Monday, December 22, 2008

Koa in the Mist

This past weekend I spent a frosty Hawaiian winter solstice with the Moku Loa chapter of Sierra Club while on an overnight camping trip at Keanakolu cabins along historic Mana Road on the slopes Mauna Kea. By night there were clear skies filled with billions of stars and a bright mohalu crescent moon; by day, several trails yielded endless opportunities to explore the native flora of the cloud forest.

The dominant tree in this area is the majestic koa (Acacia koa), and in these old-growth forests the trees are over a hundred feet high. As you can see in the above photo, many have developed into the twisted wild forms that make bonsai practitioners shiver and sigh with delight.

Abundant and perhaps apropos for the Christmas season was native Hawaiian mistletoe, hulumoa, an unusual, primitive-looking parasitic plant that lives on koa.

Many a suburban gardener would love to plant a koa tree in the backyard, however, seeing these specimens in the cool, misty upland pastures reminded me that dwarf koa, or koai’a, is probably a better choice for our human-inhabited, drier lowland landscapes.

Koai’a (Acacia koaia) looks like koa but has longer seed pods and a lower, more rounded shape only 15 to 25 feet high; it does well in hot, dry areas. Koa roots tend to send out suckers, but koai’a grows more slowly and is not as aggressive. Unlike regular koa, koai’a is drought tolerant and can tolerate a fair amount of wind and salt.

Note how the crescent-shaped koa "leaves" (actually phyllodes) compare with the pink feather-like leaves of nonnative eucalyptus – quite a difference.

Recently I was impressed with some striking specimens of koai’a in the Waimea Nature Center, a native garden maintained by the community and the Waimea Outdoor Circle. These plantings are an excellent example of how to utilize the distinctive look of koa in residential yards and landscaped areas intended for public recreation.

On the internet, there’s lots of info on growing koa and koai’a.

If you’d like an overview on what the University of Hawaii is doing to save our native forests, click here.

To learn how to propagate koa, click here.

Also, here’s a few superb books to consult:

Growing Koa: A Hawaiian Legacy Tree, by Craig Elevitch and Kim Wilkinson

Growing Native Hawaiian Plants, by Heidi Leianuenue Bornhorst

Monday, December 1, 2008

Lyon in Winter

In the holiday spirit, here's a lovely poinsettia for you -- actually, it's a relative, a double chaconia, Warszewiczia coccinea. Read about this botanical gem, and the other amazing things flourishing at the Lyon Arboretum in Manoa Valley, O'ahu, in my article in the December '08/January '09 issue of Hana Hou! magazine (in-flight publication for Hawaiian Air). If you don't plan on flying in the next two months, you can read it online -- click here.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cool Weather Crops, Hawai'i Style

Of course it’s warm year round here, but now on some days there’s actually a nip in the air in the very early mornings here on the Big Island, which reminds me that cool weather crops are starting to develop sweeter flavor. Swiss chard is getting tastier, for example. My friend Carol likes to grow Swiss chard in a big plastic container that’s set upon one that’s turned upside down. This keeps the plants off the ground, away from snails and slugs and at a workable height.

More on cold weather crops later. Right now, a botanical conundrum.

Why is Swiss chard called Swiss? Is there such thing as Hawaiian chard?

And what is chard, exactly?

Since gratuitous slacker googling is now good for your brain, I felt justified in wasting part of a Sunday researching this heretofore superfluous plant-geek question. As it turns out, there’s more than one explanation floating around in cyberspace.

Wikipedia claims Swiss chard was named that by a 19th century seed company that wanted to distinguish it from French charde or chardon, a spinach. Swiss chard didn’t actually originate in Switzerland, but in Sicily. That’s right, it’s Sicily chard. So I guess if you were growing it in Hawai'i, you could call it Hawaiian chard, though maybe you’d have to serve it squid lu'au style to get away with it.

However, this theory just brings up more questions. Did the seed company anticipate some negative marketing issues associated with that southern Italy region? Did it therefore do some 19th century style marketing and rebrand the chard as Swiss to give it wider appeal among European tastes?

One google leads to more, and pretty soon dinner is late. Again.

Oh, and here’s also why more googling can be bad for your brain. One website claims Swiss chard is called that because the botanist who gave the plant its scientific name, Beta vulgaris Linnaeus subsp. cicla, is Swiss. Sorry, but I’d bet my meatballs that this was written by someone who flunked Botany 101. Carl Linnaeus, the famed father of modern taxonomy, Mr. Genus species himself, is Swedish.

