To appreciate a walnut one need not necessarily be a vegetarian, though perhaps the latter realizes more fully its great food value. For dessert, for making walnut cakes, and for pickling, unripe, these nuts are a really valuable crop. The tree flourishes in towns, which is a big point in its favour, though it needs to be away from the shade of houses.
Trees can be obtained in standard or in bush form.
Ready for Use.
Walnuts are ripe in late September or early October, and keep well in store.
The ground where a tree is to be planted should be broken up 2 ft. deep, and if heavy it should be lightened with sand, grit or mortar rubble. Manure is not needed.
If planted as a shade tree on a lawn, where it is decorative at all seasons, it should be in the centre of a 3-ft. circle free of turf.
When and How to Plant.
Either October or November is the most favourable time to plant, and the roots should be covered to the depth indicated by the soil mark on the stem. A stake should be provided, until the tree or bush has a firm hold of the ground. Details are given in the section THE ABC OF PLANTING.
Watering and Feeding.
An established walnut tree will manage with the minimum of attention. But if a good yearly crop is appreciated the little extra labour of watering in dry weather, and feeding with weak liquid manure during spring and summer, helps it along considerably.
From the time the tree first produces nuts, pruning can be forgotten. It may perhaps be desirable to cut back or remove entirely an awkwardly placed branch; but other than that, no cutting is required. The nuts are produced, usually in pairs, at the ends of the previous year’s shoots. If much shortening is done there is that much less fruit.
The stumpy little female flowers which produce the nuts are so inconspicuous as to go unnoticed; one has to look for them. The male (pollen-producing) flowers take the form of longish catkins. The male and female flowers (a tree produces both) open at the same time, early in the year, and fertilization is effected by the wind which blows pollen from the one to the other.
In the course of centuries a walnut tree develops a huge spread of branches, with a height of 60 ft. or more and a trunk 20 ft. round.Propagation.
Walnut trees can be raised by sowing the nuts (still in their shells) outdoors during November. They should be buried 2 in. deep, the seedlings being lifted and transplanted twelve months later. Fruit has to be waited for patiently from a tree thus raised. Its production is speeded up considerably by grafting or budding on to a suitable stock. Methods are explained in the section How TO PROPAGATE FRUIT TREES AND BUSHES.
Gathering the Nuts.
For pickling purposes the nuts are gathered whilst their thick outer covering is still green and the nuts themselves are small and soft, round about July. Not until late September or early October are the nuts ripe. The outer covering of the hard shells is then brown.
A vigorous shaking of the tree or its branches then brings the fruit tumbling down. There is an old-fashioned notion that the nuts should be dislodged by thrashing the branches with a pole, the belief being that this ill-treatment does the tree good. That folly has been perpetuated in the saying: ‘A woman, a dog, and a walnut tree, the more you beat them the better they’ll be.’ Due regard for the walnut tree’s bark, and of the young terminal shoots which will bear the following year’s nuts, is as necessary as is careful treatment of any other fruit tree.
Storing for Winter.
The gathered fruit should be spread out in layers, under cover, until die husks – the outer coverings – have fallen away. The nuts should then be stored in jars or tins, these to be made quite airtight and placed in any dry, frostproof shelter. Or they can be kept in a barrel or boxes, with layers of dry sand covering the layers of nuts.
Preparing for Table.
The nuts are simply heaped on a dish, with nut-crackers by the side. The food value is high, walnuts being rich in mineral salts and vitamin B.