where the meats were hidden. The English (Persian) walnuts are easy to crack and the meats practically fall out without assistance. Not so the black walnut, it is rather difficult. But, worth the effort if you like to eat them baked in cookies and black walnut cake.

There was one black walnut tree on this property, but I had it taken out because: (1) They produce a chemical called juglan that kills, or at least subdues, the health and growth of plants surrounding it. That is its way of reducing competition. The roots exude the chemical, and it is found in almost every part of the plant: falling leaves, fruit husks, twigs, etc. (2) Due to health issues, they cause me excruciating pain when I step on a walnut. (3) The squirrels bury them all over the place. Of course, our beds and borders are easy digging so that is where they plant them. The next spring up come dozens of black walnut trees that we have to find and dig out.

Removing the tree on our property did not take care of the problems. One next door neighbor (85 years old) has a walnut tree within arms reach of the fence at our mutual property line. I tried to buy that tree, but he wouldn't hear of it. (Phooey!!) I was going to have it removed. He wants the walnuts. He usually says, "There weren't many walnuts this year." I toss back, "Oh, yes, there were; they are over here on my side!" So, I have to painfully bend over a few hundred times to pick them up and throw them on his side... or, pay someone by the hour to do it for me.

It is bad enough that when I step on them the pain nearly sends me through the clouds, but also, they roll when anyone steps on them. It is bad enough to roll on them while walking on the narrow, fairly flat North Path, but most of them are hidden in the vegetation on The Bank (a steep bank section of the garden). Believe me, when one rolls underfoot on that steep, steep bank, it is not good! We go rolling downhill, tail over teacups! I can tell you, if I were a cussing person, the air over that area would be permanently blue! So, there we are; that is the story. The squirrels are in hogs heaven this autumn.

One day in November, as I was sitting on a cushion on the ground, methodically weeding part of the Island Bed of wild garlic cloves and other bad things one square inch at a time, our Local Son approached me grinning widely.

He told me he had watched a squirrel with a big walnut in its mouth come up the path from the dell (not, North Path). It went to the Island Bed, looked about for a few seconds, chose a spot behind me, and, unbeknownst to me, quietly buried the walnut and patted down the dirt with its two front paws and loped away back down the hill. I never knew it was there! I'm weeding... and he's planting weeds! There is no justice!

In my own little world.


tina said...

What a naughty little squirrel but one can't help smiling. Did you tell the neighbor to kindly come on over to your side and pick up the walnuts? He'd probably do it. I like the story of your dad sweeping them behind the cars. They are truly hard to break into but I am betting squirrels can do it no problemo! Glad to see you back. Spring is on its way.

farmlady said...

Well, I think that I won't be planting a black walnut tree soon, if ever. I had no idea they were such a problem. I don't think I have ever even tasted one.

I love the last photo. Nice effect! I kind of reminds me of.., me. I know that position well.

Gail said...

2008 was a bountiful year..I never saw so may bur oak acorns and hickory nuts...Those darn squirrels always trying to plant a forest we don't want...gail

Meadowview Thymes said...

The thought of Black Walnuts make me think of my grandfather and from what my mother told me--he LOVED them! Grandmother used them in cakes, I think Mother said. Really nice memory for me--thanks for the post Barbee!

Gardeness said...

Very informative post. I enjoy the pic of you sitting out there on the ground. It's a position I often find myself in.

Balisha said...

Hi Barbee,
How's your winter going? I think we are all sick of it.
I can relate to your problems with the black walnut tree. My backdoor neighbor had one and every time I would go to visit I would roll on one of those #$%^%$# things.She did make the most wonderful black walnut cake. There's nothing like that flavor.
I guess we'll have to hang in a little longer...spring is in the wings.

Barbee' said...

tina, your comment made me realize I should mention that my neighbor is at least 85 years old (I went back and edited the post to put that in.), and it would be dangerous for him to try gathering them on my side of the fence. The path runs along his fence, and just off the other side of the path, the ground begins to slope. I wish I could invite him over to pick them up, but I don't dare.

farmlady, my husband took that last photo; I don't know how he got that effect. Maybe he played around with Photoshop. The flavor of the walnuts is a bit strong, not everyone likes them, but the rest of us are Very! fond of them. I thought some readers would identify with my photo.

Gail,... and their seeds always sprout and grow. If I planted a walnut or acorn, it would probably just rot!

Meadowview T., I am glad you enjoyed the post; I enjoyed reading your comment about your family.

Gardeness, thank you for visiting and leaving a comment. It is getting more difficult to get up from that position every year.

