Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Everything Gives You Cancer, or Something

Joe Jackson’s sardonic “Cancer” lyric from the ‘80s keeps drifting back to my subconscious these days as I contemplate new year’s resolutions and commitments to live healthier with lowest possible impact on the environment: “Everything gives you cancer, everything gives you cancer, there’s no cure, there’s no answer….” Indeed, pray tell, why does it sometimes seem that when you think you’ve found a great way to help the planet, it turns out it causes other problems?

Now it comes to my attention that Nalgene bottles, which were among my gift suggestions for gardeners I made this year, are considered toxic by health experts because they are made of polycarbonate. Though it has been used in food and beverage containers, recent studies show polycarbonate, also known as BPA, can release minute amounts of material that can interfere with normal hormone activity. Hence, not only Nalgene bottles, but also baby bottles and food utensils with BPA have been pulled from shelves across the country, in Whole Foods and other markets. Interestingly, liners of food cans also contain the compound, but so far there hasn’t been a massive recall of canned food due to BPA, even though acids from foods must certainly leach it over shelf time.

So, what if you have a polycarbonate bottle? Of course, a tiny baby is much more vulnerable than an adult when it comes to toxic materials, so you should definitely not use it for children. Some people argue that low amounts are still hazardous even for adults and are tossing theirs into the trash heap; others say they’re still keeping the bottles because they’re indestructible and still usuable and want to keep them out of landfills. If you just bought it you can probably return it. Or if you can’t return it and you don’t want to drink from it, you can always use it the way Nalgene first intended, as a laboratory storage bottle. If you’re a gardener, at least you can use the graduated lines on the side for measuring water and mixing fertilizer. Or store seeds or plant tags, or plant in it. Have any other ideas?

Nalgene has extensive info about BPA and its products on its website here.

I have a friend who carried around a tall glass bottle with drinking water, which I thought was a great idea until it broke. And then there’s the good ole stainless steel thermos, so sturdy and heavy it ought to be a registered weapon…

Saturday, December 15, 2007

O Christmas Tree…and Yellow Jackets

When I lived on the mainland for a while, I once took my family camping at Clear Lake State Park, just north of Calistoga, California. As we were making teriyaki hamburger patties for the grill, yellow jackets suddenly swarmed around us, apparently thrilled with our local-kine grinds. As the swarm grew, the wasps started getting bolder and landing on our food, which was at once frightening and disgusting to say the least. However, the ultimate gross-out was when they started stealing our food – yellow jackets were picking up chunks of meat bigger than themselves and flying off with them!

Not surprising, says Dr. David Foote, ecologist and project leader for USGS Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center, who says that yellow jackets (Vespula pensylvanica) are incredibly strong carnivores and have been seen flying while clutching large caterpillars, one of their favorite foods that they also feed their own larvae back in their nests below ground or near ground in rotting logs. Foote recently gave a fascinating presentation about yellow jackets at the Kinoole Farmers Market, and he offered some helpful tips to gardeners who might encounter them in their backyards.

A non-native species, yellow jackets first appeared in Kauai in 1919. On the Big Island, yellow jackets were probably accidentally introduced in the 1970s through shipments of Christmas trees from the Pacific Northwest. While yellow jackets inhabit most islands, they thrive best in cooler, drier parts of the islands, typically the mesic zones between dryland and rain forests. Despite their formidable sting, yellow jackets can be viewed as a gardener’s friend because they predate on non-native caterpillars that feed upon vegetable crops. Unfortunately, however, yellow jackets don’t discriminate and also eat native caterpillars and picture-wing flies, and they are likely to outcompete our native insectivorous birds and pollinators for food as well. Foote says he is currently monitoring areas where yellow jackets are present in greater numbers, where he expects to find diminishing populations of native moths and butterflies, including the pulelehua, or native Kamehameha butterfly (Vanessa tameamea), possibly due to the aggressive predation by yellow jackets.

To reduce yelllow jacket visits to your backyard you can set traps, either economical homemade ones or the fancier store-bought ones. Foote says that on Oahu, cat food (Figaro brand seafood) is used as bait, but Big Island yellow jackets seem to prefer canned white chicken breast. I like to think that it’s because everybody on the Big Island has good taste, even the insects, but Foote thinks it’s probably because the chicken is lower in fat and stays fresher longer in our humid weather than the cat food.

