How Are Almonds Harvested?

Farmers harvesting almonds

Harvesting, like many traditional professions, has evolved over the years. Farmers have adapted to new methods, allowing them to produce and gather food more efficiently. Almond farming is no exception. The process used to harvest almonds has changed due to newly available technologies. 

Have you ever wondered how a leafy shrub turns into a popular snack? As with most of the products you buy, the process of getting almonds to your table is quite a convoluted one.

Let’s see how snack time blooms with a look at how almonds go from flower to food.

Where are Most Almonds Harvested?

California is truly the almond king! The Golden State’s climate is more than perfect for almond production. Nearly 80% of the almonds harvested around the world come from California.

When do They Harvest Almonds?

California’s vast orchards of almond trees have their “spring” at some point during February or March every year. This is when flowers can be seen budding on the almond trees of California. Local bees help to pollinate the flowers in time for “picking season.”

After spending the first summer months splitting and drying on their branches, almonds are in perfect shape for harvesting by the time August rolls in. That’s when harvesters jump into action for a harvesting season that lasts from August through September.

Technological Advances: From Picking to Shaking

Harvesting almonds was once a picking affair. But nowadays, many farmers use mechanical tree shakers to get the job done. 

A mechanical shaker next to an almond tree

These machines work by shaking trees to make almonds fall from the branches. Most have what is known as a mechanical arm, which grabs the tree and shakes it for a few seconds with the right amount of force for the almonds to fall without breaking the tree. Modern machines even have a rubber grip to minimize tree damage.

Farmers stop watering the trees for 5 to 7 days before shaking the almonds. The bark will dry, and the tree gets tough enough to be able to resist the shaking process.

Tree Shakers changed everything

This technology appeared in the 60s, and it’s been the default harvesting method for quite some years.

These machines make almond farming much more efficient by saving time and labor costs that would otherwise be spent manually collecting nuts from the trees. It didn’t take long for the farmer’s profit margin to skyrocket.

As technology evolves, new types of shakers can be seen on farms. Some are adaptors that go on a regular tractor, and some are motorized independent shakers. Some of them even have containers to transport the almonds immediately.

Drying the Almonds

Once the almonds have hit the ground, they are usually left there to dry for up to 10 days. The amount of days depends on the moisture of the kernels and outer holes.

Some farmers have special facilities for the drying process, meaning they don’t leave the almonds in the orchard, and transport them on the same day.

Almonds drying on the ground

The drying process is pivotal for creating safe snacks that consumers can eat without worries. Almonds are susceptible to mold. When they aren’t left to dry properly for up to 10 days, they are more likely to grow mold when stored. The beautiful California sun provides the perfect conditions for drying!

The drying process isn’t just about preserving the lifespan of processed almonds. The ones that are left to dry before processing simply taste better! While you can technically eat an almond straight from the tree, almonds that have been dried are much more delicious than freshly picked ones.

Time to Sweep and Vacuum

Once the almonds have completed their drying times, all of the resting nuts are swept up into windrows. Big almond farmers have large sweeper machines that they use to navigate the windrows of their orchards. These sweepers use built-in brooms that neatly gather the almonds in lines in the center of each orchard row. 

Next, a harvesting machine drives down all of the rows to vacuum the nuts. These machines are able to filter out the nuts from other things that are vacuumed, such as soil and field debris.

After the sweeper machine gets full, the nuts are unloaded into a trailer, which will unload the almonds into an elevator that will create a stockpile.

Stockpiles of almonds

Preparing for Excess

During the harvesting season, there are too many nuts for the processing facility to process, creating an excess. That is the reason for creating stockpiles. After two days, the stockpiles will be covered and fumigated, working as storage for the excess almonds.

No Almonds are Wasted

Each almond is hulled by a machine during processing in preparation for its final destiny. No part of the almond is wasted during harvesting and processing! California farmers treat every inch of the almond as though it’s gold throughout the harvesting process. 

The nutritious almond hulls are preserved to feed livestock. Even the almond shells are sent off to be crushed for use in animal bedding. Some almond farmers even distribute the shells to be recycled as eco-friendly heat sources. 

And remember that, besides the snack you are so familiar with, there are many almond-based products. Almonds are incredibly versatile; they are also used to make milk, butter, flour, oil, and even cosmetic products, such as shampoo.

To give you an idea of how massive this industry is, California growers harvest 2 to 2.5 billion pounds of almonds every year. And that number keeps going up.

Let’s Not Forget About Small Farms

It’s important to mention that the process we’ve described today is what happens in large and developed almond farms. Many smaller farms don’t use all the technology available because it can be very expensive to acquire and maintain.

For example, some farms still have people hitting the tree branches with long sticks and collecting almonds into buckets.

A farmer gathering almonds in a bucket

The farmers who do it the manual way are usually the ones who sell the almonds themselves. The organic almonds you buy at your local farmers market were probably harvested this way.

A Fantastic Journey from Tree to Table

Knowing how almonds are harvested makes eating them feel like an adventure! Next time you eat almonds, you’ll think about the vast amount of hard work involved in the entire harvesting process. It will taste even better!

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