How to Harvest & Eat Black Walnuts


Black walnuts, considered by many the Cadillac of nuts, lend themselves beautifully to gourmet baking. The nuts can be used in baked goods and stir-fries whole or chopped, or toasted and ground for a one-of-a-kind roasted walnut flour. Black walnut seedlings will begin bearing in six years, but investing in a young tree results in walnut harvesting within two to three years. The husks and shells of black walnuts can be harder to process than many other kinds of nuts, however, so plan ahead for that first harvest.

Step 1

Begin looking for black walnuts in September and October. They begin to drop to the ground just after the first frost and will continue bearing for four to six weeks.

Step 2

Return several times to collect as more black walnuts, which will continue falling throughout their bearing season.

Step 3

Stay ahead of the squirrels and pick some of the nuts from the tree, rather than from the ground. Carefully climb a ladder and pick walnuts bearing husks that yield slightly under firm thumb pressure.

Step 4

Wear safety glasses, gloves and old clothes to hull the walnuts, and protect your work surface by laying down old sheets, towels or newspapers. Glasses protect you from any flying husk pieces, while protecting your clothes and work area will minimize damage from the black walnut shell dye, which can stain skin, textiles and surfaces.

Step 5

Hull black walnuts by cracking their outer husks with a hammer. Remove all of the husk; if black walnuts aren't hulled completely, they will rot during storage.

Step 6

Wash the walnuts with husks removed but inner shells still intact. Placing the walnuts in a bucket will also help you cull the insect-damaged ones. Discard any walnuts that float to the surface.

Step 7

Store the walnuts, piled no more than a few inches high, in a cool, dry place for at least two weeks to cure.

Step 8

After the black walnuts have cured, store them in cloth bags, ideally in a room no warmer than 60 degrees and with about 70 percent humidity. Black walnuts shells crack if exposed to hot, overly dry conditions after the curing process.

Step 9

You'll want to begin the somewhat arduous shelling process at least a day before a baking project. Start by soaking the nuts in warm water for 24 hours, then rinse and soak for a few more hours.

Step 10

Shell the nuts with a nutcracker or hammer and extract the nutmeat. They're delicious as an addition to cookies, pies and breads, or toasted to top a warm spinach salad.

Step 11

Store unused shelled black walnuts in the refrigerator for up to nine months or in the freezer for up to two years.

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not compost black walnut shells or husks. They contain a chemical that most plants cannot tolerate; this is the same reason why few plants thrive near walnut trees.

Things You'll Need

  • Black walnut tree
  • Ladder (optional)
  • Gathering basket or bag
  • Hammer
  • Safety glasses
  • Gloves
  • Old clothes
  • Newspapers, sheets or towels
  • Bucket
  • Cloth bags
  • Nutcracker


  • University of Minnesota Extension Service

Who Can Help

  • University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry - Growing Black Walnut for Nut Production
  • Walnut Council
  • Raintree Nursery
Keywords: black walnut seedlings, walnut harvesting, hulling black walnuts, roasted walnut flour

About this Author

Melissa Jordan-Reilly has been a writer for 20 years, both as a newspaper reporter and as an editor of nonprofit newsletters. Among the publications in which she has published are, "The Winsted Journal," "Taconic" and "Compass Magazine." A graduate of the University of Connecticut, Jordan-Reilly also pursues sustainable agriculture techniques and tends a market garden at her Northwestern Connecticut home.