When it comes to the commercial production of hazelnuts, the harvesting process is a key factor that can significantly affect the quality and yield of the nuts. A well-planned and executed harvest ensures carefully collecting these nuts at their optimal ripeness, preserving their quality and taste. But how does this process work, and how does it differ from other nut harvesting practices?
We will discuss the specifics of commercial hazelnut harvesting to give you a better image of this process.
The Life and Productivity of a Hazelnut Tree
A hazelnut tree experiences several stages throughout the year, each crucial in the development of the precious nuts.
The journey begins in the middle of winter when the tree starts to bloom. The tiny red female flowers and long yellow catkins, which are the male flowers, appear on the branches, marking the start of the pollination process. The catkins produce and release pollen, which the wind spreads onto the female flowers. Blooming and pollinating in winter is rare, making the hazelnut tree even more special.
The flowers remain inactive until spring when the tree enters the nut development phase. In this period, the pollinated flowers grow into tiny green husks, eventually becoming the hazelnuts we’re familiar with.
As summer wanes and autumn approaches, these hazelnuts reach maturity. This stage is signaled by the browning of the husks, and the nuts begin to fall from the tree, indicating that it’s time for the harvest.
Finally, after the harvest, the tree enters a period of dormancy during the winter, replenishing its resources for the next cycle.
When does a hazelnut tree reach maturity?
Like many other fruit trees, hazelnut trees require a certain growth period before they start yielding. The timeline for a tree to begin bearing nuts depends on its planting method.
When a tree is propagated from cuttings or young saplings, it typically produces nuts 2 to 3 years after planting. However, these trees usually require 4 to 5 years to provide a commercially viable crop. That’s what is often called commercial maturity.
On the other hand, if the tree is grown from a seed, it generally takes a longer period, usually 7 to 8 years, to begin nut production. Again, a few additional years are needed to generate a yield that is commercially viable.
How many years can a hazelnut tree produce?
Once a hazelnut tree reaches its full productive capacity, it can continue to provide a substantial yield for many years. A healthy and well-maintained hazelnut tree can produce nuts for up to 40 years. In some cases, it can even reach 50 years.
This remarkable longevity, paired with their ability to produce a steady yield year after year, is one of the reasons why hazelnuts are such a valuable asset in commercial nut production. It’s also why proper care and management of these trees is essential. It contributes to their long-term productivity and the overall success of the hazelnut farm.
What is the average yield of a hazelnut tree?
Once it reaches its full productive capacity, it can produce around 25 pounds of nuts annually, on average.
However, it’s important to note that, even in its prime, a tree’s yield can fluctuate. Factors such as the hazelnut cultivar, weather conditions, location, pests, and disease can all impact the yield.
Determining the right time to harvest hazelnuts is critical in commercial production. It’s a delicate balance that requires careful observation and understanding. A well-timed harvest ensures the quality of the nuts and maximizes yield. In this section, we will discuss the factors that play into the success of a hazelnut harvest.
When are hazelnuts usually harvested?
The typical harvesting season for hazelnuts begins in late summer and extends into the fall, typically from late August through October. However, there may be a variation in this timeframe depending on the region where the trees are grown.
Factors affecting the best time to harvest hazelnuts
Numerous factors can influence the ideal moment to harvest hazelnuts. Among the most important factors is the species and variety of the hazelnut tree because they mature at different rates.
The tree’s condition and health also impact the harvest’s timing. Healthy and well-maintained trees tend to exhibit more predictable and consistent maturation cycles. In contrast, trees burdened by pests, disease, or inadequate nutrition may display irregular maturation cycles.
Of course, the nuts’ ripeness is critical in determining the optimum harvest time, leading us to our next discussion point.
Signs of hazelnut ripeness
Recognizing the signs of hazelnut maturity is crucial for determining the ideal time for harvest. The most apparent indications include the following:
- Change in the color of the husks from a vibrant green to a more muted brown
- Opening of the husk
- The nut loosening from the husk
- The nuts naturally start to fall from the tree
Additionally, a fully mature hazelnut will have a rich and sweet flavor when tasted. These physical and taste characteristics can serve as useful final checks before proceeding with the harvest.
The role of weather during the harvest
The weather impacts not only the harvest timing but also the quality and quantity of the yield.
Even though there is a large window to perform the harvest, hazelnut farmers cannot wait too long. They usually want to avoid the first autumn rains. That’s because heavy rain or strong winds can pose challenges. Rain can make the ground too wet for machinery to operate efficiently. It can also cause the nuts to become dirty or moldy if left on the floor for too long.
Dry, calm conditions are ideal for harvesting, as they allow the use of machinery without damaging the trees or the nuts. They also help prevent mold growth or other diseases that can thrive in damp conditions and affect the harvest.
