Make the most of pecan harvest

October 24, 2012 

Grandma’s house was more exciting to us grandchildren than our own house. First of all, their house contained grandparents. In our minds, this was the best kind of parent. Then there were the exciting things you could do at Grandma’s house. Grandma Chance lived in the middle of 300 acres of woods and forests. They had lived on the property for years, so there was an assortment of old buildings to explore. We could hunt, pick blackberries and figs, look for maypops or just explore.

Granddaddy Burke was a blacksmith. He had a cool job since he made things using wood, iron and fire. We boys especially liked the fire. He also had a fishing pond, a garden and a fishing worm bed he had built. It was no wonder we wanted to stay with our grandparents.

One fun activity was looking for pecans at harvest time. We looked through the tall grass for fallen pecans. Eventually we learned to crack the pecans in our hands by squeezing two pecans together. Pecans taste better when you find and open them yourself.

Pecan harvest has arrived, though many nuts have not yet fallen. A few tips will help homeowners to make the most from the pecan harvest. This is especially important now since pecan prices are higher than in the past.

Pecans fall over time. Commercial producers use a mechanical shaker to get the nuts from the trees. But homeowners must wait for the nuts to fall. Using a long pole to knock nuts down may help a little.

Harvest pecans as soon as you can, even if this means making more than one harvest. Nuts left on the ground will begin to go bad. Also, squirrels and other furry varmints find them on the ground. Discard cracked pecans or those with holes since these nuts may have bacteria in them. At the first harvest, you may want to rake and mow the area under the tree as well, to make the second harvest easier.

Please be courteous when picking up pecans. Do not assume that you can pick up pecans in an area without asking. Pecans growing in another landscape belong to them; to take them without asking is stealing. In fact, taking pecans without asking can get you arrested in some areas. Ask and perhaps the owner will let you pick up pecans on halves (you pick them up, keep half of the pecans and let the owner keep the other half.) If they will not allow you to do this, buy pecans from them or another source.

Store pecans in a clean, dry area. Pecans store and freeze well. Shelled pecans will go rancid or pick up other flavors, so store them properly in sealed containers. See this information on storing pecans --

Some trees did not produce pecans this year. Several diseases and insects attack pecan leaves and nuts. These pests can prevent the tree from maturing a nut.

Pecan growers carefully treat their trees with pesticides to prevent these pests from ruining the crop.

This would be like you taking a flu shot or giving your pet a flea preventer. Pecan trees in yards may or may not produce nuts each year, dependent on the weather and the pests. You cannot treat for the pests but you can give the tree good care and see if this improves the crop. See this information for details --

Two insect pests of pecans may be treatable. Pecan weevils leave round holes in the pecans and small creamy-white grubs in the nut. Begin watching for and treating these pests in July. Contact your local extension office for details on controlling pecan weevils. Call (800) ASK-UGA1.

Twig girdlers are unusual insects that lay eggs in the tips of branches of pecans and hickories. Then the adult insect “‘girdles” the stem -- cutting around the stem repeatedly at a given point. The injury will look like a miniature beaver attacked the stem. The girdled branches will break and fall to the ground where the insect will mature to attack new trees next year. Pick up and destroy the little branches (10 to 30 inches long) to prevent the pests from coming back next year.

Willie Chance works with the University of Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture.

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