The Life & Times of Avi the Avocado and the Annual Indoor Orchard Update!

Last week we got our first taste of the 2020 jungle. The first frost warning of the season arrived early in the week with a chilly 37-degree night. Since that is too cold for all the orchard plants that have been happily sunning themselves outdoors on the balcony all summer long, this change in temperature meant a mass migration of all potted plants from the outside in. It was time for the annual interior decision of where to set up wintertime living arrangements and how best to fit everyone in.

I love this yearly transition ritual with the plants. It not only signals a new season but also it’s close to Avi the Avocado’s birthday (he’ll be 4 in November!) which means Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Also, it’s a great time to check the growth process of the fruit trees. The last time I posted a garden update was November 18th, 2019. It was a different world back then. Not only for us humans but for these city plants too. Last year our orchard round-up consisted of potted avocado, lemon, grapefruit and date palm trees, each grown from seed (except the lemon which was a grafted gift several years ago).

Fitting for the times, just like our traumatic 2020 pandemic year, the orchard plants have also experienced their own turbulent events over the past 344 days. I’d like to say that everyone flourished and that the garden bloomed and blossomed under the extra care from all the stay-at-home attention that quarantining invited. But nature is never that predictable. With every success I celebrated in the potted orchard experiment this year, there was an equal amount of setbacks.

The 20th-century British writer, Elizabeth von Arnim (1866-1941)  once said, “every gardening failure must be used as a stepping stone to something better.” And so we step. The life and times of the indoor orchard continue, for plants and human,  as we learn and grow together into year 4.  Failures and setbacks aside, there is much to report. Let’s look…

Avi The Avocado

We’ll start with Avi first since he’s the one celebrating his fourth birthday three weeks from now. Last year Avi looked like this…

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He had made real strides in the growth department and was busily filling out his canopy of leaves – especially up top. As of last posting in November 2019, he was 4′ 7″ inches tall and destined for a bigger container that would allow him plenty of room to continue his sky-high stretch.

This is what Avi looks like today…

 

The good news is that he’s almost too tall to fit in the whole photograph. Cheers for growth! The bad news is that’s he’s stooped over, weary and a little bedraggled-looking. Unlike the other plants, Avi has remained indoors all year long, preferring this environment much more than the heat, humidity, and direct sunlight on the balcony. This is odd for an avocado tree. Normally they revel in such tropical conditions. But from the very beginning, when he was just a small sprouting pit…

The start of Avi – November 2016.

Avi has lived indoors and decidedly said he preferred that much more (see previous posts about this behavior here). As of late, he’s been looking so unfortunate I’ve deemed him the family H.S.P. (highly sensitive plant) and can’t help but think he’s feeling everyone’s emotions in the world these days.

 

Despite this woebegone appearance, there have been several successes for Avi this year. He now measures 5′ feet tall (a growth spurt of 5″ inches since last November!), he lives in a new larger container to accommodate his larger size, and he’s completely 100% rid of the pesky scale bugs that plagued him for over two years. I suspect that his current beleaguered state might be due to a nutrient deficiency. Even though he receives a regular sprinkle of organic avocado fertilizer, he hasn’t made any new leaves in months – an unusual circumstance for the once gusto grower.  His latest troubles are an issue affecting some of the tips…

This weekend, I’m going to take him to our local garden center for some advice from the experts on how to get those leaves back up in the air instead of drooping down around his trunk. In the meantime, if any avocado enthusiasts out there have some helpful advice, both I and Avi would greatly appreciate it!

Grace the Grapefruit

As if she was trying to make up for Avi’s struggle or at least encourage him to keep growing, Grace, the grapefruit tree, has done nothing but flourish this year. When I last documented her height a year ago, she was 3′ 2″ inches tall.

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Grace in November 2019

Like Avi, she is another one insisting on growing outside the frame. This is Grace now …

At first you might say, she doesn’t look that different.  But she’s not done showing off her portrait yet. This is her too, still going…

And then this is her again – still going and growing some more…

All the way up to the ceiling in fact! To give you some perspective… that’s the tip of a ceiling fan paddle in the top left corner. Grace, I am happy and amazed to say, now stands 6′ 2″ inches! In just two and a half years she has grown to the size of a very tall person!

