In the pecan world the stages of nut development are given names like bud break, water stage, shell hardening, and shuck split, just to name a few. By checking the condition of the nuts during these stages we find clues about the health of the trees and how we should respond to any hints of stress.
During the month of August the shell begins to form in most varieties. The half-way point in this process is called, of course, half-shell hardening. That makes sense, right? In August pecan growers are testing the nuts with a pocket knife to check for the mid-point of the shell hardening process.
Why is this important? Here are three reasons:
First, we can tell if the trees are receiving enough water. During August the nuts should be in the water stage and, as the name implies, the inside should be full of liquid. If they are we know the trees are receiving adequate moisture. If not we must take drastic steps to catch up by adding as much supplemental water as we can because kernel quality is at risk.
Second, we can get an idea of when harvest will begin. If half-shell hardening doesn’t happen until the first of September we know that harvest will be delayed and we can plan our marketing accordingly.
Third, we watch for a sneaky little pest called the Hickory Shuckworm. Unlike its name implies the Hickory Shuckworm does attack pecans, too. The moth lays her egg just inside the green shuck and when the worm hatches it burrows along the edge of the newly-hardened shell. If not controlled the resulting kernel quality is reduced.
So there it is. A quick half-month update about half-shell hardening half-way through August.
Andy Sherrod, Orchard Manager, Royalty Pecan Farms