Burroughs Almond Orchard
Earl’s loves roasting organic almonds and snacking on them throughout the day. We are spoiled in California with over 90% of the world’s commercial production coming out of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys.
The Burroughs Family Farm comes from 5 generations of farming in the San Joaquin Valley. Originally in the dairy business in the 1970’s they started farming almonds in the 1980’s. Located in a very rural area just outside of Denair, their town is jokingly called Burroughsville. Rosie and Ward Burroughs farm organic almonds and operate an organic pasture-based dairy. They began the organic conversion on their almond orchards 9 years ago when their daughter Benina was pregnant with her first child. Benina felt it was the right thing to do and didn’t want her family and her workers to be exposed to pesticides. Two children later and one on the way, Benina lives and works on their farm with her husband Heriberto and her parents.
They have 900 acres of almond trees and are committed to being leaders in organic farming, sustainability and biodiversity. They produce their own compost year round providing nutrition for the trees and helping to cultivate strong healthy soil they call “black gold”. They have also planted hedgerows around the farm to attract bees and other beneficial insects, but also bring in hives every season for pollination, approximately 2 hives per acre. Bees are very important because the almond tree is not self-pollinating. Bees are brought in to the orchards to carry pollen between alternating rows of almond varieties during the bloom phase in late February or early March. If the weather is stormy or cold during the critical bloom stage the bees won’t pollinate and the crop size will be reduced. For optimal cross-pollination and crop development, an orchard must have more than one variety of almond tree and most orchards have three.
The Burroughs Family grows Nonpareil, Carmel, California, and Mission almond varieties. The Nonpareil is the most common commercial variety grown in California because of its good size, pretty looks and full flavor. Almond trees set their buds in January and start to bloom in mid-February to early March. In March the nutlets will start to form and some stay and some will fall off. This is the time to give the trees lots of nutrition. Once the hulls open the harvest is only 4-6 weeks away, usually ranging from mid-August to October.
Almond trees need 400 chill hours below 45 degrees to have a fruitful harvest. If you remember this past California winter the weather went from cool, to a big freeze at the beginning of December followed by dry, warm weather. This caused the bloom period to be longer than usual resulting in uneven blossoming, varying maturity and one of the earliest harvests in history. One theory is the trees were tired from not enough chill hours at night and the warm days reversing the effect of the chill hours stored up. Trees, like ourselves need sleep in order function correctly. Even trees can get cranky from lack of sleep.
For the grower this means that some parts of the tree are ready earlier than others to harvest. Prior to harvest nut growers need to prepare the orchard by leveling and clearing any debris from the orchard floor. This provides a smooth clear surface when the nuts are shaken from the trees by mechanical tree shakers. The machine grabs the tree and then vigorously shakes the nuts out of the tree. If the husks are immature and green they won’t come lose from shaking the tree with a machine and need to be manually pulled off. Almonds need to stay on the ground for another 8-10 days to dry out their shell and hull. Then they are swept into rows and picked up by a machine which can sort out all the branches and leaves from the nuts. After the almonds are gathered they are sent for shelling. The hulls are sold for cattle feed helping to subsidize the cost of shelling the almonds.
Organic almonds are then frozen for 3 weeks to get rid of any pests and finally stored below 50 degrees to maintain freshness. In 2009 it was ruled that California almonds must be pasteurized after a salmonella breakout was traced back to almonds. The almonds are put through a steam bath to prevent any bacteria from forming.
The drought and heat caused less nuts to grow on the Burroughs trees but they were larger in size than in past years. The Burroughs are lucky to be growing farther east in the San Joaquin Valley where there is still a good quantity and quality of water. The almond crop has declined for many growers in California this year because they require copious amounts of water. We can expect to see prices for almonds continue to rise as long as water remains a concern.
Almonds are delicious, crunchy and good for you! They are heart healthy with no cholesterol or sodium, low in saturated fat and high in the antioxidant Vitamin E. Almonds provide energy with 6 grams of protein per ounce and 12 vitamins and minerals. Learn more about almond health and nutrition from The California Almond Board.