Making the best of a bad situation

Pecan Tree

Following an extended summer drought and an early Fall freeze, Pecan Tree the outlook for my 2022 pecan harvest season looked bleak. Staring up into the canopies of my trees all I could see were small black stick-tights. Should I just walk away from the whole mess or should I attempt to salvage what I could of the 2022 crop? I decided to shake the trees and see if I could recover at least a few edible nuts.

The Sticktight Appeared

The photo above shows the nuts I collected from a row of Gardner trees using my pecan harvest equipment. Most were sticktights and would have no commercial value. Surprisingly, I discovered a sprinkling of good pecans among those collected.   Once I ran the harvested nuts through my pecan cleaner, I ended up with about 5% saleable pecans. I definitely won’t be covering my production costs via pecan sales this year. Before the freeze, many Gardner nuts were showing signs of shuck-split. However, this past summer’s drought prevented normal shuck dehiscence. The photo at right shows two Gardner nuts harvested this year. The sticktight appeared to have split along normal suture lines but the shuck is still firmly held in place. To discover a possible explanation for why one the Gardner nut released normally from the shuck while the other did not, I decided to cut the nuts open to check on kernel development (photo at left). Although both nuts had developed kernels inside the shell, the pecan with attached shucks did not produce the plump kernels associated with a normal Gardner nut. Full kernel development inside the shell is an important stimulant for shuck opening.

Remember this year’s fall freeze occurred on October 19th, three weeks after the normal shuck split date for Gardner. This year, all of my trees were suffering from intense water shortage. The drought delayed and even inhibited normal shuck opening. The deep freeze only stopped an already damaged crop-ripening process.

Deep freeze blasts drought stressed pecan trees

It has been over a week since a strong arctic air mass descended across the central plains and ended the 2022 growing season. I recorded 19 degrees F (-7 C) at dawn and knew immediately that pecan leaves and shucks would be killed.  Pecan leaves were freeze dried  on the tree and hung on for about a week before dropping to the ground. The freeze had little impact on the pecans that had already split their shucks. However, as I mentioned in earlier posts, the extended drought we have suffered this year inhibited normal nut ripening. Fortunately, most of my Kanza nuts had split their shucks before the freeze and have opened up normally (photo at right). Young Kanza trees (< 6″ DBH) suffered more from the drought and have produced much smaller nuts that did not open (100% stick-tights). Some cultivars appear to have opened partially after the freeze. The Thayer nuts pictured at left have full kernels and I hope the pecan harvester will beat the nuts hard enough to remove most of the shucks. During normal rainfall years, Thayer ripens 6 days before Kanza and should have opened well before the freeze. Unfortunately, it looks like my Thayer trees didn’t get enough water to ripen normally.

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