Almonds are having more than a moment. Dried, roasted, salted, covered in chocolate, made into milk and even butter - their range is truly nuts! But contrary to popular belief about their nutty nature, almonds are actually a lesser known stone fruit. Botanically, they’re very similar to peaches! On almond trees, in the spring, small, fuzzy green fruits appear. When the fruits ripen, the hull dried to a golden brown, splits, and peels back, revealing a shell. And this seed is the almond that we eat!
Since we at Frog Hollow focus on growing only the best stone fruit, Farmer Al decided to expand to almonds by planting an organic almond orchard in 2018. These almonds that we grow are the Independence variety, aptly named for the fact that they are self-pollinating. Most almonds do not showcase this “independence” and require another variety of almond to pollinate them. Plus, they rely heavily on pollinators, such as bees, when blossoms appear around February and March. Although our trees don’t need any extra help, we still provide extensive green habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects through cover crops in the orchard rows. This increases biodiversity and strengthens the overall orchard ecosystem.
Growing the Green Way
And, recently, we had our seasonal almond harvest! Seeing fresh almond piles is a beautiful (and tasty) sight to behold - a true labor of love to achieve the organic way. Conventional almond orchard harvests are often heavily mechanized and speedy, since the trees grow with no greenery or grasses on the ground. This environment is referred to in agriculture as a “clean orchard.” Think of a bare dirt field with trees sprouting out of the ground - that’s what conventional looks like. Typically, a large tree shaker drives through rows and grabs the trees, jostling them and causing almonds to fall. Then, a sweeper drives through the orchard and collects all of the almonds off of the bare ground.
Our organic almond harvest process looks a little different, but it is worth the effort. Firstly, no shaking our precious trees with heavy equipment here! Plus, we allow cover crops and grasses to grow between almond trees, which helps increase natural biodiversity and improve soil health, but means that we cannot sweep up a harvest as easily. Instead, we mow our cover crops right before our harvest, which creates a beneficial green mulch. Then, our team moves through the orchard hitting the trees with soft mallets to cause the almonds to fall, while holding tarps underneath each tree to catch the falling fruit. All almonds that fall into the tarps must then be raked into the orchard rows. Our method takes a bit longer, but is still super efficient - our team harvested our entire 18-acre almond orchard in only five hours!
Shelling and Selling
These freshly harvested almonds are gathered in piles between rows in the almond orchard, drying in the sun for about a week before moving on to the next stage. The almonds are then gathered and trucked to a facility that completely removes the hull and shell, before being graded and sorted. This stage of quality control takes away bad seeds, or ones with missing pieces. After this, almonds undergo steam pasteurization to give them a thorough cleaning. Most of these pasteurized almonds come back to us at the farm to bag and sell them, while some are sent to be dry roasted and salted at Maisie Jane’s. Both ways are delicious!
Almonds have a growing role in California agriculture to meet the demands of their massive fanbase, and organic regenerative growing methods can help us keep up while caring for the earth. Cover cropping, harvesting by hand, and drip irrigation systems that line the entire orchard keep soil healthy, foster biodiversity, and produce a nutritious and delicious food source. Almonds are a deviation from the normal image of our stone fruit, but showcase the ingenuity and attentiveness that it takes to grow organically and regeneratively.
We look forward to sharing our 2022 almond harvest within the next month or so as they go through the various stages of hulling, shelling, cleaning, and roasting. We will keep you updated about when you can try out this year’s plain, pasteurized almonds. In the meantime, try out our delicious roasted and salted variety!