Almond harvesting is a classic rural task carried out between late August and September. These fruits are collected using various techniques, depending on the needs, and the choice essentially depends on the extent of the almond grove. Indeed, there is a difference between harvesting almonds from a few trees cultivated in the family orchard and organizing the harvest in a specialized almond grove. In this article, we’ll look at the harvesting methods and tips for obtaining a quality end product that can be stored for an extended period.
The Right Time for Almond Harvesting
Almonds are collected when fully ripe. Botanically, almonds consist of multiple parts. The outer covering (mesocarp) is called the hull, just like in the case of >walnuts. The hull protects the shell, inside which the almond seeds are found. These seeds consist of a thin, veined, brown, and rough outer skin and the cotyledons (the white part). With this necessary introduction, almonds reach maturity and are ready for harvesting when the hull opens through fissures, revealing the actual fruit, which has now reached the appropriate size and flavor. As mentioned, full almond maturation typically occurs between late August and September. This is usually a fairly dry period, ideal for commencing harvesting activities.
It’s not advisable to delay almond harvesting too much, as the shell, without the protection of the hull, becomes more exposed to atmospheric elements such as rain and morning dew. Over time, it also tends to darken and is more susceptible to mold.
Harvesting Almonds with Nets
Mature almonds, once the hull has opened, naturally tend to fall to the ground, making harvesting easier, especially for larger fruits. However, the majority remains attached to the tree and needs to be shaken down using various techniques, which we’ll discuss shortly.
To prevent the fallen fruits from getting damaged, nets are used similarly to those employed in olive harvesting. If you have a few trees, it’s advisable to place nets on the ground in advance to avoid losing any fruit. The ground net is crucial when shaking the tree, causing the fruits to fall. Harvesting nets (like these) are, therefore, essential equipment.
Manual Almond Harvesting
In a small family orchard, almond harvesting is done entirely by hand. To shake the fruits and make them fall to the ground, you can use traditional poles, preferably made of bamboo (like these), as they are sturdier and more effective. Obviously, this type of harvesting is quite labor-intensive and tiring, with the additional risk of damaging the tree’s vegetation due to frequent shaking.
Equipment Used for Almond Harvesting
In intensive almond orchards, almond harvesting is done using the same mechanical equipment used for olive harvesting. In our opinion, the best tool is the shaker. This tool is powered by a gasoline engine and ends with a shaking hook that attaches directly to the branches. Thanks to the motor, the hook oscillates, creating vibrations on the branch that cause the almonds to fall. When the fruit is ripe, it takes very little effort to shake the branch, making harvesting relatively easy and quick. Moreover, the shaker does not damage the tree’s vegetation as it does not cause injuries. In super-intensive almond orchards, umbrella shakers are used, which are more complex equipment attached to tractors that shake the entire tree, causing almonds to fall into a collecting umbrella. This type of equipment is more efficient but expensive and can only be used on flat almond groves.
What to Do After Harvesting Almonds?
After almonds have fallen from the tree, they are usually spread on nets and left to dry in the sun for a few days. This initial drying makes the subsequent hulling process, i.e., the removal of the hull, easier.
Hulling is a crucial step in completing almond harvesting. It involves removing the outer hull, which tends to become moldy over time and can affect the shell. In the past, hulling was done by hand, a method still used for those with a few trees. For larger quantities, it’s more efficient to use dedicated hulling machines, which significantly reduce time and labor. Hulling works best when almonds are harvested at the right moment, at their peak ripeness.
Once cleaned of the hull, almonds with shells must be dried definitively. This helps reduce the residual moisture in the shells and seeds. Drying is essential for subsequent storage because well-dried seeds can be preserved for years. Conversely, poorly dried almonds are more susceptible to mold and parasites. Drying almonds is relatively simple; just leave them in the sun for about a week. This exposure should occur with the fruits resting on a clean surface (concrete pad, nets, etc.), not directly on the ground. Also, remember to turn them periodically.
Once dried, almonds are stored in cool, dry, dark, and well-ventilated areas. You can use jute bags, similar to how potatoes are stored. Almonds with shells, when well dried and stored in suitable conditions, have virtually unlimited shelf life.
Almonds with shells last much longer than those without. If the market demands shelled almonds, it’s best to do this operation just before selling. Shelling them all at once for storage doesn’t make sense. This operation, which used to be done by hand in the past, is now carried out with special machines. The shelling machine has a very simple mechanical operation. It consists of two counter-rotating metal rollers that crush the shells, while separation from the seed is carried out by powerful airflow generated by a fan.
Another post-harvest processing step for almonds is blanching, which involves separating the white part from the dark skin covering it. Almond blanching occurs after immersion in hot water for 1 minute at 80°C. Subsequently, the seeds are friction-treated between counter-rotating rubber rollers. Peeled almonds need to be redried and brought back to their original moisture levels. Peeled seeds are primarily used in the confectionery industry. For snacking, you can comfortably use almonds that are simply shelled.