How to harvest almonds?

Almond Nut Harvesting: How And When To Harvest Almonds

You may have planted almond trees in your backyard for their glorious flowers. Still, if fruit develops on your tree, you’ll want to think about harvesting it. Almond fruits are drupes, similar to cherries. Once the drupes mature, it’s time for harvest. The quality and quantity of your backyard almonds depend on using the correct techniques to harvest, process, and store the nuts. For more information about harvesting almond trees, read on.

Picking Almond Nuts

You probably think of almond fruit as nuts, but almond trees (Prunus dulcis) actually produce drupes. These drupes grow from the tree’s fertilized flowers and mature in autumn. The drupe has a leathery hull that surrounds it, giving it the look of a green peach. When the outer husk dries and splits, it’s time to start thinking about picking almond nuts.

If you want to know when to harvest almonds, the drupe yourself will tell you. When drupes are mature, they split open and, in time, fall from the tree. This usually happens during August or September.

If you have squirrels, or even almond-eating birds, in your garden, you’ll want to keep your eye on the drupes and harvest them from the tree when they split. Otherwise, you can leave them on the tree as long as it does not rain.

Don’t just look at the eye level almonds to tell if the drupes are mature. They ripen first at the top of the tree, then slowly work their way down.

How to Harvest Almond Trees

Start almond nut harvesting when 95 percent of the drupes on the tree split. The first step in harvesting almond nuts is to gather the drupes that have already split and fallen.

After that, spread a tarp beneath the tree. Start picking almond nuts from the branches you can reach on the tree. If you have trouble getting them off, quick picking almond nuts with your hands and use pruning shears to snip the stems just above the drupes. Drop all drupes onto the tarp.

Almond nut harvesting continues with a long pole. Use it to knock the drupes from the higher branches onto the tarp. Harvesting almond trees’ drupes means getting those mature drupes off the tree and into your house or garage.

Vern Nelson Almond capsules with nuts inside.

Sweet almond trees (

Amygdalus communis

, aka

Prunus dulcis

) have gorgeous, sweet-smelling pink flowers followed by delicious nuts. However, older almond varieties, such as ‘All-In-One’ and ‘Hall’s Hardy,’ usually bloom before peaches, making them far more vulnerable to frost damage than newer varieties, such as ‘Oracle’ and ‘Bounty,’ that bloom later, with peaches.

PLANTING:

Plant almonds in full sun in well-drained soil for best performance. Don’t bury the graft when planting or you’ll lose the dwarfing effect of the rootstock. Apply about a cup of balanced organic fertilizer around the tree, 12 to 18 inches out from the trunk.

PRUNING: Start pruning early to establish three to four scaffold branches. At planting time, prune the tree to the height where you want your scaffold branches to start, 24 to 36 inches. Head back side branches to encourage more shoots on those branches. In the future, rub off unwanted shoots to save the tree’s energy.

PESTS AND DISEASES: Not an issue so far.

Vern Nelson Dried, cracked capsule. Capsules in the center of the tree should crack open before any nuts are harvested.

HARVEST: Pick green (that is, unripe) almonds in May and June, depending on variety and year. By the end of May, the green, outer capsule toughens and the almond it contains has a delicate flavor. Green almonds can be cracked between your teeth and the tender kernel inside eaten. The kernels are sweet, jellylike to crunchy, and vegetal or grassy in flavor. Expect your first crop in about three years.

Most of the mature almonds can be harvested by shaking the tree in September when the outer hull is open and desiccated. Capsules in the tree’s interior should crack open before any are harvested. Dry the almonds outside for a few days. Then shell them and load them into airtight bags and freeze, pickle or brine them. You’ll extend their shelf life and kill any hitchhikers in the nuts.

Vern Nelson Almond (in shell) inside capsule

IN THE KITCHEN: Make almond flour for breads, thickening soups, sauces and stews. Eat almonds as a snack or add to eggs or salads. Blanch almonds by placing them in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Drain the nuts and let them cool. Roast blanched or unblanched almonds on a baking pan in a 350-degree oven. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown and fragrant; stir once or twice to ensure even browning.

