Oh! Those Gum Trees On The Farm

Gum trees tower over the house.

Blue gums line the gravel road that winds past our dusty little farmhouse. Look out to the west. Once you could see for miles, but not any more. Now your gaze stops at the towering gums.

Why are they still there, blocking my view?

Eucalyptus trees, as blue gums are more properly called, are a hardy bunch with more than a few annoying features.

You couldn’t call them pretty trees. Their bark peels like last week’s sunburnt skin littering the lawn with long brown stripes. Branches sprout every which way and their dull green leaves hang limply from every twig.

Strips of eucalyptus bark litter the ground.
Imagine clearing this off the lawn every time you need to mow the grass.

They’re supposed to be evergreen, which in blue gum terms means they shed their leaves all year round. No brilliant yellow, orange and red displays outside my house, just green and brown leaves wafting down in every breeze.

And yet, these Aussie imports are fascinating trees.

So Many Eucalyptus Trees Around The World

You can find gum trees in many corners of the world. Perhaps that makes them Australia’s biggest export? Altogether there are more than 700 species, with just fifteen of them not native to Australia.

We tend to lump them altogether simply as “gums” but the reason they’re found in so many different countries is that there’s a eucalyptus tree for almost every climate. You’ll find them in the tropics, in the deserts and in swamps. Look around Australia and they’re sticking up on the coast — and the mountains. Many wilt at the first sign of a frost  — others are partial to a cold winter. The trick is to find the right one for you.

In the late 1800s early New Zealanders had a love affair with eucalyptus trees and planted them in their thousands. From Kaitaia to Bluff farmers and plantation owners invested in gum tree forests for their future timber potential. Unfortunately, they didn’t properly research the correct varieties — and they seem to have ignored the few experts who did — so many trees wilted in unsuitable conditions. To add to the confusion, the same common name was used for different eucalyptus trees in different states which didn’t help planters over here.

The New Zealand National Geographic Magazine perfectly describes the problem.

Furthermore, some difficulties were not of the foresters’ making. Harry Bunn, a retired director of the Forest Research Institute and a eucalypt sympathiser, says: “In Australia, the name of a species in one state was often different from its name in another. Some of our foresters wanted to order seed of the E. regnans that grew in Tasmania, where it was called swamp gum, so they ordered swamp gum seeds. Unfortunately, in those days most of the seed came from Woy Woy, in New South Wales, and their swamp gum is E. ovata. It was duly collected from the worst site possible, delivered to New Zealand and planted on all the state plantations, including in the hills behind Whakarewarewa and at Puhipuhi. Of course, it was a dismal failure. After that, we started using Latin species names.”

https://www.nzgeo.com/stories/eucalypts-trees-of-the-future/

Properly grown, and in the right conditions, gum trees do have beautiful timber. But that’s not why we have gums on our farm.

My father-in-law loved planting trees on his farm. Douglas Firs seem to have been his favourite, judging by all the tree lanes lining our paddocks. But every now and then he planted pockets of gums thanks to his friend and advisor Graham Mulligan. He ran a well known tree nursery in Winton, and was an expert in growing eucalypts.

50+ years ago Tommy planted the gum trees that line the road beside our house. They were only a few metres tall and still spindly when we transported our house to shelter behind them.

Take The Good With The Bad

I didn’t know — and Terry didn’t care — that their roots would suck the goodness from the ground all around, And those pesky leaves create a mulch through which very little will grow. That’s my excuse for not having a decent front garden.

In autumn, winter and spring,  their tall shadows slide over the house, blocking out the precious sunlight far too soon. On the westward side of the row, it’s bright and breezy. Behind, in our garden, it’s cold and grey.

But…

When the wind is howling along the road, stirring up a choking cloud of dust, there’s not a speck on our side of the trees. And, during summer’s scorching heat that early shade is a welcome relief.

So many storms have beaten against those trees and they’ve withstood every one. No windows have been broken, no trampolines tossed, no rubbish bins rolled: the trees are our protection and shelter.  

Tommy chose our gum trees well. We don’t know what variety they are, but they’ve withstood every drought and snowstorm the years have thrown their way.

Gum trees are shallow rooted, which means that they tend to topple in stressful situations. But the ones by our house show no signs of falling. We keep the weight off them by chopping branches off them every couple of years when the mobile hedge trimmer visits the valley.

