A couple months ago, I was going through a list in my head of every plant or tree that fell under my care and keeping. It was a test to see if I could remember their name, or to think of something I needed to do but had neglected during the fall and winter. The first one I thought of was the oleander on the north-west side of the house. It was there when we moved in, is not visible from any of the house windows or doors and it’s HUGE! It must have been growing there for many many years:
This giant lump of ugliness never got any of my attention or thought, nor that of anyone else. This entire area was a dead zone. It suddenly occurred to me that this spot could be used much more productively growing an avocado tree, something the family has wanted for quite a while but thought we didn’t have room for. What a good trade: nasty toxic shrub for one of the tastiest foods that nature grows! It’s a perfect spot for an avocado; lots of sun, space and drainage. Our neighbor will be happy too, since I know they hated that oleander as much as I did but were way too wonderful to say anything about it.
On Saturday April 17th, our landscaper Cesar drove up to Riverside and got us a nine foot tree that was already fruiting. (He also dug out the oleander) Why feed and water a baby for 5 years waiting for the first piece of fruit?! If you’re going to buy a fruit tree like this, do it right and get one you can enjoy as quickly as possible. When he brought it, it already had about 5 large avocados that were almost ripe. We gave some to our neighbor (who also split the cost of the tree with us) and put ours in a paper bag. In a few days we ate them with a spoon and a little salt. They were the best avocados I had ever eaten.
For now, the tree is doing well, although it hasn’t produced any new fruit. This is normal as the tree adjusts and the roots settle in. We got a Haas, which are particularly acclimated to life in California and they produce year-round. My job for now is to get the water right, feed it a bit and wait.
My other job is to bring the earth back to life where the oleander was. There is no color to the dirt, no worms, no organic material or mulchy goodness. It’s a bleached out desert akin to the scenes in some of the Armageddon-themed nightmares I had as a kid after church, or that ‘scorched earth’ speech at the beginning of the first Terminator movie.
I planted some of my leftover bean and squash plants here for now. If they don’t do well enough to eat it will be fine because the plant and root activities will breathe a little life into this dirt for me, especially since I haven’t had the time yet to rake up and discard all the pieces of oleander. For now, I’m just glad the toxic thing is gone and the whole property seems to breathe a little easier.
* I remember when avocados were considered an odd thing in my family – something other people ate because they were expensive and hard to get. We lived in Arizona at the time and it was the 80’s. Avocados were for those people who lived in California!
* When I first moved to Cali 20+ years ago, they were expensive and not as easy to get as they are now – Now you can buy big packages of avocado at Costco, already peeled and smashed.
* They are considered an aphrodisiac and the Aztec word for them is “ahuacatl” which means ‘testicle’.
* For nutrition facts go here.
* For oleanders, all I could remember was that it seemed like every school I ever attended as a kid was completely surrounded by monolithic walls of oleander. Maybe it was because of their ability to live under harsh conditions and my parents had an affinity for the living in the desert. Maybe it was that the adults were secretly hoping all the scrawny little booger eaters would poison themselves during recess. Whatever the case, it creeps me out that they grow so freely. Take a look around at the freeway or side of the road next time you’re out. I’m telling you – creepy!
* my favorite way to eat an avocado is with a little salt, and then on some chips or toast. if you MUST adulterate the purest of foods, it’s good chopped up with some fresh lime, jalapeno, cilantro, tomato, onion and garlic (which are already growing in the garden!) and then eat with some nice crunchy corn tortilla chips. throw in some shrimp and you have ceviche. It’s also a good replacement for cheese on a sandwich.
* I’m suddenly starving and gonna go eat!