Monday, December 29, 2008

Trip from Texas

Friday, Dec. 26 - rose at 4:30am, was at airport at 5:50, flight to Atlanta then after sitting on the tarmac, left 2 hours late for Austin.
Arrived in Austin about 1:30pm, picked up at airport by Mrs. Lisa Berdoll who graciously fed our hungry tummies before giving us a tour of both their retail store as well as the orchard and some of the harvesting buildings. The Berdolls are some of the nicest people ever, and we got to meet their daughter (Jennifer) and son-in-law who are buying the store on Monday, as well as their son (Brandon) and his wife who works at the retail store.
After seeing the orchard and Hal's new sorting machine (which he designed himself to re-sort pecans to his own more stringent specifications), we stocked up on some fantastic pecan products at their store and got a few pointers from Hal about planting the trees. They had already loaded up our order (85 Desirable and 235 Pawnee trees that are 2 year-old grafted onto 2 year rootstock, as well as 12 young Pawnees that have been budded but not yet forced, and one large Pawnee that will go at the entrance to the farm).
We drove to the closest Home Depot, bought a padlock to help protect our lifetime savings packed in that truck!, and hit the road just before dark. We drove down to Houston, and on into Iowa before stopping for the night. (Yes, Iowa! - Iowa, Louisiana, that is :) !). Saturday morning we fueled up at Waffle House and got gas for the truck, and hit the road. We crossed Louisiana amidst scattered light showers, marveled at the acres and acres of rice fields, drove across the southern edge of Mississippi, and on into Alabama. From Mobile we headed up to Montgomery, then on to Atlanta by about 8:30pm Saturday night.
Derwin was feeling very achy and feverish by late afternoon and by the time we reached Atlanta was into a full-blown flu. I had thought I would trade off driving with him when needed but a 16' truck loaded with everything it had taken us 30 years of marriage to save, and our two lives at stake if I made a mistake on a rainy, foggy interstate was more than either of us wanted to risk. So we stopped for the night and although D got very little sleep between coughing and headaches, he hung in there to drive us the rest of the way home on Sunday evening (he's amazing!).

Plan for planting:
1 - Unload trees under garden shed cover where can be wrapped/covered if freezes below 15 degrees or so before planting
2 - Subsoil the tree holes where they've been dug with 3' auger in at least 4 places (2 times across each hole)
3 - Level off each hole if sunken
4 - Dig 9" hole for each tree
5 - Remove from pot and plant in hole, packing in well, and then watering
6 - Berm about 3' from trunk around each tree (to hold in irrigation during dry spells before irrigation system is put in); mulch inside the bermed area
7 - Put up electric fence to keep deer out
8 - Wrap tree protectors around each trunk and put up bamboo supports & tie them
9 - Get sprayers, insecticides, etc. ready for spring
10 - Mark varieities with more permanent markings at each row
11 - Log varieties and planting info (weather, etc.) in computer database
12 - Water as needed
13 - Determine/file tax information
14 - Continue to monitor and log weather and soil conditions throughout winter and in preparation for spring fertilizers, etc.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Disgust with wholesalers

Well, my plans to have lots of "Desirables" waiting for Thanksgiving pecan pies (see previous post) backfired! These nuts were so good we ate all of them - yes, all of them!!! - raw as snacks before Thanksgiving ever arrived. Two days before the big meal I did what thousands of Americans do - I went to the grocers and bought pecans. I even had to get a stocker to go in the back and find me some because they were sold out on the shelves. Was I ever disgusted when I got home with my bag of Diamond brand pecan halves, opened it up and popped one in my mouth. I almost spewed it back out it was so disgusting compared to what we had been eating for the previous week. In tiny print on the bag it was noted that the contents were pecans and - AND????!!!! Yes, AND Corn Oil "to preserve freshness". Probably beacuse they are last year's (or year before kept in cold storage) crop from Mexico picked up cheap and resold to you in the grocery at premium price! If you have only ever tasted pecans like these I am very ashamed to tell you that we are pecan growers. You have not tasted a true pecan until you shelled an improved variety like "Pawnee" or "Desirable" and popped it straight in your mouth - no toasting, sugar, or CORN OIL needed! I guess in a way I should thank these purveyors of junk nuts because it has made me fully confident that our fresh nuts will blow them away once people have a chance to taste the difference. So, thanks, Diamond and Food Lion :) !
You're ensuring our success!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Shelling Pecans

Saturday I was finally over the flu, so when D returned from a local pecan cracker with 10 pounds of cracked beautiful Desirables (that's a pecan variety :) !) we all sat on the back porch, spread them on the plastic tablecloth and shelled them. After weighing them into 1-pound bags, we delivered our first "prize" to friends and neighbors, reserving some in our fridge for soon-to-come Thanksgiving pies! The nuts were grown in an irrigated orchard in northern Georgia and make us even more excited about getting our trees in the ground and growing.

