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Backyard Avocados

My Recycled Life —

- By Lyn Jensen, Columnist

Shortly after my parents moved into our home in Anaheim in 1960, they planted an avocado tree in the backyard. We all liked avocados, but nobody liked the work that went into caring for the tree or its crop. My mother usually just let the fruit fall. We’d eat some, local wildlife would eat some more and sometimes she’d take any surplus to her co-workers or club members or the local senior citizens’ center.

For the first year or so after my mother died and I started caring for the house, the avocado tree was unproducti­ve. Last summer it suddenly started putting out fruit by the bagful, as if a switch had been flipped. I’ve heard that avocado harvesting season here lasts roughly from September to December, but when January was almost over I was still picking avocados by the dozen.

I don’t like seeing homegrown fruit go to waste. If you’ve got a fruit tree, it deserves as much care as any other valuable property. I brushed up on how to tend backyard avocados. First, ideally they should be clipped, preserving a little of the stem, because they may not ripen properly otherwise. Second, even then they may not ripen properly unless, after picking, they’re stored in a brown paper bag for days or even weeks.

Proper jobs need proper tools. Since the tree’s about 20 feet high, I needed a 10-foot ladder, which I had (never mind a motherly aunt’s concern) and a special picking tool, which I needed to get. Local hardware stores had only citrus fruit pickers, simple poles with wire baskets — they pull the fruit off the tree and into the basket. I needed a tool similar to a limbcutter, which clips the stems but also has a basket or bag to catch the fruit. I had to order one online and it was expensive but worth it.

I posted on a neighborho­od site, “backyard avocados for picking.” I got dozens of responses, but had to explain repeatedly about, “pick your own.” Ultimately five or six people took up the offer. That took care of the tree’s output for a few months.

When I found fruit of the right size to be picked, I found I needed to pick it fast — I think possums or other wildlife got what wasn’t quickly picked when table-size. I still got plenty of good ripe avocados, though. With the tree still putting out more fruit than I can consume, I’ve started taking the surplus to a local feed-thehomeles­s organizati­on.

I’m now used to regularly checking for fruit, picking it when it’s the right size, keeping it in a brown paper bag, checking for ripeness often. Some fruit never does ripen. Some I let get too mushy and I have to either throw it out or post online about, “Anybody want to make guacamole?” I sometimes get a taker.

I’ve only found one questionab­le issue concerning our backyard tree still thriving after all these years. My parents made the mistake of planting the tree directly under the house telephone line, so the line routes through several feet of the tree’s thick canopy of leaves and branches. I don’t know if any danger or damage lurks from having the branches and the line so close together, but I try to keep the branches trimmed a few inches from the line. At least it’s not the house electrical line, or it would’ve been, “Good-bye, tree!” long ago.

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