Cool Weather Vegetables and Fruits

Snow Peas
Bell Pepper
Cole crops: broccoli, cauliflower, kale

Also, don’t forget Citrus – cool nights make better fruit.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Pia in Haupia

I don’t often see pia growing in home gardens. However, I was able to obtain some tubers of this relative of the bat flower at the seed exchange at Amy Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Kona earlier this year, and I’m pleasantly surprised by its unusual inflorescence and how easy it is to grow.

Pia (Tacca leontopetaloides, Polynesian arrowroot) is a “canoe plant,” brought here by the first Polynesians who sailed to these islands. I’ve been told that if you go through the trouble of preparing them correctly, pia tubers can be made into a dried starch and used as a thickener that is more nutritious than cornstarch. According to Isabella Aiona Abbott’s La'au Hawai'i, the tubers have to be carefully processed: First grated, then soaked and rinsed many times until all trace of bitterness is completely gone, then strained through the fibers of 'ahu'awa. “The resulting starch was then shaped into cakes and dried in the sun,” writes Abbott.

Whew. I get exhausted just thinking about all that work, so for now I just like looking at my pia, which is planted in a raised bed next to some young kalo from Waipi'o. Still, I’m curious about the potential nutritional payoff.

Traditionally, dried pia starch was mixed with water or coconut cream and baked in an imu. Haupia, the melt-in-your-mouth sweet coconut dessert, is thickened with cornstarch but no doubt has its origins in the healthy Hawaiian diet that included pia.

For a great haupia recipe and more explanation, click here.

And of course, pia was also used in traditional Hawaiian medicine.

For more ethnobotanical info on pia, click here.

If you’re experienced in making pia starch or have info on any scientific documentation of its nutritional value, I’d love to hear about it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Community of Sustainable Gardening

This past weekend was packed with things to do on the Big Island, including the first E Malama ‘Aina sustainability festival in downtown Hilo. Visitors swarmed the Hawaii Island Master Gardeners booth, picking up free seedlings of edibles such as tomato, eggplant, sweet basil and jicama, and buying locally grown UH seeds for dirt-cheap. A display on sheet mulch “lasagne gardening” showed how to make rich soil to enable growing a garden atop solid lava rock, and I was there with container gardening displays of a hypertufa pot, herbs and a hanging cucumber grown by master gardeners.

What got the biggest response was the simple yet effective fruit fly traps made of empty soda bottles baited with pheromone – flies fly in, and they never check out! It was great to see so much interest in easy organic gardening methods.

If you didn’t get to the festival, you can still call the HIMGA helpline at (808) 981-5199 if you would like more info on fruit fly trapping and to purchase a fruit fly trap kit.

Here’s a short video on some of the happenings at the festival, courtesy Big Island Video News.

Hui Malama Ola Na ‘Oiwi was also there with info on their excellent Mai Ka Mala’ai program, a 10-week educational program for Native Hawaiians with diabetes to encourage healthy steps toward managing the condition. The program teaches clients how to grow fresh vegetables in small, easy-to-maintain raised box gardens and containers. They also provide a health support team: nutritionist, community health educator, fitness trainer, outreach workers, pharmacist, dentist, podiatrist and other professionals.

“In the beginning of the class, everyone is shy and quiet. But then as they learn, share, and start working in their gardens, they all start to bond,” says Edna Baldado of Hui Malama Ola Na ‘Oiwi. “ By the end of the 10 weeks, everyone can’t stop talking – no one wants to leave!”

If you are Native Hawaiian and interested in participating in the Mai Ka Mala’ai program to learn to grow your own health-sustaining garden, call the Hilo main office of Hui Malama Ola Na ‘Oiwi at (808) 969-9220.

Here's another video from the festival. Guess who's talking about the Master Gardener helpline about the 2:42 mark.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Roselle, My Cup of Zing

I’m a big fan of hibiscus. We always had them in our yard when I was growing up in the islands. In the morning I’d look for a bud just about to bloom and I'd take it to school to give it to my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Chang. Throughout the school day I’d watch the bud slowly, slowly unfold, until it was a huge red blossom worthy of the Kodak Hula Show when the final bell rang and it was time to go home. I never saw her do it, but of course she tossed the spent blossom before she headed home, since the flower lasts only a day. Who knows, it probably even made my teacher a little more forgiving of my transgressions, too.

