For the last several falls, I've noticed an intriguing little ad in our town's weekly newspaper. "We buy and hull black walnuts. $12 for 100#" it also includes a phone number. I often use black walnut hulls as a dye stuff, it gives my favorite warm browns. Black walnuts are very light and wash fast and reliable, what more could you want? When I notice brown smears on the roads under walnut trees, I realize the nuts have started to fall, and click into squirrel mode and gather walnuts wherever I can find them. There are a couple of trees on down our road that we always visit, but this year they had a sparse crop. So, in desperation, I called the black walnut ad. I talked to a friendly woman, Rene, who was interested in what I was doing. They are after the nuts of course, they sell them to a nut company, the hulls are waste they have to dump where ever they have space. They have started to spread the hulls on their garden beds to compost. This is counter intuitive, since all parts of the walnut tree have a substance that retards other plants growth. Apparently, after the hulls break down, this stuff dissapates and your are left with some lovely rich compost.
Anyway, Rene welcomed me out, so I cleaned out my van, put up the seats, filled the back with buckets and totes, and me and the boys hit the road. It only took us 40 minutes to get there, but I don't usually travel in that direction, so it felt like far away. We enjoyed seeing some new scenery.
I was surprised by how small the hulling machine was, it consists of a hopper into which the walnuts are dumped, a conveyer belt that carries the nuts into the contraption, and a spinning drum filled with short lengths of chain. The chain flails the walnuts, the hulls drop onto another conveyer belt, which dumps them into a waiting manure spreader, and the hulled nuts shoot out a small hole into a waiting bag.
Rene told me they do thousands of pounds of walnuts every year. Despite my trees poor crop, over all, this has been a great year for black walnuts. Who knew? Pallets of hulled walnuts were all over:
Oh and see the green stuff growing in the background? That is a huge bed of really healthy winter greens growing in walnut hull compost.
As luck would have it, as we were finishing loading up my haul, a couple of people came to sell some walnuts. They had a longbed pick up truck absolutely filled with walnuts.
We stuck around to watch the hulling machine in action. What a cool "field trip"! Eli really appreciated the conveyer belt action. As we drove home with the air in the van redolant with the spicy, earthy scent of walnuts, I brainstormed how to dry and then store my bounty. I haven't quite figured that part out yet, give me a couple of days.