Share This Page

The right nuts for the right climate

| Friday, Jan. 4, 2013, 7:34 p.m.
Growing nuts is fairly simple, but harvesting them can be a challenge. Jessica Walliser

This is the first in a two-part article.

Growing nuts was once nearly as common as growing vegetables and fruits. Backyards and farms across Pennsylvania hosted trees bearing walnuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts, hickory nuts and others. But today, it's difficult to find a gardener growing these crops on purpose. In fact, many gardeners remove these nut-bearing treasures, touting them as messy or, in the case of walnuts, difficult to grow around (this is due to a toxic compound exuded by the walnut tree's roots). But, as you plan for the coming gardening season, consider including a few nut trees in your plans. Order them now and your shipment of bare-root trees will arrive at the ideal time for spring planting.

Much like a homegrown tomato, store-bought nuts just aren't the same. Many of them are imported and grown using large amounts of pesticides. Growing your own means more delicious, nutritious goodies for you and family. Many nut trees are easy to grow and inexpensive to purchase, and they'll continue to bear for generations to come.

Though you won't be able to grow almonds, pecans, Brazil or macadamia nuts here in Western Pennsylvania, there are plenty of delicious, hardy, nut trees that are perfectly suited to our climate. And, now that many of these trees are grown via vegetative propagation versus being started from seed, you won't have to wait 10 years to get your first harvest. Yes, the squirrels and chipmunks may force you to share, but overall these trees are fun and easy to grow.

To grow nuts, you'll need a site that receives at least eight hours of full sun per day. There is no need to amend the planting area because most nuts grow easily in average soil. What you will need, however, is plenty of space. Some nut trees can reach 60 feet in height and girth, though not all do.

Growing nuts is fairly simple, but harvesting them can be a challenge. Large-scale growers use “shakers” to knock the nuts off the trees, but you'll have better luck simply picking up the fallen nuts as they come off the tree. With the exception of the chestnuts, which should be used immediately or stored in the refrigerator, all nuts are best dried in their shells.

To dry nuts, spread them out in a single layer on a screen in a cool, dry place. Allow the nuts to dry for several weeks. When they are dry, you can hear them rattle around inside the shell when you shake it. At that point, it is time to crack them open and enjoy their homegrown flavor — or store them in airtight containers in the freezer.

In next Saturday's column, I'll discuss several of the best nuts to grow in our area and offer you some sources for purchasing the trees.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.