How, When, and Why of Forest Farming

Unit 6: Fruits and Nuts


Growing fruits and nuts in your forest has a high potential for generating income by marketing them as ingredients in plant based diets or old-fashioned recipes, or more generally as products that can satisfy consumer yearnings for unique and delicious foods that are linked with personal health and natural resources conservation. With this possibility in mind, or simply for personal consumption and satisfaction, you may find it exceptionally rewarding to learn how to cultivate forest fruits and nuts.
The most common types of forest fruits are berries, such as blackberries, serviceberries, lignonberries, elderberries, blueberries. Wild plum, pawpaw and hardy kiwi are other forest fruits of interest. Nuts that grow in northeastern forests include shagbark hickory, shell bark hickory, and pignut hickory (for wildlife only), black walnut, chestnuts, acorns, hazelnuts, and beechnuts.
[PawPaw Fruit Photo]
PawPaw Fruit
Brian Lockhart, Louisiana State University.
To decide if producing fruit or nut crops from your forest is a realistic option, consider two possible starting points. First, perhaps there are nut-bearing trees or fruit-bearing shrubs on your property already that you could manage in ways that would improve their productivity and value. If this is not the case, your alternative is to identify what particular fruit or nut crops might be suitable for your site, and to begin establishing some new plantings. In an ideal scenario you may be able to combine the two approaches.

The information in this unit will help you decide which fruit and nut crops you may grow productively and profitably in your forest or woodlot. It also provides some guidance in how to do it. Before you begin to explore these information resources however, keep in mind that relatively little is known, with certainty, about cultivating nut and fruit crops in forest settings. When grown for commercial purposes, fruits and nuts commonly are produced in orchards, under relatively full sun and often the possibility of irrigation. Forest berries and most forest nuts tend not to be regarded by agriculture researchers as important crops. The limited availability of research-based information adds a considerable measure of uncertainty to your prospects for success in cultivating these crops.

Unless you have an exceptionally high tolerance for risk therefore, we suggest that you adopt two key measures as you learn to work with forest fruit and nut crops. First, proceed slowly in investing in new plant material. Try things out, see how they work and adjust your plans for expansion accordingly. Second, make an effort to learn from others who are experimenting in their own ways. Find out who else is working with these crops. Share your experience and encourage them to share with you. In addition to improving your own success, your insights will help to expand the knowledge base about farming fruit and nut crops in forest settings.

[White-tailed Deer Photo]
White-tailed Deer
Kenneth M. Gale.
One more precaution!
Wildlife are fond of forest fruits and nuts, perhaps more than humans are, and a number of species depend on them as important food sources. It will be essential therefore, to consider your needs and options for deterring wildlife from consuming more than what you consider to be their `fair share’ of the bounty.

Site Selection Matrix

You will recall this planning tool from Unit One. The Matrix supplies information about the physical site requirements for plants that have potential as forest crops. The Nut Crop section of the matrix provides information about xx varieties of nut trees that might be candidates for your site. The Fruit Crop section identifies site requirements for xx varieties of fruits trees and shrubs.

Candidate crops are listed across the top of the matrix, as column headings. Down the left hand side of the matrix are site descriptors. The cells provide information about the range of tolerance of that particular plant for each site characteristic. For example, in looking at the Nut Crop section of the matrix we see that Black Walnut has a soil pH tolerance range of xx to xx. To make use of this information, you will want to measure the pH of the soils, in areas of your forest where you might consider planting Black Walnut trees, to see if the pH level there is within range of what this plant is likely to tolerate.

In looking at the Fruit Crop section of the matrix we see that Black Currant has a shade tolerance of medium. This is a less precise measure than our pH measure for Black Walnut. Two reasons for this are important to appreciate as you use the matrix for selecting candidate fruit and nut crops.

First, considerably less is known about Black Currant as a forest crop, as there is little experience with it. Black Walnut on the other hand is an established forest crop whose timber has long had commercial value, which helps account for its better scientific knowledge base. Second, measures of light intensity are more costly and difficult to develop than measures of soil pH. Therefore, relatively more qualitative assessments of this site characteristic are inevitable. For the time being, in other words, there is more “guesswork” in assessing light requirement, or shade tolerance characteristics, than in assessing some of the other factors that will affect the performance of forest crops.


Videos on Berry Crops

  Watch these Videos [mp4]

These three video clips created by specialists at Cornell University in horticulture and forest management, offer insight into growing forest berries. The videos were created from a workshop where the three presenters shared ideas with forest owners about opportunities they see in selection, management and marketing that can make successful enterprises of producing berries in forest settings.