Those branches make fantastic firewood. Terry cuts them up with a chainsaw and splits the bigger logs while they’re fresh because once the wood dries out it becomes hard as nails. It burns for hours and I love to use it in winter. Blue gum is the perfect wood for banking the wood burner overnight.

In spring, our gum trees sprout delicate white flowers and the bees love them. Their pollen is full of protein and the nectar is just what they need to kick off honey production for the season.

The birds love them too. Each morning they ring out the dawn chorus from every branch. Native korimako (bellbirds) and piwakawaka (fantails) come to feast on the nectar and the flies that constantly hang around the trees. In fact, those trees act as a giant fly-screen for our house — another blessing to be grateful for.

Yes, annoying as their leaves, bark and shade can be, we’ll leave our gum trees where they stand. We’re grateful for their shelter and to Tommy, who planted them so long ago.

Huge gum tree by the fence.
This must be one gum tree that doesn’t mind having wet feet.

Here’s to the gum trees — long may they stand.

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Bridging The Kawarau Falls

The new Kawarau Falls bridge.

Kawarau Dreams and Nightmares

If you’re a tourist, or new to Queenstown you probably sweep over the new Kawarau Falls bridge without giving it a second thought.

But I never take it for granted. In fact, I’m still pinching myself to check that it’s real.

Why?

Because trying to cross the old one-way bridge used to be a nightmare.

For years we called it a bridge, but the old girl was actually a dam.  Although, she never quite managed to stop the river water flowing.

Here’s how it happened.

There’s Gold In That River

Back in the day, there was gold galore around Queenstown. Some made fortunes — others lost everything. But, like we do today, people were always on the lookout for the next big thing.

Further down the Kawarau River miners worked hard to pan the alluvial gold. But many were convinced that there was a fortune in gold-bearing rock on the riverbed.

Unfortunately, the river was always too full and fast to get it out.

Someone had a bright idea. “Let’s dam the falls,” they suggested. “The water level will fall. Then we’ll get the gold.”

What could possibly go wrong?

So, in 1924, they began building 10 massive gates between sturdy concrete pillars over the Kawarau Falls. The engineers planned to get the job done in months but that was never a realistic target. In reality, the dam took two years to build.

Actually, I think two years was a pretty good effort. With all today’s modern equipment it seemed to take an eternity to build our newest bridge.

In August, 1926 the great day arrived.  

In front of a huge crowd of spectators engineers lowered the gates and the river level dropped… but not for long.

A ‘Dammed’ Expensive Mistake

Somehow, in the rush for gold the engineers had forgotten a rather important fact. Downstream was the equally gold-rich Shotover River busily emptying all its water into the Kawarau.

So, it didn’t take long for the Shotover to fill up the riverbed once more.

Imagine their dismay when the river only dropped a metre which was nowhere near enough to get the gold.

Reluctantly, the engineers admitted defeat. They raised the gates and the Kawarau River flowed free once more.

As a dam, it was a costly failure, but it had a silver lining. At last, there was an easy link between Frankton and the rich farming country to the south.

The old Kawarau Falls Dam
The old Kawarau Falls dam and bridge, taken from the lakeside trail.

Traffic Flows and Traffic Woes

So now it made sense to build a road around the lake to Kingston. In 1936 that road was finished and the dam took on a new role.

It was never intended to be crossed by cars and trucks. So we’ll have to give a shout out to the dam’s designers, engineers and maintenance crews. Because cars, campervans, trailers and trucks all crossed over that dam bridge every day for 92 more years.

But it was hell to use in rush hour.

Then, the traffic inched along without a break. Bad luck if you were going against the flow. I’ve been stuck there a long time waiting for someone to stop and let me across.

Eventually, the powers-that-be installed some traffic lights.

They were a mixed blessing. Sure it was easier to cross in busy times – but it made your blood boil to be staring at a red light when NOTHING was coming the other way.

Even tales of woe have their funny side.

Most locals have a story to tell about driving over the old bridge. I happened to meet a friend out walking one day, and he told me a funny old tale.

Not so long before he retired, Ivan — an Athol farmer of many years —  drove himself up the snowy road to the High Country Farmers Winter Conference.

But, as he crossed the narrow bridge his old car skidded on the slippery boards.

Luckily he didn’t crash through the rails and into the river.

Unluckily, the car stopped dead: neatly wedged across the middle of the one-way bridge. Oops!

Long lines of traffic banked up as far as the eye could see on both sides of the bridge while shivering rescuers worked to free our unfortunate farmer.

