Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pecan Orchard

Pecan trees ! I love them. The nuts are my favorite. One of my best memories growing up is collecting the nuts on crisp fall days. I even admire the airy shape of the trees. I notice every one we pass by on the road. In South Carolina, the pecan trees I had planted grew like weeds. But, I've had such poor results here in Arkansas. I've had to plant the orchard (24 trees) 3 different times, 4 times in some spots. Deer killed one orchard by nibbling and another batch by scraping their horns. After I caged each tree to protect them from deer, twig girdlers (insects) cut off all the new growth year after year. I finally controlled these pests with chemicals.

Last winter my best tree was cut down by … mice. No kidding! They gnawed it off at ground level. I did have one tree thriving by the house. It bore the biggest nuts that I've ever seen. A visitor hit it with a car and killed it down below the graft union. It's growing again from the non-commercial rootstock and will surely give the squirrels tiny wild nuts. At least it's a pecan tree.

Currently most of the commercial trees are infested with scab disease severe enough to kill nearly all of the new growth. I haven't been able to buy the highly potent chemicals without a commercial license. Varieties of pecan trees ? Mostly I have the rootstocks where Mahan, Stuart, Desirable, Cape Fear, Pawnee, and Choctaw used to grow. A few scab crippled originals are struggling along. At one point they were bearing a handful of nuts. Maybe I should have noticed that almost no pecan trees are growing in our area. I’m now introducing hazelnuts. So far, they are doing fine.

Starting Plants

Last August was hot and dry. 107 (42 Celsius) degrees in the shade with humidity under 20% killed much of our garden, even though I was watering. That’s why successfully raising vegetables in Arkansas means getting them started early in the spring. But, because we have frosts as late as April, it is best to keep the plants indoors until the danger of frost is minimal.

Purchasing a lot of plants for the garden is rather expensive. Therefore, I’ve tried many times to start them indoors from seed. There are lots of ways to kill the tiny plants. I’ve destroyed seedlings by over fertilization, sun burn, too hot, too cold, and especially excessive water. This year we were highly successful, especially starting tomato plants. I’ve discovered that to avoid damping off disease you must keep the little seedlings almost agonizingly dry. And you must put the seedlings in the wind or in front of a fan. This makes their stems strong. After putting our home started tomatoes in the ground, we saw some not much bigger for sale at $9.95 per plant ! Kit said, “Forget raising tomatoes. We’ll just sell the plants.” And so we plan to try selling seeded plants along with selling propagated plants such as figs and raspberries.

Another technique that we had developed in South Caroline was starting cool season crops like broccoli in mid winter by sowing seed directly in the garden. As shown in the picture, you can plant them in the soil under mini-greenhouses such as old milk containers. The container caps can be removed on warm days and replaced during hard freezes. The translucent plastic is better than clear plastic, which could allow sunburn of the emerging seedlings. This mini-greenhouse technique seems to be working equally as well in Arkansas. We’re currently building up our inventory of containers.