COST OF DEVELOPING AND MATURING A NATIVE PECAN GROVE Senator T.H. Ridgeway, San Antonio, Texas
The increase in food production is not keeping pace with the increase in population. The increase of the world's population each year would equal the population of Belgium and the increase in two years would equal the population of France. The population of the United States, since the close of the Civil War, has increased from thirty odd million people to one hundred and ten millions, Medical science and hygiene have very materially lengthened the expectancy of human life during the last generation.
The larger the population the greater the increase. For example, the population of the United States, now one hundred and ten millions, will likely reach the two hundred million mark in less than fifty years, whereas it has taken since the date of the founding of the first colonies to the present time to reach the one hundred and ten million, mark. The increase in population since 1890 has been about forty-five millions. Many persons now living can remember when the population of Texas was less than one million, and it is now five millions. If the present rate of increase continues the population of Texas will be ten millions in thirty years. Our large cities like San Antonio, Dallas and Houston will have populations of a half million each in less than thirty years. Therefore, we are facing an ever-increasing\' population with an increased longevity, without a corresponding increase in food production. The world's choicest lands have already been placed in cultivation and in order to meet the ever-increasing demand for food production we must reach out and develop sources of food supply heretofore passed unnoticed. We find that in the cold Arctic regions the reindeer is becoming a promising source of food supply. Reclamation and irrigation projects are being developed in various parts of the country in order to meet the demand for more homes and more food products. Through the general necessity of developing additional sources of food supply our attention is being directed to another practically unlimited source at our command which, is the growing of pecans.
A few years ago a native pecan grove in Texas was considered a menace to a farm. It constituted a worthless jungle, in the estimation of the farmer. The only good purposes it served was to afford a place t. get firewood and to shoot squirrels. A few pecans would be gathered and occasionally sold, at a few cents per pound. The delicious meat of the pecan together with its wonderful food value began to be appreciated. A demand was created for it and its commercial value was realized. A few of the pecan trees that had most successfully withstood the combined destructive forces of mankind and the elements and had succeeded in over-towering other trees and plant life to such an extent as to gain, at least, a limited amount of sunlight and air born practically all of the pecans that went into commerce. A market was gradually established at prices that soon brought the pecan into prominence.
Scattered about over the pecan area a tree would occasionally be discovered producing a nut larger, with a thinner shell and a better flavor than any in the surrounding territory. The art of budding and grafting pecan trees was then employed for the purpose of transplanting these better varieties on to trees bearing the inferior varieties, and from this has grown the present industry of propagating the better varieties of pecans by means of budding and grafting. It is estimated that there are fifty million native pecan trees in Texas. These trees are clustered in groves principally in the low and overflow lands along the banks of our creeks and rivers. These lands being very fertile with plenty of moisture bring forth many. varieties of trees and vines In addition to this, there are usually four times too many pecan trees on the ground. Grape vines, poison oak vines and moss in most places cluster about the pecan trees, usually making the pecan grove a jungle, or thicket. The sunlight and air are shut out from the individual pecan tree in most places. In spite of all of this, occasionally a tree will be found bearing delicious nuts in large quantities. Seeing how persistent the pecan tree is in growing and how energetically it undertakes to over- come all obstacles, and how freely it gives its delicious fruit just for the gathering, we conclude that this is the home of the pecan and that the native pecan tree is entitled to more care and better treatment, We can also see in the pecan a much welcomed source of food supply helping meet the ever-increasing demand.
The rules to follow in the development of a native pecan grove are few and simple. Wherever you find a thrifty native pecan grove along the low lands or any of our creeks or rivers you may, as a rule, depend upon the soil and climatic conditions there being suitable for the growth of pecans. Nature seldom makes a mistake in the location of one of its orchards. If you own or acquire such a grove, the first thing to do is to remove all of the trees, except the pecan trees and remove all of the vines and moss from the pecan trees.
