It's Nut Season Again
Come September and October my thoughts inevitably turn to nuts, not just the well known hazels, sweet chestnuts and walnuts, but some of the less common nuts that grow well here – bladdernuts, heartnuts, hickories and acorns from oaks to name a few.
Most start to drop from the trees from early October and throughout the month I’ll try and harvest nuts daily from the ground before too many are made off with by other critters – mice and squirrels being the worst culprits.
Hazel Butler nuts
Many nut trees make large specimens – sweet chestnuts and walnuts for example – and only those with a larger garden are likely to have room for them. Heartnuts and hickories (apart from pecan) also make large trees in time. But there are a number of nuts that can be grown in smaller spaces too.
Juglans regia 'Broadview'
Bladdernut (Staphylea pinnata) is a woodland shrub from mainland Europe growing 2-3m high which tolerates a partly shady position. It bears its nuts inside curious green 'bladders', a few inside each one. The nuts are about 1cm across and have a distinctly pistachio-like flavour. The plants are self-fertile.
Walnuts are fantastic trees in many ways, but all become big trees in time. For nuts it always pays to plant a known variety as it will flower after 4-5 years. Not many varieties are self fertile so if you only have room for one plant Broadview, Buccaneer, Franquette or Ronde de Montignac. If you have room for more than one tree then the newer French varieties Fernor and Fernette are great.
Hazelnuts are another of my favourites. Don't worry about the distinction between filberts, cobs and hazels - treat them all the same. If you grow hazels on a single stem (which requires annual removal of suckers around the base of trees) then you'll have a chance to protect them from grey squirrels who will otherwise take every nut before they ripen.
Grow the single stem 1.8m high before it branches, and from early August wrap the trunk in something squirrels can't climb: the type of hard plastic tree tube guards are made of works (or even thin sheet metal!)
There are some great hazel varieties around, I find Hall's Giant very productive as well as the enormous American variety Butler. You'll need two varieties unless you have wild hazels nearby for pollination.
With all nuts, keep an eye on the weather and get out there to harvest after a storm when many nuts will be down. It is also worth shaking branches if they are small enough just before you harvest to get any loose nuts down.
I used to harvest nuts off the ground by hand, then three or four years ago discovered 'Nut Wizard' harvesters. These amazing hand tools harvest about four times as quickly and also leave your back intact. I have one for hazels and another for chestnuts and walnuts and now use them the whole time during nut harvest.
In Britain, nuts are often quite damp when harvested so remember to dry them thoroughly if you want to store them for any length of time. Dry at temperatures below 40° C so the oils do not spoil and they should store for several years.
Martin Crawford is director of the Agroforestry Research Trust and has spent over twenty years in organic agriculture and horticulture.