They are said to be the first sign of spring, but the Waikato is still in the grips of winter when the almond bursts into blossom. It is weird to be huddled in a Swanndri and beanie sniffing the pretty pink flowers.
Sheryn Clothier plants almond trees
But there is no denying that they shine a light down the dark tunnel of winter. Prunus dulcis is a cousin of peaches, plums and apricots. If you can grow these fruits, you can grow an almond, with the main difference being most almond varieties require a pollinator.
Peaches can theoretically pollinate an almond, but my single almond surrounded by a dozen peach trees produced one almond in seven years, so I don’t think that theory works – probably because most peaches are clever enough to wait for spring before they bother blossoming.
My recent planting of ‘Monovale’, a self-pollinating almond variety, gave much better results.
Within its first year, it had set and produced a couple of dozen nuts. It didn’t pollinate the existing ‘Fatnut‘, but to be honest, that is not looking all that healthy this year anyway.
The Monovale however, is proving to be a vigorous grower and is looking extremely healthy with no attention or special treatment.
Their main disease problem is bacterial blight, aka gummosis, though they can be susceptible to other fungal and bacterial
diseases. I have therefore planted the ‘Monovale‘ out in the open paddock where there is good airflow.
While Monovale is proving to be a good self-pollinating producer, it has a strong flavour and a hard shell – neither attributes which endear it to me.
Still, buoyed by its success, I have obtained another three varieties.
They are the imaginatively named ‘CY750‘ that has been well reviewed, and two new selections by River Terrace Nurseries, ‘McCartney R6‘ and ‘R3‘.
These were chosen from a seedling orchard in Marlborough by the highly respected tree crop researcher Roy Hart. They are sweet-flavoured, with a soft to medium shell – hopefully, a compromise between the hard shell of ‘Monovale‘ and the paper-shelled varieties that are prone to disease and insect damage such as ‘IXL‘, ‘Nonpareil‘ and ‘Burbank‘.
Finding out what varieties grow best where is being investigated by NZ Tree Crops Association.
In Nelson, a trial site has been monitored since 2003 with some varieties producing well.
So far, Otago growers report only moderate success, surmising that the late frosts upset pollination and the lack of summer moisture causes the nuts to fall before maturity.
In 2013, the Wellington/Horowhenua branch planted 12 trial sites throughout the district with nine varieties to see which did best. So far, ‘Monovale‘, ‘McCartney R6‘ and ‘R3‘ seem to have been the most productive.
My local Waikato branch distributed 100 trees of different varieties amongst its members in 2015. The purpose was so that we can establish what performs well in different growing situations. It is too soon to draw many conclusion other than the trees are growing well.
The trees grow well in all areas.
However, the differences in disease resistance, productivity, flavour and shell hardness do vary considerably.
Since nuts are so beneficial for our diet and almonds in particular are rated for their ability to prevent intoxication – “five or six, being taken, fasting, do keepe a man from being drunke,” said 16th Century botanist and herbalist John Gerard – it is surprising that we have not grown this nut more often in New Zealand before.
Hopefully, NZTCA’s research will eventually change this. ✤
In the Waikato, the almond’s pretty pink flowers come into bloom in winter.