Edible Pine Nuts For Northern Climates

Our original planting of nut pines were from seed obtained from Europe, and Asia. Specifically from the Countries of Denmark, Sweden, Russia (Formerly USSR), Mongolia, Eastern Siberia, and North Korea. We had picked these countries because we were looking for the hardiest of the nut pines to grow here. The seeds obtained were from areas classified as Zones 1 and 2.

STARTING IN 1975, we corresponded with many individuals, experiment stations, and arboreta about obtaining seeds of a number of nut pine species. Over the next five years we obtained seeds from these sources in volumes ranging from a few ounces to 15 pounds. They were locally collected from individual trees growing in their natural terrain, mostly from the highest altitudes, which exposed them to extreme weather conditions.

Propagating nut pines

After we received the seeds we stored them very carefully at controlled temperatures and humidity. Several months before planting, we properly stratified the seeds. All edible nut pine seeds need only cold stratification, except Korean pine (Pinus koraiensis) and Siberian pine (P. sibirica), which require first warm and then cold stratification. Warm stratify seeds by mixing them with damp peat moss and storing the mix in a waterproof container such as a large freezer-type bag in a dark, temperature controlled location (68°-70°F) for 3 weeks. This ripens embryos that may be immature. Cold stratification consists of storing the seed and damp peat moss mix at a temperature between 33°-36°F until ready to plant. We normally plant the seeds in the first week of June.

We use three-foot wide seedbeds for planting. Start seedbed preparation in the fall the year before planting by working mycorrhizal inoculant into the soil so the germinating seedlings can use it immediately. In the spring, work the seedbed up to 8 inches (12 cm) deep, then rake aside approximately 1-1/2 inches (4 cm) of soil where you will plant the seeds. Add more inoculant to this removed soil while scattering the seed quite thickly, then cover with the freshly inoculated soil and water thorougly. Damping-off is seldom a problem because of the inoculant.

The three-foot wide seedbed accommodates a simple wooden cover to protect the seed and germinated seedlings from rodents and birds. We make a rectangular box with 1 inch (3 cm) thick unfinished pine 12 inches high and 4 feet wide by 12 feet long (30 cm x 1.3 m x 4 m). We place it over the seedbed burying it 3 inches (8 cm) deep in the soil-the 12 inch height protects seedlings for 2 years of growth. We run 2 X 2 inch spruce the length of the box, with two more crosswise for support and cover it with a 1/4 inch (5 mm) galvanized wire mesh. Simple handles enable us to remove and replace it for periodic weeding. This size lets us plant a large amount of seed each year, though anyone could make the same covering sized to their needs.

The need for mycorrhizas

Seeds planted the first week of June begin germinating in two weeks and continue for another two weeks, with a typical final germination of 85-90 percent. Partial shading for the next four weeks helps prevent the sun from burning the seedlings. After this you can remove the shading without damaging the seedlings. We weed the seedbed by hand because herbicides kill the mycorrhizal fungi. After the middle of August we allow weeds to grow to prevent frost-heaving of the very shallow-rooted seedlings.

Our first seedlings looked very healthy initially, but they did not grow. Soon some started to turn brown and a few died. The rest remained at the same height as when they germinated. We sought help from various sources but were surprised that no one in North America could advise us since few had tried to grow these two species. We then recalled some correspondence from a retired European chemist who had, as a hobby, grown some Korean pine. He had mentioned that adding a certain natural material to the soil before planting the seeds would help them. Though our seeds had already germinated, we immediately gathered this material, ground it to a fine dust and sprinkled it over the seedlings. After watering them very thoroughly we saw rapid results with the seedlings returning to their natural bluish color and putting on a rapid spurt of growth (approx. 1/8 inch) the first year. This was a start, but we knew that to bring this experiment to a successful conclusion, more work had to be done in this area.

Over the next seven years, we experimented with natural ingredients and by adding these to the original we were able to obtain growths from 10 -18 inches (25-45 cm) each year.

Upon further study, we found that all pine trees benefit from mycorrhizal fungi. Korean, Siberian, Swiss stone, Armand, and Siberian stone pine seeds will germinate, but the survival rate is very low to nil without inoculant. The inoculant basically produces hair-like fungi that attach to the feeder roots enabling the tree to absorb minerals and other essential elements from the soil.  While developing our inoculants, we tried several from different regions of North America, but none worked in our area. These inoculants were adapted for these regions and worked where they were developed but failed in other regions. We have now developed inoculants that greatly help the edible nut pines grow at their maximum rate and produce cones and nuts at a much earlier age than had previously been reported. We also found that each species required different ingredients in their inoculum. Feedback based on other's observations, indicate that our inoculants work all across Canada, in the United States, and have helped trees grow faster in Europe, Asia, and other countries. We are sorry that we cannot describe the ingredients in these inoculants because we are patenting them.

