How to pick pecans?

Picking Pecans: How And When To Harvest Pecans

If you’re nuts about nuts and you reside in U.S. Department of Agriculture zones 5-9, then you may be lucky enough to have access to picking pecans. The question is when is it time to harvest pecans? Read on to find out how to harvest pecan nuts.

When to Harvest Pecans

Statuesque and stately pecan trees begin to shed their nuts in the fall, prior to leaf drop. Depending upon the variety and climate, harvesting pecan trees takes place from late September through November.

Before the nuts begin to drop, they look nothing like the finished product – light brown, dark-striped nuts. The nut forms inside a green husk that gradually browns as it dries and the nut matures. As the pecans mature, the husks begin to crack open, indicating readiness of picking pecans.

This indication is a beautiful thing for those of us that dislike heights. There is no need to climb the tree to check on the readiness of the nuts. Once the pecans are fully mature, they drop out of the husks and to the ground.

This fact leads to the question of whether it is okay to harvest pecans early. Early is a relative term. The pecan husks must at least be cracking open, but yes, if you want to climb the tree and remove those that appear ready, by all means do so. A proactive approach, such as picking from the tree, will alleviate the possibility that they lay on the ground too long. If pecans are left to linger on the ground, especially wet ground, the possibility that they may begin to rot or are carted off by birds or other wildlife increases.

Once the pecans fall from the tree, provided the ground is dry, they begin to dry and cure which improves their quality. Curing increases flavor, texture and aroma of pecans. Wet ground darkens the seed coat and increases the fatty acid levels, leading to rancid and stale nuts.

If you have an unusually warm fall, hulls can be removed from the nuts before the shells are completely brown, but it is wise to delay harvesting the pecans until the shell is fully brown to ensure that the nut is fully developed.

How to Harvest Pecan Trees

Harvesting pecans is, of course, incredibly simple if they are allowed to drop from the tree naturally. You can also encourage the nuts to drop by knocking them from the tree with a long pole or shaking the branches. The key to harvesting pecans from the ground is to pick them up as soon as possible or you are just asking for assault from ants, birds and molds.

For the most part, the hulls will drop from the pecans or remain in the tree. Some hulls (schucks) may remain stuck to the nuts, in which case they will need to be hulled. If there are many nuts with tightly stuck hulls, chances are good the nuts are not fully ripe.

Once the pecans have been harvested, they need to be dried, or cured before storing them. Dry them slowly, spread out in a thin layer on a plastic sheet in an area of low light and circulating air. Stir the nuts around often to hasten the drying process and consider blowing a fan across the nuts. Depending upon conditions, drying will take between 2-10 days. Properly dried pecans will have a brittle kernel and should separate easily from its exterior.

Once the pecans are dried, you can extend their shelf life by refrigerating or freezing them. Whole pecans (in the shell) will store much longer than shelled nuts. Whole kernels can be stored for a year at 32-45 degrees F. (0 to 7 C.) or for two or more years at 0 degrees F. (-17 C.). Shelled pecans can be stored for a year at 32 degrees F. (0 C.) or for two or more years at 0 degrees F. (-17 C.).

Pecans – The Process from Seed to Served

Pecan pie, trail mix, cookies, desserts of all types. The pecan is a delightfully rich, buttery little treat that finds its way into hundreds of different foods that we eagerly eat up. But the life cycle of a pecan begins far before it ends up in that pie topping. The life of a pecan follows a winding trail from pollination to harvest, harvest to wholesale pecans in fancy halves, large, extra large pieces or other varieties.

It all starts… with a seed.

Pecan Tree – Seed to Nut

That title may be a little disingenuous after all a pecan nut is a pecan seed. So, to say growth from ‘seed to nut’ is essentially saying the same thing, but for this purpose, it is important to distinguish them slightly.

A pecan tree can be established in about 4 different ways. You can plant seedlings and onto them, graft the specifically desired cultivar. Plant a tree already grafted with the wanted cultivar or transplant existing trees or seedlings and top work for the cultivar. The other method, the one we are focusing on here for simplicity sake (after all, as consumers you do not need to know exactly how top work is done to change the harvest) is starting with seed.

The seed for the tree should be collected in the fall. The pecan should be filled and free of insects. The best pecan trees come from northern climes, where the trees will be better adapted for colder weather. When planted further south, these variants of the trees become more durable. These seeds will grow into seedlings, and when large enough, will be able to be grafted with the branch of the pecan variant that farmers wish to grow. This ensures the tree will begin to produce the exact kind of nut desired!

Pecans, like other fruits, are genetically unique from the seed that they grew from. While the seed that grew the tree may be a Stuart or a Desirable, they may not grow just so. That is why pecan farmers will graft their desired kind of pecan branch onto those seedlings, to ensure that they are getting the right nut for harvest.

