Almond Blossoms in the North State
● By Kayla Anderson
Orchard & Bloom
By Kayla Anderson
Photos by Eric Leslie
FROM BAKERSFIELD TO RED BLUFF, commuters may notice half a million acres of almond orchards distinctly featured by white and pink blossoms that come into bloom during February.
While the almonds (a stone fruit – not a nut) are harvested in the fall, they usually come into bloom when the weather starts warming up and bees can help cross-pollinate the trees. If you are traveling through Northern California at this time, it’s worth driving the lesser-known highways to take in the view.
“With this warm weather we’ve been having, some of the (almond) varieties are starting to come into bloom earlier, like the nonpareils – the big, beautiful trees that everybody likes,” says Kevin Treff, a grower representative for T.M. Duche Nut Co., Inc. Located in Orland, Duche processes almonds and walnuts at its 40-acre plant and is surrounded by orchards.
“The winter varieties bloom first, but they all need each other for pollination,” Treff adds.
If you take Highway 32 from Orland to Durham, it’s likely you’ll land in the heart of almond blossom country. There you may find the Vanella Farm Store. Located at 2379 Durham-Dayton Highway, Robert and Susan Vanella bought their first almond huller in 1968 and started building their farm, which now includes their two sons. The family business farms walnuts, alfalfa, wheat hay and almonds on their 3,000 acres.
“The almond trees bloom when the weather starts getting warm. One of my friends just delivered his bees, so it is coming soon,” says Vanella Farm Store salesperson Jill Simon. “You can definitely tell when the almonds pop because it looks like snow. It’s beautiful – that contrast of white on dark brown trees and the blossoms covering the ground.”
Although the locals are used to the bloom, it’s still a sight that never gets old. It even sparked the Durham Sports Boosters to create an annual Almond Blossom Run to raise money for its sports programs. Held every year in February since 1982, the Almond Blossom Run is the booster club’s biggest fundraiser.
“A lot of the local runs are held in (Chico’s) Bidwell Park, so we like to say that this one is ‘not just another run in the park’,” says Almond Blossom Run Committee Member Kirsten Southam. “It’s a beautiful run and flat. You’re basically running through small neighborhoods and almond trees. People love it because it’s different. They love the almond tree blooms and the student athletes cheering along the way. We have three little wineries in Durham, too, so coming out here and bicycling along the orchards and doing some wine tasting is a nice way to spend a weekend.”
As an Almond Blossom Run course monitor, Southam’s favorite part of the event is seeing all of the Durham students cheering the runners on. “Especially the high school kids…I think it teaches them appreciation for all of the people who have donated. Then at the end of the race we have almond samples from Blue Diamond, Lundberg rice chips from our local rice company and fruit from Pro Pacific Fresh. One hundred percent of the proceeds go back to those athletic programs…it’s just hometown family-friendly fun.”
Around the time of the bloom, almond handlers at the Western Nut Company in Chico will take a break and bike ride to Durham to enjoy the bloom. “This is perfect weather for the almonds right now; it looks beautiful with all of the blossoms,” says Grower Affairs Manager Maricela Buenrostro.
“The bloom gives a snapshot of what the potential crop could be and what’s going to come in August,” says Sales and Marketing Manager Todd Meyer, who is often out in the orchards and fielding questions from bulk-quantity almond buyers. “On our end – and probably the growers’ – it’s kind of nerve-racking because we wonder if or when wind, rain or frost is going to come. This is a critical time for setting the crop; we’re not admiring the blossoms as much as looking at what the potential is here,” he adds.
“We consider Valentine’s Day the start of the bloom, but the trees are starting to pop earlier this year as it warms up and the trees start to come out of dormancy. When we go out there and see bees flying around and cross-pollination happening, it’s a good day for us,” Meyer says. “This is a great time to be out there and enjoy the blossoms.”