Growing avocados from seed

Inside each ripe avocado lies a single giant seed surrounded by succulent flesh. All that’s required to grow your own avocadoes on the Adelaide Plains - after digging out such a seed - is a whole lot of patience and room in your garden for an enormous tree up to 20m tall.

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The most commonly available avocado in local shops is a variety called Hass, but the cook has taken a liking to a less-common variety named Reed, obtainable only for limited periods from a local organic fruit store. P1050148So we decided to grow this favourite on from seed and wait the four to six years that it typically takes before our efforts will bear fruit. This is a pretty risky business because there’s a real chance that the fruit produced will be different to that of its parent. Most seedlings available from nurseries are grafted onto rootstocks from cuttings of plants of known quality; the net result is a fairly expensive mature potted plant. As we’ve lost a number of these commercial avocadoes over the years there’s a decided reluctance in this household to spend money on more of them – hence the propagation of multiple plants from ‘pits’ at far lower financial risk.

P1050147We've grown these avocado pits on a kitchen cupboard under a sunny window; this ensures that we notice when watering is needed. A pot was filled with potting mix and the avocado seeds half buried at the surface. These seeds are slow to germinate; it has taken about three months for the seed to split; the single stem then appears like a matchstick stuck in a ball of plasticine. This grows up to about 300 mm tall before popping out leaves. In the next few weeks, as winter sets in, I’ll plant these three avocado seedlings side-by-side near the existing Hass avocado that is the lone survivor of all those commercial failures.

Perhaps the home-grown route will prove more successful? As they grow, these young trees will certainly have to be espaliered or pruned to keep them within the bounds of the property.


Mother’s Day gifts from the garden

Mother’s Day again, and though winter is now only weeks away, the pressures from the garden remain unrelenting; there is much yet to be harvested and sorted.

P1050135But we walk the beach, eat brunch in the Botanic Gardens, take in a meal and a movie on Saturday evening, read some thrillers out loud and do some window shopping. A lovely weekend in all, but somehow I’ve not managed to do any Mother’s Day shopping.

As always, the garden comes to the rescue; sunflowers for the table and eggs, capsicums, spring onions, chillies and salad for the traditional Mother’s Day omelette.


Renewing the chicken flock

The inevitable came to pass and one of our four chooks finally passed away after months of being off-colour. Time to inject fresh blood into the flock so that young birds have time to learn new tricks from old hens.


Commercial hens have a laying lifetime of typically just a few short years before being replaced, yet a healthy free-ranging home flock can provide good value for at least five years.

DSCN1367Pullets (hens less than a year old) are usually purchased at ‘point-of-lay’, or about 24 weeks of age. While one can go to the trouble of raising hens from eggs, our experience is that this works well only if the chicks are born to a mother hen who has turned broody, sat on fertilised eggs and considers herself to be the protective mother figure for the four to six months needed for chicks to reach independence.

The local grain store in Magill – where we purchase grains and seeds for our hens – had only de-beaked birds for sale. This is of little use to us; our bargain with our chicken flock is that they forage vigorously for insect pests and their own greens in exchange for shelter, grains and water. A full beak is essential for free ranging hens.


So we drove a bit further to our ever-reliable hen supplier – Keelan Grain and Fodder store on Payneham Road where we have purchased ISA Brown hybrid hens for many years. This breed has a pleasant temperament, lays well and is an excellent forager. Other breeds available were White Leghorns and black Australorps. The former are a bit too flighty for us, and the latter (from a different provider) proved to be prone to weird hen diseases.


P1050052Clayton at Keelan’s proved knowledgeable on all matters to do with hens and their housing; he picked out two young hens from the various flocks kept on-site and put them in a cardboard carton for the trip home.

Moving new young birds into a flock of old biddies is a traumatic experience for the youngsters. The term ‘hen-pecked’ has its roots in this aggressive behaviour. However, this injection of new hens among old ones works well enough in our new chicken shed because the old hens spend most of their day outside and the new young birds have yet to puzzle out how to exit to the bigger wider world through the bird-proof ‘deli-door’. So for awhile a least, they will lead separate lives.

P1050113Back home, and the young hens need to wait in their cardboard box while one of their older sisters finishes the long process of laying an egg inside the hen house. Then the youngsters are out in their new home; now we wait for some months while they find their place at the bottom of the pecking order.