Week 18/2023: Walnuts!

Week of 1 May 2023

Coaldale walnuts open day

Rows of walnut trees against a cloudy blue sky
Coaldale Walnuts

This week, our friend Lizzie invited me and Lil Sis to the open day at Coaldale Walnuts at Richmond. I’d vaguely heard of Coaldale but I didn’t know anything about it, or even where it was, until Sunday. I definitely didn’t know they had open days!

The farm is not far outside of Richmond. I learned that it was established in 1997, with 1500 trees of the Franquette and Chandler walnut varieties (grafted onto some sort of Blackwood, I think they said).

The open day was a ticketed event because they had to limit numbers due to a lower than usual harvest this year. We got in to the very last session on Sunday afternoon.

I imagine what happens is after they’ve harvested the walnuts with the harvesting machine (there’s probably a technical term for this), they invite the public in to wander through the orchard and pick up what the machine missed. It’s a win-win idea. They don’t have to go through and find everything that got missed, people can get some cheaper walnuts and have a nice day on the farm, and waste is minimised.

I think it was Brad we met when we first got there. He explained that most of the nuts would be on the ground so we’d just need to pick them up. There would still be some on the trees that we could pick, or shake the tree to make them fall off or — or for short people, and depending how high up they were — poke them with a stick.

He explained how to remove the husks, if they were still on the nut, and which ones might potentially be no good, and told us not to pick those ones up.

Our bags and buckets weighed, we headed out to the orchard.

A row of walnut trees
Our destination: The orchard

Actually, we didn’t.

We stopped at the food van on the way where Tasmanian Kitchen Pantry were serving soup, Moroccan chicken rolls, and walnut and feta rolls (recipe here), and Sage & Lilly were serving hot drinks. Obviously, if we were at the walnut farm, we needed to try the walnut rolls. They were really good.

A walnut attached to a tree branch
One of the last remaining walnuts in the trees

Because we were there on the last afternoon, after two days of visitors, there weren’t a lot of walnuts left. That made it even more fun, looking for overlooked walnuts on the ground and the occasional one left in the trees.

Two women looking into a walnut tree. one of them is reaching up with a stick
Lizzie and Lil Sis hard at work

I got quite a thrill when I found one in a tree right at my eye height and all I had to do was reach out and pick it off the tree. I left poking sticks into the higher branches to Lizzie and Lil Sis.

A walnut in a green husk on a tree branch
Walnut hunting

Some of us took the walnut collection more seriously than others . . .

Barb is standing in the walnut orchard pointing at the camera. She is wearing a purple jacket and holding a large round basket
Serious business, this walnut harvesting (Photo credit: Lizzie)

After just over an hour, we decided we’d gathered enough walnuts and headed back for the big weigh-in.

Comments may have been made at this point about how I had the biggest basket and the smallest number of walnuts.

And so it proved to be.

Lizzie and Lil Sis had about a kilo each, and my efforts weighed in at 300 grams, for a total cost of $1.90. As I kept trying to explain, I didn’t really go for the walnuts!

30 unshelled walnuts on a white cloth
This is what I had to show for an hour picking walnuts!

We got some instructions about what to do with them when we got home, which is to spread them out in a warm, dry area to dry for about a week. Then we can test whether they’re ready. If the membrane that separates the walnut halves snaps, they’re ready.

Once they’re dry enough, we can store them in a cool dry place for up to 12 months. They store best in the shells.

I’m not sure my 30 walnuts will be stored for anywhere near 12 months. Fortunately, Eumarrah stocks Coaldale walnuts, so I can get some more.

I was also interested to read about the steps Coaldale is taking to reduce its environmental impact, including using sheep to keep the weeds down, using natural fertilisers, and encouraging biodiversity by planting natives and encouraging frogs to the wetlands.

Close-up image of the trunk of a walnut tree
A walnut tree

I had a great day, and I’m very grateful for Lizzie for encouraging me to come out, because otherwise I’d have been sitting inn my room complaining about how cold I was. Thanks to the team at Coaldale for opening their property too.

A walnut on a bare tree branch against a blue sky
Walnut high on a tree

I’m certainly keen to do it again next year.

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