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Family cashes in on ‘yard nuisance’

By Staff | Nov 13, 2009

Brandin, Jay and Kellie Bell starting picking up walnuts in the Ogden area last year. Although it can be a lot of work at times, they said that they enjoy the extra spending money.

OGDEN – Those with groves of black walnut trees may be surprised that the nuts they rake up and dispose of every year are actually worth something.

One particular family from Ogden has been taking advantage of the unwanted crop for many years.

Phillip and Kellie Bell, and their sons, Jay and Brandin, have been harvesting black walnuts for close to 15 years, 14 of those in Missouri before moving to Ogden last year.

The walnut-gathering business comes in handy each fall for extra spending money during the holidays, Kellie Bell said, and especially since her husband was laid off last year from the railroad and is now serving as a civilian in Iraq.

The walnut harvesting business has kept the Bell family busy this fall. Bell described that working in their own yard was all the advertising they needed last year for their small business to take off.

Brandin Bell picks up walnuts. The Bell family sells them to a buyer near Boone for extra income.

“We have one walnut tree in our yard and last year was a bumper crop for everyone who had walnut trees,” Bell said. “When the walnuts started falling, we were out picking them up out of our own yard. A neighbor, who also had one tree, came over and asked what we were doing.

“We told them we were picking up walnuts and when he asked what we would do with them, we told him we’d probably take them to our hometown in Missouri and he said we could have his walnuts, too.”

And like a domino effect, while harvesting the neighbor’s yard, another person stopped and offered his black walnuts. The scenario repeated itself and after two months, Bell said they had “a nice-sized list of clientele for walnut harvesting.”

In order to gather even more business this year, the Bells posted flyers around town and she said it really catches people’s eyes when they read “We’re doin’ NUTTIN for you.”

The flyers generated several new clients in addition to their repeat business. Bell said they provide service by removing what most think of a nuisance.

In fact, Bell said, one elderly lady has eight black walnut trees that produced so many nuts she couldn’t walk outside her door without stepping on them. Her property provided a trailer full of black walnuts to sell.

So the walnut-harvesting venture is a sure win-win for everybody involved, Bell surmised.

At first, they would haul the walnuts to Missouri to sell, but they soon realized they were going to have more walnuts then they could possible haul, Phillip found a buyer online who was only eight miles from Boone.

After gathering the walnuts, the Bells take them to their buyer, where they are hulled, bagged and weighed on site. The bells are paid per pound of hulled nuts.

Last year, Bell said the families sold their produce for $.13 per hulled pound at the beginning of the season and earned about $.11 per hulled pound later in the season. So far, this year’s price is even lower at $.08 for a hulled pound.

This year, the Bell’s sold walnuts to Iowa State University, who plant them in a nursery.

Normally, the season for harvesting walnuts, Kellie said, is from the late September up until the end of November. This year, however, the walnut season started early, when they started harvesting in early August.

So just how are all of these walnuts picked up?

Kellie said it used to be they had to crawl around on their hands and knees and put them in five-gallon buckets, assigning to the boys, when they were very small, to pick up the walnuts.

Harvesting walnuts became much easier when they came across a tool called Nut Wizard.

The Nut Wizard is a simple devise that includes a handle with a rolling wire basket that collects the nuts as it rolls over them. Bell said it “really saves on their backs and knees.”

She said the Nut Wizards could be found at www.seedsandsuch.com. These she feels are at a better quality than ones found in stores.

Bell said she and Phillip have been harvesting walnuts since Jay, now 14, and Brandin, now 11, were babies sitting in carriers.

After so long, Bell said the boys have become “old pros.”

When the boys were asked what makes walnut harvesting appealing to them, Brandin said, “It’s pretty much the money part is what I like.”

Contact Kriss Nelson at jknelson@frontiernet.net.

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