Growing nuts can be a long-term endeavor, but it’s not always the case. For example, you can plant, nurture, and harvest a crop of peanuts in only a few months. Some, like walnuts, take longer to become productive than others, such as almonds, which can take a few years.
Once they are established, many nut trees can continue to produce enormous amounts of nuts for decades, and occasionally even for over a century.
Many nuts can be cultivated in both extremely cold and extremely hot regions, but make sure to choose the suitable plant for your region.
Some can grow into quite large trees, so you’ll need to allow enough space for the plant to grow. Many are available on dwarf rootstocks, so they grow as smaller plants. These can be grown in any size garden and often have better yields, are easier to harvest and prune, and have less invasive root systems. In order for some types to pollinate, you’ll need more than one tree. In a small garden, choose self-pollinating species.
Some nuts cannot be harvested until they have fallen to the ground, whereas others can be harvested while still clinging to the tree. Some ripen quickly, while others take several months to mature.
Some grow on small plants that are easily accessible for hand harvesting.
Others grow on very tall, difficult-to-reach trees. If they are not collected in a timely manner, some may be taken by animals and birds.
The benefits of growing nuts in your home garden
- Nuts have numerous health benefits in addition to those found in fruits and vegetables.
- They can be stored for longer periods of time and with greater ease.
- They can be eaten raw, roasted, or used as a cooking ingredient.
- They are an excellent meat substitute in vegetarian dishes such as meatloaf and nut roasts.
- Nut meal can be used in place of flour to make cakes and cookies.
- Instead of bread crumbs, you can crumb fish with an almond meal or macadamia meal.
- You can add them to your favorite cereals or make your own muesli with them.
Some nutritional benefits of nuts
- Many have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to be beneficial to heart health.
- Peanuts are a good source of folate and a good source of protein.
- Folate is also an important nutrient for pregnant women to prevent birth defects, and it is frequently deficient in vegetarian diets.
- Almonds are high in magnesium, which is thought to relieve stress.
- They are high in vitamin C, an antioxidant.
- Brazil nuts are high in selenium, which boosts the immune system and may provide some protection against prostate cancer in men in small doses.
- L-arginine, which is found in nuts, may help to reduce blood clotting and improve artery blood flow. Nuts are high in fiber, which helps to lower cholesterol and makes you feel full (meaning you will eat less).
How to grow nut trees
Almond trees can reach a height of 6 meters. They prefer a sunny, warm location. Avoid wet or humid climates, especially during flowering and harvest. Frost kills young fruit and flowers, so they require a frost-free location in late winter and early spring.
Buds with just a hint of pink can withstand temperatures as low as 24.8°F (-4°C). From planting to the first harvest, young trees take three to four years.
Space plants 20-26 feet (6-8 m) apart (but they can be slightly closer)
Irrigate and feed regularly to achieve good results
They need well-drained soil – avoid alkaline soils.
They respond to annual applications of nitrogenous fertilizer (e.g., composted manures).
Prune annually in late autumn or winter, near to late fall if possible, to regulate fruiting and manage shape (often pruned as a vase or central leader shape)
Possible pests and diseases include silver leaf, blast, brown rot, and crown gall.
Trees need between 300 and 500 hours below 44°F (7°C) over winter in order for the flower buds to form and a crop to result.
Cross-pollination is essential – you need two different cultivars for good pollination since flowers do not self-pollinate. Cross-pollination with varieties such as California Papershell, Strouts Papershell, and Ne Plus Ultra are successful. Also, Charleston, Johnston’s Prolific, and Brandis Jordan cross-pollinate with each other.
Nuts are harvested in autumn.
A 5-year-old tree can yield 2kg of unshelled nuts; an 8-year-old tree 9kg.
After harvesting, remove the outer pericarp (dried fruit) from the husk as soon as possible and store dry.
Peanuts are low-growing, leguminous plants to 12 – 16 inches (30 or 40 cm) tall, though some varieties are as high as 5 feet (1.5 m). They are only suited to tropical and subtropical regions of the world. They need protection from frost and 500-600mm of rainfall.
They are not actually a true nut but are annual legumes and need to be replanted each season. Like other legumes, they are best not grown in the same ground for more than two years running to reduce the incidence of soil-borne diseases.
They respond well to initial feeding and prefer soil with a pH of 6 to 6.5. (ideally around 7.5).
Irrigation should be used in areas where the annual rainfall is less than 60cm.
Lime can be beneficial in acidic soils. Calcium fertilizer is effective on peanuts.
A fungicide program will be required in high rainfall areas.
They must be inoculated with the appropriate rhizobia in order to fix nitrogen in the soil. Peanuts grow into a 20 inches (50 cm) bush that flowers 30-40 days after planting (this is temperature-dependent). The flower develops into an elongated embryo that hangs down and penetrates the soil. This is referred to as a peg. The size of the peg then increases to a pod that will contain up to three kernels.
They form nuts close to the soil, with upright varieties having nuts clustered around the main stem and spreading varieties having nuts that are much more dispersed.
When the plant begins to yellow and growth slows, the nuts are ready for harvest. Peanuts require some skill to harvest because the kernels are hidden beneath the soil and mature unevenly, making harvesting difficult.
The macadamia is an evergreen tree around 50 feet (15 m) tall though sometimes smaller in cultivation and larger in its natural habitat, which is the warmer climates of coastal southern Queensland and northern New South Wales. They can be grown in cooler climates, but their nut production drops.
Fruits are 25-35mm globes with a hard inner shell protected by a green outer layer. They begin producing crops at five years, sometimes earlier, but it can take up to 15 years to reach full production. They will be harvested from March to August, with an occasional drop throughout the year.
