Fall harvest in the Catskills

Jason Biegel
3 min readJan 8, 2024

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I am in the process of turning my family’s property in Greene County NY into a “food forest.” This will enable us to harvest food beyond the vegetable garden and into the meadows and forest stands. Before I begin adding to the food forest, I first want to assess what is usable there already. Fall is a great time to forage for food in the forest.

One plant there in abundance is Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) which is a very successful invasive shrub. The berries are bright red and have a sweet/sour taste. There are small seeds inside that can easily be chewed. We used a press to turn the berries into jam.

Autumn Olive berries

Another fall crop already on the property is Black Walnut (Juglans nigra). It is a native tree that produces very valuable timber. The nuts it produces are much harder to crack than the ones you buy in the grocery store, Juglans Regia. To harvest you take the outer skin off and let the nut dry for at least a month. Make sure to use gloves when removing the skin since the inner flesh will stain your hands. If you are having trouble opening the skin, you can run over the walnuts with your car to soften them up. Leave the nuts in a space to dry where squirrels can’t get them. Instead of using a nutcracker which would pretty much be impossible, I use a vice. I find if you orient the nut like in the picture below it helps keep the shell together after cracking instead of exploding. However, I did not have much success getting much meat out of the shells. I tried my best to scoop the meat out with a butter knife. Next year I will try to propagate some of the nuts to try to get more trees growing on the property. I will also try to find a more efficient way to harvest them. As usual, permies.com has a thread with some great suggestions.

Black Walnut being cracked

We are fortunate to also have some apple and pear trees that are still producing fruit on the property as well.

Apples
Pears

I am looking forward to propagating more existing species and introducing new ones in the years to come.

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