If you’ve ever been stung by a yellow jacket while working out in the garden, you know it hurts like fire. Though you might not have had anything more than a trivial welt, repeated stingings over a period of time can lead up to a serious allergic reaction one day and possible anaphylactic shock. When I was a child, my younger siblings and I used to enjoy capturing bees with our bare hands. Though I never got stung on the hand, occasionally I accidently stepped on them with my bare luau feet . The last time I got stung, not only did my foot blow up like a dirigible but also my face and ears puffed up. Sound dangerous? You bet. Foote cautions people like me who may be at risk to keep an Epi-Pen on hand. Ask your doctor for a prescription; the medication expires in a year, and it is around $35 per dose, but I’m convinced it is money well-spent to save a life—mine, yours or your gardening buddy’s.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Gifts Suggestions for Hawai’i Gardeners

My friend Julia brought me a pair of poinsettias. "Oh, more container plants," I said. She laughed because she knows, like most other people do, poinsettias are lousy container plants, especially after Christmas. People either stick them in the ground or let them die, because they aren't worth the hassle as potted plants. Still, I like them better than a cut tree, because at least they're rooted and living for a while. If someone could figure out how to crossbreed a Norfolk pine to make it smell nice without making it a GMO, maybe they'd stop shipping in those containers of Douglas Firs and yellow-jackets. But I digress. Pass me the holiday cheer!

Just in case you’re stuck, here are some gift ideas. As always, shop around for the best deals. You still have time to order online, but I'm into shopping small independent local businesses whenever I can. I'm just providing links so that you get the full description of the item. (By the way, I have all of these, so this doesn’t work if I’m on your list. Sorry, family and pals.)

New pair of gloves, or two. Nitrile coated knit gloves are great for light jobs like repotting and propagating cuttings. Thicker rubber coated knit gloves are perfect for the bigger jobs like pruning, turning compost and hoeing. I like Atlas brand that I get in the hardware store, but use whatever feels comfortable for you. Just try not to go without. My 70-year-old gardening buddy grew up on a plantation and never wore gloves and never had a problem, but I’ve heard enough horror stories and had enough unpleasant, ungloved personal experiences to convince me that it’s wiser to wear them while working in the garden. Pruning a finger that had to have stitches wasn’t so bad, but soilborne fungal infection, what can I but say but yeccch. Don’t forget to wash gloves: turn them inside out (gently poke the fingers out with a chopstick), scrub clean in warm, soapy water, rinse and hang them to dry thoroughly in the sun . That’s why you need at least two pairs.

Natural bug repellent. Not for the plants, but for you. One of the nicest discoveries I made this year was Burt Bee’s All Natural Herbal Insect Repellent. It smells lemony and keeps the mosquitoes away while I work in the greenhouse. I photographed Akaka Falls for two hours without a single bite, while everyone else was smacking away at themselves. Neem spray, the kind formulated for your skin not plants, also works well, but to me it smells like nicotine. By the way, SPF 50 sunscreen is also good for gardeners to have on hand. A surfer chick I met in Longs recommended Coppertone Sport because it’s waterproof, lasts a long time and doesn’t sting your eyes. I tested it out, and she’s right, it’s the best thing I’ve found in a drugstore.

Pair of righteous bypass hand pruners. I love my Felco No. 6 for small hands, but the most popular is Felco No. 2. Sure, high-quality pruners cost more, but they last almost forever, and if you prune a lot they're extremely sharp and make quick work, so you might even be able to save yourself from developing a cramp, or worse, carpal tunnel sydrome. Shop around for the best deals! Get a leather holster, too. (I once took a pruning workshop taught by a wiseguy who used an old policeman's holster he found at a flea market, just so he could pretend his pruners were a .38 Magnum. Gardeners really are weird.) Felco also makes models with ergonomic features.

Kickin’ pair of Crocs. Don’t worry, you don’t have to wear your Crocs in public, just in the garden when rubber slippers aren’t enough. Unless you live in Puna. Then you must wear them in public.

