Sunday, October 28, 2018

Harvesting early maturing pecans

    One of my prime objectives in breeding pecans is to discover new early maturing pecan cultivars that will ripen in northern pecan growing areas. Because most of the clones in my pecan breeding block split shuck a month ago, I decided today was a good day to shake some trees and harvest pecans. For the most part, the nuts fell freely from the trees and I could use my new Savage pecan harvester to pick up the crop (photo at right).
    Harvesting pecans today was just as exciting as it had been for the past 37 years when I was working at K-State's Pecan Experiment Field. However, today's harvest was different. I was harvesting my own crop and I was handling every portion of the harvest process by myself.
    Today was my first day of harvest. I wanted to make sure all my equipment was working correctly and I wanted to get a feel for how many trees I can harvest in a day's time. I began the day by shaking 3 rows in the pecan breeding block. I then walked these rows picking up any large stick that had fallen during the shaking process. Once the orchard floor was clean, I used the harvester to pick up the nuts. This was a new harvester to me so it took a little while to find the proper ground speed and PTO rpm to pick up nuts cleanly.

   One drawback to harvesting early is that I ended up picking a large number of nuts with green husks still firmly attached (photo at left). After a hard freeze these green stick-tights would have turned black and dried hard. However, harvesting pecans before a hard fall freeze means that green stick-tights become mixed in with dry, ready-to- crack nuts. If green-hulled nuts are allowed stay mixed in with good pecans they will increase the moisture content of the good nuts and can even cause the entire batch of nuts to start heating up.
  So, in harvesting nuts today, I also made sure to leave enough time at the end of the day to run my crop through the pecan cleaner to remove all the green nuts. This way my good pecans would not pick up any unwanted moisture. As it turned out, the number of green stick-tights I removed from the cleaning table was far less that I had first thought. I bet some of those green hulls got scrubbed off by the scuffing wheel inside my pecan cleaner.
  Tomorrow's weather forecast is warm and sunny. As soon as the morning dew dries up I'll be back to harvesting. 

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Fall planting of container grown pecan trees

   Every spring I stick a few stratified pecan seeds in pots and grow my own rootstock trees. Today, I took advantage of perfect weather (sunny, low 70's) and moist soil conditions to load up some potted trees in my utility vehicle and head to the field (photo at right). With just about 20 trees to plant, I used a shovel to dig the holes for the trees.
   When digging holes for container-grown trees, I only dig deep enough to hold the entire root system. I used tall pots to grow out my trees so the hole needed to be about 12 inches deep (photo at left).
    When I plant container-grown trees, I shake off all the loose potting soil from the root ball and then place the tree in the hole. I back fill the hole around the tree's rootsystem making sure to crumble the dirt clods as I go. In planting  trees, I always make sure that the entire root ball is covered with soil and it is firmly packed down (photo at right).
    To prevent deer from browsing on my newly planted trees, I always place a welded wire cage around the tree (photo at left). This cage is made from 6 feet of  2" x 4" welded wire and formed into a circle. The cage pictured here is five feet tall but after working with both 4 feet tall and 5 feet tall cages, I've found both heights prevent deer browse. The 4 foot tall welded wire is significantly less expensive so I won't be buying any more 5 foot tall welded wire in the future.
   In making wire cages, I tie the cages in a circle using polypropylene twine (baler twine) (photo at right). This makes removing the cages much easier if the tree grows though the wires of the cage. I tie the cage together in just two spots and can use my pocket knife to cut the cage open and pull the cage away from the tree. I use the same twine to tie the cage to a steel fence post. 
  When driving the fence post into the ground, I always make sure part of the T-post's paddle is showing above the soil (photo at left). By leaving the paddle visible, I ensure that no tree roots will grow over the paddle trapping the fence post under the rootsystem (making it impossible the pull out).
    Hopefully, all my efforts to plant and protect these new trees be successful.  With proper tree care, I expect these trees to be ready for grafting in 2-3 years time. My only problem will be in deciding which cultivars to graft.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Fall fertilizing the pecan grove

    Today, I fertilized my pecan orchard (photo above). The soil had finally dried up enough so I could run over the orchard with tractor and fertilizer buggy without making tire ruts. In addition, the weather forecast calls for a light rain shower that should be perfect for melting fertilizer pellets into the soil.
     This fall I decided to start a new fertilizer program to help build the overall fertility of my orchard soil. Most of my pecan trees are growing in a Hepler silt loam. This soil is excellent for pecan trees but lacks the natural fertility I was accustomed to when caring for the trees growing on Osage silty clay at the Pecan Experiment Field. I applied a fertilizer mix that included not only nitrogen but also included phosphorus and potassium. In total, I spread 55 lbs./ ac. N, 23 lbs./ ac. P and 30 lbs./ac. K. The fertilizer mix I used was 2 parts urea, 1 part di-ammonium phosphate and 1 part potash.  I spread 200 lbs of this mix per acre.
     The amounts of applied P and K are fairly low but I'm thinking that over time, with repeated applications, I should be able build up the levels of these nutrients in my soil. A more fertile soil will provide a more optimum environment for pecan trees but will also increase the growth of ground cover plants. Since I mow the ground cover regularly, increased ground cover growth translates into increased  amounts of organic material added back to the soil. And, organic matter is critical for a healthy soil. Organic matter increases soil aeration, soil water retention, and micro-nutrient availability.

    A large part of my orchard was created by allowing volunteer pecan trees to grow up in an abandoned farm field. As these trees grew, I grafted them to northern pecan cultivars. As a result, I have a mixed-aged orchard that includes young, bearing trees along with newly grafted saplings (photo above). When it comes to fertilizing, I broadcast over the entire acreage. Sure, the small trees would probably grow just as well with a spot treatment of fertilizer but I go back my objective for fertilizing this Fall.  I am striving to build soil fertility and that means the fertility of the entire pecan grove.  

