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  • Writer's pictureKatja

A Nutty Story

Updated: Feb 5, 2019

I'm often asked why we planted pecan nut trees instead of more avocados -- the answer is simple. You can only grow trees in the climate and soil that supports them, so as a farmer, you don't have much leeway as to what you plant on your land. Equally, you need to gauge market trends and work out which crop may give a reasonable return five to ten years hence because it can take between four to seven years for the trees to bear fruit. It's a bit of a lottery, that last one.

Down by the river, close to our huge eucalyptus trees, lies a large area of the finca. It's soil is wonderful because over the years it was enriched by flooding when the River Pereilas flowed a slightly different course. It's one of my favourite parts of the farm -- cool and shady in summer, filled with bird life in winter. Back in 2013, after much umming and erring, I decided to plant deciduous fruit trees in this area, my reasoning being that when the cold winter winds and frost came, the trees would be 'asleep' and wouldn't die. Planting avo trees here was out of the question as they wouldn't have withstood the cold temperatures near the river. We opted for pecan nut trees, the pecan, (Carya illinoinensis) being a tree of the walnut family (Juglandaceae), a plant native to temperate North America. Walnuts flourish in our valley so in some ways it was a no brainer but to be honest, it felt like a momentous decision because you are investing the next seven years of money, water and labour in looking after trees that may, or may not, produce fruit you can sell.

And why pecan and not just walnuts? Simple -- no one wants walnuts nowadays. You can't give them away. But pecan nuts... now that's another story... chefs love these tasty nuts.

So, first we had to move stones out of the soil, which was hard work and took forever. Once done, we measured out the lines where the seedlings would go. We planted small walnut tree seedlings grown from walnuts themselves, which was a cheaper way of doing it than buying pecan nut saplings sold at specialist nurseries. Each seedling had it's own little drip-feed tube and a reed cane to help it stand straight.

Two years later, we grafted pecan nut cuttings onto the walnut stems. We did this to obtain trees and fruit that are true to the quality parent-plant with a strong walnut rootstock. To do this, we got the local 'expert' to come by and spend a couple of days cutting and binding the saplings.

Frustratingly, some of the trees died - little moles living in the soft soil liked the juicy young roots and munched through them - so entire patches of the field had to be replaced. You learn patience when you are forced back to square one by Nature. Add to that, some of the grafts did not take, so they had to be re-done by the so-called 'expert'. He said that he'd never been called back to a job because his grafts were full-proof and always took. Sigh. I just nodded and paid him (again) for his work.

In 2016 we began to see the result of our labours -- the trees were now stronger and taller and began producing nuts. Last year's crop was again a little bit larger and we can now look forward to an increasing yield every year.

The photos posted show the various steps in the process, from ploughing up the weeds along the rows of trees, to how the pecans have a green, lemony-scented exterior which has to be broken off to reveal the nut in its shell. The last photo depicts the pecans, already de-husked, within a small bag made of netting, ready for market.



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