Groovy water bottle. Nalgene water bottles, the kind for hiking, are odorless, tasteless and now come in lots of fun, bright colors and styles. Fill with some of your recipient’s favorite seed packets, a Swiss army knife and/or a garden shop gift certificate.

Magnifying glass or loupe. At least 10x power is helpful. Everyone needs one to see the tiny world within the garden up close, especially when looking at plant damage (is it a disease or an insect?) or insects and their allies ( “good guys” or “bad guys”). I bought my folding pocket magnifier when I was taking an entomology class. The instructor ordered a bunch of them from the very cool Bioquip catalog, but shipping rates can be high for Hawaii sometimes.

Nice gardening book. You know what I’m giving this year.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Planting Natives at Kahuku Ranch

This is my favorite kind of gardening. No weeding, no fertilizing, one-time planting and watering, then pau. Mother Nature takes over, and someday, we hope, maybe in 20 years if we’re lucky, we get to see a lush native forest where there was once only pasture.

The Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park Service recruited volunteers from the community to plant 400 native Hawaiian seedlings up at the 4,200-foot level in Ka’u on the Big Island, just a tiny part of the recently acquired Kahuku Ranch. NPS is doing research to find the best techniques for reforestation of pasturelands here. The area is usually closed to the public, and I was fortunate to be a part of a 15-member volunteer crew that was treated to some fantastic scenery for its efforts.

Some koa and ‘ohia are already established, but cattle grazing and mouflon sheep had wiped out the understory of the native forest in this area for many years; only grass covers the ground. Our job was to plant within fenced-in areas that excluded cattle and sheep so that plants had a chance to grow and data could be collected.

Using long-handled dibbles we poked holes in the 'aina and planted keiki of pilo, olapa, ‘akala, and kolea. Some of us had the task of being clouds: I was one who donned one of the watering backpacks to provide a good soak of precious water to each seedling that would thereafter have to depend on the whims of our changing climate. These are actually firefighting backpacks that weigh 45 pounds when full – indeed I made sure to walk extra carefully over the grass-covered 'a'a and hidden lava tubes.

Hunters, ranchers, gatherers, agriculturalists, gardeners, foresters. The history of humans and our connections to the land provides much food for thought at Kahuku Ranch, which is now at the edge of a transformation. The NPS will be holding scoping meetings in the future to get feedback from the community about what the people want to do with these public lands. As for me, after what I experienced today, I’ll be looking forward to the opportunity to express my love of what is truly the natural beauty of Hawai'i.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Growing Local at Hamakua Springs

I joined the Hawaii Island Master Gardeners recently for a tour of Hamakua Springs farms with our gracious and dynamic host, owner Richard Ha. Richard shared his vision of the future of sustainable farming in Hawaii while we were guided through a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at one of the biggest operations of locally grown produce here in the islands.

Interesting facts about Hamakua Springs:
  • Tomatoes are grown hydroponically, with roots growing in coconut coir.
  • Fruit fly trapping is utilized to reduce the need for spraying tomatoes.
  • Bananas are the mainstay of the farm, mostly Williams bananas which must be gassed to ripen.
  • Other hydroponic crops include green onions and watercress.
Richard talked about the reality of peak oil and moving away from petroleum-based agriculture. To that end, he believes that hydro-electricity is one possible way to power his farm in the coming decades.

To support sustainability and to meet the demands of discerning foodies, he is also growing heirloom varieties of tomatoes. Bursting with flavor and delightful to the eye, heirloom varieties are gaining greater popularity with consumers as well as gardeners who prize taste above keepability. Traditionally, heirloom seeds are ones that gardeners save from a good crop to grow the next. Over generations, these plants can become adapted to the conditions where they are grown. Whether Hamakua Springs is seed saving or buying heirlooms, I’m not certain. I personally enjoy saving seeds now and then and sharing them. Learn how to save your own tomato seeds here.

At Hamakua Springs, much of the produce other than bananas is packaged in clear plastic “clamshells." While these are recyclable, their use seems to be counter to reducing dependence on petroleum-based packaging, as one master gardener pointed out. Richard says the demand for this type of packaging comes from the retailers who want longer shelf life.

