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 the 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 the 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’s 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 (shucks) 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. A properly dried pecan 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.).