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Black Walnuts Help Protect Water Quality

"If you're in your backyard eating crabs that you got from the crab house and bought, you know, they may not have come from Maryland waters, but if they did, what you did in your yard that day, or what your neighbors have done in their yard to protect the water quality is directly impacting what you're eating that table," Cook said.
FREDERICK, Md. - Some people consider them a nuisance in their yards, others use them in cakes and casseroles and there’s an abundance of them every fall. Black walnuts.

Even though this is a slow year for production, the Maryland Forest Service has been offering to take them off of people's hands, and out from under their lawnmowers.

And, as usual, they're getting response.

"They'll say where their property is, and I won't even have to know where they put their walnuts. I'll remember, 'Oh, that address, they're behind the shed,' or 'Those folks like to put them next to their garage,'" said Forester, Aaron Cook.

They fill the baskets, load them onto a truck and take them to their nursery in Preston, MD. Each basket holds up to 150 lbs of walnuts.  That's about 20 thousand pounds of walnuts, give or take, per truck load.

Cook said they usually get three trucks of walnuts out to the nursery, but this year, they’re a little shorter with only two.

Once the walnuts are at the nursery, they get de-shelled and are planted immediately, they even use the husk of the walnut as a mulch.

A year or two later, a lot of them will be replanted back in Washington and Frederick counties.

The forest service has been collecting black walnuts for decades, but it's interesting as to why.

"Generally we use them to plant along waterways to help conserve our soil and help promote and protect our water quality, and ultimately the water quality in the Chesapeake Bay," said Cook.

The walnuts serve effectively as a buffer from pollutants in rain water.

"If there's tree roots or grass roots or other plant material in the way, it will help slow down that water enough that it will start to infiltrate into the ground,” Cook said. “But it also helps slow the amount of water that's going to directly reach a stream or water body."

Cook said even though we're not technically in the bay area, almost all of the waterways in Maryland drain into the Chesapeake, including the Potomac River.

"If you're in your backyard eating crabs that you got from the crab house and bought, you know, they may not have come from Maryland waters, but if they did, what you did in your yard that day, or what your neighbors have done in their yard to protect the water quality is directly impacting what you're eating that table," Cook said.

Cook said it's going to take more planning to try and preserve forests...but using black walnuts as a buffer plant is a great start.

Friday, October 18, is the last official day for the forest service to collect walnuts, but they're accepting bushels of walnuts from anyone who wants to drop them off until the end of next week.

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