I work as a volunteer at a local garden office in the summertime, answering inquiries from walk-in customers who have questions about gardening, insect or plant identification. Last summer, an older woman came in, dressed in a long skirt, a sun hat, carrying an umbrella, and wearing a pair of sunglasses with a price sticker in the center of one lens. I suspect that she had just come from the thrift store across the street because the price was handwritten on the tag. Her first question was whether we had a list of local farmers who allowed gleaning. When I explained that we did not keep a list of local farm crops (there are far too many and crops change from year to year), she then asked if she was allowed to pick flowers growing by the side of the road.
Since then, off and on, I think of her, especially when I come across a bountiful supply of something free for the taking, especially edibles like fruit. I am an avid gleaner, perhaps a follow-on to being the child of a mother who grew up in the depression. Waste not, want not. Free? Yes, please. It's a little alarming that the clerks in the local thrift stores know me by name.
There are abandoned apple trees down the street from our house where street widening took out several houses. I collect the apples in the summer for the sheep, who don't mind a few coddling moths, as the apples are not sprayed. I help out at the local Fruit Days at our Pomology Extension, where the volunteers clean peaches, nectarines, grapes and apples for display and sampling at their open house. I come home with boxes of overripe fruit and each year swear not to bring home more than 2 boxes, not the 6 or 8 that somehow end up on the back seat of my car. So far, I'm losing that battle.
Each fall, I watch the squirrels sprint along the fence that separates our house from the neighbors, carrying walnuts from the back yard to the front. A year or two after I moved in, the neighbor showed me the bucket of walnuts he had collected from his walnut grove in the plot behind his house. I had never seen homegrown walnuts and I was immediatly smitten. He gave me a small bag and told me that I could help myself from the trees in the far back, as he only gathered the nuts from the huge tree in their direct backyard. The next year, I collected a large black trashbag full of nuts, many with partial hulls still attached.
I learned several things that year. Number 1 was Wear Gloves. Sitting on the back porch, hulling walnuts for an afternoon leaves your fingers and hands a sticky nut brown color. The sticky washes off but the brown doesn't and it takes about 2 weeks for it to go away. Number 2 was Don't Leave the Hulls On, as they will dry and harden and form an impenetrable shrink wrap around the nut. Neither knife nor nutcracker can break through. Number 3, don't store the hulled nuts in a big plastic bag in the garage as they will mold.
For many years after that bountiful harvest, I watched the squirrels in the late summer and early fall carry green walnuts to an undisclosed location. By the time the husks would have opened naturally, the nuts were gone. This year, however, I have been watching the squirrels haul hulled nuts along the fence. Perhaps, possibly, could this be a bountiful walnut year in which there were enough nuts that they hadn't yet made off with all of them?
I spent an hour yesterday removing husks and laid the harvest out to dry.
This is more than enough for us to enjoy though the winter, and perhaps into next year.
And if not, I have a friend in California who owns a walnut grove and, for postage, she will send me a flat rate box full. But it still feels like I won the walnut lottery this year.