From this start we now have developed inoculants that are essential, or will greatly help, all of the edible nut pines grow at maximum growth rate producing cones and nuts at a much earlier age then had previously been reported. Also we found that each species required different natural ingredients in their inoculum.

Up until now we hand harvest the cones. The cones are covered with a very sticky resin. One should wear gloves when harvesting the cones. The cones ripen in middle October to first week of November, and are easily recognized when they are ready for harvest. While maturing they are a medium green, but upon ripening they turn to a brown color. After ripening the cones fall to the ground and it is a only a matter of collecting the cones.

The cones are air dried for 3 to 5 days. In this period the pitch or resin dires, but most importantly the cones open and by shaking it the nuts fall free from the cone. Some nuts need a little coaching but they are quite readily removed. As the harvest grows in size the cones will be easily dried in a kiln.

Our entire crop to date is sold from our farm. Once the general public learned that we had fresh pine nuts, we could not keep up with the demand. Each year we have a list, the first person contacting us, is of course at the top, and has first choice. After our supplies are depleted, we notify the remaining customers, and their names are put on next year’s list. We also set aside a good portion of the nut seeds for our own use in our nursery. We receive $15.00 per pound for eating purposes, and those that are sold as nut seeds the prices are higher.   The reason for the difference in prices is because nuts for seed require more care in their handling and storage.

For the edible nut pines, they have many advantages over some other deciduous nut trees in the fact that they may be grown in a more far-reaching range of climatic zones, across not only all parts of Ontario; but also Canada, United States,  ranging from Zone 1 to 8.  

Nut pine trees not only demand a higher price for their beneficial effects derived from eating the nut kernel, but the whole tree is in great demand for medical remedies which is good for heart disease,  Alzheimer’s disease,  and other medical problems. They are producing capsules now that include ingredients made of Edible pine nuts, bark, needles, & roots.  The price per bottle is very expensive.  We have had many requests from customers who have purchased the trees for these reasons.

We also have a demand for the cones; in fact, the cones are in as much of a demand as the pine nuts. The resin on the cones last for up to 3 years, even although it is dry, and the aroma is one of the most pleasant fragrances. We sell all our cones to craft stores for this reason. The demand is so high, that we have a waiting list up to 3 years for back orders.

A few years ago there was an article on edible nuts pines in a well known magazine distributed in North America and after the write up; we were overwhelmed by the request for nuts. We received orders or requests from large chain restaurants for up to 500 pounds of nuts in the shell every month. Unfortunately we had to decline because we could not meet these demands, nor will we be able to for several years.

To date, we have not encountered at our location any pests, or diseases that have affected these trees. We carefully inspect the orchard at least once a week.

In our early experiments, we concentrated mostly on reproducing the pines by seed. We then tried several grafted seedlings in this trial period, and as time progressed realized that the grafting method was not profitable. We also grafted scions from our seedlings onto rootstocks of eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), which grew reasonably well, but at the production stage, they only produced filled nuts in 50-60 percent of the crop. We tried several grafted trees of other varieties, but the results were disappointing with stunted growth & graft failures. 

We had, of course, tried these experiments because people suggested that this might eliminate the need for inoculants, but experiments proved that these trees do better on their own roots. Our seedlings were producing filled nuts between 90 and 95 percent, while those grafted on eastern white pine produced a lower percentage of filled nuts. Also, the first yields of nuts from our seedlings were at least one-third larger in size. We eagerly await the results of test trees planted from the second generation of seed, and in a few more years we'll see the character of seed they produce and the percentage of filled nuts.

We have several acres planted out to orchards of many of the varieties of edible nut pines. To maximize the return per acre on these trees, it is best to plant the trees in rows twenty feet wide with spacing of 10 feet between trees in the row. By using this spacing, we have found that they produce the most return per acre, especially during their early producing age to obtain the most nuts. After they reach the age of between 20 to 25 years, they tend to start to crowd in the row. At this time we use a tree spade and remove every other tree to a new location. We are able to double the size of the orchard, and the trees moved in this manner will only lose one year’s production. Also this gives us the final spacing of twenty feet between the trees in the row of our orchard. The trees easily re-establish themselves, as they are shallow rooted. If the use of a tree spade is not feasible, then one would have to cull every other tree out of the row in the orchard to prevent overcrowding.

