Avocados: Easy to grow, nutritious to boot


Ancient people of tropical America were growing, selecting and improving avocado trees centuries before Columbus arrived. However, only in the last half of the 20th century did the avocado find its way around the tropical and subtropical world as an important food source. Avocados grow easily with few problems and are extremely nutritious. They also can be a great resource for folks on a limited income.

Fat has a bad reputation in today’s health-oriented society, but fats are essential to our well-being. In tropical and subtropical regions of the world where food is scarce, avocado fruit can supply essential fats. Avocado fats are beneficial nutritionally, as well as for skin and hair.

No tropical garden is complete without an avocado tree for shade and fruit. The avocado has been for centuries the great food crop of Central and South America. It is unusual in having its stored food chiefly in the form of fat and protein instead of sugar as in most other fruits. The fruit is high in vitamins and minerals. It is especially high in phosphorous, vitamin A, riboflavin and niacin. The fat contains no cholesterol.

The avocado is a native American fruit that was growing from southern Mexico to Ecuador and the West Indies at the time of Columbus’ arrival. Just when it was introduced to Hawaii, no one really knows, but it has naturalized and may be found wherever conditions are favorable. Drier areas are the best regions for growing because of their ideal climate and well-drained soils. Avocados are now found in markets nationwide year-round. The major Florida crop comes on the market from June to February and the California crop from January to June. Hawaii has fruit all year.

To learn more about drier regions of the islands where avocados grow well, don’t miss the Dryland Forest Symposium slated from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 21 at King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. Several tours will be held Feb. 22 to Kiholo Bay, Puuwawaa and Kohala. Monday is the early registration deadline; contact Cortney Okumura at 443-2757 or visit drylandforest.org. You may also contact Kathy Frost at kjfrost@hawaii.rr.com for further information.

The avocado is borne on evergreen trees with large, somewhat leathery leaves. The tree is tolerant of a wide range of soil types, but it must be provided with good drainage. Flowers are produced in late winter or spring, and the fruit matures in anywhere from six to 18 months, depending on location and variety. The avocado may be left on the tree for some weeks after it first matures with comparatively little dropping.

The avocado is a little strange when it comes to sex and fertilization. The flower opens and closes twice. At its first opening, every flower behaves as if it were a female flower, able to be pollinated but not able to shed pollen. After it closes for 12 to 24 hours it opens essentially as a male flower, shedding pollen but usually no longer in condition to be pollinated. All of the flowers on a tree open and close almost at the same time and all the trees of a given variety behave the same way. This makes interplanting of two or three varieties an important practice.

Even after more than 100 years of culture in Hawaii, there is no one variety or set of varieties that is wholly satisfactory. Each has its faults and advantages. Sharwil, Yamagata, Murashige, Ohata and Kahaluu are favorites.

If you are in a hurry, avoid seedlings and grow grafted trees. Seedlings grow quite tall and may take seven to 12 years to bear, and then you may not get quality fruit. Grafted trees begin to bear in two years and are not usually as tall.

Avocados may be planted successfully at anytime. Frequent irrigation is necessary until the tree is established. Choose a rich, well-drained soil. The tree will not tolerate wet feet or excessively rainy areas. If your soil is poor, mix in peat moss and well-rotted compost and manure to improve it. Shading and wind protection of newly planted trees is important to give them a good start. Avoid planting avocados near the ocean since they are not salt tolerant.

Avocados are heavy feeders. The fertilizer should carry a high percentage of nitrogen with a good portion derived from organic sources. Animal and poultry manures are very beneficial to the avocado as they add humus and bacteria to the soil. Avoid quick-release chemical fertilizers as they make the plants more susceptible to disease and pests.

Newly planted trees should be fertilized at planting time with a 1-1-1 ratio fertilizer that has at least 30 percent of its nitrogen derived from natural organics. Fertilize according to label directions.

Like most other fruits, you are bound to get bumper crops. Finding ways to incorporate this nutritious fruit into your family’s diet can be a chore.

Although most commonly associated as a salad fruit, the avocado can also be used in soup, as a sandwich spread or dip, and in desserts. My favorites are avocado ice cream, cheesecake, pie and smoothies.

Because of its rich, buttery flavor, the avocado combines well with vinegar or lemon juice and with acid fruits and vegetables, such as pineapple, oranges, grapefruit and tomatoes. A contrast in texture, such as celery, carrots, pepper and watercress, also makes for appetizing combinations.

Molded avocado salads can be made using lime- or lemon-flavored gelatin, fruits, fish or chicken, cottage cheese or cream cheese. You can even create desserts such as avocado lime pie. The options are endless if you think outside the box.

Stay healthy by including fruits like avocados in your diet. In times like these, growing fruit trees can help us be more self-sufficient.

This information is supplied by the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. For Further information, contact the office near you.

 

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