How to harvest, process and store black walnuts

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Black Walnut tree

THUD, THUD, THUNK. Each time a breeze rustles the branches, another dozen black walnuts fall to the ground. The area beneath the walnut tree nearest the house was starting to look like a mismanaged tennis court — and it is only one of six walnut trees on our property.

“What are we going to do with all these walnuts?” I asked the farmer as I threw one out for the dog to catch.

Related: Return of an American favorite: How to grow and enjoy chestnuts at home

“We’ll eat them,” he replied. “I’ll bring ’round the bucket loader.”

Nuts about nuts

The farmer and I are nuts about nuts, but it seems that most Ohioans don’t share our enthusiasm. Each fall we drive over hundreds of smashed hulls on country back roads and see tons of black walnuts left to rot. I have witnessed the same native nut waste in many Ohio Metro Parks.

If you do not have your own black walnut tree to gather from, look for unattended black walnut trees and ask the property owner if you may gather and haul away. The owner is likely to thank you for removing the nuts from the mower’s path.

Alternatively, take a few 5-gallon buckets along on your next autumn hike. If free foraged food isn’t benefit enough, witnessing the changing color of the season will make it worth your while.

Black Walnuts in tree

How to harvest, process and store black walnuts

  1. Harvest walnuts when they fall to the ground. Native nuts come into maturity September through October. Collect nuts as soon as possible to avoid mold.
  2. Hulls soften naturally over time, allowing easy access to the nut. If the hull feels firm and is difficult to remove, set the nut aside for a few days. The best way to de-hull a small amount of walnuts is by hand, with a chisel and hammer to knock the hull away.

Hand de-hulling is tedious to process a large amount of nuts. Some folks swear the best way to remove a large amount of hulls is to jack up your car and spin the wheels over trays of walnuts. Personally I prefer to use The Maximizer de-huller from Pleasant Hill Grain. The Maximizer also works for corn, and can be purchased for about $50 online.

Ohio Nut Growers Association maintains a list of Hammons Hulling locations that will de-hull black walnuts for you. Processors buy walnuts by the in-shell weight.

If you encounter worms when you are removing hulls, rest assured they do not affect the nut. Dispose of worms with the hulls and proceed to next step.

  1. Rinse de-hulled nuts with a powerful hose or pressure washer to remove debris.
  2. To dry walnuts in-shell, spread nuts on screen bottom trays for good circulation. Optimal drying temperature is 95-100 degrees for 3-4 days; I’ve had success setting the screened trays on cinder blocks and air drying walnuts outdoors. Walnuts are adequately dry when kernels are brittle.
  3. Store in-shell walnuts in freezer, packed in food saver bags or other air tight containers. In-shell nuts keep well for a year.

Or

  1. Remove shell and extract nutmeats before storing. Place the nut lengthwise in a vise grip. Apply pressure until shell cracks. Extract nutmeat with a picking tool.

Shelled nuts keep up to two years in the freezer. Salt-brining and dehydrating preserves shelled nuts. Store preserved nuts in air-tight containers at room temperature.

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60 COMMENTS

  1. Marybeth, You beat me to commenting… Yes, Yes, Yes wear rubber gloves! Otherwise the Walnuts will stain your hands a lovely and dark Walnut color. It wears off… difficult to wash off, if not impossible. Likewise, wear old clothes for the same reason. They are lots of work, but the rewards are great.

  2. The squirrels love them too. Last winter I had a few pecks, and fed them to the little critters during the coldest months. It kept them off the bird feeders and suet. They even took the hulls off of the walnuts!

  3. the green hulls are what I am after. google it and see what all you can do with hulls dried, powdered, then encapsulated. good as a human dewormer and antifungal as well as many other health benefits. just sayin.

  4. Do walnuts still in the shell spoil? Most of the hulls are black now, as I have not had time to pick them up yet. Is the meat safe inside the shell?

