I seem to begin many posts with, ‘I haven’t posted anything in a while’. This is true, again, however, it’s also dreary. Usually, I launch into some diatribe about the latest assault on our collective cultural intelligence, but I’m all flamed out at the moment. So, I thought I’d write about something that occupies an inordinate amount of my time and imagination; Our two avocado trees. [Warning: boring content].
Many years ago, when our kid was a baby and before we had chooks or a compost bin, we used to dig our compost into the back garden like wholesome, sandal wearing troglodytes. It was annoying and usually resulted in an overflowing kitchen compost bin as we waited each other out to see who would bury the festering pile.
While weeding the garden (which makes it sound like a much more orderly arrangement than just a patch of knee high vegetation) I noticed a small, sprouting sapling, right in the corner of the raised garden. For some inexplicable reason I left it there. Over the next year it grew to be over a metre tall, and two years after fatefully I’d ignored it, we had a large, bushy avocado tree. I redoubled my efforts at ignoring it, and it dutifully responded, growing taller than our two storey house. And then, nothing happened. For years. No flowers, no fruit – nothing. At some point I had a flash of attentiveness and noticed that there were actually two trees growing next to one another, almost in the same hole. They were, in all ways, identical.
Avocados grown from seed are usually root stock (if you’ve planted the sprouted seed from a commercial avocado, which we had). We were unsure if we would get any fruit at all. And then, in its 7th year, it produced massive amounts of pretty yellow flowers, all of which fell off. Tree #1 was one ‘type’ and tree #2, the ‘other type’. Avocados are dioecious, which means the flowers open in the morning as one sex, close again around midday and then reopen in the afternoon as the other sex. It means that avocado trees are self pollinating. Good taste precludes me from making sport of this quirk of nature.
The following year both trees flowered and produced a couple of tiny fruits that fell off, the year after that, about 30 fruits and the following year about 200 fruits. During these three ‘fruiting’ years, only one tree produced fruit. Or so we thought. On closer inspection we discovered that in the most recent fruiting, tree #2, known as the B Team, produced a small number of absolutely gigantic fruits. They are smooth skinned, perfectly formed and delicious.
So far the trees have both flowered in late August, early September. They need a quite specific set of conditions in order to flower – it’s something like an average temperature of 28c over 3 days and nights (I can’t recall the exact numbers). By August we usually get a few runs of warm days, interspersed by colder wintery weather, and this kicks off the flowering. Of note: every year the trees burst into flower the morning after a huge party or music gig. Science, you see.
Last year (2021) it rained. And rained and rained. La Nina had an absolute lend of us. The trees were quite late in flowering and when they did, it rained the entire time. I can’t be sure, but I think the lack of wind and the endless rain kept the birds, bees and bats tucked up in their beds and not pollinating our trees. The macadamia tree, which sits about 10 metres from the avocados, also experienced a low pollination (it flowers at around the same time).
Usually, when there’s little to no fruit on an avocado tree it’s because the tree is ‘having a rest’ – Hass avocados (almost certainly what our A-team tree is) alternate their seasons in some climates (usually places that are cooler than ours). In this case, they don’t produce many flowers. Or, they flower, set fruit but then all the fruits abcise (drop off) at about pin-head size. This is a normal thing anyway – usually an avocado tree sets millions of fruits but only about 150-200 will turn into fruit. When the tree is stressed it will drop all the tiny fruitlets. None will mature into full sized avocados.
I think our tree didn’t pollinate because of the rain. It flowered, but set almost no fruit. I was surprised because avocados like water. Their position in our garden is in a free draining, elevated corner – avocado trees like water but will die if their roots are submerged for more than 4 hours. Fickle bloody things.
In the year leading up to ‘The Fires’ I fretted that our trees might die due to lack of water. They were receiving nothing more than the greywater from the shower. And yet, they produced a bumper crop. Last year, however, as we lurched from one catastrophe to the next (pandemic) the rain set in, and the trees went on lockdown.
It’s now been 12 years since both of these seeds sprouted into life. They’ve grown like the kid, providing just the right level of climbability as she ages. Hopefully, in about 2 months, they will both flower again and we’ll get a good crop.