November 14, 2011

Harvesting Pecans!

I talked to my boss about needing time off because it's harvest time. Her reply?  "Go for it!".  I'm so lucky to have such a great boss, that's for sure.  Of course I'm going to have to give her some pecans, but that's OK. (Just kiddin'.  There was no bribery involved, and she's a terrific person - she can have all the pecans she wants!  And I ain't just saying that 'cuz she's my cousin, either...)

So last Monday I went out to help Dad and Doug get equipment ready.  I rode down to Doug's to get him but he wasn't there, and damned if my riding mower (aka my "ATV") didn't croak on me.  It ran fine, but it wouldn't move.  Trusty Rusty had let me down.  (That John Deere dump cart behind the mower is older than I am!)  And that's the front of the bucket tractor.  See the snaggle teeth? And that black thing is a grappler (or, as I like to call it, the "squeezing thing").

Oh, and that little weird brick building, well, nobody knows what it was originally intended to be.  It's built of "slave brick" like the chimneys and dates to the 1840s, like the house.  Dad says it's a cold frame for starting seeds, but I'm not so sure.  There are steps that go down about 2 feet to the floor inside.  Dad replaced the (missing) roof with solar panels back in the 70s but apparently that didn't work out. (That's another story.)

So, the mower broke down.  (Remember, Lisa, you can't get there from here.) I went back up to the house to find Dad, but he was gone too.  Damn.  We needed to get on this - servicing the equipment so we could harvest.  I had got up on the wrong side of the bed that morning anyway, so that bad old steam started to come out of my ears...

I went inside and did some work (even though I was technically on leave), and later Doug came in.  Dad had looked over the mower and discovered the drive belt was bad - it basically fell off into his hands.  He had gone and picked up another one so Doug and I went down to try to figure out how to put on the new belt.

Yeah, right.  You just can't get to the drive pulley to take it loose so we could get the belt on.  Even if we could, we'd need an impact gun to get that nut off, and we didn't know which way it turned (righty-tighty-lefty-loosey doesn't always apply to pulleys).  We couldn't figure out how the old belt had possibly fallen off!

We tried everything:  wrenching, beating parts with a hammer.  Even cursing at it didn't work.  I found the manual in my brother's old trailer and although there were great diagrams about how to change the mower blade belt, the manual said "to change the drive belt, take it to the dealer."  

Completely enraged, we decided to just give up for now.  One of us was going to put a shotgun slug through the motor if we didn't.  (Later, Dad's friend Mike who is a terrific handyman, a hard worker, and a good friend to Dad - but in my opinion a real asshole - came over and showed Doug how to fix it.  Turns out it was something simple and obvious we'd missed.  Of course.  Now Doug's a dipstick too.) 

My bad mood turned out to be the start of an episode of depression, so I lost the rest of last week.  Ugh. Doug and Dad did a lot of work on the equipment and got most of it ready, so that's a good thing.  And when the weekend arrived, I snapped out of my depression, and Woo Hoo!  It's harvest time!

In the past Dad had allowed people to pick up pecans on the halves.  (Half for them, half for Dad.)  This year we decided we had such a good crop that only special people were going to get any pecans for free, and only on thirds.  But Saturday a guy and his wife showed up, claiming they knew Dad, and wanted a couple of ice cream buckets of pecans.  Due to a miscommunication, we let them get away with free nuts.  Shit.  Well, it wasn't enough to hurt but Dad and I had a confab about how we were going to politely turn people away.  During this confab I found out that he'd decided Jeff and I were equal partners in the harvest!  With authority and everything!

First things first:  now that the ground had been cleaned up, shake the tree.  This is the coolest thing ever.  The whole tree sort of vibrates - it doesn't whip around.  I tried to get a pic of the nuts falling but my camera didn't do a good job.  If you look close, those black dots against the sky are flying pecans.  The tree does look a bit blurry because it's vibrating.  And you'd better not be anywhere near or under it because nuts rain down like, well, nut-sized hail.  Doug didn't get far enough away and got conked.  

Years ago Dad had wisely put a roof on the tractor (that's Big Daddy), so he was safe.  I knew how far away to stand, and my jaw dropped at how many pecans fell.  Get this - not all of them are ready, so we will have to shake twice to get them all.  (The tree shaker is monstrous - this is it squeezing the tree.  I can't begin to get my arms around that tree.)

