Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I wish I had grafted more Kanza!

     Back in 1995, we grafted a 3 acre block of Kanza trees. Since we are surrounded by 8000 acres of native pecan trees,  I wasn't too worried that grafting a solid 3 acres to one cultivar would create a pollination problem.
     Now it is 15 years later, and we just recorded an average of 1050 lbs/ acre from this Kanza block on the first picking.  There are still nuts out there (probably 200-300 lbs/acre) that we'll get when we run the harvester over the grove for a second time. 
    The yield in 2010 was great but check out the kernel quality of freshly cracked Kanza nuts (photo above). Kanza may be the best shelling cultivar available for growing in the north. Kernel halves practically fall out of the shell after running the nuts through a Meyer pecan cracker. 
    I'm grafting more Kanza next spring!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Black Spots on the Kernel

It is not until you crack open a pecan that you discover that stink bugs have been feeding in your orchard. In the photo at left the large, sunken black spots on the kernel were caused by one of several large bugs, including the southern green stinkbug, the brown stinkbug, and the leaf-footed bug. We commonly lump all these insects together and call the damage they create, stink bug damage. The black spots are created when stink bugs feed on pecans when nuts are filling their kernels (mid to late August). This group of insects have a needle like mouth part that can pass through the shuck and hardened-shell to get to the kernel. As the insect feeds, it secretes digestive fluids into the nut that actually breaks down some of the kernel, so the insect can feed on a kind of pecan slurpee. These digestive juices are what cause the black spot on the kernel.
     For those of you that are picking out pecans for your family, be sure to break out these black spots and discard them. The black spots are bitter and will ruin a good pecan pie.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

KSU-OF1 to be named 'Oswego'

     We've been looking at a 'Greenriver' seedling,  KSU-OF1, for several years now. This year, during our harvest tour, everyone could see the major difference between the original 'Greenriver' cultivar and its progeny--The KSU-OF1 clone had twice the yield as its parent. Although 'Greenriver' is a scab resistant cultivar, the main drawback for grafting 'Greenriver' has always been that the trees are somewhat shy nut producers. In sharp contrast, producing great nut crops is one of the best attributes of  KSU-OF1 (photo at right).
     During harvest, I picked up nuts from both 'Greenriver' and KSU-OF1 and I had trouble telling them apart. Both shells and kernels looked identical. Oh, boy! Could these 2 trees be that same cultivar? I think not. We have 'Greenriver' and KSU-OF1 grafted in the same cultivar trial block on the same seedling rootstock and the yield difference between the 2 clones was consistent--every KSU-OF1 tree had far more nuts than the 'Greenriver' trees. The yields were so different you could see it by just looking at the trees. Although closely related,  KSU-OF1 is a definite improvement over 'Greenriver'.
     As I told the folks at the Harvest Tour, I've decided on a name for KSU-OF1. This new pecan cultivar will be called 'Oswego'. I chose this name to honor one of the little towns in SE Kansas that is known for pecan production. You might remember I started this tradition for naming new pecan cultivars  when I named 'Chetopa', originally tested under the name KS112,

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pickin' pecans

     We had the Chetopa third grade class come out to the Pecan Field for a lesson on pecan growing and pecan harvest. The kids love to feel the ground shake when I use our tree shaker on a tree I've selected for them to harvest. It is amazing to see all those squirmy 9-year-old kids get down on the ground and concentrate on finding pecans amongst the leaves (Photo at right).
     These same kids went up to my wife's apple orchard later that day to learn about apple harvest. They returned to school loaded down with pecans and apples. This week they will be making apple crisp with the produce they picked themselves. 
    As nut growers, we all have a duty to teach the children in our communities how their food is grown. Just think of it as investing in future customers.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Kanza, another great crop in 2010

