Pecans are delicious, and trees can be grown from nuts.
PHOTO: TOM FOX
The pecan is the best-tasting nut you can buy anywhere! Well, that's my sentiment anyway. About 30 years ago, I purchased 72 acres in Michigan. I then thought, "Why not try growing pecans?" Being a semi-intellectual at heart, I read up about pecans. There are three basic strains of pecans: the northern, southern and western. The northern strain is cold hardy to Zone 5. Good! However, I then learned more. The nut, said the "experts," would not "fill" in Michigan. This meant there would be a shell but no meat. Bad!
Then, in a Northern Nut Growers Association newsletter, I read about a planned expedition to southwestern Wisconsin to search out productive, cold-hardy pecans. The expedition was successful, and I bought about 25 nuts from the group that I planted in late fall. Happily, most sprouted the next spring.
I have more than 20 medium to large trees from this planting. It took about 15 years for the trees to begin bearing. The nuts from the trees that are bearing are not only completely filled but also deliciously sweet, although smaller than the southern variety. The nuts on the tallest tree (almost 40 feet tall) start to ripen in early October. To be successful at growing pecan trees, you need the right strain for your environment. The Wisconsin strains came from trees growing in Zone 4. If you live in Georgia, you don't want to plant a northern strain. All pecan trees need some cold, but those from the Far North need lots more cold than those from the South!
Growing trees from nuts is the easiest and cheapest way of starting your pecan plantation. All you do is plant the nut about 3 inches deep where you want the tree to grow. Plant in late fall — right after the nuts are harvested — or keep the nuts refrigerated and plant them in April. (Pecans purchased from the grocery store usually will have dried out too much to be viable.) Taking care of pecan saplings is simple — give them plenty of water. Also, make sure that your children don't cut them down, that you don't back into them with your pickup or that your livestock doesn't eat them! Usually pecans are harvested in autumn or early winter when the shuck loosens from the shell or even splits open. Often, people wait until the nuts fall to the ground on their own. However, if you try this, you may find squirrels get them first.