Videos on Hickory

[Video]  Watch these Videos [mp4]

[Jim Ochterski Photo] 1. Introduction (7m 0s, 44 MB)

Cooperative Extension Educator Jim Ochterski introduces the idea of growing berries as a forest crop, stressing their appeal to consumers and therefore market potential.

]Marvin Pritts Photo] 2. Forest Farming Fruit (38m 10s, 213 MB)

Professor of Horticulture Marvin Pritts suggests specific types of berries that could make good forest crops, stressing that while science-basedknowledge about many of them is minimal, prospects for growing them are promising.

[Peter Smallidge Photo] 3. Canopy Manipulation for Understory Berries (27m 23s, 176 MB)

NY State Extension Forester Peter Smallidge discusses how to manage a forest canopy to create understory conditions for growing berries, stressing various management practices that benefit the trees and the forest, as well as the fruit crop.
1. Grafting (5m 47s, 37 MB)
2. One Year Graft (1m 54s, 13 MB)
3. Mature Grafts (2m 02s, 13 MB)
4. Berry Test (2m 46s, 18 MB)

Profiles of Candidate Fruit and Nut Crops

Information has been gathered into easy-to-digest, single page profiles of varieties of fruit and nut plants that forest owners in the Northeast might consider as potential crops.

While is it safe to view the information in the profiles as perhaps the `best there is’, plenty of uncertainty remains; there is much to learn. Treat most of the Profiles therefore as preliminary, subject to updates as you and others gain experience with these crops, and share it.

Nut Crop Profiles

Fruit Crop Profiles

Guide to Marketing Nuts and Berries

This resource consists of five pages that are excerpted from a 45-page document entitled Marketing Special Forest Products in New York State: A practical manual for forest-based enterprises. The manual was prepared by CCE Educator Jim Ochterski and colleagues, and published in 2005 by Cornell Cooperative Extension. The full document is available at the Marketing Specialty Forest Crops site.

The Guide begins with an overview of the marketing potential of a variety of fruit and nuts varieties. It goes on to illustrate types of harvesting, processing, packaging and storage that may be required in preparing products for market. Finally it suggests strategies for giving your products market appeal, and for pricing and distributing them.


Whether for a plant-based diet, set out to attract wildlife, or as an important part of old-fashioned recipes, nuts and forest berries have immense potential for marketing and income. Anyone growing these edible plants, or lucky enough to have a number of nut and berry trees and shrubs already on their property, will likely sell out of their seasonal harvest every year for years to come. It is hard to overestimate the demand, once consumers get a little education provided by you as a forest crop entrepreneur.

Nuts include shagbark hickory, shell bark hickory, and pignut hickory (for wildlife only), black walnut, chestnuts, acorns, hazelnuts, and beechnuts. Most of these nuts grow naturally in New York’s forests; others are grown in nut orchards as cultivated varieties.

The Northern Nut Growers Association is the most helpful organization in New York for information about nut growing.

Nuts are a high energy food for wildlife and humans. Natural oils make nuts appealing to people who are looking for healthy, nutritionally sound, and unusually tasty ingredients. With some harvest care, good storage practices, and a small amount of marketing effort, these nuts will provide enjoyment for you and your customers.

Forest-based berry crops, like blackberries, serviceberries, lignonberries, elderberries, blueberries, and wild plums are not consistently regarded by agriculture researchers as important crops (Finn, 1999). However, forest owners and farmers can diversify or supplement income by cultivating and marketing the unique character of these berries – taste, health benefits, and local identity.

Post harvest handling of nuts and berries

Nut harvesting and storage will make or break the marketability of your product. It takes good timing and a bit of effort to transform the nuts dropping from a tree into a marketable product. Hickory nuts should be removed from their pod and sold either in the shell or shelled. The husk usually breaks away from the shell cleanly, leaving a marble-sized nut. This nut then needs to be cracked open to pick out the edible nutmeat. Place husked hickory nuts in a pail of water to sort off the ones that float – these do not have filled kernels due to weevils or poor growing conditions. A sharp rap with a hammer on the curved shoulder of the nut will break the shell without ruining the edible nutmeat parts. Be aware that it takes a lot of effort to extract a marketable amount of hickory nutmeats. If you market hickory nuts, provide cracking instructions or invest in bench top devices that are designed for repeated nut cracking. Black walnuts can be sold unprocessed, in the shell, or in edible form. If intended for consumption, walnuts should be husked immediately after harvest. The husk will stain your skin, so wear protective gloves to de-husk the fresh walnut. For large quantities, use a heel board or walnut husker. Rinse the walnut in its shell, then use the float test to remove undesirable walnuts. After sorting, dry the walnuts in the shell for a month by placing them in layers with good air circulation, protected from rodents and direct light (Janssen, 1994; Roper, 2003). To crack open a walnut, set it on a brick or stone and strike it on the end with a hammer. Nipper-type wire cutters will make extraction of the walnut meat easier than picking it out. Soaking the shelled walnuts in water for 1 –2 hours, draining, and sealing in a container for 10 hours can help make the shelling easier.

