The time-honored method of gathering pecans has been to allow them to fall to the ground naturally, which was necessary with very large and tall trees. Harvesters will thrash the nuts from trees with bamboo poles and pick them from the ground by hand. This method produces high-quality pecans but is slow, tedious, hard work, and expensive.
This is still the practice with many orchards. With scattered trees, mechanical harvesting is not feasible. Handshaking and gathering practice when abundant labor, primarily children, is available or when trees of different varieties mix in the orchard. Wildlife removal is an issue for personal and commercial orchards.
The area of the pecan crop extends from the southern part of Texas through the states of Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, New Mexico, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and northern Florida, and north through the Carolinas and Kentucky and into Missouri, southern Illinois, and Indiana. No matter where they are grown, they can be classified into seedlings and improved varieties.
The seedlings, or wild pecans, grow unattended in the pecan belt west of the Mississippi River. Mostly, they receive little care other than cutting out “weeds” or undesirable trees. Therefore, whether the crop is large or small depends mainly on the elements, and the crop size is unpredictable. Seedling pecans are smaller than the improved varieties. Still, their flavor, sturdiness, and full-firm nut meat make them especially prized by hungry animals.
Common Pecan Orchard Animal Pests
Several animal pests may inflict losses in an orchard and take a bulk amount of pecans. Control is necessary for most orchards. Repelling is critical if you do not want to kill these natural-born creatures. Some animals can be removed with technology that gets better each year. Some chemicals used for pest control on a pecan farm are also dangerous for humans.
We are going to start looking at crows. Indeed, they are fond of eating pecans. Some people do not know how smart the average crow is. “Crow shoots” have been publicized to reduce the crow population. Killing crows with a shotgun or rifle is time-consuming and expensive. Firearms both kill and repel crows and thus reduce the damage.
Wildlife removal is about convincing the animals to stay away from the crops. Automatic (Scare-Away Machine) explosion devices are the most economical and efficient means of controlling crows without shooting them. One of these is the acetylene gas machine which uses inexpensive calcium carbide to create frequent blasts similar to those made by a 12-gage shotgun. Simply, it makes the sound of the gun without the shooting. This “mechanical scarecrow” is a valuable repellent for every 20 acres of trees.
This portable unit designed for wildlife removal produces gun-like noises as fast as once every 10 seconds or as slow as once every 10 minutes. There are approximately 5,000 shots in 130 cubic feet of acetylene gas. While the shots may be heard for a half mile, the effective range is much shorter. The normal speed is 20 detonations per hour, and the unit should be on a service schedule. Technology and materials have been getting better and better each year.
Suggestions for the operation of Scare-Away Gun are:
- Early in the morning, before the birds reach the field and settle down.
- Above the growing crop on a stand so the trees or crop will not obstruct the sound.
- Change the location of the scare-away in the field at least every two days. Keep the crows guessing.
- Clean the carbide container with clean water.
- Thoroughly lubricate all moving parts.
- Check the flint and the nut carbide. Just like cleaning a gun.
In the case of crows, they may ignore the blasting device if stationary in the same place for too long. When a blast occurs, the crows leave their perch and fly about in bewilderment. When they are in flight again, another blast starts the cycle. Crow may change their route to avoid the proximity of the blasts. The location of the device is most useful when frequently moving around.
The “rope firecracker” repels crows by the same principle as the acetylene blast machine. This is a piece of 5/16 in. cotton rope, into the strands of which fuses of “cherry bomb” or “salute” firecrackers are inserted. The rope suspends by one end from a tree or tall pole, and the other ignites. As the slow burning of the rope continues, the firecrackers explode. The effectiveness is the same as the acetylene gun, but it is more expensive. The U.S. Fish and Wild Life Service sanction both.
Squirrels And Rodents
Depending on where we looking in North America, there are at least two dozen varieties of squirrels. These may damage pecan harvests if they can nest in hardwood trees near pecan orchards. Killing tree squirrels and rodents like rats and mice is not what we are after. Trapping is often the preferred method used in controlling squirrels.
Wire or fasten securely No. O or No. I steel traps to the trunks of pecan trees and bait with pecan meats. Peanut or almond butter as the bait is perhaps a more economical solution. Live traps may be made or bought. Set them near the pecan trees or even on them. Then take them as far away as you like to set them free.
They will create ‘burrows’, openings four inches in diameter. The interconnect can be through underground tunnel systems with multiple entrance and exit holes. While they can dig quite deep, the average burrow is usually less than three feet deep. Over time they will hurt the roots and kill the tree. These burrows can be bad for the tree’s root system but worse when they eat the fresh pecans growing on the trees.
To stop a burrow from permanent use, you can add a chemical to the entrance to dissuade them from making a home there. Warm mineral oil and petroleum jelly together until they are fluid but not hot. Add zinc phosphide and stir briskly. Mix all ingredients thoroughly and place in a sealed bag or sack. Place one teaspoonful in each mouse or rat runway or at the entrance of the burrows.
Rats and mice are troublesome in pecan orchards if they have mulch to raise the young. The best idea is to repel them so that no poison has to be of use. Especially since they will choose to live close to the tree roots. Research has been done that looked at music-repelling squirrels and rodents. Wind chimes are a classic white noise for repelling, but Rock ‘N’ Roll does much better.
Introducing Predators For Wildlife Removal
From a survey of peach growers in Georgia by the Cooperative Extension Service, it was estimated 10,000,000 pounds of pecans would be lost to crows, squirrels, blackbirds, and jaybirds in Georgia in 1966. Since then, the estimated losses have gone down in Georgia alone due to the increased use of pesticides, including Round-Up.
Each pecan-eating animal has a natural predator that a farmer can import to protect the crops. Hawks and owls are natural predators of crows, blackbirds, and jaybirds. In addition, Tree Snakes have a recognition for removing wildlife to scare the birds away from pecans on the tree. But they will eventually fall to the ground. On the ground, dogs and wolves will repel animals like squirrels and rodents.
Sometimes every nut on a tree is taken by predators in years with a short crop supply. Thus pecans in many areas of Georgia become a borderline between a cash crop and wildlife feed. Also, many crops do not use pesticides and are more desirable to pests. These small predators attack pecan orchards early and seriously damage the crop several weeks before the nuts are normally harvested. It might be against the strictest definition of wildlife removal to add predators that will eat pecan-eating animals, but it will dissuade further attacks. For each nut that an animal can pick from the tree, the hull cracks, so the choice of nuts are taken first.
Wildlife Removal Is More Challenging For Insects
Several significant insects attack pecan trees in pecan orchards. These pests can diminish the trees’ appearance and reduce nut production. Spraying insecticide into the tree canopy kills the adults before they deposit eggs inside pecans. You can also surround non-sprayed trees, perhaps in an insect-resistant net canopy, with pecan trees sprayed with pesticides.
The insects that are the biggest threat to pecan nuts in America are:
- Nut curculio.
- Hickory shoot curculio.
- Hickory shuckworm.
- Pecan weevil.
- Southern green stink bug.
- Leaffooted bug.
- Pecan bud moth.