Our Amazing Overlooked “Gardens”

Bonnie Nowicki

I know I am spoiled living in Arizona with unlimited sunshine and pleasant temperatures. I turn my attention to a sometimes overlooked feature of our unique surroundings, the amazing pecan orchards we are privileged to live among. The trees are bare and dormant now until March, but Green Valley is appropriately named. Here’s a little history of our special area and the majestic pecan tree “gardens.”

Located in the heart of the Santa Cruz River Valley south of Tucson, the rich, sandy soil and quality water enticed R. Keith Walden to acquire this land in 1948. The Waldens began converting 7,000 acres of cotton farmland in 1965, and the family continues to own these pecan orchards to this day. They’re the world’s largest integrated pecan grower and processor. In fact, they are certified by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) as the premium supplier of fresh pecans in the world.

Most trees were planted in 1965 through 1970 and are pruned to a height of 40 to 50 feet to allow more sunlight to reach more fruitwood, which means better quality nuts. The newly planted trees we see are grafted for smaller size and more nut production. In the orchards, they use GPS and laser leveling to conserve water and eliminate run-off.

Two or three nights of a hard freeze are necessary before the harvest. Then the shaker machines come into the orchards and knock the pecans and debris to the ground, followed after an hour or two by the raking machines, which are tractors with sweepers. Then the harvesters with blowers gather up the pecans into bulk trailers and it’s off to the cleaning barn to be sorted, inspected, and graded.

The pecans are then frozen in their shells to preserve freshness before actual shelling and later refrigerated to maintain freshness. It’s recommended once a bag is opened, we store the nuts in the freezer in a plastic freezer bag for up to two years. Who knew?! Here’s a nutritious pecan fact: As unsaturated fats, pecans are one of the best sources of antioxidant vitamin E (gamma-tocopherols), which helps support healthy cholesterol levels and nervous systems.

How fortunate we are to be surrounded by acres and acres of well-maintained pecan trees. Let’s be more aware of the changing seasons and the life cycle of our wonderful pecan tree “gardens”. If you notice the sign FICO, it means Farmers Investment Company, which The Green Valley Pecan Company is a division of. I thank them for choosing our ideal Green Valley.