SONG News Spring 1997 no. 50
In this Issue...

The Canadian Prairie Walnut Distribution Programme Report
Ernie Grimo

During a visit to the Morden Experiment Station in Manitoba in 1978,1 was surprised to find a healthy, fairly old planting of several black walnuts originally from Fargo, North Dakota (zone 3) as well as some butternuts, and Manchurian walnuts. Knowing the climate of Manitoba, I could not hold back my disbelief. Here was a group of nut trees that appeared well adapted to the Canadian Prairie environment and almost no one knew about them. After talking to Dr. Ronald, the director of the Station at that time, The Prairie Walnut Distribution idea was born. Morden would supply me with the fall crop from their trees and I would distribute them to Prairie applicants with the help of a brief article in Country Guide Magazine (now out of business). The objective was to determine how widely adapted this lot of trees were, and whether superior trees could be developed for nut production and hardiness. The seed was distributed to about 145 Prairie growers in lots of 5 black walnut seeds. A few also received butternuts and Manchurian walnuts.

In early January of 1997, about eighteen years later, I wrote to all recipients, offering them some Winkler hazelnut seeds as an incentive to reply to my anecdotal questionnaire. By April 12, 1997, forty replies were received. About an equal number were returned undelivered, the remaining are unaccounted for. Considering that this was the first contact with the recipients in eighteen years, I was pleased with the response.

Naturally, our interest should centre on the twelve that have healthy, hardy black walnut trees. These trees should be the best adapted to conditions on the Canadian Prairies. I am going to summarize the information from these twelve respondents that others might share the unique germ plasm. The nuts from these trees should be planted in more locations, so I encourage you to contact these growers to get seed nuts to try again and continue to push the frontiers of this valuable food tree further northwards.

In order to understand the remarkable nature of these trees, I have indicated the climate zone where these trees are growing. I have used the Map of Plant Hardiness Zones in Canada, 1973 as a guide to the zones. It is approximately similar to the United States Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zone Map, but more accurately depicts the climate zones in Canada. Regions are divided into "a", more severe and "b" milder zones. Zone 3 would characterize winter low temperatures ranging between -30 to -40° F, while zone 2 would have winter lows from -40 to -50°F. All regions would get about 20 inches (500 mm) of precipitation per year.

Katherine Derksen, Box 206, Lowe Farm, MB ROG 1EO Lowe Farm is in zone 3b, just east of Morden, Manitoba. One good tree on the front lawn is 16 feet tall and spreads about 13 feet. No disease or winter injury. It has had a few nuts for about 4 years. The 1996 crop was a 4 gallon pail of nuts.

Camille Forest, Box 42, St. Malo, MB ROA 1TO St. Malo is in zone 3b near Morden, Manitoba. Camille has two trees about 25-30 feet tall, with trunks of 6 to 7 inches. They produce a few nuts each year, but in 1996, they had 20 gallons of nuts.

Shirley Rottcher, Box 144, Oak Bluff, MB ROG 1NO Oak Bluff is just south of Winnipeg in zone 3 a. Three trees are growing well and are about 112 feet tall, spreading about 4 feet. No disease or winter injury has occurred. Some years they produce 3-4 five gallon pails of nuts.

Martin Scholz, Box 84, Garson, MB ROE ORO Garson is just north of Winnipeg in zone 3a. Three black walnut trees grew and two survive. They are about nine feet tall and spread about eight feet. The trees produced about four gallons of nuts last year.

H. Fred Smith, Box 6, Austin, MB ROH OCO Austin is on the edge of zone 3a and 3b. Fred Smith reports that one tree survives and is about 5 feet tall and has not yet produced any nuts.

Mrs. J. H. Phillips, Box 86, Forrest Station, MB ROK OWO Forrest Station is near Brandon in zone 2b. There are three trees 5 to 6 feet tall. No nuts have been produced yet. Trees are hardy but grow slowly in this short growing season area.

Herman Simrose, Parkbeg SK SOH 3KO Parkbeg is located due west of Regina in zone 3a. Herman Simrose has one tree. Height is 16 feet, trunk is ten inches at the base. It produces about three gallons of walnuts per year. Mr. Simrose has a hundred or more seedlings in the garden.

Audrey J. Wilson, Box 30, McCord SK SOH 2TO McCord is in the south end of Saskatchewan near the Wood River, in a very dry area bordering on zone 2b and 3a. Four black walnut trees are growing, Audrey has one, the other trees are at another site. Audrey's tree is about eight feet tall and spreads about eight feet. Very little winter kill has been noticed. Her tree has not produced any nuts yet. Production on the other trees is not known.

Susan Anderson, R.R.#1, Tees AB TOC 2NO Tees is almost half way between Edmonton and Calgary bordering on zone 2a and 2b. Three trees are growing. Two are doing well and are 15 feet tall with an 8 foot spread. They produce a few nuts.