Take care not to burn any of the pecan trees in burning the brush and trash. Frequently a burn on one side of a pecan tree will cause it to decay on that side and eventually fall. After removing all of the trees, other than the pecan trees, and removing all of the brush, undergrowth and trash, mark the best and most thrifty pecan trees having regard to the size and quantity of nuts produced by such trees. if such be possible. Then reduce the pecan trees to from twelve to fifteen per acre, depending upon the size of the trees, by first removing the trees that produce inferior nuts. Also remove the moss and dead limbs from the trees, as much as possible. The object to be attained is to permit the sunlight to shine all around the tree and to permit a free circulation of air about it. Space the trees fifty or sixty feet apart, if possible. Occasionally trees may be left closer together than this, provided a greater distance is Ieft in other directions. Do not use an axe in trimming or pruning a pecan tree; always use a saw. Where a limb is removed, leave a smooth surface so as to permit it to heal over as soon as possible.
The clearing of a pecan grove can be done with cheap labor, where supervised by a skilled foreman, but an ignorant laborer with an axe and torch, when not supervised by a skilled foreman, can do untold damage to a pecan grove.
The cost of clearing a pecan grove, as above outlined, ought not to exceed fifteen dollars per acre and the wood that will be removed will pay at least a part of this cost.
As a rule when a pecan grove is cleared it will be found that about one-fourth of the trees are of a size suitable for budding or grafting. I have not found it practicable to bud or graft a tree larger than six inches in diameter. I have attained the best results with trees under three inches in diameter. Better and quicker results will be attained from a thrifty native tree, above six inches in diameter, by leaving it undisturbed ,than by top-working it, according to my experience.
I have found that where the trees to be top worked are under six inches in diameter, twenty trees per day is an average day's work where from one to four or five bark grafts are placed in each tree, and where patch budding is done, the placing of from fifty to seventy-five buds per day is an average day\'s work. Where a grove is cleared it will ordinarily be found that there MT are from four to six trees per acre under six inches in diameter that are properly spaced and suitable for budding or grafting. I would estimate the cost of budding and grafting such trees, together with the necessary attention at the first year, at five dollars per acre, making the total cost of clearing the grove and the budding and grafting of the smaller trees at twenty dollars per acre, less whatever sum may be realized from the sale of the wood that may be removed, which in some instances will pay for the clearing.
After a grove is cleared and reduced to orchard proportions, and the smaller trees top worked, it should be gone over at least once each year, preferably during the month of March, and all of the water sprouts removed, the new growth of bushes and vines cut, the dead limbs that have fallen. as well as the rubbish, should be picked up, piled and burned. This is a small job and ought not cost more than one dollar per acre. Limbs broken off by A should be sawed off smoothly so as to prevent storms, leaving shaggy ends, decay and to permit early healing. All dead or rotten wood in the trees should be removed and destroyed.
Rotten wood and trash furnish breeding and harboring places for insects. The pecan grove should be kept as clean and clear of foreign growth and rubbish as a peach orchard.
It is advisable to cultivate the land in the pecan grove, where it is possible to do so. The land may be sowed in oats, black-eyed peas or stock peas. which will more than pay for the cultivation. The cultivation of the land conserves the moisture and keeps down undergrowth and makes the gathering of the nuts easier.
The pecan tree is very responsive to good treatment and cultivation. When given the proper space and treatment it will put forth new branches in every direction, will, in a few years, double the yield of nuts. Where the grove is kept clean, insects and pests will not be so numerous. In a few years the young top-worked trees will begin bearing. The trees that I budded in my grove in 1919 are bearing a nice crop this year. My grove consists of 60 acres, upon which. I have about 800 native trees of different sizes that are bearing and about 200 smaller trees that I have budded and grafted, about 50 of which are beginning to bear.
