hicans, selected hickories, black walnuts

cousinfloydNovember 14, 2012

Looking at Nolin Nursery's website, I wanted to ask what you all thought of hicans, selected black walnuts, and selected hickories. I have pecans planted, and I have plenty of wild black walnuts and various wild hickories. I could enjoy the wild black walnuts and hickories, but they're mostly not worth the effort to shell them. Would you recommend the selected varieties (and any particular ones) of hickories or black walnuts? Are they significantly easier to shell? What about hicans? Can I get some of the size and relative ease of shelling from the pecan half and a different taste -- not that I don't really like the taste of pecans, but a wider variety of tastes would be nice -- (and maybe less disease and pest susceptible?) from the hickory? Will pecans pollinate hicans?

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I really don't know much about growing these trees, but I can say that all the walnuts and hickories I've tried, including selected varieties of walnuts, were hardly worth the tricky task of shelling and extracting the nutmeats in large enough pieces to enjoy.

I personally waffle back and forth about growing nuts, since the are so expensive at the store, but there is good reason, and commercial nut processing is so much more efficient than what you can do at home. Then there is the aspect of productivity... should I grow a peach tree for lots of big juicy fruits, or an almond tree for the same number of much much smaller pits that have to be carefully shelled, dried, and roasted? (and almonds are a dream compared to walnuts, etc...)

Sorry for rambling, but I'm still frustrated by the walnuts I gathered and tried shelling this fall. Some nuts I might try growing would be:
-- pecans
-- pistachios
-- filberts

    Bookmark   November 15, 2012 at 2:15PM
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I've got several hicans in my collection - a couple of produced a few nuts - they're noted for being 'shy' bearers, for the most part; vigorous growers but lean bearers, if I interpret that correctly. Can be pollenated by pecans, hickories, or other hicans - just has to be one that has compatible bloom periods; some require a very early pollen source.
I have some of both shellbarkXpecan and shagbarkXpecan - but only the shellbark hybrids have produced nuts(Vernon & Jim Wilson). Nuts on those are larger than all but the biggest pecans; shells about like the thicker-shelled pecans; *maybe* a little more hickory flavor, but not too much unlike a pecan. Mine are still young, but I wonder if you're limited in space, if you wouldn't be ahead of the game planting a good hickory variety or another pecan. Don't bother with the bitternutXpecan selections, like Pleas - thin shell and good size nut, but still have some of the bitternut astringency - though the Abbot bitcan nuts I got to sample a number of years back were OK.

None of my grafted hickories have produced yet, so I'm still largely dependent upon local 'wild' hickories. "J.Yoder #1" is pretty much the gold standard for shagbarks, but other good ones would include Grainger, Wilmoth, Wurth.
"Simpson #1" is probably the best shellbark for my area, but Fayette, Scholl, Kreider, Lebanon Junction, and a number of others are worth growing.
Black walnut - Thomas Meyers is best here; Emma Kay may be the gold standard. Kwik Krop, Neel #1, Clermont(thinnest shell I've ever seen on a BW), Rowher, Sparrow(small, but cracks out well), the Sparks series, and a number of other cultivars are good - most all have much thinner shells and 2-3X the kernel % that you'd get from most 'wild' BWs. Quite a few of the 'improved' BWs have been selected for lateral bearing &/or anthracnose resistance, in addition to superior nut quality

    Bookmark   November 15, 2012 at 2:21PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

I have experience eating but not growing Sparrow and Emma Kay black walnuts. I gave the trees to my mother in northern Illinois about 40 years ago. She has been very pleased and has shelled them out all these years. They are worth the effort partly because they have a strong unique taste that some like. Nothing else tastes anything like a black walnut.

Shelling them isn't easy but you can get nice size pieces. They need a good soil and adequate water to yield well. She gets nuts almost every year.

I planted the seeds once in Amarillo and got some beautiful, fast growing, straight trees with wide branch angles. But sadly moved before long.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2012 at 2:40PM
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Fabaceae, to speak to some of your thoughts, I've had more or less the same experience with wild hickories and walnuts: I really like the flavor (although it's a strong enough flavor I would use them much more selectively than pecans) but the number of ounces -- I was going to say pounds at first -- I can shell out per hour, and mostly in mashed up tiny pieces at that, makes it to where the nuts aren't hardly worth picking up to me. On other other hand, I have children and often guests, too, that can enjoy doing these kind of projects for 10 minutes at a time here and there, and if I could get 4 times as much meat per hour -- reading into what Lucky said about 2-3 times as much per nut plus easier shelling -- I could enjoy putting some time into it myself, and also I'm the kind of guy and I'm in the kind of position where if I can't grow them myself or wild harvest them or get them from a neighbor's yard then I'm just going to do without, so the added variety would be much appreciated in my house.