So, now that you are bringing your own reusable bags to the market – you are, right? – maybe it’s time to take on the next challenge. Shouldn't we be asking retailers to stock produce that uses less packaging? What do you think?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Companion Planting for 'Ono Edibles

Many gardeners believe that certain plants seem to do better if planted with ones that are compatible. We know that the roots of some plants are allellopathic and can release substances that can inhibit the growth of surrounding plants, and in other cases plants might be affected positively instead. It makes sense to take advantage of these natural attributes and use diverse planting schemes instead of monocrops that are more susceptible to being wiped out by a single organism.

I've had great results with companion planting this fall, as you can see in this photo taken in my backyard this week. The middle barrel in the foreground is planted with Roma tomato and Manoa lettuce; the one on the left holds Sweet 100 cherry tomato and Hawaiian chili pepper; the one on the right has a sweet bell pepper and Chinese chives. I also tucked in some marigolds into each barrel, and perhaps that is what is helping to keep the aphids and leaf miners away.

I started these barrels about a year ago with organic potting mix. This is the second crop I'm growing organically in these barrels. Before planting again this time, I used a granular organic fertilizer, mixing it in before planting. I add fish emulsion/kelp extract every couple of weeks to keep it flourishing.

Under the pepper plants I placed a mulch of heavy-duty aluminum foil (see earlier post) which seems to have helped their growth and repel aphids with the reflected light and heat.

I've never seen these plantings look so healthy! Planted in the ground around the barrels are native hibiscus: the white flowered, softly scented kokio ke'o ke'o and pink blossomed akiohala. Native kupukupu fern is also starting to sprout around the base of the barrels.

I'm looking forward to some tasty homegrown salad in the upcoming holiday season, I think. Time to start planning....

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Outta My Gourd for Ipu

As anybody who has tried to grow an ipu knows, it can be a frustrating experience. Ipu is a gourd, the fruit of the pohue vine (Lagenaria siceraria). Fruit flies love to deposit their eggs in ipu, and when the eggs hatch the maggots feed on the fruit. And the adults are merciless – they sting the ipu when the gourd is tiny and still developing from a flower. In addition, the soft, green, slightly hairy skin is easily damaged if the fruit is left to grow on the ground. Shee, no mo chance, eh?

Consequently, many halau gave up trying to grow their own Hawaiian ipu, and in the 20th century it became a common practice to use imported dried ones from California. These days, however, there is increasing interest in growing ipu locally. The newly formed Hawai'i Gourd Society is hoping to encourage more people to grow their own ipu as well as learn the art of Hawaiian ipu decoration.

At the Hawai'i Healing Garden Festival, held on Nov. 3 at Amy Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook, HGS vice president Evie Morby shared her mana’o with me. While skillfully carving a smooth, plump gourd she grew herself, she told me that correctly using fruit fly traps that attract the male fruit flies has been extremely successful in her garden, practically eliminating the need for spraying pesticides.

When Morby first began using the traps, they were full of fruit flies, but over time their numbers diminished significantly. Even her next-door neighbor reported that he was able to harvest tomatoes and cucumbers due to her effective use of fruit fly traps. Morby suggests calling the Hawai'i Department of Agriculture for specific information on which fruit fly traps to use for ipu gourd vines and how to use them. Information is also available online from UH Manoa extension service "Uni-Fly-Versity". Most likely melon fly is the insect attracted to your ipu gourds.

To allow the fruit to hang freely so it develops a desirable shape and escapes damage, Morby uses an arbor-like system using pig iron fencing held up with metal pipe frames typically used for gray tarp canopies. The vines grow along this simple grid structure, forming a leafy green "roof."

Morby explained that it was long thought the ancient Hawaiian method of ipu decoration was all but a lost art, known only on Ni'ihau. However, about 15 years ago Dr. Bruce Ka’imiloa Chrisman rediscovered the technique. Through experimentation he found that instead of using a dried gourd and embellishing it on the outside, the ancient Hawaiians used the fresh gourd and dyed it from the inside. That is, the artist first creates the design by removing the skin with a sharp knife, then cleans out the gourd and pours a plant-based dye into it. The dye seeps through the gourd and colors the outside, but doesn’t penetrate wherever the artist has scratched off the skin. So akamai, yeah?