Initially, I attributed this doubling in size to an energetic offshoot that citrus plants sometimes get. It’s where they grow a random branch in a quick minute, one that gets much longer than the others and gives the whole tree a wonky, wild look. But upon closer inspection, that’s not the case with Grace. This long stem waving above her rounder section of leafy greens is the central trunk growing taller. It’s her way of saying she’s ready for a bigger container (her fifth one so far since she first sprouted in March 2018!) As it turns out, Grace is well on her way to fulfilling her ultimate goal of being a few dozen feet tall. Oh my. Bigger pots await!

The mighty evolution of Grace the Grapefruit from seed to tree!

Liz Lemon- The Lemon Tree

While Grace and Avi were determined to grow higher, Liz in 2020 was determined to grow wider. As of last November, Liz looked like this…

 

Liz showing off a bright yellow lemon in November 2019.
She measured 2′ 4″ inches tall and was being pruned into a nice round shape. This year, Liz sustained some wind damage when we went through the terrible tornado in March. Unfortunately, the night the tornado happened, it was also the first night of the season that Liz was moved out to the balcony.  The storm blew through town and loped off all her top leaves like an unwanted haircut. Because of that shock to her system, I didn’t want to prune her at all this year. She needed time to recover from the storm damage, which left her, not only with missing foliage but also with a loose main branch at the base of the trunk. Before the storm, this branch was very strong and firmly rooted. After the storm, it was barely attached at the soil line.  She was ragged and wind-beaten (two things lemon trees do no like at all). But with great aplomb, and a summer of steady heat and sun, Liz went about repairing herself. She now looks like this…

Despite the traumatic storm and the unfortunate haircut, Liz managed to grow an extra inch in height, making her 29″ inches tall now. What she lacks vertically she more than makes up for horizontally. She is twice as wide as last year. I wish I had measured her width back then – but you can see in the photos from last year to this year, in relation to the tabletop, that there is a definite dramatic increase. Her width as of yesterday was 3′ feet across branch tip to branch tip. She is also sporting three almost ripe lemons…

 

 

and a brand new cluster of flowers…

It will be fun to see if these flowers make it all the way to the adult lemon stage over the winter. Typically that is her dormant time, where she hibernates her way through the cold months, so we’ll see what happens. Fingers crossed!

Jools – The Medjool Date Palm

Jools, last November 2019.

Jools was a real grower all winter, but sadly, we lost her in the spring. I don’t know what happened to her. One week she was doing fine outdoors in the sun, fanning out her leaves, growing tall, and long, and then mysteriously, the next week she just shriveled up and dried out. Poor thing. I tried to revive her with all sorts of attention, but nothing brought her back. In a final last-ditch effort, I cut off all her palm shoots above the soil line hoping that would refresh her roots and encourage new growth, but that didn’t work either. So it’s back to the drawing board on the date palm front. This winter I’ll try seed starting again and hopefully, I’ll have a new Jools in the orchard to write about next year.

And introducing our newest arrival…

Even though it was disappointing to lose Jools, I am excited to announce that there is a new plant in the orchard to fill her spot. Meet Pappy…

the papaya who was grown from the seeds of a grocery store specimen. 

Pappy was in there somewhere just waiting to grow!

In April 2020, Pappy poked his head above the ground along with a couple of his brothers and sisters…

In May, Pappy proudly declared that he was embarking on this journey of life accompanied by not two, not four, but eight siblings…

And by June, the family portrait looked like this…

Four months later, here’s Pappy now…

Too big to be grown together, at the end of June each of the papayas were separated and transplanted into bigger containers. As you can see Pappy didn’t mind the move at all. Some papayas can be temperamental about transplant, but I’m happy to say that the whole gang – all nine of them did great with the move. 

There are three more members of Pappy’s family tucked inside this photo. Can you spot each one?

As of this weekend, Pappy has leaves as big as my hand, a trunk as thick as a sausage and a stature of impressive height. Measuring exactly 3′ feet tall, he’s already about  1/5 of his natural height. I’m not anticipating that Pappy will get over 15′ feet tall due to container restraints, but I am hoping for at least 10 feet. That multiplied by his eight brothers and sisters and the inclusion of  Liz, Grace and Avi will make a full jungle out of the indoor orchard this winter if everyone keeps growing like they have been.

The pencil is here to illustrate how thick Pappy’s trunk is already! He’s such a hearty grower:)

Even though it will be tricky trying to figure out where everyone will fit, I have my eye on one more little project to complete the green dream team. Over the summer, I discovered a very inspiring book…

that is fueling my next experiment this winter. Indoor tomatoes! The volunteer tomato seed planted by the birds (or maybe the breeze) on the balcony this summer…

continues to grow and bloom even though the typical tomato season is over now. I’m excited to see if I can keep some re-rooted sprouts going indoors for the next five months. It requires no special equipment except for a sunny windowsill and a little extra love and attention. It’s an attempt that Elizabeth, in her book, said was a bit difficult but was definitely do-able, so the challenge is officially on. We’ll see what happens! 

