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Friday, November 16, 2018

Preserving Tradition

Pecan tree  

I have been learning about pecan trees recently. I manage a very small grove of about five acres—about 75 trees– at The Farm at South Mountain. I have been told that were planted around 1940. That makes them kind of old for a commercial pecan-producing grove. The good news is that at The Farm we treat them primarily as ornamentals. That doesn’t mean there aren’t pecans and lots of them. But it does mean that there isn’t any profit in harvesting them: there is the cost of bringing in a machine to shake the trees, the labor cost of picking up and boxing the pecans, and finally the cost of selling them.  So our trees are here to be pretty.

But, that doesn’t mean the pecans are wasted. There have been families and individuals that have been coming here for years to pick up the pecans after they have fallen from the trees. There is a large variety of holiday cookies and pastries that can be made from pecans and if you have enough kids, aunts and grandparents you won’t be concerned about labor costs or giant machines. There is a wonderful woman (she is sometimes called Gramma Gramma) who has been coming to the pecan groves so long that she knows the trees and which ones produce the best pecans. With no real enterprise, no increase in employment and no profit motive, this little grove produces hundreds of pecan pies, pecan tarts, pecan cookies and smiling, happy faces–all of this from just looking pretty.

Job one for the trees is to bring a moment of shade, peace and escape from our urban existence to the thousands of people who visit The Farm annually. You would think that would be pretty easy job for a 70-year-old black and green giant. But it just ain’t so, and that’s what I am learning.

One of the first things I have had to figure out is why the trees seem to need more water. They have been in the same place for years, being given the same amount of water. They have been growing in a drought for decades. So what’s the mystery? Apparently, over the years the water table from which the trees get much of their water has been dropping faster than the pecan roots can grow. So the old watering schedule has become inadequate. The simple answer is to flood irrigate more aggressively. Luckily The Farm is allocated enough water to make this possible.

Another problem which I am told may be related to the water issue is aphids. We have so many aphids that at certain times of the year their sugary secretions form a mist and cover everything with its sticky essence. Some owners would just spray insecticides to ride the grove of these pests. But we have pledged that we won’t use them. So what we do is to try and make the trees as healthy as possible to help them defend themselves.

To do this you first test the soil. The test showed that the soil only lacked a few nutrients.  We then supplement the soil with what the trees needed. We purchased the best compost and organic zinc and spread it generously throughout grove. I then tested the leaves to see what the trees were actually absorbing from the soil. To my surprise, the trees were not getting many of the nutrients they needed. Normally, this would call for inorganic supplements. But we had decided to stay organic, and, besides, all the nutrients were there in the soil we just need to help the trees get them.

So, we decided to work on the soil microbes to see if we couldn’t get them to help out. And that is what we are doing now: feeding the microbes so that we can better feed the trees.

Is there a lesson here for the larger world? Maybe. Maybe the things that seem most permanent and most traditionally are also in some ways the most fragile. Do we even understand how important our traditional neighborhoods are to us? What does it take to kill the traditions and culture of a community?

As a community we should never allow the aphids of neglect and ignorance to take over or someday our community will wind up, like so many, inorganic and poisoned.




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