Avocado is a versatile fruit that can be eaten as a savoury, sweet or even plain. Either way they always taste good. Avocados are also healthy as they are a source of fat especially the mono-unsaturated fat. They also offer a good dose of other vitamins and minerals like vitamin E, C and K. They also contain magnesium and potassium.
Avocados are also thought to be healthy as they are offer benefits with weight loss, diabetes management, reducing cardiovascular problems and are also thought to reduce risk of cancer.
An Avocado tree
There are several varieties of avocado like hass, fuerte and the kienyeji/local. The first two despite being smaller in size than the kienyeji one usually taste better due to the higher fat content. The kienyeji one also is usually a purple hue when ripe.
I decided to grow a few avocado plants mainly for subsistence. The hass variety is the most popular here due to its nice flavour, tasty oily flesh and shorter maturity time. It also has generally higher yields as compared to the other types.
Caring for avocado seedlings is not very difficult. The land preparation begins with tilling to a fine tilth. The soil should also be fertile and well drained. Incorporating manure to the planting site is encouraged.
Water is essential for the seedling. If planted during the dry season, the plant should be watered three times a week. The water should also not be saline as very few avocado varieties are able to tolerate it.
When the avocado seedling is still young it is encouraged to apply some mulch. This will assist the soil in water retention a well as discouraging weeds from growing. Weeding is also essential to reduce competition for water and nutrients. Use of herbicides at this stage is discouraged as they will affect or kill the avocado seedling.
Fertilizer can be used to supplement the manure. CAN and DSP can be added as per your soil test results and should be adjusted upwards as per the age of the tree.
Most of the diseases that affect the avocado tree are fungal in nature. Scouting as well as a good preventative spray regime will reduce the effect of diseases like root rot, scab, leaf spot and fruit rot.
Pests can also be controlled by a scouting and preventative spray regime. The most common pests that affect the avocado plant are mealy bugs, scales and weevils. In addition to chemical methods, pheromone and biological control can be employed where possible so as to grow the avocados organically.
Avocado plants should be planted at a spacing of 9 meters by 9 meters apart. This should result to about 120 avocado trees per hectare. As I wast planting for subsistence, I just chose three different spots in the garden to plant.
This is the third year since I planted the seedlings. They have already produced flowers, though not many about three or four per plant. The last time I checked the flowers had been pollinated and had developed into small fruits.
This the third year and the trees have blossomed and I expect that in every subsequent year, the fruits will continue to increase. A mature avocado tree can produce between 230-320 kilos of fruit per year, according to experts in the field. I will want to see how this projected production measures up to real world experience. According to experts, avocados only become truly economically viable after the sixth year.
Pruning is also important to avoid very vigorous growth and have a stable, compact tree. This will help in later years to avoid a tree that is leaning or splitting due to weight of the branches, fruits and effects of the wind. Major pruning operations can be carried out after 12 years of production.
Avocado as a commercial venture
I am not an expert on growing avocado, but from my conversations with neighbouring farmers who have mature avocado trees, it is a worthwhile venture. Depending on the season and how the avocados mature, if your trees mature at the beginning or tail end of the season, there is a premium on price. Most avocado farmers in my area sell the produce per fruit. This may be due to the dishonesty of the traders and brokers who when buying per kilo, tamper with their scales to weigh less than the actual produce is worth.
In my opinion I believe growing avocado as a purely business venture is viable. This is more so when you can get your produce to the international market. The only hurdle being the growing, safety and handling guidelines, which must be adhered to.