How to harvest almonds

Asked September 7, 2014, 1:54 PM EDT

I was wondering if there is anyway to figure out what type of almond tree I have and how to harvest the almonds and if they are safe to eat. The almond tree appeared well established at the home we bought in Hidden Valley in 2012. I have not found any definitive information on the web. Thank you.

Washoe County Nevada

1 Response

Possibly Hall's Hardy Almond

They are pretty and can be productive. They typically bear nuts in 2-3 years. Mature to be 15-20' tall, and ripens in late September. They are also self-pollinating. I can not say I can give you a 100% that is Hall's, but they are common in the Reno area.

This is a column written in 2012 by JoAnne Skelly UNCE's Carson City Extension educator. and may also provide you with some assistance.

Sweet versus Bitter Almonds

I had an interesting call this morning. A woman wanted to know whether Hall’s Hardy variety of almonds had to be processed to remove the cyanide to make them safe for eating. I knew apple, cherry, peach and nectarine seeds (all in the same family as almonds) have cyanide in them, but never gave any thought to whether almonds did. Rarely would we eat enough seeds of apples or peaches to get a toxic amount of cyanide. However, we often eat almonds in quantity without getting sick.

Could almonds be poisonous? I asked our Cooperative Extension nutrition and food safety specialist about this. She called the American Almond Board for information. Turns out there are sweet almonds and bitter almonds. The person at the Almond Board looked up Hall’s Hardy variety and couldn’t find it in any of their lists of sweet almonds. He suspects it must be a bitter almond rather than a sweet almond. Sweet domesticated almonds are grown commercially and due to a enetic variation from their bitter cousins, they do not contain the toxic chemical glycoside amygdalin, the precursor to hydrogen cyanide (prussic acid) that occurs in the bitter almond. Sweet almonds require very little processing to eat; although since 2007, there is a law in the U.S. that commercial almonds grown in the U.S., including those labeled “raw”, must be pasteurized to eliminate the risk of salmonella.

In bitter or wild almonds, the chemical compound becomes toxic hydrogen cyanide when the almond is crushed, chewed or injured with mechanical handling. Approximately 100-200 milligrams of cyanide when eaten can kill an average-sized person within minutes. Each raw bitter almond can produce 4 to 9 milligrams of hydrogen cyanide (Shragg et al, 1982. Western Journal of Medicine).

Just a few handfuls of bitter almonds can kill a person; lesser amounts can cause serious health problems such as kidney failure. Even with the danger, some people still grow bitter almonds for the almond extract oil used in sweets or cooking. Reducing the hydrogen cyanide requires crushing the seeds, drying the crushed seed powder into a cake, soaking it in water to break it up and then distilling the product. Yet, just 7.5 milliliters of bitter almond oil has resulted in death.

When I was unable to find anything definite on Hall’s Hardy, the caller checked with the nursery where she purchased the plant and was told it is an edible variety.

For harvesting this is straight from Extension Ask a expert:

Almonds are ready for harvest when about 95% of the nuts have hulls that have split, exposing the in-shell almond inside. Remove the hulls promptly after harvesting. Take the un-shelled seed and place them in a dry place out of direct sunlight, where air will move around and/or over them. A good way to do this is to place them in a mesh sack of some sort and hang them in your garage. Nuts may also be dried by spreading them in a thin layer on a screen and laying them outside. You may need to cover almonds drying outside to prevent loss to birds. Almonds are thoroughly dried when the meat is crisp to brittle when broken. Rubbery meat indicates further drying is needed. In-shell almonds can be stored at room temperature (68 F) for up to 8 months, or for a year or more at 32 to 45 F. Shelled almonds can be stored in ziplock bags and placed in the freezer for a year or more.