Like most agricultural activities, pecan farming is a year-round effort requiring hard work to grow a high quality pecan. Compared to growing crops such as corn or hay, pecan farming requires uniquely different equipment and timing during the year. Here’s “How we do it” to produce tasty pecans, including Pawnee, Cheyenne, Wichita and Kiowa varieties. All are “soft shell”, easy to shell pecans.

Irrigation Planning

Pecans need lots of water (about twice what a corn crop requires), so we supplement natural rainfall with irrigation delivered to cover the entire orchard floor. Pecans need 2 inches of water per week (yes, that’s 2 inches spread over the entire orchard area) to produce full, plump nuts.

Laying new irrigation in pecan farm
Laying new irrigation
New Irrigation in Orchard
New Irrigation in Orchard

Planting New Trees

First we have to plant and establish the orchard. This can involve several techniques including:

  • Planting native pecan root stock, nurturing the trees for a couple of years and then grafting the tops with an upgraded variety of choice.
  • Planting trees that have already been grafted in a nursery. This is the method we use. The nursery digs up the trees with most of the roots and the “bare-rooted” trees are then kept moist until we plant the trees.

Planting involves digging a 14” hole over 3 feet deep, inserting the tree and then “watering in” the tree with plenty of top soil and water. The water is critical to insure the soil packs down and no large air pockets remain. Air pockets would allow the roots to dry out and then the tree would not survive.

Planting Pecan Trees 1
Planting Pecan Trees
Planting Pecan Trees 2
Planting Pecan Trees

Tree Trimming

Our work begins right after the Christmas holidays when we trim the dormant trees to shape them and provide room beneath the trees for the farm equipment we use. We never have a shortage of pecan wood for BBQs!

Trimming Pecan Trees image 1
Trimming Pecan Trees
Trimming Pecan Trees image 2
Using Pole Saw to Trim Pecan Trees

Fertilizing the Orchard

Pecans need lots of nitrogen fertilizer (N2) throughout the growing season, so we fertilize three times. First in mid-April at when the leaves start growing (“budbreak”), a second time in late May-early June when the pecan nutlets are almost full size (“sized”), and a third time in mid July when the nuts are full size and filling with pecan nut meat (“filling”). Pecans require almost twice as much fertilizer as does say a corn crop—almost 500 pounds of fertilizer per acre each year!

Fertilizing with Drop Spreader
Fertilizing with Drop Spreader

Irrigating the Orchard

Pecans need lots of water (about twice what a corn crop requires), so we supplement natural rainfall with irrigation delivered to cover the entire orchard floor. Pecans need 2 inches of water per week (yes, that’s 2 inches spread over the entire orchard area) to produce full, plump nuts.

Irrigating the Orchard with Sprinklers image 1
Irrigating the Orchard with Sprinklers
Irrigating the Orchard with Sprinklers image 2
Irrigating the Orchard

Weed Control

With fertilizing and irrigation come the weeds. As we all know, weeds do a good job of “competing with” the main crop and have to be controlled to minimize nutrient and water loss. We use two methods:

Mowing the orchard image 2
Mowing the Orchard
Spraying the Pecan Grove image 1
Herbicide is used to control weeds where we can’t mow.

Spraying

We spray the pecan trees for two important reasons: to feed the trees zinc nutrient and to control detrimental insects and fungus. Pecans require zinc and it has to be “foliar applied”, that is sprayed on the leaves where the tree absorbs the zinc. So we use a special orchard spray rig to apply the spray all the way up to the top leaves on the trees.

We use industry approved “Integrated Pest Management” techniques to spray pesticides and fungicides. This means we closely monitor conditions in the orchard and spray only when necessary and then only with carefully formulated chemicals that target only the bad insects and leave the good insects. For example, our pesticide sprays do not harm the Lady Bugs, who happily go about their job of controlling the bad insects even right after we spray.

Spraying the Pecan Grove image 1
Spraying the Pecan Grove
Spraying the Pecan Grove for Pests
Spraying the Pecan Grove for Pests

Harvesting

Then the fun part. If all goes well, nature cooperates, hail storms don’t hit and the summer droughts are moderate, we end the season with a good crop of pecans for everyone to enjoy. But we need to get the nuts off the trees, cleaned and dried and sacked for in-shell sales. This takes several steps and more specialized equipment.

Shaking the nuts off the tree

Depending on the variety, the nuts reach maturity and are ready to harvest beginning in late September on thru early November. We start harvesting when the shucks start splitting open (“shucksplit”). The entire orchard is mowed and cleared of sticks and trash. Then, we “clamp” onto each tree with a tree shaker and shake the trees to drop the nuts to the orchard floor.