These seedlings will need several years before they are able to produce a sizable enough harvest. Roughly 5 to 7 years. Once the tree is ready to bear pecans, it starts, as you might imagine – in the Spring. In springtime, pecan trees flower. The tree produces both male and female flowers. While the male flowers will produce pollen, the female flowers become pollinated and then they transform into the pecans themselves!

The pollinated female flowers will form a green, protective husk, as the insides begin to mature into the pecan. Come autumn, the husk goes brown and pulls away – the mature pecan nut is here!

Pecans Ready to Harvest

In the natural world, before pecan trees were farmed commercially, the pecan nut would simply fall off the tree and be collected and eaten. Pecan farmers have no need to wait around for that to happen! They’ll take a machine that grips the tree and shakes the pecans loose from their branches. These pecans will then be let to lay in the orchard for a couple of days to begin the drying process.

While this machine is shaking a walnut, the same kind is used for pecans.

After the pecan nuts have had some time to dry, the farmers will go back through the orchard, moving the pecans into rows to facilitate easier gathering. Farmers will then drive over these rows with specialized harvesting equipment that lifts the pecans (and some extra foliage) from the orchard floor.

Pecan Processing

Pecans are then taken to a sorting facility. Here, electric sorters will shake loose and separate the good harvest from the sticks, twigs, leaves, and other debris that was pulled up with them. The pecans are sorted by size and weight and continue their way through the facility on the conveyor belts, shell still intact. The good harvest is then made ready for shipping. At some facilities, this means going through an alcohol float.

Haven’t seen mention of the alcohol float in other pecan wholesalers? That’s not too surprising as it is hardly the most appealing step in the process, but be sure, most are doing it. The alcohol float ensures that there are no pecan weevils or other parasites in the pecan, but this process also removes so much of the natural flavors from the pecans!

Here at SNRA however, we have revolutionized this process, ensuring there are no contaminants, insect or otherwise through other processes that keep the natural flavor of the pecans.

But wait – are those shells are still there?

While some buyers want their pecans shell intact, here at SNRA we specifically cater for those who want to be a step ahead. For them, that means not wanting to spend the time, the resources, or the capital to have a shelling process on hand. Sure, you crack a few pecans with your hand, but on the industrial-sized quantities that we and our customers handle on a daily basis? That’s simply not realistic.

And so, the next step for many of those healthy pecans is through the shelling process.

Pecan Shelling

The nutmeat of a pecan, the actual edible core of the nut, is made up of two halves. That’s two whole pieces of a pecan inside each shell. The goal of the shelling process it to crack the hard outer layer, and separate it from the soft, delicious food within.

The pecans are taken, again by conveyor belt to the cracker. It uses a small bucket chain to carry the nuts, one by one through to the main chamber of the cracker. Here, a piston strikes the shell with just enough force to crack the shell cleanly. Imagine your workers cracking by hand? How many do you think they could do in a minute? Half dozen? A dozen? Not here, no sir. The cracker machine can crack 450 pecans in a minute!

In a pecan-perfect world, the nut would be shelled into the two halves perfectly every time, but of course, this world is not pecan-perfect. As such, during the shelling process, (and even during the harvesting process up to this point) a percentage of each pecan half may break apart into smaller pieces. These are just a byproduct of the process, they are not any less delicious or useful and so they too are sold wholesale to buyers who want finer pieces of pecans.

Tip: If you want a more economical purchase of wholesale pecans, look to buy about 70% halves and 30% pieces!

After going through the cracker machine, the pecan meat and shell continue along the conveyor belt, with the rest of the processing being dedicated to removing the bits of shell from the edible meat. It will go through various chambers and steps where the size of the pecans themselves can be sorted divided out into like categories: the fancy halves, extra-large, large, medium, small, and midget pieces are all these pecan sizes.

The final stage in our pecans process is packaging into 30lb. cases and being shipped to our customers. They receive their case, open them up for use and in their hand they have it. The pecan! And so, just like it began it ends, with a nut!

This process covers what most in the pecan business do. At SNRA we buy, shell, and sell, buying from the farmers directly, shelling right away and selling them to our customers immediately. Our shelling facility is second to none, as the safety and quality of our pecans are hugely important to us. Our pecans don’t sit around in a warehouse waiting for orders, thus ensuring that the quality is as high as possible for customers.

Pecans are truly a wonderful food, delicious and nutritious, with more antioxidants than the same size serving of blueberries! And to think, they once were used solely for hog feed! This is America’s nut, and we here at SNRA are proud to be working to bring pecans to every corner of the country, and to pecan aficionados worldwide.

Falling Pecans.

Every year, usually in August, we also hear another sad story – it’s raining pecans! What can start out as a bumper crop might look like it will all end up on the ground months before harvest time. A certain amount of premature nut drop is unavoidable. Here are some of the reasons why pecan trees shed their crop early.

