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How to Harvest Black Walnuts

Three Parts:Harvesting the black walnutsRemoving green husks with a drill and hammerBlanching the nuts in the green shells

Do you have a few walnut trees and are not sure what to do with the nuts? Here are the basic instructions for harvesting your crop of walnuts. Walnuts are great plain or in walnut cake, even to Cook Black Walnut Meat, or other recipes, many of which don't require many walnuts. Follow these steps to harvest your walnuts and prepare them for eating.

Part 1
Harvesting the black walnuts

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    Collect the nuts that have fallen. Some walnut trees are very tall so picking them off the branches is out of the question. Plus, picking them can sometimes damage the tree limbs, so just wait for them to fall and gather them up. Be sure to wear heavy duty rubber gloves as the cheap disposables will not work.
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    Get the green hull off of the walnut. As black walnuts ripen, the husk changes from solid green to yellowish green. Walnut juice leaves a dark stain, so wear gloves or use tongs when you handle un-husked walnuts. Press on the skin of the walnut with your thumb; ripe nuts will show an indentation. Removal can be done by just taking a small jack knife and cutting around the hull and peeling off, or you can lay them on the driveway and run over them with your car! It often is just as easy to roll them under your foot until the hull is cracked open, pick them up and peel the hull off. The video below shows the hull being taken off in an antique corn huller. Any of these methods will work.
    • For an easy way to separate the hulls, put them in water. The hulls float, the nuts don't. See the video for a demonstration.
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    Dispose of the hull. Black walnuts contain juglone, a compound that inhibits growth in many species of plants. Juglone degrades with exposure to heat, sunlight and air, and should break down completely after several weeks or months in a compost pile. Finished compost from a well-structured and maintained pile will be safe to use to grow even sensitive crops, such as nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant, etc).
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    Lay out your brown hard shell nut to dry. You can lay them out on a layer of newspapers to dry for a few days or longer. Some people leave them for much longer. The dryer the nut, the easier the nut meat is to remove. You also can store them in the shell in a dry, squirrel proof area. Do not lay them out where the squirrels can find them. They will take every one they can.
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    To crack open your nuts you can use a hammer or a vise. The vise does not do as much damage to the walnut meat inside. This part can be a bit tricky and can take some time. If you don't have time on your hands you will not like doing the harvesting of these nuts. You cannot be in a hurry in this step or you will damage the nut meat.
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    Pull the nut meat out. If you can and if it is stubborn, you can use a commercial nut pick (usually can buy these and the nutcracker around holiday season in grocery stores or any time of the year in cooking supply stores). If you are just using the nuts for a black walnut cake, it does not matter if they are broken up badly. This is perfect for the cake.
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    Dispose of the nutshell in whatever manner you prefer. Remember these things are really hard and can be sharp so don't leave them where someone can step on them. The discarded shells make a fine polishing medium that can be used in a rotary tumbler, and are often used to polish brass objects. If you have a large enough walnut harvest, you might consider using the shells as a timely source of winter heat in your wood stove.
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    Eat the nut fresh or save for later. Some species of walnut trees have different flavors. Some are stronger than others.

Part 2
Removing green husks with a drill and hammer

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    Drill a 1 1/4", 1 1/2", and a 2" hole in a two foot long 2x4.
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    Support it with two 2x4" blocks and take a small ball peen hammer and pound the green nut through the appropriate hole, popping the green shells off. Your hands will be stained for days!

Part 3
Blanching the nuts in the green shells

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    Blanch the black walnuts in boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
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    With heavy rubber gloves, squeeze the green skin and crack it open. It won't take much effort. Then peel it right off the nut.
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    Soak the skinned nuts in cold water to remove the heat from the shell.
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    Dry the nuts.
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    Then follow the shelling instructions above.


  • Wear good heavy duty rubber gloves! The staining of the walnut oil on these nuts is pretty awful. You will wear yellow hands and fingers for quite some time if you do not heed this warning!
  • Wear old clothing as any contact with the hulls will stain clothing permanently, and will also stain your hands if picked up barehanded.
  • You can make wood stain or old fashioned ink from the nut hulls. Soak the hulls in a bit of fresh rainwater, then heat - preferably outside, due to the strong odor! You need to use a metal pan, or add something metal to the mixture (ie. a few iron nails or a piece of copper) for a mordant, which makes the dye more permanent. Allow to cool, then pour through a strainer. Allow water to evaporate from the dye, for a more concentrated brown ink. Traditionally, lamp black (soot) was added to make the ink black.
  • To sift nuts from leaves: rake leaves and nuts into piles put piles in manageable tubs and pour over sloping mesh screen nuts roll into finished tub for husking.
  • It is typically okay to discard leaves and husks in a compost pile. According to the Ohio State University Extension Service, "Walnut leaves can be composted because the toxin breaks down when exposed to air, water and bacteria. The toxic effect can be degraded in two to four weeks. In soil, breakdown may take up to two months."


  • Do not touch your eyes or mouth with your gloves. The stain from these walnuts is quite pungent and strong and could burn your eyes or could even possibly be toxic if consumed. Do not let children do the harvesting of walnuts.
  • Do not mulch with walnut husks or leaves. Walnuts, pecan and hickory trees contain a substance, juglone, that will stunt or kill many herbaceous garden crops.
  • Do research and make sure the black walnuts are not poisonous to your pets or any other living creature that you care for. If it is alright for them to touch but not eat, keep it away and if its vice versa, continue to not allow them to get near. Always think of a consequence that could happen from doing something. We always need to be sure that things we do can affect our loved animals!

Things You'll Need

  • Good heavy duty rubber gloves
  • A pail or container (don't use anything you don't want discolored)
  • A vice or a hammer
  • A jack knife if you prefer to cut the hull off (optional)
  • A nut pick (this can be used or just something pointy will do) (optional)
  • A good black walnut cake or walnut chocolate bread cake recipe! (optional)

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