Shaking Trees with Industrial Shaker
Shaking Trees with Industrial Shaker
Shaking Trees with Tractor Shaker
Shaking Trees with Tractor Shaker

Picking up the nuts

We use a pecan harvester to pick the nuts up off the orchard floor, remove sticks and leaves and collect the nuts for transport to the barn.

Picking Up Pecans in the Orchard
Picking Up Pecans in the Orchard
Dumping Pecans after Collection
Dumping Pecans after Collection

Cleaning the nuts

Once at the barn, we move the pecans with elevators and use a pecan cleaner to remove the pecan shucks, remaining leaves and any small sticks. The nuts cross over an inspection table (conveyor) on the pecan cleaner for a final inspection by the operator before dropping into a second elevator that deposits the pecans in the drying bins.

Putting Pecans in Cleaner
Putting Pecans in Cleaner
Inspecting Pecans after Cleaning
Inspecting Pecans after Cleaning

Drying, Sizing and Sorting

Drying

Because we harvest just at shucksplit, the pecans still have high moisture content (they are still “green”) and have to be dried before sale. We use special drying bins that blow ambient air across the nuts for about 5-6 days to reduce the moisture content in the nuts to 4% – 5%. After quality and moisture testing (called “grading” the pecans), the nuts are dry and ready to be sacked and sold to be sized and quality sorted.

Sizing and Sorting

Once the nuts are dried down to a moisture content of 4% -5% or less, we move the nuts to the sizing and sorting part of our pecan processing plant. There, we use a drum sizer to segregate the nuts by size. In the pecan industry, nuts are called size “12s, 13s, 14s, on up to size 16”. Basically, 12s are 12/16” sized nuts, 13s are 13/16” sized nuts and so on up to size 16s which are 1” nuts. Once sized, we move the nuts to a quality sorting machine called an “aspirator”. In the aspirator, an elevator deposits the nuts into a vertical column with an air blower and several “catchments” positioned at different positions vertically in the column. The heaviest nuts (i.e., the best or # 1 nuts), drop out the bottom of the air column onto an inspection table, where we remove any cracked pecans before sacking them for retail sales. The # 2 and # 3 nuts are blown up to higher catchment trays, sacked and sold in the wholesale market. Empty nuts are blown out the top of the column and discarded.

Drying Pecans in Dryer
Drying Pecans in our Dryer
Sorting Pecans by Size in our Sorter
Sorting Pecans by Size in our Sorter

Sacking and Sales

The is the part we work all year for –getting our finished product – high quality, wonderful tasting, fresh in-shell pecans ready for everyone to enjoy. Once the sizing and quality sorting is complete, we sack, weigh and sell the pecans in our store or to the wholesale market. Our store is where our customers can enjoy our the freshest pecans at great prices.

Bagging for Wholesale Sales

We sack pecans for sale as part of the sorting process to ensure we package similar size and quality pecans together. Our automated sorting equipment facilitates the bagging process. Our large sacks of pecans are sold in bulk to commercial processors and distributors.

Pecans being bagged
Pecans being bagged from the sorter
Pecans ready for wholesale market
Pecans Ready for Sale to Wholesale Market

In-the-shell Pecans for Retail Sales

Many of our retail customers enjoy cracking pecans as a snack, so we also offer smaller sacks of in-the-shell, single variety pecans in our retail store. In addition, we offer in-the-shell pecans separately so our retail customers can select a mix of our varieties.

Pecan Varieties in Retail Bins
Pecan Varieties in Retail Sales Bins
Pecans in retail sales bin
Pecans in Retail Sales Bin

Cracking Pecans for Customers and Local Sales

Many of our local commercial (restaurants, bakers, etc.) and retail customers prefer to purchase pecans already shelled. Our automated pecan cracker simplifies this process and produces beautiful whole shelled pecan meats with little waste and crumbling of the meat. We bag these shelled nut meats, seal in air-tight containers and immediately freeze them for freshness. We sell shelled pecan meats them by the pound in our store.

We also provide cracking services to smaller local pecan growers and individuals who have a few pecan trees. You can learn more about our cracking services here.

Shelled pecans in bags
Shelled Pecans in bags for sale
Pecan Cracker in operation
Pecan Cracker in Operation

THAT’S HOW WE DO IT! WE HOPE YOU ENJOY OUR PECANS

FROM DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS,

Don’t forget to check out the Comal Pecan Farm Store for great pecan products for your family!

Happy Comal Pecan Farm Customers
Happy Comal Pecan Farm Customers!

Note: Our pecan farming practices were developed from the published document Good Agricultural Practices for Pecans in Texas as compiled by Larry A. Stein, Monte Nesbitt, Al Wagner, Bill Ree and George Ray McEachern from the Texas AgriLife Extension.
You can review their document on Good Pecan Agricultural Practices here.