on saturday the brazos locavores visited the texas a&m pecan orchard, located on f.m. 50, just “south” of f.m. 60. leo lombardini, tamu associate professor, horticulturist and pecan physiologist led our tour. he started with a brief history of the pecan orchards. the oldest orchard is the brison tract, which was first planted here back in the 1950’s. since then the adrian (trees located in the background in the image above), storey, and mceachern (trees located in image below) tracts have been added to the research orchards. the name of each tract refers to the current pecan horticulturist/physiologist/professor at the time of planting. the lombardini tract is just taking root…
tamu is one of two universities in the u.s. with active pecan breeding programs – the university of georgia is the second. common breeding objectives for pecans are for increased nut size (for the commercial industry) and improved disease resistance. while both states work on Carya illinoensis, they have distinct pronunciations for their favorite nut. in georgia, it’s pee-can, while in texas it’s peh-kahn. trust me, you don’t want to get caught saying it wrong or else those who know will take you for a damned yankee.
the pecan tree is in the Juglandaceae (walnut) family and is native to the u.s. – the image above shows its native geographic range. the commercial growing range has expanded east to georgia and west to california. while there are over 1000 varieties of pecan, tamu has worked with the usda to grow, improve and introduce approximately 30 varieties. many of the varieties are named after native american indian tribes while others are named for the breeders who first discovered or developed them.
harvest time typically starts in late october to early november. at that time, the grass is mown and sticks are cleared from under each tree. mechanical shakers encircle the trunk of a tree and shaken for no more than 10 seconds. the fallen pecans are harvested with another machine and taken to a processor for cleaning and cracking.
at the end of the tour, leo offered pecans (both shelled and in the shell) for sale. he also brought bags of pecan shell mulch that is considered highly gourmet by the squirrels, racoons and fire ants that frequent his garden. supposedly, the dallas arboretum uses pecan shell mulch in its display gardens, as there are many pecan processing facilities in the dallas area. while i passed on the mulch offering, i scooped up three pounds of freshly harvested and shelled pecans. a bargain at $6 a pound when you consider that area stores are just now offering last year’s stale crop for even more per pound.
so fresh and tasty! even mr. grwhryrpltd, who up until now preferred walnuts over pecans, couldn’t keep his paws out of the bag. if you’re in the b/cs area and want to stock up on your own pecan reserves, the tamu horticulture club sells them every friday in the horticulture/forest sciences building on campus.
a big thanks goes out to leo for the tour of the orchards, and to the student communications group that organized this month’s locavore trip.
on a side note, i was happy to find out that leo was at msu for his PhD when i was there for my batchelor’s. not surprisingly, we knew and admired many of the same professors. the small but important world of horticulture strikes again… and i am humbled.