A pecan nut consists of an edible kernel enclosed in a hard woody shell. The nut (kernel + shell) is itself enclosed in a leathery husk about 2 inches in diameter. When pecans mature, generally from September through November, the husks turn from green to brown and split open, releasing the nuts which then drop to the ground. This happens before the leaves begin to drop. Learn when and how to harvest pecans at home!
When to Harvest Pecans
Pecan trees will start to drop pecan nuts under their shady understory in the early fall all the way until late fall. Be on the look out for the rusty brown colored nuts that litter the canopy floors.
It all starts during the pecan harvest season! In early September, start looking for pecan nuts on the ground under your pecan trees. It will be helpful if the grass has been mowed beneath the trees to make it easier to see the nuts.
Sound pecan nuts should be a pale brown with intact shells; if the brown husk hasn’t already detached from the nut. If it doesn’t crack open easily, or if the husk is green, the nut inside is probably not mature. If the husk is black, the nut is most likely rotten.
Once your trees have started dropping nuts, you can speed up the harvest by shaking the tree and whacking them with long poles. If you’re picking up pecans by hand, they will be easier to see and pick up if you spread a sheet or tarp out underneath the tree.
Pecan Picker Uppers
A pecan picker-upper or a mechanical harvester can make it even easier and saves time. One type of pecan picker is comprised of a funnel shaped wire spring on the end of a four foot handle and when you press down on a nut, it spreads open, allowing the nut to slip between the wires and into the contraption.
Mechanical harvesters include hand operated models that are pushed over the ground like an old fashioned reel lawn mower. The big commercial orchards use tractor powered mechanical tree shakers and pull-behind pecan harvesters that look like hay rakes.
Pecan nuts will drop continuously for a couple weeks or more, so check frequently in order to make sure the squirrels and deer don’t get to them first.
How to Tell if it’s Premium Quality Nuts:
Pecan nuts close-up, peeled, in a shell. Pecans are rich in various trace elements and vitamins.
Examine the nuts and discard any with wormholes or other signs of damage. Letting the nuts lie on the ground for even a few days will invite rot as well as various nut-eating critters. With experience, you will be able to identify the bad nuts by feel, weight, and the sound made when they are bumped together.
Freshly harvested pecans contain moisture which can lead to deterioration and mold. They must be dried (cured) before use or going into storage. Ensure that all the husks have been removed, and the nuts are sound, then spread them out on a tarp or other smooth surface to air dry. Stir the nuts every day.
Periodically test the nuts by cracking open: the shells should be dry and brittle, and the kernels should snap in two (not flex) when bent. It can take anywhere from two to ten days for the nuts to dry, depending on temperature, humidity, and the maturity of the nuts.
Once the nuts are dried you can store them in their shells for several months in a cool, dry place at room temperature. Shelled pecans (the kernels) can be stored in air tight containers or zip lock bags for up to six months in the fridge, and two or more years in the freezer. They have a longer shelf life in the refrigerator or freezer if stored properly. The air tight container is important so the shell nuts do not absorb odors or moisture content.