2010 Kanza crop
     I remember my first days when I came to Kansas 30 years ago. As a young man just getting my feet wet in the pecan business, I decided to travel to OK and and TX to learn about pecans from some of the leaders in the field. Down in Oklahoma, I listened to Cat Taylor tell a group of growers that the best pecan cultivars for Oklahoma had been found--'Mohawk' and 'Maramec', no question about it.. In Texas, George Ray McEachern was adamant that 'Cheyenne' was the perfect pecan for Texas.
    With the passage of time, 'Mohawk', 'Maramec' and 'Cheyenne' have all developed serious problems that make their status as "best cultivars to plant" questionable. 'Mohawk' trees have been cut down by the thousands because of severe over production problems. Maramec's problem is just the opposite--light yields make this a difficult tree to keep profitable. Down in Texas, 'Cheyenne' seems to be the most attractive cultivar for aphids driving production costs through the roof.
     What I've learned from my colleagues is that there has never been or probably never will be the perfect pecan cultivar for growers to graft. With that said, every year I see 'Kanza' produce another crop of nuts (see photo above), I get more and more impressed with this cultivar. 'Kanza' ticks all the boxes for me--Scab resistant, annual production, good tree structure, outstanding kernel color and quality, and excellent shell out (mostly halves). Is 'Kanza' the perfect cultivar for northern pecan growers? I guess we'll see in 30 years.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Pawnee back in action!

The December 2007 ice storm left our Pawnee trees in shambles. Of all the cultivars we have under test at the Pecan Field, Pawnee was one of the most brittle under the weight of the ice (photo at right). Our trees required a massive amount of pruning following the storm and many trees were broken down to the point we had only the trunk and a few stumps of lateral branches left.

This fall is the first year the damaged trees have produced a crop. We knew when we pruned our Pawnee trees that the precocity of this cultivar would help us get back into production fairly quickly. Looks like the crop of Pawnee nuts (photo at right) we harvested today will help us pay some bills at the Pecan Field!

Friday, November 5, 2010


    The pecan harvest season has arrived and we are looking forward to harvesting an above average crop this year. I love this time of year. Cool days and crisp mornings only seem to heighten the excitement of the harvest season.

     I was out talking photos of different pecan cultivars when I spotted a Pawnee nut suspended from the shuck (photo at left). I like this kind of photo because it portraits the action of nuts falling out of the husk when the nuts are fully ripe. But this photo also tells the story of the importance the shuck to nut development. Look carefully at the fibers than are holding this Pawnee nut suspended from the shuck. These fibers are part of the vascular system that lines the inside of the shuck and are attached to the base of the nut. A healthy vascular system is critical for nutrients (minerals and carbohydrates) to be transported from the tree to the developing seed (pecan). The fibers you see in this photo represent only 1/2 of the shuck's vascular system. A networks of vascular bundles also covers the outside of the husk. When visualizing the vascular system of the shuck as a whole, start at the base of the nut where it is attached to the tree. The flow of nutrients from the tree into the nut starts through the outer vascular bundles towards the tip of the nut. Once the nutrients arrive at the tip of the nut they travel through the inner vascular bundles to the base of the shell. All the water, minerals, and carbohydrates needed to build pecan kernel enter the nut through vascular connections at the base on the shell.  So it is easy to see that any pest that damages the husk of the nut will reduce kernel fill.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Recovery from the 2007 Ice Storm

    I can still recall the terrible sound of limbs breaking off of pecan trees during the 2007 December ice storm. Crack! It sounded like we were in a war zone. It took us almost 6 months to clean up and prune up our pecan grove. The first question on our minds was, "when would these trees recover from the limb breakage and when would the trees begin to bear nuts again?"
     We now have our answer. In the photo at left you can see the shadow of large limbs that had be snapped off during the ice storm. From those broken limbs, new sprouts have emerged, first shooting straight up, but with time, developing many short side branches. This year, the third growing season after the storm, we are seeing nut production on the side shoots of new wood grown since Dec 2007.

    Our recovery plan for getting back into nut production following the ice storm was simple. Keep doing what we always have done. That means we maintained our normal fertilizer program and continued to control insects and diseases as needed. Each year we apply 150lbs urea/acre plus 100 lbs potash/acre over the entire pecan grove around March 1. We add an additional 100 lbs urea/acre to the grove shortly after October 1. We have continued using early season fungicide sprays( in June) to maintain leaf health. We have also controlled all insect pests when they appeared. The key was to keep the trees in good condition so they could grow new, nut-bearing limbs that will replace those limbs lost in the ice storm.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Preventing the Buck Rub Blues

    Once a young pecan trees grows to a point that it has a trunk 1 to 1.5 inches in diameter, it seems like it becomes the perfect target for a big buck deer to rub a massive scar on the young tree (photo at left). With deer populations growing out of control in rural areas across the US, growers will need to take preventative actions to prevent deer damage. Bucks rub the bark off of young trees starting in late August, so to prevent this type of damage preventive measures need to be in place by mid August.