Shortage of Nutrients. This can cause pecans to drop at any time during their development, but most of these drops occur in August and early September as the nuts are rapidly growing and filling. Drops due to a shortage of nutrients will always be greatest on heavily loaded trees. In many cases, the nutrient-deficient nuts that drop will be abnormally small on the basal or stem end. Nitrogen and zinc are the most commonly deficient nutrients in pecans. Good fertilization practices starting in early spring are needed to avoid this problem.

Soil Moisture Stress. Pecans require a very large amount of soil moisture to mature satisfactory crops of nuts. A shortage of water in the late spring or summer will result in small pecans that will shed in large numbers in July and August. This is probably the number one reason pecans fall at that time. Soil saturation from excess rain can also cause stress symptoms and related nut drops.

Regular, soaking irrigations (preferably weekly) are needed to avoid stress-related drops. Apply at least 1 to 2 inches per watering when using a sprinkler (measure with a rain gauge, tin can, etc.) or water for 8 to 10 hours per application with a drip system. Remember that the tree’s root system extends out to and well beyond the ends of the branches. This is where the active roots are – not near the base of the trunk.

Nuts of certain tightly filled varieties, like Wichita and Cherokee, will split and drop in August and September if stressed excessively between irrigations. Also, very large varieties, like Mahan and Mohawk, are notoriously difficult to fill and poor nut quality often results in dry years when irrigation has been insufficient in August and September.

Pest-related Damage. There are several insects and diseases that can cause nut drop. The pecan nut casebearer is a tiny worm that bores into the base of the nut and hollows it out. The major attack is in late May or early June, but later generations in July and August can also cause nut drop, but to a much lesser extent.

Stink bugs and their relatives suck sap from the nuts. They can be a continual problem throughout the summer. Damage prior to shelling hardening (mid-August) causes the nut to blacken internally and drop. Nuts injured after shell hardening mature with blackened, bitter tasting spots on the kernels.

Pecan scab is fungal disease that causes dark spots or lesions on leaves, twigs and the shuck of pecans. A severe infection can cause premature nut shed, particularly in August and September.

If all that weren’t enough, at the end you still have to fight off the squirrels and crows for the maturing crop.

Bottom Line. What I always come back to is the fact that it is not an easy task to bring a good crop of pecans to maturity. It takes a lot of water and regular spraying to keep the crop clean and healthy. So, I figure let the commercial folks grow the pecans for me and I’ll buy them in the store for a lot less time and money than I could raise them. Enjoy your pecan trees for the great shade they provide (watch out for falling branches) and be thankful for the years you do get a bumper crop.

I hope the following information from the Michigan State University Extension will help you:

NUTS – DRYING
Michigan State University Extension Preserving Food Safely – 01600671 10/13/97

Spread nuts thinly on trays or screens and allow them to dry gradually from exposure to a gentle but steady air flow. A clean, cool, dry porch or attic is ideal. Nuts dried this way will not mold. Drying times varies with nut variety. Most varieties will need several weeks for proper drying.

All nuts except chestnuts contain a large amount of oil which prevents them from drying out completely. Because of their high water and carbohydrate content, chestnuts dry in 3 to 7 days. Drying for longer will cause chestnuts to become hard and inedible.

DRYNESS TEST:

Nutmeats of pecan, walnuts, filberts and hickory nuts should shake freely in their shells.

Nutmeats should be light-colored and break with a sharp snap when bent or bitten.

Taste should be light-flavored.

Note: Excessive drying will cause nut shell to crack.

ALTERNATIVE DRYING METHODS:

Small amounts of nuts in the shell can be dried in a furnace room or even on trays on a radiator providing the temperature do not exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit will affect flavor and shorten storage life. Nuts will be dry in 24 to 48 hours.

Nuts in the shell can also be dried in a food dehydrator if the temperature can be adjusted low enough. Follow manufacturer’s directions. Unshelled nuts will dry in 8 to 10 hours in a food dehydrator.

Oven drying is not recommended for unshelled nuts as it is difficult to keep the temperature low enough and air circulation is poor.

Question:

I saw your answer to drying walnuts and I have a question. I am hulling some walnuts right now and some of them look like they have mold on them. Is it alright to clean them and dry them to bake or eat? I wasn’t sure how to harvest the walnuts and I didn’t take them out of the hull when they were green and now they are black. Are they still good? If you could please let me know I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you. – Patty Griffith (11/20/03)

Answer:

Yes, you walnut are still good. The outer husk has nothing to do with the walnut meat inside (even if the husk is black). You probably should have husked them sooner to avoid any mold.

An easy recipe for how to toast pecans in the oven or on the stove. Enhance the flavor of pecans, then add to salads, snack mixes, baked goods like my Pecan Pie or Hummingbird Cake, and more!

