Tips for Growing Nuts
Hazelnuts, cobs and filberts
These are remarkably easy to grow successfully and a rich, storable source of fat and protein. The wild hazels have the best flavour, which the bigger cobnuts lack. Filberts are the ones whose husk or beard encloses the nut and are also reckoned to have a fine flavour. All make big bushes which form excellent windbreaks and need to be planted at least three or four paces apart. Hazelnuts, cobs and filberts will grow anywhere, but crop badly on heavy, damp sites. They do surprisingly well on poor, stony and sandy sites.
Traditionally, hazelnuts were trained to a flat wheel-shaped frame with a framework pruned back to spurs, but that’s hard work. Nowadays, they are probably best formed as goblet-shaped bushes on a single trunk.
However, they will still crop if left as thickets, though it is always worth keeping clumps uncongested and removing suckers to prevent too many nuts being lost within the tangle. Apart from thieving wildlife, they seldom suffer many problems.
Growing wild, these nuts are found in association withand primroses, with truffles growing on their roots — but my supposedly inoculated trees have never produced any.
Delay picking the nuts until the husks are quite hard. Then spread the nuts out on the shelving of aor the floor of a dry shed, turning them every two or three days until they are really dry. They may then be stored in a cool, dry place until Christmas.
Cosford, roundish, light brown with thin shell. Sweet-flavoured. Tall, upright tree, produces plenty of male catkins. Goodfor all other kinds.
Kentish Cob, light brown, long, flattened. Good flavour. Very heavy cropper. Clusters of two to five. Also known as Lambert’s Filbert.
Kentish Filbert, dark brown in clusters of three or four. Vigorous, upright grower. Few male catkins.
Knight’s Large Cob, large, square, with thick shell. Otherwise similar to Cosford in every way.
Red Filbert, red-skinned. Grows like white filbert. Few catkins. Must have a pollinator.
Like many nuts, hazelnuts taste quite milky and sweet when fresh, so start eating them before they fully ripen. As they ripen and fall off, they can be dehusked and dried then stored for years, unshelled, in dry salt or sand. Filberts are stored in their husks, but last nearly as well. Hazelnut macaroons are exceptionally good, especially if the kernels are blanched and peeled first.
Sweet or Spanish chestnuts
As far north as the UK these fruit well only after hot summers. Individual trees reach a huge size and, because they are rarely self-fertile, several are needed to get a crop. Thus they are seldom planted in our gardens. They do not like thin,, preferring a light, well-drained or light, dry . To produce nuts, they are best sited on the sunny side of or windbreaks.
Sweet chestnuts are generally problem-free in Britain — the nuts ripen after a hot summer or two, and then the only problems are from thieving wildlife. But in America chestnut blight has wiped out their best species. Chestnuts are considered healthier if grown near oak trees.
Chestnuts are inedible raw, but are traditionally roasted in their shells. They can be used sweet and sour, made into flour and all sorts of baked goods and are the basis of the glorious French crème de marron and marrons glaces. They will store for a year or so if kept cool and dry.
These are very slow to grow and to fruit. After fifteen years my ‘Franquette’ is only just starting to give respectable crops, though now they’re coming the nuts are very tasty, large and nutritious. Walnuts prefer a heavy, moist soil, but detest. They are not really self-fertile, so they are best planted in groups. Collect catkins to put on a stick and hand pollinate the female flowers, which come later.
Not much grows under walnuts, which are generally bad companions, especially the American varieties, so they are best planted at least ten paces apart alongor in and rather than grown in where they will become too large.
Walnuts need little pruning. Any that is needed must preferably be done early in their life and early in the year. Generally, they are remarkably pest- and disease-free.
Fresh walnuts can be shelled then skinned. Skinning makes them much sweeter and removes all bitterness. The unripe nuts when soft enough to be punctured with a needle can be pickled or used to make liqueurs, after the manner of sloe gin. Cleaned, dried but not shelled the nuts can be stored for a year or so in salt or sand.
Named varieties of walnut such as the ‘Franquette’ are scarce, but worth searching for. One French variety was called the titmouse because the shell was so thin even a titmouse could break in to eat the kernel. American black walnuts are usually offered as the, species here, but there are several named varieties also difficult to find. Juglans ailanthifolia ‘Cordiformis’ is the Japanese heartnut, which may be worth growing. It is quicker to fruit than ordinary walnuts and produces strings of small, easily shelled nuts.