RECOMMENDED VARIETIES: Both are only partially self-fertile so they need a second variety for better pollination. They bloom in late March.

‘Bounty’ produces generous crops of easily shelled nuts. Hardy in Zones 6-9.

‘Oracle’ produces generous crops of large, semi-hard-shelled nuts. Hardy in Zones 4-9.

SOURCE

One Green World
28696 S. Cramer Road
Molalla
877-353-4028
onegreenworld.com

— Vern Nelson; [email protected]

So, you’ve planted your almond tree following our handy guide packed full of growing recommendations, thanks to which you now have a beautiful and bountiful crop. Now the question is, how and when is best to harvest your almonds to make the most of them?

Well, the way that you harvest, process, and store your nuts can have a huge effect on the quality and quantity that you are able to enjoy from your tree, so it’s important to know the best techniques.

What You’ll Learn

  • Don’t be Duped by Your Drupes
  • Signs of Splitting? It’s Time to Get Picking
  • How to Harvest Your Haul
  • Hulling and Drying
  • Storage

Don’t be Duped by Your Drupes

You might know that peanuts aren’t nuts, but it might come as a surprise to you (as it did to me when I found this out!) that almond trees don’t actually produce nuts. Instead, they produce something called drupes.

A drupe is a type of fruit that has an outer fleshy part around a shell, which in turn protects the seed inside. Peaches, plums, and cherries are all typically well-known drupes, but somewhat more surprisingly, so are walnuts, almonds, and pecans – they’re just drupes from which we eat the seed inside the pit instead of the fruit!

Drupes grow from the tree’s fertilized flowers and mature in autumn. Almond drupes have a green, leathery hull that surrounds them.

To help your drupes along, it’s best to give your almonds a healthy watering just before irrigation, as this encourages the drupes to split.

Signs of Splitting? It’s Time to Get Picking

If you want to know when to pick your almonds, you just need to observe your drupes. When the outer husk dries and splits, and the drupes start to fall from the tree, it’s time to start thinking about picking almond nuts.

Be on the lookout for the hulls to start splitting open in August or September. When most have split, it’s time to harvest.

A safe bet is to start picking when you see that most (around the 75% mark) of your drupes have started to split. This usually happens during August or September, depending on the variety of almond.

But, beware – don’t be duped by your drupes! A top tip is to make sure you don’t just check your trees at eye-level. Because almonds ripen from the top of the tree down, by the time you see that they are ready, you may well be too late.

Although you technically don’t have to harvest immediately, your nuts will spoil if they get wet, so it’s best to pick them before any risk of rain. Also, almonds provide an irresistible treat for hungry squirrels and some birds, so you’ll want to get there before they do!

Regardless of this, it’s generally preferable to harvest them when you see that they are ready, as it has been shown that a late harvest reduces crop volume, nut quality, and also shortens their shelf life. The best option is to harvest what’s ripe as soon as you see signs of splitting.

How to Harvest Your Haul

Thanks to their protective shells, harvesting almonds is easy. All you have to do is knock or shake them from the tree and let them fall to the ground, where you can put a tarp or groundsheet in place for ease of collection.

Commercial farmers often have machines made just for shaking the nuts to the ground. But for backyard harvests, all you really need is a big stick to bang the branches with.

This works really well on small branches. It’s best to find a wooden, fiberglass, or plastic pole.

For the larger branches it might be a bit trickier, in which case you can tap them with a rubber mallet.

Obviously, watch out for falling nuts overhead. This can be a bit of a hazard, but one that is easily solved by wearing a hard hat or glasses to protect your eyes (always better safe than sorry!).

Larger orchards use mechanical shakers and harvesters.

