How to harvest pistachios?

Harvesting Pistachio Trees: When And How To Harvest Pistachios

Pistachio trees thrive in climates with hot summers and relatively cool winters. Although we think of pistachios as nuts, the delicious, nutritious treats are actually seeds. Pistachios belong to the Anacardiaceae plant family, which includes a number of familiar plants like mangos, cashews, smoke tree, sumac, and – believe it or not – poison oak. If you’re wondering how to harvest pistachios, it isn’t difficult. Read on to find out.

How Pistachios Grow

The pistachios we purchase in grocery stores have a hard shell, but we never see the outer hull, which is known as the epicarp. The epicarp adheres to the inner shell until the pistachio ripens, then it is removed.

When to Harvest Pistachios

Pistachios develop in early summer and ripen in late August or September nearly everywhere in the world, with the exception of Australia. In that case, pistachio harvesting generally takes place in February.

It’s easy to tell when pistachio harvest season is getting closer because the hulls lose their green hue and take on a reddish-yellow tint. When the nuts are fully ripe, the epicarp turns rosy red and begins to separate from the inner shell as the developing nut expands. At this point, the epicarp is easy to remove from the inner shell by squeezing it between your fingers.

Harvesting Pistachio Trees

Harvesting pistachio trees is easy because Mother Nature does most of the work. Just spread a large tarp under the tree so the ripe nuts aren’t harmed by falling in the dirt. Pistachio orchardists use mechanical “shakers” to loosen the nuts, but you can dislodge them by rapping the branches with a sturdy pole or a rubber mallet.

At this point, pistachio harvesting is simply a matter of gathering the dropped nuts. To maintain flavor and quality, remove the epicarp within 24 hours of harvest.

Oh, Nuts! Why California’s Pistachio Trees Are Shooting Blanks

Pistachios have become a lucrative crop for farmers in California’s San Joaquin Valley. As with almonds, demand for pistachios is huge, and new acreage is being planted rapidly. Currently, California is home to about 225,000 acres of mature trees, with another 75,000 acres maturing toward full production age — which usually comes at seven to nine years. Pistachios are less demanding of water than almonds are. However, to produce a bumper crop, the trees require generous irrigation — a tall order in times of drought.

Scientists are anticipating a massive El Nino this winter, which could deliver gushing downpours and, hopefully, snowpack in the high mountains. For farmers, many of whom have been struggling to keep their crops irrigated, this is excellent news. But for pistachio growers, it might come with a bitter aftertaste.

“We could get a lot of rain and help refill our groundwater reserves,” says Carl Fanucchi, a retired farmer from Bakersfield who now offers consulting services for pistachio farmers. “But it might mean warm weather, too, and less chilling hours.”

That would set the stage for another bum year in the pistachio business.

Trends toward increasingly warm weather even have Herman, virtually untouched so far by blanking, unsure of the future.

“The coffee shop talk around here is speculation on whether the weather patterns we’re seeing are just a cycle, and eventually go back to getting colder weather,” Herman says. “But if this isn’t a cycle, and these changes in the weather are permanent, we’re wondering what the future is going to be for pistachio growers in California.”

‘Best pistachio-growing season in years’ for Arizona grower

In late July, Arizona pistachio grower Jim Graham kept one eye peeled on his nut trees while the other busily scanned the horizon for dark clouds and a summer monsoonal rain.

Two inches of rain fell days earlier – the first rain in five months on Jim and Ruth Graham’s Cochise Groves farm.

The 160-acre pistachio operation in Cochise (Cochise County) is nestled at the base of the Gunnison Hills and the Dragoon Mountains along the western edge of the Sulphur Springs Valley in southeastern-most Arizona.

“2015 has included the best growing conditions we’ve had in quite a few years,” Graham said.

In the early 1980s, the Kerman-variety orchards were planted by Ruth’s parents – Victor and Hazel Nilsen.

The farm sits on a 4,300-foot-elevation perch about 75 miles east of Tucson near Interstate 10 and about 60 miles from the Arizona-New Mexico state line.

“The pistachio nut quality looks terrific. It looks like a good crop,” Graham said somewhat cautiously, aware that monsoonal storms are a concern until the “rainy season” ends, usually in mid-September.

