Everything you always wanted to know about growing pistachios and no one told you

Are pistachios harvested by hand?

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Hi gibberellin.
It is absolutely normal that in their third year they only produce a few fruits.
Please take some photos so I can see if you have a good training pruning system (I assume they are grafted on Ucb-1).
Regarding your question, I will tell you that the United States has developed 3 new very good female varieties in recent years:

  • Lost Hills
  • Golden Hills
  • Gumdrop

And associates them as follows manner

  • Lost Hills
  • Golden Hills

With the Randy male (it is much better to associate them with the C-Special male)

  • Gumdrop is associated with the male Tejon (this association is fine)

I have all three varieties (Gumdrop has not gone into production yet).

Regards
Jose

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Hi Ryan.
They can be harvested by hand (Pharaonic work), the normal thing is to harvest them by vibration
These are the three most common ways:

  • Hook harvester (in the video they harvest olives, but it is totally applicable to pistachio and is the method used by amateurs)
  • Tractor with umbrella vibrator (used in plantations with less vigorous rootstock)
  • Vibration machinery for very vigorous rootstocks

Regards
Jose

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Yes, that’s right they are all on UCB-1 rootstock. Here are some pictures :slight_smile:
First, here’s Randy.

And about 20 feet downwind (in the prevailing wind direction coming from the coast) is his first wife. She isn’t the prettiest, but we love her anyway.

His second wife is the tallest and so far most productive:


And Randy’s third wife is the smallest, but also has some children to bear:

I have done very minimal pruning so far. Although each tree has done some “self-pruning” in every season, where a few smaller branches will leaf out in spring but then wither and die back soon after the leaves being to expand. I tried to pay attention to the branch structures of commercial pistachio plantings in my area, and they all were somewhat contorted, “interesting” looking trees. Not like the very neatly pruned open center stone fruit trees common in commercial orchards around here. So I thought mine looked similar enough that I haven’t done any major pruning. But perhaps you have some suggestions? I would like them to grow large and provide shade for the yard (but I guess I may be waiting many years!)

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Hi gibberellin.
What I was afraid of, you have very feral female varieties because you have not done formation pruning.
Pistachio trees do not self-prune, they have a tendency to produce very long stems and do not branch properly, for this reason the most vigorous branches take all the strength and the weakest branches dry out.
Fortunately, you are in the third year and the problem with the structure of the female trees can be corrected (you will have to do more drastic pruning on the primary branches to initiate adequate formation.
I will try to find explanatory videos of pistachio pruning in English (there must be videos of California plantations), if I don’t like them very much, there are Spanish videos, which even if you don’t understand the language, are very easy to understand by watching the videos.
I will also look for documents and translate them into English.
But it is the simplest thing in the world, since for the females trees is suitable the pruning of formation in bush.

Pistachio pruning is done in winter, in a state of dormancy.

Once the tree is planted, all possible lateral shoots are eliminated, leaving an apical bud, to obtain a single scion that at a height between 1 meter or 1.20 meters must be decapitated to obtain 3 primary branches, if possible at angles of 120°, so that they are well distributed (that will be the first floor), the following winter the primary branches will be pruning (if they have had vigorous growth and are long enough), at a distance of about 30 centimeters, and we will obtain 2 secondary branches , for each primary branch cut, that is, we will have the second floor formed with 6 branches, the same for the third floor where we will obtain 12 branches, and the same for the fourth and last floor, where we will have the tree fully formed with 24 branches.

The males are allowed to grow more feral, eliminating lateral shoots. since what we want is for the trees to be as tall as possible because pistachio pollen is very heavy and for this reason the males must be tall trees.
In professional plantations the proportion is one male tree for every 8 or 10 female trees.

Regards
Jose

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gibberellin , I forgot.
Don’t worry about the shade, since your trees they are grafted onto Ucb-1, and they will grow into quite large trees in a few years.

Regards
Jose

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I’m sure the traditional tree shaping works well and may have long term benefits, but I wonder what you think about these research trials that suggest that modified central leader and “minimal pruning” techniques produce better early yield and on average lead to less limb breakage.
This article describes some early results:

And here is an update from 2023 from these trials:

The video is kind of long, but I screenshotted the summary slide here:

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Hi gibberellin.
That study is very interesting, and it may work very well, but you have to think differently.

You are an amateur with a couple of pistachio trees in your orchard “grafted in Ucb-1”.
Do you have any idea how they will grow, if you form them with a central leader?
Because I assure you that you have no idea how they will be tall.