Balisha, well, this winter has been a doozie... don't get me started!

Linda Lunda said...

LOL!!! Thanks for this post!
It was so interesting and fun to read!

Sunita said...

Barbee, I read this post with a big smile on my face . Sorry, I wasnt laughing at your troubles but you presented your troubles in such a funny light.
I didnt even know there were different kinds of walnuts.
And that squirrel ... he should have been spanked by his momma when he was a baby!

Mariaberg said...

I loved to read about you and the blak walnuts.

Good on your father, to sweep them so the cars could run over them.

The do taste different and in some cakes i like them. We usually have some for christmas.

I feel a little sorry for you -
I'm weeding... and he's planting weeds! There is no justice!


Anonymous said...

I remember the Black Walnut tree at my grandmother's house. We had to shell those things for my mother, as she loved them. I never liked them myself, and really hated the stains on our hands.

Tyra in Vaxholm said...

fun,great story and a very informative post Barbee. It's funny to hear all the quirrel stories, we don't have many these days and when we see one everyone is so delighted.


Barbee' said...

Hi Linda, thank you; I'm glad you enjoyed it. Isn't that just the way of life!

Barbee' said...

Sunita, they are just little opportunists! That is very easy digging in the soft earth in the garden beds.

Barbee' said...

Mariaberg, I am happy you enjoyed the post. I thought it was clever of my grandfather to plant the tree at that location and how he managed them. I agree with you: There is no justice! I think it is just the challenges of life to see how we will handle them. So, I think laughter is a good thing. We might as well laugh about it.

Msrobin, this seems to have prodded memories for several people. You were a good sport to help your mom like that. There really is no reason to have those trees if one isn't growing them for wildlife food, or family food, because they are one of the last to leaf out in the spring and one of the first to drop leaves in autumn.

Tyra, we have the little gray squirrels and they are cute as monkeys to watch. I would love to be one for just a day, and go scampering high in the trees from tree to tree!

Marta McDowell said...

Your black walnut post brought back so many memories of my father. He was a great collector and sheller of them, and I love the taste of them in cookies. But I should have interviewed him more carefully about the secrets of extraction. I've tried it since his death. Got a small pile of smashed-nutmeat-shell before throwing the hammer aside in frustration. Just one of so many reasons we'd like him back.

Steve said...

Barbee, squirrels are evil little creatures who delight in making life as hard as possible for us, often even forcing us to provide bread and other goodies in their own blackmail schemes. We know who they are and where they live.

I can remember the blackest hands from that Walnut juice and all our messing with the nuts. They made fabulous missiles for throwing as I am sure you know and there is just something about their plentitude that invites kids to use them in various physical experiments.

Kerri said...

Hello dear Barbee! You've been missed.
You spin such a great yarn :)
It's a shame those black walnuts and the squirrels are a terrible bane to you.
The story of you sitting weeding while the sneaky squirrel buried the nut behind you makes me smile broadly :)
And the picture is a perfect illustration.
I hope the winter hasn't been too hard on you. Spring will be along soon! :)

Barbee' said...

Marta, I understand some of what you feel; there have been so many times I wished I could ask something of my parents and grandparents. Those times I get splattered with bits of grief... again. I can't imagine my own progeny finding anything they would want to ask me when I am gone. Well, maybe: What kind of flower is that.

Hi Steve, I have to plead 'guilty' of feeding the squirrels. Even though they make life harder for me, they have their own feeding station near the window at our breakfast table, and they entertain us royally. They are bad enough, but it is the raccoons that really! give me grief. Don't get me started on those. Childhood memories: You bring back memories of fun with the walnuts from my own childhood and that of our two little boys. I guess I did my share of distributing walnuts around parts of the farm, but none of them grew into trees. Nature is so good at supplying all manner of interesting things for inquisitive children. I wish all children could have access to her.

Kerry, Thank you. I'm limping back (figuratively speaking) to writing, but now I am so far behind. I am glad you saw the humor in my story. Spring? We have sheets of Eranthis in full bloom! I wrote about them last year, but maybe I should run the photos again so readers will know to what stage our seasons have crept.

Cinj said...

Hmm, maybe it's a good thing I didn't buy those walnut trees I was so tempted to buy last year. It sounds like lots of work. Walnuts sure do taste good though.

We had lots of acorns and nuts around here last year too.

Barbee' said...

Hi cinj, I agree, they are good... and different. Don't know if the tree you considered buying would bear fruit soon enough, if so, that would be a learning experience for the children.