In the meantime, while we wait and watch the orchard and see what sort of tomato tales will spring from this latest garden experiment, if you’d like to read more about the past growing adventures of Avi, Liz, Grace, and Jools visit this post, this post and this post. If you’d like to grow your own Pappy, all you need to do is scoop out the seeds from a grocery store papaya, rinse them in cold water and let them dry on a paper towel for up to a week until they resemble whole dried peppercorns. Then plant them in some potting soil, keep them evenly moist with warm water and watch them sprout sometime between a week to a month later. Keep them in the warmest sunniest place you can find and watch them grow grow grow. And then send me a photo so we can marvel at Pappy’s relatives too.

Last year, blog reader Gloria, shared a photo of her avocado tree that she planted in her Florida garden about the same time that Avi sprouted. As of November 2019, her avocado was  7′ feet tall…

Now it’s up to 8′ feet and just got a recent trim…

It is not bearing avocados yet, but maybe there will be some for her in 2021!

That’s the lovely thing about gardening, isn’t it? You just never know what might happen exactly or even when, but you always have your fingers crossed that it’s all going to work out for the best.  Audrey Hepburn said it most eloquently… “to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” I love that. These plants don’t always make life look easy or foolproof but they do always make it look rewarding and hopeful.  

Cheers to gardens big and small, indoors and out. And cheers to Audrey and Elizabeth and the indoor orchard gang for the continual motivation and inspiration.

Now… onto those tomatoes;) 

The Indoor Urban Orchard: What’s Growing Now?

This time of year recipe ideas start floating around the kitchen and vegetables start piling up on the counters. Pie pumpkins and sweet potatoes, herb bouquets and onions, lemons, limes, mushrooms, pomegranates, garlic, apples, cranberries, carrots, celery and what seems like all the nuts in all the world spill out from bowls and plates and baskets as we get ready for Thanksgiving Day. Nestled among all that Autumn bounty is an avocado. Not exactly the first food you think of when talking turkey day fare, but around here the avocado is king of the Kitchen, especially in November, when it comes to a certain someone’s birthday. I’m not talking about the kind of avocado that is small, round and rumply skinned though. Here in the kitchen, the king I’m referring to looks like this…

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It’s Avi the Avocado! On November 22nd, he’ll celebrate his third birthday.  If you have been reading the blog for a few years, you’ll remember that Avi started out as a seed experiment in November 2016. The kind of experiment where you pierce a regular avocado seed with toothpicks and set it in a glass of water and then wait and watch for it to grow into something green like this…

…which he did with aplomb! Months into the experiment Avi sprouted, gained a name and grew taller as each day passed. Three years into life now, he’s survived a move, a very fretful, almost fatal batch of scale, a fall off the kitchen counter and numerous jockeys around the house as he grew, and then subsequently outgrew, each and every perch. In that time, he’s also developed quite the personality – clearly communicating his loathing for the city patio, the wet blanket heat that is a Southern summer, and the blustery winds off the river that perpetually zip and zoom around the city skyline. Instead, in a very unusual flight of fancy for his kind, Avi decided that he preferred the air conditioning, the bright yet indirect light of the indoors and the resting spots that always seem to be in closest proximity to the hustle and bustle of the kitchen. Perhaps he’s a gourmand at heart:)  Long story short, Avi began and became the inspiration for an indoor orchard of fruit plants all started from seed.

In today’s post we are checking up on the state of the garden and the four inhabitants that now comprise the indoor orchard. It’s been 15 months, since I last posted about their progress and because Avi turns 3 on November 22nd, this seemed like a perfect time to check-in and check up to see how this indoor garden experiment is faring. Let’s take a peek…

Avi the Avocado:

The last time we checked up on Avi’s growth here on the blog it was mid-summer 2018. Outside the temperatures were hot and humid, but indoors everything was as cool as a cucumber. At that point, Avi measured 3′ 5″ inches tall and had just turned a hopeful corner of recovery from the terrible scale outbreak. When this photo was taken, Avi was just returning to his more handsome, happy, healthy state…

