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The Market for Black Walnuts

Gilbert Fogle, a black walnut grower in the Plain City area and a past director of the Ohio Nut Growers Association, said there is a market for black walnuts in Ohio, and one can easily turn the nuts into income.

It is common for farmers and other small-scale growers to sell black walnuts locally. Fogle said one can expect to earn anywhere between $8 and $10 a pound for black walnut meat at farmers markets. If selling directly to a black walnut buyer, he or she can expect black walnuts to bring $80 per truckload (black walnuts in the shell) or $10 per 100 pounds (black walnuts in the shell).

In 2005, Ohio black walnut growers sold 1.4 million pounds of black walnuts to Hammons Products Company in Missouri. Hammons leads the nation in the supply of eastern black walnuts.

“Black walnuts have an intense, slightly bitter flavor that’s about five times stronger than the hardy English walnuts we’re used to buying at the supermarket,” Karin Welzel wrote in an article The Columbus Dispatch published. She encourages people to use them in quick breads, cookies, pastries, ice cream, stuffing and soup.

There is also a black walnut lumber industry in Ohio.

“Its beautiful, fine-grained, chocolate-brown, relatively lightweight heartwood is the ultimate choice for making solid wood furniture, interior trim, gunstocks and high-quality veneer,” the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Tree Index wrote in its Ohio’s Tree Glossary.

There are some concerns when it comes to the toxicity of the black walnut tree. “It is famous for the production . . . of juglone, a chemical that is toxic to some nearby competitor plants,” ODNR published.

According to the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service, black walnut trees can also affect animals, most commonly horses. If one beds horse stalls with wood shavings that contain about 20 percent black walnut shavings, it could cause inflammation of the laminae in the hoof.

Fogle said harvesting and growing black walnuts has changed over the years. Today, there are gadgets available to expedite gathering black walnuts as well as research studies at universities that focus on enhancing tree and nut genetics.

The Nut Wizard, a football shaped contraption on a 4-foot wire, is a new tool used to gather black walnuts. Growers push them across the ground and they picks up the nuts.

Researchers at Purdue University have developed a black walnut tree known as the P1 variety. It was developed specifically for lumber, as it grows faster than the typical black walnut tree.

Fogle explained that this type of research involves genetically improving black walnut trees through selective grafting. The goal of some grafting is to produce a superior quality black walnut with a high percentage of meat. The average black walnut is approximately 5 percent to 7 percent meat compared to super quality nuts that produce 30 percent to 35 percent meat.

According to the Non-timber Forest Products Program at Virginia Tech, there have been several nontraditional uses for black walnuts in the past. At one time, American Indians made tea out of black walnut’s inner bark and drank it as an emetic and laxative. They also cured toothaches by chewing on the bark of a black walnut tree.

There is also a use for black walnut shells, Fogle said. It is commonly used in the production of sandpaper, as it is extremely hard and abrasive.

So the next time the lawnmower hits a black walnut, consider picking up the rest of them and selling them to a buyer or cracking them open and making a treat (see Fogle’s favorite black walnut recipe).

Marissa Mullett is a freelance writer from Union County.

Black Walnut Identification

The Ohio’s Tree Glossary by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources outlines the identifying characteristics of black walnut trees. The long leaves of black walnut trees are alternate and pinnately compound, emerge later in spring than most other trees, and have 11 to 23 leaflets. Each leaflet has fine serrations on its margin, and the terminal leaflet at the end of the long leaf is frequently absent on leaves from mature trees. While most parts of this tree are pungent when rubbed or bruised, its leaves are especially so. The fruit of black walnut is composed of an inner kernel, surrounded by a hard corrugated round shell composed of two fused halves. This in turn is surrounded by a think outer husk that is green when immature and yellow-black when ripe. If ripe fruits are picked up, a brown-black dye will easily seep from the moist husk into the skin of the hand, rendering them stained for a couple of days.

Photo credit: Dominika Sebjan/istockphoto.com
Photo credit: Ohio Department of Natural Resources