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How to Harvest and Roast Almonds in Pennsylvania

Maren gardens in PA, specializing in earth-friendly, unconventional, creative, joyful artistry. She works for eco & climate health.

Almonds in Shells

A pile of almonds in the intermediate stage: the hull is removed and the shell is cleaned and dried.

A pile of almonds in the intermediate stage: the hull is removed and the shell is cleaned and dried.

Green: Permaculture, Sustainable Home Food Growing

I got religion, so to speak, about Climate Victory gardening after reading the Rodale Institute findings which determined that significant reductions of harmful fossil fuel gas emissions that will occur if:

(a) people start growing some of their own produce, and

(b) eliminate driving a gas-fueled vehicle to and from a store because they have these foods in their own yard. (In other words, there is no need to go shopping for some of your veggies.)

The gist of the rationale in a nutshell (almond, of course) is that walking over to your own yard's crop saves fuel emissions:

(1) from your vehicle as you make a round trip to procure the food, and

(2) from trucks shipping to grocers because demand will be reduced for tomatoes, lettuce, peas, and so on in a stored since we all grow our own.

So, GreenAmerica.org and others started a campaign for everyone to grow some of their own food. On its list of ten baby steps for being a Climate Victory Gardener, one step is to grow food that you like and eat.

I, A Non-Farmer in Pennsylvania, Jumped In

This all sounded very reasonable to me.

And, this gardening hack is something I can do. I like being outdoors. I like mixing and matching plants. Plants provide food for the soul and the body. I like doing what I can to try to keep the earth livable for humans and I believe every little effort adds up.

The challenge was that I did not grow up on a farm. The most food my birth family managed to grow were a few tomato plants. So now in my adult commitment to grow food, I go along stubbing my toes for a while until I get it right.

My Yard Was a Blank Palette

Because I am a gardener who gravitates to sun-loving flowers and veggies, any home purchase I make includes plenty of space with sunlight. When I bought a house in Lancaster County, PA, I was blessed with a backyard devoid of trees or bushes.

The reason I feel blessed is that I could choose what I wanted in the "Tree and Bush Department." Being a convert to the "Grow Food Philosophy" (actually I amend that to "Grow Food Beautifully") philosophy, I planted a self-pollinating peach tree and a self-pollinating almond tree which could survive in USDA Zone 6. (Climate warming has now caused the USDA to reclassify our area as Zone 7.) Almond trees traditionally like a warm climate such as southern California, but a few horticulturists have developed a tree for Pennsylvanians.

My Almond Tree

In February 2019, I ordered a 1.25 inch caliper bare-root almond tree. It was self-pollinating and appropriate for my growing zone.

The little 5-foot sapling arrived in early spring and I planted it in a corner that receives sun.

The following two years it grew many feet taller and much bushier. Last year a few fruits appeared. This year (2022), however, is its first year of great production. At about 18 feet tall, I have a fabulous nut tree!

My Own Almond Tree in Pennsylvania

A beautiful almond tree in a sunny area of my back yard.

A beautiful almond tree in a sunny area of my back yard.

Looking up into the almond tree, the ripening green hulls take on a yellow hue in the sunlight.

Looking up into the almond tree, the ripening green hulls take on a yellow hue in the sunlight.

The Official Instructions for Growing and Harvesting Almonds

1. First there is a flower. The flower drops off and is replaced by a fuzzy gray fruit which eventually gets to be about the size of a small plum. This almond fruit has three parts:

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  • Outside is the green, fleshy fruit hull
  • In the middle is the nut shell
  • Deep inside is the almond nut

2. Harvest when the outside hull starts to split open on its own. Think of it as a Pac-Man (TM) head which is starting to open its mouth to smile or to gobble up something.

3. Spread a tarp on the ground and bang on the tree trunk to get the hulls to fall onto the tarp.

4. Pull off the hulls and compost them. Let the shells dry for 2 to 8 days.

5. Crack the shells to get to the almond nut. Compost the shells.

6. Store nuts in an airtight container.

Ripe, Splitting Open Hulls

The easiest, wide-open split in a hull.

The easiest, wide-open split in a hull.

The hulls can have varying degrees of openness.

The hulls can have varying degrees of openness.

When you see these split hulls in the tree, it is time to harvest.

When you see these split hulls in the tree, it is time to harvest.