Paul M. Larsen, R.R.#4, Sherwood Park AB T8A 3K4 Sherwood Park is near Edmonton in a pocket of zone 3a surrounded by zone 2. Paul Larsen has one Manchurian walnut about 15 feet tall with a 12 foot spread. In 1996, it produced a few oval shaped nuts, but no mature kernels. One black walnut is still alive but at 4 feet tall it is not too healthy.

Mr. & Mrs. W. A. Stearman, 12144-141 Street, Edmonton AB T5L 2E9 Edmonton is in zone 3a near 54 N. The Stearman's have two trees about 30 feet tall, spreading about 25 feet3 They are producing nuts but quantity is not determined.

Cecilia M. Phillips, 4303-51 Ave., Provost AB TOB 3SO Provost is south-east of Edmonton, incredibly in zone 2a. Cecilia Phillips reports that one black walnut tree towers high above the garage. It produces a few nuts. In some years, there are no mature kernels.

Comments and Results:
Note the distribution of the surviving trees. Five successful growers out of seven respondents are in Manitoba, four out of thirteen in Alberta and only one out of fifteen in Saskatchewan. It is probable that Saskatchewan growers had difficulty keeping the trees alive in this somewhat drier province. Farmers here practice summer fallowing in years of light rainfall in order to conserve moisture so they can raise a wheat crop in the subsequent year. Without watering, most trees would have little chance of surviving.

It is worth noting the trees that are growing in zone 2 where the temperatures can dip to -50°F.

Incidently, I have two black walnut trees in my orchard from the Morden seed source, and they bore about 5 gallons of nuts this year for the first time. They are only about 8 feet tall. They have had no problems in my mild zone 7a, Niagara climate area, but it is most remarkable that the Prairie growers report larger trees and earlier production than mine.

It is also interesting that growers in the cold regions of the east who tried to grow the Morden black walnuts reported that the trees did not do well for them. It seems that these black walnut trees are adapted to a combined dry/cold short season climate and do best in this situation.

The nut is small, but though it is hard shelled like its eastern cousin, it often crack out easier, yielding its fine flavoured contents.

This has been an interesting project for me. I wish to thank the participants for the effort they have made in growing the trees and reporting back to me. I have always been interested in seeing if the frontiers of nut growing could be extended to ever greater horizons. I have seen selected northern pecans, from the most northern native regions, ripening nuts annually in Ontario where just a short time ago it was only wishful thinking. I have sometimes found that the seemingly impossible is just a stone's throw away. We now know that there is a strain of black walnut that can be grown almost everywhere in the southern Canadian Prairies. Though we have only one Manchurian walnut reported here, I am sure there are more growing successfully. The butternut another native walnut, has not been given its due in this project. I am sure that there are Prairie adapted trees that are in need of being discovered and given their chance in the sun. Who knows, there may be a heartnut hybrid that would offer the Prairies an easier cracking alternative.

Tree Farm Hardiness Testing Incorporates Tree Protectors

A growing number of tree farmers have begun taking a different approach to raising trees. They are planting fewer trees but providing better care. The result is that more trees survive, thereby lowering over-all costs. The trees also grow faster, which gives the farmers a quicker return on their investment.

A case in point is Malcolm Olson of Erie, Pennsylvania. Olson is a retired electronic components engineer from the General Electric Company. He grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania, where his family raised and sold Ringneck, Golden and Silver Pheasants to collectors. They also had an extensive vegetable garden.

That background gave Olson both the incentive to investigate improved tree farming tools, techniques and methods as well as the knowledge of how to proceed.

In 1988, Olson began planting several species and varieties of nut trees on his New York tree farm just north of the Pennsylvania line. The location is ideal for testing the winter hardiness of these trees, which he now does for a Michigan tree nursery. Winter hardiness is an important characteristic for any nursery's trees because with it the market can expand or contract. Rigorous and extensive testing is necessary to prove a given variety of tree to be hardy in a particular zone.

Still, Olson's primary goal is to maximize the health and growth of the nut trees for his own commercial use of the nuts from those trees. His tree farm consists of 800 Persian and Carpathian English Walnut trees, along with large numbers of Filberts, Turkish Hazel, and Chinese and American Chestnuts. He has done some pioneering work on establishing the Heartnut, a variation of the Japanese Walnut. The Heartnut, which is shaped like a heart, has a milder flavour than other walnuts and is growing in popularity.

Of all the tools and techniques that Olson has investigated, the one that stands out as having had a significant impact on tree survival and health is the tree protector.

Tree protectors are plastic cylinders that are placed around newly planted trees to protect them and stimulate rapid growth. There is a large deer population in the area, according to Olson, and they seem to especially like nut trees. Tree protectors were therefore deemed essential to establishing a viable tree farm.

Olson has gathered and recorded performance measurements on all the inputs he uses, including tree protectors. He has tested several types and makes of protectors on over 500 trees.

