"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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The Nut Harvest
Copyright © 2004 by Bill Scifres

The scarcity of mast, the seeds of trees, this year will emphasize the importance of checking nuts you are collecting before you pick them up and process them.

This is always an important safeguard against doing a lot of work for nothing if the meats of nuts you harvest are not well developed. It is doubly important this year because so few trees are bearing nuts this year.

Trees that did not have enough energy to produce a good crop this year may also not have had sufficient energy to produce good kernels in the meager crop of nuts they did produce.

In Indiana this applies to hickory and black walnut for the most part (these are primary producers of edible nuts). But I am also finding that the nuts of most of the beech trees I have checked are skimpy on meats. The exterior of a nut can look very normal, but in many cases the nutmeats are not well developed.

In the good years, I carry a Vise Grip, a hammer and a brick for use in cracking and checking nuts--especially hickory and walnut--before I pick them up. Even nuts that are well filled out and mature can change after they are processed. This is just a chance the forager must take. But if the meats of a nut are not fully developed before the nut falls, it will not continue its development.

COFFEE CAN CUP--Harvesting black walnuts and hickory nuts can be a back-breaking chore, but the late Ray Fish, of Fishers, solved that problem many years ago with a two-pound coffee can, a 90-degree metal bracket and a few screws and bolts.

Ray, who had a great grove of mature black walnut trees in his lawn, faced the monumental task of picking up the crop of walnuts each year. It was tough on his back. He solved the problem by attaching a sturdy three-foot wood handle to a two-pound Hills Brothers coffee can.

With a five-gallon bucket to store the nuts he picked up, he simply walked (with no back-bending) around his lawn, nudging the walnuts into the coffee can with his foot, or scooping the nuts into the can with a slight movement of the can. When the can held several nuts, he turned it upside down to deposit the nuts in the bucket.

Click on thumbnail image to see enlarged view.

coffeecan.jpg (41258 bytes)
The late Ray Fish invented his back-saver for picking up walnuts.

CATALPA WORMS--It is a bit early to be looking for catalpa worms for fish bait next summer, but the time is ripe for looking for catalpa trees that probably will offer fish bait next year. 

True the larva of the catalpa sphinx (Ceratomia catalpae), that great summertime fish bait, is long gone (they have no doubt burrowed into the earth and have pupated). They will emerge next spring as adult moths and deposit their eggs--probably on the underside of the leaves of the same tree. The trees that were infested this year probably will host worms next year. Their trademark is there for all to see.

In most cases, catalpa worms defoliate their host tree because they feed voraciously on its leaves. This built-in natural phenomenon tells the tree it must send forth more foliage when the worms have gone at midsummer. The new leaves, on trees now, are much smaller than the original foliage. That is a sure-fire tip that a tree offers the right chemistry for infestation. Mark such trees well, and check them periodically next year for masses of tiny white capsules on their leavesí undersides. When the tiny white capsules show up in June or July, a good supply of fish bait will be there soon. Incubation period is seven to 10 days.

(Additional information, pictures on catalpa worms will be found in my August 4, 2003 column on this website.)

All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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