Monday, March 30, 2020

Pecan trees breaking bud

     Between rain showers, I noticed the slightest amount of green tissue emerging from the terminals of pecan tree branches. I decided to take a closer look to see how this Spring's new growth was developing on my trees. After a tour of the grove,
I found that some cultivars still looked dormant while others had broken open their inner bud scales. Posted below are photos of pecan buds that I took today (30 March 2020). Each photo is identified by cultivar and the stage of bud development. This year, bud break seems to have started about a week earlier than average.  If night-time temperature stay above 26 degrees F over the next three weeks, we should escape any freeze damage to emerging buds.

Hark, dormant, 30 Mar 2020
Kanza, Outer scale split, 30 Mar 2020

Greenriver, Bud elongation, 30 Mar 2020

Faith, Bud swell (protandrous cultivar), 30 Mar 2020

KT149, Bud swell (protogynous cultivar), 30 Mar 2020

Friday, March 20, 2020

Wet spring delays application of fertilizer to pecan groves

    The wet weather cycle continues with above average rainfall covering much of the Midwest. Since January 1, 2020, we have received twice our normal amount of precipitation on our farm. Needless to say, the soils in my young pecan orchard are saturated with puddles of standing water everywhere (photo at right).
    I usually make my Spring application of fertilizer during the month of March, but until things dry up a bit, I won't be able to pull a fertilizer buggy across the orchard.
    I typically watch for the first signs of bud swell to make the Spring fertilizer application. So out of curiosity, I checked bud development on some of my Kanza trees. The buds were still fully dormant (photo at left).  This means, that even if the ground was dry, I would be holding off on fertilizing at this time. Once I see bud swell, I'll spread some N, P, and K as soon as the soil becomes passable.

    The Neosho River spilled over it banks yesterday and moved into many native pecan groves in our area (photo at right).  The frequency of springtime floods in many native pecan groves is the primary reason I started recommending spreading a portion of the tree's fertilizer needs in the Fall. With fall fertilization, I can be certain that trees have enough stored nutrients to make vigorous new shoots in the spring. Then, when the soils dry out, more fertilizer can be applied to sustain both shoot and nut growth during the summer months.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Kanza holds on all winter

Kanza 7 March 2020
    The 2019 pecan harvest season was a wet one. On my farm, I could never harvest the nuts from two Kanza trees because the ground around them never had a chance to dry out. I use a Savage pecan harvester to harvest my crop and I've learned over the years that you can plug up a harvester with mud trying to pick pecans on wet ground. So, in the end, I had to leave two Kanza trees unharvested due to wet soil conditions around the trees.
    Last weekend,the sun was shinning and the soils in my pecan grove just beginning to dry out enough to allow me to work in the orchard. I walked over to the unharvested Kanza trees to see if I could grab a snack and was surprised to see that much of the crop was still hanging in the tree (photo at right). In my view, holding on to the nut crop is a positive attribute. My orchard as already been swept clean by 2 flash floods during this winter and early spring yet most of the remaining Kanza nuts were still hanging in the tree, safe from flood waters or simply rotting on wet ground.
  With the forecast for more rain next week, I'll probably never get to harvest the nuts from these two Kanza trees. However, it good to know that Kanza will hold on to its crop until I get ready to shake nuts from the tree.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Pruning out narrow branch forks

     This past week we had some nice weather and I spent some time in the orchard inspecting my young trees for potential tree structural problems. You could say I was on a mission to find and prune out narrow branch forks. The photo at right is a typical example.
    This tree has developed a lower limb that is growing upright and competing with the central leader. Now is the time to prune out this potential problem before I find myself with a forked tree.
    If you take a close look at the narrow branch connection (photo at left), you can see that a bark inclusion has already formed. These type of branch connections are extremely weak and have a tendency to break out during wind storms or under the weight of a heavy nut crop. To prevent future problems, I prune out narrow branch connections whenever I see them.
    Using a saw, I cut off the upright-growing, lower limb all the way back to the main trunk. When removing this branch, I made a 45 degree angle cut which should help the tree heal over the cut surface as quickly as possible (photo at right).

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Cutting pecan scions

   Over this past week, I've been outside cutting pecan scionwood in preparation for this Spring's grafting season. The photo at right is a Lakota tree that I pruned heavily during the early spring of 2019. Now, after a year of regrowth, this tree has produced numerous long, straight shoots that will make outstanding scions.  
    It took a while, but I cut off every one-year-old shoot from this tree. Some of the shoots were 5 feet long and much too large in diameter to create good scions. However, cutting the tree back again this year will ensure a good supply of scions for 2021.
   After dropping all the one-year-old shoots to the ground, I gathered them into my utility vehicle (photo at left) and hauled them into the barn to cut the wood into usable scions.  In cutting the wood down to size, I try to create scions with at least 3 buds. Scion diameter  ranges from 1/4 to 5/8 inch. I discard the wood that is either too small or too large in diameter.
    As I cut up the shoots, I place the completed scions in a plastic storage box (photo at right). The bottom of plastic box is lined with dampened paper towel to help maintain 100% humidity inside the box during refrigerated storage. Once I fill the box with scions, I cover the wood with another layer of moist paper towels before snapping the lid on tight. I store my scions at 34 degrees F in a refrigerator. Every couple of weeks, I check the paper towel to make sure it is still moist so the wood doesn't dry out during storage.
    If you look carefully at the Lakota tree pictured at left, you will note that I left a 2-3 bud stub at each location I cut a one-year-old shoot. I did this to help promote the growth of 2 or 3 new shoots to replace the one shoot I removed. This should help create even more scions for the 2021 growing season.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Checking Lakota nut fill

    Lakota is a scab resistant pecan cultivar that performs well in S.E. Kansas but it has one fault that must be carefully monitored. Lakota will over-produce and slip into severe alternate bearing. To alleviate the problems associated with excessive nut set, I used my trunk shaker in mid-summer to remove a portion of the crop.
   Recently, I pulled a sample from my 2019 Lakota crop to check on nut quality and determine if I had shaken off enough nuts back in August. I found that 90+% of the kernels appeared plump and fully formed (photo above). However, a few kernels demonstrated the negative effects of a tree carrying a heavy crop (shriveled kernels). During the summer of 2019, we had ample rainfall so I knew that any kernel shriveling would be due to a excessive crop load and not be drought related.

    To check on kernel quality, I broke several kernels in half so I could see how well the kernel tissues were packed inside of each nut (photo above). Kernels that appeared plump from the outside had some small air pockets in the center of each kernel half indicating a not-so-perfect fill. Shriveled nut meats had thinner layers of kernel tissue and they had very pronounced air pockets. Several kernels developed hollow backs. These nuts appear plump on the top side of the kernel but the underside is sunken or hollow. The hollow back kernel has a well developed layer of kernel on the top but little or no kernel layer adjacent to the inner wall partition.
    After looking over dozens of nut samples from my 2019 Lakota crop, I concluded that summer shaking did improve my kernel quality but I should have shook even more nuts off each tree to achieve top kernel quality. Each year is a learning process when it come to crop load regulation, so hopefully, I'll do better in the future.