Saturday, September 1, 2012

Harvesting the hazels

You need to stop reading this and go outside right now. Find the nearest hazel or filbert hedge, and break off one of the clusters of nuts.

Hazelnut in the husk
If you live in the Pacific northwest, it won't be hard to find one. Any planting with trees and shrubs probably has a few. If you live elsewhere, you might have to search. That's ok. The journey is what matters, right?

If you don't break of this cluster, the squirrels will in a matter of days, so don't feel too guilty. Of course, don't do anything that will get you in trouble, either!

The cluster of hazelnuts in their cases will be jade green and frilly, a group of lacey collars enclosing green or tan seeds. Put a thumb on the tannest nut, and try to move it. If it roles free from the husk, it's ripe enough to eat, though perhaps not for long-term storage. If not, it doesn't matter for what you are going to do. Peel back the husk instead.

Insert nose here
Now smell the husk, and the green stem of the nut. Isn't it divine? It could be a mens' or womens' cologne, or a laundry product, but it's too pure really for either. It smells like, of all things, spring. Funny in early September.

I have no idea why hazelnut husks smell so wonderful. Maybe to help attract squirrels? Though they consume many nuts, squirrels greatly benefit the few that survive. By dragging them off and burying them, squirrels serve as the distribution system for the seeds, allowing them to grow far from the tree. That is idle speculation, though. Seriously I have no clue. But seriously, they smell great.

We are trying to harvest hazels this year, for the first time. Usually by the time I decide they are ripe, the squirrels have taken them all. This year I am picking them green but loose in the husk. It will be a few weeks before I know if the meat shrivels up and is ruined or if it is edible. Good nut and seed crops are one of the big gaps in production at Several Gardens Farm. We will never meet our caloric needs with our nut crop, but a harvest will help us make at least a few more meals from entirely farm-grown food

Litter of nut husks - a squirrel has been here!

 Note - squirrels leave lots of apparently intact hazels scattered around the lawn. Nearly all are "blanks", hollow  inside. 

It is a total waste of time to gather these dropped seeds and open them.The good ones are either eaten in situ, the empty shells dropping down to form a mulch beneath the plant, or dragged off and  buried, where they will sprout a few years later.

A good nut
A blank

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