Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Meanwhile, Back at the Compost Pile

This blog is currently on HIATUS. Posts, links and comments are not being updated. But you can check out the older posts if you like.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Don't Know Jack about Exotic Fruits?

Does this jackfruit at my friend's organic fruit farm look really miffed? Do you think it may be because it's been almost two years since my last post? Sorry!

So what in the world have I been up to, you may ask. Well, among the many adventures I had during this blog's hiatus I had the wonderful opportunity to learn more about Hawaii's fruitopia, that is, the luscious world of exotic fruits and the fascinating people promoting Island sustainability. This was when I was on an assignment for Hana Hou! magazine, Hawaiian Airline's in-flight publication. Actually, I think what Mr. Jackfruit is saying is that you really ought to resolve to stay healthy in 2013 and eat more fresh fruit. Read about Hawaii's Global Orchard in Hana Hou! and discover some suggestions for your own backyard. Click here.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Artichoke Lei

I grew up next to the beach on Oahu, and occasionally living in the chilly uplands gets a little wearisome especially toward the end of February when snow can still dust Mauna Kea and I’m huddled around the fireplace for yet another night. However, I have found there is one advantage to living in the damp, cooler climes of Hawaii’s higher elevations: Growing artichokes! Yes indeed, it’s possible to grow choke (pardon my Hilo pidgin) artichokes in Hawaii if you have the right conditions, as in what Volcano offers.

Artichoke likes cool, misty weather, lots of space (about six feet apart), full sun and good drainage. I planted mine as a seedling from a local nursery, purchased on whim, and alas I no longer know the variety since I planted it over a year ago and lost the label. I never really expected it to do well either, because at first it was besieged by tiny green caterpillars and I had planted it in a wooden half-barrel since I read somewhere artichokes can grow in containers. Of course, anything will live in a container, but I soon realized that planting an artichoke in a half-barrel is like keeping a baby hippo in a bathtub -- it works okay for a while but very soon no one is happy about it. Artichoke plants get big, and they have pokey things on them – they’re thistles – so brushing by one in a pot usually isn’t a pleasant sensation. (Yeah, I was kidding about the artichoke lei.)

Spring is the best time to plant artichokes, and since planting it directly into the ground my ‘choke is pest-free. If you live in a warmer lower elevation, you can try planting artichokes in an area that gets some afternoon shade. Who knows, you may get lucky.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

At Your Convenience

Right outside my kitchen I keep herbs and greens handy. I have mizuna, bok choy and tatsoi in window boxes so I can drop them into hot ramen or add last to stir fries. There's container celery to flavor soups and salads, "Red Sails" lettuce for sandwiches and salads. Two kinds of mint: spearmint for mojitos and peppermint for, well, whatever. Of course, there's the ever-perservering aloe plant, loyally braving the Volcano cold so that I'll have it ready for those occasional burns when I'm a klutz around the Wedgewood stove, and for sunburn when the beach fries my brain and I bask too long in the sun. Sweet allysum and petunia are there on the deck...just because. Oregano -- Greek and stick -- rosemary, and Thai basil are also among my grab-and-go potted favorites.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


We've been having a terrible drought here. But tonight just before sunset we got a shower! My thirsty plants on the lanai, in the garden and the rainforest are so grateful. Ahhhh....

Friday, September 24, 2010

Forks for Felines

I admit I love critters of all sorts. Until they start biting me or messing up my food. And I have always adored the animals in my care, which happen to be kitties at the moment. However, my two cats, Kiko and Cosby, seemed to be overjoyed at the expanded garden. They concluded that it is actually a kitty outhouse, though I adamantly beg to differ. Hence the fork in the road. Or, I should say, in the garden.

I had some plastic forks to reuse, and it looks like they will make my point that my garden is not to be used as a litter box. I don't know if this is 100 percent effective yet. I don't think the kalij pheasants will mind them at all, unfortunately, but who knows, maybe they'll find the forks a bother and go into the neighbor's yard where it's easier to dine without them. I presume no one will interpret my crop of forks as an invitation to snack on my veggies, which are starting to look quite healthy and on their way to harvest. (By the way, that is lemon balm in the photo, not catnip. I'm not that mean. Usually.)

