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Walnuts for all

A report following a Tree Crops Association field day.

Tony & Chris Wilson In March our Branch held a field day near Cambridge at the property of Tony and Chris Wilson. Our visit was well-timed - in places we found the ground so well-covered with nuts that at times it was difficult to walk without stepping on them. What we saw was a planting of 800 large trees covering some 12 acres. The 150 oldest trees are now 35 years old, others about 15-16 years old. Tony and Chris have had the place since 1993.

Walnut Catkin (male flower)There was some evidence of walnut blight in the orchard - dieback of terminal vegetative buds, and some nuts with the blackened remnants of the fleshy hull still clinging to the outside of the shell. Tony said those were the nuts he avoids when gathering his crop, because the kernels are infected and nasty. In spite of blight, there were more than enough good nuts to gather, and he does not bother with the spring-time copper sprays which could reduce the blight. The blighted nuts often fall before the good nuts are ready, so he says it’s a good trick to remove those infected nuts by mowing and removing the rubbish before the main fall.

Tony collects the nuts by hand, washes them in a concrete mixer, then puts them out to dry in bread trays. Further drying is done with an oil heater and fan. General recommendations are to avoid heat, but blow in plenty of dry air. In an enclosed space a dehumidifier is useful, and there must be space for air to circulate. As the nuts become dryer, onion bags are good.

Tony’s trees are almost entirely seedlings, propagated from a local tree which was producing well. The nuts were surprisingly uniform for seedlings, no doubt a reflection of their common origin. Seedlings grow faster than grafted trees and are HEAPS cheaper! For best germination, nuts should be planted in the seed bed with the crack vertical. They develop a long tap-root, so don’t let your seedlings get too big before planting them out. Aim for a final spacing of 15 metres, but these can be interplanted more closely in the initial years provided the extra trees are cut out later. With good care they can start bearing at 5-6 years, or maybe 15 years in less ideal conditions. Nick Nelson-Parker, well-known walnut grower from the BOP Branch, was present. He told us he gets good growth by digging the planting hole deeper than required to accommodate the tap-root, then adding lime and fertiliser (“about a spaghetti tin of each”) to the bottom, and mixing it well with the soil. He says this encourages the roots downwards.

At the end of the orchard walk we saw Tony’s very innovative and effective home-made walnut cracker, constructed from a couple of old dairy vacuum pumps, and we also purchased some of his very-popular jars of pickled walnuts.

Thank you, Chris and Tony, for sharing your ideas with us - we had a really enjoyable and instructive day.

This article is reproduced with the kind permission of the New Zealand Tree Crops Association. For more information on useful tree crops - including nut and fruit trees, trees for shelter, timber, stock fodder and firewood - contact your local branch.

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