Did you know almonds aren’t botanically considered nuts? They’re stone fruit! Walk up to an almond tree in the summertime and see fuzzy little fruit on the branch—like a little green peach. Only, with almonds, we’re not interested in the fleshy part (which, for almonds, we call a “hull”). We want what’s inside the pit (or inside the “shell”). That’s where the treasured almond kernel resides.
We planted our almond orchard in 2018 full with Independence almonds. These are self-pollinating trees (hence the name)! After conducting some soil tests, Farming Assistant Rachel Sullivan was pleased to find that the soil of this new orchard had some nice levels of organic matter—a measure of living material in the ground that contributes to soil health, fertility, and productivity. The trees would be happy and start producing in just a few years.
After the trees went in, so did cover crops to line the middle of the orchard rows. These we got from Project Apis m., an organization that funds research to enhance the health and vitality of honey bee colonies while improving crop production. Their “Seeds for Bees” program provides a custom mix of cover crop seeds to almond growers to serve as forage for honeybees and native bees. “Just like humans, honey bees are better able to deal with stressors if properly nourished,” the organization says. “With good nutrition, bees are better able to fend off parasites and pathogens and stay strong in the face of pesticides and other stressors. Healthier bees mean stronger hives and better pollination.”
In August, it’s time to harvest! Almond harvesting looks almost nothing like harvesting peach trees. First, the team shakes each tree so the hulls fall to the ground. There they stay to dry out for a bit. (Although sometimes we sell the green almonds as a specialty!) At this stage, the fruit is a little bit bigger than a walnut–although remember almonds are related to peaches not other nuts! Next, we send these strange-looking things to our partner to remove the hulls, shells, and sort out any funky ones. From there, the almonds are steam-pasteurized to clean them. Then they either come back to the farm to enjoy as is (yum!), or (for the first time this year!) they go to our roaster, Maisie Jane’s.
Unlike many almond processors who use oil to roast, Maisie Jane’s dry roasts our almonds using fire (not gas). The combination of dry roasting and fire brings out the natural almond flavor. It’s also a healthier way of processing than using oil (which basically means the almonds are fried). Roasting with oil also masks the flavor of the almonds, meaning roasters can get away with using nuts that are less than fresh and oil that also isn’t great. None of that! We want to taste the spoils of a year’s worth of labor. That natural sweetness. The wonderful nuttiness. And a crisp, clean bite.