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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Amonds or Almonds???

I am so excited about this weeks post.  My dear California farm mom friend explains growing Almonds.  They are just getting started with Almond harvest in their area.  We don't raise almonds here in Kansas, but we sure do like to eat them!

Well hello friends. Let me introduce myself, I am Sandy, just plain ole' Sandy, not the California nut, as some might think or the California Farm Mom, but on the other hand, call me either, I guess it could be worse...  I hope that this finds everyone reading my Kansas' Farm Mom's page just doing well.  My fellow colleague asked me a few weeks back to write one of her weekly blogs to let her of the hook one week.  So being a good friend, bridesmaid & former Oklahoma State Animal Science Alumni friend of hers I said sure.  So today that brings me to teach you about the California Almond harvest.

See, we live in a little quaint town, Artois, California, about a hour & fifteen minutes North of the Sacramento airport.  A lot of almond trees are grown here along with many other agricultural products.   I had learned back in the 90's in high school, that if California was a nation itself, it would rank 4th in Agriculture production alone.  That is pretty fascinating for one state to rank that high.  I'm going to try to take you through visually a year of almond production up to harvest. First off for those of you that always wondered, how do I say Almonds or is it pronounced Amond?  Let me let you in on a secret. Ironically for those that don't grow them, the L is pronounced in the word.  Those of us that are producers, we tend to not pronounce the L. 
Our almond trees begin bloom in about mid-February depending on the weather, and this is when the almond is formed. Before the almond trees bloom, bees are placed in & around the orchards so the blooms can be pollinated.  Having enough bees in place & timing is critical.  This is all very critical because you never know when Mother Nature is going to allow for those blooms to pop out of those buds & those blooms to be pollinated.  In order for the bees to come out of their hives it needs to be a minimum of 56*.  So once our trees have bloomed, you want the weather to be nice so the bees will come out & pollinate those trees to begin the growth of a almond.  If the weather should turn wet, or nasty, the rain will knock the blossoms off the trees & decrease the chances of a good crop if the blossoms did not get pollinated.  So this is all very important when considering when to put bees.

Another factor that could ruin a crop is frost.  Once the trees have bloomed & are pollinated, before actually taking shape into a nut, if there is a freeze, farmers will turn on their frost protection which could be anything from micro irrigation sprinklers to wind machines & even renting helicopters to fly above orchards to help keep the air moving to prevent freezing which could lose the crop.  We actually have a weather station set up in our home & in our orchard so if the weather gets down to 34* we will go out early in the morning generally around 3-4AM and turn the sprinklers on since the ground water is generally warmer than the air& turn them on which will help keep the temps above freezing. 

Moving on into the spring the trees can be sprayed a few times to several times depending on how much rain is received & how frequently.  Sprays are needed to help prevent diseases in the trees which could enter through the buds or blossoms or the baby nuts.   There is constant weed control going on throughout the year to help keep the weeds minimal since when the trees are  harvested the trees are shook by a machine called a shaker, and then left to dry out on the ground so when stock piled they don't create heat & catch fire.  

Once the nuts have dried out, which are still in the shell usually with the hull cracked open which is the outer layer of the almond product itself, kind of like a jacket, they're then swept by a machine called a sweeper to the center of the row.  If there were weeds on the berms of the tree rows, the nuts would get hung up in them & profits would be lost.  This is why weed control is also kept to a minimal along with depleting the trees of water, etc.   

So once the nuts are swept to the center, more machinery is brought in, called a pick up machine.  This usually consists of a tractor pulling a conveyor belt, straddling the row of nuts and as the machine picks them up, the conveyor belt is usually followed by a nut buggy which consists mostly of a cab for the driver & a bin with a auger in it, where the nuts are dumped into from the conveyor belt.  There are several of these nut buggies usually in the field so once the driver is full, they signal to the other driver whether by strobe light, cb or other means to come trade places so the other can go dump.

The full nut buggy usually then returns to a base station area that is setup of semi-trailers, usually 2-3 that are sets of doubles where the buggies dump onto another conveyor belt where the nut safe then dumped into the trailers & hauled away to the processor whom finishes the final processing of the meats & markets them.  

The almonds are very good & healthy for the heart.  Not only are they a healthy snack found in many foods & recipes, but the almond itself has many by-products.  The hulls are ground up & used for cattle feed, which once dried out taste like candy to the cattle and are high in TDN's (total digestible nutrients) & the shells around the almond meats themselves are actually used as bedding for livestock income areas or ground up & used as compost.   

There are many different types of almonds which are used for many different things; therefore the harvesting of the almond orchards themselves can last up to 2+ months since the soft shell almonds are ready for harvest first & then the hard shell almonds.  And all of this is dependent on the weather too.  Sometimes you can have a freak October rain pass though & this just delays the whole harvest process. 

As soon as harvest is over the work does not stop.  Then a float is taken through the orchards, on every row, which will smooth out the rows & fill in any cracks that were created over the summer from the earth drying and just to recondition the rows so as the winter rains set in the rows will firm up and eventually the process begins all over again.  Immediately the sprinklers or irrigation water is turned on to replenish the tree to get the trees ready for production in the next few months before they slip into dormancy.  In a nutshell, this is the production of Almonds in California and the harvest cycle.   So as you enjoy the favorite candy bar, salad, or cookie, etc. with Almonds in it you now know a little more bit more on how they are produced.

If you are ever out in Northern California, feel free to look us up, we’d love to have ya stop in for a visit.  Our Kansas Farm Mom did with her family just 2 years ago... 

The last picture is of my Stick Farmer husband & our 2 sons.  5th & 6th Generation Farmers shown there.
 Thanks Sandy!  Wasn't that great everyone?  And if you are wondering, yes her husband is VERY tall...7'2" to be exact.  They are such great people and showed us an amazing time when we visited them.  Sandy also hosted Flat Aggie for Mrs. Piatt's class here is a link to the post.