Lucky, can you speak to that efficiency question? Or anyone else? I don't have real numbers, but I expect I could crack and pick out several pounds of pecans in an hour. I'd guess maybe a half pint -- maybe 4 oz? -- of wild black walnuts per hour. Probably not even half that in whatever kind of hickory nuts I've tried cracking. Do you think the 4 times as efficient idea is realistic with the black walnuts?

And as far as hicans, I have plenty of land to plant trees, at least further from the house (where the deer and squirrels aren't shy and where I can't practically water very much), but I'm not sure I see the allure of them. Lucky, you seem to be describing them as tasting pretty much like pecans but not very productive. I suppose they're adaptable further north than most pecans, but that's not really an issue for me. I was mainly hoping they'd be like a more-meat-per-hour hickory. Is there any truth to that hope?

You all have me most interested in a black walnut, maybe a Thomas Meyers and/or Emma Kay, for starters. I suppose they'd be as difficult to graft as everyone says pecans are?

    Bookmark   November 16, 2012 at 6:47AM
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I spent a lot of time in my childhood collecting hickory and black walnuts in the wild. We found that it is best to
husk the walnuts before the husks turn black. The sooner they are husked, the milder the flavor of the nut will be.

For cracking we used a brick, hammer and nut picks. We could not afford the fancy hand operated crackers now available for black walnuts. If you crack the walnut at the top of the shell (pointed part of shell up) this worked the best to get the nuts in quarters. sometimes we
would have to crack the pieces a second time.

If you collect the nuts in the wild, genetics plays a big part. Some trees will always produce small nuts, others produce large nuts. We avoided the trees with the small nuts.

If you plan on growing black walnuts, they are dioecious.
This means the tree is all female or all male. Plant at least two in the hopes of getting pollination. This also
explains why you find some trees in the wild that never bear nuts.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2012 at 9:24AM
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Spartan, I assume the pollination issues you described wouldn't be any concern in an area where lots of wild versions of the same species are already growing all around, or no?

    Bookmark   November 16, 2012 at 9:50AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

Both Sparrow and Emma Kay bear nuts with no other black walnuts within one half mile. So I don't understand the pollination issue raised. If they don't pollinate each other I'm missing something.

The nuts are such that cracking them isn't that bad. The yield is pretty good. Not nearly like a big pecan but much more fruitful than a wild black walnut or hickory.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2012 at 9:58AM
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While I've got a number of grafted BW selections and some named-parentage seedlings that produce better than average nuts, I've not spent much time cracking and picking out BW nutmeats - no one in my family likes them but me; so...I've planted most of the nuts produced by my young grafted BWs in riparian areas around the farm.
Hickories take a bit more work, and yes, the yield is less than for pecans - but with the proper selections - thin shell, open central cavity with minimal internal ridges, some selections crack out a high percentage of intact halves and quarters. Bigger is not always better - Simpson #1 shellbark and my own Sinking Fork shagbark are relatively small nuts for the species - but shell structure is such that they yield a high percentage of intact halves. But, total kernel yield is still gonna be less than for pecans.
I've been cracking/picking most nights for the last week or so. I can crack a 1-gallon bucket of Major pecans and end up with about 2 qts of pecan halves. The same bucket of shagbark hickories will yield about half that amount. I've not really started in on the shellbark nuts yet, so don't have a good memory of yield - but even the broken fragments will be larger than some intact shagbark halves.

Every nut has its own peculiarities - some crack out best with pressure applied end-to-end, others better if you apply pressure laterally. Soaking nuts for an hour or two in a pan of hot water prior to cracking can be helpful, as the shells absorb enough water to allow them to bend and split, rather than 'exploding' once you reach critical pressure. 'course, that usually requires that you set the cracked nuts aside, spread out, to allow them to dry a bit before picking.
If you're gonna do many, it's worth getting a good hardshell nut cracker, like a Kenkel, Mr. Hickory, or Master Cracker, but a simple bench-mounted vise, or even a pair of vise-grip pliers will suffice. Helps to have a pair of diagonal wire-cutting pliers to snip here and there to liberate larger pieces of kernel that may be trapped in nuts with prominent internal ridges.