The Hawaii Gourd Society will be hosting a workshop on Sunday, November 18, at the Honaunau Ipu Farm. The workshop is made possible by the Council of Native Hawaiian Advancement’s Huaka'i program. Read about it here.

Read more about ipu online:

Ipu in Hawaii’s History
How to Grow a Calabash

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Hit Me with Some Psyllid-Free Brix

Cooler weather means those oranges on your tree are building up Brix.

"What, da kine Legos?" you ask.

Actually, it's a fancy term for the measurement of sugar content in fruit. The higher the Brix, the sweeter the fruit. Brix is a big deal for orange juice farmers, who have to grade their products using Brix measurements. Got juice? If you're lucky enough to have an orange tree in your backyard, right about now you're probably getting some pretty good Brix thrown at your tastebuds.

However, there is something new to Hawai'i that could possibly affect our sweet local oranges. Last year the Hawai'i Department of Agriculture found a new alien insect, the Asian Citrus Psyllid, Diaphornia citri Kuwayama. The insect feeds on the young leaves and stems of citrus, resulting stunting and twisting of the shoots and severe curling of the leaves.

In addition, the Asian Citrus Psyllid has been known to infect citrus with something nasty called citrus greening disease, CGD. Citrus greening disease has wiped out citrus groves in Asia, Africa and Brazil. Citrus with CGD develops mottling and yellowing of leaves and deformed, green, bitter-tasting fruit. Goodbye to Brix, and worse, there is no known cure for this disease -- infected trees have to be destroyed. Uck. The good news is that citrus greening disease hasn't been found in Hawaii yet.

And so far, the Asian Citrus Psyllid has been discovered only in East Hawaii Island and Maui. They're small brown insects that tend to like mock orange but go for other citrus too.

Read more about the Asian Citrus Psyllid here.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Chillin’ Out and Learning with Plants

The changing of the seasons is subtle in Hawai’i, but the cooler days are here. The nip in the morning air reminds me of when I worked as a garden teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area. That was when I first had the good fortune to experience the power of plants to bring joy and discovery into challenging educational environments. It’s a time I’ll never forget.

The school I worked at was next to a city housing project. Most of the students lived in high poverty households. There were African American families, recent immigrants from from Spanish-speaking countries, and refugees from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Southeast Asia. The school comprised many religions; students and teachers made up a diverse community of Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, Jewish and various Christian faiths. Out of respect for all traditions, we did not have any activities related to any religious holidays. There were no Christmas cookies, no Easter or Halloween candies, no making of God’s Eyes, mandalas or menorahs. Instead we chose to observe the passing of the seasons in the school garden.

In the fall, the school had a harvest faire. Students saved seeds from hollyhocks that grew tall as the roof and dried out over the summer. First graders designed their own seed envelopes, drawing pictures of hollyhocks on them, writing descriptions of the plant and the contents of the envelope. As they wrestled with tape and scissors to complete the project, they got to practice their fine motor skills. We made up silly songs about hollyhocks, gophers that were munching everything in sight, and what we’d plant later that year.

And the magic that happened at the beginning of the school year was something I saw again and again throughout the year, and in every school garden I’ve been lucky enough to be in since, in the mainland and back home in Hawai’i. The magic is this: Students who can barely focus in a classroom can be fully engaged in learning, on task, optimistic and happy to be at school when they’re working in a garden.

It happens outdoors while digging up onions and earthworms, or when planting huli while ankle-deep in the mud of a lo’i. Young or old, the connection we have with plants restores our very core. Children have the advantage of being closer to the source. I hope you get a chance to chill out in a garden sometime soon.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Cool! Let's Plant Bell Peppers

If you live makai and you already started your bell peppers, you can look forward to harvesting in winter and early spring. There’s still time to take advantage of the cooler weather that promotes better fruiting. Bell peppers don’t always set fruit when temps rise above 90˚ F. If you live up mauka, however, you might need to wait until spring/early summer for ideal growing conditions in your area.

