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  • Sometimes Only a Nut Will Do

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    • After the Fall
      Hard-shelled nuts need to be dried before cracking. Ed Vaughn, owner of Vaughn Farms in Central Point, dries them for a week or two in the sun or near a heat source. When they taste good, they're r...
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      After the Fall
      Hard-shelled nuts need to be dried before cracking. Ed Vaughn, owner of Vaughn Farms in Central Point, dries them for a week or two in the sun or near a heat source. When they taste good, they're ready, he says. He uses a hammer to easily crack them in half. Handheld nutcrackers give more precision, but can be hard on the hands. Use the oft-included, but rarely used, nut picks to get small bits from the shells. Compost the shells.

      Once shelled, nuts keep in a plastic bag or large airtight jar out of the light. For longer storage, leave them in the shell, "they'll last clear into next season," says Vaughn. "You can tell when they've gone too long, since they'll become rancid."

      If you've got softer shelled local chestnuts, store them in a paper bag in a garage or cool room. "I'm wary of keeping them in the refrigerator. They could mold, or get hard," says Monica Rey, owner of Green Ridge Farm in Gold Hill, "Prepare for roasting them by cutting an "x" in the shell for the steam to escape." An open fire is traditional, but cooking them in a 350-degree oven for 20-25 minutes will provide you with an old-fashioned holiday taste.
  • Offering shady retreats, interesting leaves and handfuls of nutritious snacks, nut trees are a wonderful addition to Rogue Valley gardens. Walnuts, hazelnuts, and almonds thrive in our long, dry summers and cool winters. With a sunny spot, some well-drained soil, and a little luck, nut trees add beauty to your garden and crunch to your cooking.
    Ed Vaughn, owner of Vaughn Farms in Central Point harvests from a "bunch of old walnut trees." Walnuts like spacious, sunny spots with rich, well-drained soil. Plant pairs of tall English walnuts Jugans regia to ensure pollination. After about five years, trees grown from seeds, cuttings, or grafts will start bearing nuts and will continue for decades. Harvest walnuts in autumn. "When they start falling off the branches, get out there and get them. Don't let the squirrels pack them off," warns Vaughn.
    Nuts are produced on 2-year-old branches, so trim dead wood annually. Take care not to prune the walnuts too early in the spring since walnut trees will bleed, says Rob Griffiths, nurseryman at Medford's Southern Oregon Nursery. Growing to 60 feet, the drought-tolerant trees, often dripping with sap and pollen, are best suited to the back 40.
    An appealing tree for the front yard is hazelnut, Griffiths says. Drought-tolerant, it will grow to about 15 feet high and wide. Prune them like a rhododendron for a windbreak. Some farmers plant hazelnuts, not for the nuts, but for the expensive Oregon wild truffles they cultivate under the trees.
    The Willamette Valley produces almost all our country's hazelnuts Corylus avellana and C. maxima. Mid-winter, when most plants are dormant, the hazelnut blooms and pollinates. The male's long yellow catkins produce pollen for the small red female flowers. In early summer, their husks change from green to hazel and by early October they ripen and drop.
    "As far as growing, almond [trees] do fine, but are hit and miss in production," says Griffiths. To be successful, these members of the stone fruit family, Prunus dulcis, need long, hot summers, some winter chill, but no late frosts. Just planting one tree? Griffiths suggests an all-in-one variety as it's self-pollinating and pollinates other trees. For best production, he suggests late-blooming 'Hall's Hardy' with 'Mission' as a pollinator.
    Plant them in full sun in any soil type, as long as it's well-drained. As they grow to 25 feet, they'll take on the characteristically round nut tree shape. With luck, after five seasons, the attractive pale pink blooms will produce almonds. The nuts look like little green peaches when ripening and are ready to harvest in late summer. Once the shells have opened, knock them down and collect them. Griffiths says to spray the pre-emergent blooms with copper and lime sulfur to alleviate fungus.
    If you're curious about a nut, avail yourself of the Jackson County Master Gardeners clinic at the Oregon State University experiment station. Other nuts you may find in the valley are the Chinese chestnut Castahea mollissima, and the black walnut, Jugans nigra. Growing to a rounded 35 feet, chestnuts sport long catkins of creamy flowers from spring into summer. "They do better in an area with higher humidity, but grow all right in this area," says Monica Rey, owner of Green Ridge Farm in Gold Hill. The largest of the local trees is the black walnut. Their beautiful form and fragrant leaves make them a good choice for large areas--they can top 100 feet and spread nearly as wide.
    Whether grown for their beauty or nuts, these attractive trees are a feast for the senses. Treat yourself to some local nuts and get cracking.
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