Bad enough to have an accident, but worse was to come.

Next day, newspaper reports told of emergency services rushing to rescue the elderly man whose car had caused the delay.

Ivan was mortified about skidding, and sheepish about all the fuss. But mostly he was furious at the reporter who dared to call him ELDERLY.

Finally They Began The New Bridge

In 2016 McConnell Dowell started the sweeping new bridge. And we discovered a whole new level of traffic-jam-pain.

If your trip was early or late — you’d be fine. But, at peak times you had two options.

1) Leave an hour early… OR

2) Get caught in a traffic jam.  

At least the locals were forewarned. Sitting in the queue I used to wonder how many unwary travellers had missed their flights because they were stuck on the bridge?

We waited and watched through the months as the new bridge slowly took shape.

Trees were felled. Temporary decks came and went. They drilled piles… built piers… rolled out new decking and finally — FINALLY — on May 10th, 2018 they took all the cones and barriers away. At last we could drive, unobstructed, over our brand new bridge.

However, the historic dam was being restored too — and there was still plenty of work to finish. Resurface the deck. Strengthen and paint. Build underpasses and paths to connect everything together. Slowly, it all came together.

It Was Worth The Pain

It felt like forever, but finally everything is finished.

My heartfelt thanks go out to all the people who dedicated long hours to getting this momentous job done and dusted!

One fine April day I wandered over the two bridges — old and new — to see how things have changed.

Cyclists riding on the underpass of the new Kawarau Falls Bridge

This new underpass makes it a breeze for cyclists to cross under the bridge.
Bike Trail beside the Kawarau river.

From the Frankton side the underpass leads onto a narrow above the river. A few minutes ride will take you onto the Queenstown Cycle Trail.
View from under the new Kawarau Falls Bridge

On the south side, the underpass goes right down to river level.
Spectacular view of the old and new bridges.

I discovered a little winding path up the hill towards Kelvin Heights. It leads to a lookout which gives a spectacular view of the two bridges.

It was fun discovering all the old and new additions to this part of the Queenstown Trails. If you’ve got an hour to spare, why not give it a go yourself.

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Kiwi Saffron: Proudly Growing In Southland

A single saffron flower in the paddock.

Kiwi Saffron’s Steve and Jo Daley are as down-to-earth as any couple you’re likely to meet. He’s originally from Te Puke – think Kiwifruit and beekeeping. She’s from pioneer Southern farming stock. With those backgrounds, as you can imagine, they’re not afraid of a bit of work.

And that’s just as well because as well as caring for cows on the farm, beekeeping and contract fencing, Steve and Jo are the hard-working duo behind this small, but increasingly successful, organic saffron company.

Infographic - What Is Saffron?

In The Beginning

Jo and Steve learned the saffron-growing-ropes by initially growing the flowers on contract. This allowed them to focus on learning the best growing and drying techniques without worrying about selling their small crop.

But, when they got the opportunity to buy the whole business, that’s when the learning challenge really took off. After all, it’s one thing to grow a crop but marketing was a whole new world.

So when the Daleys took over Kiwi Saffron, Jo plunged headlong into the business world of websites, customer service, compliance, supermarkets etc. Steve, meanwhile, concentrated on growing the very best saffron in the world.

Right from the outset, the Daleys knew they wanted to grow organic saffron. So respect is a value they apply to every aspect of their business. It means they care for their soil, saffron, workers and their customers.

A row of saffron flowers.
Organic saffron flowers blooming in Te Anau.

Going Organic

To build up the saffron paddock they began by working tonnes of compost into the soil. This became a dark, luscious plot teaming with worms and microbes. Just the sort of healthy bed that saffron corms thrive in.

Steve and Jo hand-planted their 40,000 corms and waited. Weeds grew. The saffron stayed dormant. They weeded the plot (still by hand) — and waited.

More weeds grew. And more! This was becoming a bit much.

They had to weed the planted rows by hand to avoid disturbing the precious corms. But surely there was an easier way to weed between them?

Spraying was out of the question, and there was no money to buy fancy, new machinery.

What’s more, re-using is an integral part of the Enviro concept. Was there a DIY solution? Yes, there was.

Steve Invents The Saffron Scuffler

The first time I met Steve was when we sold him an old potato scuffler. Saffron corms are not potatoes, of course, but Steve’s inventive mind was filled with possibilities.