They require free-draining, fertile soils with a pH of 6 to 7. and plenty of sun.
Keep the soil moist but never excessively wet: particularly over spring and into summer while nuts dr e forming.
Several different trace element deficiencies are common so fertilize well.
Plant in rows 14 feet (4.5 m) apart with trees spaced 8 feet (2.5 m) or more apart in the rows.
They tolerate both low and high humidity.
Cross-pollination and the presence of bees improve fruit set. It is always preferable to grow two or more varieties together to increase nut production. Due to partial self-sterility, cropping with only one variety can be low.
Provide shelter from wind damage.
Cicadas can cause serious damage to branches.
These are deciduous trees that can grow to 100 feet (30 m) high, though often to only 70 feet (20 m). The fruit is technically a drupe rather than a nut, with the cylindrical nut enclosed in a thick green husk that splits open when mature: nuts are typically 1.5 – 2.3 inches (4 to 6 cm) long and ellipsoidal in shape.
They require a long frost-free growing season with hot days and warm nights to mature the nuts properly. Depending on the variety, 140 to 210 frost-free days are required.
Frost can harm any tender new growth in the spring.
They also require a cold winter in order to produce flowers. They require a deep, well-drained soil with no hard-pan subsoil layers since they also have a long tap root system.
Soils with a pH of 6 to 6.5 are ideal for growing pecans.
Walnut trees can grow up to 100 feet (30 meters) tall and are deciduous. Trees are grown as ornamental plants and for the production of edible nuts as well as for high-quality wood used in furniture and other fine woodworking. They have extensive and deep root systems. The Black Walnuts are what people mostly grow.
They prefer deep fertile soils.
Space trees 60 feet (18 m) between in cooler areas, but closer in warmer regions. They are generally very cold tolerant
Trees normally take five years to become productive.
A large tree can produce a fantastic crop if they have 800 hours of chilling in winter at 50°F (10°C) temperatures.
Anthracnose may cause defoliation and damage to developing fruits, but many modern cultivars are resistant to this disease.
Drying and storage
Many nuts can lose their flavor, become diseased (e.g., fungal rots), or deteriorate if not dried and stored properly. Nuts with a higher oil content deteriorate faster than those with lower oil content. It is important to mention that chestnuts and walnuts will deteriorate faster than almonds and pistachios.
Nuts stored in their shells must be kept at low temperatures.
Nuts should be stored in their shells to avoid contamination and deterioration.
A hard shell can keep contaminating odors out (such as paint, petrol, or even other foods).
Insects and other pests are also deterred by hard shells.
Nuts can be stored in the refrigerator at 39°F (4°C) or lower for up to a year. They won’t last as long if kept at room temperature, and homegrown nuts should be frozen for 48 hours before storing to kill insects and bacteria.
In warm or humid climates, use airtight plastic bags or containers. Frozen nuts can be stored for up to two years.
De-husking (removal of kernels from the shell) is mostly done by machines or specialized equipment for commercial nut production.
Hand processing can be used on a smaller scale.
Many nuts have a fleshy fruit (dried or fresh) that adheres to the nut’s exterior. This tissue has the tendency to split and come away from the hard nut easily in some species (e.g., almonds). This material must be removed from the nut by hand or by machine.
Delaying de-husking can result in a decrease in nut quality for some nuts (including walnuts) but not for others.
Nuts are traditionally sun-dried after harvesting and once the remaining tissue clinking to the husk has been removed.
Some nuts are dried while still in the shell, while others are dried after being removed from the shell.
There are risks to drying in the sun, such as rain or high humidity. However, if the weather is hot and dry, nuts may only require two to three days to dry in the sun. When the weather is cloudy, wet, and cool, it can take up to three weeks or even more for nuts to dry in the sun.
Preparing nuts for eating
Not all nuts must be cooked, but if in doubt, avoid eating them raw. Cooking nuts can add flavor while also destroying toxins. Cashews, chestnuts, peanuts, and almonds are the most commonly cooked nuts, but most other nuts can be cooked as well.
Raw nuts can be roasted in an oven on trays. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes on a baking sheet, then remove and flip the nuts. Return to the oven for 3 or 4 minutes more.
Keep an eye out for color changes, but avoid burning.
Cook in a frying pan until they change color but do not burn. A little oil can help the process along.
Wrap in aluminum foil and place in a camp oven or over an open fire. To avoid burning, check every few minutes.
Before cooking, coat nuts in oil, butter, honey, herbs, spices, or other flavorings.
Blanching some nuts removes the skins and bacteria. Good examples include hazelnuts, almonds, and pistachios. In a large pan, combine water and two tablespoons of baking soda.
Don’t overfill the pan; about half full is plenty. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Allow for 3 to 5 minutes for the nuts to parboil. Drain through a colander or sieve and rinse with cold tap water. The skins of nuts can be removed by rubbing them with paper towels.
Steaming nuts is another option, but it is not as effective at killing toxins and bacteria as roasting or blanching. Make use of a steamer pan. Bring the bottom pan of water to a boil. Place the nuts in the steamer insert and place it on top of the pan. For up to an hour, steam. Wash the nuts in cold water. If necessary, remove skins with paper towels.
A few tips for better health
Always soak or dry nuts to remove toxins
If you’re worried about calories, dry roast nuts rather than roast them in oil. Oil adds more calories, though not a significant amount.
Roasting in oil increases polyunsaturated fats, which combat bad cholesterol.
Roasting can increase acrylamides which are linked with cancers.
Nuts highest in the amino acid asparagine form the most acrylamide after roasting.
Don’t add salt.
Eat more of the lower calorie nuts -these include almonds, cashews, and pistachios.
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