Here is a link that might be useful: Shagbark & Shellbark Hickories

    Bookmark   November 16, 2012 at 11:10AM
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Nice little article, linked below, if a bit dated, from Dr. Bill Reid, on BWs.
Haven't seen anything lately about the Thousand Cankers Disease situation and problems it may pose for BWs in the eastern US...
Spartan is on-target about removing the husk material from BWs as soon as the nuts drop; if you allow them to get all black and gooey, the nutmeats will become stained and may take on an undesirable bitter taste.

I can't really speak to cold-hardiness of the hicans; there are northern pecans that bear well up into zone 5, maybe even zone 4 - but nut size will be MUCH smaller than the Southern pecans most are familiar with. Shagbarks are the most cold-hardy of the hickories, so I suppose hicans with Shagbark parentage might be able to go 'farther north' than those with shellbark ancestry.

Here is a link that might be useful: Black Walnuts for Commercial Production

    Bookmark   November 16, 2012 at 11:19AM
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For the record I must correct a statement made by Spartan-apple regarding Black Walnuts. He stated that they are dioecious (plants are either male or female, like a holly). They are actually monoecious--trees have both male and female flowers. Here in Ohio I have never seen a Black Walnut that did not bear nuts, but just to be sure on this I checked with Michael Dirr ("Manual of Woody Landscape Plants"). I agree with Spartan that it helps to husk the nuts as soon as possible.

Members of The Ohio Nut Growers Association evaluate seedling trees for nut quality (nut size, crack out). There is a wide variance in quality, and you have to kiss a lot of frogs to come up with a prince of a tree. Those named varieties with high quality nuts are rare gems. But don't let that stop you from planting seedlings. You never know if you will have a winner.


    Bookmark   November 16, 2012 at 11:59PM
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Thanks for the correction on black walnuts being monoecious! I was sure they were dioecious as we have many around here that never bear nuts. I did check Dirr's
5th edition of "Manual of Landscape Plants" and he does list the flowers as monoecious. My error.

Thousand Cankers disease is such a percieved problem that several states are no longer allowing shipment of walnut trees across state lines. My advise if you want to grow black walnuts is to plant them NOW while you can get them. We grow them
at the nursery I work at but will phase it out as we no longer can get bare-root liners shipped into my state. Another state that I tried to get butternut liners from had to cancel my order as they got a new law stating they could not ship it out of their state as well.

I think that in the near future they will only be available from growers that propagate them (seed or graft)
and sell them within their own state. This is all due to
states trying to prevent the spread of Thousand Cankers

    Bookmark   November 19, 2012 at 9:34AM
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I just bought a bunch of Stuart pecans this past week, and I want to use some for growing rootstocks to graft onto later. Will Stuart seedlings make an adequate rootstock for my zone 7 North Carolina location?

And another question: should I soak black walnuts for 24 hours before stratifying, same as Dr. Reid recommends for pecans?

    Bookmark   November 19, 2012 at 1:58PM
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One more question: is disease resistance something to think about in terms of pecan rootstock (i.e. a reason not to use Stuart nuts), or is pecan disease resistance pretty much just a matter of foliar and nut problems?

    Bookmark   November 19, 2012 at 2:01PM
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Stuart seedlings may be fine. Looking at an article by L.J. Grauke in the SEPGA magazine, on recommended seedstocks(or, at least, preferred by nurseryment) for use in various areas of the country, it looks like Curtis or Elliott may be more appropriate for your area. Grafts on seedlings of Stuart may be later to break dormancy, which may be good if your site is prone to late frosts.

I usually soak pecans & BWs for a few days before planting, but don't really 'stratify' them, other than just making sure that they're stored in a cool place over winter, so that they'll have had their chilling requirements met.
Had some BWs one year that had spent the winter indoors; I planted them, but none germinated - until spring the following year; they needed the cold exposure in order to germinate.

I couldn't link Grauke's article, but if you Google 'pecan seedstock selection - regional implications', you should find it.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2012 at 4:26PM
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I can give you some better answers than the above. This is for my area of North Alabama where I have 160+ trees planted.
tree farm

The best varieties I've had so far are the original Thomas and Neel #1. These two varieties need a protandrous pollinator which can be Cranz. I'm watching Pounds #2 very closely and may add it to my recommended list. I need another 2 years of production data to say for sure. If I were planting trees today, I would put in 3 Thomas, 3 Neel #1, and 1 Cranz and maintain that ratio for as many trees as I wanted to plant.

