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More on Avocados

Avocados are a coveted, often costly treat in northern climes, and not so cheap here either.  We had an avocado tree in our yard that, when it fruited, had huge avocados, creamy but not mushy, with an excellent flavor.  The tree survived against many odds, and at about fifty years old, four hurricanes in one year did it in.  We planted another which has an abundance of small, black thin-skinned fruit that one of our dogs tries to steal.  Yum!

Our tree has offered us a lesson in how badly our environment is faring.  Most avocado trees are bi-sexual.  In other words, the flower, a tiny yellow insignificant-looking thing, has to be fertilized in order to produce an avocado.  Bi-sexual trees trade pollen between their own flowers.

Others will not accept their own pollen and require a companion.  This is the case with our old tree.  Originally there were a pair; each tree had hundreds of avocados, the present one weighing several pounds each in a year with sufficient winter rain or watering, and if given some fertilizer.

In 1963 a terrible hurricane came through this area (see Allapattah - a mix to the max) and knocked one tree completely down, and broke this one off down to a 10-ft high trunk.  Against all odds it recovered.  It "bled" for years, finally having only a slight ooze from a small open sore on the lower trunk. 

We initially thought the internal damage to the tree was keeping it from bearing properly.  From time to time I could clean out the drainage hole and rotten wood, and even spray the cavity with a fungicide, but the damage was throughout the tree.   One year as a "last resort" I put a ladder up to the still-open stub at the top, and flushed it with a hose with an attached bottle of Clorox.  I thought it might kill the tree, but instead it improved its health considerably.

Neighbors a few houses away had avocados that recovered, or planted new ones, and bees carried enough pollen after about two or three years so that we usually had several dozen avocados, up to a hundred or more in a good year.  One year when birds and bees were especially active, the avocados hung like huge grapes, and our tree was the wonder of the neighborhood.

We used to buy honey, sometimes from an elderly man about a mile east of us, whose honey was dark (and probably full of pollutants, so close to downtown) but usually from a Fuller Brush customer, a half mile northwest of us.    She slowly cut down on her hives as she lost her sight to macular degeneration and glaucoma, tending them by touch alone for several years while her husband, with a protective suit, helped her.

This first sign of trouble was the fact that our pumpkin-squash wouldn't set fruit.  A staple of local Hispanic diet is a "pumpkin" called "calabaza", now grown in  quantity in Homestead south of us.  It crosses frequently with butternut squash in adjacent fields.  When I would buy an obvious cross, I'd plant some seeds.  The vines would climb into our hedge and bear dozens of delicious squash-pumpkin hybrids.  We'd pick them green to slice and sauté or cook in casseroles, or wait until they were mature to use in other cooking; stews, cooked with ginger, or pumpkin pies, and even making snacks of slightly salted roasted pumpkin seeds.   After two or three years of total failure, an employee (who had a large farm in his country and considerable agricultural experience) blamed on some kind of insect damage.  I decided instead that it was lack of pollination.  I bought a small, flat camel's hair artist's brush and explained the procedure.

"You have sick plants and you want me to play bee?"  he protested in amazement.  Since he arrived at dawn before I was up, he agreed, but thought it was the most ludicrous chore I'd given him to do.  I think it actually embarrassed him.  Until we started getting dozens of calabazas!

About this time the last beekeeper in the area left.   And the avocado almost entirely stopped bearing.  We fertilized, watered, etc., but this huge tree only bears 3 to 10 avocados.   So with the citrus canker voucher we received to buy new trees and supplies from  Walmart (they belatedly started stocking trees), we got another avocado and planted it within eventual almost touching distance of the old one.  Perhaps wind, birds and odd insects will do the job to some extent because hand pollination is out of the question.  Or maybe it self pollinates.

Some people avoid avocados, thinking they are fattening and contain cholesterol.   Not so!  Avocados have the same healthy fat as olives and olive oil, and are relatively low in fat.  See Burke's Backyard for more info.  The books mentioned there, plus others by the same author, Rosemary Stanton, are available here: 

My own favorites for avocado are either a Simple Avocado Salad or slices inserted into one of my favorite burritos, along with low-fat shredded cheddar cheese, chopped fresh tomatoes and a chiffonade of red lettuce.

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