Once upon a time, avocados were an exotic, rare fruit, perhaps appearing in that Tex-Mex staple, guacamole, as a dip with beer, but otherwise hardly seen at all.
How things have changed. Today they have become a required item in the daily diet of many people, especially younger ones, and Avocado-Toast has replaced peanut-butter sandwiches as an American staple.
Problem is, enthusiastic Avocado eaters are also being told how harmful their favorite food is. CO2 emissions from flying them half-way round the world; massive water consumption to grow them, in countries where the citizens may not even have a reliable, clean source of water in their houses. It’s a dilemma trying to be a good global citizen and eat what you want at the same time.
There is an answer, though, and it fits perfectly into another huge movement – grow your own. That’s right, grow your own avocados – it isn’t hard to do. Yes, the outdoor growing of these trees is limited to zone 9, or the warmest parts of zone 8, but that is still a huge part of the country, and it could be where you live. Plus, these trees can be grown in pots in colder areas, and you only need one for a full harvest. Unlike many other fruits, they don’t need cross-pollination. If you live in cooler areas, or want a tree for a pot, the best choice is going to be the Cold Hardy Avocado, a special variety called ‘Brogden’. It takes more cold than any other one around.
Grow Your Own Avocado Tree
Growing your own avocados is a great solution to those environmental problems, and it can save you money too. Avocados don’t ripen on the tree – they have to be picked and then ripened. That means they store perfectly just by leaving them on the tree – what could be easier. They will last that way for up to 8 months, which leaves just a small part of the year where you will have to eat store-bought. That’s a big step towards reducing the footprint of your avocado cravings.
But Not From a Seed
There is one things though, and it’s a big one. DON’T GROW YOUR OWN TREE FROM SEED. You know, almost every kid has done it. You take that big, hard seed – maybe you call it a stone or pit – in the middle of the fruit, push some toothpicks into it, suspend it on a jar of water, with half of it in the water, by resting the toothpicks on the rim, and, wow – a stem and leaves grow up, and soon you have a cute little baby tree. Sound easy, right? Well no.
There are several reasons why it doesn’t make sense to try and grow your own avocados by growing a seed from one.
- First, this seed will not produce a tree like the one you took it from. Fertilization of the flower will have made it genetically different from the parent tree.
- The fruit on the plant you grow will almost certainly NOT be as good as the one you took the seed from. When breeding plants, breeders grow thousands – no exaggeration – and even tens of thousands of seedlings, and then maybe find one plant that is better than what we already have.
- Unless you get lucky, it will take around 10 years before that seedling tree gives you its first fruit. In ideal conditions, with luck it might be 5, or it could be 13. Are you willing to wait? In contrast, growing a nursery-produced tree will give you fruit in about 3 years.
Right now, if this all comes as a surprise, you might be thinking, “So how come I can plant a row of carrot seeds, and get great carrots?” The answer is that some plants have been selected and bred to be grown from seed, but even then it takes careful seed production to keep that quality up. Collect them at random and within a few years you will have a row of mixed-up carrots, some woody and tough, and maybe white, while others will be OK.
How did all this happen?
Humans Learn to Grow Plants
Way back in human history, we were all hunter-gathers – paleolithic diet, right? We knew where all the food trees were, and when to visit them. Later we surely began to notice that some trees had bigger, sweeter or better fruit on them than others. So when we started growing food instead of just picking it – an event called the Neolithic Revolution – it made sense to grow those trees, the best ones, in our first orchards.
It didn’t take long to realize that if you grow a bunch of seeds and plant an orchard, every tree will be different. Why? Because that is the source of evolution. No living thing knows what the future will bring (and that applies to humans too). So it makes perfect sense to have offspring with different ‘talents’. One survives drought better. Another survives cold better. One produces bigger fruit that attracts more animals to eat it, so ensuring its seeds are spread more widely. Yes, that apple you ate is not there to help you, it’s there to help the apple tree spread itself around. That way, ‘your’ genes have a chance of being around well into the future. (Why those genes care is hard to explain). So if you want a orchard of good fruit, you only want the best, of course. That is why we have special varieties – the Hass Avocado, for example.
How to Copy the Best You Have
Those early farmers soon invented ways of taking exact copies of plants they thought were the best. Some grow from stem pieces, just like the way you might take a stem of a houseplant and root it for a friend. But usually not trees. So grafting was invented. That skill was already wide-spread from Europe to Asia at least 500 years BC, and probably a long time before that. Those stone-age folks were pretty smart.
Grafting takes a piece of the tree you want, and joins it to a regular seedling, making a tree that has roots from one individual, and a trunk and branches from another individual. Guess what? Almost all the trees you see in gardens when you go out for a run, or drive around, are like that – a unique, different plant that a human thought special enough to preserve. If it’s a tree, it is almost certainly grafted, and that includes things like spruce or juniper.
Is ’Natural’ Always Best?
We hear a lot about ‘natural’ these days. When it comes to growing, we want more natural methods, without chemicals. Of course that means clearing more land, as yields will be lower. That’s a cultural choice for individuals, and for societies.
When it comes to what we grow, though, the idea that ‘natural’ is best is not so great. ‘Natural’ is a small, sour crab-apple, not a big, juicy one. ‘Natural’ is small, hard cob of floury corn, not a sweet and delicious one. ‘Natural’ is an avocado that would be mostly stone, with lots of stringy fibers through the flesh. So we can argue about how we grow our food, but surely not too much about what we grow. What few people realize is that every piece of fruit, and every vegetable, is a long way from the original wild version – our diet is not ‘natural’ at all.
So You Want to Grow an Avocado?
Then take a look at our next blog post, and get all you need to know to be harvesting within a few years – and throw out that avocado seed.