“It’s not over until it’s over,” he said.

The pistachio trees on the Graham operation are alternate bearing. 2015 is the higher yielding “on year.” He says it’s too early to guestimate yield, but he plans to double shake the trees at harvest.

Graham is somewhat surprised by the good crop, following a winter with milder temperatures and fewer chilling hours.

“We had a frost scare in April, but thankfully no damage occurred,” he said. “The trees pollinated well in the spring, and the crop has developed well this season.”

The farm is irrigated with groundwater drawn from 500-feet-deep wells. Water is pulled from about 300-feet down.

Rains have been few and far between this year. A 2.5-inch, three-day “soaker” in February was followed by five months of sunny skies. Monsoon moisture is needed to recharge the groundwater basin.

Pest and disease issues are usually uncommon at this dry, high-desert location. The fungus Septoria leaf spot, indigenous to Arizona, sometimes occurs.

According to New Mexico State University, signs of Septoria leaf spot include angular to circular, brown, necrotic lesions from 1-2 millimeters in diameter. Spots can merge and slightly increase in size.

Large parts of the leaf become necrotic and turn a light tan color. Black fungal fruiting bodies develop in the center of the lesion.

Graham’s Septoria leaf spot management plan typically includes four fungicide applications about three weeks apart from mid-June through August. The fungicides include Pristine, Quash (twice), and Bravo.

The disease, Phoma fungicola, was reported in pistachio in Cochise County in September 2012, according to an abstract written by S.F. Chen, D.P. Morgan, and Themis J. Michailides in the Journal of Plant Pathology.

The abstract says cankers on branches and blighted fruit of pistachio trees were observed in Arizona which caused infected fruit to become dark brown to black, covered by small pycnidia, and rachises were dried up.

Graham found the disease at high levels in his orchards in 2013, yet there has been little Phoma this year.

A fungicide trial for Phoma control is underway at Cochise Groves with the assistance of Themis Michailides of the University of California, Josh Sherman of the University of Arizona, Steve Fenn of Fertizona, and Todd Burkdoll of Valent.

Harvest at Cochise Groves typically starts in late August to early September and runs about six weeks.

Graham’s main pistachio processor is the Pistachio Corporation of Arizona located in Bowie. Meridian Nut Growers markets the nuts.

In addition to pistachios, the Grahams also grow 26 acres of wine grapes under the farm moniker Golden Rule Vineyards.

The varietals include Sangiovese, Syrah, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvédre, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot.

Tanya writes:
Pistachio nuts are legal, but the skins can be really tough for newbies. And don’t get the pink dyed ones, or the salted ones because they can have starch added to them.

I worry more about pistachios because the shells are cracked open.
Pistachio nuts, which are related to cashews and mangoes, grow inside a hull so you have the nut, the shell, and then a hull around the shell. About 2 or 3 weeks before the nut is ripe, the shell starts to split, but the hull stays intact. With Turkish pistachios, which are smaller than California pistachios, the hull is kept on until they are ready to be processed. But in California, they take the hull off within 24 hours of picking so that the hull doesn’t stain the shell. The hull is pink and that is why they stain pistachio nuts pink because originally in the Middle East, they were sold in the pink husk.
Once hulled, the nuts (still in their split shell) are soaked in brine and then dried and roasted. If we were going to have a problem with them, it would be because there was an illegal in the brine, and I don’t know that we can be sure there isn’t one.
I did find instructions for salting and roasting your own and you can get unsalted, unroasted pistachios at the health food store (they taste very boring). You could also use this method for salting and roasting your own whole pumpkin seeds (we used to do this when we were kids at Halloween).
Here are the instructions,
Roasting
Home roasting allows you to prepare pistachios according to your own personal taste: shorter roasting time for crisp pistachios with minimal roasted flavor, and longer roasting time for a stronger roasted flavor.

Dissolve 2 to 3 ounces of salt in 4 ounces of water (1/2 cup). Pour this salt solution into a deep saucepan over high heat. Add about 8 to 10 cups of pistachios and stir until all water has evaporated and salt is deposited on the nuts.

