First of all, growing your own pine nuts is not a task to be taken lightly. Though pine trees are agreeable growers, it takes about a decade to get a good harvest. That said, once they reach maturity, i.e. a state of production, pine nuts will be available for years, even decades, to come.
About 20 varieties, from over 100 species, of pine trees, produce notably edible pine nuts. Most of these will grow anywhere within the contiguous United States, and many make fantastic ornamental trees for manicured lawns. Sizes can vary from around 25 feet to over 150 feet.
In addition to providing delicious pine nuts (think of the pesto!), pine trees are great for growing windbreaks, and they can often be trained into privacy hedges. In other words, these might be a great choice for those wanting to do some edible landscaping in a neighborhood, or they can work great on a small homestead.
Which Species to Grow
Source: Nat Geo WILD/YouTube
There are four species of pine trees that occupy most of the pine nut space, particularly when found on supermarket shelves. Stone pine (Pinus pinea) is the Old World tree, and pinyon pine (Pinus edulis) is the US version. Both of these varieties lean towards warmer, drier regions like Lebanon or the US Southwest.
However, there are varieties that can tolerate colder climates. The main issue in cooler regions is finding a tree that produces pine nuts large enough to warrant harvesting. Korean pine (Pinus koraiensis) and Swiss stone pine (Pinus cembra) will thrive in environments as frigid as Michigan.
Other, less utilized options, include Macedonian pine (Pinus peuce), Armand pine (Pinus armandii), and Russian cedar (Pinus siberica), which have all of the potential to produce on a commercial level.
Tips for Growing Pine (Nut) Trees
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There are some obvious tips for growing pine nut trees. For one, it’s going to take patience to get a harvest. Growers should expect to wait ten years, not all that uncommon for nut trees. Also, it’s vital to pick varieties that are suited for the climate. There’s no point growing a tree suited for Italy when living in the Colorado Rockies. They just won’t work.
Beyond that, here are some basics for growing pine nut trees.
- Pine trees are technically self-fertile, meaning they can pollinate However, planting several of the same species of pine nut tree will notably increase nut production.
- Though they can be used for privacy hedges and windbreaks, some consideration of the fact that pine trees are wind-pollinated (like corn) is important. Some air movement between the trees will increase yields.
- Most nut trees have “boom and bust” cycles. Some years they produce an overabundance of nuts. Other years they produce hardly any. It has to do with evolution and weather. In short, gather nuts when the getting is good.
Harvesting Pine Nuts
While it is convenient to complain about the price of pine nuts when concocting that homemade pesto sauce, the story might change once the harvesting season has finally arrived. Pine nuts, even when producing require some patience to harvest.
First of all, the trees tend to be too high for simply picking the pine cones (incidentally, where the pine nuts are found). This means harvesters will either have to search them out with a long-armed hook or they’ll have to seek out a tree shaker.
After gathering pine cones, they’ll need some time to dry out and open. This requires a space that is warm and dry, as well as however much time it takes for them to open up. When they do, the pine nuts will drop from beneath the pine cone petals.
Now that the nuts are freed from the cones, they’ll have to be freed from their shells. Some varieties have soft, easy-to-work-with shells while others require a nutcracker. This is fiddly, time-consuming labor that pairs well with wine and movie. One pine cone will yield about 50 grams (a little under two ounces or notably shy of half a cup) of pine nuts.
Growing Your Own Pine Nuts
Even though patience and persistence are required for cultivating pine nuts, it’s a fun thing to do, and the actual cultivation of the trees is relatively painless. Pine trees tend to be survivors in their early life. Plus, it never hurts to have an evergreen around—pine nuts or not—to brighten up winter days. Harvesting pine nuts at home could just be a bonus for the next decade.
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