Fruit of the Month- Avocado
We are taking a break from the citrus season to give some attention to another delicious winter fruit: the avocado! Although avocados ripen throughout the year, this winter we can feast on Fuerte, Bacon and Pinkerton avocados.
The avocado is known for its creamy, buttery texture and nutty taste. The fruit can be harvested in both the summer and winter, ranging in color and size. The avocado is categorized by three distinct groups: West India, Guatemalan, and Mexican. The Mexican avocado’s leaves have a strong anise or licorice scent. West Indian and Guatemalan avocados ripen in spring and summer, whereas the Mexican avocado ripens in fall and winter. The skin of the West Indian and Mexican avocados are thin and smooth whereas the Guatemalan has thick, rough skin.
The avocado originated in south-central Mexico between 7,000-5,000 BC. The first planting of avocados in California occurred during the 1850s. Dr. Thomas White in San Gabriel planted the first avocado in 1856. Soon after, Judge R. B. Ord planted three more avocado seedlings in Santa Barbara in 1871. The first avocado orchard, consisting of 120 trees, was planted in 1895 in Montecito. Henry E. Huntington planted the first commercial avocado orchard on his estate in San Marino.
At first, the avocado was not seen as a commercially viable fruit since it was not sweet. However, after a frost in 1913 decimated much of Southern California’s avocado crop, a search for hardier avocado varieties introduced growers to the Fuerte avocado of Mexico. After tasting the fruit, California nurserymen were convinced that the delicious Fuerte avocado would be an instant hit at the markets.
The Hass Avocado
The mother of all Hass Avocados was born in a backyard in La Habra Heights, California in 1926. The avocado was planted by chance by Rudolph Hass, a postman, who purchased a seedling and planted it in his orchard. Hass did not care for the fruit since it was black and bumpy and did not compare the green and smooth fruits that were standard for that time. However, the tree produced tons of fruit and Hass’ children told him to give the fruit a chance. After one taste, Hass knew he had a discovered a delicious, new variety of avocados. Soon after in 1935, he named the fruit after himself and took out a patent. Hass signed an agreement with Harold Brokaw, a Whittier nurseryman, to grow and promote the avocado variety, and ordered 300 trees to be propagated and sold. The taste and seasonal advantage of the avocado compared to the commercial favorite Fuerte made Hass and Brokaw confident in the viability of this new variety. Today, the Hass avocado accounts for 80% of all avocados eaten worldwide. The mother Hass avocado tree died recently in 2002 due to root rot. Brokaw’s nephew nursed the tree for over ten years before it died.
For more information visit: http://www.avocadocentral.com/about-hass-avocados/hass-mother-tree
Types and Characteristics
The Bacon avocado is a mid winter variety, ripening late fall into spring. It is an oval shaped fruit with a medium to large seed and easy to peel, smooth green skin. The skin remains green and darkens slightly when ripe.
The Fuerte avocado ripens late fall through spring. It is pear shaped with a medium seed and easy to peel thin green skin.
The Pinkerton avocado produced small yields during the winter. The fruit is long and pear shaped. Its skin is thick and green and slightly bumpy. The skin deepens in color as it ripens.
For a complete list of Southern California varieties and descriptions visit: http://www.ucavo.ucr.edu/AvocadoVarieties/VarietyFrame.html#Anchor-47857
Avocados will ripen off the tree, however there are ways to tell when the fruit is ripening on the tree. Hass avocados will turn dark green or black as it ripens. Other varieties will remain green but the skin will become smoother.
Avocados bruise easily and scratch, so make sure you do not drop the fruit when harvesting. The best way to ensure the safety of the fruit is to lay a blanket or some sort of protection on the ground underneath where you are harvesting. Do not pull fruit from the stem, but clip the stem as close to the fruit as possible. To harvest, you will need ladders, poles, clippers, and canvas picking bags.
To ripen an avocado, place the fruit in a brown paper bag at room temperature. Within 2-5 days the fruit should be ready to eat. Ripe fruit can be refrigerated until it is eaten for up to 3 days. To tell if the fruit is ripe, gently squeeze the avocado in the palm of your hand. Ripe fruit will be firm but will yield to gentle pressure. A trick to test the quality of your fruit is to flick off the dry stem from the fruit. If you see a brown patch where the stem used to be, the avocado will be rotten. If the exposed fruit is bright and yellow-green, your fruit is ready to eat!
Care and Maintenance
You can grow your own avocado at home by saving the seed! The California Avocado Commission (http://www.californiaavocado.com/grow-your-own-tree) has outlined 9 easy steps to growing your own:
- Wash the seed. Using three toothpicks, suspend the seed broad end down over a water-filled glass to cover about an inch of the seed.
- Put it in a warm place out of direct sunlight and replenish water as needed. Roots and a stem should sprout within 2-6 weeks.
- When the stem is 6-7 inches long, cut it back to about 3 inches.
- When the roots are thick and the stem has leafed out again, plant it in a rich humus soil in a 10-1/2” diameter pot, leaving the seed half exposed.
- Wet it frequent, light watering with an occasional deep soak. Yellowing leaves are a sign of over-watering.
- The more sunlight, the better.
- If leaves turn brown and fry at the tips, too much salt has accumulated in the soil. Let water run freely into the pot and drain for several minutes.
- When the stem is 12 inches high, cut it back to 6 inches to encourage the growth of new shoots.
- A tree grown from seed will be very different from its parent variety and may take 7-15 years to begin producing fruit. Fruit from a tree grown from seeds tends to have different flavor characteristics than their parent variety.
Avocado trees like a soil pH of 6-6.5. It is a shallow rooted tree that needs good aeration and does best when mulched with coarse material such as redwood bark. Keep the mulch about 6-8 inches away from the trunk. Plant in full sun and protect from wind and frost. The ideal time to plant is March through June. The major nutrients needed by avocado trees are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Feed young trees 1-2 teaspoons per tree.
For more information visit: http://ceventura.ucdavis.edu/Com_Ag/Subtropical/Avocado_Handbook/