Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Black walnuts bring back fond Missouri memories

I’ve just tasted the best black walnut kernels that I’ve ever put in my mouth. I’ve stomped and hulled walnuts since I was big enough to mash off that outer green hull. I can smell it as I think of it. There’s nothing like the fragrance of those hulls. And there’s no stain as permanent as a walnut hull stain on white canvas tennis shoes.

Our "squirrel-planted" walnut trees in the woods are trimmed to grow straight and tall to be harvested as lumber, but they’ve never produced a good crop of nuts.

We met a fellow called Johnny Walnut Seed about 30 years ago in northeastern Iowa. I don’t know his real name because everybody who knew him called him Johnny Walnut Seed. His mission in life was to plant black walnut seeds over this nation and others. "The space a junk tree uses might just as well produce black walnut wood, which makes the world’s most beautiful furniture," he said.

Johnny and his wife lost their only son in a tractor mishap when they were building their motel/hostel in Harper’s Ferry, Iowa, and they enjoyed groups of young bicyclists and hikers. Our Boone’s Lick Bicycle Club, affiliated with American Youth Hostels Inc., chose their hostel for two overnights when we went bicycling in Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin. Nine members and three parents loaded bikes and bags and drove up there.

We were curious about the Walnut Seed name and soon learned that he was planting and propagating walnut trees to sell and set out for tree farmers in this country and several others. He traveled far and wide to get the best nuts as seed that would produce big, tall lumber trees.

His several work crews had established walnut farms; as we talked a crew was in Australia plowing, planting and fertilizing several hundred acres of black walnut trees. I really liked his idea.

I came home determined to do two things: one was to trim, fertilize and remove the vines from our " squirrel-planted" trees in the woods. The other plan was to buy 100 "started seeds" and 100 seedlings from Johnny Walnut Seed and plant them on our farm. I did that in 1968.

Shipping was delayed, the summer was dry and our seedlings did not do well at all. We planted the wet, started nuts in the garden, but not one seed sprouted! I couldn’t understand it because Johnny Walnut Seed bought the best nuts and showed us his seed beds and hundreds of rows of seedlings, properly prepared, fertilized and watered as needed. I consoled myself saying, "You win some, and you lose some."

Chub plowed the garden that fall, and we didn’t give walnut trees another thought until 13 little sprouts appeared the next spring. We were thrilled and carefully worked around them. The next year Chub forgot where my precious walnut seedlings were, and they did look a lot like weeds. He cultivated the garden thoroughly!

You win, and you lose! I was out of the walnut business for keeps. The third year, one strong, rapidly growing walnut sprout appeared in our garden! We were delighted. Chub carefully prepared a spot near my pottery workshop for this special tree. Together we transplanted it. It grew and prospered. A forester friend trimmed it.

It waited until the year 2000 to produce walnuts! I stomped the hulls off and dried the crop of 32 nuts! Yesterday I cracked and ate a few of the best tasting nuts I’d ever put in my mouth! You can’t beat Missouri’s black walnuts for flavor.

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