I have always thought nuts should be part of a diversified farm. Most nuts are grown in the south or west of the country, so there is somewhat of a lack of knowledge about proper nut-growing practices in the mid-Atlantic area, which is one of many challenges facing the would-be nut grower in this region. Other challenges include the painfully long time some nut trees take to begin bearing and reach a level of profitable production, and the lack of well-suited-to-the-area varieties (except for hickories and black walnuts...which are difficult to crack due to very hard shells and small convoluted kernels).
The long time frame to profitable production certainly requires the stability of land ownership and capital. This is not a project you want to start on leased land. Once we bought our own farm and were reasonably financially stable, I began planting some nuts.
First came almonds, which we successfully produced, but they were not a logical crop to grow economically. The trees were lovely, but yielded little. Next up were hazelnuts and walnuts, which were both planted in 2011. Both have been a success and the small amounts we have had to sell over the past couple years have been a big hit. Hazelnuts produce a crop in their third year and hit full production around 5-7 years of age. The walnuts have given us a couple of small crops, but are really just beginning to produce, so we'll see larger amounts of them in the future.
In 2012 we planted pecans and in 2013 we planted hickories. The pecans are just starting to produce nuts after six years and the five-year-old hickories are going to be a long time yet until they produce a crop. Hickories can take 10-15 years to produce their first crop. Interestingly, pecans can continue to increase their yield for 100-150 years and then continue producing for another 100. So whomever takes over this property when we leave should very well have huge amounts of delicious pecans available every fall.
We harvest the nuts when they are mature and drop from the trees, air dry them, and send them off to market. The walnuts and pecan flavor is amazingly intense compared to commercial nuts have that have been sitting around for a while. The hazelnuts are fabulous when still warm from roasting (look here to learn how!). We sell our nuts in shell, which means you need to crack them but it is really worth the effort for the fresh local flavor.