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Turn Your Gardening Skills into a Gift to the Next Generation

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Black walnut trees provide nuts and desirable wood

Discover how you can turn your gardening skills into a gift to the next generation that will build a legacy, make money and improve the environment.

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One of the problems facing many in the baby boomer generation is what to do with the inherited family farm. With society increasingly turning from agrarian to suburban life over the last half of the past century, the tail-end of an aging baby boomer generation is finding themselves as landowners with a plot of land that they are unsure about what to do with it.

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For most of us, it’s either too late or too inconvenient to return to our roots and take up a farming lifestyle where that plot of land may have gone from a once lush and pristine field to a weed and brush-choked acreage due to neglect and the passage of time. Allowing nature to run amok, easily turns farmland into a wild mess that would be challenge for a tank to marshal through. Such is my problem.

Last year, I looked into the idea of regaining some semblance of control over a plot of field and forestry land that had gone back to the wild after 20-plus years of non-use. Aside from gaining access to the property with any heavy equipment, the biggest challenge is taming the undergrowth. It’s not without some irony that I now understand why the creek flowing through the property was named “the Big Brushy” generations ago when settlers first begin to build farms out of Missouri forest back in the day.

With the help of a Conservation agent who was willing to walk the property with me, ideas of thinning out the overgrown forest by selling off some of the timber were quickly suppressed when it was determined that the terrain was too difficult to make selective logging worth the cost. Thoughts of spraying the weed-choked field with herbicide to help clear the ground were also nixed due to (1) the terrain again was too rough for overall bush-hogging and herbicide spraying; and (2), I am not a fan of herbicide spraying. The world is poisoned enough as it is.

A third option that holds the most promise is to invest in a controlled burn service to clear the field land for replanting cover crop to help re-nourish the soil and prevent a reemergence of weed. The surrounding forested area can then be tackled an acre at a time with selective timbering and using the felled trees for firewood. This way I can keep the land under control as I decide on how to use the property in the long run.

Walnut Tree Farming

So, for now a plan is developing. But to what end? Which brings me back to how you can turn your gardening skills into a gift to the next generation that will build a legacy, make money and improve the environment—walnut tree farming.

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Walnut trees are highly valued due to their relative scarcity and use as an attractive and durable wood for everything from gunstocks to high-design furniture. In fact, tree poaching of old growth walnut trees has been a recurring problem, requiring complex scientific tests to determine whether the wood sold came from the illegal poaching and sale of stolen logs. Records show that some walnut timber sells well into the thousands per tree depending on its dimensions and quality of grain.

However, there’s another plus to growing walnut trees in selected areas on a farm; It’s a natural biological land-taming agent and a solution to my problem.

Walnut Trees Are Toxic

Walnut trees it turns out produce a chemical from their roots called “Juglone” that kills nearby growing plant species including broadleaf pasture weeds, and have thus been demonstrated to act as a natural weed control in pasture land. Juglone can be found throughout many parts of the black walnut tree.

The leaves for example, release juglone, which is then washed off by rain into the surrounding soil and acts as a natural herbicide to prevent competing plants from growing around the tree. Furthermore, it is a well-known fact that compost or mulch consisting of black walnut leaves, sawdust, wood chips, etc. should not be used in or near vegetable gardens.

However, while the black walnut is contraindicated for vegetable gardening it has a beneficial effect on certain kinds of grasses like fescue and bluegrass.

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A little research reveals that black walnut timber farming takes a very long time to reap any monetary rewards for the efforts. A black walnut tree will not produce walnuts until after the first 5-7 years of growth; and, it will take another 25 years before it is ready as a marketable timber. Therefore, while you may not live to sow what you’ve reaped, your children and grandchildren can. Which is the point of this article.

First Attempt to Grow Black Walnut Trees from Seed

I have never grown black walnut trees in my life. They grew wild back-on-the-farm in patches from which I have gathered many 55-gallon barrels of fallen walnuts to sell at the end of the year for some spending money as a kid. However, one of the joys of gardening—like in many other things—is in learning something new and experimenting with it.

How Not to Compost: A Trial Test from Last Winter

This week, I have witnessed my first germinated walnut seeds springing tap roots and shoots from a test planting last fall in an unused portion of my garden. The walnuts were collected from Missouri farmland last year at the stage where their green husks had just begun to rot. The rotting husk and walnut were deposited together in large pots of Ohio soil followed by a mulch of leaves and protective netting to prevent squirrel burglary during this past winter.

My First Attempt at Planting Black Walnuts

Successful germination

A Close-Up Photo Showing Walnut Germination

Inside a germinating walnut seed

While many articles online promote removing the husk before planting in soil, I have found that the decaying husk appears to have possibly resulted in some of the fattest earthworms I have ever seen in my garden wrapped around the splitting nuts. This will bear some additional investigation.

Right now, with some added research toward this first success, I am discovering that there’s a big learning curve ahead of me in turning young seedlings into marketable trees. I will provide future updates on how turning my gardening skills into a gift to the next generation progresses throughout this year.

If you have any experience in growing black walnut trees, please feel free to let us know your experiences in the comments section below.

Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with a background in farming and an avid home gardener, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on the connection between plant biology and gardening for healthy living. For continual updates about plants and health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Images courtesy of Pixabay and the author

References:

Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) Good things takes time—so act now!” Agroforesty in Australia website

Planting Black Walnut Trees” by Mark Mikolas for Mother Earth News

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