Spread nuts on a cookie sheet in a preheated 250 degree F. oven and roast 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 hours, depending upon taste preference. Stir every 30 minutes.

The epicarp should be removed within 24 hours after the nut comes off the tree. If left on longer it will start to stain the hard, inner shell. If you cannot find the time to remove the epicarp within 24 hours, you can stretch the time needed by keeping the unhulled nuts under refrigeration.

The hull can be peeled off by hand or can be removed by abrasive action. Small growers commonly use an old commercial potato peeler that can rub the epicarp off. Some growers put the nuts in a sack and roll it around with their feet..dump the nuts and loose epicarp out on a table and sort the nuts from the hulls.

After removing the epicarp, the nuts should be rinsed quickly in cold, clean water. Remove the nuts from the water and dry. A drying table can easily be made.

Make a box using 1×6’s for the sides, and screen for the bottom. A lid can be made by 1×4’s for the sides and clear plastic for the top. The box can be set on saw horses (it needs to be up so the air can circulate). The nuts can be put 3” to 4” deep in the box, stirring them in the morning and evening. Usually, they dry in 3 to 4 days this way and the flavor is delicious. A 4×8 drying box will hold about 300 pounds of pistachios.

F.A.Q.

I have heard that pistachios have a rich history. What is it?

Pistachios have a long and significant history. Recent research by Harvard University has established that pistachios were one of the “founding crops” in the Fertile Crescent region of the Middle East, which allowed mankind to advance from hunter-gatherers to an agrarian society.

Pistachios were also found in the Holy Lands of the Middle East, where they grew wild in high desert regions. Legend has it that lovers met beneath the trees to hear the pistachios crack open on moonlit nights for the promise of good fortune!

How do pistachios grow?

Pistachios grow on trees in grape-like clusters. They are encased in an outer skin, or hull. When pistachios ripen, the hull turns rosy and the shell within splits naturally, indicating they are ready for harvest.

How should I store my pistachios?

We recommend that you store pistachios in an airtight container in a cool dark place. Kept in this way, pistachios will retain their distinctive crunch for up to 6 months. To restore pistachios that have lost their crispness, toast the shelled nuts at 200 degrees F. for 10 to 15 minutes and let them cool before eating.

How should I measure pistachios for a recipe?

In general, measure about 1/2 cup of inshell pistachios = 1/4 cup shelled nuts. For pistachio flour, you can replace 1/3 of the flour amount in most recipes with pistachio flour for added protein and fiber.

Are pistachios good for you?

Absolutely! Pistachios are a great source of fiber, carbohydrates, protein, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron and folate. They contain very little saturated fat and absolutely no trans fat. In fact, pistachios’s fat content is primarily monounsaturated fat, considered the “good” fat because it maintains “good” (HDL) cholesterol and possibly reduces “bad” (LDL) cholesterol. They’re Heart Healthy!They also are the lowest in calories of any nut(with the exception of cashews, which tie at 160 cal per serving). See our Nutrition page for further information.

Why are pistachios sometimes red?

When pistachios were first imported to the United States from the Middle East, the nuts were dyed to cover stains on the shells from antiquated harvesting methods. Later, pistachios were dyed red to “stand out” in vending machines where they were commonly found for sale in this country. Today, some pistachios are still dyed red for marketing purposes. Not Santa Barbara Pistachios, of course!

Are Santa Barbara Pistachios bleached?

No. Santa Barbara Pistachios have never been bleached. Because of our superior growing area and processing techniques, our nuts are not stained. They’re just naturally beautiful!

Are your pistachios kosher?

Yes, Santa Barbara Pistachios have been reviewed by kosher authorities and are certified by the Kashruth Division of the Orthodox Union since 1998.

How do you flavor your pistachios?

Even during our unique flavoring process, we use no chemicals whatsoever. We soak our pistachios in brine solutions made of 100% wholesome ingredients that penetrate deep into the meat of the nut.

What is hot-air drying and why do you process your pistachios this way?

