Friday, February 15, 2013

Pecans at Colonial Williamsburg

Large pecan tree, Willimansburg, VA
    I had the opportunity to travel to Virginia and speak to the Virginia Biological Farming Conference. What a great group. I had lots of great discussions that I hope will lead more Virginians to plant northern pecan cultivars.
    While I was in Virginia, the wife and I traveled to Colonial Williamsburg to experience 18th century history. However, it seems we spent most of our time looking at fruit plantings in the gardens of the restored colonial town (see photos below). I was also glad to find several mature pecan trees planted around the village (photo above, right). When I asked the locals if they were able to harvest any nuts from these giant trees, they assured me that the trees do indeed produce nuts but an army of gray squirrels steals the crop long before the shucks open. (The historic Kings Arms Tavern needs to add squirrel stew to their menu of 18th century dishes).

Fig trees trained as an espalier, Williamsburg, VA
    Pecan is not native to Virginia but the tree grows well in the tidewater region of the State. Both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington planted "Louisiana nuts" (pecans) at their plantations in Monticello and Mt. Vernon over 200 years ago but pecan has yet to become a commercial crop in the state. The reason may be as simple as poor cultivar selection.

Apple trees trained as a 4 arm espalier, Williamsburg, VA
    If you look at a map, you'll find that Chetopa, KS and Richmond, VA are at roughly the same latitude, ~37 degrees N. Both locations have around 200 frost free days (temps above 28 F) and experience hot summers. Based on climatic data, land owners in VA should be establishing northern pecan cultivars such as Kanza, Lakota, and Pawnee rather than traditional southern cultivars that are often planted (such as Stuart, Desirable, or Schley).  With better cultivar selection and a good squirrel trapping program, Virginia could be an excellent place to produce quality pecans.