How to Identify and Harvest Common Tree Nuts

Walnuts, Pecans, and Chestnuts and More

Tree nuts are tasty, healthy and can be obtained for free. If you are willing to forage, then a bounty of food awaits you in the trees.

Harvesting nuts does require patience. You need to identify the best trees, wait for the nuts to drop and check for ripeness. Once you have tapped your inner squirrel and gathered your nuts, they will need to be cleaned, dried, or husked (or all three) before they are ready to eat.

Though it is not the easiest task, nut harvests are rewarding in the end. It is a fun project for the family.

  • 01 of 05

    Black Walnuts

    Fall on the farm, close-up of walnuts

    Danita Delimont / Gallo Images / Getty Images

    Black walnuts are housed inside yellowish-green and brown husks (similar in color to pears) that are about two inches in diameter. They are further housed inside a tough shell that is dark black.

    Harvest Time: September and October

    Harvesting: Allow walnut husks to fall from the tree.

    • Remove the husks and cure the nuts before storing.
    • Black walnut produces a mild toxin and husks should not be disposed of in your yard, garden or compost.
  • 02 of 05

    Chestnuts

    Sweet chestnuts, castanea sativa

    Heinz Baumann Photography / Getty Images

    Chestnuts are dark brown in color, smooth in texture, are pointed at one end and have an oblong spot on the opposite end that is light brown. They are housed inside a spiny burr, which turns yellowish-brown and opens when the chestnuts are ready for harvest.

    Harvest Time: September through December

    Harvesting: Allow chestnuts to fall from the tree.

    • Gather nuts with open burrs and remove burrs.
    • Wear gloves to protect yourself from the spines.
  • 03 of 05

    English Walnuts

    English walnuts

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    English walnuts are housed inside a greenish-black hull. They are further housed inside a tan shell. The nut itself is light brown to golden-brown.

    Harvest Time: Late August through October

    Harvesting: Allow nuts to fall to the ground or lay out a blanket and shake the tree.

    • Check a few nuts for ripeness first.
    • Remove husks with gloved hands, or they will stain.
    • Rinse, inspect and dry the nuts
  • 04 of 05

    Pecans

    Freshly roasted organic pecans

    Kirk Mastin / Aurora / Getty Images

    Pecans are housed in a brown oval to an oblong shaped shell. The meat itself is brown in color and possess two-lobes.

    Harvest Time: Mid-October through November

    Harvesting: Allow nuts to fall to the ground or shake the tree.

    • Inspect pecans for damage or worms.
    • Air dry for two weeks before removing from the shell.
    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Pine Nuts

    Pinenuts

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    Pine nuts are tan in color and are teardrop in shape. They are housed in a brown to a reddish-brown colored shell. 

    Best found in the American West from piñon pines. Other pines produce edible nuts, but these are the most sought after.

    Harvest Time: August and September

    Harvesting: Collect easily accessible and green, unopened pinecones while wearing gloves.

    • Lay the cones out, one or two deep.
    • As the cones dry, they open (about three weeks). Remove the seeds.
    • Beware that the cones release sticky pine pitch and can be messy.