There's nothing quite like seeing the little baby avocados taking shape on the tree around this time of year. The flowers having been pollinated, the branches start of bare fruit and pea-sized avocados begin to peek out from behind the browned petals of the flowers.
Initially, anyone looking at a tree would think that we'd have a bumper crop because it's so filled with these tiny fruits. But the reality is different. Each tree will provide enough nutrition for its fruit and then shed what it doesn't need or can't carry.
This means that around mid summer, we'll find lots of small, finger-sized avocados on the ground. This seasonal shedding is quite normal and albeit a shock at first sight, something the trees need to do in order to stay healthy and provide for the fruit that will go on to be fattened.
Which takes me back to the subject of pollination and avocado flowers. At Hacienda La Bonita we grow four different types of avocado tree. The main reason for this is to increase cross pollination thereby enhancing the production of fruit.
Avocados have an unusual system of flowering to prevent self-pollination. Each tree can be covered by hundreds of thousands of tiny flowers – look at the flowers one day and they may be female, but the next day the same flowers will be male. The timing of this change is different in different avocado cultivars. In some cultivars, a flower opens in the morning as a female with a stigma, then closes at about midday. It reopens in the afternoon of the next day, but this time as a male with pollen. The flower closes in the evening and stays closed. In other cultivars, flowering is the other way round – flowers open in the afternoon as female, close, then reopen the next morning as male.
Hence our rows of Hass avocados with Fuerte avocado trees dotted at the end of the terrace. Or a field of Bacon avocado trees right up close to the main Hass plantation which lies above the Zutano terrace.
The pollination of different types avocado cultivars allows us to stagger the main harvests, as Bacon fruit is ready for picking at the end of October, Fuerte in November, and Hass during December and January.
During the summer months, when the intense heat of Andalucía can really hit home, we ensure that the plants get enough water so that the trees don't get distressed. A distressed tree will shed fruit as a way of surviving, so regular watering through our valve-regulated drip-feed system is essential in ensuring the young fruit continue to grow on a healthy tree.