So, here's a Rethink and Reuse Tip: Instead of using throwaway plastic utensils, try carrying your own with you for when you dine out. Using your own special eating utensils can actually enhance your dining pleasure. Seriously. People will also either think you're a looney or will be envious. Or want to show off their own set. I have a wooden spoon and some chopsticks in a handy little case I keep in my purse or backpack. My coworker has a handsomely carved wooden spoon with a beaded handle from Africa that she's carried for 20 years. But on the odd occasion when I end up with a plastic fork in my possession, I'm saving it for the garden. No butts about it. So far.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Seedling Fairy Strikes Again

Yay! The seedling fairy left me some presents on the stairs! Poof! Like magic, I'm reappearing in my garden again.

My horticulturalist/educator friend loves to propagate, and I am the lucky recipient of her joy. This time it's nutrient-rich greens: mizuna, Swiss Chard, tatsoi, bok choy. Some for the garden, some for containers.

Seedlings make such simple, thoughtful gifts. My fairy seedmother is on a mission to make sure people in her community have plants that are acclimated to our growing area and free of the pests that could be introduced from buying plants areas outside of Volcano.

Back in the sixties, my Hawaiian seedling fairy was a homesteader in a remote area of Canada. There she grew food to feed a community of Vietnam war conscientious objectors. What she couldn't grow, she bought in town with what little money they all pooled together. Armed with an impressive Chinese cleaver and the resolve to stretch ingredients to fill everyone up, she whipped up comforting meals which no doubt would have made her hanai Chinese mom proud. It was a hard life, she remembers, but the memories are priceless.

Today I tracked down the seedling fairy at the farmers market and gave her some Seminole pumpkin seeds, which do better in a warmer, lower elevation. She has a garden at an elementary school down in Hilo where she teaches. Hopefully I'll get to visit it sometime around Halloween and see some more magic, maybe even see the Great Seminole Pumpkin arise this year.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Pele's Grounds

The thatch was thick and tough to spade. The black, sticky stuff beneath it was even harder to break up. Since it clung to the blade of the hoe, even the cultivator, in big heavy chunks, I figured it might be clay. So I headed down to my favorite garden supplier, who suggested amending with gypsum, which helps loosen clay soils, and mixing in a little black volcanic cinder for better drainage.

But I had a hunch that something else was also going on, so I rang up my favorite UH extension agent, whose family has farmed the Volcano area for generations.

Was that mud really clay? I asked.

"Organic matter," he replied. "You probably have about 6 inches of it."

Apparently, in the Volcano Village area, soil that hasn't been worked in while such as where I live has an impressive layer of organic matter built up over years, composed of composted rainforest leaf litter, ferns and other vegetation. This layer is usually rich in nutrients -- I was thrilled to see so many earthworms feasting on this rainforest "fudge." Farms in the area no longer have this layer; it has long since been broken down and used up through many planting seasons.

Under the organic layer typically is a lighter sandy and/or cindery layer, evidence of the previous volcanic activity from Kilauea volcano. The uncultivated areas of Volcano still have layers upon layers of cinder and ash intact, revealing each period of the thousands of years of volcanic activity in the area. In the Niaulani forest behind the Volcano Art Center, layers have been dated between 1400 to 1650. The undisturbed top layer of the Niaulani old-growth forest, which you walk through while on a very pleasant 1/2 mile trail, has been carbon dated to 200 to 300 years ago.

So. In my backyard I wasn't really dealing with clay per se, but primarily something akin to muck. How was I to break up that stubborn, moist sod? Would gypsum -- which I had already purchased -- help do the trick?

Well, it couldn't hurt, said the extension agent, adding that I should also throw some lime into the mix, since the layer of organic matter usually has a pH of 4 or 5. Acid rain and vog also makes growing conditions highly acidic, so liming the soil with dolomite would also help make the garden more alkaline and better for growing vegetables.

The gypsum wasn't that cheap -- $7 for 5 lbs -- and I had already purchased it, after traveling 30 miles into town to get it. But fortunately I was turning a small area, only 5 feet by 10 feet, and needed only 10 lbs (20-40 lbs per 100 square feet was the recommended application.) I sprinkled it on, came back a few hours later and voila, it did get a little easier to break up the clods. Not by much, but at least I was encouraged to continue the project.

Besides, it was a glorious, sunshiny day in Volcano -- an opportunity too rare to stay inside. While digging up the sweet 'aina I was basking in the splendor of native beauty: Listening to the gravelly call of the 'oma'o. Watching flashes of crimson as the 'apapane flitted through 'ohi'a. Sampling 'ohelo berries, and admiring the delicate half-blossoms of the naupaka kuahiwi.

At some point, work in a garden no longer seems like work, and by the end of the day there's a transformation, even in your own shadow.