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30 Jan 2006

Top Five Trees for Life Beyond Oil – #1 – The Walnut

walnutsI love walnuts. They are the finest tree you could ever plant. They should be planted everywhere, and it strikes me as one of the great wonders of our age that we have developed the life-size dancing and singing robotic Santa that wriggled its hips at me in a suggestive manner very time I went into my local corner shop over Christmas, but are only just starting to produce reliable fruiting varieties of walnut.

The first walnut I ever planted was at my aunt’s house, in her garden, to celebrate the birth of my first son, Rowan (some people would have planted a rowan tree, but no, it was walnuts for me…). It was a wee thing when I planted it, now it is huge, and rather glorious (and somewhat bigger than she thought it was going to be, much to her chagrin). Since then my love affair with walnuts has deepened, and now, when I say that walnuts will save the world it is no throwaway comment.

walnutsWalnuts are probably (though no-one knows for sure) one of the things you can reply when people say “so what did the Romans ever do for us?”. It is believed they brought them over, after they had been bred in Greece and Italy for a while, arriving there following a prolonged period of breeding and selection in Persia. So what’s so good about walnuts?

Well, firstly of course there’s the nuts themselves. They are delicious, and contain the same amount of protein per gram as chicken (15.23 g. of protein per 100 g). You can pickle them, make them into pesto, nut roasts, all sorts. You can make an oil that you can eat raw or cook with, or make a kind of butter from. According to, walnuts contain potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, calcium, zinc, copper, vitamin B9, B6, E, A and also contain substantial amounts of dietary fiber. The fats they contain in their oil are high in poly and monounsaturated fats and especially linoleic and alpha-linolenic acid, also known as Essential Fatty Acids. They are very good at lowering cholesterol in the body. The dried nuts can be ground into a highly nutritious flour.

As a timber few things come close. It is the mahogany of these climes, dense and fine grained. It is also a good firewood (although a rather extravagant one, walnut wood being highly valuable!). It also has medicinal uses. A more detailed outline of its many uses can be found at Plants for a Future.

walnutsUntil recently, all walnut trees available in the UK were bred from seed. Now Manse Organic Grafted Walnuts have started breeding walnuts by grafting. These have the advantage that they fruit earlier (in 5-7 years) and produce a timber crop sooner. They are a bit smaller than the better known huge English walnuts. Another place that has been doing a lot of work with walnuts are my neighbours, the Agroforestry Research Trust, based here in Totnes. Martin Crawford has produced an excellent ‘everything you could ever want to know about walnuts’ book, Walnuts – production and culture.

I asked Martin for his views, based on his walnut trials, as to the most reliable fruiting varieties for the UK, he suggested ‘Fernor’ and ‘Fernette’. Clive Simms has written an excellent guide to walnut growing, Nutshell Guide to Growing Walnuts. You can buy walnut trees bred for good fruiting from Keepers Nursery, the Agroforestry Research Trust and Manse Organics, I’m sure from other places too. You could also buy the seeds from the Agroforestry Research Trust and grow them yourself, a fascinating and exciting project.

There are also species that are related to the walnut that show great promise for temperate climes. These include the heartnut (which has shells the insides of which look like little flowforms, nature at its pattern-forming best) the butternut and a hybrid between the two, the buartnut (lousy name, great tree). The Heartnut in particular is from northern Japan, which has far colder winters than here, which makes it more suitable than the English Walnut (*Juglans regia*), which dislikes cold winters. These again are avaiable from the Agroforestry Research Trust

Walnuts can be planted alone, as orchards, as food forests. They are not very accommodating of other trees grown close by (due to unfriendly root secretions, aka. ‘allelopathy’), but they are used in agroforestry with crops grown between rows of walnuts. The trees along our streets could be walnuts, our farms should contain stands of walnuts, those with large gardens should have at least one. Breeding varieties of walnuts that will reliably fruit in a range of climes strikes me as one of the most noble occupations anyone could undertake. It is interesting also to note that walnut is the Bach Flower remedy for change, so in more ways that one we need walnuts around us for the transitionary times we are entering.