At Santa Barbara Pistachio Company, we choose to hot air-dry our pistachios in small 700-pound batches. Because we never allow the air temperature above 180 degrees F, our nuts retain their natural oils, where much of their unique flavor comes from. Unfortunately, roasted pistachios are often overcooked, spoiling the nut’s natural flavor and ruining their beautiful green color.

What are “naturally open” pistachios?

Some pistachio growers and processors use machines to artificially open pistachio shells. All Santa Barbara Pistachios are allowed to open naturally ensuring the best tasting nuts possible.

Why is it so important to the pistachios flavor that they be flavored, dried, packaged and shipped straight from the farm?

By controlling every phase of production from the orchard to your home, we can ensure that Santa Barbara Pistachios are pesticide-free, all natural and as fresh as can be. In most cases, our shipments have been hot air-dried, flavored and packaged less than two weeks before you receive them. You really can taste the freshness!

Are pistachios sorted by size?

Pistachios are sorted by number per ounce; Colossal = 18 or fewer per oz; Extra large = 20 or fewer per oz; Large = 21-25 per oz.; Medium = 26-30 per oz; Small = 31+ per oz. The terms jumbo, world’s largest, etc., are not technical terms and do not relate to any accepted standard of sorting. Santa Barbara Pistachios average 19.5 nuts per oz. for our 2005 crop.

What does the term “Certified U.S. Fancy” mean?

Like all produce, pistachios are sorted by grade. Santa Barbara Pistachios are Certified U.S. Fancy, the highest grade of pistachio grown. The grade is determined by assessing 5 criteria of the harvested nuts: suture splits, remaining hull material, staining, maturity of the kernel and insect damage.

How do you harvest your pistachios?

Santa Barbara Pistachios are machine harvested in early October, using the most modern equipment available. First, we determine when the pistachios are completely ripe and have opened naturally on the tree. Then, the nuts are shaken from the trees onto a catching frame, never touching the ground. (Each tree takes less than ten seconds to harvest). We then load our pistachios into containers and rush them to the processing plant, where they are hulled, dried and put into refrigerated storage. As orders are received, our Certified U.S. Fancy pistachios are brine soaked in 100% natural organic ingredients, hot air dried and packaged for shipment.

Do you use any pesticides or fungicides on Santa Barbara Pistachios?

No, our 100% natural organic pistachios are grown without the use of pesticides, fungicides or herbicides.

Are your pistachios processed in a peanut free facility?

In our facility we only process pistachio nuts. In addition, we have been assured by all of our ingredient suppliers that if any other nut products are part of their operation, they are kept in an isolated facility.

Pistachio Tree

Grow Your Very Own Delicious and Healthy Pistachios!

Never buy another expensive pistachio again. Pistachios are notoriously expensive in the store and market, and they’re hardly fresh. When you grow your own Pistachio Tree, you’ll get more than your money’s worth with an endless supply of fresh pistachios straight from your garden.

Consistently ranked as a favorite nut. With its distinct, rich flavor and natural sweetness, pistachios are always a favorite snack. They’re easy and fun to eat, and your family will love having access to your Pistachio Tree harvest.

They’re healthy too. Did you know that pistachios are the lowest calorie nut? They’re an ideal snack because they’re full of healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, phytosterols, and carotenoids – all essential components to maintaining health and wellness. We have a tendency to snack on what’s available, so keeping a consistent supply of pistachios around will be not only a delightful treat for you and your family but a healthy choice too.

Pistachio Trees grow where hardly anything else will. Pistachio trees are very particular about the climate they have grown in, but luckily they’re perfect for people who live in the desert where beautiful green shade trees are hard to come by.

Plant it and then watch it grow. As long as the climate is right and you’ve got a male and a female, your Pistachio trees will produce a huge harvest every other year. And there’s hardly any maintenance and upkeep to these dry-weather loving trees. Most trees produce around 50 lbs. of nuts per year. That’s plenty to share with your friends and family.

Pistachio nuts are easy to harvest. When your pistachios start splitting, just throw down a tarp, shake the branches and watch the delicious pistachios fall to the ground. Just a few days in the sun and you’ll have fresh pistachios ready to eat.

They stay fresh for months. Don’t worry if you can’t eat all your pistachios right from the harvest. They’ll stay fresh for months in a closed jar or sealed bag. And if you need to keep them for even longer, the fridge or freezer will do the trick.

