MANKATO — October in Minnesota is a time when tree-lined city streets can turn mean.
Pedestrians have to dodge green-shelled black walnuts that drop without warning from their parent trees.
Motorists must swerve to avoid hitting squirrels darting back and forth on the road, distracted by the abundance of their favorite food.
Homeowners must deal with the mess and stains left by the rapidly decaying green cover of the black walnuts.
Minnesota Extension Service advises drivers against driving over the broken nut shells, which are so hard and sharp they can cause bodily injury and property damage if sent flying.
But black walnuts have their fans as well. They prefer the taste of the black walnut to that of the milder English walnut, the traditional holiday treat.
Alex Palmer is not easily deterred by the problem of getting to the meat inside the hard and stain-producing shells. He answered a request from The Free Press for tips on cracking the nuts open.
“I just gather them up, clean them up and leave them to dry for a week. Then I put them in a clean towel, place them on a cinder block and lightly hit them with a hammer.”
A faction of gardeners and homeowners consider the walnut — and the squirrels who are attracted to the food source — to be backyard enemy-combatants.
Fred Struck, owner of Traverse des Sioux Garden Center in St. Peter, does not sell black walnut saplings and he's not fond of squirrels.
“They can be nasty, like rabbits,” he said.
For 20 years, Sean Francis has been in the business of removing squirrels from attics and garages and closing up holes the rodents chew to gain entry in houses.
Francis has had squirrels jump atop his head and then down his body on the way to the ground.