For more northern climates, the best I have seen are Sparrow, S127, Mcginnis, and Mintle.

Emma K is mentioned quite a bit above. It is a heavy producer and in some climates might be exceptional, but it has one overwhelming flaw. The husk adheres so tightly to the shell that it is nearly impossible to remove. Also, if you have a mechanical de-husker, the shell is thin enough to be easily damaged. For these reasons, I do not recommend Emma K.

A lot has been made over the years of having a thin shell or a very high percentage kernel. In my opinion, this is seriously misguided. The first and foremost objective should be to grow walnuts that produce the maximum amount of high quality kernel per volume of land planted. This has to be measured over a period of years and calculated based on square inches of tree trunk for the amount of land and weight of harvested kernel. None of the black walnut varieties available today fully measure up, but there are some that come close.

1. Neel #1 - A very good oval nut with a unique shape. Good anthracnose tolerance, good production, excellent growth with a distinctive central leader and spreading branches. The flavor of this nut is comparable to and maybe slightly better than Thomas. Appears to be one of the best adapted trees in the Southeast. The only flaw I have found with this tree is that it does not like to be crowded, but that is generally true for all black walnuts.

2. Thomas � A medium to large nut with excellent flavor and good crackability. It is slightly susceptible to anthracnose but if controlled with a spray program would be an excellent production tree. My scionwood source is a 40 year old tree in Alabama that produces very well. There is a lot of virus contaminated graft wood of this variety so be very careful of your source! This variety has the lateral branching trait which results in a very high fruiting potential.

3. Hay #1 � aka Thomas Myers. Very large nut with huge kernel pieces and good disease tolerance. Does well here in the SouthEast. Needs good soil and moisture conditions and full sunlight. After 10 years of evaluation, I am of the opinion this variety is not productive enough and kernel quality is not high enough.

4. Surprise - an excellent quality, precocious, productive, rounded nut cracking out about 35% kernel. This tree tends to grow fast with somewhat prostrate form making it a poor timber producer except when staked and carefully trained. It is a rapid grower under good conditions and can reach early production within 5 years. One flaw I noted, some years 20% or more of the nuts are blanks.

5. Kwik Krop - an excellent quality flattened oval shaped nut. Nut is oval, oblate, dented with a unique shape. The only complaints are that the kernel percentage is a bit low and that the production consistency is not as good as could be asked for. Kernel color is white to tan, occasionally amber, excellent flavor, and cracks relatively easy.

6. Mcginnis - This is a small to medium sized nut with excellent kernel color and about 35% yield. It has two flaws in that kernel extraction can be relatively difficult and it has a distinctive buttery taste. The ortet originated in Nebraska so hardiness is excellent. It has very high anthracnose tolerance.

7. Ogden � a tree with heavy production. Grows well in this area. Production has been heavy but nut quality is relatively low.

8. Sauber #1 � Lane scionwood. Medium sized good quality nut. Production is relatively poor. Nut size is a non-starter for me, but this might be acceptable further north.

9. Sparrow � small nut but heavy producer. This is the best early pollinator I have found so far. Its production consistency is the best yet seen with a yearly crop 5 years out of 6. Kernels tend to be darker than I like. Harvest and clean these early to prevent darkening.

10. S127 � another small nut but excellent quality. Seems to do well here though originally from Iowa. This has been one of the better quality small to medium sized nuts I've grown.

11. Football II � very heavy production to the point of overloading. Would need a spray program to control disease. Kernel tends to darken rapidly. Crackability is not as high as I would like.

12. Pounds #2 � A Thomas seedling that is better quality and more disease tolerant. The nuts are shaped pretty much like Thomas but are just a bit harder to crack out. I consider this to be one of the best new varieties.

13. Farrington - A large nut with fair production and good leaf disease tolerance. Deserves to be propagated more than it has. Kernels darken rapidly so early harvest is advised.

14. Stoker � source Paul Cotner. This tree originated on the Kentucky/Indiana border. It is one of the best cracking nuts I've tried yet though kernel percentage is in the 25% range. The pellicle is white to cream colored which is very rare. Flavor is as good as Thomas, almost as good as Neel #1.