Buy transplants from a nursery, or start bells from seed and transplant them into well-draining, fertile planting media at about 6-8 weeks old. Water daily. Wait about a week after transplanting and then apply weekly a liquid fertilizer—I like fish emulsion/kelp extract. Keep the planting area free from weeds because they tend to attract insects that pass on mosaic disease to peppers. Be on the lookout for aphids, white flies, mites, thrips, leaf miners and pepper weevils.

Insecticidal soap, homemade or store-bought, is effective on soft-bodied insects. Also, try aluminum foil mulch to suppress weeds and repel aphids. The foil reflects light up onto the underside of leaves where aphids like to hang out, and that bums them out. If you have only a few plants you can use heavy duty aluminum foil to cover area around the base of plants, but if you can find it aluminum foil coated paper is usually less expensive if you need a lot. See an example here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Little Fire Ant NIMBY

So, suddenly I had a burst of inspiration to repot all the plants that have been begging for attention for months. It felt good to bust out those cramped roots from their too-tiny shoes. I was building some momentum, as a matter of fact, until I got to a variegated peperomia in a 6-inch plastic pot-- when I pulled it out, inside the pot was a small nest of tiny, slow-moving ants. I carefully placed the plant back into the pot. Glumly I resigned myself to the idea of having to take up some anti-ant artillery. I was sure they were little fire ants.

I sealed the potted plant in a plastic bag and took it to the Hawaii State Department of Agriculture on Lanikaula Street in Hilo. Patrick Conant, biocontrol entomologist, stepped outside with me to open the bag so as not to spread the ants inside the facility, and he brought out his official vial of alcohol and paintbrush to have an official look-see. Fortunately, when the plant was pulled out of the pot this time the ants were running around like ten thousand maniacs -- unlike little fire ants. They were too fast, too little, too yellow, too different, Pat said. Whew. They were tiny yellow house ants, Tapinoma melanocephalum, the smallest ants we have in Hawaii. Pretty common, nothing to get too excited about.

Pat shared some of his mana'o about the little fire ant. They're spreading fast on the Big Island. If you get them, treat the area right away and stay on top of it (ooo! figuratively!) or your neighbors will get them too. (IMPORTANT: DON'T spray or apply anything because then they'll scatter. Call the Dept. of Ag. asap.) The ants don't live only on the ground -- they can go up into trees too, and once they do that they won't come down to eat the bait you put down on the ground. Bad news for pets and birds: little fire ants will attack them and make them go blind and eventually kill them. The coqui problem by comparison seems a mere trifle, solvable by getting accustomed to the noise or using earplugs. However, the little fire ant situation is going to be no picnic for us if it continues to grow, to say the least.

Where can you get info on ID and what is being done to control the little fire ant and other plant pests in Hawaii? The state Department of Agriculture has a Plant Pest Control web page with Pest Advisories/Reports you can download here.

Wake up, my little compost pile

The rain and warmth has brought me a bumper crop of weeds, which I've been harvesting to add to both of my sleeping, cold compost piles. It's time for me to wake them up with a good tossing and turning, I think, because they're starting to grow papayas, 'uala (sweet potatoes), Malabar spinach and tomatoes. I think it's crazy that I actually need to tear all of these out to restart the pile -- there's no extra room for everything in this corner, and yet they're doing so great, naturally. Also, this is the corner of my yard that adjoins my neighbor's coqui condo aka banana patch as ground cover, so I need to cook down these piles before they become a refuge for froggies. Later I'll use the composted material to start a raised bed for more veggies. I'm feeling ambitious today.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Flowering Ti Plant

Isn’t this a pretty ti plant? This one is called ‘Kauai Rose.’ I think I bought it last year from forestry students at a Forest Team fundraiser at Hawaii Community College. People usually treasure ti plants, Cordyline fruticosa, for their colorful and varied foliage, but I love seeing them in bloom. Usually ti plants flower in the spring. However, this one in a terracotta pot on my lanai is blossoming right now in October. The flowers bloom along a branching stem (called a panicle) about a foot long. This variety has delicate pink flowers, but others can have white, lavender or yellow ones.

