Harvesting the Walnuts
Harvesting the walnuts is the easiest part of the process. So if you don't like even picking them up, you don't want to go any further. I live next to a city trail with a paved bike path that is loaded with black walnut trees. The paved portion makes it really easy to find and pick up boat loads of walnuts at a time. I wait until it's dark (I like to sneak around at night), ride my wife's bike (cuz it has a kid trailer) down to the path with a flashlight and couple of 5 gallon buckets. It takes me about 5 minutes to pick up 10 gallons of walnuts from the path if they're in good concentration. I don't have any pictures of this part because it's dark out there. I pick them up as soon as they're dropping on the ground. Most of them have green husks, some a bit brown but all of them are still good and juicy.
This is a pretty messy part of the process. Once you get home with a huge load of walnuts, the next step is to husk them. I wear a good quality pair of leather gloves to keep my hands from being stained a lot. Still even with the gloves the walnut juice soaks through and stains the hands for a week or so. To husk the walnuts, I dump a pile of them on my steel welding table and set up a 5 gallon bucket on the floor. So one by one, I slide over a walnut and give it a medium blow with a 24 oz hammer. Not trying to crack the nut here, just enough to split open the husk so it can be easily removed by hand a bit later. I keep smacking until I get about a 5 gallon bucket full of split-husked walnuts. Then I set down the hammer and set up 2 buckets on the floor. One for husks, one for nuts. Then I use my gloved hands to peel off the husks. 20 gallons of whole walnuts gives about 10 gallons of nuts and 15 gallons of husks. The husks I just toss in the trash because there's some chemical in there that would kill the entire garden if you tried to compost that stuff.
After being husked, I like to washer the nuts. This way there's not so much junk left on the walnuts to flake off later when you're storing them. To wash, I fill up a 5 gallon bucket 1/2 way with walnuts. Then fill with water and squirt some dish soap in there. To really mix that stuff around, I use my garden weed-twister tool for a couple of minutes. This turns the water really dark and gets a lot of the chunk-e-doo's off the walnuts.
After a couple rinses in the soap bath, I dump the cleaned walnuts on the drying rack. My drying rack is made of split 2x4 pine lumber frame with some HDPE extruded diamond pattern. This works pretty well for quickly drying stuff. I let the walnuts dry only a day or two on the drying rack. I've heard if you leave them in the hot sun too long, the nut shells will split open and you don't want that.
After a couple days in the sun, I move my walnuts to the garage for long term storage. You want somewhere cool and dry. The most important part about storage is putting the walnuts in a mesh bag. If you put them in an airtight container or even a bucket, the things will mold from the residual moisture on them. I use a purple laundry bag with drawstring for this. After they're in the bag, I like to roll the bag over the driveway a couple of times so I look like a weirdo to my neighbors. But it's not really an unusual situation for me looking like a weirdo to my neighbors. This rolling also gets rid of more walnut dust and crap that is somehow still on the shells.
Time to get crackin'
Ok, so now we've done a lot of work to get this far. Too bad there's a lot more work to be done. Black walnuts have the hardest nut shell of any nut I think. This is one of the reasons nobody eats them, in addition to the fact that most people think they taste like crap. The best way to crack them is to put them in a vise (I use my drill press vise) and crank down until the shell splits into 4 quadrants (well you can't have 5 quadrants you know). After I split a pan full like this, I sift and sort what I can and move on to the side cutters. Side cutters or heavy duty wire cutters are good for splitting those quadrants in half to get the nut out of there. It takes 30 minutes or so to get a cup of black walnuts cracked open. And try to be careful not to get a single small piece of shell in your nuts, because if you bite down on that thing, you'll bust a tooth.
Eatin on 'em
Well like I said, most people hate them but I like to eat them by them selves as a snack when I'm liquored up in the garage. Also like them on cereal and in things made of chocolate. Enjoy.