This system is suitable for this type of machinery:

It is the price to pay for using such excessively vigorous rootstocks.

If I were you, I would try to do the opposite, that is, traditional pruning, trying to have a wide, very open crown of the tree and trying to reduce the height of the tree as much as possible, in this way you will obtain good harvests, you can harvest with a hook harvester vibrator and you will have a large shaded area.

I translated this document, take a look at it:

Pistachio pruning-comprimido.pdf (2.5 MB)

Regards
José

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Hi,
Our sellers sell only seedlings, no grafted pistachios. I have 5 year’ s seedlings, but don’t know whether they male or female and when they start to bloom. Are there any tips to identify the sex and how long should I expect until first crop?
Regards
Rauf

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And yet the areas where they are commercially cultivated is extremely limited and their tolerance to heat and cold is less than most non-tropical commercial fruit crops. Of course that can be said for other nut crops as well, but none are grown commercially in a more narrow range than pistachios that I can think of besides macadamian nuts and almonds.

Is there a single member here who successfully grows pistachio nuts outside of California? I don’t know and am genuinely curious. I’m pretty sure they can’t take high humidity or winters below USDA zone 7, but I wonder if anyone is growing them even as far north as Oregon. I’m curious about their range even for hobbyists that don’t require heavy annual cropping.

Now that I’ve read FN’s comment I realize that pistachios are not so much tolerant of high heat as they are dependent on it. They are suited to a climate that is hot and dry during the growing season and moderately tolerant of cold winters, or tolerant of moderately cold temps (by U.S. standards).

I wonder why they aren’t grown much in S. CA’s interior. The industry is centered around central CA.

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Chat AI answered my last question. What a great search engine- although I consider Fresno to be central CA. That’s probably because I was raised in CA and most of us considered San Fran to be N. CA even though it’s really close to the states center.

Pistachios are commercially grown in several regions of California, primarily in the southern part of the state. The main pistachio-producing regions in California include:

  1. San Joaquin Valley: This is the largest pistachio-producing region in California, and it includes areas such as Kern County, Fresno County, Madera County, and Tulare County. Within the San Joaquin Valley, pistachios are grown in various microclimates, benefiting from the warm, dry climate and fertile soil.
  2. Southern California: Some pistachio orchards are also located in Southern California, particularly in Riverside County and Imperial County. These areas have a desert climate, which is suitable for pistachio cultivation.

The range of pistachio cultivation in California is influenced by climate and soil conditions. Pistachio trees thrive in regions with hot, dry summers and cold winters, as they require a period of winter chill for proper fruit development. California’s climate, with its Mediterranean characteristics, makes it ideal for pistachio cultivation.

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I think California pistachios are larger and have better flavor than any imported product I have tried. I’m a huge fan of eating them. I’m more curious as to how they extend the season as they seem to be available for long periods of time. I spend lots of money on them as I love them so much. I’m never without pistachios. Or almonds for that matter. I try to eat both daily.

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Hi Andrew, what a pleasure to have you in this post.
Now I’m working, in a while I’ll tell you many things that you will find very interesting.

Regards
Jose

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Before responding to Alan and Drew, I show you some photographs of the pistachios harvested today (I have 2 more days of harvest).

My idea is to teach you the entire pistachio processing process (with photographs and comments), so that if you decide to grow pistachios, you know how to process them (dry in the sun, salt in brine, roast in the oven and bagged ), to be able to enjoy your pistachios with equal or better quality than those you buy in supermarkets.

Regards
Jose

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Today I harvested 195 kilos of pistachios (430 pounds).
I estimate that in total I will harvest about 550 kilos ( 1.212 pounds ).

But when the outer skin, not to be confused with the hard shell, is removed, weight loss occurs.
But I will still have pistachios for the whole year and I will be able to give them to my family.

Regards
Jose

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A very very important thing.
There are three varieties of paper shell almond trees, which are processed with the shell just like pistachios. Once roasted, they are peeled by hand more easily than peanuts and are a real delight as an aperitif with a cold beer.
These almond tree varieties are:

  • Non Pareil
  • Sonora
  • Price

This type of almonds

360_F_67306332_soGTKZQIGn80ElMNWfsAj1sTJgrDoYFX

Regards
José

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Hi Drew.
Now that I’ve finished eating, I have some time to answer you.
Depending on the size of the fruit, they have two different uses:

  • Pistachio to eat roasted as a snack (these are the pistachios with the largest fruit size)
  • Pistachios for industrial use (they are smaller pistachios and generally have a more powerful flavor than snack pistachios), for example the Bronte pistachio variety, which is used by Italian ice cream makers to make pistachio ice cream.