     One of the first products designed to prevent deer damage were solid plastic "Tree Shelters" that can be placed over the trunk . Over time we learned that tree shelters cause almost as many problems as they prevented. Trees grown in shelters suffer temperature related bark injury (from the greenhouse effect inside the tube) and trunks often become twisted inside the tube by the action of the wind on upper branches. If anyone has heard me talk about tree shelters in the past they know I've renamed them "tree coffins". The damage they cause is as bad or worst than the damage caused by buck rub.

    Recently I've come across a new product that provides a protective shield against buck rub but doesn't alter the environment around the tree's trunk (pictured at left). These "tree bark protectors" are made of heavy gauge plastic and look a lot like wire hardware cloth. The tree bark protectors are pre-formed in tube shape but need to be held together with a twist tie or cable tie. The only down side of these protectors is that you need to monitor you trees closely and prune off any new sprouts that attempt to grow though protector. The holes in the plastic mesh are about 5/8 inch across so side limbs can easily become trapped in the mesh.

    On my farm, I use a 2" x 4" woven wire cage (5 feet tall)  to protect a new graft from deer browsing. As soon as the graft grows big enough to accept a 3 ft. tall tree protector, the wire cage comes off (to be used for next year's grafting season) and the tree protector goes on. I purchased the tree protectors from A.M. Leonard (

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Stalked buds and branch attachment

    I mentioned the term "stalked bud" in my last post and this morning I thought it might be a good idea to show you exacting what a stalked bud on pecan trees look like. The development of stalked buds is most prominent on fast growing trees, so my hunt for buds to photograph started in our scion wood block. The trees in the scionwood block are severely cut back every spring to provide scionwood to growers across the area. This means that trees grow extremely fast in response to the heavy pruning often creating lots of stalked buds. The photo at left was taken  of a Colby tree. In the photo, you can plainly see the green leaf scar on the stem. Above the leaf scar is the secondary bud and above that is a "stalked" primary bud. Stalked buds are not usually associated with the Colby cultivar but under the right growing conditions any cultivar can produce stalked buds.

    On that same Colby tree, I noted a stalked bud that had begun to grow into a side shoot. In the photo at right, the leaf petiole is still attached to the branch. Above the petiole is the secondary bud and above that is the stalked bud that has started to grow into a side shoot. This shoot was about 8 inches long and you can already see the development of a bark crevice on the upper side of the branch attachment. This crevice will only get more prominent and deeper with each passing growing season. So when I'm doing summer pruning of young trees, I always make sure I remove all stalked buds as soon as I see them. It seems so much easier to pinch out a stalked bud than try to prune out a branch with poor branch attachment 3-4 years down the road.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Branch Attachment

    I was picking nuts from the young trees planted all around my house, when a came to a Kanza tree that just screamed at me to take its picture. Not for all the nuts it was producing but for the extremes in branch attachments I could see, all on the same tree. The lowest branch on the tree (above left) had the classic worst case scenario for a branch attachment--a deep crevasse on the upper side branch union. These kind of branch attachments are very prone to breakage and often lead to massive trunk tearing when the limb breaks out. Further up in the tree all the branches had picture-perfect,  branch attachments displaying a textbook version of a strong branch collar (above right). The question is, how did these branches form and is there anything that can be done to encourage strong branch angles?
    I noticed when training these young trees that fast growth rate promoted the development of stalked buds (buds on the ends of stem like projections) in the upper portion of the tree. By mid-summer these stalked buds were all starting to sprout and I had to remove all of these new shoots to maintain a strong central leader. Leaving a stalked bud to grow is a big mistake, because the branch that forms from this bud will produce a branch attachment like the bad one pictured above-left.  By pruning off the stalked buds, I forced the tree the sprout from secondary buds the following spring. When these buds grow they tend to make great branch attachment unions. In the case of my Kanza tree, it looks like I missed a stalked bud early in the life of my tree. This problem branch will not be a problem much longer--I'll be removing this branch early next spring. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Nuts on young trees