July 31, 2018

Today, I’m happy to share that Avi is still at it. Growing by leaps and bounds, he now measures 4′ 7″ inches tall and his leaves are widening out into a broad canopy…

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In just 15 months he grew 1′ 3″ inches. That’s an impressive inch a month! You can see the dramatic difference in this side by side picture if you use the black framed wall art on the left as a reference point…

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If he keeps growing at this rate, by next Thanksgiving Avi will be as tall as me:) Most thankfully, the scale is almost all gone. Soon he’ll transfer to a bigger pot where he’ll stay for a couple of years while he fills out leaf -wise. One thing I learned recently about transplanting flowers and plants is that you should only go to a slightly bigger pot than what you are already using – otherwise the plant spends all its energy below expanding its roots instead of growing taller above the soil line. The next pot size for Avi will be 12″ inches in diameter which should give him enough room to grow up and out for at least the next year and a half. Like a little kid graduating from crib to bed, Avi will be a true floor plant at that point, not longer able to be carried from perch to perch, an exciting milestone!

Grace the Grapefruit:

Not be outdone by Avi, a little friendly competition ensued between fruit trees. In this past year, Grace also also hit a spectacular growth spurt. She went from this in March 2018…

Grace the grapefruit almost 1″ inch tall in March 2018

to this in July 2018…

Five months later ( July 30th, 2018)

to this in November 2019…

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Just over 3′ 2″ inches tall now, Grace grew so fast that she’s been re-potted four times already. I’d like to say that all this robust enthusiasm caused her to literally break out of her planter,  but her current abode was a cracked-then-repaired pot meant as a temporary holder for her. But she’s so happy in her blue space, there she’ll stay until she outgrows it. Meanwhile she’s very busy growing extra everything – skyscraper limbs, big green leaves and sharp thorns, especially on her trunk…

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This is lovely to see, because just like Avi, Grace also succumbed to scale when I was away for a month taking care of my sick dad last January. When I got home, she had lost 70% of her leaves and had so much scale that the local garden center (where I took her for emergency help) declared it the worst case of scale outbreak that they’d ever seen. They also gave her a doomed prognosis, saying she probably wouldn’t make it. If you’ve never experienced scale before, this is what it looks like…(on overdrive as in Grace’s case)…

A series of flesh or clear sticky, jelly-like insects, scale wind up sucking the life out of plants. They are pretty gross looking and can be difficult to both see and eradicate but determined, I loaded up on Neem oil and bottles of rubbing alcohol (a trick I learned at the garden center) and then got to work every few days wiping down each of the leaves and the trunk. The rubbing alcohol kills the scale, and the Neem oil protects the plant from re-infestation. As it turns out, that was exactly what she needed and thankfully, Grace made a full recovery in just a few weeks. Now she’s racing to catch up with Avi!

Liz Lemon – The Lemon Tree

If we were giving out awards for the least amount of drama this year, the award would definitely go to Liz Lemon. By far the most low maintenance plant of the bunch, she just carried on over the past year the way all good lemon trees should – growing flowers, making lemons, filling out. Here she was in July 2018, a sprig of sharp angles…

Now she’s a more stately, shapely tree thanks to some careful pruning and lots of sunshine…

Not as fast a grower as Grace or Avi in the height department, Liz spent her past 15 months growing out instead of up. Coming in at 2′ 4″ inches tall she is the smallest of the household orchard trees but she supplied the most color of the bunch with her bright yellow lemons and her pretty perfume-scented flowers.

Just the other day, she started growing a new batch of tiny little lemons so I’m hoping our yield this year will be greater than last year’s, which produced a total of two lemons. Fingers crossed:)

Jools – The Medjool Date Palm

Finally, the baby of the group, born from seed in July 2018, was the Medjool date palm, who was so tiny it didn’t even have a name yet…

The spike is the date palm!

Four hundred and fifty six days later, the date palm looks like this. Meet Jools…

Standing at just over 16″ inches tall, Jools put forth a new leaf every few months last year. She lost a couple  of green shoots to wind damage over the summer, but apparently that’s not really fazing her, as she just grows another one in its place. Low maintenance like Liz, Jools just requires a sunny window sill and a good dose of water every few days.  When I look at her I can’t help but imagine those grand date palms that grow in India and Egypt – the ones that are big and lush and beautiful and radiate notions of exotic locales and foreign flavors. It will be exciting to see how big she grows over the winter now that she has taken up residence indoors and is out of the wind tunnel on the patio altogether.