After completing his tests, Olson abandoned every tree protector except for Tree Pro tree protectors. The other tree protectors caused numerous problems and often killed the very trees they were designed to protect. To survive, trees must be allowed to go dormant in the winter. This is critical in more northerly zones but is also true even in southern zones.

The other tree protectors did not allow his trees to go dormant in the fall. As a result, when the temperatures plummeted, the trees died or suffered extensive die-back. Even when Olson lifted those protectors up off the ground to increase the circulation of air, the trees suffered die-back. Only Tree Pro allowed the trees to go dormant. Tree Pro is now the only tree protector Olson uses.

Tree Pro's "open system design" allows Olson to open the protector any time to inspect the trees, remove debris and prune lower limbs and suckers. He likes the permanently vented design Tree Pro now offers. This design allows circulation of air inside the protector all year long.

Numerous other tree farmers have experienced similar results. Even if their sampling techniques and data gathering were less rigorous than Malcolm Olson's, they could easily see the differences. The other tree protectors caused their trees to die or suffer die-back. Only Tree Pro has solved the problem of delayed dormancy.

Tree farmers like Malcolm Olson have proven that Tree Pro protectors optimize tree survival, health and growth. They reduce costs and increase profits. Says Olson: "I wouldn't plant a tree without one."

Editor's Note: Tree Pro tree protectors are manufactured by Tree Pro, Inc., 3180 West 250 North, West Lafayette IN 47906. Submitted by: Malcolm Olson

Off-beat Books

Now here is a Lulu for obtaining books which are not just your ordinary read....including such items as: American Nutcrackers - a Patent History and Value Guide. Now, you just won't see this in your average bookstore....and if you want something even more rare, try this: A Complete Guide to American Eggbeaters! There's obviously nothing like it! For a list of these and other equally astonishing titles, write: Off Beat Books, 1345 Poplar Avenue, Sunnyvale CA 94087-3770

Groovy Nuts
John H. Gordon, Jr., 1385 Campbell Blvd., Amherst, NY 14228

nuts The book, "Nut Growing Ontario Style" has a section on cutting black walnuts. Cutting makes black walnut a more friendly nut, cracked with much less mess. To make black walnuts much friendlier, and use its bounty, we must take several more steps.

Black walnut kernels are commercially extracted. Hammons Products Company of Stockton, Missouri is the large supplier of kernels. Other suppliers are at the "cottage industry" scale, using the best local nuts and supplying local needs. Cottage industry scale uses hand cracking and hand sorting of kernels, but this may change. There is a ripe and waiting middle ground beckoning.

A bounty of Ontario nuts is unused. SONG should assure that nuts are used. What to do? Obviously we have to gather, transport, hull, bag, dry, store, extract and market nuts profitably. ... A lot to trip over here, but nothing money, workers, and time won't solve. SONG has the money to buy some hullers, onion sacks for drying, advertising, and buying a finite pile of nuts to go to storage. Time-in-storage may be a few months to a year for drying in-shell nuts; months until cracking, a year if nuts are traded at hulling stations.

Why groovy nuts? Groovy nuts means putting a groove on the suture line of hard shell nuts so that nut cutting is a sure process. Some nuts cut adequately, but many split off-suture. This complication binds kernel because fingers of shell extend over the suture line. Select nuts extract easily if separated at the suture. Wild nuts often need a second, or third, nip to exposed kernel. By selling grooved nuts (and nippers and picks), we sell nuts still sealed in their shell to prevent spoilage and contamination.

Mechanizing the grooving process is a problem. Someone has to invent it. A grinder will make an adequate groove at the suture, but burns shell rather than cutting it. Try a router which delivers a thin groove several millimeters deep. This groove is positioned by making use of the nut's shape, symmetry, and markings. Heartnuts, their hybrids, and Manchurian walnuts are semi-flat, thus they lie with their suture horizontal, thus can be turned past the router. The router must be positioned at half the height of the nut. 1 drew a grab that is spring loaded, top and bottom, for centering the suture. Black walnut is different. Selections lie with each suture vertical. They must be shoved upright, then grabbed.

What becomes of "round" black walnuts; put them through a rolling crusher as Hammons does? Maybe, but not while we are inventing. There are many older computers and scanners around which could put to use the "asterisk" pattern on each end of a black walnut to "see" proper position. A nut which stays out of position could be kicked off the grooving line by an air blast. If many of these refuse positioning, a robot will have to be invented to position them, if they are worth grooving. Emma K, Elmer Myers, and Hambleton are selections with the right shape for grooving. Burns black walnut is round and cracks well in a jaw cracker.

We lack contacts with nut gatherers, people to run and store hullers, and places to hull and store nuts. This article is not a business plan, just thoughts opened to discussion. One idea is that we gather for Hammons. Another is that we buy a machine for processing hard shell nuts. We have unique nuts that beg domestic processing. My tinkering time is spoken for, so a nut groover is only a thought. Before more nut harvests escape us, please, "Someone get groovy."

nut processor

Provided by SONG. Feel free to copy with a credit.