    • I’d preform a quick test of a few nuts. Remove the hulls; if you find worms don’t worry, the worms won’t get through the shell. Dry the nut in warm oven or dehydrator. Crack nuts in a vice and taste test for rancidity.

  5. Forget the vise! Look up “Grand Pa’s Goodie Getter”, it is a great nut cracker. I can generate one Quarter to a pound of nut meat in one hour. It’s well worth the investment. Clean too, it usually leaves all four lobes intact and keeps the shell in large pieces, less chips to clean off the meat.

    • Do you soak the walnuts as he suggests? Do you have any problems with mold? We have a VERY productive black walnut tree that we can’t ever seem to keep up with and most years we end up tossing the nuts because it take SO much time to crack them!

  6. I’m only staying at my grandmas only for another half a month, and it won’t be fall till then, is it okay to harvest them now?

    • I’d advise against it Matt. Walnuts are not ready to harvest until they fall to the ground, typically September through October. If you harvest before that the nut will not be fully developed.

  7. What you can do with the extra, if you have space to store them, is feed them to the squirrels in the winter. They’ll crack the whole nut. You don’t have to do a thing. I’ve been getting extra nuts from friends who don’t want them, and they keep the squirrels happy and out of my bird feeders.

  8. The hulls have enough tannin to tan animal hides. Just the hulls and water and soak hide for a few days. Stretch pin/nail and dry.

  9. This year I thought I would save a step and allow them to dry in the green hull. They have all dried nicely by leaving them on racks in the sunshine. But now I’ m reading that I shouldn’t have done this. They appear ready to crack open are they going to be inedible since I didn’t remove the green hull?
    HELP PLEASE !
    Thanks,
    Chris

  10. Lots of good information here, thanks! I have one black walnut tree in the yard with many nuts! I am trying to harvest. Put dropped nuts on a screen, so the outer shell softens,so I can get the nut out. Problem is, they are also molding. Is that going to be a problem? Glad to here about the worms being ok, was worried about that. Advise appreciated!!!

  11. I didn’t take the time to read all the comments, so forgive me if I’m repeating what someone else posted.

    I thought I would mention how I deal with the hulls. I simply set one at a time on my sidewalk and with firm pressure I push down on them with one of my feet and roll it back and forth a few times.
    Simple, quick and easy! 8)

    P.S. I’m wearing shoes when I do it! ;)

    • I drill 3 holes in a 2×4 rangeing from 1″ to 1 1/2″. Using a rubber mallet I hammer the hull through the nearest hole size wise. Works every time. Wear rubber gloves.

  12. Hi, I’m having a problem beating the squirrels to the nuts from my tree. Can I harvest them before they fall and ripen them somehow? Last year I waited patiently only to come out mid September and find they were all taken! Urgent reply would be helpful, they are already up where I can’t reach without a ladder.

    • My experience is that nuts are immature (small, bitter, undeveloped) before they fall. I’d focus my effort on deterring the squirrels instead of harvesting early.

  13. I AM NEW TO THIS
    MOVED INTO HOME WITH A TREE ON SITE
    IF THEY HAVE TURNED BLACK ALREADY ARE THEY STILL GOOD?
    OTHER THAN STEPPING ON THEM OR DRIVING OVER THEM WHERE CAN YOU GET AN INEXPENSIVE GADGET TO OPEN THEM?

    • I use The Maximizer de-huller from Pleasant Hill Grain. The Maximizer also works for corn, and can be purchased for about $50 online.

    • Think of the nut as a three part process. The whole thing is green when it drops from the trees, turns black , and the nut is inside. It is messy, and gloves are advised unless you want walnut stained hands for weeks and weeks. There really isn’t any easy way or gadget to get at the nut meat. Hammers are the best. The black shreds that you are seeing, Catherine, are just part of the outer shell. The nut is inside.

  14. I use The Maximizer de-huller from Pleasant Hill Grain. The Maximizer also works for corn, and can be purchased for about $50 online.

