From Shakers, Monster Vacuum Cleaners, Dust, and Green Trees: A Visit to the Walnut Plantation - California Walnut Harvest Travel Report Part 2

You like walnuts? Great! Then I'll take you on a trip to the walnut harvest in California. Germany is the main importer of Californian walnut kernels - pay attention to it in the supermarket. Most bags of cracked walnuts have California walnuts. In California alone, 350,000 tons of walnuts are harvested each year and imported into 40 countries worldwide. But every country has a different claim: for example, Italy is mainly required to have whole nuts in its shell; for Korea, it is more likely to be the smaller light kernels in resealable bags.

The main area for growing walnuts in California lies around the so-called Fruitbelt in the Central Valley . This valley stretches over 600 km in length and up to 80 km in Central California. On more than 50,000 square kilometers, around 250 different agricultural products are grown, from almonds to fruit and vegetables to wine. The walnut plantations in the fruit belt alone cover more than 90,000 hectares. There are 4,600 walnut growers in California - most of the farms have been family-owned for decades.

 left: Crossing a walnut black walnut, right: Lawrence Sambado, owner of Prima Noce Packing, a walnut plantation

And that's exactly what we visited at harvest time in early October, officially it was the California Walnut Commission's 2014 International Harvest Tour , too which I was allowed to travel with Sandra, Simone and Zorra.

Together with other press and bloggers from China and India we visited Lawrence Sambado at Prima Noce Packing in Linden , about 150 km east of San Francisco. Lawrence and his colleague Mike took us on one of the many plantations and showed us how the harvest is going. Depending on the variety and location, the Californian walnuts are harvested between August and November. The most important characteristic for the maturity of the nuts is the bursting of the outer green fruit peel. Break them up and fall off, the nut kernels are ripe and the walnuts are ready to be harvested.

In California, the native walnut is refined with English walnut - you can see that in the picture on the top left: the Trunk down and the roots are black, growing out a clearer lighter trunk. The tree is thus perfectly adapted to the regional and climatic conditions: In the Central Valley there are on average more than 300 days of sunshine per year, mild temperatures and especially nutrient-rich loamy soils - the ideal conditions for the cultivation of walnuts. Incidentally, a walnut tree will bear fruit for the first time after about five to seven years, but can then be harvested for more than 100 years. With an average yield of around 4,000 nuts per tree and season, there's a lot going on ...

And whoever thinks that the walnuts are picked by hand from the trees, is wrong!These so-called "shakers" do the main job by moving from tree to tree and shaking vigorously until the ripe nuts fall off the branches. A pretty dusty affair!

A shaker shakes that long the trees until the nuts fall to the ground
 A sweeper blows and sweeps the fallen walnuts into long rows

Step 3:

Now the "sweepers" of step 1 come back into action: they blow and sweep the fallen walnuts into long, narrow rows.

 A big sweeper sweeps and puffs the walnuts down to long rows
Another machine transports the walnuts from the ground to a large container via a conveyor

Step 4:

Finally, the "vacuum cleaner" is used, a vehicle that absorbs the walnuts from the ground, collects them via a conveyor belt and collects them in large containers. In this step, branches and the green hulls will be sorted out automatically.

From there, the walnuts will get to the next station - they will be driven to Prima Noce Packing , sorted, prewashed and brushed, dried and finally landed in production. Fresh walnuts are still incredibly soft, light, sweet and slightly floury and undrinkable for my taste. They still contain about 20% moisture - by drying the content drops to 8% and they are as crisp and nutty as we know them. But that will be the subject of the next report. Then there are some handy storage tips as well.

Freshly harvested and tree-dropped walnuts and a fresh, soft walnut kernel

Here are a few more links for additional information and exciting reviews:

Californian walnut harvest travel report Part 1 - my first trip report: visit to the American Embassy in Berlin and walnut cocktails the official website of the California Walnut Commission with many Recipes and Exciting Background Information - The Official Website of Prima Noce Packing
Travel Report Part 1 of Sandra - The First Report From From Snuggs Kitchen
Travel Report Part 2 by Sandra - The Second Report by From Snuggs Kitchen Travel Report Part 1 of Simone - the first report of S-kitchen
Travel Report Part 2 of Simone - the second report of S-kitchen
Travel Report of Zorra - the report on the walnut cocktails in Berlin of 1 stir please aka Kochtopf

My heartfelt thanks for this unique experience and the nice invitation goes to the team of Fleishman-Hillard Germany GmbH, especially to Christine, Eva and Ricarda for the great organization and the California Walnut Commission especially to Jennifer and Michelle for on-site care.
The information on walnut cultivation and walnut harvesting comes from the California Walnut Commission.