Hours of tinkering later he had a great little tool to tow between the saffron rows. Now he could remove the weeds without spraying or compacting the soil.

But, it is a tight fit for the scuffler between the rows.

That can cause a few problems, because for much of the year the saffron is dormant. That means you can’t see it in the paddock. Weeds, however, grow all year round.

To solve that problem, there are white markers up and down the rows so Steve can see where they are. But the scuffler’s such a tight fit that he has to concentrate on always keeping a perfect line. It’s amazing how well he manages – most of the time.

“I always know when Steve has gone off course with the scuffler and dug up the corms instead of the weeds. I can see the look on his face a mile away,” Jo says.

So out they go, to replant the row by hand. Luckily, the corms are forgiving things and aren’t usually worried about the disturbance. Neither is Jo. She knows these things happen.

Steve and Jo Daley picking saffron in Garston.
Steve and Jo Daley. Picking saffron is a twice-daily job at this time of year. They tell me that some years so many flowers come up at once you can sit in one spot to fill your bucket. But this year, the flowers have been shy and sporadic so you have to walk up and down the rows from flower to flower. It makes for a long harvesting season when they bloom so slowly.

Kiwi Saffron — Proudly BioGro Certified

In 2015 they took a huge step forward by applying to be organically certified. It’s one thing to say you’re organic, but certification is a whole ‘nother level.  But as Jo and Steve don’t see any other certified organic saffron in the NZ market at this point it’s worth it to go that extra mile.

We took the plunge to go organic in 2015 and approached BioGro. That process would normally take four years, but of course, we’d been growing organically right from the start.

“We did all the soil tests and fulfilled all those requirements that they asked us to do for compliance. Then we got our first audit and because we could prove all our documentation for the previous two years they were able to credit us with those two years. So we had full certification in 2017.

The cost of certification is a lot and that puts people off. BioGro is proactive about helping people to spread that cost, which we appreciated.”

Placing saffron stigmas on the dehydrating trays.
All the stigmas are plucked out of their flowers and placed on dehydrator racks ready for drying. At this stage, you can use bare hands, but once the saffron is dry you have to wear gloves so that oil from your fingers doesn’t touch the delicate spice. As soon as it’s dry, Jo and her helpers will weigh the saffron and package it ready for sale.

Farm To Table — Proudly Local

When I asked Jo if Kiwi Saffron was part of the Farm to Table movement she answered “Absolutely!”

Farm to table is all about keeping things local. These growers concentrate on growing organically and minimising their impact on the environment.

How Kiwi Saffron Manages Minimal Impact

Infographic: Treading lightly on the land.

Their location is key, too. All their willing helpers (WWOOFers) are coming to Te Anau and Milford Sound anyway so there’s no extra travel involved.

Luckily, if you want to buy this gorgeous spice but you don’t live in Te Anau there’s no need to panic. Kiwi Saffron now features in selected supermarkets throughout New Zealand.

They also have you covered with a prompt mail order service which you can find on their website.

Saffron Comes To Garston

Naturally, Saffron corms multiply over the years, and eventually you have to dig them up. Steve has replanted many of them at Te Anau, and some are available for sale too, but this year he is looking further afield.

Early in January Steve planted a trial crop of saffron on our farm. We’ve loved seeing the process from beginning to end.

It’s a big bed but we didn’t have to plant by hand, thank goodness. Sticking with his DIY genes Steve adapted an onion planter and turned it into a saffron-sowing machine.

So the corms were planted, and then … nothing happened. We’re used to grass, barley, oats and even hops where you can see things growing. But saffron remains coyly hidden until the lowering air temperature gives it a nudge.

Then just before Easter, voila! Overnight the flowers appeared.

There won’t be much saffron from our patch this year —  the corms are too new for that — but there are advantages to that. Each corm gets to concentrate on growing just one flower, so the red stigmas on our flowers are thick, glossy and vibrantly red.

Of course, we’re not organic, so our saffron will be an extra drop in the bucket of Kiwi Saffron’s slightly cheaper, non-organic range which is supplied by contract growers. It has, however,  had the same care and attention as the Te Anau crop and we’ll be excited to see the test results when they eventually come back.

Spreading The Word

It’s exciting to grow your business but many people find publicity the hardest part to do.

The only thing that Jo hates more than having her photo taken is public speaking. But you’d never know that from the way she’s taken it in her stride, as you can see in Jubb Studio’s lovely Kiwi Saffron video.