Now I grow several native and introduced hibiscus in my backyard, and this year I added an edible one called Roselle, Hibiscus sabdariffa. A fellow gardener gave me some seeds in the spring, and to my surprise they actually germinated and grew into something quite spectacular and delightful this fall.

Like other hibiscus, this robust shrub is easy to grow. Its lovely pale blossoms tinged with pink are a favorite of those big black carpenter bees, but I don’t mind sharing. I’m after only the calyx, which makes a delicious tea – it’s the main ingredient in the Red Zinger you buy in the store, and it’s used in favorite beverages all over the world. Check out its other uses here.

To make tea, break up a few calyxes (discard the seed capsule), bruise up them up a little, add boiling water and let steep 5- 8 minutes. You can add sweetener, but I like it as it is just as well. So 'ono with some of my
honey-sweet Navel oranges that I share with friends and family.

To make roselle sauce, put clean calyxes in a pan with enough water to cover and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes, then add sweetener to taste. Cool and serve with your favorite dessert – ice cream, cheesecake…oooh.

What We Take For Granted

First, let me say that these are Okinawan oranges, and no, this isn’t my backyard.

There’s a lot of talk about sustainability these days, and once in a while I hear someone say sustainability is a buzzword. That’s like saying sleeping is popular.

For many concerned, pro-active citizens, sustainability is a way of behaving, a way of thinking responsibly. But it also appears it’s a way for some enterprises to wear a nice and fuzzy cloak of trendy ideas while riding a potentially profitable bandwagon.

So here’s an opportunity to put on your critical thinking cap. This weekend you can check out the 'E Malama 'Aina sustainability festival on Saturday, November 8, 8 am to 3 pm, in downtown Hilo’s Mo'oheau Park. Cruise the booths, get ideas, and see what is being proposed in your community.

I’ll be there with the Hawaii Island Master Gardeners who will have info on fruit fly trapping, sheet mulch “lasagne” gardening, growing edibles in containers, of course, seeds and more. Stop by and talk story little bit. Here’s a link to the website of ‘E Malama ‘Aina Festival.

By the way, don’t let your bumper crop fall and rot. That attracts fruit flies. Harvest your bounty and share it with friends – kindergarteners tell me that’s a great way to make new ones, too.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Hawaii Island School Garden Network

Fill in the blank:

Kids nowadays ___________.

If you answered “like to plug themselves in and play indoors,” then you obviously remember a time when it was cool to play outside, where the wild things are.

In my coastal neighborhood in suburban O’ahu, my mom planted green onions next to the pomegranate bush while I lifted rocks and played with sow bugs and earthworms. I watched sassy red cardinals swoop in and peck out snacks from our brilliant yellow sunflowers growing all in a row taller than our clothesline. I chased hapless termites and geckos on hot summer nights, sucked on oranges grown at sea level that stayed green but were sweet nonetheless.

That seems like eons ago, yet the memories remain indelible. I remember the warmth of the sun and salty ocean breezes, the sweet-tartness of the lemonade I made and sold in the front yard for 3 cents a glass, the buzz of honeybees circling around the dazzling magenta portulaca along the sidewalk in front of our house. Why are these images so vivid in my mind’s eye even now?

Children experience the natural world in a very direct way; unlike most adults, their sense of wonder and appreciation of the beauty of nature is still intact. Young minds are not jaded or cynical, young bodies do not ignore the sensations of everyday phenomena the way that desensitized adults’ do.

At the Hamakua Alive! Festival at Pauuilo School, I had the wonderful opportunity to chat with Koh Ming Wei, director/educator of the Hawaii Sustainable Eduation Initiative, a Waldorf-based program in Honoka'a, and HSEI student Serafima Carlson, age 11. Serafima presented me with bookmarker she decorated with her own scientific drawing of the life cycle of a butterfly, and then proceeded to explain the different herbs she had potted up and offered for sale. Meanwhile, another student practiced his math, counting up cash and figuring out the profits for the day. Whoever thinks gardening with kids is only an opportunity for socialization has some serious waking up to do.

Nancy Redfeather, program director of the Kohala Center's island-wide Hawai'i Island School Garden Network, was also at the festival with luscious produce from a one-acre market farm being worked by twelve high school students from Kohala. These youth are learning skills to make a living and gaining self-confidence through real-life, hands-on experiences. This is but a glimpse of the beauty and magic that is evolving here with kids and gardens, and it makes me proud of the spirit and energy of those involved: students, teachers, farmers, activists, and all other deeply concerned citizens of our community.

