Thursday, May 7, 2015

Black Walnuts

The ERJ family is a mixed-marriage.

Mrs ERJ's mother hailed from De Quincy, Louisiana.  During Mrs ERJ's formative years, the folks back home mailed her mother care packages chock full of pecans.  To Mrs ERJ, any other nut is an imposter, a poser to the throne.

And most hideous of all pretenders is....the Black Walnut.  Black Walnut is to nuts what Garlic is to spice.  It projects with a boisterous, classless, brassiness.  It has a flavor that brays.  According to my bride.

I, on the other hand, grew up watching my grandparents meticulously crack and pick out Black Walnuts and Hickory nuts.  To them, nuts were manna from Heaven.  Free food!  And just a few Black Walnuts made a batch of cookies or frosting or brownies simply awesome.  Were they still alive, I suspect they would advise Mrs ERJ to simply cut down the amount of nuts she think of them as flavor.

Irreconcilable differences

Mrs ERJ mostly lets me manage the outermost 8 acres of our parcel of heaven.  She simply asks that I not undertake a project to breed the urushiol out of Poison Ivy.  You think I jest.  But Poison Ivy is very ornamental and grows every where.

I also had a plan to sell small sticks of Poison Ivy for wart removal.  Our body's immune system does not respond very aggressively to warts.  My plan was to paint the warts with the freshly cut end of a P.I. stick to juice up the body's response.  Mrs ERJ took a dim view of that path to riches as well.

Her view of Black Walnuts is only slightly less jaundiced than her view of Poison Ivy.

HOWEVER, she will let me grow Black Walnuts "out there".


Black Walnuts are considered a challenging species to graft.  The reasons are many.

Primarily, they think they are a tropical species.  They need warmth to knit together.

Another factor is that the stock and scion wood tend to be "girthy".  That is, thick, stiff twigs.  Apples and pears can accept sloppy carpentry because the twigs are thin and limber.  Rubber bands or masking tape will pull sloppy cuts together and they will heal.  Not so with Black Walnut.  You better be a bit of craftsman.  A side issue is that if you are doing whip-and-tongue grafts, the grafter needs to make the downward split much closer to the center of the overlapping surfaces. That is something you will figure out in the first fifty grafts.


Knowing that getting a significant number of grafts to take would be a sporty proposition, I salted the mine by buying seed nuts on eBay of known, superior cultivars.  Looking at the seedlings, the main difference I see between the ringers and the native trees is that the ringers have a shorter distance between leafs, and consequently, leaf buds.  This is analogous to "spur type" apple trees.

I am still motivated to graft.  Improved varieties drop out in quarters and sometimes halves.  Improved varieties also run between 30% and 35% kernel weight.  More nut in the nut, so to speak.  And they bear about three times as many nuts as unselected wild trees.


One of the most informative papers regarding Black Walnuts is HERE.  Using their data in the Ugly Index, it became clear that the two varieties that were most promising were Sparrow and Davidson.  I have a tree of Sparrow.  I needed a source of Davidson.

It turns out that the Nebraska Nut Growers Association sells scion wood for Black Walnuts, including the variety Davidson.

Unfortunately, they were not able to fill my order.  They sent some Davidson scion wood.  They also sent about twice as much wood as I ordered of a substitute.  The note said, "We regret that we do not have enough "Davidson" to complete your order.  Please accept the substitution of the variety "Hay" which we believe will do well in your climate.

So, I got half my order of  "Davidson" and twice my order in a variety that Black Walnut gurus think will do well for me.

Complaints?  Not me.


This morning dawned cool and very dewy.  Mrs ERJ needed the vehicle.  I assured her that I had plenty of work to keep me occupied.

I sprayed a little bit of herbicide while the dew was still on the grass.  Dewy grass wets out well with herbicide and there is no breeze in the morning, so it is a prime time to spray.

I washed my hands and arms very thoroughly before donning my carpenter's apron.  I keep my grafting supplies in the apron.  It is handy to have extra pockets.

I grafted the Davidson on the seedlings that were west-southwest of the body of my trees.  Davidson dumps pollen right in the sweetspot for most Black Walnuts.  On paper, Davidson has a lot going for it as a breeder:  Disease resistant, highly productive, early.  I may do a little bit of guerrilla gardening with some of the nuts I produce and I want Davidson to be the baby-daddy.

At one point I caught myself wiping the blade of my Stanley Work Knife on my slacks.  The same slacks I was wearing when I sprayed herbicide.  That seemed like a really bad idea and I made a concerted effort to not wipe my blade on any article of clothing I had been wearing when spraying.  I wonder how many "inexplicable" grafting failures were due to that root cause, inadvertent herbicide toxicity.

I grafted the "Hay" on the trees that are in my frost pockets.  It leafs out late and should have some resistance to frost.


The "girls" expressed a desire that I mow the lawn.  So after grafting for three hours I pushed a mower for another four hours.  This was the first mowing of the season.  Much of my time was spent picking up junk.  But, golly, I am whipped.

The lawn looks nice.  And I will need to mow it in another five days.  Such is life.  The first mowing of the season is always the most difficult.


  1. Thanks for the education! I'll have to admit I'm a pecan person though... LOL

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. My family history (myth, legend?) tells a story about my great-grandfather. He had a big black walnut tree in the yard that a storm blew over. Being the frugal sort, he took that tree to a mill, had it milled into 1" boards, then floored his bedroom with that lumber. Sanded it, varnished it, and it was said to be the most beautiful floor in Natchitoches Parish.

    I wouldn't know, the house burned before I was born. And, like NFO, I prefer pecans.

  4. Comment entered via email from Lucky in Kentucky:


    To some degree, I’m with Mrs. ERJ…BW is almost overwhelming… a little goes a long way… and I’m the only one in my family who has any love or even…tolerance…for them (though I think the eldest did take a bag of BW nutmeats for trial in a brewing project…) .

    But hickories… heaven. To my palate, if you’ve ever had hickory pie, or hickories in whatever nutbread, cookies, etc.,… pecan just doesn’t cut it anymore. If I’m just gonna sit down and eat a handful of nuts…yeah, I want pecans; but if I’m cooking something…I prefer hickories.

    That said, most of the hickories here are, I guess, pretty mild.

    I sent ‘Sinking Fork’ shagbarks off to the Nebraska NGA for evaluation one time… crackout was good, but they rated flavor as bland.

    Sent some samples of SF and my latest find, Morris #1, to a hickory enthusiast in Iowa last year…he was surprised at how mild they were, and likened them to pecan.

    Plus, you can make syrup with the nutshells, after you pick out the nutmeats ;>)"

  5. To my "loyal" readers:

    It causes Mrs ERJ great mirth and merriment that you, my kind, gentle and learned readers agree with her 0-3.