Ti plants need good drainage and do better with ample water. A balanced fertilizer (1:1:1 ratio) is better for plants in the ground. If you plant it in a container, a slow-release fertilizer higher in nitrogen is best (that’s the first number in the guaranteed analysis on the packaging.)

In container plantings, ti plants work well as the tallest elements in an arrangement. It looks great with a companion of creeping ground cover that will spill over the sides, such as a’e a’e. Or simply cover the potting mix with with a layer of red or black cinder, or smooth, flat river pohaku (stones) -- it not only looks lovely but it helps hold in moisture, too.

UH CTAHR has two excellent free publications, Hawaiian Ti and Ti Plants for Hawaii Landscapes, that you can download here.

Last book signing, Borders Kona, Oct. 7

This is the last book signing for a while. Some people I've met along the route have asked for a talk and/or demo, and if there is enough interest, I'll arrange for one probably at a garden shop or nursery -- bookstores don't really like potting mix and cinder tossed around in their shelves. Leave me a comment if you're interested.

In the meantime, be sure to visit the new Kino'ole Street farmers market on Saturday mornings. The Hawai'i Island Master Gardeners are there to provide info and help you find the answers to your questions. Also, remember that you can call the master gardener volunteers at the Kona Outdoor Circle, on Mondays, 3:30-6:30 pm, 329-7286; in the Hilo Extension office on Tuesdays and Fridays from 9 am to noon, 981-5199; or in the Kona Extension office at on Thursdays from 9 am to noon, 322-4892. I'll list phone numbers for extension offices on the other islands later on my blog; they're also in the resource section at the back of my book.

Saturday, October 6, 2007


Here on the east side of the Big Island, ferns grow in abundance. Some are native, some not.

An indigenous fern that is easy to grow is kupukupu, sword fern, Nephrolepis cordifolia. Kupukupu fronds are more uniform and don't taper as much as non-native species. In our rainy, humid weather they make an excellent ground cover around native hibiscus plantings and hapu'u. They're easy to pull up and transfer to other areas of your yard.

One way to identify it is to see whether the roots have small tubers present. If you have a patch of what might be kupukupu you can pull up a few plants to see if any have tubers on them. You can replant the tubers to make more plants.

I don't spray my yard with herbicides. Everything not welcome to stay gets pulled out by hand or in some cases burned with a propane flamer. So pretty much any plant is welcome to visit and put down roots. But I decide when it's time for them to leave.

This has allowed kupukupu to appear in my yard where it wasn't for a year and a half on the entire property. The previous owner kept this area filled in with blue rock and regularly sprayed it, he being of the neatnik persuasion. Since this area of my yard seems to foster the kupukupu, I use it as a kupukupu nursery. Little by little I'll take plants from here to fill in bare areas in the back of my house, using cinder as a cover to supress weeds until the ferns grow and fill in all of the areas.

Kupukupu is tough, and drought tolerant, so it's a good filler in container plantings, too.

Friday, October 5, 2007

'Uki 'uki

My garden was previously landscaped in a typical Hilo Japanese style, but slowly I've been substituting native plants for the usual exotics. Though I like walking iris, I wanted to transition to something native and replaced it with native 'uki'uki, and it is doing extremely well. This planting is only 3 years old and doing extremely well in a partially shaded location next to a rock wall. It produces copious berries which I've shared with a student learning to make kapa -- 'uki'uki berries produce a blue dye which has been used traditionally. I've seen a beautiful piece of mamaki kapa with patterns in grey-blue 'uki'uki dye at the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

'Uki'uki, Dianella sandwicensis, is in the Lily family. It's easy to grow and virtually pest free as a grouping under trees. It also makes a great container plant. Try it in a hypertufa one you make yourself.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Book Signings: Borders Hilo, Sat. Oct. 6 @ 2pm; Borders Kona, Sun. Oct. 7 @ 12 pm

Two more book signing dates are coming up. Then I can get back to weeding. Or fixing my greenhouse. Maybe I'll just make some iced jasmine tea.

Check out what Keaau artist Patti Datlof planted in her lava-like pot at right. You can see other work she and Karen Hagen do on page 80 of my book. I've also seen their pieces at Grove Gallery in downtown Hilo, at plant sales and art fairs. Gorgeous!

