Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Daily dose of Lucas County: Nuts to you

Or blue sky, black walnuts; 4 p.m. Wednesday, my back yard after a mostly overcast day. Black walnuts are native Lucas Countyans, native to much of the Midwest for that matter. And are the first in the fall to drop their leaves. The nuts themselves come down, thunk, thunk, thunk, for weeks thereafter.

Walnut is highly prized as a wood for furniture, but was so prevalent in some areas that it is not unusual to find an ancient building framed, trimmed --- even sided --- in walnut. The nutmeats are highly prized, too, but the nuts are challenging to hull and crack and the meats, a challenge to extract (therefore expensive unless you do it yourself). My mother was extremely good at it. The flavor is far richer than that of those insipid "English" walnuts.

There are challenges if you decide to landscape with walnuts, however. The trees precipitate (try parking your car under one at the wrong time of year) and damage other plantings. The shells are notoriously hard to remove (we used to spread bushels of them in the driveway and drive heavy vehicles over and over them, then finish the job with an old-fashioned corn sheller). Generally it's a good idea in the fall to gather them before mowing the lawn.

Around here, the Department of Natural Resources will buy walnuts for roughly $2 a bushel for use in tree-planting projects elsewhere. I've never sold them, but my neighbor does --- and that's where the nuts from this tree will go --- although I believe Oct. 1 is the cutoff date and it looks like plenty will be left.

Some have thought to grow rich by planting walnut trees. Rarely happens because they're slow-growing. There are even walnut rustlers --- slipping into woods unauthorized to cut mature trees because of premium prices paid for the lumber that can be sawn from their trunks. Like nearly everything else alive, they can be a mixed blessing.

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