Adventures with the Faraway Nuts

Sunset, November 1984 | Go to article overview

Adventures with the Faraway Nuts


Unmistakable reminders of fall, bountiful crops of nuts can come from your garden almost as easily as from the grocery store. Three nuts--macadamia, European hazelnut, and pistachio--have faraway origins but thrive in the West; they also share an exotic appeal born of scarcity. If you want to grow these nuts, see the map at far right to find where each of them produces most reliably. But if you're inclined, experiment: macadamias grow in Berkeley and pistachios in Chula Vista. Harvests are irregular, but it's fun to try to beat the odds. Planting time for each nut varies: bare-root time in winter for hazelnuts, spring for pistachios, almost any time for macadamias. Hazelnuts: at home in western Oregon and Washington

In the Northwest, this delicious European nut became known as "filbert" to avoid confusion with the much smaller wild hazelnuts that abound in the region. But now, because imported hazelnuts are readily available, Northwest-grown ones use the same name.

Left itself, European hazelnut (Corylus avellana) develops into a 15- to 20-foot-high vase- or fountain-shaped deciduous shrub; to develop a single-trunked small tree, you can prune regularly to remove suckers around its base. Flowers, or catkins, appear in midwinter, lasting into spring. Most varieties are hardy to about -5[deg.], but flowers are damaged below 15[deg.]. All hazelnuts require cross-pollination. This is why varieties are considered as pairs, each either a "main crop" or "pollenizer." The 'Barcelona' and 'Daviana' combination prevails commercially, although it is gradually being replaced by the superior 'Ennis' and 'Butler'. Other pairs are 'Du Chilly' (pollenized by 'Daviana') 'Hall's Giant' ('Butler' or 'Daviana'), and 'Royal' ('Daviana').

Bare-root hazelnuts are available at the nursery in January or February. Production of nuts begins after 3 or 4 years; after 10 years, each tree typically yields 10 pounds of nuts. Collect ones that fall, mid-September to November.

Dry unshelled nuts on a screen-bottomed tray, in an onion sack, on a sunny window-sill, or in a food dehydrator. Try to keep temperature below 100[deg.], with plenty of air circulation. Nuts are fully dry when their internal color changes from white to cream. After drying, they keep for several weeks at room temperature; roasting enhances flavor but shortens storage (one week at room temperature).

Water when ground shows signs of drying; fertilize young trees with nitrogen if growth is slow, leaf size relatively small, and leaf color pale. Protect the exposed trunk from sunburn with white latex paint or commercial tree wrap.

Aphids can be troublesome; they produce honeydew that drips--one reason many gardeners avoid planting hazelnuts near patios. Wash aphids away with a strong spray of water (perhaps mixed with mild dishwashing soap). The filbertworm often ruins nuts by tunneling through them--spray sevin in early and late July, and harvest and dry nuts promptly. Pistachio: from the Middle East to the Central Valley, Southwest deserts

Looking quite unlike its relative, California's familiar Chinese pistache, the nut-bearing pistachio (Pistacia vera) is a smaller, somewhat less ornamental deciduous tree with slightly larger, dark green leaves. Within about 10 years, it grows 25 feet high and as wide. The picture at bottom right shows its rose-colored husks; ivory nuts are inside.

Pistachios grow where summers are long, hot, and dry, and where winters are moderately cold: to induce dormancy necessary for good nut production, trees need at least 1,000 hours between 32[deg.] and 45[deg.]. A dormant pistachio easily survives 15[deg.], but late frosts in spring--as well as strong winds and wet weather--can injure blossoms and interfere with pollination.

You'll need a male tree--'Peters'--to pollinate at the most 12 nut-bearing female tree--'Kerman'--before flowers can set fruit. …

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