21 November 2018

How to grow avocados in cold weather

Since first moving to the Yarra Valley in 1980, avocados have been a feature of our gardens. People are often surprised. Can you really grow avocados in cold weather? Well yes you can and the fruit tastes terrific, however, there are a few tricks. So this week we go right Out on a Limb with tips and pictures that will help avocado growers anywhere - terrific backyard trees - but first

       Thought for the day

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, 
You must first invent the universe.

                 Carl Sagan

So starting an avocado from scratch…

Three tooth picks, one great avocado seed and a glass of water.

Arrange as shown, with the bottom of the seed kept in the water for the weeks, even months it may take to produce roots then a shoot.

Alternatively, buy a plant ready to go. 

Avocado trees come in different sizes and produce fruit at different times of the year. They also come in 2 main varieties - called Type A and B - and if you plant one of each type they cross pollinate and the fruit set is better, although in my experience one tree on its own still does OK. In suburban settings you may be lucky and have a neighbor with a cross pollinator; or if you can talk a neighbor into growing their own, choose wisely!

Hass and Fuerte are the 2 most common commercial varieties but both grow to become big trees - 8x10m approx. Bacon - Type B - is excellent in colder weather, the quickest to produce fruit from planting (our latest produced a few in 3 years, around 50 the fourth) - and is small - around 4m so is good for a back yard.

Three excellent small type As that would pair with a Bacon are Pinkerton, Reed and Rincon. These all produce fruit at different times of the year, although avocados have this wonderful property of lasting on the tree. We have picked fruit from our Bacon over at least 6 months - just finishing now, and if planting another would probably go with the Reed given it produces over summer from November to March - Christmas avocados off the tree!!!

More details on varieties? - excellent site : CLICK HERE

If you have started with a pip - and this is not so highly recommended as maturation reputedly takes longer (we are currently testing this theory with out latest planting) - next is to pot into a premium potting mix and keep warm while developing. We have a glasshouse, but indoors would be Ok in a sunny area. Keep moist but do not overwater and young plants do not like cold, especially frosts.

Once big enough, or if you buy a plant, wait until frosts have passed and plant mid/late spring.

But - you do need to think ahead. Avocados hate wet feet and they have real trouble with clay. In our Upper Yarra area, there is a thin layer of topsoil then really tough clay. In the eighties I actually attempted a commercial orchard by mounding up the topsoil with a big machine and planting into that. All went well for a few years, then all the trees died.

About 15 years ago I made mounds by hand and planted 5 varieties that gave year round fruit. For 2 seasons this was fantastic, then the trees progressively died. One still hangs on, but looks miserable. We keep it going to see what will happen.

A commercial grower told me recently the clay is the problem. In the experience of our conditions we get 2 -3 years of good fruiting, then 1 or 2 ordinary ones, then time to replant. So currently what we do is plant a new one every 2-3 years. We are fortunate to have the space to do this, and we build the dirt up, add sand and heaps of compost to improve drainage and we remain hopeful the new ones will live long, happy lives, yet it is the clay that may bring them all undone eventually. Many Melbourne backyards are on great sandy loam areas and will not have this problem.

However, soil preparation is still always important.
Add lots of compost, something like Dynamic Lifter
and maybe some dolomite
and do consider making a mound to plant into.

With the Bacon we planted 5 years ago we used around 2 metres of soil for the mound and this has worked really well - so far!

Once the time is right to plant, avocados like protection from wind, frost and even sun - they can suffer from sunburn! In a backyard this may all be OK, but in our large, open garden we need to provide protection. Tomato stakes, hessian and wire does the job. Here is how to do it...

Set out the frame for a "lid' that will be attached once the 4 stakes are in place.

These need to be aligned roughly North, South and in a manner that when the hessian is attached, it will protect from the prevailing winds.

In our area these come primarily from the North.

            Then hammer in the stakes.

        Use the wire to attach
        the wooden frame at the top.

Use more wire to attach the hessian,
leaving the face to the East open
so some sun does touch the plant directly.