For more information on the Hawaii Island School Garden Network, contact Nancy Redfeather at the Kohala Center.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Got Genki Balls?

Last week Hawaii Island Master Gardeners attended a presentation at Kea’au on EM-1, Dr. Teruo Higa’s Original Effective Organisms, a patented product.

I know what you’re thinking. We have all the fun.

Tim Lloyd, Hawaii Island distributor of EM-1 Microbial Inoculant, showed how to mix wheat bran and EM-1 activated with molasses to make Bokashi. This mix is added to kitchen scraps in a 5 gallon bucket, for example, to make an intensive, odorless composting system that is completely food-grade safe. Seems like a very convenient way to compost for apartment dwellers, too.

That’s just one way to use EM-1. Close your eyes and make a wish.

Now read this partial list of what it does:

  • Intensifies composting
  • Can be used with worm composting
  • Can be used with chemical fertilizer – reduces amount needed
  • Prepares garden beds with no-till/weed prevention method
  • Improves health of plants
  • Clears ponds and water features
  • Neutralizes odors from animal waste
  • Eliminates cat litter box odor!
  • Spray on your dog to improve health, deodorize (yes, even Labs)
  • Improves the efficiency of your septic tank – pour down the drain

What’s in EM-1? Active cultures of microorganisms: Lactobacillus sp. (the kind in yogurt) Bacillus sp., and actinomycetes, (which aid in winemaking) plus a tiny bit of molasses. One activates the EM-1 by adding molasses or sugar and dilutes according to recommended ratios.

EM-1 is food-grade safe; you can drink it, though it won’t make you give up Starbucks. You don’t need to wear protective equipment while spraying EM-1.

Okay, all this sounds too good to be true. However, this formulation has been around for 30 years and proponents say there’s plenty of documented scientific evidence that it works. So, I’ll be trying it out over the next 6 months and letting you know my experiences. If you try it out yourself, let me know your results, too.

Oh yes, and Genki Balls. That’s Bokashi mixed with clay and formed into balls. These are being used to remediate sludge and slime in lakes in Japan -- just toss 'em in, and they disintegrate and get to work. One ball can clear a 6-foot radius. Now, that’s really genki.

EM-1 is available on the Big Island from Tim Lloyd at, (808) 937-9874. Here a link on some more info from EM Hawaii, with contact info for other islands.

Plant Bloggers Have Feelings Too

Warning: This will probably be of no help to you at all.

Are your plants trying to tell you something? Maybe you should let them blog.

Blogging is so darn easy, a potted plant can do it. In fact, one sitting in a doburi cafĂ© in Tokyo is doing it right now as you are reading this -- check it out here. It’s a Hoya kerrii, not to be confused with hara kiri, or Hello Kitty. (It's actually from Thailand, common name Heart-leaf hoya.)

This hoya has the help of a scientist who stuck probes in the soil to record data that’s translated by algorithms into Japanese blogospeak. Personally, I prefer using my keyboard instead of probes.

Here's an explanation in English.

I don’t think this is sustainable in any way yet. Unless the restaurant is bokashi-ing.

"Today was a sunny day and I was able to sunbathe a lot... I had quite a bit of fun today,” says Midori-san the Potted Plant. Or: "It was cloudy today. It was a cold day."

So you think this potted plant’s blog is better than mine? Yeah, well, just wait until I learn how to photosynthesize.

Hawaii connection: My friend Carol, who’s a professional hoya grower – she exports them from her Aloha Hoya nursery in Puna – would probably tell you that even though hoyas seem to have minds of their own they really can’t write. (But don’t tell them that, they’re very fussy and take offense at everything – shhh.) Hers climb up palm trees and blossom wherever and whenever they feel like it, even though she is an amazing hoya whisperer – take a look at this red beauty I saw at her place last week.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Hala, aka Screw Pine

“Are those pineapples on that tree?”

No, you say gently, mentally forgiving the bewildered tourist before proceeding to tell him that the native Hawaiian hala tree (Pandanus tectorius) has many important cultural uses, but festooning a ham with its pineapple look-alike fruit isn’t one of them. Although the hala fruit was indeed eaten in times of famine in Hawai'i, the edible part wasn't considered all that tasty.

