Meet Leslie, a long lost friend from Vermont who stopped by to see us with her husband last week as part of their road trip around the United States. When we first reconnected through Facebook, Leslie mentioned that someday she would love to take an avocado grove tour to see how avocados grow…and last weekend her wish came true! These are tall, older trees with fruit that grows high above the ground in the canopy…I like to call this our “enchanted forest”!
Who could have imagined when we were growing up in central Vermont that someday we would have technology to allow us to reconnect, sowing seeds of friendship as married couples with grown children? Considering that we were among the last students to use slide-rules in high school math classes, and were excited to have electronic adding machines in our college classrooms, the capabilities that we have now through the internet seem miraculous to us.
As we walked through the acres of avocado trees, the warm sunny weather that made our time so enjoyable was contributing to the drought conditions due to a lack of seasonal rains. California depends on winter rains between December and March every year. January is supposed to be cool, cloudy, and wet. Instead the unrelenting sunshine has confused the plants and trees with temperatures we would expect in April and May. Farmers have had no down time since the harvest because there is no rain, and must continue to irrigate their trees with expensive water that is in short supply.
Without rains to leach the soil, salt builds up in the soil around the trees….you can see the white salty precipitate on top of the ground. If the trees do not get water when they need it, the salt is taken up into the tree through the roots and the leave will turn brown. This is called “Tip Burn”…some varieties of avocado trees are more prone to salt damage than others, but all trees can be damaged if they are not watered enough. During this warm, dry weather it is important to keep the trees irrigated and healthy so they will hold the crop of avocados that will be harvested later in the spring. They need to bloom in the next several months to set next year’s crop.
Each tree has its own sprinkler, and the dry leaves that have fallen from the tree make a thick mulch to hold in the moisture around the tree. Without water the trees can be stressed, drop all their fruit and not be able to set a good crop for the next year. This is why farmers must work around the clock to make sure the trees get the correct amount of water. Even with irrigation, the trees need those winter rains to leach the salts from the soil. It is very expensive to use irrigation water for leaching, which can destroy the profitability of the farm.
We had a great time picking some Fuerte avocados with Leslie and Leo. They learned out to use the picking pole to clip an avocado from the high branches of the trees. These Fuerte trees have very brown leaves due to the dry weather and the salt that has built up in the soil without rain to leach it clean. Fuerte avocados cannot take the salt as well as other varieties. It makes us sad to see the brown tip-burned leaves are on these trees.
Some of the trees are trying to bloom already too! Here are some beautiful flowers from the Fuerte trees. Did you know that an avocado flower can be male on one day and female the next? True story! Learn more here: Where Do Baby Avocados Come From?
We explained about stumping the trees too.These older trees were almost 50 feet tall, but we cut them down to let them regrow . The shorter trees produce fruit that is easier to pick and more cost effective to grow. The tree on the left has been re-growing for two years, and the one on the right has been re-growing for one year. Learn more here: Why We Cut Down The Avocado Trees They Regrow!
I was eager to show Leslie the wild peonies that grow in a meadow on the ranch, but I wasn’t sure we would find any in bloom. The warm weather has accelerated the growth of the wild plants too. We found several wild peony plants with flowers that were already going to seed.
We found other wild flowers in bloom as well! From left, wild lupine, bright colored “freeway flowers” and miner’s lettuce, an edible plant.
Our friends Leslie and Leo had not tasted Fuerte avocados, so we gave them some that will take a week or longer to soften before they will be ready to eat. The skin of the Fuerte avocados is thinner than the Hass avocados they usually find in stores in Vermont. The flavor is nuttier too…and the skin will peel off of the fruit perfectly. As we were sharing information about growing avocados, Leo told us about his experience with making maple syrup from the sap of Vermont maple trees. He even gave us some Vermont maple syrup that he made himself!
We had a wonderful time sharing our stories, and promised to visit Leslie and Leo in Vermont. We’re looking forward to their next trip to California too! Instead of being sad in our “empty nest” now that our children are grown, we’ll anticipate more wonderful times with friends old and new!