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Nuts about butternut trees

September 25, 2011
By DON WILLIAMS , For The Leader Herald

It is that "nutty" time of year, a time when the whole family would go up Jackson Summit so that Uncle Bun Bellen could take us to the best butternut trees. We filled our baskets and my dad would crack dishpans full of them. My mother used them in cakes, pies, cookies, muffins, and salads. Although hard to crack and with a buttery flavor, they are tasty and worth the effort. There is also a long history of using the husks of the nuts to make dye and ink.

I have 20 butternut trees in my back yard. Along with those tasty nuts, I have a scurry of squirrels. They love them. Unfortunately, I recently had to bury a momma squirrel. She climbed up on the rain barrel to get a drink and fell in. I emptied the barrel and placed her in plastic bags, dug a suitable grave, and buried her with dignity. I forgave her for chewing into my attic and cellar, and for having her babies in my side porch ceiling.

I picked up a big bucket of butternuts this past week and noted that after the "blowdown" the ground was covered with green nuts again. Recently, I went to get them with my wooden tongs so I didn't have to bend over and found only half of a bucket left. The squirrels were busy after the storm and had buried their winter supply.

There are two chestnut trees on our "back 40," a gift from Lou Decker, the late Fulton County historian. We planted a stand of chestnuts for the Native Americans down on the Route 5 former "poor house" and later Lou got a couple seedlings for me. The American Chestnuts were dying off from diseases all over the country and they were trying to start a new disease-resistant strain. It worked.

The two chestnut trees are now some 40 feet tall and are producing those fuzzy little chestnuts that look like green porcupines. The nuts are inside. I have picked up a big bucket full, shared some with the squirrels, and they are still falling off the trees.

"Chestnuts roasting over an open fire," or planting more trees are among the choices I need to make. To plant more chestnuts, the nuts must be taken out of the pricky shell and kept in a cold, not freezing, place until the middle of November. At that time, they need to be placed in a burlap bag with moist shavings and buried below the frost line in the ground in a well-drained spot.

When spring arrives the, now germinated nuts, have sprouted and are ready for planting. Some have found that the nuts need to be planted in open-ended beer cans so the squirrels and mice cannot eat them. Leaving prongs on the top of the can with just enough room for the plant to grow helps to keep those hungry animals away.

It is a lot of work to maintain giant butternut and chestnut trees (think of the leaves to rake); maybe, just maybe, I should be growing small peanut plants in my back yard. Master gardener Jim Rieth once successfully grew them just around the corner on Main Street. We could then make our own Adirondack Peanut Butter and get rich!



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