The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Backyard nut trees

Almond flowersIn addition to expanding our fruit orchard, this winter we plan to branch out into nuts.  In the past, I've steered clear of nut trees for a couple of very good reasons --- most nut trees are much bigger than fruit trees and it takes a long time to crack all of those nuts.  However, I just discovered that almonds are peach-sized trees sometimes no more than 15 feet tall, and Mark has promised to invent an automatic nutcracker for me by the time they bear.  As you can see, almond flowers are also so beautiful that the trees are sometimes grown as ornamentals.  Time to pick out some nuts!

A quick search turns up the following nuts being sold to backyard growers:

Pros and Cons
5 - 9
10 - 22 ft.
With new, self-pollinating varieties on the market, the small size of almonds makes them easy to fit into a nook in your garden.  On the other hand, rain and high humidity in July and August can rot the nuts.
Black Walnut
5 - 9
30 - 40 ft.
Very large trees with very hard nuts.  We actually have dozens of these growing on our property already, but I rarely bother to gather the fruits since you have to crack them with a hammer.
Butternut 4 - 9
30 - 40 ft.
Very winter hardy and tolerant of poor soil.  However, most of our native butternut trees have been killed by a blight, so be sure to pick out a resistant variety.  Shells are very hard and the tree is large and needs a pollinator.
Carpathian Walnut
5 - 9
25 - 40 ft.
The Carpathian Walnut is significantly more cold hardy than the English Walnut, but is still damaged by spring frosts.  The nut is supposed to be very similar to the walnuts you buy in the store.  The trees are large and require a pollinator.
Chinese Chestnut
4 - 9
20 - 40 ft.
The trees are large and two trees are required for good fruit set.  The prickly cases around the fruits are very tough on bare feet.  Chestnuts don't store well and must be harvested every day or two or they will rot on the ground.  All of that said, though, chestnuts are delicious and have a thin shell that can be pried off without a nutcracker --- I can bite them open in a pinch.  Chestnuts are the most common nut trees grown in our region.
English Walnut 5 - 9
40 - 50 ft.
Sensitive to cold weather and spring frosts.  Very large trees, but most don't require a pollinator.  These are the walnuts you buy in the store, with relatively thin shells and a taste everyone can enjoy.
5 - 8
15 - 20 ft.
We've already planted a few hybrid hazels and wrote extensively about them here.  In short, they're small and easy to fit into your backyard, but you need to pick out a blight-resistant version and plant two for pollination.
Heartnut 5 - 8
20 - 25 ft.
This is a variety of Japanese Walnut.  It seems to be mostly a gimmick --- people like the heart-shaped nut.  It needs a pollinator.
Hickory 5 - 8
20 - 40 ft.
Large tree that needs a pollinator.  Nut shells are very hard and the meats are small.  If I want hickory nuts, I'll gather them out of the woods.
Pecan 4 - 9
40 ft.
The pecan is a southern specialty, but some hardy varieties can be grown as far north as zone 4.  Like walnuts and almonds, the nuts are familiar and delicious.  The downside is size and the need for a pollinator.
Stone Pine
The Korean Nut Pine is hardy down to zone 4, while the more common Stone Pine (Pinus pinea) is only hardy to zone 7.  They seem to require very little work, but take more than a decade to bear.  I can't seem to find any real spacing data on the internet --- some sites say you can plant them 10 feet apart, while others tell you to go for 40 feet.

As I mentioned, we're already trying out hybrid hazelnuts (highly recommended, though they're not big enough to fruit yet), and I planted a Korean Nut Pine from seed last year (which is now about an inch tall.)  Of the other types of nuts, I'm most interested in trying out an almond in the sunniest part of the garden, where perhaps our humidity won't be so devastating, and an English Walnut in the shadiest part of the yard, where I might trick it Almondsinto flowering late after hard spring frosts have passed us by.  Almonds (part of my breakfast at the moment) and walnuts (integral to pesto) also happen to be the nuts most frequently served in our household's meals.

I've read varying reports about whether you need to buy named varieties or can just sprout shelled nuts out of the grocery store.  Almonds seem to be a bad candidate for growing from seed since the nuts are bitter in most of the offspring, so I'll probably go ahead and buy named varieties for both of our nut additions.

As you can tell, I'm still very much in the research stage, but I thought you might enjoy some of the information I'm digging up.  I'm very curious to hear about your own experience with growing nut trees in your backyard.  Which trees did you choose and why?  How did your experiment turn out?

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I'm about to put in a home orchard.

Spending way too much money to have to have the area cleared and sloped : )

It's the western side of my front yard all grown up with weeds and having a steep drop off.

My landscaper/grader seems to know something about drainage, so hopefully I'm in good hands!

In any case, thanks for the nut tree recommendations.

I'm in Zone 8, North Louisiana, which is really East Texas (by my tastes, low humidity, hot, not enough rain), but I'm dreaming about almonds, persimmons, blueberries, blackberries, anything easy-ish to grow in this weird climate.

I LOVE your blog! Thanks for putting up any and all research, comments, observations, etc.

Comment by Erin Berry Sat Sep 18 08:01:15 2010
It sounds like you've got a great adventure ahead of you! I've read that it's a completely different world gardening in the Texas environment --- I wouldn't know where to start. I assume you're trying out rabbiteye blueberries, not northern highbush?
Comment by anna Sat Sep 18 08:08:39 2010
I planted two Carpathian walnut trees 40 years ago. Today they're around 50 feet tall with a crown of about 40 feet. One of the trees produces at least a half dozen bushels of nuts. The problem is getting the nuts out of the shell and finding what's edible. They are rock hard when harvested after falling on the ground. You can break them with a hammer then or after storing them. The edible nut is small and usually broken. Does it have to be roasted to eat? It doesn't taste like the good expensive walnuts I buy at the natural food store. In sum, the Carpathian Walnut is a beautiful tree that is a haven for birds. But it's no food producer. The problem may be that mine is an unimproved species (native) tree whereas the ones produced now have improved nut quality. My tree came from Miller's Nursery in New York State. I live near Augusta, Maine. We've had some -30 temps over the years, so the tree's a survivor. I'm interested to know what others have experienced with Carpathians from 40 or more years back.
Comment by Lloyd Ferriss Sat Sep 1 16:04:11 2012

Lloyd --- Fascinating! Thanks so much for writing about your forty year old experiment. That's what I was afraid of --- a tree that makes hard nuts to crack. We've got lots of wild black walnuts if we were willing to use a hammer on concrete to get to the nuts, but there never seems to be time for so much effort with other garden tasks.

I hope some othere readers will chime in with their experiences with Carpathian walnuts.

Comment by anna Sat Sep 1 20:13:26 2012

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