Categories: Food, Permaculture

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Tom Atkins
30 Jan 9:31am

Good choice for the first tree Rob – just bought a small walnut tree from Graham (who got it from Martin Crawford) – looking forward to watching it grow.

We had two wonderful walnut trees where I grew up in Norfolk. We used to eat them, store them and pickle the green ones (fantastic with an oat cake and mature cheddar). These days, the trees are still there – but my parents don’t get any walnuts…

Any ideas why? Well, I’ll tell you – grey squirrels. The little blighters (‘tree rats’ as my dad calls them) take every last one. I’d be interested to hear from other UK owners of walnut trees – but I think the grey squirrel could make a serious challenge to growing walnuts for fruit these days. Although I have tried Squirrel Pie and it’s very tasty; I recommend developing a taste for these furry fellas whilst our trees are growing.

Another reason people might not get fruit from their walnut tree is because they’re not usually self fertile (so Graham tells me). So you’ll need to plant more than one.

Looking forward to tree number two!

Martin Crawford
30 Jan 9:39pm

Re squirrels: there are 2 options. (1)try to stop them climbing the trees – tie a 1+ m long plastic treeguard tight around the trunk between 1 & 2 m height. (2) kill them. Live cage traps are efficient using whole maize as bait. Or if you are a good shot then fire away…

Inna Tiscovscaia
30 Aug 8:26am

Dear Sirs,

our company is interested in Grafted Walnut-trees (planting stock).
1) frostproof (up to -30 C)
2) fat content of fruits must be 60% and more
3) fruits must have thin shell and white core

If your dear company can provide us with these plants, please contact us.
We are waiting for your earliest reply and remain with best regards,

Alexandr Cemis
External relations manager
Republic of Moldova, mun. Chisinau 2068, str. M.Costin 19/6, of. 9A.

16 Mar 1:32am


19 Mar 2:43am

Number two is Chestnut! They will grow in much worse soil and are more drought tolerent then walnuts. Plus, they are starch rather then fat and can replace grain in the diet. oh yeah, and they can live 1,000 years, vs 100 for walnuts!

21 Sep 6:13pm

We have a big crop from our 20ish year old tree which seems to be sufficient to satisfy the squirrels and leave lots for us. But how do we store them ?
Should we shell them or keep them in their shells, whole in the ‘fridge or inside or in the garage/shed ?

Mark Forskitt
24 Sep 3:31pm

One word of caution re walnuts. They are classed as a hazardous cargo since in bulk they can spontaneously combust! See

OK I am biased – castanea sativa is my preference for trees – it also happens to be traditional round here. Like Chestr says it is a brilliant tree- coppices well, wood is useful for firewood and stakes in ground. Its very long lived, and the fruit(nuts) have a high enough carbohydrate value that it can be usefully ground into flour.

21 Sep 10:42pm

Like Virage, I too am trying to find something that stops a walnut tree from fruiting. There is a product called Fruit Stop Nuisance Fruit Eliminator used for pear, plum and olive trees. But would it work on walnut trees?

Sheila S.
24 Sep 8:28am

I was told by a Cambridgeshire walnut grower last weekend that to dry walnuts in order to keep them when picked or collected they should be put in a single layer on a tray and either left in the sun (remembering to put them inside at night) or in the airing cupboard for 4 or 5 days.

Leon Cruchelow
24 Oct 10:51pm

Can anything stop walnut trees from producing

Jim Hafferty
11 Nov 2:27pm

I see a few post wanting to STOP a walnut from fruiting. I do know how successful you will be since this is a survival trait of the tree itself. I have one suggestion. Plant a Paradox walnut from California. Because it is a Hybrid it is nearly sterile. No catkins (pollen) or nuts (trip and trash) to speak of. I have a supply of this rare seed if anyone would like to plant a Walnut Tree that is very fast growing and valuable as timber when mature. Please contact me for details.

Jim Hafferty
Heritage Walnuts
Meridian, CA 95957