Hulling and Drying

Straight away after harvesting, the hulls around the nuts need to be removed. For small quantities, this is best done by hand. This process can be a bit long, but it is still the most efficient way for non-commercial growers to process their crops.

Even nuts that are harvested at the correct time need to be dried out a bit more in order to prevent rotting and mold growth in storage.

Luckily, it’s easy to dry the nuts. All you need to do is spread them out thinly on a tray or a screen somewhere with good air circulation.

If this is somewhere outside, you might have to add a sheet over the top of them to make sure they’re safe from pesky pests or, most importantly, protected from the rain, which will ruin your harvest.

Every now and then, just have give a few almonds a quick check. If their kernels break, they’re dry enough and can be moved to storage. If they bend and are a bit rubbery, they need to be dried a bit longer.

Storage

Once your kernels are properly dried, it’s advisable to freeze them to kill off any pests that might be present, especially navel orange worms.

Before storing them, you then have a decision – to shell, or not to shell. Shelled almonds can last happily up to 8 months at room temperature, or out of their shells for around a year chilled at 32-45°F (0-7°C).

One thing to watch out for – the nuts will absorb any particularly pungent smells around them, so it’s best to avoid storing them near anything particularly fragrant like onions or garlic. Storage in airtight containers is preferable, to avoid any mishaps.

Any nuts that are dark in color, moldy, shriveled, that smell bitter or sour should be discarded, as occasionally the fats in the kernels can go bad.

In a Nutshell…

Although there are a few slightly technical things to know about harvesting and storage, gathering your own almonds is really a simple and easy process. Are you ready to get out there to start picking and preserving your crop? Tell us your stories and share your questions in the comments below.

And for more on tending to your own homegrown nut harvests, you’ll enjoy the following articles:

  • How to Grow and Care for a Macadamia Nut Tree
  • With a Bit of Patience, Here’s How You Can Yield Masses of Pecans
  • Death By Black Walnut: The Facts on Juglone Toxicity

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About Natasha Foote

With a passion for soil health and growing trees, Natasha Foote is a biologist who was hit with a serious case of green fingers, and decided to swap sterile laboratories for getting her hands dirty in the soil. Formerly a farmer and researcher working with the agroforestry project Mazi Farm in Greece, when she wasn’t working on the farm, she was busy studying soil biology under the microscope. Now, you can find her in the south of France where, in between enjoying all the fresh peaches, plums, apricots, and cherries that the area has to offer, she’s working on various agricultural projects whilst writing about all things green.

Almond harvest time

Green almonds pre-harvest before the husks have opened

Apart from all the fruits that are grown commercially in the orchards on our farm, we also have a pretty big garden, with a wide variety of fruit and nut trees, including 8 almonds (2 each of 4 different varieties) under net.

We’re big fans of nut trees in gardens, particularly if you’re trying to build a permaculture (which stands for “permanent agriculture”) system. We’ve written about them before here and you can find out more about how to create a permaculture system here.

Almonds ready to harvest – the husks have opened and started to dry

You can tell when they’re ripe because the husks open up, as you can see above, exposing the shell underneath (and the almond nut is inside the shell).

This week we started picking them, because some of them had started opening up. The other indication they’re ready is that some are on the ground, but we don’t want too many on the ground because in past years we’ve found they’re a pain to find in the grass, because we usually let it grow quite long underneath the almond trees.

Long grass under the trees can hamper the harvest!

This year we learned from previous year’s pain, and cut the grass a few weeks before harvest, which made the process much easier!

After we’ve picked, we remove the husks before we store the nuts, and then we shell them as we need them through the year as they stay much fresher in the shell.

Mowed grass under almond trees makes it easier to find the fallen nuts

Now that the trees are mature, 8 trees supply us with enough nuts for eating all year, plus we grind some into meal and use them in cooking as well.

Our small almond block is planted in 2 rows, with 2 trees each of 4 different varieties. Like so many other well-meaning but vague gardeners, we lost the tags, so we don’t know which variety is which! (This is one of the things we caution against in our Grow Great Fruit program — so do as we say, not as we do!)

