Linda Benedict, Pyzner, John R. | 10/28/2005 8:42:38 PM
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were not kind to Louisiana’s pecan crop. The projected harvest before the hurricanes was already 40 percent below average, and it’s estimated the hurricanes destroyed half of that amount.
LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dr. John Pyzner explains that the projected pecan harvest of 9 million pounds is now down to 4.5 million pounds. Crop loss was caused by trees being blown down, limbs broken and nuts blown out of the trees.
Can storm-damaged pecans be salvaged? Pyzner says the answer depends on several factors. Pecans blown off by hurricane Katrina were not mature enough to salvage. Pecans blown off by Hurricane Rita were more mature, and some of them might be salvaged.
Pyzner says early maturing varieties like Candy, Pawnee and Barton will have the best results. Efforts with late-maturing varieties like Sumner and Curtis are likely to be very disappointing.
Normal ripening of pecans starts with the splitting of the green shucks (the covering) surrounding the nuts. Nuts will sometimes hang in the opened shuck for a week or more before falling to the ground.
The nuts have high moisture content when the shucks first open. They also have a bitter taste. The nuts usually dry over a two- to three-week period, depending on the weather.
Many commercial pecan growers shorten the harvest drying period by shaking the nuts out of the trees with mechanical shakers and then drying the nuts with heated dryers. This process shortens the time to get pecans to market, and it also reduces nut loss to weather, squirrels, blue jays and crows.
Homeowners don’t have access to tree shakers. They can use long bamboo poles, however, to knock some of the pecans down. Windy days can speed the nut drop.
Harvested pecans should be dried to 4 percent moisture before long-term storage. Reaching this level can be done by placing nuts in a thin layer in a well-ventilated area. Nuts should be stirred to promote even drying. Fans can be used to increase air circulation to aid drying. The use of heat below 90 degrees or placing pecans in the sun can speed drying.
A rough estimate of adequate drying is to shell a sample of pecans and bend the kernels until they break. If the kernels break with a sharp snap, the nuts are probably dry enough. If the kernels do not break with a sharp snap the nuts need additional drying.
The pecans that came off the trees during the hurricanes had green shucks still around the nuts. The shucks around the nuts that are on the ground will not open. If the nuts are in a well-ventilated location, the shuck will dry around the nut and be very difficult to remove. Nuts in poorly ventilated locations will likely rot.
The quality of a fallen nut can be estimated by cutting through the nut and examining the kernel. The kernel should be white and completely fill the shell. The kernel will shrink with drying. If spaces are present in the folds of the kernel before drying, the kernel will likely shrink to a very thin kernel with no flavor when dried.
The closed shuck around a nut can be removed easiest while it is still green. A knife can be used to cut or scrape the shuck off the nut. The green shucks produce a greenish brown permanent stain; therefore, wear rubber gloves when working with the nuts.
Nuts on broken limbs will sometimes continue filling the kernel; however, the kernel usually will not be well filled. Limbs that are completely broken will do little additional filling of the kernel, and the shucks will not open.
Broken limbs that still have some live bark connections to the tree and have green leaves may continue filling some of the nuts on the limbs. The quality is likely to be inferior to nuts that mature normally. Some of the shucks may not open, others may have only the tips of the shuck to open, and these tips turn black. Some shucks on the limb may open normally. The closer the nuts resemble a normal shuck split, the better the pecan is likely to be.
Most of the nuts with hard-to-remove tight shucks will be low quality and are probably not worth the effort to salvage them. These pecans are probably best left to the squirrels.
Unfortunately, Pyzner says the pecan season has been running a couple of weeks later than normal. This means the pecans were not as mature as normal when the hurricanes hit, and salvage quality of the nuts will likely be lower than normally expected.
For related hurricane recovery and horticulture topics, click on the LSU AgCenter Web site, www.lsuagcenter.com.
Source: John Pyzner (318) 644-5865, or Jpyzner@agcenter.lsu.edu