  15. I have a very prolific black walnut tree at my new house (165 yr old house). I have collected bushels and bushels of nuts. I have been busy with other things and they have blackened and the hull has fallen off a lot of them. There are other walnut trees in the neighborhood so I think the squirrels can’t hustle fast enough to get all of them. I also have a squirrel in my attic storing nuts (walnut hulls deter spiders. I opened the attic door and blasted the 1812 Overture with cannons into the attic and the squirrels left and I boarded up where they were getting in). In the meantime they appear to have built a nest in the maple trees on the property. I found it easier to hull the blackened walnuts and retrieve the nuts in their shells. Put the blackened walnuts into burlap bags if you have them and run over them with the car. Pick the nuts in the shell out and put them through a quick rinse with a power hose. Let them dry off in the sun then put them in bags for storage.

  16. A couple of questions, once the outer hull is removed, I sprayed off the not and let them dry. I was not sure how long they we’re suppose to dry in the shell, they have been drying for over 3 weeks. Does it matter, or once dry do you extract the nut right away?

    Interesting comment on the tannin process. Definitely also would be a good natural dye! Anything else that the hull debris is useful for? I believe I read that the hard shell works for tumbling rocks!

      • Well, the comment about the indians using the walnut stain for dye makes perfect sense. I did not know about that little problem and my hands look like I have been working on car engines for the past year. Can’t get this stuff off and it’s ALLLLL under my nails too. HELP!

  17. I have a neighbor that has been washing walnuts in his driveway. He has a portable concrete mixer and he turns it onfills it with walnuts stick a hose in and lets all of the gunk flow down the hill of our street in the gutter. This is staining the street about 2 feet out from the curb, flowing down about one half of a city block right past my driveway! Every time I pull in or out of the driveway it gets on my tires and stains the street more and also the driveway. I do not know what to do as yes, the walnuts are all natural but the stain looks like an oil slick and is EVERYWHERE. And did I mention I am in the process of selling my home. Yeah. May as well forget that idea for a good 2 or 3 years until the stain wears off!!! Wonder if the City would think that is destruction of property? And what is he possibly doing with all of those walnuts???

  18. Don’t sweat this whole walnut thing. Most people overthink this. Here’s how I process walnuts. Pick them up from the ground soon after they fall. Put them into about a 1″ mesh box made with inexpensive fence. Power wash the hulls off. They come out very clean. Spread them out for a day or two to dry. Put them in a bucket or whatever to store. I have left them in a bucket in my garage (non freezing) for 3 years, and have only lost a few. I use a simple nut vise to crack them. It attaches to a work bench, and has two opposing cone shaped “cracker” surfaces. I will send pictures if you email me. After the initial cracking, use wire cutters and/or small bolt cutters to crack out the remaining pieces. Bolt cutters are easier to use. If you use a hammer to crack them, you will eventually smash a finger!

  19. wishladya or anyone that knows,
    you said they can keep indefinitely….have you ever ate them many years after storage?
    i have just cracked a cups worth from walnuts that i have had for many years…say maybe 6 7 or maybe even 8 yrs. i’ve lost count. they taste good, but i came on here to research before making banana nut bread. ive eaten them while cracking them. but, hmmmm to feed them to the family now…im hesitant.

  20. I worked in a electronic parts maker factory. We used ground walnut shells in the sand blaster. Works Great with out affecting Tiny parts.

  21. Can anyone tell me: I have a large cylinder (3′ tall, 1′ wide) of very old black walnuts. Years old… Are they still usable? If not, what is a safe way to dispose, since they can inhibit other growth around roots?

  22. High hill of Nepal is potential area for walnut plantation. We are not getting success in mass multiplication of grafts through tongue grafting. If you have any method of high success in your country, please send me the protocol for it in my email ID. Thank You!

  23. I am looking for the piece that can be added to a concrete mixer that helps to wash black walnuts. We work doing black walnuts and when we wash them we put them in a concrete mixer. We was told there is a piece that can be added to the mixer to help clean the walnuts. I would applicate any help where we can buy this.