Catch a fascinating glimpse into Steve and Jo’s world in “Kiwi Saffron Te Anau” from My Southland Story.

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Saffron is the latest innovation on our farm, but it’s by no means the only one. You can read about our other ideas in:

And Southland has many people like Steve and Jo. Ordinary Kiwis who are following their dreams.

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Party On: Harvest Festival At The Hops

A pile of hops waiting to be picked.

Take 30+ curious beer aficionados and a bumper crop of hops. Throw in a delicious barbeque and a keg of Altitude Brewing’s best thirst-quenching brew. Mix with a dollop of music and you have yourself a recipe for the Garston Hops 2019 Hop-Picking Party.

The Big Hops Harvest Problem:

200 hop vines on two farms —  all of them covered in ripe, cone-shaped flowers. A tiny window of time in which to pick them —  and only two busy farmers both trying to juggle multiple farm jobs. The big hop companies have this process all mechanised, but we’re a tiny outfit, just starting out.

What to do?

The Brilliant Solution:

James, as usual, had an idea.

“Let’s get a sponsor, a couple of experts and a whole lot of people who would love to know more about hops and throw a Picking Party,” he suggested.

So, that’s what we did.

Waiting For The Harvesters

The day dawned damply. River mist shrouded the paddocks, evaporating our plans for an early start to the hops harvest.

Just as well, really. We’d all been flat out preparing the woolshed —  aka the hops harvest zone — for the last two days. Rarely has a working woolshed looked cleaner.

Waiting for the sun enforced a last minute calm before the storm of activity set to come. That’s why, after the final job was done, we gathered for coffee at the Garston Hotel and waited for our workers guests to arrive.

And, suddenly, there they were:

  • Eliott the Altitude brewer, with his vanload from Queenstown
  • Richard – our expert from Nelson
  • Ian – courtesy of our sponsor, Ricoh
  • Andy – an unexpected American  
  • and a whole bunch of local family and friends.

The sun shone bright and warm. Finally, it was time to begin.

Gathering At The Hops

The convoy wound its way to the vines. For many, this was the first time they had seen hops growing and I must admit, even our small plantation makes for an impressive sight.

Hops will grow as high as you let them (in our case 4 – 5 metres) and produce copious amounts of flowers, all filled with a distinctive-smelling resin. This is the gold that flavours the beer.

At the top of the ladder, Eliott cuts the first hop vine.
Eliott mounted our specially-modified hop-picking ladder and ceremoniously cut the first vine. Nearby pickers held out their arms to catch the leafy giant as it slowly collapsed and carried it to the waiting trailer.

The party was underway.

Picking Off The Hops

It would be highly impractical to try to pick all the flowers off the vines while they’re still standing 5 metres tall. I’ve picked them off the top several times while getting samples for testing and, believe me, the novelty soon wears off.

A better idea is cutting the vines at the top and bottom and carting the whole vine to the processing room. That lets you lay them flat on a table and have multiple people plucking the flowers from each vine.

So that’s what we did on the tables set up in Hamish’s woolshed.

Picking the hop flowers at the woolshed.
With Mac’s favourite shearing music (60’s classics) booming in the background, conversation buzzed as we got to work on the 2019 hops harvest.

Garston Hotel Makes The Best Barbeque Lunch

It wasn’t long after the Garston Hotel cooks appeared before delicious smells filled the woolshed.

They had brought an incredible array of delicious rolls, salads and food to barbeque. And after several hours of steady picking, everyone was more than ready to gather outside in the sun for lunch. Eliott had provided a keg of light, delicious beer from his brewery and that went down a treat.

We All Learn More About Hops And Beer.

Richard Schneeberger was our invaluable expert who was taking a busman’s holiday from his day job as a hop adviser in Nelson. Up until now, we’ve been going on guesswork and advice from afar, so it was wonderful to have Richard right there to answer our questions.

After lunch, both Richard and Eliott spoke and gave highly interesting and informative glimpses into their hop-and-beer worlds.

But, hops won’t pick themselves, so we up-ended our beer glasses and went back to work.

Next Stage: Drying Begins

Between our plantation and Hamish’s we had four hop varieties to harvest and keep separate from each other. They were all destined to go straight to Altitude Brewing so Eliott could make his 2019 version of a Garston Green Hops beer.

Or so we thought.

But the truth soon dawned: somehow we had not fully computed just how many thousands of flowers we’d actually have. There was no way that Altitude could take them all as green hops. Some would have to be dried.

