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.
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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.