Almonds From Bloom to Market

By Diane Toops, News and Trends Editor

It takes three years for an almond tree to produce, and it can bear fruit for 25 to 30 years. California’s Central Valley provides perfect almond weather – hot dry summers and mild winters. In the fall, flower parts begin to develop on the edges of the growing bud. Pollen grains appear by mid-December, but buds remain dormant until early January when they grow rapidly.

A good chill during November and December is followed by a warmer January and February which coax the tree blossoms from their buds. Because the almond tree is not self-pollinating, at least two different varieties of trees are necessary for a productive orchard. Bees pollinate the alternating rows of almond varieties. From February onward, orchards should be frost-free and have mild temperatures and minimal rain so blossoms can flourish and bees can do their job.

After the petals drop and the trees have leafed out. The first signs of the fuzzy gray-green fruit appear. The hulls continue to harden and mature until July when they split open. Between mid-August and late September, the split widens, exposing the shell, which alls the kernel (nut) to dry. The whole nut and stem separate, and shortly before harvest, the hull opens completely.

To prepare for harvest, orchard floors are swept and cleared. Mechanical tree shakers knock the nuts to the ground, where they are allowed to dry before they are swept into rows and picked up by machines. Then they are transported to carts and towed to the huller.

At the processing plant, random samples of shells are cracked open and the nuts are graded according to size and quality, inspected, processed and packed.