Order 2 trees to make sure you get your harvest. Pistachio trees don’t self-pollinate, but we make it easy for you. We bundled the Randy and Golden Hills, which pair perfectly together. Just plant them both at the same time, sit back, and let the wind do the rest!

Treat yourself and your family to a fresh, healthy snack. Your family will love sitting under the shade of your Pistachio tree, and they’ll love having access to fresh pistachios whenever they want. Don’t let another season go buy without a pair of Pistachio Trees in your yard. Order your Randy and Golden Hills Pistachio trees today.

Planting & Care

The right climate: For your Pistachio Tree to grow, it will need to be planted in the right climate. Pistachio trees do not thrive in humidity, so a dry heat is essential.

The right spot: Plant your Pistachio Tree in any kind of soil, but make sure that it is well-draining. Plant in a spot that receives direct sunlight and little to no shade. Trees need to be planted at least 15′ apart, as Pistachio Trees do not grow well when crowded.

Planting Instructions: Plant in a hole as deep as the root ball and twice as wide. Spread the roots out in the hole and backfill with soil. Make sure the top of the rootball is flush with the soil. Gently tamp down with a shovel. Add a layer of mulch to prevent weeds, and then water deeply. You will likely need to stake both sides of your tree when it is young.

Watering: Water only every few weeks. It is better to do an infrequent deep irrigation than shallow and frequent. If the leaves begin to turn yellow, you are watering too much. Pistachio Trees are very drought tolerant and are sensitive to overwatering.

Fertilization: Add a 10-10-10 NPK fertilizer in the spring of your trees 2nd year and every spring after.

Pruning: When the branches of your tree have grown to be longer than 6 feet, it’s time to prune. Each spring, create a scaffolding with 3-5 branches. To do this, choose a few strong branches that are 24-32 inches above the soil. Cut everything below these branches and remove the highest branches. Then cut all remaining branches down to 4-6 inches. In the summer, prune the scaffolding branches down to 2-3 feet. Repeat each year.

Pests and Diseases: There should be no pests or diseases on your tree, but to deter and prevent, be sure to always remove anything that’s fallen from the tree in Autumn including dead leaves, broken shells and husks.

Harvesting: Your Pistachio Tree will likely start producing nuts after 5-7 years as long as you have planted both a male and female tree. Your nuts will be ready to harvest when they turn from green to yellow and red and when they begin to split from the outer husk. Simply lay a tarp down and shake the branches to encourage nuts to fall from the tree.

Post-Harvest: First, remove any remaining husks from the nuts. Then, separate the nuts with split shells from those that have not split. Discard any black, empty or moldy shells. Then remove the shells from the nuts that did not split. This is necessary for the drying process. If the shell is split, you do not need to remove the shell. Then lay all the nuts down on a tarp in the sun and allow them to dry. You will likely need to also lay a screen on top to deter birds and critters from eating your pistachios. The drying process varies, but the best test is a taste test. Your pistachios should be firm and crunchy. If they are soggy, you’ll need to keep drying them. Soggy pistachios are not shelf stable.

Storage. Store your pistachios in a sealed container, glass jar or plastic bag. They will keep for a couple months. If you need to store them longer than 2 months, place them in the fridge or freezer where they will stay fresh until the next harvest.

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Pistachios ripen in the month of September almost exclusively around the world except for Australia which harvests in February. In exceptionally hot summers, harvest may be early (last week of August).

The hull of the pistachio is called the epicarp. It is about 1/16 of an inch thick and adheres tightly to the hard-inner shell until the nut is ripe. Take your thumb and forefinger and squeeze the nut. If the epicarp has separated from the hard-inner shell, the epicarp will easily come apart and can be peeled off. Besides the epicarp coming off easily, the color also changes. The epicarp has a reddish/yellow color during development. The color lightens in August and when ripe, it is a rosy, light yellow. Harvest should be timed when most of the nuts are ripe.