    After successfully grafting a tree, you wait eagerly for that young tree to produce its first cluster of nuts. And when those first nuts split the shuck, you run out to the tree to peel the pecans out of the shucks, not caring that your fingers will soon turn black. The nuts looked so impressive all summer long. But when you peel them out of the shuck, the nuts are often small and often don't even look like the cultivar you thought you had grafted. Fear not! This is normal. Young trees, and I'm talking about trees 2-3 inches in diameter, often produce smaller-than-normal nuts. In the photo above you'll see 2 large, blocky nuts compared to 2 smaller, oval-shaped nuts. They are all samples from the same cultivar (KSU-OF1) but produced by 2 different trees. The large nuts were produced by a tree nearly 12 inches in diameter while the 2 smaller nuts represent the 1st crop produced by a tree 2.5 inches in diameter.
    The explanation for this common occurrence is simple. As a pecan tree grows, it becomes more and more of a dominate force in its environment. Larger trees are just better at competing with the ground cover for water than younger trees. More water means bigger and normally sized nuts. So don't be discouraged by small nuts on young trees, the time will come when a larger tree will be covered with large beautiful nuts.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


    Vivipary is the word we use to describe the condition when nuts start to germinate in the fall while still encased in the green shuck.
 Vivipary is a major problem for pecan growers in the most southern regions of Texas but rarely occurs in the north. This year, however, I've come across more premature germination then usual. This morning, I even found a hican sprouting on the tree (note the root emerging from the nut at left). Now, while vivipary is still not a major problem in our area, it is worth noting because by the time we sell the 2010 crop you may see some embryo rot in your nut sample. This rot occurs when the germinating embryo dies from lack of moisture and fungal attack through the split shell.

Graft hickories on pecan

    There is a small but dedicated group of hickory and hican lovers around the country. This post is for them.
    I went out to our 'Wilson' hican tree this morning to collect a nut sample. This tree is loaded with nuts this year but what caught my attention was the graft union. We grafted this 'Wilson' hican onto a pecan tree that had previously been grafted to 'Major'. The hican graft was placed about 6 feet up the trunk and is now about 12 inches in diameter. In the photo at left,  the change above and below the graft union is dramatic. Below the graft is the typical checkered bark seen on any 'Major' tree. Above the graft is the smooth gray bark typical of a young shellbark hickory (the hican is a cross of shellbark hickory and pecan). Also note that the pecan portion of the trunk is starting to show its faster growth rate as compared to the hican. This is why I always recommend that hickory lovers graft their trees onto pecan rootstock. The pecan roots outgrow the hickory and seem to push the hickory to grow faster and bear nuts earlier. The 'Wilson' hican is among the best of the hicans I have seen. The tree bears a huge crop ever other year and the nuts are generally well filled averaging 38% kernel. The nut kernel has a somewhat bland flavor closer in taste to its shellbark hickory parent.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


    Sometimes you find potential new cultivars in your own back yard. This was the case with KSU-OF1. The original tree  (pictured at left) of this promising clone is located along the fence line just north of my office building. The tree is a Greenriver seedling that has excellent scab resistance. The nut is slightly smaller than Greenriver but the tree is far more productive that its parent. The original tree of KSU-OF1 is growing in a upland site that is a very poor location for pecans. It wasn't until we grafted this clone into a trial down in the river bottom that we recognized this tree's potential. Outstanding nut quality is one of the most recognizable traits of this clone.
    If  you look at the original tree, you'll find that many nuts are infested with both pecan weevil and hickory shuckworm. High rate of insect infestation is an indication of 3 things. One, we don't spray this tree. Two, upland pecans always seem to have more weevil. And, three, nut feeding pests will always build up on trees that bear nuts every year. That's the one thing about KSU-OF1, it  always seems to produce a crop even under  stressful conditions.
    For all those interested,  this clone's designation "KSU-OF1" is simply short hand for office tree number 1.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Potential New Cultivar?

