As the pecan harvest in 2011 moves closer to completion what remains are piles of pecan shells. Whether these shells are available in large quantities from an orchard or in small supply from the backyard some have asked what alternatives there are available other than burning the shells?
One popular option for those who enjoy BBQ is to use them for flavoring meet. If shells are purchased they are likely dried enough for storage. If they were picked directly by you or from a local source drying may be necessary to prolong storage. Hang them in an area that is low in humidity but has good air circulation. Let them dry for at least two weeks to ensure they can handle prolonged storage without producing mildew. Once dry, this flavorful source can be soaked in water overnight any time and then used for smoking meets while cooking up bar-b-que. When used on a grill or in a smoker to flavor meets during smoking the pecan shells will add a sweet, mild flavor to pork and beef.
Another, slower option for discarded shells is to add them to a compost pile. These shells provide an excellent source of carbon and because they are already small in size, will decompose rapidly adding a good source of organic matter to any garden once decomposed. Any concerns there might be over pH issues are unnecessary so feel free to use as many shells in your compost as are available. For those who have lasagna gardens in their yard, shells could be added as a fiber layer between grass clippings or kitchen scraps.
One final option is to use these crushed pieces, which are composed of fiber, as a great source of fine mulch. The shells will add a nice earthy feel to the landscape as the mulch will appear light brown to black in color when added. This mulch will aid in retaining moisture in the soil, prevent splashing of soil when it rains and help to smother weeds during spring and summer. Because these are shells of the pecan tree, which are related to the hickory, there is no need to be concerned that using them as mulch will deter ornamental plants from growing as is the case with walnut.
The Extension office is open Monday - Friday, located in Kennett, Missouri at 101 South Main Street (the old bank) on the 2nd floor. For horticulture questions contact the horticulture specialist at 573-686-8064. MU is an equal opportunity/ADA institution.
University of Missouri Extension programs are open to all.
Sarah Denkler is a horticulture specialist with University of Missouri Extension
in Dunklin County.