When ready to plant, know avocados are touchy in the root department.

Be careful to avoid disturbing the roots as much as possible.

We cut the pots off - bottom first - and gently place the plant in the soil, fill in, add pea straw mulch and water gently.

We once had a rabbit eat the base of a young tree so now we add protective wire, and this does support the young one a little without tying it.

After this last one we planted - as shown - we had a day of huge winds.

Without the protection of the hessian the baby tree would have been shredded; as it was, it is completely unscathed and already growing happily.

Watering is tricky. Avocados seem to hate being over-watered, and under-watered. The best way we can do it is to watch the new growth. When happy, avocados grow rapidly and constantly. So we keep the water up while the growth is happening, and watch for the first signs of the growth tips flagging. We have found this to be the best sign for the next watering time as we need to be very careful to avoid over-watering. Maybe someone has a better trick, but this has been working well for us.

With any luck this is what you get... Well worth the effort...

This one is a Bacon and now into its 5th year.


05 November 2018


Back at the end of 2009 I retired from my full time position at the Foundation I had built and created a big space in my life. It was clear the Foundation needed to move on from its founder and establish itself in its own right, and as for me, well I was open to whatever came next.

As it happened, I enjoyed some free time, then it became apparent I had what was virtually an aversion to computers. I retired from the Foundation without ever having a computer on my desk and before I left had asked my PA to help me send 3 emails so at least I could say I had actually managed to do that!

But then it occurred to me how useful computers can be and how maybe they could help address one of the big issues that troubled me at the time - How to help people establish and maintain a regular meditation practice?

So I began speaking with friends who were experts around computers - all of whom were rather bemused by my new interest (knowing as they did of my old aversion) - and they were very generous with their time and advice.

This line of enquiry led on to a pivotal meeting with Saurabh Mishra.

Saurabh is an entrepreneur based in Melbourne who has co-founded five e-health business ventures since 2000.

Three of these (eClinic, SamplesPlus and PalCare) were bought by some of the largest healthcare businesses in Australia between 2009-2010, and the fourth (Healthnotes) was bought in 2016 by MedAdvisor, a company listed on the Australian stock exchange.

But along with the world of IT, Saurabh’s real passion is meditation and helping others. His life has been one of seeking meaning and purpose.

So this week, an insight into the life and mind of a person intent on helping others through meditation and apps, along with news of me making a re-appearance at Ruth's next meditation retreat in December, but first

                         Thought for the day

  Integrity is the inner sense of wholeness and strength
  That arises out of our honesty with ourselves;
  It is the ability to make the connections
  And the proper sacrifices
  To find a life that is both moral and spontaneous.

                       John Tarrant - Zen teacher and writer

Saurabh and I have become great friends and it has been an ongoing delight working together.

We have great fun, work hard, engage with some amazing people, and I have learnt heaps about apps and all things IT.

We created a new business, Imageryworks with the intention to make the learning and practice of meditation easier, with a vision of helping bring about a world in which everyone meditates every day.

Our creations - the My Meditation and Meditation Gateway apps are unique teaching and interactive practice tools.

Saurabh was born in India and is a dedicated practitioner of Kriya yoga, an ancient meditation technique. He also volunteers a significant amount of time for a number of not-for-profit organisations including Eastern Palliative Care, TiE Melbourne, Melbourne Hindustani Classical Music Society (he is an accomplished classical singer), and Friends of the Children’s Hospital.

Earlier this year, Saurabh was interviewed by a tech magazine about the new My Meditation app.

1.    Did you have any prior development or coding experience?

I am not a programmer by training. However, having started up 5 software based businesses in the past 18 years, I am quite familiar with the development cycle and methodologies. We engaged a team of developers from Intellection Ltd. in Pune, India to develop the My Meditation app.

2.    What was the most challenging aspect of developing this meditation app?

The most challenging aspect was the app's unique virtual group meditation feature as there were complexities around using many native app features and coordinating across multiple handsets and platforms.