Hala is popular as a native landscaping tree for good reasons. It adds a tropical touch to your landscape -- the distinctive prop roots add to the visual interest -- and it makes a handsome shade, accent or a specimen tree. It does well below 2,000 feet elevation; it's relatively easy to propagate and stands tough against salt and wind exposure. Hala can grow quite big – 10 to 30 feet, with a spreading habit up to 40 feet wide – so if you do plant it, give it plenty of space.

Since ancient times, Puna, Hawai'i, has been famous for its dense forests of hala that fill the air with the perfume of blossoms and ripe fruit. There the native 'ekaha (Bird’s Nest Fern) grow to giant specimens on many branches of towering hala trees – quite an impressive sight, as you can see in this photo taken off Old Government Road on the way to Kapoho.

As a child I saw hala trees in my coastal neighborhood but I didn’t really know much about them other than that I needed to stay away from the leaves, which have some nasty spines on the edges. However, this past weekend I had a wonderful experience learning about the many valuable attributes of hala from Aha Puhala o Puna, a lau hala weaving club in Puna that generously shares its mana'o (ideas) with the community.

Club members guided beginners – more than 40 of us – through the process of cleaning, de-thorning, softening, and stripping the leaves so that they could be woven into a variety of simple items such as bracelets, slippers, even Christmas ornaments. I knew I’d be all thumbs at weaving, but nonetheless I’m so proud of the fan I made – suitable for taking to Merrie Monarch, don’t you think?

The fibrous sections -- “keys” -- of the fruit are made into lei that traditionally symbolize transformation; a good friend gave me one because she knew of some big changes that occurred recently in my life. The fruit slowly changes from orangey to grey-brown and hardens – a reminder that Hawaiian wisdom is born of the observation of nature.

And, just in case, here’s one more reason to plant hala. There’s the old Hawaiian magic of using the pollen from the male flower as an aphrodisiac – you’re supposed to dust your intended lover with it. At the very least it will get his or her attention. Just in case.

Friday, September 26, 2008


The Hawaii Bamboo Society held their annual festival at the Papa'ikou Hongwanji, giving the public an educational look at the many uses of bamboo. This sustainable, eco-friendly plant can be grown not just for ornamental purposes, but also timber, screen, fencing, flooring, textiles, musical instruments, food…and the list goes on. HBS members are ardent in extolling the virtues of bamboo -- some seem to even express a devotion that’s akin to a spiritual awakening.

HBS president Lennart Lundstrom says as transportation costs rise, local bamboo plantations could provide alternative building materials for affordable housing and furniture, if approved by the county. Currently the only permitted bamboo housing construction are prefab homes that are made in Vietnam and shipped to Hawai'i. HBS hopes to encourage the public to learn more about bamboo and stimulate interest in it as a renewable local resource.

Of course, the festival was an opportunity for enthusiasts to add to their collections, with many non-invasive, clumping bamboo varieties on sale from Gaia Yoga Nursery.

Hawai'i Bamboo Society meets on Hawaii Island every 3rd Sunday of the month.

Sandalwood Guy

You might forget his name, but you won’t forget his mission. “Every plant makes a difference in absorbing carbon,” says Mark Hanson, who once went to Washington, D. C., to give 5,000 oak trees and 110 cherry trees to every member of U.S. Congress.

Mark is perhaps better known locally as Hawai'i’s ambassador and passionate advocate of native Hawaiian sandalwood. Some might say he’s blessed with an obsession -- great for our native ecosystems when you consider the tree hasn’t had much help since the sandalwood trade nearly wiped it out completely in the 1800s. Native Hawaiian sandalwood isn’t endangered; there are still some stands hidden in mauka forests, but in the inhabited lowlands native sandalwood is a rarity, and native plant enthusiasts consider it quite a triumph when they’re able to grow a tree to a substantial size.

The problem, says Mark, is that native sandalwood is adapted to native soil, which doesn’t really exist in the lowlands any more due to human activities such as agriculture and building construction. Thus, to grow sandalwood successfully you have to baby it a little, as though it were an exotic fruit tree, he says. Pour on the TLC and you too may one day have boasting rights to your very own Hawaiian sandalwood tree in your backyard.

Mark was selling sandalwood seedlings at the Maku'u Farmers Market last week. With proper care these seedlings would be ready for planting in ground in another 4 months.

