For the love of Avocado!
Fact: avocados are delicious. I am not sure it is possible to get tired of eating avocado – its versatility as a food is limited only by our imagination. I have heard of replacing butter with avocado in baking recipes as well as breading and frying slices of avocado as fries. All that to say, we would love to have avocados on our future farm.
So as we perused Workaway, we decided to look for an avocado farm to go spend some time on and learn what growing avocados is all about.
Nicola and Bruce bought their avocado orchard in Whangrei Kamo, New Zealand, a few years ago – as a lifestyle decision. They harvested a first season before implementing some changes in how the 100 or so trees were managed, notably they stopped spraying Roundup around the base, stopped pesticide use, and reduced fungicide use (avocado trees are prone to a type of fungus present in the soil – called phytophtora or “root rot” if you’re curious – which attacks trees from the inside). To help trees with this transition, give them a boost in strength, and ensure that the upper branches are reachable more easily, the trees were pruned back drastically by Florian, a French agroforestry professional who spent the better part of 2016 volunteering on the farm.
As a result, when we arrived the trees were growing back and slowly recovering, this year’s harvest “sacrificed” as a longer-term investment. There were still avocados, but it was not raining avocados as we had imagined – nay, hoped! – it might.
We did spray fungicide on trees, learning how to position ourselves so the wind did not blow any of the droplets back in our face, and aiming for the trunks rather than the leaves, flowers, or fruit. We also did a good amount of hand weeding around the trees, focusing on big plants too close to the trunks to be mowed (avocado tree roots stay close to the surface of the soil so using tools that may harm the tree roots is not recommended). Then we mulched, placing wood chips on the areas we weeded, to prevent rapid regrowth and provide the trees with additional organic material and nutrition as the wood chips decompose.
Beyond that, we worked on other projects not related to the avocado trees: turning the soil in half the vegetable garden, adding horse manure and a straw cover for improved soil and moisture retention, integrating paths to avoid the need to walk on beds (that compacts the soil and makes it harder for plants to develop roots); extending the vegetable garden; sowing seeds both in trays and directly into the soil, and transplanting seedlings into the prepped beds; building a 50cm high bamboo fence around the garden to protect it from the house tenant’s dog and potentially possums; edging the driveway (fighting weeds and grasses back to the edge of the gravel); planting lavender plants and trees into their forever places.
The bamboo fence was one of our favorite projects as it involved everything from chopping down the bamboo to figuring out how to use flax (such an underrated yet amazing plant – did you know sailors used braided flax as rope?) to tie it all together. Francois’ boy scout background came in handy yet again!
We also took an old wooden desk and sandpapered the varnish off so we could revamp it into a sleek black modern desk for Nicola’s daughter. We gave it a layer of oil-based paint to ensure a homogenous finish (otherwise the wood coloring/pattern would come through) and a few layers of shiny black spray paint.
During our stay, we shared the volunteer headquarters – a comfortable two-bedroom apartment off the side of the garage – with Mel and Patrick, two Americans traveling together and staying on the farm through to mid-December. It was great to share meals, tasks, and down-time with them, especially given Mel’s ukulele and singing abilities!
We left convinced that an avocado tree (or two or three) will be in our future, though mayhaps not an orchard full!
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