Monday, April 28, 2014

For my internship, I created a short video to chronicle what I lean red over the semester and to encourage future students to take part in an internship.
Well it's been a long semester. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in the A&M Orchard, and I will be finishing up this week.

I set out at the beginning of the Spring semester to get some hands-on experience with pecan trees and possibly in the vineyard. Dr. McEachern and the other students helped me to accomplish that goal.

Among the things I did this semester:

-Preparing graft wood - trimming to appropriate size, bundling, moisturizing, LABELING, and bagging them to go into cold storage.

-Pruning - I did a LOT of pruning this semester. We had many young trees in the orchard that were grafted last year or planted in 2010 that needed attention. Some had been grafted using a banana/four flap graft, and some using a cleft graft. The banana grafted trees seemed to be doing better. Many of these trees had lots of shoots emerging before we wanted, so off they went.

-Pruning in the Vineyard - Blanc du Bois is one variety of wine grape represented in the Aggie vineyard. A few weeks ago I helped to prune the vines back in preparation for the current growing season. We began with two shoots on some vines, but as we moved down the rows we noticed that a couple had been damaged by wind in less than ten minutes. Because of the fragility of the shoots we elected to allow four shoots to remain in case damage was done to any of them.

-Groundskeeping - Wow, a LOT of groundskeeping. A large orchard such as ours requires a significant amount of mowing, weeding, edging, and weed killing. I spent a significant portion of my time doing this.

-Texas Pecan Growers Assoc. Pecan Short Course 2014 - I really enjoyed the short course. Pecan growers from across the state came together to attend labs and lectures on modern pecan production. Topics ranged from pruning, establishment, and maintenance to selecting varieties appropriate for their regions. I was able to attend lectures by extension agent Monte Lesbitt and by Dr. McEachern.

I had a great semester and wish that I had been able to be in the orchard full time. Thanks again to the Intern team in the Horticulture Department - Holly Smith, Dr. Lombardini, and Katie Marek for advising me.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

This week we took some time off from the orchard to prep the vineyard. Dr. McEachern's wine class was coming out to pruned vines and the grounds were in desperate need of some manicuring. Armed with weedwhackers and a walk-behind mower, me and two other students cleaned up the property quite nicely. 

The vineyard isn't a huge property and the portion actually inhabited by vines is much smaller. The vines vary in age, some thirty years old and some only a few months. Blanc du Bois is one variety we have planted there. 

After we cleaned up the property we moved on to pruning. We had only a few rows of juvenile vines to prune, and many more mature vines. The juveniles were still almost entirely in their grow tubes, only a few shoots peeking out. We pruned them back to two shoots initially, but decided to leave four after some shoots were damaged by wind while we were pruning. With four left, we have a much greater probability of one surviving even after inclement weather. 

Daniel training a mature vine

Sunday, March 23, 2014

This week in the orchard we had a lot of small tasks to accomplish. Some students weed-eated rows of grafted trees, some ran the ATV and sprayed herbicide, and I sprayed the big barn with the backpack sprayer.

Filled with a water-bottle full of trust RoundUp and three gallons of water, I made my way in and around our huge equipment barn. I'm sure it once was a cattle barn because of the chutes and pens, but now it houses 5 tractors and half a dozen other large implements for harvesting.

The barn had become overrun with weeds inside and out, so I put out 15 gallons of spray all around the structure. Very soon, the entire barn and the pens should be void of any pesky weeds. I wouldn't call it an exciting task, but necessary nonetheless.

After a few weeks of family emergencies in the northwest, surgery, and sickness, I am finally back to the orchard!

This week in lab, we worked on an essential orchard operation, grafting. Dr. McEachern and Jose Franco assisted our lab session in two different grafts on two different species.

The grafts used were actually quite fascinating. We used an Omega graft on peaches and the French V.  on grape. The French V was really just a giant cleft graft cut by a fancy grafting machine from France. Unfortunately the machine was well-loved, and quite dull. We had a lot of trouble aligning cambial tissues because of the sloppy edges left by the machine. Nevertheless, some were adequate.

The Omega graft was exquisite! It's exactly as you would imagine, a similar machine slices an omega-shaped relief into the scion wood and rootstock. The two pieces then snap together and fit precisely as a puzzle piece. Cambial alignment is easy and the graft holds well.

We then used small rubber bands to secure the grafts, dipped the apical bud and graft in wax, and dipped the base in growth hormones.

Check back soon to see them grow!
Fresh grafts after being dipped

Groups of grafted wood were bundled for storage

Dr. G. R. McEachern operating Omega grafter

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Well after a couple of BAD weeks of being sick and contending with poor weather, I am back to it! (To the orchard, of course.) Even with the weather we have been pruning and pressing on towards spring!

This week I spent some time in the processing room on campus. Another student and I processed graft wood that is now being stored for use very soon on our orchard. All of the trees we have been pruning the past weeks are grafted trees, so the graft wood supply is important.

Grafting involves taking two different varieties or species and combining them physically to become one. A grafted tree has two halves. The rootstock  is the bottom half. From this will grow the roots of the tree. It will provide support, nourishment, and sometimes disease resistance for the tree as a whole. The upper half of the tree is the graft or scion. Growers can take two trees suited for different areas of success and combine them into one tree that possesses all desirable traits. Different varieties perform better or worse in different environments compared to other varieties. One variety may be a strong producer of good pecans but have trouble with cotton root rot. However another variety may be mostly resistant. To produce a tree suitable for good production in an environment where cotton root rot is prevalent, growers graft the two trees together.

Hopefully soon, we'll get to grafting!

Monday, February 3, 2014

2014 Texas Pecan Short Course

This week in lieu of orchard operations I spent my time attending some of the 2014 Texas Pecan Grower's Short Course. Texas A&M Dept. of Horticulture and the Extension service hosted a room full of Texas pecan men and women for a week of pecan knowledge. Attendees ranged from full scale production orchards to men like Mr. Montel Rutledge, a College Station business owner looking to prepare for retirement.

Among the topics were varieties popular in Texas, root stocks and scions, pest and disease problems, grafting, and nutrient requirements. The students took many notes and also were able to construct a "Pecan Board." The boards showcase a couple dozen nuts from varying pecan trees for study, identification, or display. Dr. George Ray McEachern and Monte Nesbitt were two of the speakers. At the end of the week, the attendees made a trip out to Hwy 50 to view our Aggie orchard.