15. Cranz � aka Crantz? Good production and flavor, lots of things to recommend this tree. This is a protandrous variety that works very well as an early pollinator.

16. S129 - This one is a good overall nut and a rapidly growing tree. Production can be decent but is not high enough for commercial use.

17. S147 - The nut shape is elongated and tends to form a long spur on the stem end of the nut. This spur interferes with cracking so much that I don't recommend the variety.

18. Tomboy - Small nut, moderate quality. I don't consider this one to be adapted to my area though it might be a good choice further north.

19. Ridgeway - Erratic production, relatively low kernel quality, large nuts. Enough said.

20. Eldora - This is a small nut that might do better further north. I don't consider it to be viable in my zone.

21. Ozark King - nice nut when harvested promptly, but the trees are not productive enough to justify growing.

22. Bowser - Very high quality nut, but the trees are extremely unproductive.

23. Schreiber - Exceptionally easy to bud, nice size nut, but unproductive.

24. Daniels - There are two varieties going by this name. I have both, but neither has been good enough to get excited about.

25. Davidson - Good production, but very dark kernels. Not adapted here.

26. Emma K - Very high production, thin shell, has a serious flaw that the husk adheres tightly to the shell and the shell is thin enough to be easily damaged by mechanical dehuskers.


    Bookmark   November 21, 2012 at 11:38PM
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Thomas and Thomas Myers appear to be two completely different varieties. Is that correct? DJ, as long as your list is I'm surprised not to see Thomas Myers on there somewhere. Is there a reason? I definitely wouldn't share your main breeding objective of yield per acre, and any kind of mechanical efficiencies would be useless to me. I would gladly accept half or a third the yield per acre in exchange for greater yield per hour. In other words, I think the most important test for me is how many pounds of shelled nut I can completely shell out with a hand powered cracker per hour. I'd be growing the nuts mainly if not exclusively for myself, so the time cost of shelling -- especially with something as time-consuming as shelling small quantities (too small to consider any motorized equipment) of black walnuts -- would be far more important to me than the cost of land.

If there are differences in taste/quality, those differences would probably matter to me, too. And I need a tree that, once established will produce, even if not especially abundantly, without any effort from me, besides picking up the nuts and mowing or otherwise eliminating competition. I know plenty of wild trees can produce seemingly decent crops without any inputs from me, so I'd want an improved cultivar that could do so about as well.

And a dumb question: I've never husked black walnuts before the husk turned black and half rotten. How does one (on a very small scale) get the husk off before that?

    Bookmark   December 2, 2012 at 7:15PM
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I just realized my oversight: that you, DJ, listed Thomas Myers, as #3. I saw that when I first read your post but overlooked when writing my response. Can I ask what specifically you find inferior about kernel quality? Do you just mean the taste isn't as good? Or are there other traits that play into kernel quality for you?

    Bookmark   December 2, 2012 at 7:21PM
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Good info, DJ - thanks for that comparison.

For small quantities, I just gather the nuts as soon as possible after they drop - preferrably before the husks turn black and gooey - the husks are usually still green. I just roll 'em underneath my booted foot, in the driveway, to knock the husk off, then dump them in a bucket, fill with water and stir vigorously to clean, changing water several times until the nuts are cleaned of most of the adherent husk material, and the water comes off relatively clear. Then spread 'em in a cool, dry spot to dry and cure.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2012 at 10:02PM
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CF, my major issue with Hay #1 aka Thomas Myers is that it is not as productive as I would like a walnut to be. Thomas trees right beside them are producing twice the poundage of nuts.

As for cleaning the nuts, what lucky said. If you want higher throughput, get a hand crank corn sheller.

I would emphasize a few things to meet your criteria. The first is regular heavy production. The second is that the husk must readily separate from the shell. Third is to produce a nice light colored good flavored nut kernel.

I could have posted about a total of I think 35 varieties of walnuts. As I said, most of them are not worth a second look for one reason or another. Neel #1 and Thomas are hands down the heaviest producers with the least amount of effort. If you want to walk a bit wider, see if you can get scions of Stoker. I love the kernel color.


    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 2:21AM
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This is one of the old messages on this forum I've referred back to several times, but it seems like others are getting deleted after time. I wonder if I need to copy these older messages offline? Do the archives delete after a certain amount of time? I can't seem to go back earlier than April of this year.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2013 at 9:41PM
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