The most cultivated variety in California is the Iranian Kerman variety, and for a few years now new varieties developed in the United States have been planted:

  • Lost Hills
  • Golden Hills

For snacks, it is valued that they are large-caliber pistachios, that they have a very light shell color, that they have non-alternate harvests and that they have a high dehiscence index (percentage of open fruits), which is why Golden and Lost Hills have better agronomic behavior than Kerman, mainly because they do not have much alternation in harvests and a higher percentage of open fruits than Kerman.
Kerman, is the variety you usually buy in supermarkets.

Let’s talk about the differences in pistachio cultivation between the United States and Spain.

In the United States, the largest pistachio producing state is the state of California. It is a highly technical crop and two “Extremely” vigorous rootstocks are used:

  • Platinum
  • Ucb-1

These rootstocks need enormous amounts of irrigation and fertilizers for good fruiting.

In Spain, the cultivation of pistachio is recommended in climatically suitable regions for its cultivation, minimizing the production cost, for this reason the Pistacea Terebinthus rootstock is used, which has these advantages:

  • It is grown in strict dry land, with absolutely no irrigation
  • It is a rootstock, with very low fertilization requirement
  • Tremendously easy to harvest without the need for gigantic machinery.

So the benefit for the farmer is very high due to its low production cost.

Let’s now talk about the tastiest varieties. which curiously are not larger caliber fruits
These varieties have a more powerful flavor than the ones you are used to eating (they have a fruit size only a little smaller than the Kerman, which is the reference pistachio)

Italian varieties:

  • White Napoletana
  • Bronte (originally from the island of Sicily and intended entirely for the ice cream industry due to its powerful flavor)

Of the Tunisian varieties, the most representative is the Mateur.

  • Mateur, it has a powerful and delicate flavor (I personally love it)

Of the Greek varieties, the most representative is Aegina, and of the Cypriot varieties, Larnaka.

  • Both Egina and Larnaka are elongated pistachios with very good flavor. Larnaka is the most productive variety of all varieties currently tested around the world.

Of the Syrian varieties there are quite a few good varieties, but the Batouri variety should be highlighted.

  • Batouri, is a variety of pistachio with very large fruit caliber (as big as Kerman or larger), with a dehiscence index (huge percentage of open fruits), and with a very powerful pistachio flavor (it would be like Flavor Supreme). of pistachios)

There are a lot of Iranian varieties, but I would highlight the Kallehgouchi variety.

  • Kallehgouchi, also called Jumbo pistachio, produces fruits of exceptionally large caliber, with a powerful and refined flavor

Coming from Australia, the Sirora variety is very good, especially for regions with short summers.

  • Sirora, is a large-caliber pistachio variety, very good flavor and early harvest.

We will talk later about the early, medium and late harvest varieties.

And I could go on talking about many more varieties.

Drew, receive a cordial greeting, and in subsequent messages we will see the possibility of you growing pistachios.

Regards
Jose

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We continue, talking about pistachios.
Once harvested, the outer skin of the fruit is removed (it is easy to remove with your hands), and they are submerged in water, so that the empty fruits float to the surface and are discarded.

At this point, professionals carry out the drying process (just drying, not roasting) in giant industrial ovens.

But I will show you how to do it at an amateur level.

On a paved surface outside, where they will directly receive sunlight and heat, spread a large plastic mesh like this:

And the pistachios are spread in a thin layer on the plastic mesh, so that they dry quickly in the sun.
As you see here, and they are covered with the other half of the plastic mesh, to prevent any bugs from eating our pistachios.

The sun drying process usually takes about 7 to 10 days.
It is advisable to turn the pistachios once a day so that they dry evenly.

And that’s it for the drying process, of which I will be posting photos in the coming days.

Regards
Jose

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Do the Spanish tend to like their beer cold? That’s a refreshing thought.

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Hi Rauf.
It is unforgivable that I did not see your message, especially when what you ask is of vital importance, that is, perfectly identifying the flowering of the pistachio, and all the details of its pollination.
Now I’m going to have dinner and rest a little, but I promise to answer your question and doubts very extensively tomorrow, since it is essential topic.

Regards
Jose

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