Black walnuts are a delicious addition to brownies, cookies and salads. If you have a black walnut tree in your yard, you can certainly save a bit of money by not having to buy walnuts from the store. However, collecting and harvesting black walnuts can be a bit of a challenge. Walnuts begin to mature in late summer and into the fall in West Virginia at which time the tree branches bow making it easy to pick the nuts from the lower branches. You can also harvest black walnuts soon after they fall to the ground.
Begin harvesting black walnuts as soon as you notice nuts dropping to the ground. Wear heavy rubber gloves and old shoes as the walnuts can stain clothing. Check the yellow-green ripe walnuts for ripeness by pushing on the husk with your finger. A ripe walnut can be dented when pushed on.
Spread an old tarp on the ground outside. Pour out your bucket of walnuts onto the tarp. Work with your hands to peel away the husks of the walnuts. Place the shelled portion back into the bucket, leaving the husk on the tarp. Discard any walnuts you find with maggots in them.
Use your feet to stomp the walnuts and strip the husk if the odor of the walnuts is too strong to work solely with your hands. Just be sure the majority of husk is removed before the walnut goes back into the bucket.
Fill the walnut bucket with water to allow any remaining husks to float to the top with any bad walnuts. Remove anything floating on the top and discard it along with the husk remains from the tarp. Dump out and refill the bucket as often as needed until the water is clear and only walnuts remain.
Spread out newspaper or cardboard in a place that is cool, dry, and out of direct sunlight. A basement or covered garage would be a good place. Pour the walnuts out onto the paper in a single layer and let them rest or cure for three to four weeks before opening the shells. The walnut meat can be stored in your freezer if it isn't eaten within a week.
Collect the nuts on a weekly basis as long as your tree continues to drop walnuts. If you have more than enough walnuts already collected or don’t want to continue harvesting, then leave the fallen walnuts on the ground and they will feed the squirrels through the winter.