Toasting pecans is an easy way to enhance their flavor and an extra step you should put on auto-pilot: Just do it. Toast the pecans.

Whether you toast them in the oven or on the stove top, it only takes a few minutes and you can dramatically improve the taste of your pecans. If you’re going to eat them, you might as well make them the best they can be!

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How do you toast Pecans in the oven?

First, decide if you want to toss the pecans in fat (oil or clarified butter are both good choices) before toasting. You can also add salt, sugar, or other spices if you want to.

Toast pecans in a preheated oven on a rimmed baking sheet for 7 to 10 minutes. Stir or shake the pan occasionally so the nuts brown evenly without burning.

How do you toast Pecans on the stove?

If you have a small quantity of pecans to toast, this is a really great way to get the job done.

As with baking pecans in the oven, decide if you want to toss the pecans in oil or add any spices. Next, add the pecans to a skillet and toast over medium-heat until browned (one shade darker than they originally were) and fragrant.

5 from 2 votes

How to Toast Pecans

An easy recipe for how to toast pecans in the oven or on the stove. Enhance the flavor of pecans, then add to salads, snack mixes, baked goods, and more! Course Appetizer, Pantry Cuisine American Keyword pecans Prep Time 2 minutes Cook Time 10 minutes Total Time 12 minutes Servings 4 (1/4 cup) servings Calories 30kcal

  • 1 cup pecans or more
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or clarified butter, optional
  • Salt optional

To toast pecans in the oven:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or foil for easy cleanup.
  • Toss pecans in oil and salt if desired. Arrange in a single layer on prepared baking sheet. Toast until browned and fragrant, stirring occasionally, about 7 to 10 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and chop or use as desired. Or, store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

To toast pecans on the stove:

  • Toss pecans in oil and salt if desired. In a medium skillet over medium heat, heat pecans until browned and fragrant, stirring occasionally, about 2 to 5 minutes.
  • Remove from skillet and chop or use as desired. Or, store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Nutrition

Calories: 30kcal

Where to Buy Pecans (Online, in Georgia and Beyond!)

How to Select the Best Pecans:

The best raw pecans are found when all parts of the process – from harvesting to shipping – are done on site, where everything is managed top down. Pecans are sold at many different price points, but often, the price reflects the quality. With nuts, you’ll get exactly what you pay for. Also, the best Georgia pecan growers go through a certification process every year.

As we gear up for pecan harvest in the next few weeks, one of the most exciting things is the upcoming crop of fresh pecans right from the tree. One might think that all pecans in the Fall season are fresh but that is definitely not the case. Many pecans you buy are from at least the previous crop year, and some could even be older than that. We recently wrote about the harvest process and our beautiful pecan trees.

Picking out fresh pecans can often be confusing. There are hundreds of different varieties and many different sizes. There is a substantial difference in flavor in a fresh, raw pecan, versus one that came from a can of nuts you get at the store. When looking for the freshest pecans you should look for a light, bright color. If the color is amber or a dark brown then either the pecan is old or it has not been stored correctly and could be rancid. (Check out our top pecan nutrition facts and faqs!)

Why Georgia Pecans?

Georgia is the leading pecan-producing state in the U.S. In particular, Albany, GA is known as the “pecan capital of the world” due to the number of pecan trees (more than 600,000). Beyond that, Georgia is the home of the National Nut Growers Association, which was established in Albany in 1901. Georgia pecans are the best you’ll find anywhere.

How to Store Raw Pecans:

Pecans have a higher oil content than most other nuts which, while making their flavor profile delicious, makes their shelf life at room temperature limited. When at all possible, pecans should be stored in a cool environment when using immediately and stored in a freezer if not used immediately.

Retail stores often make the error of storing their fresh pecans at room temperature. While the pecans may start “fresh” they often degrade after being stored incorrectly. It is for this reason that many people have never really tasted a truly fresh pecan! When you buy pecans off the grocery store shelf, you don’t know how long they have sat there. Freshness is a huge component to keeping your pecans tasting their best. To learn more about how to store nuts, pecans, and dried fruit, check out our storage guide instructions here.

Why Buy Pecans From Sunnyland Farms:

Here at Sunnyland Farms in Albany, Ga, we are uniquely focused on producing only the highest quality pecan halves and pecan pieces. Not only do we guarantee that all of our raw pecans are “new crop pecans” from the latest crop year, but we also make sure that they are stored correctly until they ship to you. Unlike many other websites that sell pecans online, we are a farm, manufacturer, toaster and packer: we manage the whole process. That means taking care of our trees, harvesting, cleaning, shelling, and grading, grading, grading. Quality is our #1 concern.

That’s the Sunnyland difference, and it’s a difference that you can definitely taste and see. So, if you’re a pecan lover like we are then please take a look at all of our raw pecans and be rest assured that they will be the best you have ever tasted!

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