Growing Nuts for Food and Profit

John Vivian shares information on growing nuts for food and profit, including selecting the orchard site, selecting nut trees, harvesting nuts, pruning nut trees, nut tree pests and selling nuts.

| December 2000/January 2001

Learn about growing nuts for food and profit.

Selecting, planting, tending and harvesting the perfect homestead crop.

What if we told you that you could grow a supernutritious, easily stored food crop for home use, as an emergency food supply, or as a lucrative cash crop right from your half-acre vacant side lot or rocky meadow? You can do it without too much preharvest work other than routine pest control, pruning, mowing, letting a few chickens loose on the land to eat weevils and turning on an irrigation hose now and then. Growing nuts for food and profit takes hard work. Interested?

Few new-to-the-country people have the foresight, patience, tree-crop know-how and marketing savvy to grow and market nuts successfully, but the effort is worth it. Familiar species such as walnuts, chestnuts and pecans, or exotics like heart nut and pine nut, shelled and sold to the local co-op, farmer's market or roadside produce stand can fetch you $250 to $1,000 per tree each year. Bake the kernels into nutbread, muffins or oatmeal cookies, or cook up some nut fudge, and you have what many homesteaders dearly yearn for: a unique product that provides a reliable source of cash. If you have the energy, space, time and equipment, you can earn a great deal more. We've seen harvests of 30 bushels of in-husk nuts from one mature black walnut tree. The dehusked, dried, cracked and shelled, picked, winnowed and bagged nutmeats went for $8 or $10 a pound.

The husks and bark of walnuts and their relatives can be pressed, steeped or cooked to produce rich staining oils and rare earth-toned dyes. They are salable in quantity or can be used in small, home-brewed lots to stain your woodworking projects or to make natural dyes for wool. Walnut oil pressed from husks is also a prized finishing product for fine furniture. Naturally dyed fabrics, knitting wools and garments sell for high enough prices to make home production of finished cloth or raw products more than financially worthwhile.

Of course, there's no such thing as an easy profit. The black walnut tree is not easy to grow, and shelling the nuts is tough work. You should keep in mind, too, that demand for nuts is limited to a few markets, confectioners and bakers during the year and to the wider public during the winter holidays. In addition, many nut species that are not native to North America come from low-cost sources abroad.

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