Commercial Harvesting Techniques
Once the hazelnuts are ripe and ready, it’s time to gather them. This process, known as harvesting, is no small feat, especially in a commercial setting where vast orchards must be handled efficiently.
The harvesting technique plays a pivotal role in ensuring the yield is collected on time without damaging the trees. Let’s explore the most common commercial harvesting techniques used in the industry.
Mechanical Tree Shakers
Mechanical tree shakers are instrumental in enhancing the productivity of commercial hazelnut harvesting. These machines, of which there are several types, including trunk and limb shakers, are designed to shake the trees. It makes the ripe hazelnuts fall onto the ground.
Regardless of the specific type of shaker used, the overall purpose remains the same; to stimulate the tree enough to dislodge the ripe nuts, while minimizing potential damage to the tree. Trunk shakers, for instance, clamp onto the trunk and vibrate it, while limb shakers apply the force directly to the branches.
While mechanical shakers enhance the speed and volume of the harvest, it’s important to carefully regulate the shaking technique to prevent potential harm to the tree. Excessive shaking force can stress the tree and cause unnecessary damage, affecting the yield in subsequent years.
Following the shaking process, the fallen nuts end up on the ground beneath the tree, ready for the next harvesting stage. This stage brings us to the use of other specialized machinery, designed to collect the fallen hazelnuts efficiently.
Once the mechanical tree shaker has done its job and the ripe hazelnuts have fallen to the ground, it’s time for the sweeper-harvesters to take over. These machines are the second crucial component in the mechanical harvesting process.
Sweeper-harvesters function as their name suggests. They are equipped with rotating brushes that sweep the ground beneath the hazelnut trees, pushing the fallen nuts into neat rows. These rows are easier to manage and facilitate the final collection process.
Following the sweeping action, the same machine (or sometimes a separate unit called a harvester) picks up the nuts. Harvesters are fitted with a series of belts or a vacuum system that lifts the hazelnuts off the ground and deposits them into a holding bin. It separates the nuts from leaves, twigs, and other debris.
These machines utilize a two-step process: sweeping and harvesting. This enhances the efficiency of the harvesting operation and reduces labor requirements. As a result, the collection is significantly sped up.
Manual ground collection
While machinery plays a pivotal role in modern hazelnut harvesting, manual ground collection is also commonly used. In certain instances, manual hazelnut foraging continues to be a significant part of the process.
The manual ground collection approach involves workers manually picking up the fallen hazelnuts from the ground. This task is labor-intensive and time-consuming but necessary for several reasons.
One of the main reasons is that not all orchards are suitable for machinery. Some hazelnut orchards may have uneven terrain, be too small, or have trees planted too closely for machines to operate. In such cases, picking by hand is the most feasible option.
Secondly, machines are not flawless. Even the most sophisticated harvesting machinery can miss some nuts or fail to adequately separate them from leaves, twigs, and other debris. Therefore, on many farms, the manual ground collection serves as a quality control measure, ensuring no nuts are left behind.
Lastly, hiring workers to pick the nuts in regions with low labor costs can be more economical than investing in expensive harvesting machinery. This is particularly true for smaller-scale hazelnut producers. It’s also common in areas where hazelnut farming is not heavily industrialized.
Once the hazelnuts have been harvested, their journey is far from complete. Following the harvest, these nuts undergo numerous steps before they reach our tables. In essence, they need to be processed. This involves cleaning, drying, hulling, sorting, and storing. All of these steps contribute to the hazelnuts’ final quality, flavor, and shelf life.
If you’re curious about what happens to hazelnuts post-harvest, we have just the resource for you. We have written an entire blog post about commercial hazelnut processing after harvesting. There, you’ll find comprehensive information about each step involved in processing hazelnuts and understand why each is so significant.
The journey of hazelnuts is a fascinating process that starts when they are just tiny buds on a tree. Over time, these buds grow and mature into the delicious nuts that eventually make their way to our tables.
Among the stages of this journey, harvesting is particularly crucial. Proper harvesting ensures that the nuts reach their peak flavor, while safeguarding the trees’ health and productivity for future seasons. Therefore, meticulous planning is essential.
Farmers and harvesters need to consider several factors. These include the signs of ripeness, local weather conditions, the health of the trees, and the type of machinery to use. All that effort invested in harvesting directly impacts the quality of the hazelnuts we consume.
Given that hazelnuts have been harvested for thousands of years, I can’t help but feel a deep respect for those who undertook this complex task in the past. The planning and execution must have been incredibly challenging without the modern technology we have today.
So, the next time you enjoy a handful of these delicious nuts, remember the journey they’ve made. Be mindful of the hard work and dedication that went into bringing them to your table. They will taste even better!