When I was a kid we had about 40 pecan trees on our farm. At my place I have three pecan trees. But those three trees have the nicest, plumpest paper-shell pecans you’ve ever seen and every year the balmy West Texas climate brings a bumper crop. The only problem is that, because El Paso doesn’t get a hard enough freeze before Christmas, the majority of the pecans stay up in the tree. Eventually, they’ll fall; either because of a good cold snap or a strong West Texas wind will shake them loose. But, I want those pecans NOW because I want to get them cracked, shelled and packaged so I can give them out as late-Christmas presents after the first of the year. So, what the best way to shake stubborn pecans out of the high branches?

Well, the BEST way is to use an industrial machine designed for that specific purpose. Here’s what a $90,000 pecan shaker will do to a tree:

 So, obviously, THAT method works pretty well. But, what if you don’t HAVE a hundred thousand dollar pecan shaker? If you only have a few trees (say, less than 20) it doesn’t even make any financial sense to RENT one of those bad boys. The cost of the rental is going to be more than anything you’ll get from selling pecans. Those big machines are really for orchards with hundreds of trees or, if you’re renting, with at least a couple dozen or so.

Well, good news! I know all kinds of cheap methods because my father, a hardworking and honest man, was never one to needlessly part with a dollar. What I mean is, we ALWAYS did things on the cheap.

THE BUMPER METHOD

This method involved ramming the bumper of a pickup truck INTO the base of the tree.  Not hard enough to damage the pickup, though. Just hard enough to give the tree a nice jolt.

The downside, of course, is that you can do permanent damage to your tree if you hit it even a tiny bit too hard. This usually resulted in never really hitting hard enough to get the results you’re looking for. Worst case scenario: you hurt the tree, you wreck your truck and you’ve STILL got most of the crop up in the tree. We only did this a couple of times.

       THE PROJECTILE METHOD

This involved me, my dad and my brother throwing various items up into the tree as high as we could. My dad was a golfer so he had lots of old clubs that we would fling, like a boomerang, as high into the upper boughs as we could. We also tried footballs, baseballs, sticks and it’s possible that one year my brother and I tried shooting a .410 shotgun up into the tree, trying to get the poor thing to relinquish her nutty treasure. Nothing worked as well as the golf clubs, though.

There were two major drawbacks to the Projectile Method. One, you could throw hundreds of times without really getting many of the nuts to fall. Two, you’d be surprised how often a thrown 7-iron will get lodged in the branches of a pecan tree. Usually, the wind would blow them down within a week or so.  Some stayed up there longer. I sometimes fancy that there are still some long-forgotten, rusted pitching wedges still up there just waiting to be returned by a fortuitous wind to terra firma.

          THE ROPE AND HAMMER METHOD

Or, as my dad called it, “frailing”. This was the method that got the best results but it was, arguably, the most dangerous.

What you would do is this: you’d tie a very long rope, very tightly, to the handle of a hammer. Then, we would take the hammer in hand and throw it, Thor-like, with all our might as high as we could into the tree.  With any luck, on the first try the hammer would go over a branch and return to the ground. At this point you now had a rope that was securely around a branch that was as high as a four story building. With those two ends of the rope, my brother and I would tug and pull with all we had. If you caught the limb at an optimal point…not too close to the tree but not too far out on the branch…you could mightily shake the branch and most of the pecans would come loose.

This was a highly effective method and, most importantly, it was free (we were farm boys so we didn’t get paid…my brother didn’t even LIKE pecans).

There was only one major flaw in this method. There was always the possibility that, somewhere on its journey,  you would lose sight of the hammer. Or, maybe it would take a weird bounce and, again, you’d lose your visual on it. At this point, about the best you could do was drop into a fetus position with your hands and arms covering your head and vital organs. That hammer WAS going to come down someplace and you didn’t want it to be your skull.  It got my brother once. A glancing blow off the side of his noggin. His eye kind of twitched for a day or two and he’s still not able to sit under the shade of a tree without checking for incoming hammers every 10 seconds but, other than, he seems to be fine.

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