We use several methods to protect the trees and crop from rodents. After the seedlings are transferred from the nursery to line out seedlings, we apply in the fall treated mouse bait containing Zinc phosphide. This bait is coated with wax, and will protect the trees for one year from mice. Where rabbits and deer are a problem we recommend a tree guard.

Once the trees start producing cones and nuts, squirrels and chipmunks can be a problem. Although to date we have not had any problems with these pests, due to the fact that we have many owls, hawks, and other natural predators which keep these away from our trees. If there were a problems with squirrels, etc., we recommend a planting of another crop, (possibly hazelnuts or filberts) a good distance from the pines to attract there attention away from the pine nuts. Another option is to live trap these pests.

Listed below is a brief description of all the edible nut pines that we have experimented with. Some are in orchards; others are still in test plots. While others failed to survive our winters because of lack of hardiness (those in Zone 7a and up) the germination ranged between 80 to 95 percent. All have the potential as a commercial crop planting with the added benefit as an ornamental and for landscape settings.


KOREAN PINE (Pinus koraiensis)

Zone 2.
A tall growing tree, very similar in appearance to the Eastern white pine in appearance. The needles are in fascicles of 5.
Color of needles range from a light green to bluish green in color.
Height range from 90-150 feet.
Starts production of cones from 5 - 7 years of age.
 Number of nuts per pound 650.

RUSSIAN CEDAR (Pinus siberica)

Zone 1.
Somewhat similar in appearance to the Korean pine reaching a maximum height of 120 feet at maturity.
Starts production of cones from 6 - 10 years of age.
Very ornamental in appearance, somewhat similar to Korean pine.
Will grow in a variety of soils, ranging from sandy loam to partial clay and will withstand some wetness.
Another outstanding feature of these trees is the seed coat of the nuts. They are thin enough to break in ones fingers.
Nuts per pound 675 

SWISS STONE PINE (Pinus cembra)

Zone 2.
Needles in Fascicles of 5’s.
Maximum height to 60 feet at maturity. 
Starts productions of cones between the age of  5 - 8 years. 
Number of seeds per pound 975
One feature of this particular tree is that in its natural range, it grows in heavy clay with good drainage. Our experiences show that it will do very will in other types of soils ranging to loam to sandy textures.
Very outstanding as ornamental as well, with a bluish color which last year round.

SIBERIAN PINE (Pinus cembra var. siberica)

Zone 2.
Needles in Fascicles of 5’s.
Maximum height to 60 feet at maturity. 
Starts productions of cones between the age of  5 - 8 years. 
Number of seeds per pound 975
Our experiences show that it will do very will in other types of soils ranging to loam to sandy textures.  Nut pine shells are very thin.
Very outstanding as ornamental as well, with a bluish color which last year round.


Zone 4.
Needles in fascicles of 5’s.
Maximum height to 70 feet. 
Starts production of cones from age 4 - 6 years of age. 
Number of nuts per pound 940
Grows best in a well drained soil, but requires adequate drainage.
Soils range from loam to sandy.
Very ornamental tree, with bluish color in spring, changing to a darker green in August.


Zone 2.
Needles in fascicles of 5’s.
Shrub growth type, similar to Mugho pine, but will withstand heavy snow without branches breaking.
Will reach a maximum height of 20 feet. 
Start production of cones between age of  5 - 7 years. 
Nuts per pound 840
Prefers a well drained soil consisting from loam to sandy type.
Two types are recognized, both are ornamental in appearance. One variety is a very bluish green all year; the other is a grayish green. Seed size is the same for both.

ARMAND PINE (Pinus armandii)

Zone 4.
Maximum height at maturity from 40 to 60 feet.
Starts production of cones at age of 5 - 8 years of age.
Nuts per pound 840
Very ornamental in appearance with a bluish color to needles.
Grows best in a sandy soil, but well drained.

PINYON PINE (Pinus cembroides)

Zone 4.
Maximum height at maturity from 30 to 40 feet.
Starts prodcution of cones at age of 6 - 8 years of age.
Slow growing tree and color of needles range from very bright blue to a light green.
Prefers a sandy type soil, but will do well on a loam as long as there is good drainage.
Nuts per pound 925 (Note 1)

Note 1 – The actual seed count per pound is based on the nuts we obtained from our sources.

Written by Charles Rhora.

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