It isn't a bumper crop but we have a LOT of pecans - we estimated about 50 lb. per tree (in a really good year we get about 100 lb. per tree).  Hmmm, 50 lb/tree x 200 trees = 10,000 lb. or around 5 tons.   In the shell, but still, that should work out to around 2-1/2 tons of finished nuts.  FIVE TONS.  Where the hell are we going to put them all???

Once the nuts are down, we rake them out from in front of the tractor tires so they don't get crushed.  (Yes, every single nut counts - that's money, honey.)  Then comes the second-coolest thing: the mechanical harvester (or nut-picker-upper as I call it).  There's a big burlap bag hanging off the front that catches the nuts.  Dad's towing it with his finish mower.  It doesn't need a tractor to pull it because it has its own motor.

In the back is a mat of chain that rotates, sweeping the nuts up into a hopper.  Then they go up the arm into the bag.  Doesn't my hubby have a cute tush? He's so camera-shy that this is just about the only kind of pic I ever get of him: a sneaky one.

This is the picker-upper in action.  Again, my camera wasn't up to the job - there's dust and leaves flying out the back.  It rakes the ground almost completely bare.  

Unfortunately that means leaves and the little branches we missed get picked up too, but we have a piece of equipment (called a "cleaner") that we'll run the nuts through and it will toss all that stuff out.  

I don't have a pic of it yet because Dad loaned it to a really nice family who have a few trees and wanted to see if it was worthwhile to buy one.  He's going to get it back this week.

Because the ground in the orchard isn't completely flat, the picker-upper misses some nuts.  So we have these nifty hand-picker-uppers we use to get the rest of them.  You can sort of see them in the pic; they're the long-handled things with wire cages that roll along the ground.  The nuts are pushed into the cage.  In fact, the harvest is going to be so good that I just ordered four more of those.  We're going to need help!

After shaking only two trees, here's eight 5-gallon buckets that we picked up by hand with the rolling thingies.  Each bucket holds about 20 lb. of nuts in the shell, or about 10 lb. of nut meats.  There are also two and a half big (I do mean big - see the pic above) burlap bags that came out from under those two trees too.  And that doesn't count the buckets that people picked up and took home...

Wait a minute.  I tried to pick up one of those burlap bags and I couldn't.  Now, I can lift 50 lbs. easy, so - we're getting way more than 50 lbs. per tree!!  It IS a bumper crop!

But we've got to really get our butts in gear.  What with getting the equipment set up, and people dropping by, and other minor crises that popped up, this and the burlap bags is all we got picked up all weekend.  Four of us were working at it!

In the past Dad has sold the nuts whole, in the shell.  This year they're going for between $1 and $2. Per pound.  I say "The Hell With That!".  Dad has the equipment to mechanically take those whole nuts and end up with perfect pecan halves (well, with some bits & pieces, too). 

So this week we're going to get that equipment functional, come hell or high water.  There's a cracker (which, um, cracks the shells), a sheller (which gets most of the shell off), and a picker.  The picker gets the rest of the shell pieces off, but "picker" is a misnomer - turns out people have to stand there and pick the nuts off a sort of conveyor belt, or they'll go right by and fall into the tub that holds the shell pieces.  Remember that "I Love Lucy" episode where she and Ethel are working in the chocolate factory and can't keep up with the candies going by?  Yeah, it's gonna be like that...And yes, there will be pictures.  

We had a confab last night (today is Tuesday, I don't know where yesterday went).  We're thinking that this weekend we'll bag up the nut meats we've got so far and take them to a local flea market.  Assuming we can get all of the equipment working.  Which is a big assumption considering you can't get there from here...

 We can probably get $7 a pound for the finished nuts, since they're this year's crop and they're "no spray" - which means no pesticides.  (Did you know that the pecans you buy at the grocery are anywhere from 3-5 years old?  No wonder they taste like, um, crap.)

Oh, I know where yesterday went!  I spent most of the day in & out of the house, politely running people off.  Word's out that Lancaster Farms has a crop this year, and anybody who's still alive and who's ever come and picked up on the halves is showing up.  And their friends, and their friends' friends...  Dad's nuts are the best!  (I mean his pecans, silly.)

And hey, we've got a Paypal account, so if you want to order some nuts, drop me an email.  I'm planning to set up a little storefront on the web to sell them anyway...

No comments:

Post a Comment