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When to pick hazelnuts? Guide to foraging nuts in the UK

When is the right time to pick a hazelnut?

Hazel nuts being to ripen when the leaves on the trees change colour. Most ripe nuts are found in September and October, depending on the weather.

Once the papery outer covering starts pulling back from the nut then hazels are edible. Pick them by hand. You should be able to crack them with your teeth to get access to the inner kernel. Just remember to pick sustainably – there are other creatures out there who need a hazel nut far more than you do.

If you encounter hazelnuts or filberts in the wild, they’ll almost certainly be fresh and green: the squirrels don’t generally miss wild nuts for long enough for them to ripen, so chances are you're unlikely to find many ripe ones. You can pick hazel nuts when they're green and leave them to ripen in a warm, dry, dark place but remember to move them often and remove the outer shell before eating.

To become the familiar brown-skinned nuts you see in the supermarkets they have to grow to full maturity and dry out a bit, and that means growing them as a crop, well away from squirrels.

Growing Hazel

Increase your chances of harvesting hazel nuts by planting and grow your own tree. Discover the Fruit and Nut tree pack for sale in our shop which includes; crab apple, blackthorn, rowan and hazel.

What else eat Hazelnuts?

Unless you are growing your own trees and have them heavily netted you are unlikely to be able to pick a brown hazelnut in the wild, they will have been harvested by something else long before they get to that stage.

Squirrels

In the early stages of grey squirrel colonisation there was belied that red squirrel were much more concerned about the stage of ripeness than the variety – for preference they wanted the nuts more brown than green and therefore drier.

The greener hazelnuts were believed to be harder to digest. The theory went that this lack of digestibility didn’t worry the grey squirrel who could clear a wood of edible hazelnuts long before the red squirrel considered them suitable to eat . Actually I am not sure there is much evidence to support this view, red squirrels will eat green hazelnuts when offered quite readily. Grey squirrels are just bigger, more aggressive and faster to food sources.

Red squirrels were thought to not like unripe hazelnuts (Photo: www.northeastwildlife.co.uk)

For those interested in eating the nuts the issue is about how you get through the hard outer casing into the edible nut inside and you can tell a lot about what is living in your wood by looking at the remnants of hazel nuts on the floor of the wood.

Squirrels have strong jaws and can split the nuts neatly in half.

Mice

Wood mice leave tooth marks on the surface of the nut and across the edge of the hole, the hole may be either circular or ragged in shape. In contrast bank voles will create a round hole but the tooth marks are across the edge of the shell, but not on the surface. For either species this can take up to 20 minutes to achieve which can be a risky activity to undertake, so often they will take the nut into a more secure cache where they feel safer, you may therefore see collections of nuts when you turn over logs or leaves.

Common dormice leave a smooth, round hole in the side of the nut, with tooth marks running around the inside of the hole. This marking is so unique that it is used as a method of surveying woods for presence or absence of dormice

Birds

The birds that pick hazelnuts need to find a means of stabilising the nut to be able to peck at it. Woodpeckers and nuthatches will push hazelnuts into crevices in the tree, so they can hammer them more easily. Underneath the tree you will see irregular shards of the outer casing.

(Photo: www.northeastwildlife.co.uk)