The almond is a dry-fleshed cousin of a peach with a tasty kernel. It is one of the first trees to blossom in spring and is long-lived for a fruit tree, living up to 70 years old.
Almonds will grow where peaches will and like the peach it can be affected by high humidity.
They do not like being waterlogged and conversely will survive a drought, but a lack of water will affect the crop.
Almonds can withstand cold to -7oC and need some winter chilling to mature their buds, however the early blossom (late July to early September) makes fruit set and pollination susceptible to frosts and late winter weather.
Some almonds grow to nine metres tall, but a height of five and six metres is more common.
Almonds should start fruiting after three years.
Almonds require a second tree for cross-pollination. A few varieties are sold as self-fertile but will produce more with a friend. The Monovale variety is considered a good polliniser. Peaches will pollinise an almond if flowering simultaneously.
Choosing the right variety for you
There are bitter almonds grown for oil, and the sweet almond we eat as nuts. The sweet almonds are divided into hard and soft-shelled varieties.
The NZ Tree Crops Assn are currently trialling almonds in Waikato, Horowhenua, Nelson and Otago to establish which varieties do well in these areas.
Nuts vary widely in size, flavour and shell hardness. Yield and disease resistance also vary considerably. It is early days yet but the McCartney varieties are showing promise with good crops of small, sweet golden kernels that crack well.
Monovale is a good polliniser and has a consistent yield of strong-flavoured hard-shell nuts.
Tolerant of most NZ soils but prefers a well-drained sandy loam with a pH of 7. Likes an open sunny position but shelter is needed in spring for the pollinators to work. Plant six metres apart.
Almond is suited to the average NZ soil conditions so an annual balanced fertiliser is all that is required. See our guide on fertilising the orchard.
Almonds fruit on last year’s wood (blossom occurs before the current season’s growth is even made) so prune lightly as you are removing next year’s crop, however you want to thin mature trees to promote fruiting wood for the following year.
They can be pruned into a vase or pyramid shape.
Like the peach, almonds are susceptible to the fungal and bacteria diseases caused by high humidity. Copper sprays in winter are the preventative. However my trees are planted in good air-flow and seem more resistant than my peaches.
In early autumn, when a few nuts begin to drop or when most of the hulls are split open and dry, the trees are ready for harvest. Shake or knock young trees with a rubber mallet (be careful not to damage the bark) to bring the nuts down, or knock them off with a long pole.
The hulls need to be removed by hand and are a high-protein stock food.
The nuts can be eaten immediately but will go mouldy in storage unless dried. Spread in good airflow to dry until the almond snaps in half on bending. Nuts can be frozen for up to a year.
For the hard-shell (Monovale) almonds, use a macadamia cracker or make a small recess in a board to hold the nut, and split the shell by hammering a sharpened nail in the join.