Growing Green: Edible harvest easy to crack
One often-overlooked crop of fall is edible nuts.
Wild walnuts, butternuts and hickories can be collected in November (as well as October) and enjoyed during the winter months.
There are many varieties of nut trees that have been recognized as outstanding when compared to most wild nut trees. These produce larger nuts and are easier to crack out than their smaller, wild relatives.
A named variety is usually produced on a grafted tree. Young wood from the superior tree is collected when it is in dormancy during the winter. It is then grafted, or spliced, onto a young wild tree called a rootstock. The grafted piece grows and will begin producing its superior nuts in several years.
Plant only named varieties of nuts to be certain your tree will be a good producer. There is even a butternut that has been named "Lost River" in honor of the location of the parent plant found near Lost River Caverns, Hellertown.
There are many species of hickories (Carya spp.) found in the United States and several of them bear edible nuts. One of the most common species in Pennsylvania is the shagbark hickory, Carya ovata. The bark hangs from the trunk in long, shaggy strips.
Shagbark hickories have compound leaves with five leaflets. The nuts are almost white and they are generally easier to crack than shellbark hickory nuts. Some good cultivars include Yoder No. 1, Grainger, Porter, Wilcox and Abundance.
Another hickory commonly found in Pennsylvania is the shellbark hickory Carya laciniosa. Shellbark hickory nuts can grow on slightly wetter sites than shagbark. The shells tend to be harder than that of shagbark.
Good cultivars for Pennsylvania include Keystone, Fayette, Henry and Hoffeditz. The nuts of both shagbark and shellbark hickories are usually small and have a sweet flavor.
Hickories are not often used in the suburban landscape because they get very large. They can attain a height of 60 feet or more. They also drop nuts in the fall, which is not usually desirable on home lawns. However, they are beautiful, majestic trees and if you have the space, they can be a rewarding addition to your landscape.
"Growing Green" is contributed by Lehigh County Extension Office Staff and Master Gardeners. Lehigh County Extension Office, 610-391-9840; Northampton County Extension Office, 610-746-1970.