Thursday, January 29, 2009

Winter Pecan Harvest

I began picking up pecans that fell to the ground in early November. Wind, birds, and the ripening process caused enough pecans to fall that I had gathered about 40 gallons of pecans before Christmas. On January 13th the "pecan tree shaker" came and shook my three Mahan trees. I gathered 75 gallons of pecans from this shaking. I estimate another 10 gallons of pecans did not come down with the shaking, and are left to the birds and the squirrels.

In early fall, before the pecans had ripened, a hard wind blew off a good 30 gallons of large, beautiful pecans in the husk. But the pecans had not matured, so there was nothing to harvest. Other pecans have come down, blown down, or been eaten or damaged by the birds. I have calculated that all totaled, I got about 200 gallons of pecans off these three trees. Only about 125 gallons were usable and became part of the harvest.

The ratio of shell to meat on the pecan is about 50/50. So we will get about 60 gallons of shelled pecans from this year's harvest. A gallon of shelled pecans weighs about 3 1/2 pounds. So we will harvest about 210 pounds of pecans.

Crows, ravens, woodpeckers, starlings, doves, and blue birds, all come into the trees and eat the pecans. They do little damage while the pecans are still in the husk, but once the husk opens up, the birds peck into the shell and eat out some of the meat and waste the rest. Many of these nuts fall to the ground and are of no value. The squirrels also harvest pecans that fall to the ground, and are lost. Still, the harvest is so abundant, and I pick them off the ground so quickly, that the birds and squirrels don't actually take a significant number of the nuts.

Pecans are best when picked off the ground as soon as they fall, or harvested as soon as they open up. Commercial growers shake the trees early and place the nuts, in or out of the husk, on concrete floors for a few days to dry. I did this with the early pecans that dropped. Three to four days on the floor and they were ready to crack and extract the meat.

Some locals believe the pecan leaves are too acidic and should not be tilled into garden areas. But according to the National Gardeners Association, only walnut leaves should not be tilled into gardens, Pecan leaves are fine. I also till in the husks and the broken shells after I crack the nuts. Mowed up pecan leaves, husks, shells, and grass make a great mulch for the garden.

Nutritional Composition of One Ounce of Pecans
15 Vitamins, including significant amounts of Vitamin A, Vitamin E, and Folate
10 Minerals, including significant amounts of Potassium, Phosphorus, Calcium and Magnesium
Pecans have no sodium, are cholesterol free, fiber rich, and significant protein

Late Fall Planting Report

In mid-November I planted lettuce, peas, onions, beets, and carrots. I got a good germination for all. In mid-December we got 13 inches of snow, which covered these young sprouts for three weeks. We had temperatures down to 19 degrees this winter, and freezing temperatures almost every night since the snow in December.

Only the peas and lettuce survived the cold and snow cover. The peas did the best, and are actually growing right now (end of January). Not all the lettuce survived, but some did. I suspect that had I planted in October, and these sprouts gotten better established, they would have done better. All should have survived the winter.

I know from past experience that lettuce, peas and carrots will winter over, under snow, in much colder temperatures than we have here. And established onions don't freeze. So it was the tenderness of these young sprouts that was the problem. I knew it was late to plant, but thought I'd try anyway.

I didn't plant any fall spinach, but my neighbor did, and says she has harvested it all winter, and it's the best spinach she's ever had. Fall and Winter is a great time to garden. Many gardeners ignore this time of year, but there are no pests, no diseases, and no weeds.