Of all the orchard plants, Jools is the one I’ve researched least. There is an air of spontaneity in just watching her grow and imagining what might happen next. The container of dates that she came from was purchased at a fantastic international shop in the farmers market that unfortunately is no longer there. So not only is this date palm named Jools a fun growing experiment, but she’s also a good little memory of a place I loved, but can no longer visit. That’s the cool thing about plants isn’t it? How active they are in our lives… as decoration, as curious living creatures, and as memory holders. Each one is like a quirky little (or in some cases big!) character sharing our space, making it feel natural and welcoming, just like home.

Not every experiment I try turns out to be a successful one. This year I attempted apples (success up to month 5!) and papayas but neither lasted long enough to see the sprouts that start the story. Gardening is a game of chance after all. Somehow that makes the ones that do grow into a Grace or an Avi or a Jools all the more significant. While you are peeling and chopping and cutting stuff up this holiday season in your kitchen, keep your eye out for the seeds, and all the potential and possibility that is contained in those small packages tucked inside your favorite fruits and vegetables.  Worlds of adventure stir inside our kitchens everyday, none more dramatic or miraculous than the lives that feed our lives.

If anyone has started their indoor gardens from seed, please comment on this post and share with us what you are growing and how it is going. One of our blog readers, Gloria, recently shared photos of her avocado tree in Florida, which she started from seed around the same time as Avi began. She planted hers outside, a smart decision thanks to Florida’s ideal growing climate. Three years in, her avocado seed now looks like this…

Wow! An absolute beauty towering over the garden at a majestic 7″ feet tall! Well on its way to being a proper shade tree in her yard, Gloria is hoping that by next year, she’ll be able to eliminate avocados from her market shopping list and instead just pick them right off her own tree. What an exciting thought! Our fingers are crossed that she is flush with avocado by this time next year:)

If you need a little more inspiration when it comes to building your own plant paradise, consider these colorful and beautifully illustrated  mid-century books in the shop. They are packed full of helpful advice regarding citrus trees, orchards, edible plantings and indoor gardening…

They make fun gifts for yourself or your fellow garden lover, and unlike the internet, lay everything out before you all at once, instead of hunting and pecking your way through endless garden sites plant by plant.

If you missed the previous posts about the start of the indoor orchard, catch up here.

In the meantime, cheers and happy birthday to Avi, to all the seedlings out there who grow big with just a little extra dose of love and attention, and to Gloria for sharing her own personal gardening adventure with us:)

Lady Nature and the Summer Magic

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Dear readers! This morning Ms. Jeannie went grocery shopping in her backyard for the very first time! In just two months, with the help of her greenhouse and a certain sensational lady, Ms. Jeannie’s garden project went from this…

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to this…

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Isn’t lady nature just marvelous?! With time being so scarce for Ms. Jeannie these past few months, lady nature  truly proved to be the greatest of friends. “Don’t worry about your garden Ms. Jeannie – I’ll take care of it!”

And take care, she did! Boy that lady  – there’s no stopping her abilities!

Today, the garden was offering a sale on cucumbers…

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Ms. Jeannie picked six today, and as you can see there are what seems like a million in all stages still growing growing, growing. Ms. Jeannie could actually hear the cucumber plant say thank you as she plucked the ripe ones.  Baby cucumbers moved right into the empty spots. Productive little creatures:)

The cantaloupe melons are in a race with the cucumbers. Who can outgrow their metal frames first?

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Everyone is hedging their bets in the garden. The beets are betting on the melons.

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The okra is betting on the cucumbers.

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And the peas…

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well, they are just betting on themselves and their ability to outwit the mammoth sunflowers. They’ve already outgrown their trellis and moved on to the sunflower stalks – so really at this point – the sky is the limit for them! Take that, cucumber melon competition!

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Do you remember Ms. Jeannie’s grand plan for her re-purposed gift from the ground? A home for zinnias, ha!  Four weeks into that growing project … they looked like gawky teenagers in ill-fitting clothing…

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They immediately were sent to summer camp in the herb garden where they could spread out and be as wild and wooly as they wanted…

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This suits them just fine!

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Speaking of herbs, Ms. Jeannie just recently gave her chives a major haircut for a simple new recipe, which solved two problems at once – what to make for dinner and how to keep these fast growing onions from taking over! She’ll share that culinary feat in her next post – so stay tuned.

In the meantime, Boyo sends his best from the porch…

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As you can see he is working just as hard as the ladies:)