Split shells mean time is ripe to harvest

Q: We have a young almond tree that has a great cop of nuts on it. How do we know when to harvest? Is there any special prep needed before eating the nuts?

A: Harvest when the outside covering has split open. You can leave them on the tree longer provided it does not rain. If you have ground squirrels, harvest immediately or they will get them.

You can open the husks any time or store them this way for a long time if they remain dry. Eat them fresh (my preference) or you can roast them. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10-12 minutes or until you smell a nutty aroma. Sprinkle with salt or your favorite seasoning, if you want.

I want to add something here. Years ago when we began harvesting almonds at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Orchard in North Las Vegas, the volunteers spent many hours splitting the outside husk open, taking out the nut and getting the nuts ready for the farmers market. I had so many complaints from the volunteers about this work that no one would do it anymore. So I told them to take the nuts, husk and all, to the market and sell them that way.

Well, what a shock! The people at the farmers market loved them this way! They would take them home and show their kids where almonds came from and what a surprise the kids had opening them and eating them fresh from inside the husk. And we made more money this way than if we had husked and taken them out of the shell. There were no more complaints, plus there was much less labor involved.

If you do have almonds, a serious pest you can get is peach twig borer. They will get in the husk and, in some cases, find their way to the nut after the husk has split. So get them off of the tree soon after they split sometime in August.

Q: While cleaning my iris beds this morning, I found quite a surprise. I've checked on the Internet and there is nothing that describes a 1-inch hole with mounded dirt; the round holes are perfect in the ground and on the leaf. I hope you can help identify my problem before I have more damage.

I put 100 percent white vinegar in this hole and it foamed up immediately. I hope I didn't kill my iris; the hole is right in the middle of the plant. Further checking revealed that I have these holes in several of my iris beds spread over one-half acre. I also found what looks like a "perfect" ¼-inch round, 1½-inch excretion; it is almost black.

Some Internet sites suggest slugs, but I have no type of residue and I think they would eat as they go and not make a round circle in the middle of a leaf. Then cutter bees were mentioned but their holes don't seem to be as big as these. I will soon be leaving town and I would like to get a handle on this problem before I go. Thanks for any help you may give.

A: I hesitated to answer for a bit because I was not quite sure what is going on. My first reaction was iris borer except that this iris pest is usually a problem in the Midwest, not here. But it fits the description.

Iris borers will leave roundish holes in the leaves. They also pupate in the ground so when the moth emerges, it leaves a fairly large, smooth hole in the ground near the iris.

But you mention no other symptoms of iris borer, which also makes me doubt it. Other symptoms would include, in the early stages, the tips of the foliage turning yellow and then brown. As the problem gets worse the base of the stalk may become yellowish-brown and mushy with a bad odor, if the attack is severe. This is when rot of the rhizome has started.

If you are digging irises to divide or move them this fall, you may notice holes in rhizomes as well. If you got any of these rhizomes from the Midwest, then it is possible borers may have been transported here.

I agree that it also is possible that the hole in the leaf could be from slugs although, as you pointed out, you are not using any surface mulch which they like. The hole in the ground could be from an insect like the cicada killer, a large wasp that is yellow with black stripes; it's not very threatening to humans but can deliver a severe sting if provoked. Normally, cicada killers will not bother you, but they do have a very large hole in the ground that fits this description and the picture you sent. I will post your pictures on my blog.

I would check to make sure it is not iris borer when you dig up some iris this fall for inspection. If you see some iris with foliage that is yellowing or dying back, I would dig and look there first.

Look for holes in the rhizome or even possibly mushy rhizomes. I would discard these and hopefully you will see no other problems. If you do not conclude it is iris borer, then I would assume it is a cicada killer and not be concerned about it. Watch for slugs and put out some slug bait or stale beer .

Q: We have a couple of fan palms whose fronds are continually dying off from the lower level. Is this normal or are they lacking in something, i.e., water, nutrients, etc.

A: I looked at the picture of your fan palm. In this case, yes, this is natural. The fronds grow from a central bud located at the top end of the trunk. All of the new growth for a palm tree comes from this bud. If the bud dies, the trunk is dead. If the palm has one trunk, then the tree is dead.

As these new fronds emerge from the bud, the older fronds (the ones at the bottom) begin to die. Normally, you would expect the fronds at the bottom to die in this manner. First they will begin to yellow and then, eventually, they die. As these lower fronds yellow, it is an appropriate time to remove them.

I like to cut the fronds as close to the trunk as I can leaving very little stub . Some people remove the stub even closer to the trunk, at its point of attachment , by cutting with a sharp knife (box cutter or linoleum knife). This is called "skinning," which results in a very smooth trunk . It also lessens the chances of having bark scorpions living and looking for food on the trunk.

You can remove these older dying fronds any time of the year. If you elect to remove green fronds, then remove green fronds that are only in the total shade of its canopy. You also can do this any time of year, but it is best done during the summer or late spring months.

Bob Morris is a horticulture expert living in Las Vegas; he is on special assignment in the Balkh Province, Afghanistan, for the University of California, Davis. Visit his blog at xtremehorticulture.blogspot.com.