Variety 1 in our almond block

Normally we pick the whole crop together, but this year we’ve kept the different varieties separate, and will attempt to identify them. As you can see from the photos of the first 3 varieties we’ve picked, they’re all quite different. Variety 1 has a very papery shell (which suggests it might be Canadian Papershell).

Variety 2 in our almond block

We planted pollinisers together, so variety 2 must be either Ne Plus Ultra, Mission or IXL. Ne Plus Ultra has very large kernels, and as you can see from the photo (the sunnies are there to give a size comparison between varieties), #2 is much smaller than #1, so that rules out Ne Plus Ultra. It’s more likely to be Mission, which yields relatively small kernels. Other options include Johnsons Prolific or IXL.

Variety 3 in our almond block

Varieties #3 and #4 were also pollinisers for each other, so the likelihood is that they are Brandes Jordan and Chellaston, but we have no idea which is which! Oh well, they’re all delicious, so it doesn’t really matter, though it’s going to leave me forever curious…

A beautiful almond flower at sunset

Are almond fruits edible?

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In many detective novels, the ominous aroma of bitter almonds foreshadows a swift demise. The kernels of wild almond varieties—and also the pits of peaches, cherries and other stone fruits—have chemical compounds that contain cyanide. Almond breeders have long endeavored to cultivate varieties that lack the potent poison, a process that can be expensive and time-consuming.

“You eat the flesh of the peach, you eat the flesh of the apple, but you don’t eat the flesh of the almond,” says plant biochemist Raquel Sánchez Pérez of the University of Copenhagen and the University Campus of Espinardo in Murcia, Spain. “It was very important for us to find out how these different compounds accumulated in the seeds.”

Sánchez Pérez and her colleagues have now sequenced the first complete almond genome. Nearly 28,000 genes and roughly 246 million sets of DNA letters, or base pairs—almost 95 percent of the genes—are represented in the genomic sequence, the researchers reported online Thursday in Science. Charting the nut’s genome allowed researchers to identify the protein that regulates the genes responsible for producing the toxin found in bitter wild almond varieties. The research may help farmers more efficiently breed out the toxin, which sometimes pops up in new domestic varieties of almonds and other crops.

Known to scientists as amygdalin, the toxin is a type of chemical compound called a cyanogenic glucoside. The cyanide-based poison is responsible for the acrid taste found in wild almond kernels and other fruits within the Rosaceae family. Amygdalin reacts with enzymes in the intestines, and consuming enough of it can be deadly.

Over the course of two years, Sánchez Pérez and her team received bimonthly shipments of almonds during the growing season, between March and August. They compared sections of DNA from cell nuclei in bitter and sweet almond trees, focusing on five specific proteins called transcription factors. They discovered that one of the proteins, bHLH2, held the key to regulating how and when amygdalin is produced.

“It made me laugh that, in the end, a very simple thing made such a difference,” Sánchez Pérez says. In wild almond varieties, the bHLH2 protein attaches to the DNA of two genes that spur amygdalin production, making them bitter. In sweet, domesticated varieties, a mutation in the bHLH2 protein—caused by swapped amino acids, the components that make up proteins—prevents it from binding to these genes, stopping them from making amygdalin.

Unlike other members of the Rosaceae family, which have fleshy fruit-covered seeds and were traditionally grown in highly irrigated areas, almonds were cultivated along the parched slopes of the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East. The first signs of sweet almond cultivation can be traced back up to 4,000 years ago. Humanity’s fixation with the nut can be tracked through the ages. Almonds are repeatedly referenced in the Bible, andRoman author Pliny the Elder notes their acrid taste in his massive A.D. 77–79 tome Natural History. The writings of the theologian Basil of Caesaria mention early Greek breeders successfully ridding the nut of its bitter taste by inserting plugs of pine into the tree’s trunk. This practice very likely stressed the trees, preventing them from producing the toxin.

