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
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
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
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