The Advice Literature Versus My Real Life Experience

The online information is very helpful in many ways, but I have three complaints with the instructions I accessed:

(1) Instructions give advice as if every almond hull matures on the same day. Really? Not in my universe! My hulls were splitting widely and sometimes being knocked to ground by the critters in complaint number 3, below. Therefore, I didn't bang on the tree trunk with a mallet to cause the hulls to let loose and drop onto a tarp. I got up on a ladder and picked ripe hulls and tossed them to the ground or whacked them down with a one-inch thick wooden dowel (picture a broomstick without the broom straws.)

(2) Articles failed to mention how sticky the inside of the green hull is. See the pictures below. I needed to lightly wash all the shells with mild dish detergent to remove the stickiness before I moved to the drying phase.

Maybe the shells would not be sticky if you can wait until they all drop to the ground on their own. However, I had the critters in complaint number 3 who do not know how to share.


Sticky Inside of the Almond Fruit Hull

Depending on how mature the fruit is when you are collecting, the nut can be quite sticky.

Depending on how mature the fruit is when you are collecting, the nut can be quite sticky.

Almond Shell Unsticking Equipment

Squirrels

(3) Squirrels. Perhaps some of you can loudly guffaw with a "Say no more!" For those of you who are not familiar with hungry squirrels, let me describe my situation.

I live next to a tree-filled public park and playground. It is full of eastern gray squirrels who adore me. Well, at least they adore my yard. They think my food crops are the greatest thing since peanut butter: a cornucopia of food 24/7 for their enjoyment. They are very grateful. I can tell this by their excited chatter and occasional burps of pleasure when I chase them along my fence as they scamper while holding a half a peach or an almond shell in one paw.

The thing is that I rather like squirrels. I loved the brown squirrels of my western Pennsylvania childhood. But now, these fellows are competing with me for my harvest. This forces me to race against them to get my nuts.

I must collect hulls which are barely split perhaps a day or two before the optimal harvest time in order to beat the squirrels to them. And, as you can imagine, I also cannot dry the nuts on my deck or have any part of the process occur outside.

Remember to Feed Your Compost

Both the hulls you pull apart and the nut shells you crack open to reach your final almond reward are organic and compostable. Don't lose these valuable garden nutrients to a landfill. Put them in your compost pile.

The Leftovers Can Be Composted

The pictured hulls and shell fragments are what the squirrels leave for me. These, plus the ones I remove myself, are compost pile additions.

The pictured hulls and shell fragments are what the squirrels leave for me. These, plus the ones I remove myself, are compost pile additions.

Cracking the Shell

Almond trees vary. The shells can be easy to crack or extremely hard. Mine are hard. Neither a traditional nutcracker nor a plumber's wrench could open the little fellows.

What finally worked for me was to hold a three-pound mallet and half swing/half allow gravity to take over and bonk the shell. After hitting a few shells, I learned the right combination of force. However, it still usually takes me two taps per nut. Some nuts come out intact and others are in pieces.

This is time consuming. I hope that next year I will have a better method.

Breaking the Almond Shell

A heavy mallet is the tool which worked for my nut cracking.

A heavy mallet is the tool which worked for my nut cracking.

Ready to Eat Kernels

The nuts are called kernels in the almond industry. However, to you and me they are nuts. Once the nuts are removed from the shell, they can be eaten immediately.

Also, they can be or roasted lightly for an additional flavor sensation. There are all sorts of instructions online for using a conventional oven or a microwave oven to roast almonds. Before you commit your entire harvest to a particular cooking method, test it out on a few nuts. Every tree's harvest has different moisture content and nut size. What works for some nuts may be too short of too long a time for your own batch.

Almonds

These are fabulous nuts.

These are fabulous nuts.

Three Pound Hammer Mallet

Worth a Try

If you live in a zone 7 or 6 gardening area, I hope you will consider adding an almond tree to your garden. You'll be helping the environment by growing some of your own food. As you can see, it is possible to grow almond nuts in cooler states.

Sources

GreenAmerica.org information about Climate Victory Gardens

Wikihow.com How to Harvest Almonds

My Victory Garden Fence

A poster on my fence informs passers-by what they are seeing.

A poster on my fence informs passers-by what they are seeing.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Maren Elizabeth Morgan

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