As a child I always had a couple of walnuts and a tangerine tucked into the toe of my Christmas stocking. I wasn´t very impressed with them then but tradition is tradition and it is still carried on in our house every year. Of course, fruit and nuts then were much more valuable and seen as riches in those long-off days! Nowadays most of us know that nuts help us live longer so we are lucky to be able to grow quite a variety of them here. Here are four giants for the best nutty Christmastime.
Walnuts are the only nuts that contain omega 3 and their list of healthy attributes is extensive and distinguished! The walnut, or juglans regia, a native of Persia was spread through Europe by the Romans. It's a rapid grower, often attaining 20-25m with large, stretching limbs. A strong tap root anchors it into even the rockiest ground and enables it to reach a great old age though it can take a few years to come into production. The roots, bark and unripe husks of the nuts produce a dark brown dye so wear gloves when harvesting! The young, unripe fruits are often preserved as sweetmeats or pickled, whilst ripe nuts are important in autumn and winter deserts. Walnut oil is pressed from the kernels, giving half the weight of oil to kernels. For harvesting, the trees are beaten with long poles (similar to olive cropping). This often breaks the branch tips which will then produce new spurs and female (fruit-bearing) flowers. This thrashing of the tree is also practised on barren trees to bring them into production.
In hot weather, or when bruised, the leaves give off a very powerful narcotic aroma which produces drowsiness, so take care not to fall asleep under the shade of your walnut tree! Even more importantly, don't even try to grow anything under your tree – it is one of the most allelopathic plants known to us – which means that it gives off a chemical, juglone, to 'protect its space' and even grass will grow reluctantly under a walnut tree.
Pecans, carya illinoinensis, belong to the same family as walnuts though they originate from Mexico. They are one of the ´new´ crops being tried in the Axarquia having a low water demand and liking our sunny and mild climate. The chief variety grown is Wichita, largely self-fertile but crops will increase with two. Again, they form a large tree, 25m high x 15m spread with a strong tap root. Unlike seedling trees which are very slow to produce, grafted trees will start producing their lovely buttery-flavoured crop in about 4 years. The cropping season is November/December when the husks will start to split open, indicating maturity. Dry them in a well- ventilated place for a couple of weeks. Once shucked, they can be stored dry or they will keep in the fridge for 6 months.
Macadamia trees are large and spreading too, but evergreen with quite prickly leaves. They are adaptable to a wide range of soils but will not tolerate salinity or water logging. The trees are quite slow growing and nut production may not start until they are around 7 years old; at 15 years old a tree should be producing around 60 kg of nuts. Macadamia nuts are considered to be the king of nuts with a distinctive nutty and creamy flavour, even though their shells are hard to crack! Current cultivation does not meet market demand, hence prices are high.
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire ……… the lyrics and imagery fill us with nostalgia for chilly autumn evenings, family and friends together, chatting and telling tales – long before the invasion of the tele! Thus an 'old chestnut' became a tale told once too often! Autumn evenings here in Spain would not be the same without the street sellers' glowing braziers serving finger-burning castañas.
The sweet chestnut, castanea sativa, or Sardian nut is native to Sardis in Asia Minor. It spread through Europe, self-sowing, on climatic parameters roughly equivalent to that of the grape vine.
The sweet chestnut is one of the most magnificent of our European trees, attaining 30m in height and with a stout, solid trunk and spreading branches forming a large leafy canopy. In spite of its size, its roots are not particularly invasive. Happy wherever soils are light, with some humidity in the air and fresher night-time temperatures – it is one of the stalwarts of our Mediterranean foothills. They're very distinctive with their prickly nutcases, like large green sea urchins, held in twos or threes, which split open to reveal the glossy chestnut-brown nuts inside. The bark is greyish, grooved and fissured, twisting round the trunk in spirals that resemble worn rope. The large handsome serrated leaves turn a delicious golden yellow before leaf fall. One of our last trees to flower, it produces catkins, some male only, some with male and female on the same branch. They're striking but the males give off a heavy, sickly-smelling pollen which many find overpowering. Trees can take several years to settle into nut production and are considered mature at thirty years of age going on to bear crops for very many years – often living for centuries.
We have all of these nut trees in stock at the Garden Centre.
The Viveros Florena Team would like to wish you all a very happy Solstice and Christmastime.
Closing Hours for Christmastime: (remember we are always closed on Sundays and Mondays). Additionally we will be closed on 24, 25, 26, 27 and 31 December and 1 January.
Don´t forget, we have gift vouchers – a great present for gardeners! – and come and see our lovely range of poinsettias.
Lorraine Cavanagh owns the specialist garden centre Viveros Florena, Competa, Malaga (garden centre, designers & landscapers) and is author of the best-selling
Mediterranean Garden Plants and Citrus, The Zest of Life.
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