So we resurrected the drying racks that Aaron Abernethy built for us back in 2017 and Plan B swung into action.

Hops drying in their racks.
The drying process can be tricky to get right. In the days after the harvest party, Hamish and I had a crash course in deciding when the flowers were ready to bag. It was different from previous years because these hops were going to be pelletised. They had to be dry enough to keep – but not TOO dry or they’d disintegrate in the pelletiser. The pressure was on because once the flowers are ready, the heat and air they needed to dry then become their enemies. They must then be completely protected from light, air and heat or the flowers will begin to deteriorate.

Finally Finished And We Give Heartfelt Thanks

At the end of Day One we gathered at the Garston Hotel for a celebratory drink. It had been a wonderful, hard-working and satisfying day.

Our new Queenstown friends, and our local friends and family headed home, happy with their new experience.

Eliott was already busy with plans to begin his green hop brew.

And we were making plans for the next day’s harvest.

In the end, it took four days to pick and process the flowers from our 200 vines. Many local friends and family came back again and again to help over those days and we are so grateful to them for their help.

To all those who came to the party, WE COULDN’T HAVE DONE IT WITHOUT YOU.

Thank you, too, to RICOH, whose sponsorship of our event is truly appreciated.

We can truly recommend the Garston Hotel’s delicious barbecue lunches. Thanks, guys, for coming to the party – and for all the other meals we ate at your establishment.

And, finally, thanks to Dwane and Annie Herbert for lending us so many crates. They are invaluable and we needed every one of them.

Your Thoughts

Did you come to the hop picking party? Let us know how you enjoyed the experience in the comments below?

Does a hops harvest on this miniature scale sound like fun? Want to join in on next year’s party? You can comment below or send me a message.

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Walnut Trees On The Farm

Walnuts from the walnut trees on the farm.

Planting Our Baby Walnut Trees.

The McNamee family had a few walnut trees planted on the roadside near the home farm, so Grandma always had plenty of nuts to spare.

Long ago, when we popped our transportable house onto its current site, we created a perfect orchard space just over the fence. But while I was still procrastinating over the best fruit trees to choose, Terry decided to plant walnuts instead.

So one afternoon we packed up spades, containers and our four kids and trundled off to Grandma’s. There were plenty of sturdy little saplings growing under the old trees. We dug up a dozen and planted them over the fence.

Hindsight’s a wonderful thing. I wish I knew then what I know now. Back then, I thought all walnuts were the same. Now, I know there are Black walnuts and English walnuts. The difference is important.

Black Walnuts are small and the shells are thick and hard to crack. It’s almost impossible to extract the whole walnut from these tough nuts. These walnuts are mostly used to supply beautiful hardwood for  furniture.

We have many Black Walnut trees in our grove.

English Walnuts are larger and sweeter than their Black Walnut cousins. These are the eating nuts.

We have only a few of these – and how I wish we had more.

They’re easy to open and far more versatile to cook with, so these are mainly the nuts that I collect. The black walnuts we leave for other creatures to eat.

Walnut Trees on the farm.
The walnut trees that took over my orchard space more than 20 years ago. There’s some debate in our family as to the exact year they were planted.

Race For The Walnuts

Northern hemisphere nut-gatherers often have to race with the squirrels to collect their nuts. We don’t have squirrels in New Zealand but there are plenty of other animals who think that walnuts are a tasty treat.

Possums love to crunch them up and we often spot them up in the walnut trees at night. Rats love them too, and the birds will peck holes in the softer shells to eat the nuts inside.

Even the dogs sometimes crunch on a hard green outer fruit, only to spit them out in disgust when they reach the nut inside.

Harvesting Walnuts From The Trees

April (which is Autumn in the Southern Hemisphere) is when our nuts usually ripen and fall from the trees. Sometimes, we feel like we are gazing at those stubbornly attached nuts for days and days. But when the strong nor’wester wind begins to blow, suddenly they all fall overnight. Next morning, the ground under the walnut trees will be covered in nuts.

The first essential of walnut harvesting is having a good pair of gloves. Freshly harvested nuts will stain your hands an interesting shade of greeny-brown which can take days to wear off.

 Two nuts on the tree in their green rind.
These black walnuts are not quite ready to fall. Soon the rind will split and let the nuts fall from the tree branches to join those covering the ground.

On the trees, a thick, green rind encases the walnuts. When they’re ripe, this rind will often split open and let the inner nut fall cleanly to the ground.

