Growing Pine Nuts – Is It Worth It?

pine nutsAny pesto worth it’s weight needs pine nuts.

And, in our house, a Caesar salad without pine nuts is a sad thing indeed.

But every time I buy a small packet of these delicious little nuts, I cringe at the $9 price tag, for just 80 grams of nuts.

Maybe I should be growing them myself instead? After all, that’s one of the reasons we created our edible garden, so we could save money.

So I did a little investigating.

It turns out that once you learn what goes into growing, and harvesting pine nuts, you may not resent the price they fetch so much.

Growing A Pine Nut Tree

There are actually a number of different varieties of Pine tree that the Pine Nut can be harvested from but the ones used most often, due to the bigger sized nut they produce, are Pinus koraiensis, which is used for the majority of commercial pine nut supply, or Pinus Pinea, the Stone Pine, preferred in the European regions.

growing pine nutsOften sold in their smaller form as table top Christmas Trees, the Stone Pine actually has a lot of potential and in it’s mature form and can grow as large as 25 feet tall, with a canopy of up to 15 feet.

It’s definitely not a small tree once it’s growing in the right conditions, and needs to be planted with care if you want to keep it around for the long term.

Which you’ll need to, if you want to actually get the nuts from the tree.

Pine Nut trees take between 6-8 years to mature fully and then start to produce the cones that the nuts are in. Then it’s another 2-3 years before the cones are fully developed and ready to pick.

That’s at least 10 years to get anything at all from your Pine Nut tree.

So this is not a quick grow crop. Pine Nuts take a LOT of patience simply to get to the beginning of the harvesting process.

Harvesting Pine Nuts

When you finally have the Pine Nut cones ready to pick from your tree you’ll need to find a way to get them down.

Assuming your tree has grown well, it will be a tall and wide tree and you’ll either need a long armed hook of some kind to pull off the cones, or be able to hire or borrow a tree shaker.

Once you have the cones off the tree, you then need to allow time and the right conditions for the cones to open and release the nuts. This involves having the cones laid out somewhere warm and dry so the cones will dry out and peel open, dropping the nut from under all their woody ‘petals’.

Another option is to put the cones into a dry sack and leave it in the warm, then when the cones have opened, hit the bag against the ground to break open the cones and extract the nut.

Of course there are more professional ways to do this job, but this is how you might approach it for your small scale crop.

Once the nut’s been released, there’s still more work to do. You still need to crack the edible part of the nut out of it’s hard shell. Pine nuts aren’t that big so it’s not difficult to imagine that this can be a fiddly, painstaking job without the right tools. Using some form of nut cracker to break the nuts open one by one will certainly while away a good hour or two so it could be a great time to find a good movie, or some great music and just let your brain relax over this task.

From one mature cone you should get about 50 grams of Pine Nuts. Which means you’ll need to break open the shells from at least 3 cones for a decent serving of nuts.

Is It All Worth It?

Having discovered what’s involved to get a good harvest of Pine Nuts, you might decide it’s simply not worth it. Especially if you have no plans to stay on the property you currently live at, or if the work of harvesting the nuts just sounds like too much hassle.

That’s not to say that the Pine Nut tree isn’t worth growing on it’s own merit. The Italian Stone Pine is a lovely tree when mature with a gorgeous shade giving canopy and that fresh pine smell, and getting a few nuts out of it eventually might be your secondary gain, rather than it’s prime purpose.

We decided to plant a couple of trees and have definitely gone with the theory that we will enjoy the trees for their aesthetic value first and if we’re lucky enough to get a few cones finally mature on the tree, then we’ll have a go at harvesting them.

Until then, we’ll just have to keep paying for the hard work of whoever produced the nuts for our local store.

Kudos to them. Growing Pine Nuts commercially is definitely a business for the committed, not for the faint hearted.

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