John R. Pyzner | 11/2/2004 8:22:31 PM
The 2004 season has been tough on pecans in Louisiana, according to LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dr. John Pyzner. The crop is expected to be approximately a third of last year’s 20 million pound crop.
Pyzner says several factors have led to the small crop. Excessive rain during May and June caused problems with pollination, encouraged diseases and made it difficult for growers to properly manage their orchards.
The rains were followed by a very dry August and September that caused some additional nut loss. The stress on the trees from producing a large crop last year also was a factor in Louisiana’s light pecan crop this year. Fortunately, Louisiana pecans were spared the hurricane damage that occurred in the other southeastern states.
Pecans should be harvested as soon as they fall from the tree, Pyzner says. Excessive loss to squirrels and other critters often occur in years with light crops.
Pecans often contain excessive moisture when they first fall. The nuts should be dried before they are put in storage. Drying can usually be accomplished by placing the pecans in a shallow layer in a warm dry area for approximately two weeks. Adding fans and heat can speed drying.
Pecans with high moisture content (higher than 6 percent) do not store well. An easy method to determine if pecans are dry enough for storage is to shell a representative sample of the pecans. Bend the kernels until they break. If they break with a sharp snap, the pecans are usually dry enough for storage. If you don’t hear a sharp snap, dry the pecans some more.
The LSU AgCenter horticulturist says you can enjoy this year’s modest harvest until next year’s crop if you store the nuts properly. Improper storage often leads to darkening of kernels and rancidity of the oils, destroying the natural flavor and aroma of the nuts.
Store pecans under refrigeration. Lowering the temperature extends storage life, ranging from three months at 70 degrees F to eight years at zero degrees.
Pecans are usually stored shelled since they take up less space than unshelled and can be conveniently used straight from the freezer. Unshelled pecans, however, can be stored for a longer period. The unbroken shell protects the kernel from bruising and offers some protection against oxidation and rancidity of the kernel.
Refrigerated or frozen pecans should be placed in airtight containers. Pecan kernels readily absorb odors from other foods, resulting in off flavors. Pecans that are stored at room temperature for an extended period should be held in containers that are adequately ventilated. Avoid storing pecans that have not been dried properly in plastic bags.
For related topics, look for Gardening and Get It Growing links in the Feature section of the LSU AgCenter Web site: www.lsuagcenter.com. Additional yard and garden topics are available from an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.