From Tree to Table: Behind the Scenes at the California Walnuts Harvest

Walnuts were first cultivated in California over 230 years ago and today California is the second largest producer of walnuts in the world. The majority of walnuts are grown in the Central Valley area, where the mild climate and deep fertile soils give the nuts their exceptional quality. Many of the farmers here come from multi-generational family farms, who over the years have perfected the care, attention and passion that goes into growing California Walnuts and giving them the unique mild taste, soft texture and light colour that we all know and love!

To find out how California Walnuts get from California to your kitchen, ready to be enjoyed in your favourite recipes or as a healthy snack then read on. With the California Walnut harvest underway until late November, we’ve gone behind the scenes at multi-generational farmer John Rehermann’s orchard in the Central Valley, who has been growing walnuts for decades, to see the harvesting process at first hand. Read on to find out what happens at every stage…

Preparation for the harvest begins as summer draws to a close in late August. Debris is swept away from the orchard floors in order to make space for mechanical shakers to be driven in to shake each mature tree so that the walnuts fall to the ground. If you’re standing close by, the vibrations from this can be felt in the ground! The farmers know when the walnuts are ready to harvest as soon as they see the nuts’ outer green hull drying and starting to split. The splitting means the walnuts will be easy to remove from inside.

One of the varieties of walnut John Rehermann grows on his farm is the Hartley variety. Like its namesake (and all walnuts) when this variety is cracked open it looks like a heart inside! Did you know that once walnuts have fallen from the tree, it is possible to crack them open using just your hands by cracking two shells against each other? You should try it, it’s easier than you think…!

After the walnuts have been shaken off the trees, they are swept into lines, ready to be gathered up. Once collected, the walnuts are then cleaned and dried to eight percent moisture, which helps protect them during storage.

It’s then time for the nuts to go to the processor, where they are split into one of two categories – shelled or in-shell. The walnuts are then sorted by size and colour.

Finally, the walnuts are inspected against the highest standards of quality and any that don’t measure up are removed, before being shipped to shop shelves across the UK, ready to be enjoyed by you at home! Last year over 64% of the California walnut crop was exported and the UK received the twelfth highest amount of California Walnuts[1].

So there you have it! A day in the life of a walnut during harvest time!  Take a look at our recipes for inspiration on how to enjoy them and remember to store your walnuts in a cool place, such as the fridge and not the cupboard, for optimum freshness.

[1] California Walnut exports 18/19. Preliminary year-end as of 8/31/19