A messy walnut crack station set up by a gray squirrel
Just a brief note on prepping walnuts. Harvest: It’s tough beating the squirrels to the walnuts, but it can be done! A friend told me of his neighbor, an old timer who would put out buckets of sawdust out near his walnut and let the squirrels do all the harvesting. Squirrels are lazy too and so they want to bury/hide the walnuts in the easiest place possible. The less energy they have to use dig holes the more worth their time the walnuts are. He’d then go out and steal the walnuts from the squirrels – though he’d pay them for their work with a small offering of dried corn. I’ve done the same with a leaf pile.
One thing to note is that if you leave a bucket out, even with a lid on it, the squirrels will find a way in. I’ve had squirrels chew through several different plastic containers, including a 5-gallon bucket. I have also had squirrels come into my back porch to steal unprocessed walnuts. In about 15 minutes I had 2 gallons of processed walnuts taken from my porch. Hooray for the squirrels, bummer for me.
Walnut cracking station setup in backyard
Processing: I find that the husks get moldy super quick and also attract walnut husk fly (Rhagoletis completa) that lays its eggs in the husk, so I like to process the walnuts pretty quickly and just store the husked walnuts. Removing the husk is pretty easy, but super messy. Some people will drill a hole in a sheet of plywood and hammer the fruit through the hole to remove the husk, but I find this step unnecessary and just hit the fruit with a hammer, rotate it 90deg, and hit it again. At that point the husk typically comes off pretty easy. Hit the walnut makes a mess as the husk spatters juice everywhere (especially when walnut husk fly larvae are present). Wear old pants/shirt and paint gloves if you don’t want your fingers to get stained. The stain lasts about 2 weeks on fingers and forever on clothes.
Saving time: Most walnuts look like nice smooth tennis balls. But you’ll find about 10% of the dropped walnuts have a chunk nibbled out of the husk by squirrels, which has turned a dark brown/black. Don’t waste your time with these. The squirrels have vetted the walnuts and detected that these seeds aren’t worth their time, so aren’t worth your time either (the seeds are rancid or shriveled). I’m not sure exactly what they’re picking up on to determine, but it’s a pretty good time saving trick rather than chewing through the shell to discover the nut is inedible.
Using the husk/preservation: I keep the walnuts for eating and have been saving the husks for making dye. The husk will rot super quickly if not dried completely (this includes the bits of husk on the processed walnuts; you’ll get a bluish mold that shows up. You can just rinse this mold off, but a good and quick drying early on will eliminate the mold showing up in the first place). I took advantage of the heat wave last weeks and left the husks out to dry completely. Took about 3 days. Store in a dry place and when you’re ready to dye something all you have to do is boil the crushed husk. Store the husked walnuts in a dry place that’s totally squirrel proof.