Beware of Falling Avocadoes

‘Zutano’ avocadoes

From one end of the Valley to the other, avocados are falling out of their trees. This is not the typical scenario for this time of year, as avocados usually stay on the tree for months, hanging on until late autumn, if not beyond.
Lucille Parker is 91 years old, has the energy of someone who has not yet reached 40, and lives in North Hollywood. She has a 20-foot-tall avocado tree that she personally sprouted from a seed planted in a pot in her living room 11 years ago. For several years, she has enjoyed excellent harvests; this year, too, she has a heavy crop. Suddenly, though, she has a problem. When the fruit are only 3 inches long, they drop from the tree. Cliff Hall, who e-mailed from Chatsworth, has the same problem.
These immature avocados are known as “cukes” since they resemble small cucumbers. Cukes are also called “finger” or “cocktail” avocados and are perfectly edible. Such avocados are parthenocarpic, which means that they develop without the benefit of pollination and fertilization and thus do not contain seeds.
Avocados do not become pollinated for two reasons: Either the pollen is spoiled before it can reach the pistils for fertilization, or honeybees – which facilitate avocado pollination – are inactive. The heavy rains we experienced in January, February and March – the months during which avocado flowers are open – could have turned avocado pollen moldy and dampened honeybee activity. Without good pollen and active bees, pollination and fertilization – which result in seed formation – would have been significantly curtailed. Seeds send hormones to the developing fruit, causing it to grow normally. Without seeds, fruit development is stunted and premature fruit drop occurs.
TIP OF THE WEEK: The method for sprouting an avocado pit in a glass or jar of water is not a secret. Remove the brown papery skin that covers the pit. Then, stick three toothpicks, evenly spaced, into the fat, lower end of the pit. Your pit-with-toothpicks creation will resemble a three-pronged satellite. Fill a glass almost to the top with water so that the bottom of the pit is submerged when it is balanced by the toothpicks on the rim of the glass. Keep the water level up and roots should begin to grow within two weeks.

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