Modern-day breeders have refined the process, and the crop has become incredibly lucrative. Central California is the world’s largest producer of sweet almonds, shipping more than two dozen varieties of the nut around the world. According to the Almond Board of California, the state exported roughly 2.25 billion pounds of sweet almonds from 2017 to 2018 and the crop generates more than $21 billion in revenue every year.

The publication of the almond genome could make it easier to cultivate the nut and identify which trees will produce sweet or bitter kernels. Currently breeders must wait three or four years for a tree to fruit before they find out. But now that this “sweetness gene” has been identified, scientists can pluck a leaf off of a months-old sapling, analyze its genetic makeup and discard undesirable varieties. Taste is “one of the primary things that breeders are looking for when they’re evaluating almonds,” says Dianne Velasco, a geneticist at the University of California, Davis, who was not involved in the study. The new finding is “going to reduce the time and expense of breeding.”

Almond breeders can also scan the genetic material for information about other traits such as resistance to pests or when a tree will bloom during the flowering season. This is particularly helpful for regions heavily impacted by climate change, including Spain—where breeders are already beginning to see shifts in the growth cycle, with many almond varieties flowering later and later in the year.

According to geneticist and plant-breeder Thomas Gradziel of U.C. Davis, amygdalin is not all bad. Although the toxin is absent in sweet almond kernels, it can still be found in the leaves and bark, rendering the tree distasteful to potential pests. The flavor that bitter almonds produce, he notes, can be found in popular food items such as amaretto and marzipan. In these cases the cyanide has been filtered out, leaving only the bitter flavor, says Gradziel, who was not involved in the new work.

Mapping the almond’s genome and understanding the genes that control the release and accumulation of the nut’s toxins may have implications for other plants. Compounds like amygdalin are found in other valuable staple crops, such as cassava. Many have suggested that the gnarled root, prized for its ability to grow in harsh, tropical environments, may be a key crop in reducing hunger throughout the world. Gradziel says the new discovery could help breeders to develop cassavas that only have toxins in their leaves, stems and skin and not within the roots themselves.

We eat plenty of food without realizing where it came from, how it grows or who harvests it. Pineapples grow one per plant, for instance—the spiky fruit sprouts rather incongruously out of the top of a cluster of blade-like leaves. And almonds grow on trees—but they aren’t actually nuts. They’re seeds.

How do you imagine we get those many seeds off an unsuspecting tree? If your guess includes a large machine that shakes the entire tree, you are correct.

Here’s a video of the process posted by Andrea Holwegner (via Digg).

Similar shakers help harvest other tree crops, such as apples. Cherry trees also get a shake-down, but they need hoppers to keep the fruit from bruising.

Take a gander at the almond shake while you can. California produces about 80 percent of the world’s almonds, reports Felicity Barringer for The New York Times. But production may not be sustainable at those levels for much longer given the ongoing drought (the worst in 1,200 years) and the trouble almond farmers have getting the water their trees need.

Barringer writes:

Farmers are planting almonds because, as permanent crops, they do not need to be replanted after every harvest. They have been steadily taking over from cotton and lettuce because they are more lucrative. “That’s the highest and best use of the land,” said Ryan Metzler, 45, who grows almonds near Fresno.

The problem is that not only do almonds and pistachios, another newly popular nut, need more water, but the farmers choosing permanent crops cannot fallow them in a dry year without losing years of investment.

That has set California up for a tug-of-war for water between farmers, city-dwellers, the environment and fisheries—California salmon depend on a minimum of water flowing through the rivers they need to spawn.

“We have clearly exceeded the ability of our water supplies — including surface and groundwater — to meet the demands we’re putting on it,” Kate Poole, a water expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council told the Times. “We have to change, stretching how much we can get out of each drop through expanded urban and agricultural efficiency.”

It’s yet to be determined which sides will have to give up some of their share.

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