Thanks for supporting local business!

Nice lei, yeah? Christine Reed of Basically Books welcomed me to my book signing with this spectacular orchid lei.

If you were able to make it, you braved the rain and traffic barriers to downtown in preparation of tonight's Ho'olaule'a -- you are pals in deed! Thanks so much!

Christine asked if I'd come back for the holiday season, so that may be in future plans.

It was great to talk story with Hilo folks and a few newcomers, too.

If you didn't make it and still want a signed copy, Basically Books has some still available in store.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Book Signing @ Basically Books, Sat. 9/29, 12 pm

Hope you'll come by Basically Books on Saturday 9/29 from 12-1 pm. I'll be signing books in permanent pen, which is still an oddly wicked feeling to my inner librarian.

Before I forget, though, I must remind you that is the day of the Aloha Week Ho'olaulea in downtown Hilo. Though the festivities don't start until that evening, the roads are blocked off from early morning. So if you're coming to Basically Books that day, your best bet for parking is on Waianuenue Ave., or the municipal parking lot, or street parking thereabouts -- it's only a block away.

The mornings are getting cooler.

Now that it isn't as hot and humid when I first open my eyes, I'm actually eager to weed some patches I've subjected to benign neglect while getting my daughter off to college and son into a new school.

There's something deeply satisfying about clearing away the tall grasses invading a corner planted with native Hawaiian hapu'u (tree fern), kupukupu (sword fern), 'ohia lehua. For my efforts I was treated to a pleasant surprise: the deep green glossy foliage of a handsome naio had begun to wind up and around a hapu'u, hugging it like an old friend, offering hundreds of white berries with seeds to replant. I discovered I had orchids and a "Kaumana" anthurium in bloom, too. I'd like to think I'm doing the world a favor, but things grow in spite of my "help," it seems.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Hi there, plant geeks.

I've decided to join the blogosphere. (Yes, I'm in the throes of the dreaded book promotion period.)

After a year of intense craziness, Container Gardening in Hawai'i: How to Grow Paradise in a Pot is now finally published by Mutual Publishing and available from local booksellers and online retailers. And it seems to be getting off to a good start, thanks to everyone's support.

I've just returned from a book signing tour of Oahu, during which I was able to do some fun plant activities.

Heidi Bornhorst, author of "Growing Native Hawaiian Plants" and writer for the Honolulu Advertiser, showed me around the gorgeous landscaping at the Hale Koa Hotel, where she is the landscape director. We stopped by an auspicious tree, a symbol of peace grown from a cutting from the giant Bodhi tree in Foster Botanical Garden. This Bodhi tree was planted in memorium of Christine Snyder, who was lost on 9/11/01. Christine was an arborist who also worked for the Outdoor Circle and was Heidi's dear friend.

The next day we went to Foster Botanical Garden, where Heidi had been the director for many years. There was a special event to celebrate the birthday of Mary Foster who bequeathed the garden to the city in 1930. We paused to honor the enormous Bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa) at the entrance, which Mary Foster had brought back from India as a piece of the original Bodhi tree the Buddha sat under when he attained enlightenment.

There was a plant sale with native Hawaiian plants, unusual ti plants, and new variety of plumeria called, what else, "Mary Foster" -- with stunning bright pink blossoms.

(Heidi told me that Foster Botanical Garden holds a big plant sale in December each year, in case you happen to be there then.)

Remember, if you bring plants from Oahu to the Big Island you must have them inspected by the Hawaii State Department of Agriculture. Inspectors aren't always at the gates, only if there are incoming mainland flights, so in case you're flying when they aren't there you must go to their office on the Ewa service road between the interisland arrivals on the first floor. If your plant passes inspection, it is given an official sticker which allows you to bring it on the plane.

And of course, DO NOT bring home anything that shows the slightest bit potential for being invasive. This past weekend I brought home a native Hawaiian 'I'i fern that Kay Lynch of La'au Hawai'i, a grower specializing in native ferns, was presenting at the Foster Botanical Garden.

It's good to be back on the Big Island!