Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Avocado - Avo-geddon

As many Aucklanders may be aware we are currently in the midst of Avogeddon. Where for some it seems like the end of the world has arrived where they can't enjoy their usual Avocado & Vegemite on Vogel's toast without shelling out up to $9 each for an Avo! Avocados have become the Uber trendy essential ingredient of the minute with the Active-wearing, Almond Mylk Latte, Green Smoothie sipping types. And it's this popularity that is driving prices up and creating scarcity. This is compounded also by a lot of our NZ Avos going directly overseas as exports, further creating scarcity back here in NZ. We are only just now in my cafe finding relief with new season Avos trickling in but usually Haas won't officially mature until July.
One of the most longed-for fruit trees by home gardeners is an Avocado. Being a native of Central America, Avocado culture is very ancient and was a staple diet for many cultures. The fruit is great in so many dishes including one of my favourites: Guacamole (recipe below). Unsurprisingly, given their Central American ancestry, avocado trees only thrive in warm locations. A light frost will burn any tender growth, and anything cooler than -3°C will kill a young tree. The best growing areas in NZ are Northland, Auckland, Gisborne, Hawke's Bay & Bay of Plenty where the majority of NZ Avo farms are in Katikati. 

At home i have one grafted Haas Avocado tree planted inground and another two that grew out of the compost randomly that are in pots. My thoughts are i'll only have the one inground as they grow in to quite large trees eventually and can use the potted plants as pollinators perhaps.

Below ground, the roots are very sensitive. The deep-growing tap root (a long slender root, similar to a big carrot) loathes heavy, clay and wet soil. The roots are susceptible to the fungal disease phytophthora, which thrives in difficult dirt. Avocado trees need excellent drainage, which means free-draining soil or, if unavailable, planting into a raised bed.
Site selection is very important to provide a warm, sheltered position for your valuable avocado tree. As well as the soil requirements, the site should be protected from wind and be warm and sunny. 
The best time to plant avocado trees is in late spring when the soil temperature is warming, which also reduces the likelihood of wet feet. This is also the main time of year that most avocado trees arrive at garden centres, probably to ensure the greatest chance of success when planting. Take care when lifting your new avocado tree from the garden centre or nursery. You should pick up the bag, not using the trunk as a handle.
Around the world, the most popular variety for commercial growers and in home gardens is
the pebbly-skinned 'Hass'. With its long harvest season, excellent flavour and good flesh-to-seed ratio, 'Hass' has dominated production since it was spotted as a seedling in a Californian orchard in the 1930s. Hass is still considered the best option for the home gardener, usually supplying fruit from July until the following February or March. If you have room for two trees though,
'Reed' (ripening from February to May) has fantastic quality fruit with delicious, creamy flesh.
This is a green skin fruit with a hard shell-type skin, so it can a bit tricky to know when it's ripe. With a thicker skin than 'Hass', the flesh will only give very slightly when gently pressed. 'Fuerte' is another good variety, which has large fruit with a nutty flavoured flesh, ripening from August to October. 
Avocado seedlings are one of the easiest seeds to germinate. I think everyone has tried the avocado stone, toothpicks, cup and windowsill technique. Unfortunately, though, these seedlings can take up to 10 years to fruit, and the resulting avocados are likely to be of poor quality & not the same as the original fruit that the seed came from. The seedlings can be raised, however, until the stem is around pencil thickness, then grafted with a selected variety, such as 'Hass' or 'Reed' if you have such skills. Or else grafted Avocados are available at the Garden Centre but these are one of the most expensive fruit trees you'll see.
Avocado trees have an unusual flowering system, in that the flower has both female and male organs. The female opens first for a couple of hours, closes, then the male opens for two or three hours, then the flower closes.
Avocado varieties are split into A and B types. In the A type ('Hass' and 'Reed'), the female opens on the morning of the first day and the male opens on the afternoon of the second day. In the B type (like 'Fuerte'), the female opens on the afternoon of the first day, and the male on the morning of the second day. Temperatures during this process are critical – dropping below 21°C  will make the flower opening more erratic.
Avocado trees have a prolific flowering period, with large clusters of blooms. Bees and other insects move the pollen between flowers. Flowers that are successfully pollinated form fruit. In commercial avocado orchards, pollinator varieties are planted, but in a home garden situation, usually one tree is sufficiently self-fertile.
Once fruit has set it takes up to a year for the fruitlets to mature – one of the longest times from flowering to fruiting in the orchard. The fruit will be mature, but interestingly, won't actually ripen until harvested.  They should be clipped from the tree using secateurs, to avoid damaging the skin and keep the stem "button" in place. 
Once established, avocado trees require very little care: simply pruning to the desired size and shape. Bear in mind that avocado trees produce fruit on new growth, so clipping around the periphery of the tree will lower yield (although that trimming may be necessary to control size). Most Avo orchards i see will prune out the centre of the tree to let in as much light as possible into the canopy and to keep it at a manageable size.

Guacamole Recipe

3 Avocados.
1/2 Red Onion.
Chilies - Jalapenos or Hot Sauce.
1 Tomato.
1 or 2 Limes (or Lemon).
1 bunch Coriander.
Salt & Pepper.

1. Peel & roughly mash Avocados
2. Finely dice the Red Onion then rinse under water in a sieve.
3. Core & Dice the Tomatoes.
4. Juice the Lime
5. Finely chop the coriander.
6. Finely chop the chilies add to taste.
6. Add all the ingredients into a bowl & stir.
7. Season well with Salt & Pepper.
8. Garnish with extra Coriander & serve with Corn Chips.

For an added authentic flavour add in 4 large roasted Tomatillos. If you haven't tried Tomatillos i highly recommend looking into them for your mexican recipes. For more Mexican inspiration, check out my book "Viva la Mexico" it's a free download at

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