I find that quickest results are obtained from the Burkett and Halbert varieties. I have also obtained remarkable results from the Stuart. I am trying out a variety found on the San Antonio River below the city of San Antonio. This tree has a remarkable record for bearing and produces a very fine nut. It has the advantage of budding out very late in the spring after the danger of frosts is over. I find this variety very difficult to work. Out of forty bark grafts placed by me only about ten are growing.
The results obtained from top-working depend largely upon the location of \'the tree that is top worked. If the tree stands in low fertile soil; with plenty of moisture, the pecan produced will be true to the variety from. which the scion was obtained, but if the tree, top worked, stands in high, thin soil with but little moisture, the pecan produced will be small and faulty. Very often a thrifty and profitable native tree is ruined by the process of top working.
I find that the long tap root that extends down to the moisture serves to keep the tree alive during the long dry summers, but it is the lateral roots that produce the fruit. The lateral roots that extend out into the rich soil gather and furnish the substance that produces the pecans. This is an additional reason for the cultivation of the lands around the trees, as the cultivation stimulates the growth of the lateral roots.
After a native pecan grove is reduced to orchard proportions the cost of upkeep is practically nothing. If there should be an occasional failure in production, you are out very little for cultivation, and the land where the pecans grow is worth more for pasturage purposes than the attention and cultivation of the pecan trees will cost.
The cost of improving the native pecan grove, including the top working of the available trees will not exceed \$20.00 per acre, and the annual cost of keeping the grove clean and giving the trees such attention as they require should not exceed\$1.00 per acre, which, of course, does not include the gathering of the nuts. When a grove is improved in this manner you have a combination of native trees and improved varieties. The native trees will begin producing immediately and within five or six years the grafted and budded trees will bear in commercial quantities. The native trees that are top worked already have established root systems and will put on new tops and branches from the buds or grafts very quickly. I have a very high regard for the native pecan trees. A native grove, after it has been cleared and the available trees top worked, has several advantages over a grove that Is entirely set out from nursery trees. In the first place, there can be no mistake in the location. Where you find thrifty, bearing, native pecan trees you may depend upon the location being right, but if you select a location to set out a new grove you may make a mistake. The cost of purchasing and improving a native grove is much less than planting and developing a grove from nursery stock. The native grove begins very quickly\'to produce results for its owner. The top-worked trees will produce results much more quickly than can be produced from nursery trees. The annual cost of proper maintenance of a native grove is much less than a grove grown from nursery stock. Another item of great importance in favor of the native grove is the fact that the native groves along the overflow lands of our streams do not require irrigation or intensive cultivation, and groves that are grown from nursery stock usually require irrigation or intensive cultivation. Another item to be considered is that the native pecan tree is adapted to the soil and climatic conditions where it is found growing, and often nursery trees are set out in locations to which the same are unsuited.
I do not wish to be understood as in any manner discrediting or discouraging the planting of pecan groves from nursery stock, but my purpose here is to call attention to, and stress, the opportunities the native pecan groves offer. With the modern shelleries now employed to separate the meat from the shell, the size of the pecan is not of such great importance. As a rule, best, richest and most delicious pecans we have are the medium-sized native pecans. As soon as the native pecan grove is improved your investment doubles in value.
The life and utility of a pecan tree may extend over a long period of time. We find thrifty bearing trees in our pecan groves that must be over one hundred and fifty years old. There are many pecan trees along the old irrigation ditches in and below San Antonio that were planted more than one hundred and fifty years ago which are still bearing pecans and apparently are good for another hundred years.
Therefore a properly improved pecan grove not only constitutes a place of beauty, but also constitutes a permanent investment and a permanent source of delicious food, not only for the present generation, but for generations yet unborn.
The fifty million native pecan trees in Texas can be made to more than double their present yield. Another fifty million, or more, trees can be added. The pecan tree stands ever ready to perform its part in supplying the rapidly increasing demand for food products, All the native pecan trees ask is a chance to grow and thrive unmolested. All they ask you for is to give them space where they can get sun light and air to keep them free from moss and vines, and they will do the rest.