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What does a Pecan Harvester do?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 05 December 2016
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A pecan harvester is someone who harvests pecans when they ripen. Like other seasonal laborers, pecan harvesters supplement their work with a variety of other work, including harvesting other seasonal crops, general farm work, and so forth. In some cases, a pecan harvester may manage a pecan orchard throughout the year, keeping the trees in good condition and performing maintenance tasks; on small farms, the farmer often handles harvesting and all similar tasks independently, without hiring staff to assist.

The pecan harvest starts with preparing the ground under the trees. People harvest pecans by collecting them from the ground, which means that the ground needs to be even and clean for easy harvesting. Keeping growth trimmed under pecan trees year round helps with this, and in the weeks leading up to the harvest, a pecan harvester can mow, trim, and rake to clean the ground. It's also important to clear the falling pecan leaves which tend to appear as the nuts ripen.

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For a small orchard, when the nuts start falling, the pecan harvester collects them manually. This can be done by bending to pick up nuts by hand, or with pecan harvesting equipment which usually takes the form of a scoop or bag on a pole. The pole is run along the ground, and the nuts are picked up inside the device. For larger orchards, a pecan harvester may operate a tree shaker to bring down as many nuts as possible at once, and run a small tractor through the orchard to scoop up the pecans.

Pecan harvesters are often involved in processing after harvest. This includes picking through the nuts to identify nuts which are in poor condition and packing the nuts for storage. Pecans are packed in their shells and shelled later, usually with the assistance of a machine which pops the shells open and then separates the nuts and shells.

Harvesting pecans is hard work, even with a tractor. Harvesters may need to go out every day for several days in a row to collect all the nuts, and they will be out in weather which can vary from mild to extreme depending on the year and the area. Like other types of manual labor, pecan harvesting requires physical strength and endurance, paired with the patience to do the job properly. Making mistakes during the harvest can lead to problems in the future, ranging from rot on nuts collected too late to poor quality in batches of shelled nuts which may drive down their value.

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brentamac
Post 8

That machine that you used is called a Bag-A-Nut. I found them online.

sunshined
Post 7

When it comes to harvesting pecans, anything you can do to automate the work is very helpful. We have a small pecan operation, and one of the best things we purchased was a pecan sheller.

This machine can shell up to 50 pounds of pecans in hour. Needless to say, this is much more efficient than doing it by hand. It will separate the halves and automatically pulls the pieces out.

We sell our pecans locally and usually always run out before we get a new batch of fresh pecans every year. Sometimes I wonder how much longer we will keep this up because it can be such hard work.

When I think about not having any fresh pecans around though, I am motivated to keep at it for awhile longer.

SarahSon
Post 6

Using something like a pecan picker upper sounds like it would be much easier than picking them up by hand. This can be back breaking work.

Pecans don't grow in my area of the country, but I have several walnut trees in my yard. Harvesting walnuts is very similar to the way you harvest pecans.

You have to be quick to pick them up before the squirrels get to them. I do all of the picking and harvesting myself.

It takes some effort and time to pick them, let them dry out, crack them and pick them out of the shell. My mother-in-law used to give us a jar of black walnuts every Christmas, and now I know how much worked was involved with this.

Knowing all the effort that goes into harvesting pecans makes that fresh piece of pecan pie taste even better.

julies
Post 5

@shell4life - I always store my pecans in the freezer - even if I haven't opened the package yet. If you keep your pecans in the freezer, they will stay fresh for up to 2 years.

You can also keep them in the refrigerator, but they will not stay fresh as long. Even if I have them in a covered container sitting on the counter, they taste stale after a few days.

One of my friends gave me some fresh picked pecans for Christmas. They tasted so good I didn't know if I would have any left over to store or not.

When you realize all the hard work that goes in to harvesting pecans, you realize why they are so expensive. I don't buy pecans very often because they cost so much, but I love to eat them plain or in a dessert.

cloudel
Post 4

My boss makes me and the other harvesters use garden shears on the grass instead of a mower. This is a lot of work, but if we mow after pecans have already started falling, then we run the risk of cracking and ruining them, either with the mower blades or the wheels.

At least we get to mow in the heat of the summer, because the nuts have not yet begun to fall. Thankfully, they start to ripen in the fall, when trimming the grass with shears isn't quite so bothersome.

This pecan farm is in the deep South, so the grass grows for a bit longer here than in other locations. We still need to trim it into late October, and that is too late for being able to safely use the mower.

wavy58
Post 3

@shell4life – Yes, your storage methods are to blame. I have worked on my dad's pecan farm as a harvester for many years, and he taught us that we always need to let them dry out fully before putting them in an airtight container.

I have tasted pecans that have been stored too soon, and they lose their good flavor fast. The best thing to do is to store them in a big brown paper bag. Leave it open so they can get plenty of air.

I'm sure that this is another reason your grandmother picks the pecans every day. If they are allowed to sit for very long on moist ground, then they will be no good to anyone.

shell4life
Post 2

My grandmother has seven large pecan trees in her yard, and she harvests and sells the nuts. Since the price of pecans seems to be steadily rising, she makes a good bit of money by picking them herself.

As soon as they start to fall, she goes out there every day to grab them before the squirrels ruin them. She has a long metal pole with a grabber on the end, so she doesn't have to bend over with a bad back.

She gave me a bag of unshelled pecans last season, and they tasted great on the first day. However, after a few days in a container with the lid shut, they began to taste funny. I put them in my cookie dough, and now, the cookies taste weird.

What did I do wrong? Should I have stored them differently?

OeKc05
Post 1

I worked in a pecan orchard last fall, and the harvesters all used something that looks like a push mower with a basket attached to harvest the nuts. You just push it along the ground under the trees, and it picks up everything in its path.

This also means that it picks up twigs and leaves, so you need to clear the area before starting. I always just picked up the bigger branches and clumps of leaves and left the small twigs and single leaves on the ground. They won't clog the machine like bigger ones would.

Since I didn't have to do a lot of bending over, this was a very easy way to make some extra money. The pecans were ready to be harvested in November, so the weather was pleasantly cool.

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