  24. We have been collecting and cracking the walnuts that have fallen in our yard but are finding that the meat is soft…slightly squishy. My husband says they taste fine but I can’t find anything about why they are soft. Any ideas? Are they still ok to use?

  25. Browsing these comments brought many good memories. . . first, you could tell every fall which farm boys had to help hull the black walnuts – they had brown hands for weeks. Then, for those that think every black walnut tree, every year, will produce good nuts, the answer is no. Our farm had a number of trees. Some were good most years, some never produced good nuts, and some seasons were great, others poor. This was northern Indiana. (I tried growing them here in central Florida – no, they need freezes.) Our mother was an expert at harvesting them. First, they were poured onto our graveled driveway, where she drove over them until the outer hulls were loosened and removed. A day drying off the yucky stuff, and we gathered them and put them onto screen doors laid over buckets. They were washed with a hose, and left to dry, sometimes a few days, sometimes a week. They were then put into mesh sacks, saved from potatoes, and hung from the rafters of the pump house until winter. There was little time until snowfall to crack them. An old “sad iron” inverted between the knees was her anvil, and a hammer cracked them. In later years, (her 90’s) she had a friend who cracked them, for the benefit of a few quarts of nutmeats. My favorite memory, though, is when we took a bucketful to Ohio, and were washing them down in the back yard. Our daughter let out a peal of laughter, and pointed to the ground. “We won’t have to come out and shine for our fishworms tonight – they are coming up right now!” The tannic acid was driving big beavertail nightcrawlers right out of the ground! How I miss those trees and nuts every time I have to buy the nutmeats in the store. Oh, they do go rancid if not kept in the freezer. You can tell by the orangish color which nutmeats will not be good.

    • My great Aunt Della would do the same, except after hulling she threw them in a pail of water, floaters were thrown out, then peoceded dry and hang in mesh orange bags for winter cracking. Best molasses cookies ever!

    • Some years bumper crop, some years none. This is the way it has always been. My Great Aunt Lottie used to crack black walnuts and used to make cookies and sweetbreads. She also gave pounds of shelled black walnuts to friends and family for Christmas. This year I am processing as many nuts as I can to do the same.

      It definitely drives out the nightcrawlers!

  26. a hand cranked old style corn sheller works good for removing hulls. Does anybody know of a power nut cracker that works? we crack them so the birds can get at the meat for winter bird feeding.

  27. a heads up……

    i dont wear gloves unless it’s a hazard, i dont care about my hands being stained but as a first time hand huller of my nuts, no bells rang in my head when reading about staining/tannic acid.
    tannic ACID! after only hulling about 15 qts, between my fingers have burned away to a painful rawness.

    you have been warned, now for some ointment.

  28. My great Aunt Della would hull the nut by driving over them in her dirt driveway and throw them in a bucket of water. Discard floater. She dried and stored them in old netting from oranges. In the winter, after all the fall harvesting and canning was done, she would grab a bag and start cracking.

  29. As for the concrete mixer. I bought one @ Lowes for $299. It has 3 mixing blades. Blades are 15 ” long. I ordered 3 wire brushes from Zoro, they are !6″ long. I got 3 C clamps that opened to be able to clamp one brush to each of the mixing blades in the mixer. The brushes are made by Kraft but sold by Zoro. Mix dry. Put nuts in mixer without liquid. I haven’t tried this yet, but I have a large waste basket full of empty cracked shells that I might throw in with the whole Walnut shells, but I don’t think it will be necessary. I mixed about 2-3 gallons of nuts from last fall for about 10 minutes and chean as a whistle. Mixer rotates counter clockwise as you are looking into the mixer drum,so put wooden part of brush (brush laying on its side, bristles to the right wooden part of brush against mixer blade) Nuts should dry quickly without any hull left on nut. First year doing this and can’t wait . I want enough nut to consume a hankful per day for a year. I have heart issues so Walnuts should be good for my ticker. I hope this helps you all. God bless you all.

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