Harvesting and storing walnuts, butternuts, and heartnuts


Knock the nuts from the tree when the green hulls begin to split and the packing tissue between and around the kernel halves has just started to turn brown.

Remove the hulls as soon as you can. There are several ways to remove the hulls: use a knife, stomp and roll the nuts with your foot, roll over them with the car tire, between two boards, or work them over a rough screen to loosen and remove the hulls. If the hulls stick tightly to the shells, moisten them and cover with a moist tarp or burlap sheet for several days to loosen. Particularly with black walnuts, but also with the others, wear gloves when handling the hulls to avoid staining your hands.

Wash the nuts to remove clinging fibers, discard any floaters. (My first big harvest of butternuts and heartnuts was 90% floaters, we cleaned them up anyway, they were all blanks!)

Spread the nuts in thin layers on the floor or on wire mesh trays in a warm well-ventilated area out of direct sun to cure that is pest proof (mice, squirrels, jay birds, etc.). Curing will take several weeks; the nuts will tend to rattle in the shell when they are done. Store the nuts in their shell in a cool, dry, well-ventilated location for several months. Shelled nuts may be frozen for up to a year. We offer the Kenkel Nut Cracker #T360 for hard shelled Black Walnuts, Butternuts and Heartnuts.


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Theresa Knutsen

Theresa Knutsen is a horticulturist and writes the Raintree Nursery newsletter "Growing Tips." Email: theresa@raintreenursery.com.

2 thoughts on “Harvesting and storing walnuts, butternuts, and heartnuts”

  1. I am experimenting with Butternuts. I just came across such a tree on my property while taking a shortcut to the bus stop with my daughter. We collected up about 30 butternuts from the ground and immediately took the nuts out from the husks. The husks were sort of thick skinned on the outside, and soft and mealy on the inside, not dried. The nuts are definitely hard shelled and have the coarse texture of a peach pit. Based on reading all sorts of interesting and very different approaches on the web, I’m thinking that I should now let the nuts dry for a couple weeks. Then crack them to separate the meats and refrigerate. I’m hoping to find a candied walnut recipe for Thanksgiving to use these with. If you have any ideas on harvesting approach or how best to use/share them I would be interested! Jay in Warwick, RI.

    1. I love when those unexpected discoveries happen! I stumble across new “bird planted” trees and shrubs every once in a while on my own farm — some good, some not so good. Good luck with your new find!

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