We Grew a Cocktail Avocado!

This morning Kelly alerted me to the latest avocado news making its way around the internet tubes. Apparently a chain of grocery stores in Great Britain, worried about the lack of knife skills in our young folks (ugh), is marketing a seedless “cocktail” avocado.

What is a cocktail avocado? Some deep Googling revealed that they aren’t some new variety, just un- or under pollinated Fuerte avocado. Since we have a Fuerte tree in our backyard, I decided to do a deeper form of Googling, which involved prying myself away from the internet tubes and going outside for some first hand investigation. Ka-ching! I found a cocktail avocado that I plan on selling to a knife challenged Brit for a high and undisclosed price.

So how do cocktail avocados happen? Avocado pollination is one of the more complicated mysteries of nature for which I will turn to UC Davis for an explanation,

The first or female stage remains open for only 2 or 3 hours. The flower then closes and remains closed the rest of the day and that night. The following day it opens again. But now the stigma will no longer receive pollen. Instead, the flower is now shedding pollen. That is, each flower is female at its first opening, male at its second. After being open several hours the second day, the flower closes again, this time for good. If it had been successfully pollinated at the first opening, and if other conditions are right, it will develop into a delicious fruit.

People mistakenly think that avocados trees are either male or female. In fact, they are all both. The differences between trees are about when the timing of this alternate gendered flowering occurs. UC Davis goes on to explain,

Nature has provided for avocado cross-pollination by creating varieties of two kinds. The “A” type is female in the morning of the first day and male in the afternoon of the second day (when the weather is warm). The “B” type is just the reverse: its flowers are female in the afternoon and male the following morning.

The fact that we have two hives of honeybees in our backyard and lots of other avocado trees in the neighborhood means that we don’t get a lot of cocktail avocados. I could not find any information about the methods of cocktail avocado growers (located in Spain). I suspect they are either using nets to exclude bees or they are just selectively harvesting the cocktail avocados that naturally occur on every tree.

111 Cardoons, Medlars and Hipster Toilets

On the podcast this week, Kelly and I read and respond to listener questions and comments about cardoons, medlars and Toto’s Eco Promenade toilet! Here’s some links to the topics we rap about:

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Figs Happen


You can stand around complaining that the squirrels got every single peach, that the rats got every grape, that there’s not enough time to weed, that the garden looks like crap. Then bam, figs happen. Lots of figs. So many figs that you start having to think about fig jams, fig compotes and figs with cheese and honey. But you’re also lazy so most of the figs get eaten somewhere between the tree and the front door. You promise figs to friends and neighbors but somehow that never happens.

If you’re the score keeping type let it be known that we’re talking about a Mission fig tree we planted around 2009 in our front yard.

How’s your garden doing this summer? Where do you live and what are you growing?


Defeating Squirrels With Tech

After watching a squirrel chew up every single peach on our little tree, despite deploying yards of bird netting, I found myself pondering extreme and deadly measures. Then I found myself fantasizing about what I would do if I were Elon Musk. First, I’d give up on the mars idea. Mars is, after all, a lifeless, barren speck of dust lacking life’s essentials such as breathable air, plants, cats and Parmesan cheese. Why bother? How about, instead, turning that technical know-how towards the most important issue of our time: squirrel deterrence.

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As it turns out I’m not alone. At a Python programming conference, back in 2012, software engineer Kurt Grandis presented a research project he entitled, “Militarizing Your Backyard with Python: Computer Vision and the Squirrel Hordes.” Grandis’ motivation was a squirrel attack on his peach tree and, worse, his kid’s pumpkin patch. The full lecture details Grandis’ attempt to create a program that would differentiate between squirrels and birds and then deliver a carefully aimed blast of water at just the squirrels. It’s worth viewing in its entirety just to hear how Grandis resolves the image recognition question, “What is squirrelness?” If you’re impatient you can fast forward to the 16 minute mark for the video. Spoiler alert: it works, at first, and then the squirrels quickly learn to ignore the blasts of water.

It leaves me wondering if a scary clown strategy might work better such as it did with this bear:

Kidding aside, two Southern California biologists are using high powered lasers to dissuade ravens from attacking endangered desert tortoises. The biologists are also speculating about the possibility of “gamifying” this task by opening it up to anyone who wants to take a potshot via the internet. Which leads to my question of the day. Would you readers be interested in a gamified laser squirrel shoot in the Root Simple backyard? Time to learn Python!



Atomic Gardening

The always entertaining podcast 99% Invisible has a new episode, “Atom in the Garden” about the forgotten 1950s fad of gardening with radiation. Essentially, it was a crude form of genetic engineering. Plants were zapped with radiation in the hopes of creating useful mutations.


While it didn’t work well, it did produce several varieties grown to this day including Rio Star Grapefruit. There was also a strong amateur interest in irradiated seeds supported by the Atomic Gardening Society.

The 1950s “gamma gardening” craze feels credulous today but it’s not like there’s no uncritical scientism in 2017 (Elon Musk solving LA traffic with tunnels, perhaps?).