    The pecan on the left is Kanza. The pecan on the right comes from a tree in our pecan breeding block. This seedling was one of the first in the block to start bearing and looks to be scab resistant. Ripening date is early like Kanza. We are going to collect some samples this week and will display them at the harvest tour and the Annual Meeting. I'm excited about the possibilities for some good cultivars to come out of this block.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pecan Harvest Tour

    On Thursday October 7th we are going to have a pecan harvest tour to give growers the opportunity to see how all the cultivars in our research trials have performed in 2010. The tour will begin at 1:30 in the afternoon and will be held rain or shine. Since nut split is early this year most cultivars will be fully mature. Come prepared to walk the groves and talk pecan cultivars!.
    The tour will be held at the Pecan Experiment Field located 2 miles east of Chetopa, KS and 3/4 mile south on 120th street.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Shuck Split Early in 2010

    Remember this past spring when everything seems to bloom at one time and we went from Winter to Spring in what seemed like a weeks time? When the early and consistently warm Spring jump started pecan budbreak and shoot development the nut development clock started early. Add above normal summer temperature and we find pecans ripening 10 days to 2 weeks early that normal. In addition, crop quality looks good. Most cultivars are well filled. Thing are looking good for a great 2010 harvest season.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Still planting new trees

    We planted a small parcel of land to more pecan trees seedlings yesterday. We used 'Kanza' seedlings donated by Forrest Keeling Nursery and the conditions for planting couldn't have been better. I used my 6 foot wide rototiller to prepare the soil in each tree row. The tilling left the soil lose and fluffy. We prepared the planting holes with a shovel, digging in the loose soil about 3-4 inches deep. The trees we were planting were grown in containers so the first step in preparing the tree for planting was to remove the tree from the pot. Next, I pruned of any circling roots at the bottom and shook off the loose potting soil. We placed each tree in a shallow hole (photo above) and then covered up the root ball with the loose soil from the tilled strip. We mounded up soil around the tree covering the root ball with at least 2 inches of top soil. By planting the trees in these small dirt mounds (about 4-5inches tall) we should help the trees survive next spring's flooding season. Now if we get that 1/2 inches rain promised for tonight, our tree planting efforts should lead to 100% tree survival.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pecan tree sales still strong

    I attended a field day at Forrest Keeling Nursery last week and had a great time visiting with the nursery staff and meeting new people interested in planting pecan trees. It seems the ornamental nursery business is in a slump because of lagging home sales and new home construction. However,  pecan trees sales continue to be strong. In fact Forrest Keeling is having a hard time growing enough trees to meet demands.
    During every recession, a movement develops for people to turn back to the land in a search for tangible economic security. Growing pecans is a long term investment that rewards a land owner with both a sense of accomplishment  and good financial returns. Its no wonder pecan trees are soaring.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Sometimes it takes a little time

    This past spring I received some scions from a potentially good seedling tree growing in IL. I grafted a scion onto a tree in my yard so I could keep a close eye on the graft's progress. 3 weeks after grafting, the tree was suckering profusely but the buds on the scion showed zero movement. So I stripped off all the suckers, trying to force the graft to push. A couple weeks later the primary bud on the uppermost bud started to push, but the suckers had also restarted.  So again, I removed all new growth below the graft thinking with just a little more push, my graft will take off.
    A few weeks later it was time to check the progress of  my grafts. I looked at my new graft from IL and found that the new shoot on the graft, that had so much promise, had lost all its leaves and was starting to wither. Now the primary bud nearest the graft union was starting to push. Again the suckers below the graft were coming on strong and again I stripped them off the tree.
    A few weeks later, I looked hopefully at my slow-poke graft. This time the lower shoot was starting to wither and the secondary bud under it was starting to push. What is going on with this tree? One thing is for sure--the understock was determined to grow. It was early August at this point but I was determined to make this graft grow. So I stripped all the suckers off for the 4th time.
    Now it's early September and my little IL graft is finally growing normally. But this graft is only one foot in length compared to the 4 to 5 feet of new growth I've seen on my other grafts this year. The suckers have stopped and it seems like this tree is finally decided it will accept the graft. Now let's hope the graft survives the winter. It looks like some trees might require a little more effort to get grafted.