THE days are starting to get noticeably shorter, which is a good reminder that we need to plan through autumn for the coming winter months in the garden. The heat, dryness and wind all take their toll on the various susceptible plants over summer, so autumn is a good time to start pruning back dried off branches, twigs and foliage.
It’s the main harvest time for olives, almonds, grapes and various other Mediterranean fare. For almonds, I use a traditional pole to knock down the almonds for storage onto shade cloth spread out under the tree to catch the harvest.
Funnelling the almonds from the shade cloth into sacks, after winnowing and de-husking, I take the sacks to the local village that has an ancient almond crushing machine to get the shells off. Then it’s just a matter of coaxing the children to help sort them into jars for later use.
Many don’t know that you don’t need to wait for almonds to dry out in autumn to eat them. During spring and summer I pick almonds on the lower branches by hand. I eat some in spring when still translucent, soft and chewy, like a fruit. In summer they are white and perfect to eat or make almond milk, which has a richer and creamier texture and is easier to make in summer, without any soaking of dried nuts necessary.
I prune the almond trees straight after leaf fall as they prepare themselves for winter and produce their spectacular blossoms early in the new year. I inherited matured almond trees from a previous owner’s good effort but they have been lopped and chopped in the traditional ways. I have been restoring them to a healthier form that is easier to harvest.
There are a lot of different varieties of almond. The main differences are hard and soft shelled varieties and the early/ lateness of flowering. If you are adventurous you can graft peaches, plums and apricots onto your almond root stock or existing trees.
They will take and grow with the right grafts and care. If you are in a frost free area you have a greater choice of almond types with the earlier flowering varieties that have a distinctly different shape, size and flavour.
Local knowledge on the best varieties for your area is invaluable.
It is all worth it for a year round supply of fresh nuts.