Nuts are wonderful sources of protein, complex carbohydrates, fiber, healthy fats, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and there are some great nuts we can grow in the UK. They make tasty, ready-to-go snacks, are used in spreads, plant milks, cheeses and ice cream, and can be incorporated into both sweet and savoury dishes.
There are really three edible nuts you can grow in the UK: hazelnuts, walnuts and sweet chestnuts. Acorns and beechnuts are also edible but not really worth the effort as they are neither tasty nor particularly nutritious. Hazelnuts are the easiest to grow and the easiest to get a decent crop from all over the UK. Let’s take a look at them first…
Hazel trees are very hardy and will put up with all kinds of weather and are not that fussy about the soil. They like well drained soil, but soil that is high in nutrients can lead to too many leaves and not enough fruits. They are more of a bush than a tree and you can keep them pruned (in winter) to a size that suits your garden. They are self fertile but it is recommended that hazels are planted in a group so that the pollen from their late winter catkins can blow about and pollinate the female flowers. Hazelnuts are available for cropping in the autumn, best eaten young, and can be stored happily for some months. You can eat them raw, roast them, or bake them.
Hazelnuts contain protein, carbohydrates, fiber, antioxidants, vitamin E, thiamin, magnesium, copper, manganese, vitamin B6, folate, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. They are also high in omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids and phenolic compounds which help decrease blood cholesterol and inflammation. To get the maximum nutritional value it is best to eat the whole nut raw. Most of the antioxidants are in the skin, so best not to remove it. Hazelnuts are highly nutritious and well suited to UK growing putting them top of the list of nuts you can grow in the UK.
Walnut trees like well drained, alkaline, deep soil in a sunny position. They will eventually grow tall (up to 30 m), so a large garden is required to consider one. Walnut trees are hardy, but fruits can be damaged by late frosts. As with hazels, walnuts can be self-fertile but it is you get a better crop if they are cross pollinated by other walnut trees in the vicinity. The nuts develop in a leathery case, which splits open in the autumn to reveal the walnut shell we are accustomed to seeing. The nuts need heat to ripen properly, so they tend to do better in the south of the country, however green walnuts can still be pickled. Usually walnuts are dried so they keep longer, but you can eat them fresh if you catch them at the right time.
Walnuts are extremely good for you, containing healthy fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals. They have the highest levels of antioxidants of all common nuts due to the vitamin E, melatonin and polyphenols in their skins. Walnuts are an excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid, an important essential omega 3 fatty acid that is anti inflammatory and beneficial to the cardiovascular system.
Sweet chestnuts like well drained, fertile, deep soil and lots of sun. Like, walnut trees, sweet chestnut trees eventually become large, up to 35 m in height and 2 m in width, though it will take many years. They can live as much as 700 years. Long male and female catkins appear on the same tree around June and July and the female flowers develop into spiky green balls which contain the nuts. The nuts drop from the trees in the autumn when they are ripe and then you can collect them. Some varieties of sweet chestnut are self fertile (e.g. Regal, Marigoule), but it is always better to have other similar trees in the vicinity for cross pollination which greatly increases your chances of a decent crop. Sweet chestnuts can be eaten raw, but are most typically roasted, boiled or pickled.
Sweet chestnuts are great sources of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin B, manganese, molybdenum, cooper, magnesium, calcium, iron, and zinc. They are rich in fiber and mineral salts such as potassium and phosphorus. Sweet chestnuts are lower in fat and protein than other nuts. Consuming sweet chestnuts is a great way to boost your immune system.
It would be wonderful to hear from experienced nut tree growers. Which is your favourite to grow and eat? Any tips and information would be greatly appreciated.