3.    Name a few of your favourite apps and reason you love them.

I frequently travel out of Melbourne, and so the Google Maps, Google Translate and Uber apps are handy indeed. I also find the Microsoft Teams app to be very useful to communicate with colleagues and keep up to date on collaborative projects. One other app I want to mention is a niche one called iTabla Pro for people who learn and perform Indian classical music. It has single-handedly replaced a number of background instruments, and made it possible for students like me to be able to practice anywhere, anytime.

4.    How long have you been working on this app?

Since 2015.

5.    What need of the user did you have in mind when developing this app?

Only a few of those who learn to meditate are able to establish a regular enough practice to truly benefit from it.

6.    In what way do you think your app is better than similar apps on the market? Please describe in detail what innovation you think you bring and what you are proud of in your app.

My Meditation is a comprehensive program for learning highly useful life-skills of relaxation, mindfulness, meditation, contemplation and imagery. It is based on authentic teachings transmitted over an unbroken lineage of thousands of years, and its founders have decades of experience of teaching and practicing these techniques.

Most importantly, it is unique in its emphasis on sustaining practice - with subscribers receiving daily messages of support, explanation and inspirations, able to join weekly virtual group practice sessions, and encouraged to keep track of their practice.

And what is more, it works. People who use this app do meditate much more frequently than before, and report significantly improved satisfaction with their practice.

7.    What are your future plans and expected features of the coming new versions of this app?

We hope to make the virtual group practice sessions more interactive, with participants able to interact with the teacher and with each other before or after the sessions via the app.

We would also like to build bio-feedback features for users to see for themselves, the psycho-physiological changes in their mind and body from their practice.

8.    Assuming new users of your app are reading this, what do you want to ask them to do?

Please sign up and make use of the 10-day free trial to sample the contents, features and benefits of this app. And if you like it, please subscribe!

Please do give us feedback
We are very happy with this new release and feedback from early users has been very positive, however, the app will continue to be upgraded based on feedback and new developments, so please do share with me any questions or feedback - via info@insighthealth.com.au.

Getting started

For iPhone/iPad users
1. If you are viewing this on your device. Tap here 

2. If you are viewing this on your computer, you will need to use your device - iPhone, iPad etc - and go to the App Store. Search for mymeditationapp (all as one word). (Note: Ours is a new app, and you may need to scroll down the list to find it. It is called My Meditation and the title features Imageryworks - our business name. Persevere and you will find it!) Download the app, sign up, and off you go.

For Android users
1. If you are viewing this on your deviceTap here 

2. If you are viewing this on your computer, you will need to use your phone etc and go into Playstore. Search for My Meditation app. Download it, sign up, and off you go.

To visit the related website, go to www.meditationapp.net

Some extra clarity
Some of you may have been using, or heard of the Meditation Gateway app, which is a precursor of the My Meditation app. With very similar features, we made Meditation Gateway app an open platform where any meditation teacher can upload their own material and offer their programs to their students. We are also looking to offer this platform to corporations like Health Insurance funds, who are happier to endorse a multi-teacher platform so their members can have a choice of programs that suit their particular requirements.

Ian Gawler My Meditation App - with all the details of what the app offers



Ruth was expecting Kimberly Poppe to join her from Amsterdam for this retreat, however, Kimberly is unable to make the trip. So Ruth asked me to come out of retirement from leading retreats and fill the space. I have agreed and am really looking forward to this encore.

Definitely a one off, so maybe you would like to join us amidst whatever images of Johnny Farnham or Dame Nellie Melba you may wis this summon :)


COMING SOON - with Ian Gawler

Reconnecting to Ourselves

3rd - 9th December 2018

Yarra Valley Living Centre, Victoria

This is an opportunity to take time out and deeply reconnect with your self through a nourishing and rejuvenating week of meditation and self compassion practices.

Enjoy gentle movement, delicious vegetarian meals made with love, and time and space to relax in a beautiful, natural environment.

Very highly recommended. This will be a wonderful, wonderful week...

Details - Click here