Friday, November 27, 2020

Fall tree planting

     Now that my 2020 pecan crop is harvested, I have been able to spend a little time planting the seedling pecan trees I grew in containers over the summer. I actually prefer to plant container-grown trees in the fall because it gives the young trees a chance to start developing new roots into the surrounding soil before the  arrival of deep-cold, winter temperatures.

     One-year-old pecan seedlings are generally not very impressive (photo at right). The seedling's priority is to grow a strong tap root to ensure its survival as a young trees during challenging weather conditions. During the early years of tree establishment, top growth is suppressed in favor massive root growth. Only after the tree has created a large, healthy root system, will top growth take off. 

    When I plant a seedling pecan tree, I shake off any loose potting soil before placing the tree in a freshly dug hole. The hole is dug just deep enough to contain the rootsystem. Using my hands, I crumble the soil back into the hole, covering the root system and making sure to avoid creating any large air pockets near the roots. Once I've refilled the planting hole, I firm the soil around the seedling tree with my hands (photo at left).  


    Once planted in the field, a small pecan seedling is easy to overlook but not so for deer. Years ago, I had several seedling trees pulled out of the ground and chomped by a passing deer. It seems they like the taste of well fertilized seedling pecan trees. So before I leave the planting site I always cage each tree. 

    The first step is to drive a steel fence post into the ground about 12 to 14 inches from the seedling (photo at right). Note that the paddle on the fence post is still showing above the ground. I do this intentionally to prevent tree roots from growing over the paddle and making fence post removal difficult. 

 

   Once the fence post has been driven, I place a welded wire cage around the seedling (photo at left). At this point, such a large cage seems like overkill but the cage will remain in place for many years or until the tree has been grafted and grown above the height of the cage.

   In the short term, the tree cage makes finding young seedling trees planted out in a large field much easier. The cage not only helps me locate each tree but gives me a good idea of how large a weed-free area I need to maintain to stimulate tree growth.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

A good week for second harvest

 

 

    This past week we had another stretch of dry weather so I took the opportunity to go back into the orchard to scrap pick any pecans I missed a couple of weeks ago.  When I shook the trees back in early November, not all the nuts fell from the trees. But this past week, all the shucks were fully open (photo above) so a quick shake brought any remaining nuts to the ground.  

       Running the harvester over the orchard a second time might seem like a waste of time, especially if you take a quick look at what's inside the hopper. A second pass over the orchard floor seems to bring in far more sticks, stick-tights, and other trash. But over the years I've always found that a second harvest can increase my total harvest from 15% to 30%. During short crop years, like this year,  I expected my second harvest to be understandably small. After cleaning second harvest nuts I came up with 15% more crop for 2020.

 


   The amount of trash harvested during a second harvest can be over-whelming especially since I'm a one man operation. I help make my job easier by dumping the harvester's hopper directly into a pre-cleaner. In photo above, the hopper of the harvester is lifted into the dump position. For those of you familiar with a Savage pre-cleaner, you'll note I've added two side boards to the pre-cleaner's hopper. These extensions help prevent the spilling of nuts if my aim with the harvester is off a little bit. Once the door opens on the hopper to dump nuts, pecans fall out quickly.

    A Savage pre-cleaner uses a strong fan to blow leaves, shucks, sticks and light pecans out of the crop. Once the nuts pass over the fan, an elevator lifts to nuts up to be dumped into a truck, grain cart, or in my case, a super-sack. Once the semi-clean nuts are in a super-sack, I can store them in my barn until I have time to fully clean and inspect them using my cleaner.    

Sunday, November 8, 2020

A good week for pecan harvest

     Its not often that we see the golden yellow of pecan fall color but this year all the trees in my grove put on a beautiful display (photo at right). All week the weather was clear, dry, and warm--perfect weather to start harvesting pecans.

 

   On my farm, pecan harvest is a one man operation that involves my use of several types of pecan harvesting equipment. The first step in the process is to use a three-point-hitch mounted trunk shaker to dislodge to nuts from the tree (photo at left). To me, tree shaking is the most exciting part of pecan harvest. The sound of nuts raining down on the metal canopy of my tractor gives me an immediate idea of  how well each tree has produced this year.

    Once the nuts are on the ground, I jump into different tractor that has a pecan harvester attached (photo at right). Sweeping nuts up off the ground with the harvester is a slow but steady process. I always start harvesting just outside the drip line of the tree then work my way inwards towards the trunk. My Savage harvester picks up nuts in a 5 foot swath so, on larger trees, it takes multiple passes to cover the ground. I've learned to be especially careful when maneuvering the picker near tree trunks. The front outside corner of the harvester can leave an ugly scar if you get too close. 

     Once the pecan harvester's hopper is full, I drive towards my barn to dump the hopper into a pre-cleaner. The pecan harvester picks up more than just pecans. When I dumped the hopper this year, I saw a mixture of nuts, stick-tights, shucks, sticks, and even acorns. Thankfully, I didn't pick up any mud balls this fall--soil conditions were ideal for harvest this fall. The pre-cleaner does a good job of removing sticks, shucks and leaves from the nuts. Next, I run the crop through a cleaner inside my pecan barn. The cleaner is good at removing poorly filled pecans and any nuts that were thinned off during mid-summer crop load adjustments. The final step in the cleaning process is to visually inspect every pecan as they move down an inspection belt.  This year, acorns and green hulled nuts are the most common items thrown off the inspection table.

   Back last spring, the 2020 crop year looked to be an outstanding year for Kanza. I had full crop of Kanza nuts and was excited to be able to reap the rewards of years of tree care. But like everything else this year, the unexpected can ruin the best laid plans. The summer of 2020 was extremely dry in our area. Corn fields withered and pecan trees suffered. The photo at left exemplifies what a lack of summer rainfall can do to a Kanza crop. 

     Under drought conditions, Kanza nuts were almost 2/3 their normal size, while some nuts were even smaller. During harvest, I picked up numerous Kanza nuts still held inside green shucks. I cut open several green nuts (photo above) to reveal a total lack of normal kernel development. It is obvious to me--no water, no kernel development.

   

 


Saturday, October 17, 2020

Fertilizing pecan trees in the Fall


      Long time readers of this blog will remember that I like to make two applications of fertilizer to my pecan trees each year. The first is applied in early spring when buds first show signs of swelling. The second application is made in the Fall, usually in early October. This year I delayed the Fall application until today based on soil conditions and weather predictions (photo at right). I applied a complete fertilizer containing N, P and K.

    During the first half of October, the weather has been unseasonably warm and the soil bone dry. Spreading nitrogen fertilizer under these conditions would result in massive losses of nitrogen from volatilization. So I've been waiting and closely watching the weather forecast. Today, the wind blew hard all day with the approach of a cold front that promises to drop our temperatures and give us a good chance of rain. If we get about a quarter inch of rain tomorrow, all the fertilizer I spread today should get washed in.


    One frequent question I receive concerns the fertilization of young trees. Many folks like to hand fertilizer young trees by spreading fertilizer in a circle around the tree. The thought is to fertilize just the tree and not all the ground cover between trees. On my farm, I broadcast fertilizer over the entire pecan planting (photo above) regardless of tree size. Sure, broadcasting fertilizer will stimulate the ground cover but I view that as beneficial. Every time I mow the pecan grove, I'm adding valuable organic matter to the soil. Soil organic matter increases water retention and increases the availability of essential micro-nutrients. In addition, the rotting grass clippings release significant amounts of N, P and K back into the soil (nutrient recycling). Over the long term, my objective is to develop a healthy soil environment  which promotes active pecan root growth. With healthy roots, I'll maximize the productivity of my pecan trees.