Tropical Gardening: New Zealand avocados OK, but Kona’s are the best

Photo courtesy of VOLTAIRE MOISE Avocados at this time of year are expensive, up to $5 (New Zealand) per pound. Most production of Haas avocados is during the winter season, April to August.

We are in the Land of Maori now, and will be exploring the North Island starting in Auckland. Traveling around New Zealand, it was a surprise to see how the avocado industry expanded since our last visit. Seeds were brought here in the early 1900s, and avocados have become the country’s third largest fresh fruit export.

There are more than 1,300 growers who collectively manage more than 4,000 hectares of mainly Hass avocados. The industry is heavily supported by the government and successfully markets fruit to Australia, Japan and Southeast Asia.

You would think Hawaii, with our super avocado growing conditions, would fare better. We grow great avocados, but access to export markets is the killer of a potential moneymaker. Still, we grow some of the best for local use, and celebrate this at the 12th annual Avocado Festival on Saturday, March 3, at Hale Halawai in Kailua-Kona. Come and enjoy the festivities starting at 10 a.m.; there will be music and hula performances, as well as presentations by Ken Love and other tropical fruit experts. Chef Steve Rouelle also will give avocado food preparation demonstrations until after lunch.

Now, let’s look at some facts about this amazing fruit in Hawaii.

Avocado trees are ideally suited for Kona’s dry winter and wet summer weather, along with our well-drained soils. However, they do grow in wetter locations as long as the soil is not soggy or poorly drained.

Yes, avocados are high in fat, but it is the good kind. Fat has a bad reputation in today’s health-oriented society, but fats are essential to our well-being. It’s just that some fats are better than others. Avocado fruit are among the most healthy sources.

No Hawaiian 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 Americas. It is unusual in having its stored food chiefly in the form of fat and protein instead of sugar as in nearly all other fruits.

The fruit is very 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 wild from Southern Mexico to Ecuador and the West Indies at the time of Columbus’ arrival. When it was introduced to Hawaii, no one really knows, but it naturalized and can be commonly found where conditions are favorable.

Avocados are now found on the markets throughout the country at all times of the year. The major Florida crop comes on the market from June-February and the California crop from January-June. Hawaii has fruit all year.

The avocado is borne on large evergreen trees with large, somewhat leathery leaves. This 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 6-18 months, depending on location and variety. The avocado can 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. For example, the flower opens and closes twice. At its first opening, every flower behaves as if it were a female flower only, able to be pollinated but not able to shed pollen. Then it closes for 12 to 24 hours, and when it opens again it is essentially a male flower, shedding pollen but usually no longer in condition to be pollinated.

Furthermore, all of the flowers on a tree open and close almost at the same time and all the trees of a given variety behave alike, and their flowers open or close together. This makes interplanting of two or three varieties a very 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 island favorites.

If you are in a hurry, avoid seedlings and grow grafted trees. Seedlings grow quite tall and can take seven to 12 years to bear fruit. Then, you might not get good quality fruit. Grafted trees are available at some nurseries. Grafted trees begin to bear in two years and are not as tall.

Avocados can be planted successfully at any season of the year. Frequent irrigations are necessary though, until the tree is established. Remember that avocado trees do not like saline water or soils. Choose a rich, well-drained soil. Strong winds will cause leaves to burn or shed. If your soil is poor, mix in well-rotted manure and compost 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, where they would be exposed to winds and salinity.

Avocados are heavy feeders. The fertilizer should carry a high percentage of nitrogen with a good portion derived from organic sources. Good results are obtained under widely varying treatments. Animal and poultry manures are very beneficial to the avocado as they add humus and bacteria to the soil besides being valuable as a fertilizer. Be careful not to overfertilize or you might burn roots and leaves.

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. If the yield is very heavy, the following year might bear little to no fruit. 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 also can be used in soup, as a sandwich spread or dip and in desserts.

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

There are a number of molded avocado salad recipes available. These molded salads, using plain lime- or lemon-flavored gelatin, include fruit combinations, fish or chicken meat, or can be made with cottage cheese or creamed cheese.

A very easy but filling luncheon main dish can be prepared by using half an avocado per person and stuffing it with crab meat, chicken, tuna or shrimp salad. The salad, used as the stuffing, should include a crunchy vegetable such as cabbage, celery or green pepper. Strips of red pimento will add the proper accent to the stuffed avocado salad.

Avocado tends to darken on standing. To prevent this from happening after cutting, sprinkle with lemon juice or pineapple juice. If using only half an avocado, save the unused portion by keeping it unpeeled, with the seed still embedded, and wrap tightly in plastic or foil wrap and store in the refrigerator.

The avocado pulp, which is easily prepared in a blender, freezes well if pineapple or lemon juice is added while being pureed. This pulp can be used in making a delicious bread or cake by following a banana bread or cake recipe. The pulp also can be used to prepare a chilled summer soup that calls for 2 cups of condensed cream of chicken soup that has been heated to a smooth consistency and chilled. A half-cup of pureed avocado, 1/2 cup of cold milk and a dash of white pepper complete the soup.

Stay healthy by including high-quality local fruits such as avocados in your diet.