About 25 years ago, the couple decided to turn a 10-acre bottom field, which flooded regularly, into something different then then the typical corn crop it had been used for.
Vernon and Bethine Spaunhorst, owners of Heritage Valley Tree Farm, a Christmas tree farm known for its fir and pine trees, a 150-year-old bed and breakfast and an apple orchard, located on Four Mile Road, between Highway A and Highway 185, in Washington, planted pecan trees purchased from the sapplings from the Missouri Department of Conservation.
"When they got up to about shoulder high, we would cut the tops off. Then we went out and bought tops from a different breed of tree that is known to produce a very good nut and grafted them on," Vernon Spaunhorst said.
"Normally you buy a tree that way, already grafted, that's how you get all the various breeds of apples like your Red Delicious and your Golden Delicious," he said. "But because we were planting 200 trees at one time, we just grafted them on our own."
About 170 of the pecan trees survived the past two-plus decades.
For the first time, the farm harvested pecans from the trees using a rented shaker.
After the shaking, the nuts and hulls are separated. But because pecans are not as widely grown in Missouri as they are in some southern states, there was no big machine readily available for the separation process, Spaunhorst said.
So with a little ingenuity, he made a tumbler that holds about a bushel at a time. As the pecans are tumbled, the hulls, twigs and other trash falls out of the bottom.
"We've had some pecans on the trees before, but there weren't enough to go through the effort to get a shaker," Spaunhorst said.
He said he plans to purchase a shaker of his own for next year and predicts over 100 of the trees should be able to be harvested each year.
"This year only about 20 trees produced enough nuts to take off the trees. They said the frost we had last spring damaged some of the crop for this year," Spaunhorst said.
The farm plans to sell the pecans. The best venue to do so will likely be its annual Christmas tree sale which starts right after Thanksgiving.
"We had the Christmas trees, and they do very well for us. We grow the fir trees, which hardly anybody else grows around here, but we felt we ought to be able to have something else to do on the farm, and the flooding down there is always a risk," Spaunhorst said.
"We just thought pecans would do good down there. We thought that it was something different that other people weren't doing. We felt that should give us an advantage in being able to sell them," he said.
That's why we are doing it, to try to utilize a field that is prone to flooding. If floodwater gets off a pecan tree within a couple of days, it won't hurt them," he said.
"I think pecans are an interesting tree. Most groves in Missouri are in the south and the very western part of the state," Spaunhorst said.
"These pecans, depending on who you talk to, are supposed to taste better than some of the Southern nuts. That's what I've been told. My wife and kids have been eating them and they say they're really good," he said.
For more information about the Spaunhorsts' businesses, people may visit their Web site at www.heritagevalleytree farm.com or call 636-239-7479.