This Christmas, I enjoyed a platter of almonds, Red Filberts and hazelnuts, all grown on my farm in north Buckinghamshire!
The taste was amazing - the almonds in particular. When eaten, they were just like marzipan - sweet and with a lovely texture. I have six trees, three each of the Robijn and Ingrid varieties, bought from Buckingham Garden Centre in February 2011. They are always the first of my 'orchard' trees to flower in the spring and their pink/lilac blossom is beautiful.
They started to produce almonds in 2012 and, despite the poor summer, produced well in 2015. I picked the almonds when their fruits (like small peaches with very hard flesh - they are in the same family, of course) had started to split open and their ripening was finished off on a tray in the kitchen.
The almond trees, at the time of purchase, were on already quite mature rootstocks. I think they were 7 to 8 years old. The trees themselves were a good 8' long with lower trunks already around 3' in diameter and the rootballs were huge! For transport, they were put through the Christmas tree netting machine and netted, which drew all their branches in quite neatly. I managed to get them in a large estate car with the seats down and the top few feet, being quite flexible, bent around.
Holes were dug and the trees put in, widely spaced; the branches of course sprang back out quite merrily. They, like peach trees, are quite shallow rooted and like room to spread these out. They are growing in clay that has can have surface waterlogging for a few weeks a year, but they seem quite happy. I mulch them once a year with old meadow hay that has composted down, to add extra nutrients and keep the grass at bay.
They have suffered from peach leaf curl. I take off the affected leaves (which turn bright red, so easy to spot) and burn them. The trees don't appear to have suffered long term ill-effects. I don't use any artificial fertilisers, pesticides or other chemicals on my farm, so spraying them is not an option.
The almonds are planted out in a nut garden. This features a green hazel hedge around three sides, interspersed every 6' with a few Red Filberts, so that when the hedge is in leaf, it is candy-striped red and green. Both filberts and hazelnuts were grown from whips; they produced for the first time in 2015 and I got in there before the squirrels! I'll coppice them in due course, but for now am enjoying them in their 'natural' state.
I picked these nuts at the same time as the almonds and finished off any ripening they may have needed, in the kitchen.
Here they are, in pride of place on the platter on Christmas Day, to accompany Stilton cheese and a festive glass of port!