green walnut nocino

If there is art in an agrarian practice, it’s in humble solutions that close the loop. Allow the freshly clasped jar of nocino to illustrate.

Nocino is the infusion of young, green walnuts in alcohol, hull and all, plucked, sliced and submerged before any evidence of a shell forms within. The young walnut is more fruit than nut. Picking at this moment gives an impression of scrumping in one’s own orchard. Intoxicating floral-citrus scents linger on the fingers. Just as pickling green plums transforms excess fruit into vegetable delicacy, nocino solves a problem.

a canning jar with halved green walnuts submerged in vodka

You see, two of our three walnut trees suffer from a pest. A permaculture gardener with an encyclopedic knowledge of useful plants told us about this little larvae. Orchardists know this tale. A curse. Tiny eggs, once laid, hatch grubs that burrow into the hull, making a right mess of inky stickiness before falling with the nut to the ground, where it creeps back up the tree to perpetuate the cycle. Codling moth grubs that feast in the core of apples practically wave to say hello.

Seeing as the nut itself is spared, we shrug and pull on raggedy boots and gloves to roll mushy black husks in the grasses, sometimes pleased to find a scrubbed nut ready to be cured and squirrelled away for winter cracking. Mostly, we end with an unpleasant basket of sticky coals set by and let’s be honest, neglected in favour of easier food.

The third walnut is free of pestilence. Pure joy to harvest, cure in the solar drier, crack open by the fire on a winter’s eve. We caught the other trees early, scrambling up to fill our pockets, somewhere between chasing kid goats and shepherding chicks, as tradition prescribes, round about the 24th of June. The nocino infuses on a pantry shelf from one solstice to the next. We’ll sweeten the tipple and partake of it come winter.

Brining likewise captures the green youth and ferments it into an ancient treat. We fancy pickled walnuts and a sip of nocino are the walnut’s answer to cider and an apple tart. Worthy of a wassail.

For now this is our practice in the nuttery, to break the curse. Without a host, may the grubs be foraged by chickens, ducks, and trouble us no longer.

making biochar

As carbon sequestration goes, charcoal-making has extraordinary potential. Last year we had the good fortune to spend a day learning to make charcoal with a local historian and tried out the basics of this ancient practice. From Terra-preta in the Amazonian rainforests, stone kilns in Japan (and all over these islands, which our friend has written a book about), to colliers making clamps in the woods of Britain, it is the foundation of rich culture and the rich soil that supports it.

wood burning to charcoal in a biochar kiln

To store carbon in the soil and support the microbiome, while absorbing water events and releasing it slowly, well. It solves a host of our current problems.

wood burning in a biochar kiln

We inoculated our little pail of charcoal into biochar by layering it in the deep litter of our chicken run to absorb nitrogen and earthworm castings, then feeding the enriched soil to the trees and gardens. We could make charcoal on a micro scale in our chiminea or wood stove, and we’re looking at the piles of prunings that we intended to have chipped and considering whether to direct some of it to this simple kiln that the historian makes. Amazing.

charcoal soaking in a biochar kiln

Yesterday as I broad-forked a bed in the new potager, I turned up some of the biochar, which must’ve been harvested with compost out of the chicken run when I sheet-mulched the bed a few months ago. It’s a pleasure to see it and know it has begun its restorative work, and may well continue to benefit this soil for centuries.