Deep in wine and tender-fruit country in Niagara, father and daughter Ernie and Linda Grimo are growing another kind of crop. Grimo's Nut Nursery produces a huge variety of nuts, popular, obscure, native, and exotic. For more than 40 years the Grimo family has been raising nut seedlings for sale and in the process they have developed into their own research station, continuously testing new varieties, pushing the boundaries of what can be grown in Ontario, and selecting the hardiest, most productive trees.
Heartnut Shells: The heartnut tree is Grimo's claim to fame. Though originally from Japan, where they developed as a variety of Japanese Walnut, these trees thrive in North America. When a heartnut is tapped sharply with a hammer the shell falls open, revealing a delicious nut and leaving two perfect, heart-shaped shells.
Heartnut Catkins: The nuts are not the trees' only unique feature: pictured here are their unusually long, drooping catkins. The trees are pollinated by the wind rather than insects so this shape helps their pollen to disperse widely - sorry allergy sufferers!
A grafted heartnut tree: grafting is an important technique for nut (and fruit) growers and it can be used to increase the hardiness and cold-tolerance of delicate varieties. The location of the graft is obvious here, as the rootstock and the scion are from different families. On other grafts of more similar species, the transition from one tree to another can be almost entirely seamless and invisible even to the trained eye.
A hickory bud: we visited Grimo just as their orchards were exploding into bloom and leaf.
A baby ginkgo tree. The ginkgo is considered to be a living fossil, dating back 270 million years.
A budding pawpaw tree. This unique fruiting tree is native to Southern Ontario, producing a large fruit sometimes called a prairie banana due to its similar flavour and texture. For those who are looking to buy more local but can't give up their daily banana, this is an easy replacement. Here are some recipes from Kentucky State University's Pawpaw Research Project.
The only downside for those interested in growing your own pawpaw tree is that the buds have a very, uhm, unique aroma. They are known as carrion flowers, because rather than having a sweet smell that attracts bees for pollination, they emit a rotting smell that attracts scavanging flies. But don't let that stop you -- contrary to what we had learned about the pawpaw before we went, the smell wasn't strong. We had to literally stick our noses into the flowers to get a whiff.
The resourcefulness of Greenbelt farmers. Don't toss those milk crates or even your "vintage" car in the landfill -- reuse them to start your seedlings! They also add colour and interest to the property.
An Oasis: This deep pond helps keep the groundwater on the farm stable which is important since the Grimos maintain a "no watering" policy for all of their older trees. Younger seedlings receive drip irrigation but forcing adult trees to rely on rainfall helps to select for drought tolerance, a valuable trait in any commercial tree. This pond also forms a mini wildlife sanctuary, providing habitat for animals like the beautiful but hard-to-photograph redwing blackbird who perched on these bullrushes, keeping an eye on us visitors.
Chestnut: This spiky shell was a remnant from the fall's chestnut crop - when we found this we understood earlier warnings that the chestnut orchard is no place for sandals!
Persian walnut bark: This beautiful and character-full tree is native to the Himalayas and this silvery bark (which darkens in summer) is believed to help provide protection against heat damage caused by bright mountain sunshine reflecting off snow.
Planting seedlings: the tractor inches along slowly and workers plunge the tiny seedlings (looking like nothing so much as twigs) into the soil and stamp it carefully down around them. It is hard to believe they will grow into towering nut trees!
Red Walnut: Our visit would not have been complete without sampling some nuts. Delicious.
- Katie Sandwell, Program Assistant & Moe Berrigan, Communications Assistant