Avocado isn’t something that I’ve grown up with, especially since it wasn’t very freely available here until very recently. It’s still also quite expensive in comparison to local fruits and vegetables, but even since I was re-introduced to its special ability to liven up a salad, I’ve been hooked. There’s one particular time of the year (between December and February) when it’s quite abundantly (and therefore also cheaply) available, when I would finish breakfast with a sliced up half avocado with salt, pepper and freshly squeezed lime drizzled on it. Here’s a link to a nice avocado salad recipe from Revati’s blog.
Sprouting avocado is quite a common school biology experiment in the west; it’s still quite a novel thing here. When I first learned about this, I just had to attempt it. The most popular way of doing it, as per what the internet says, is to spike three or four wooden toothpicks along he upper third of the seed (or pit, as it is also known) and submerging it about halfway in water. The toothpicks hold the seed at the mouth of the glass or bottle. Eventually the seed will crack open and sprout a finger like protrusion which will eventually grow a bunch of leaves. It’ll also send out roots into the water.
I’ve tried two methods, the popular submerged in water method and by directly planting it in soil. Quite surprisingly, the latter method proved more efficient. This could also have been because the seed might have been more mature, but I’d still recommend the second method over the first, because it’s a lot easier and hassle free. With method one, you need to change the water every two days or so. Since the seeds germinate thanks to exposure to light, I tried putting the seeds with water in direct sunlight for a bit. This was a bad idea, because sunlight accelerates the growth of algae in the water, which in turn makes the seed itself decompose rather badly. With the second method, I watered the seed every three days or so; the soil should basically not go dry, or even be saturated with too much water.
Bombay has a particularly clayey soil, most of which was brought here to reclaim what we now know as this city from the ocean. Clayey soil tends to stifle the growth of roots when too dry and can also lead to root rot when wet because of their tendency to drain very badly. I always make sure I start my plants in a mix of soil, cocopeat and vermiculite (or compost/organic fertilizer). I’ve also heard success stories of plants being grown in a mix of just cocopeat and vermiculite in a 50:50 ratio. Cocopeat is a fibrous and light potting mix that is made up of dried and compressed coconut husk. It has no inherent nutrient value, so it needs to be mixed with soil and organic fertilizer to ensure healthy plant growth.
The seed can take anything from two weeks to six to split open, so this exercise does demand a certain degree of patience. Some seeds might also be dead, so it does make sense to do this experiment with at least two or three seeds at a time.
The stem pokes out of the split seed like a green-purple alien finger; the leaves will sprout a week or so after this happens. The stem keeps growing vertically, so it’s best to trim off the top with a scissor or garden shears once the plant is about two feet tall. This arrests the vertical growth for a bit and allows the plant to spend more energy developing its roots, which ensures the longevity of the plant.
The plant would probably grow best in a spot that gets a good amount of sun for at six to seven hours a day, but it seems to be doing better than expected on my windowsill, which gets only about four hours of direct morning sun. This makes the best time to plant the seed well before the monsoons, sometime in January or February.
In nature, the ripe fruit would probably fall to the ground and its flesh would have provided it with the necessary nutrition to sprout and take root. Avocado tends to go quite quickly from ripe to rotten, if not careful, so it also might be a good idea to convince your vegetable vendor to give you an over-ripe (usually completely black and squishy) avocado to plant.
I plan to keep it in the pot for about a year (I currently have two of these growing on my window sill) till they can’t be contained within the pot they’re in and will look for a patch of earth somewhere on the planet where I can let it grow into a full size avocado tree.
A note about breeding and biodiversity
It takes about seven years for an avocado plant to reach maturity. When I first read that the plants tend to have male and female flowers, I assumed that the plants themselves would be either male or female. This would mean you’d need two plants, a boy-vocado and a girl-vocado, so to speak, in order to have fruit bearing trees.
This isn’t the case. The avocado is self fertilizing, which means it actually has both male and female flowers (which bloom at different times in the day). However, the fact of the matter is that the fruits might not resemble the parent fruit at all. This makes the act of growing avocado from seed a bit of a gamble. What you end up growing might or might not be a very good tasting variety.
This phenomenon is probably a little easier to explain with apples. Every seed in an apple will give rise to an apple tree that is nothing like the parent tree. In fact there are actually thousands of varieties of apple, some of which are quite inedible. The popular varieties (Granny Smith, Golden Delicious etc.) are all grown from grafts. They are all essentially clones of a parent plant, which is the only way to ensure that all the apples in a harvest will be exactly the same. This also means that they are all also susceptible to the same diseases and infections.
So if you’re looking to grow the exact variety of avocado that you’ve tried and liked, you’d have to go to the avocado orchard and get a cutting or graft and plant that, instead of the seed. This would also reach a fruit bearing phase a little earlier than the seven years it takes a tree grown from seed to reach maturity.
Even if you’re not interested in growing an avocado tree on your windowsill, it can always be grown as an ornamental plant, trimming it from time to time to keep its size in check.