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.

NZ Gardener - - CONTENTS -

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.

‘McCartney R3’.

Al­mond ‘R6’.

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