Beechnuts and hazelnuts are smaller,and are often sold in the shell. However,both have nutmeats that readily fall from the shell with a light cracking. Acorns are edible, and make an interesting snack or wildlife offering. Harvest and collect acorns (in competition with local squirrels) when they are fully sized and begin dropping from the tree. White oak acorns are often low in tannin content and can be shelled and eaten raw or roasted. Acorns from red oak trees must have the tannin leached out to eliminate the bitter taste. Collect and shell red oak acorns, and boil them in plenty of water, then drain and refresh the boiling water repeatedly until the water no longer turns brown. Then, the acorns can be roasted, candied, dried and crushed, or ground into a high-fat flour (Peterson, 1977). Nuts are best stored in a very cold or frozen state. Due to their high oil content and desirability by insects and rodents, infestations are common. In a freezer, the nuts stay fresh for a year or more. They need to be packaged in small quantities in airtight containers to prevent odor and flavor contamination from other foods. Make sure your buyers are aware of the need for proper nut storage.

Most forest-grown nuts can be roasted to improve the flavor. Spread the nuts on a tray and roast them at 250 degrees F until they are dry without becoming brown. Roasted nuts can be canned or frozen, following USDA guidelines. All forest berries are highly perishable. They must be refrigerated immediately upon cleaning, then kept under high humidity. If being sold fresh, they should be kept as cool as possible. Forest berries of all types can be dried or processed into jam, jellies, syrup, pie filling, or steeped as teas.

Packaging Nuts and Berries

There is an endless variety of ways you can package forest-grown nuts and berries. Due to the unique nature of the these food products and the fact that few people are familiar with them, it is especially important to use clear glass or plastic containers or bags. Your customers will want to see the product right through the packaging, so they are not surprised when they open it. Here are some packaging ideas:

Selling Points

Keys to Marketing

The key to marketing forest-derived nuts and berries is consistent quality. Chefs, small scale food processors, and retail customers will expect that your produce will be offered in a relatively consistent, unblemished form every time. This aspect of marketing has already been a challenge to some farm operators who have arranged direct delivery to local restaurants. Restaurateurs and retail customers will not accept a few off-flavor berries or undersized nuts in a batch. They will find another source or substitute that offers consistency, despite not being a local source.

Obviously, nuts and berries are seasonal, and that is an intrinsic understanding in the locally produced food marketplace. Preservation methods such as freezing or drying change the nature of the product. Find out if your customer would accept a stored, and somewhat altered, version of your nuts or berries during the off-season by asking for their preferences. Person-to-person communication and product education help make special forest product marketing unique. One of the key marketing phrases in agroforestry is, “I will try to meet your needs.” Pricing forest-derived nuts and berries is highly variable. Nuts are sold by the pound (higher for shelled, lower for unshelled) and berries are often sold by volume - in half-pints, pints and quarts. If you are distributing a variety of such food products, be ready to convert one unit to another easily (e.g. 8 oz. of acorns = 1/2 pint). White oak acorns - $5-7/lb. unshelled; $10-15/lb. shelled Hickory nuts - $3-5/lb. unshelled; $15- 30/lb. shelled Hazelnuts - $3-5/lb. unshelled; $8-10/lb. shelled Walnuts - $2-4/lb. unshelled; $6-10/lb. shelled


Finn, C. 1999. Temperate berry crops. p. 324–334. In: Janick, J. (ed.) (1999). Perspectives on New Crops and New Uses. Proceedings of the Fourth National Symposium New Crops and New Uses: Biodiversity and Agricultural Sustainability. ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA.
Janssen, Don (1994) Nuts—Harvesting and Storing. Fact Sheet 064-94, University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County.
Kendall, P. (1997) Nuts - Nuggets of Nutrition. Nutrition News. Colorado State University Cooperative Extension.
Peterson, L.A. (1977) A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Eastern and Central North America. Peterson Field Guide Series. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.
(1977) Roper, Teryl (2003) Nuts - Harvesting & Storing. Infosource Fact Sheet, Division of Cooperative Extension of the University of Wisconsin-Extension (2003).

1. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the word ‘hickory’ is derived from the Algonquian word “pocohiquara,” a useful oily fluid pressed from pounded hickory nuts.