A nutty harvest

·3 min read

It’ll be December when the staff at Grimo Nut Nursery in Niagara-on-the-Lake can take a break. But it’s just a pause — the next day it’s back to the nut house, the colloquial name given to the barn where nuts are stored, until February.

Linda Grimo, daughter of early nut farming pioneer, Ernie Grimo, and who now runs the nursery, says summertime is actually the more relaxed time of the year. There’s not much to do, trees do what trees do — grow.

It’s late August, when the hazelnuts begin raining into nets below, signalling an end to summer and the first cascading waves of harvest.

The falling of heartnuts follows, then Persian and black walnuts, and pecan and hickory soon after.

Armando Peña is harvesting at the Grimo orchard on a Tuesday afternoon as he steers a tractor in a circle around a tree marked with the large, white letters ‘EK’ — meaning “Emma K,” a variety of black walnut.

Aside from the hazels, the rest of the varieties all fall to the grassy orchard floor. (Hazels are collected in nets to allow for finite tracking of yields for research purposes.)

A slotted wheel attached to the tractor spins as it’s dragged through the grass, catching and chucking the black walnuts onto the tractor, where they spill into a bin.

In a pass or two around the tree, Peña is hopping off to replace the bin with an empty.

“Hazelnuts looked good, walnuts look good; heartnuts with the drought are really small and chestnuts too — they just didn’t get up to size,” Linda Grimo said on a walk past rows of young, newly grafted trees.

There are still more weeks before the rest of the walnuts part ways with their hosts and litter the ground below.

Grimo said the season has already yielded 3,000 pounds of black walnuts.

A nut grower in Quebec has elected to buy almost all of the black walnuts after a poor yield at his orchard this year. Grimo hopes another 1,500 pounds are harvested by the time he shows up. To top it all off, he’s going to crack and sell the nuts himself, taking the work off her hands.

Out of the thousands of black walnuts, only 500 pounds will be kept to cater to Grimo Nut’s clientele.

At orange barns out front, bags of black walnuts sit in a seemingly bottomless pile, ready to be dehusked by Peña and Faith Hopkins.

The walnuts are run through a penetratingly loud machine several times. With each pass, the little black walnut hiding inside is eventually revealed.

They’re then washed before being placed in wooden boxes for a week to dry.

Seasonal workers with hand tools also roam around the community hunting for “wild walnuts.” At the end of a pole are pliable wires forming a sort of oval, mesh basket where a walnut can slip through when the basket presses down over it while being rolled along the ground.

“By Nov. 10, there’s just a little bit of pecan left,” Grimo said.

When the farm is “put away,” the cracking begins.

Cameron Peacock sat dehusking nuts by hand — a gentler process when the nuts are to be used for seeding. Throughout December, he’ll be cracking walnuts.

Others would be placed into a rolling mill where two rotating cylinders crack a nut’s shell as it falls between.

November is also the time to prepare for next year. Machines are cleaned and services and root stalks are dug for planting next year, when they’ll be used for grafting.

“The entire farm is completely shut down and closed by December first, and that’s when we catch our breath and go, thank God,” Linda said.

The next day begins the task of calculating the season’s yields for a busy month ahead of preparing orders. Next year in March, it all begins again.

Jordan Snobelen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Niagara this Week