Farm Updates
The Katrina Threat.
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Hurricane Katrina produced wide bands of rain and high winds, and the threatening weather from the massive storm stretched all the way to South Texas.

Dark, ominous clouds from Hurricane Katrina move over the pecan orchard. The pecan limbs are already heavily loaded from the growing weight of the nuts. High winds and rain increase the strain on the limbs, and can in fact cause 70% or more of the crop to be lost.

A sky, such as the one in these images, at ten o'clock in the morning, can put great fear in the pecan grower. An entire seasons work can be lost in a matter of minutes. There is no insurance available to protect a nut grower from weather damage.

Look how the outer bands of Katrina move over Quemado, Tx. Fortunately, the orchard did not suffer any major damage from the terrible Katrina storm.

Our nuts are almost fully formed by the end of August, as you can see in the last couple of pictures here. Now, the liquid material inside the nut is hardening into what we call the 'dough stage'. Over the month of September, the 'dough' will harden into the final nut. The big green 'shuck' that you see here protects and nourishes the nut forming inside.

If you look closely at the last picture, you will see many nuts that are slightly covered by the leaves. We will start to shake the nuts out of the trees and harvest them on October 1.


Fifty days until harvest!
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We are entering the critical  'water stage'; this is the period during which the pecan nuts will stop growing in size and kernal development reaches a maximum.

Take a look at the first image below. The nuts are now almost full size; the critical formation of the kernal is taking place inside the hard shell. Interestingly, the nut center at this time is almost completely liquid, similar to water.

Robert Sandner is the guiding force behind the transformation of this pecan orchard to “Certified Organic“ agriculture. Robert is scouting the tree in the second image for insects; he will determine if the damaging insects are too prevalent, and what needs to be done to control them.

Next, we see another "perfect" day in Quemado, Texas; the dirt borders are up around these trees as we get ready to flood irrigate the orchard.

Marcelo de Stabile (on the left in image 4), recently joined Rio Grande Organics as an agronomist. Marcelo comes to us from Brazil, with a short stop at Texas A&M for a Masters degree. Here, he and Juan are getting ready to spray a molasses/zinc mixture on the trees.

Finally, the sun sets over one of the canals that supplies irrigation water to our orchard. Recent heavy rains in west Texas, including hurricane Emily, haved filled our main reservoir, Lake Amistad, to the top.


As the nuts grow....
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The pecan trees have set a nice crop; it is up to us to bring it to fruition...

With the start of summer upon us, we appear to have a good nut set on our trees. The insect pressure in our orchard, which is always one of the big threats to reduce the crop, is very low at this time.

The first image below shows one of the larger clusters that we have in our orchard, with a total of six nuts. Most of our clusters have two or three nuts. If all of the clusters had five or six nuts, we would have to mechanically reduce the nut load in July by shaking each heavily loaded tree. These nuts are free from insect damage, and the green shuck, the outer covering of the nut, is developing normally.

The trees in the second image have healthy leaf set, which is critical for normal nut development. We don't use synthetic chemical fertilizer in our orchard; we use cow manure, and various ground-up rock products to provide potassium and phosphate. In normal fertilizer, the phosphate is water soluble, and much of it washes away with the rain to pollute local waterways. Rock based phosphate releases slowly over a long time period, reducing the amount that leaves the orchard with either rain or irrigation run-off.

The third close-up shot shows a nut cluster forming at almost every terminal branch, indicating that this tree is loaded with pecans. One of the greatest challenges for all pecan growers is the mystery of alternate bearing, whereby trees alternate a heavy crop one year with a light or non-existent crop the following year.

The following picture shows a limb so loaded with nuts that it is already sagging towards the ground. In pecan orchards, limbs often get so heavy with developing nuts that they actually break off from the tree late in the season!

Work is currently underway to get the orchard floor smooth for the fall harvest. In conventional orchards, vegetation is controlled by spraying glyphosate, which insantly kills many grasses and broadleaf species. The effect of glyphosate on the bacteria and microbial life in the soil is unknown. In organic farming, having a healthy, balanced soil is our number one priority.


Early pecan growth.
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Our trees have already set their nuts; here's a detailed look at the process...

The first image shows a healthy spike with six nutlets (five visible and one partially obscured). All pecan nuts form on the terminal end of a branch; we like to see three or four nuts per spike. Six nutlets may be an early indication that this tree will have too large of a nut load.

It is important to note that there is no insect damage on these nuts. The first insect to attack our trees is the pecan nut casebearer; this worm eats its way into the young nutlet, and causes the tree to abort the nut.

At this time, May 9, 2005, all of the trees are fully leafed out. We hope to see eight to ten inches of new growth on each branch over the growing season. We have an extensive fertility program to improve the quality of our soil. This year, we spread about six tons of cow manure per acre. We also incorporated two rock substances that were mined; a phosphate and a humic acid.


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