Introduction: Harvesting and Processing Black Walnuts
In this instructable I will show my first year's process of harvesting and processing black walnuts. I have taken measurements to let you know how much nut meat you can expect to get. To get started, all you really need are your hands and a few containers. 5 gallon buckets work great. 10 5 gallon buckets are even better. A corn sheller helps hull sometimes. Some type of mixer is useful, I used a drill and a mortar mixer. You'll need a way to dry, crack, separate, and store the nuts and meat.
Step 1: The Harvest
Starting around the middle of September in Western North Carolina, the walnuts start dropping. This year I used just my hands to pick up the nuts off of the ground into 5 gallon buckets. Next year I will use a Nut Wizard. Pick them all up except the old flakey ones from last year. I would pick up once a week. I ended up with 24 buckets this season. Each bucket weighed between 24-28 pounds with the hulls on. You can wear gloves on this step, I started to after the fifth bucket.
Step 2: The Hulling
This is a pretty tedious task. I read about the "run them over with your car" posts, but I just couldn't see smashing them and then picking them back up again. I started with my corn sheller. It works OK, but won't do much on really green hulls. I found that if I let the hulls get to the point that they were half green and half black, or where they just started getting mushy, the hulls would just slip off with just my hands. This is where you double up on the vinyl gloves and change them whenever you get a rip. You can also start sorting at this stage. You will start to have a "feel" if a nut is hollow or not. I would throw away the 50-100% hollow ones, but save the ones I was unsure of. At cracking time, you will know. A 24-28 pound bucket of hull-on walnuts turns into about 12 pounds of hulled walnuts, with the count of 120-125 nuts.
Step 3: The Washing
I would take the now half full bucket of walnuts, add water, and stir with a drill with an eggbeater mortar mixer attachment. A high power, low speed drill is necessary for this step. I would change out the water three times, and the fourth time add a little bit of creek sand to get the nuts mostly clean. "IF" you have a concrete mixer, this would be a great use for it. Throw a bunch of walnuts in it with some old chain or angular gravel and you will have some super clean nuts.
Step 4: The Drying
I made a screened bottom tray to do the majority of the drying, with a fan on for a week. After that they were transferred to old onion sacks I had and dried in the basement for a month. I ended up with 4 sacks of clean nuts.
Step 5: The Cracking
Above is a Kenkel cracker. It has a long lever and costs around $75. I cracked the first sack of nuts one by one. This is also time consuming, and I would suggest wearing safety glasses. At this point I was tired of walnuts. I found a Nut cooperative in town Asheville Nuttery that would run my nuts through their electric walnut cracker. I took the other 3 sacks (88.1 pounds dried) and they charged me a 15% weight fee to crack (13.2 pounds). I was so amazed, I even tipped them a couple of jars of honey.
Step 6: The Sorting
This step is pretty boring, but you just get the nuts from the cracked shells. Be careful not to get any shells in the meat, as the shells will crack a tooth. I would use a colander to sift out the dust to get a cleaner product. The gallon freezer bags are this year's harvest, 10.87 pounds.
Step 7: The Math
These are averages, just for ballparking
24 5 gallon buckets harvested @ 25 pounds green = 600 pounds of green walnuts
24 5 gallon buckets hulled @ 12.5 pounds wet hulled = 300 pounds wet hulled walnuts
24 5 gallon buckets @ 120 nuts per bucket = 2880 nuts
Didn't weigh each sack dry, but 88.1 pounds for 3 sacks = 117 pounds dry nuts for 4 sacks
Each sack weighed an average of 29 pounds, so 88.1*.85+29=104 pounds dry nut I had cracked
10.8 pounds meat/104 = .1 pound meat for every pound of dry nut, or 1.6 ounces of meat per pound of dry nut.
Also, for every 5 gallon bucket picked up, 7.2 ounces of nut meat.
40% hulled : Asheville Nuttery will take your green walnuts and turn them into cracked nuts for sorting for a 60% cut on your hulled harvest, but you have to bring them over 100 pounds of hulled nuts. This is the route I am going for next year, and I am a much better forager than processor.
My goal for next year is 1000 pounds of wet hulled black walnuts.
Step 8: Gifts
Black Walnuts make the best gifts. No one in their right mind would work that hard to get so little just to give it away. Except us. It makes our little farm a little unique.
Step 9: Year 2 of Walnuts, Many Changes...
The first thing I realized in gathering walnuts was that it was too hard to pick them up by hand. Enter the Nut Wizard. I bought two this year, the first picture is my daughter using one. Assuming plenty of trees to harvest from, this product will greatly increases your harvest. The next two pictures are of my long bed dump insert truck bed almost full of walnuts. I lost count after 50 5 gallon buckets. The night picture was the result of only two hours with my dad, and the day picture was the addition of what he had picked by hand the next day. We went out again 2 weeks later and picked almost half this amount (no pictures). My (third) last run was about 20 5 gallon buckets that I ran though my new huller.
Step 10: The Huller!
I figured out last year that there were a few ways to hull black walnuts. I was not going to drive over them, I tried the hand crank corn sheller (not efficient or effective), hand hulling (lots of time involved, hull has to be mostly black), and just knew there was a better way. I had resigned myself at at the end of last season just to collect way more nuts this year, and let the co-op hull them for me (of course, taking their share). I took my first two truck loads to the co-op, but I just knew I could make a better huller. Here are some pictures of it. In a "nutshell", it is a 55 gallon drum with a metal pipe axle with tire treads attached rubbing on an expanded metal grate. Frame is a carryall and hooks up with a very short PTO attachment. Hopper on top. Put the last load through it today, needs some tweaking (larger exit hole and full shaft length paddles). Still way better than hand hulling.
Step 11: Nuts From New Huller
These pictures are from the last load of nuts. I also bought a harbor freight concrete mixer that really helps clean the nuts. Cracked a couple and they are great! Letting them dry and will update with season totals after we get nuts back from the co-op.
Step 12: New Method of Sorting - Salt Floating
We got the nuts back from the co-op and they do a great job with pre-sorting the cracked nuts. They run them through their crackers, then run them through a trommel with increasing screen sizes to help sift out any dust sized pieces and larger half-cracked nuts. You end up with a mix of nut meats and shells as seen in the bag with the light green cup in it. Here's the cool part: you dissolve a cup of salt to a gallon of water, then add this mix, and the nut meats float to the top where you can scoop them out. The white bowl was what I scooped out off the top, the blue bowl was what was left on the bottom, the black bucket was where I combined them to separate them. You can tell from the photos that there were still shell pieces in the meat bowl, but not very many. I actually did this process again on the sorted meats and just about every shell dropped out. You might need to tweak the brine, more salt if not enough meat floating, more water if shells are floating. Rinse very well, put this through your dehydrator or on sheets in oven on way low with the door cracked open, and then do a final inspection for any shell fragments. Last year we literally hand picked all the nut pieces out of the cracked shells (over multiple nights), this new method is a game changer.
Step 13: 2020 Harvest and Numbers
Walnuts brought to co-op in hull yielded 581 pounds of hulled nuts (60/40 co-op/me)
Walnuts I hulled and cleaned myself yielded 90 pounds (20/80 co-op/me)
The co-op ended up sending me home with 71 pounds of the separation ready mix, and 60 pounds of what came off the end of the trommel (Black bag)
Black bag/large piece total: 5 pounds and 3 gallon bucket of half shells that need another cracking. These are the 5 bags in the bottom of the first photo with larger pieces in them.
Separation ready mix: 23 pounds: Not shown are the bags my parents processed for their take. They ended up with 13 pounds, I had 10.
Season total: 28 pounds of Black Walnuts!