Friday, October 19, 2018

Cultivars splitting shuck in Mid-October

USDA 64-4-2, 8 Oct. 2018
  On my farm, I have tried to limit the number of pecan cultivars I have grafted. I have focused on cultivars with both scab resistance and outstanding kernel quality. Hopefully I've picked some cultivars that produce nut crops that will be enjoyed by customers that visit our roadside market.
   Four more pecan cultivars split their shucks on my farm in Mid-October. USDA 64-4-2 split shuck of Oct. 8th, Lakota split on Oct. 16th and Greenriver split on Oct. 19th. Oswego ripened at the same time as it parent, Greenriver, but I was unable to get a good photo because my neighborhood squirrels seems to prefer Oswego nuts (the tree is near a pine wind break which makes excellent cover for squirrels). Photos of these cultivars can be seen at right and below.
Lakota, 16 Oct. 2018
Greenriver, 19 Oct. 2018

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Fall flooding delays fall fertilizer application to pecan groves

    In early October, I was trying to decide when to make my annual fall application of fertilizer to my pecan grove. At the time, daytime temperatures were still reaching the low 80's and the soil was dry. The combination of dry ground and hot temperatures is a sure way to lose soil applied urea (nitrogen fertilizer) to volatilization. So I waited for better weather conditions.
   It is now mid-October and the weather has turned wet and cool. Good conditions for fertilizing except for one thing. We've had a little too much rain and the Neosho River has spilled out of its banks (photo above). It is by no means a major flood. Portions of many pecan groves have anywhere from a few inches to a foot of water while other areas are just water soaked. 
    I am glad I waited to fertilize this Fall. If I had rushed to get the fertilizer on earlier this month, all my fertilizer dollars would have washed down the river. Now, I'll need to wait until the ground firms up before running a spreader over the grove. I definitely don't want to cut ruts in the orchard floor by dragging a fertilizer buggy over water-soaked soil.  
   Fall fertilization is an important part of my normal pecan management program. Applying fertilizer both Fall and Spring have helped to reduce alternate bearing in my grove. I'll be sure to post when I make this Fall's application including types of fertilizer and quantity applied.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Why is the date of shuck split important for pecans?

Yates 68, 5 Oct. 2018
   Every fall I have spent a lot of time in a hydraulic lift inspecting pecan cultivars for their date of shuck opening. Over the years I've created a photographic record of this important event for dozens of cultivars. Just today, I noted that the cultivar Yates 68 had just split open (photo at right).
    But why is nut maturity date such an important cultivar characteristic? In northern pecan areas, only cultivars that split shuck before the average date of first fall freeze should be grown. Too often, I have come across folks in the Midwest that plant pecan cultivars advertised in flashy nurseries catalogs that never reveal that a cultivar requires a much longer growing season to ripen their nuts. It is only after 15 years of tree growth that they discover their tree only produces black stick-tights every fall. (Desirable and Western are two prime examples of cultivars not adapted to northern pecan areas).

KT255, 24 Sept. 2018
   Now that I've retired from Kansas State, my focus has shifted from taking notes on established cultivars to recording maturity dates for the trees in the breeding project. In breeding pecans for our northern area, maturity date is of prime importance. And we have found some early ripening clones. KT255 and KT307 both ripened by Sept. 24th this year. That's really not surprising since both of the trees are the results of a cross between Pawnee and Greenriver. In addition both clones have good nut size, high percent kernel and are not prone to pecan scab infections.
 Please Note.  These clones are still under test and I am not in the position to supply scions at this time. When the time comes for a new cultivar release, I'll announce it on the blog.
KT307, 24 Sept. 2018

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

When is shuck split?

   While looking over trees in my orchard, I came across a young tree grafted to USDA 64-4-2. This is the third year after grafting and this tree was already setting on nuts. So I pulled down some lower limbs in the hopes of determining a shuck split date for this clone. However, I found two clusters in very different ripening stages. One cluster was fully open and appeared to be well on the way to shuck drying and nut release (photo above). Another cluster just one foot away on the same trees had not yet split shuck. Now, I was curious. Which cluster is more typical for the clone USDA 64-4-2?

USDA 64-4-2 not split yet
   I drove down to the old experiment station to check on the development of this clone on a more mature tree. On this tree, the shucks had yet to open (photo at left). I used my pocket knife to peel off the shuck and found that USDA 64-4-2 is very close to popping open. Last year this clone ripened just 2 days after Kanza. This year it will probably be closer to 4 days after Kanza.
   My observations on USDA 64-4-2 this fall confirms my long held belief pecan trees need to gain a little maturity before their true phenological characteristics become consistent and typical for that cultivar.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Pecan cultivars ripening by October 1

Kanza, 1 October 2018
    On the first day of October I found three cultivars on my farm with split shucks. The first cultivar I checked was Kanza (photo at right). When Kanza splits shuck, the green shucks just barely pull open. Kanza will remain held in these green and split shucks until a hard freeze kills the all green tissues. Once the shucks are killed, Kanza finally opens up fully and the nut can be easily shaken free.

Hark, 1 October 2018
     Hark was also ripe by October 1 (photo below, right). Hark mimics Kanza in how shucks barely split open then remain green and closely cupping the pecan. I first noticed this type of shuck opening years ago on the old northern pecan cultivar, Major. Both Kanza and Hark have Major parentage.
Jayhawk, 1 October 2018
    The final pecan I found ripe today was Jayhawk (photo below right). Jayhawk is a Giles seedling but has the advantage of pecan scab resistance. Unfortunately, Jayhawk produces pecans with mottled kernels which is the reason that I have only one Jayhawk tree on my farm.