Almonds are a stone fruit, closely related to the peach. Their early blossom is a welcome sight, when the rest of the orchard trees are bare. The early blossom makes the almond very susceptible to frost, and good crops are only obtained in favoured localities. Almonds also demand a dry climate during the growing season. The ideal location is dry, warm and has good air drainage to minimise frost losses.
The almond is surrounded by a shell and, until the nut matures, this is surrounded in turn by a hull. The hull splits at maturity to reveal the nut. There are three sorts of almonds according to the shell type:
Paper shell: easily rubbed off by hand
Soft shell: firm, but easily removed by hand
Hard shell: similar to other nuts
Almonds prefer light soils, but will thrive on heavier soils provided there is good drainage. This can be assisted by provision of high levels of compost humus, which will also meet the trees' high feeding requirements. The trees are deep rooted and drought resistant. However, they will only give of their best when given adequate summer moisture.
Almonds crop on the previous season's growth and spurs on 2-3 year old wood, like their cousin, the peach. Since they are smaller than peaches, the crop needs no thinning. Cross pollination is needed for fruit set.
Almonds are usually planted 6-7 m apart and pruned as an open vase with 3-4 main limbs. Shorten the leaders to about 50 cm and remove competing laterals, watershoots and laterals growing towards the centre of the tree. Prune in summer, if at all possible. Once the tree is established, little maintenance is required, beyond thinning out old and crowded laterals. Prune biennial varieties in the year of heavy cropping only.
Commercial harvest is by shaking with a butt-shaker attached to a tractor. The nuts fall on catching sheets beneath the trees. On a small scale, beating the limbs with rubber mallets achieves a similar result. The time to do this is as the first nuts commence to fall. The nuts are hulled and dried as quickly as possible, so that they can be stored. Yields of 5-6 kg of kernels per mature tree can be expected.
IXL and Nonpareil are not compatible. For best results, try several varieties of tree rather than just two.
Many almond seedlings produce poisonous nuts, so do not grow seedlings except to graft on a known variety. Non Pareil seedlings are commonly used for this purpose.