Pistachios will fall off the tree when the branches are given a sharp shake. A rubber mallet hitting a branch, a fist or mechanical shaker can be used. Put sheets or tarps under the tree to catch the nuts. You don’t want the nuts to fall in the dirt (you will lose them or the epicarp will tear).

For larger crops, using a mechanical shaker makes the most sense. Pistachio harvesting involves two machines, a shaker and a catcher. Each machine requires an operator to drive and steer the vehicle and control the harvesting operations. The catcher and shaker are self-propelled vehicles with a moveable, tarped, deck that each operator positions under a tree. The decks are angled downward toward the base of the tree, so anything shaken loose from the tree falls down the decks to a conveyor at the bottom of the catcher. The conveyor is driven by a hydraulic motor, and the crop is subsequently separated from debris via an integral blower and ultimately conveyed to bins or a trailer.

Processing Pistachios

The epicarp should be removed within 24 hours after the nut comes off the tree. If left on longer it will start to stain the hard, inner shell and begin to deteriorate. The hull traps moisture which stains the shell if left for a long period of time.

The hull can be peeled off by hand or can be removed by abrasive action. Small growers commonly use an old commercial potato peeler that can rub the epicarp off. Some growers put the nuts in a sack and roll it around with their feet, then dump the nuts and loose epicarp out on a table and sort the nuts from the hulls.

For larger growers, hulls are removed mechanically and then the nuts are washed and dried and separated by size. Drying the nuts down to a stable moisture level without over-drying is the difference between a good pistachio and a great pistachio. The drying process cannot be rushed, nor can it be delayed. Typically, it takes 3-4 days for the nuts to dry on their own, if put on drying tables in the sun.

Those nuts that are not opened naturally on the tree are separated out and electronic sorting machines then check and separate the nuts for any shell staining or discoloration.

From there, pistachios may be salted and seasoned to the desired taste.

Storing Pistachios

Once the pistachios are dry (crunchy to taste), they will keep very well if just a few precautions are taken. In general, the lower the temperature, the longer the storage life of the nuts. Pistachios can be held at temperatures up to 68° F without significant quality deterioration for as long as one year. Prolonged heat turns the oil in any nut rancid. A cool cabinet, the refrigerator or freezer are all good storage locations.

Where to Order Pistachios

To order farm fresh New Mexico Pistachios, shop on-line at www.heartofthedesert.com. The new crop is generally ready to purchase and on shelves in October.

About Heart of the Desert:

Heart of the Desert is a working pistachio ranch and vineyard with four retail establishments in New Mexico. They are best known for their farm fresh pistachios and Award-Winning New Mexico wines. Each store offers wine and pistachio tastings. They offer worldwide shipping and produce attractive gourmet baskets that make great corporate and family gifts. The main store, on the ranch in Alamogordo, offers farm tours that showcases how pistachios are grown and processed as well as a stunning Tuscany themed patio that overlooks the groves and is available for weddings, private parties or enjoying a relaxing glass of wine.

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Processing

One of the most critically important steps in producing healthy, wholesome and great tasting pistachios is in the processing. And we at Keenan Farms take processing very seriously. Once pistachios are harvested, the outer hull must be removed within a short period of time — no more than 24 hours — to avoid shell staining and product deterioration. (The hull traps moisture which stains the shell if left for a long period of time.) Hulls are removed mechanically and then the nuts are washed and dried and separated by size. Drying the nuts down to a stable moisture level without over-drying is the difference between a good pistachio and a great pistachio. The drying process cannot be rushed nor can it be delayed.

Those nuts that are not opened naturally on the tree are separated out and electronic color sorting machines then check and separate the nuts for any shell staining or discoloration. To ensure the highest in food safety standards, the entire process is mechanical which requires an investment of millions of dollars in state of the art equipment. This equipment is only utilized for the few weeks of the harvest.

At Keenan Farms, we also think that roasting pistachios is an art. Over the years we have earned a reputation for one of the finest roasts in the industry. Every Keenan Farms shipment is prepared to the buyer’s specifications for roasting, salting, packaging, food safety standards and testing certifications. We know that we are not in the business of just producing a product. Our goal is to provide a consistently great and enjoyable snack for everyone who buys a bag of Keenan Farms Pistachios. Every time.

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