We pick up our first tree order next Saturday from Lake View Pecans in Bailey. D is taking Friday through the whole next week off to dig 3' wide, 4' deep holes at each tree spot with a rented bobcat with a 3' auger attachment. We will then hand mix lime into the soil (just a small amount) before refilling the hole, then he will subsoil both across and down each row which should break up any "glazing" done by the auger. After the subsoiling is done, we will use the tractor to smooth out the rows and will then replace each measured marker for the exact center of the hole. Our plan is to then be able to simply use manual post hole diggers for the hole and planting of each pot. We will probably try to get all of the NC trees (85 of them, 4 different varieties) in the ground before Christmas, but definitely by New Years. I will hand water and tend to the trees in the pots between this Saturday and the day they go into the ground. After New Years we will be going to Texas to get the rest of the trees (385 total but just two varieties). That's the plan. We will see what reality brings :) !

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Fruit and Berry Order

This past week I ordered a few more fruit and berry trees/plants for our fruit orchard (just to the Northwest side of the pecan orchard). We currently have plums, pears, peaches, apples, figs, blueberries and grapes for our personal consumption. The new order will add two more varieties of apples (Winesap and Granny Smith) to cross-pollinate with the Red and Yellow Delicious trees we have. The one Arkansas Black tree we have has never done well and we are going to attempt to dig it up and replant it when we rent the auger during Thanksgiving week. We will also dig the holes for the new fruit/berries that will arrive Dec. 12th. In addition to the two apple varieties we order one each of four kinds of muscadine grapes, more Arapaho and Navaho thornless blackberries (these are fantastic tasting, easy to pick - thornless!!!! - and grew extremely well both last year during the record-breaking drought as well as the almost wet summer this year. ) I sure am hoping to be able to make lots and lots of blackberry pies and jam soon (we ate all of this year's crop fresh except for one pie). I decided not to order any more blueberry or fig plants but try to really prune and carefully tend the ones we have already. I also opted out of more pear or plum trees since we had very ample crops of both this year, even though the trees are still very young. If I decide to make for gifts or sales more preserves from these we can add a tree or two in a few years.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Layout finished (hopefully!)

Saturday we finished (hopefully!) the exact layout of the orchard, hand placing 362 flags in rows and columns up and down the hills to be ready for digging holes for the trees on the main portion of the farm. We still need to measure and flag the areas that will flank the drive, but that is a very easy task comparatively speaking. I was scheduled to take the two new soil samples we have (from the two areas where the millet didn't grow very well) to the CoOp Extension office in Smithfield today but Ethan has the flu, so we will hopefully go tomorrow or Wed., and take the tractor's radiator and fan to a "specialist" in Garner who will tell us whether it can be resurrected or we will have to buy a new one (over $400!).

The layout now includes:
235 Pawnee
12 Oconee
85 Desirable
15 Cape Fear
25 Stuart
9 Nacano
15 Sumner

(Shoshoni wasn't available from our suppliers so I have just left it out since we had more than sufficient of other varieties.) Here are my notes for choice of varieties and their location on the farm:
1 - Have enough varieties to withstand our "northern" conditions, including possibility of both drought and humid summers, early warm periods followed by potential late frosts, soil conditions, comparatively low wind speeds in spring when pollination is needed, potential for high damaging hurricane winds, rolling topography, minimum amount of topsoil, and natural pH and pests. We have set a minimum of 4 and maximum of 10 varieties, with the maximum due to the desire to have as consistent size, shape and color as possible between varieties.
2 - Have enough varieties to have some nuts maturing over several weeks, rather than all at once, in order to spread out the ability to utilize human resources and minimum amount of harvesting equipment, as well as spread out the availability of new product direct to the public for the longest amount of time, but preferably all before Thanksgiving.
3 - Have some temporary rows with varieties that are quicker (5-7 years as opposed to 8-12 years old) to come into production.
4 - Have mostly varieties that are at least moderately resistant to pecan scab, but balance the need for resistance to scab with propensity to break limbs, alternate bear, shell thickness, and tolerance to drought.
As you can see, the variables are almost endless and at the end of the day, we had to also consider the availability of the variety from a reliable resource. Their is no "perfect" choice because their is no perfect soil, or perfect weather pattern, or perfect world! But we have tried to consider as many factors as possible, and weigh each according to its value or distraction from what we want to accomplish with limited financial and labor resources. I'm sure in years to come we might play the "if only" game about varieties and layout, but we've done our best with as much information as we could get and with as much discussion with growers and between ourselves as we could. So for now,I have updated the spreadsheet, kept notes, and re-confirmed that our order this spring will give us more than sufficient of each variety. Actually, I really will miss this part, because it's like a big jigsaw puzzle and anyone who knows me knows I LOVE puzzles!!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

First deep freeze of the season

Last night was the first real freeze/frost of the fall. We have had three other nights in the past week and a half with very light "dustings" of frost but noooo doubt this morning. We've watched the parade of leaves floating down onto the front yard all day and tomorrow I will pull all the "burnt" flowers and herbs out of the beds. Pecan picking time is here!!!!

Easter Eggs and Pecans???

I ran across a funny observation on a blog the other day that I really enjoyed -

The pecans are beginning to fall from the trees and I've been collecting them as I find the time. I'm beginning to believe that the Easter tradition of searching for hidden Easter eggs was created by southerners wanting to condition their children to find and gather pecans in the fall.

I think maybe his thought about Easter eggs and Pecans might just be right :) !