Avocado dreams do come true

You can’t grow money, but you can grow avocados. And that’s pretty close.

I’ve developed a peculiar, but useful talent

It started in December, after a trip to Hawaii for my brother’s wedding. Just in front of the balcony of our rental was a 40 foot mature avocado tree, heavy with thousands of thin-skinned fruits. When avocados are $3-$5 a pop at the green grocer, foraging for them is like finding money.

Even our full house couldn’t use the ten or more that were falling each day. What we didn’t eat was enjoyed by the feral chickens. Or taken with me as a pre-flight snack.

The neighbour wasn’t even interested. He had his own productive looking suburban orchard. I offered him some and he just shook his head and chuckled at my haul of green money fruit, ‘Oh, that tree‘. Imagine a life where you have all the avocados you could eat.

How to spot an avocado tree

Back in Sydney, I can’t stop spotting avocados trees. It helps to know what they look like. Look for large trees with straight, light coloured trunks, long green leaves, and dense, haphazard canopy. Often spotted near fence lines or on verges. Taking slower forms of transport means you’ll have time to size up each potential specimen. The most telltale sign is shiny green fruit up in the canopy, or on the ground.

The best time to plant an avocado tree is seven years ago

Planting the seed of an avocado is either an act of good planning for the future or a bit of a novelty, depending on your climate. An avocado tree in Vancouver has about zero chance of producing avocado toast, but people still get a kick out watching them sprout and will keep them as houseplants. Odds are better here in Sydney. In fact, there are more than five mature trees within two blocks of my address.

I’ve planted a few seeds myself. Good things take time, and avocados are no exception. I’ve been asked why I would plant something that might take seven years to bear fruit. An understandable question, programmed as we are to instant gratification, short lifecycles and let’s be honest, frequent house moves. And the answer I give is that I might just be here in seven years. But even if I’m not, someone else will be.

After all, building community is about doing something to benefit someone you may never meet. What helps you, helps me too. Also, this tree is a year and a half old now, so seven years is now only five and a half years from now.

I tried starting seeds in eggshells and it totally worked

I finally tried the old start seeds in eggshells trick and it worked a charm. Reassuring too, since I encouraged you to do this very thing earlier this month. 

Hope and ruin in the kitchen garden

What I lack in skill, I make up for in enthusiasm. The seeds I plant don’t always sprout, the seeds I sprout don’t always flourish, and other times I’ve gotten everything right only to have rats eat my carrots while they were still in ground.

Perpetual optimism and dreams of homegrown herbs and veg propel me to keep trying. There remains some magic in that first glimpse of a seedling pushing through the soil wearing its jaunty seed shell beret.

And so I am always looking for ways to improve the ecological odds.

How to start seeds in eggshells

I’d found this simple seed starting idea somewhere on the internet and decided to give it a go. It uses two waste materials from the kitchen: eggs and the egg cartons. This means you don’t need to buy special containers or use plastic – making it frugal, permaculture friendly and Zero Waste.

Step 1: Save your eggshells

They don’t need to be a perfect half shape, and it’s not an issue if there is additional cracking. In fact, with those that didn’t have any cracking across the dome, I made a small hole in the bottom to let excess water drain out. Seeds like to be uniformly moist, not necessarily sopping wet.

seeds in eggshells - poke a hole

Step 2: Fill each eggshell with seed starting mix

Fill the half eggshells with a good nutritious soil mix and put them back into the carton. Moisten the soil.

seeds in eggshells

Step 3: Plant the seeds at their recommended depth

The larger the seed, the deeper it’s meant to be planted, but half an eggshell is plenty deep for most anything, including the black zucchini you see here. For more specific info, look for instructions on the back of the seed packet, or it’ll be google-able if you’re using seeds you collected (go you!).

Since seeds don’t usually need the sun until they sprout up, you can even close the lid of the carton until they’ve germinated. Useful if you want to keep them cozy while starting them indoors in early spring (when Australian homes remain stubbornly chilly).

seeds in eggshells sprouting

Step 4: Plant out your seedlings

When my seedlings emerged, I planted them out into a larger container, still in their eggshells. I made sure to crack each shell a bit more to allow the roots to grow through, but I figure the extra moisture retention from the egg ‘cup’ will be a boon to these little sprouts through the hot weather. See also: enthusiasm> skill.

I marked the pot with an upcycled bamboo fork noting the date they went in and composted the egg carton.

So far, the eggshell method has been successful for starting cucamelon, radishes, eggplant and this black zucchini.

seeds in eggshells being planted out

seeds in eggshells planted

And now the waiting begins to find out if these little seedlings will bear fruit.

Anyone else tried this Zero Waste seed starting method?


Small potatoes, perfectly formed

balcony garden potatoes

I live in a small apartment with a small balcony.

Maybe it’s only fitting that I can now claim to have grown some of the smallest potatoes I’ve ever seen. So small, in fact, I almost didn’t find them at all.

I didn’t set out to plant potatoes.

Last spring was my first spring (in the southern hemisphere) living in a new apartment with a south-facing balcony. Not ideal for an aspiring urban food grower.

When you pick what to grow in your garden you might start thinking about the types of foods you’d most like to eat, or that are delicate to ship, or expensive to buy. In many ways, it ultimately comes down to what will thrive in your particular micro environment. I had experimented with lots – kale, arugula, spinach, chillies, strawberries, coriander, beets and more.

Potatoes weren’t on my list.

But when I noticed some of my potatoes in the cupboard growing sprouts, I thought to myself, well, why not? I cut them into chits and let them callous over. I planted them in a large pot outside and covered them with a thin layer of soil. I mounded rich soil around the green shoots as they grew. And grew and grew.


The potato plants grew until they became huge and unruly and took over one part of my small balcony. Hopes were high.

In spite of the leafy growth though, there came no signs of tubers.

I spoke to someone who told me it was the wrong season- too hot- and that the sprawling stalks were a signal that nothing was growing underground. It was the last straw.

I could be using that space for cooperative plants, like arugula, chili peppers or basil, instead of wild, leggy, potato plants with no signs of potatoes, I thought.

So I ripped them out, and started using the soil from the bucket for other crops in other pots. This was months ago.

Tonight, a surprise.

I needed extra soil for a sage plant I was repotting. With my spoon (who needs a spade with a garden this small), I dug into the last of the leftover soil from the former potato pot.

I unearthed one, then two small potatoes.

Gifts from my garden, undiscovered until now.

My balcony harvest can’t sustain a family, let alone one person. Nevertheless, it’s the small joys from moments like this that I never want to overlook.

Water you waiting for?

Icebergs bondi

Southern summer is over.

If you believe the calendar, it was over more than a month ago. But, as summer heat reaches ever further into fall, the season’s change is marked more so by daylight savings than a particular date. By two measures then, summer is over.

Although I’ll miss the longer days and the after work ocean dips that come with them, I won’t miss the record-breaking stretches of stiflingly hot weather we’ve had this year, and neither will my balcony garden.

Too much time without precipitation can be hard on a Pacific Northwest girl, used to blink and you’ll miss ’em summers.

Like me, my plants tend to wilt when temperatures soar and no rain comes along to wash the spider out. When this happens, there are more effective ways to water than doing a rain dance.

After I wash my salad leaves for dinner, I’ll pull out the inner basket and use the water left below for my plants.

When my crops grows lush and green, I’ll harvest the leaves, put them into my spinner. Like a gift, or a thank you for quenching their thirst.

There are always plenty of places to find water, if you know where to look.