Kitchen Gardening

Squirrel Tree Bears Fruit

Most gardeners work hard to keep squirrels out of their vegetable gardens. But sometimes one of the little critters can offer a pleasant surprise.

The green hulls of black walnuts look a little like limes.
Photo/Illustration: Jodi Torpey

If you search for “squirrels” you’ll see some of the common headaches they cause for gardeners. Squirrels dig up freshly-planted spring bulbs, they take bites from otherwise picture-perfect tomatoes and they eat the birdseed meant for our feathered friends.

But in the spring of 2000, one squirrel gave me a wonderful gift. He planted a walnut in a flowerpot that’s grown into a beautiful black walnut tree.

Studies show that squirrels forget about 25% of the nuts they bury every season. That’s what happened to my future walnut tree.

After the nut sprouted in the flowerpot, I planted it in my yard. It was just a stick about 6 inches tall then, and I protected it by surrounding it with a little fence. Over the years, that little black walnut stick grew slowly and every few years it would grow another branch.

Now, 14 years later, the tree is over 25 feet tall and its leafy branches provide shade for about half of the backyard. I even planted under the tree despite the warnings they contain a chemical called jugalone which can be harmful to other plants. However, my plantings of privet, juniper, serviceberry, yarrow and other perennials seem to grow well there.

This year the tree has produced an exceptionally good crop of walnuts. The nuts start out looking like bright green limes scattered throughout the branches. After the nuts fall from the tree, I’ll collect them, don heavy rubber gloves to prevent finger staining, remove the green hulls and then let the shells dry. I’m looking forward to opening that first walnut and eating the delicious nut meat inside.

That is, if there are any walnuts left to be harvested. It seems only fitting that squirrels should have the first crack at them. Another beautiful tree is just waiting to be planted.

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