Have you ever considered growing nuts at home? Most nuts come from trees that get enormous, take up lots of space and take years to even begin to produce. For most small scale home owners, this doesn't even begin to be practical. On my 3 1/2 acre plot, I do have some room for this, but not much. Most people simply don't have the room.
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There are quite a few practical and smaller alternatives that anyone with a small backyard can grow. Nut growing doesn't have to be a huge scale, long wait operation. There are some nut types that CAN be grown in smaller spaces, with less waiting time, and will produce some delicious results. Here are a few of my favorites:
As a kid, I remember collecting wild American Filberts (Corylus
Americana) from fence rows on my grandparents farm. We roasted them,
and I ate the small nuts like they were candy.
Hazelnuts grow in bush form instead of trees, which makes them ideal for the home nut grower.
A hazelnut bush can grow to about 10 feet high, and about as wide. This means that in the same space that a dwarf fruit tree will grow, you can grow your own hazelnuts. Once established they are hardy, highly productive and reliable.
Almonds are in the same family as peaches, plums and nectarines. If you have ever cracked open a peach pit, and looked at the seed inside, you'll see that they look almost exactly like an almond.
The good news is that Almond trees can be grafted to dwarfing or semi dwarfing rootstock, just like peaches and plums. This makes them ideal for the home orchard, and will fit right in to your orchard plan.
The fruit of almonds are not edible, but some nurseries are now offering an apricot/almond cross that provides both edible fruit and nuts.
Originally, almonds were not cold hardy, but some cultivars can now be grown as far north as USDA zone 5.
I spent most of my teen years living in southeastern Louisiana, and much of that time was spent running the woods of southwest Mississippi. I recall finding Chinkapin nuts in the fall and eating them by the fist full.
These little nuts are kin to chestnuts, and have a similar
flavor. They grow in the wild in low bushes and shrubs in the
understory of upland hardwoods.
Due to their size and growth pattern, these are great nut producers for the backyard. They can get up to 40 feet tall, but I rarely ever saw them over about 15 feet. Because they grow in a multi-stemmed bush form, if one trunk gets too big, it can be cut out and the plant will still continue to thrive.
Until recently, I didn't believe that they would survive the cold southern Indiana winters, so I haven't seen or eaten any in probably 25 years or more.
I just recently found out about Empire Chestnut Company located in Carrolton, Ohio. According to their website, they grow and sell started Allegheny Chinkapin seedlings. If they will grow in northern Ohio, they should do fine in southern Indiana. So I purchased two 1-year old plants from them, and although I lost one of them (by no fault of Empire) the other has grown quite well, and seems very healthy.
Peanuts are annual plants related to peas and beans. You can grow them in your garden if you are in USDA zone 5 or higher. They require a long growing season but can be started early indoors in northern regions.
The actual nuts form below ground after blooming above ground.
Peanuts are easy to grow, and easy to harvest, and can produce heavy crops.
If you have a couple of rows to spare in your garden, give them a try. You can't beat home grown, home roasted peanuts (or home made peanut butter!).
Although technically sunflower seeds aren't really nuts, they are roasted an eaten as if they were, so for the sake of this discussion, I'll classify them as if they were.
Sunflowers (Helianthus) come in all shape and sizes. Some are grown solely as ornamental flowers, some are grown for oil production (black oil variety), and some are grown for seeds to eat (giant white stripe varieties).
Sunflowers grow readily in a garden, and can add some variety to your home grown snacking enjoyment.
They grow fast, tall (some up to 15 feet), and sturdy and can be an excellent source of healthy snack food. Sunflowers in my garden serve double duty. In addition to being a source of food, I grow them in a double row on the west side of my corn patch to act as a wind barrier to help prevent my corn from getting blown down in high winds. This is not 100% effective, but has been very helpful. If you've never grown your own sunflowers, consider giving it a try.
Pumpkin and Squash seeds fall into the same category as sunflower seeds, and aren't technically nuts, but are treated as if they were. If you grow winter squash and pumpkins in your garden, and aren't keeping and roasting the seeds, you're missing out on one entire aspect of these interesting fruit. We always keep our pumpkin seeds when we carve Jack-O-Lanterns for Halloween, as well as the seeds from Butternut, Acorn, and Hubbard squash when we cut them open for roasting. These seeds can be washed, salted and roasted for a nutty taste treat. Don't let these tasty gems go to waste.
If you have the room, or they are already growing wild on your place, there are several varieties of tree nuts that are very tasty and extremely healthy to eat. I have black walnuts and shellbark hickories growing wild on the edges of my property. We make it a point to collect some every fall.
I have also planted pecan trees on my place about 5 years ago, but it will probably be another 5 years before I see any pecans from them.
10 years until the first crop is pretty much the norm for nut trees.
Other nut trees that may grow wild or can be cultivated (at least in this region) include English (Carpathian) Walnuts, Butternuts (White Walnuts), Chestnuts, Heartnuts (Japanese Walnut) and Beechnuts (yes Beech trees have small edible nuts).
Remember - patience is the key here - if you don't already have these trees on your place (or access to someone elses trees), planting your own will take many years before you see a crop. That being said - the wait is well worth it in the end.
Growing nuts at home is easier than you might think, and the results are very satisfying. Imagine growing your own nuts, and being able to roast and eat them. Home grown nut assortments make really interesting and appreciated gifts as well. Growing your own nuts can be just another step on your journey to self sufficiency, and one more way to loosen the grip of the grocery stores on your budget.