Sometimes, however, the whole thing falls intact. Then you have to crack open the rind and pull out the damp-shelled nut inside. That’s when your hands are most in danger of walnut stains.

Next, You Need To Dry The Nuts

At this stage, the inner nutmeat is pale, soft and insipid. So we dry the nuts in their shells for a few days. That allows them to develop that familiar walnut flavour and crunch.

You can’t always tell from the outside how good the inside nutmeat will be. Sometimes we’ll open a perfect-seeming case and find a shrivelled specimen inside. Two years ago we had a terrible season, where every second walnut had rotted away inside. At least, that’s how it seemed to me when I was shelling them.

Nuts still  in their shells, drying in a box.
I bring the walnut shells inside and spread them out by the fire in the lounge. I’ve had some lovely flower arrangements given to me over the years and have saved these very handy long boxes from the florist. They make perfect walnut-dryers.

3 Ways To Store Walnuts

Unshelled

  • Unshelled nuts will stay fresh for years in cool, dry conditions.
  • Keep them in large bins, ready to scoop out as you need them.

😊 if you have plenty of storage space in a shed, garage or carport.

😦 if you’re time-poor and just want shelled nuts NOW!

Frozen

  • Get into production mode and spend a few nights watching TV and shelling all your nuts..
  • Pop them into repurposed plastic bags e.g. bread bags or resealable frozen veggie or cereal bags.
  • Freeze the bags. They stack easily and the nuts won’t stick together.

😊 if you have a large freezer.

😦 if you have a tiny freezer or don’t watch TV.

Vacuum Sealed

😊 if you’re into vacuum sealing and have shelf space in your pantry.

😦 are you ultimately adding unnecessary plastic waste into the world?

I’ve Got My Walnuts — What Next?

In health circles walnuts are now described as a superfood. They’re easy to eat by themselves but delicious in cooking too.

Check out What To Do With A Walnut for recipes and more walnut tips.

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Check out my home page here and my behind the scenes story here.

What To Do With A Walnut

Walnut picture montage

Walnut trees are both a valuable source of food and wood and come in several varieties. Some produce beautiful nuts, perfect for eating. Others are much sought-after for their furniture-grade hardwood.

We have both sorts on our farm — but we didn’t realise that when we planted them. Now that I’m older and a little wiser, I appreciate the joys of having these abundant and beautiful trees on my doorstep.

Here are a few reasons why I’m so pleased to have walnuts in my life.

Walnuts Keep You Healthy

Walnuts are a rich source of monounsaturated fats and an excellent source of those hard to find omega-3 fatty acids. We’re always being told how essential these are to keep your heart healthy.

They’re chock-full of minerals too, including magnesium, potassium, calcium and iron. What a lot you can get just by eating a few walnuts every day.

Recipes

Like most nuts, walnuts can easily be added into your diet.

The easiest way is to simply eat a handful raw each day. Or chop them up and add a handful to your favorite salad, vegetable dish, fruit, or dessert.

But if you get bored with that, or someone in your family doesn’t like eating them raw, here are some of my favourite recipes to try.

Mixed-Grain Salad

Apricot Balls

Candied Walnuts

Walnut Wood

Black Walnut is the variety many craftsmen use to build beautiful, richly-coloured  furniture. But it is by no means the easiest of woods to use.

Walnut trees have a lot of branches and a thick layer of sapwood between their bark and the inner wood which is called the heartwood.

All those branches plenty of knots in the wood which may or may not be a problem for you.

At worst the knots might shrink and fall out, which could weaken the wood. At best they’ll add texture, variety and beauty to your furniture. Often, it’s simply a matter of taste.

Walnut wood can have many variations in colour too. That, and the wide, lighter sapwood ring can make it tricky for a craftsman to work with walnut wood. That’s why some people prefer to layer a walnut veneer on top of another base wood. Many harvested trees actually go to veneer makers rather than being sliced up for timber.

One day, when our trees are past their fruiting best, I hope that we’ll preserve them as a lovely table or dresser.

Can You Really Do This?

I tried this with both a freshly picked nut and a dried nut. The dried nut didn’t have any effect on the scratch on my table, but the fresh nut did reduce it a bit. Not quite as well as in the video, I must say.

New Zealand Walnuts

Walnuts are becoming increasingly popular in New Zealand and the NZ Walnut Industry Group has an interesting website.