Mark’s down-and-dirty tips for planting out Hawaiian sandalwood seedlings:

  • Keep the pH at 6.5 to 7.
  • Plant it with chelated iron – just a pinch of Growganic 40% or Ironite.
  • Keep grasses away, which tend to choke out sandalwood seedlings.
  • Add pH balanced topsoil to the planting hole.
  • Cut back on cinder but make sure soil drains well and contain compost.
  • Sandalwood is sort of a parasitic plant, so plant it with "helper" plants. A'e a'e, a native groundcover, is an excellent companion. Also good is 'ala 'ala wai nui, and native shrubs such as 'akia, a'ali'i and aweoweo. Similar non-native plants work just as well, too.

Mark’s latest exciting project is an “Ecodome” made from cement, volcanic cinder, blue rock, and barbed wire. It’s the first green permitted residence ever in Hawai'i County. From the looks of it, maybe Luke Skywalker really does live in Puna. Cool.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Varroa Bee Mite

Here’s an inspiring sight from a hike last year: a non-native honeybee pollinating native ko'oko'olau flowers along Chain of Craters Road in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. Makes me ponder the roles of honeybees in our native ecosystems and how they will be impacted by the recent arrival of the varroa bee mite.

Until recently, Hawai'i and Australia were the last places in the world that were still free of the varroa mite, which feeds only on honeybees and destroys entire colonies. However, the varroa mite is now widespread on O'ahu, and last month the Hawai'i Department of Agriculture recorded the first sightings on Hawai'i Island. So far there’s been no detection on Maui, Kaua'i and Moloka'i.

A varroa mite is very tiny, only 1-1.5 mm, but magnified under a hand lens it sort of looks like some weird Pokeman character, a freaky, hairy, flattened reddish-brown jelly bean with legs. Small populations have been discovered on feral bees in the Hilo area in five locations, according to Clayton Nagata, plant quarantine inspector with the HDOA. At the Kino'ole Farmers Market this weekend, Nagata talked to the public about the HDOA’s efforts to control the spread of the varroa mite. They're using swarm traps made from pressed paper pots baited with beeswax and pheromone. So far there are 150 traps placed within a one-mile radius of where the mites were first found near the Hilo Airport.

Some locations where the varroa mite has appeared:

  • Near Hilo Airport, by Verna’s plate lunch stand and Hilo Seaside Hotel
  • Banyan Golf Course
  • Along Kamehameha Avenue, near Suisan
  • Near the Waiakea Fire Station, old refueling depot in Keaukaha

Only 8 to 12 individual varroa mites have appeared in each wild colony. If the Big Island becomes heavily infested it could be devastating for local beekeepers and fruit growers who depend on these important pollinators. A reduced bee population means local farmers and gardeners would see poor yields and low quality produce. In addition, the varroa mite is bad news for the local industry in Kona that raises millions of queen bees for export to agricultural ventures worldwide; the cost of buying honeybees to release in nurseries would most certainly increase. And what will be the impact on the cost of food?

If you are reading this and you are a honeybee, stay away from airports. The HDOA is trying to establish a honeybee-free zone around airports, and unfortunately, to find out if a hive is infested with the mite the HDOA has to kill the entire colony. The HDOA doesn’t know to what extent the varroa mite has spread on the Big Island.

There is a way to partially eliminate the mite from a commercial hive by using a sticky tape with a miticide; it touches the bees and kills the mites, but this doesn’t help our producers of organic honey.

If you see honeybees or beekeeping equipment being moved between islands, or on the slim chance you are one of the few sharp-eyed gardeners who like seeing bees up close and personal (certainly not me, I’m allergic) and you see what you think is a varroa mite, contact the HDOA at (808) 643-PEST (7378).

Learn more about the varroa mite from the HDOA website here and here. Download a HDOA PDF publication on the varroa mite here.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Sustainability at 3500 Feet

When it comes to experimentation with native plants in gardening, Bonnie Goddell, proprietor of Volcano Guest House, is enthusiastic and fearless. Around the perimeter of her huge duck pond in Volcano at 3500 feet she has planted native Hawaiian plants normally seen only at sea level wetlands, and they’re thriving suprisingly well.

'Ae 'ae, (Bacopa monnieri) or water hyssop, an indigenous Hawaiian plant also used in Ayurvedic medicine, is spreading along the edges of the pond, as is makaloa, 'uki'uki and other native sedges.

The pond and landscaping around it are only about a year old, but it looks like it’s off to a great start. Bonnie’s goal is to create an eco-friendly, agriculturally productive aqua-farm – it’s stocked with tilapia and koi, and yes, the ducks are for consumption.

The biggest surprise was a native sedge I'd never seen before. It looks like a giant green onion, and Bonnie says it's quite aggressive around her pond, so much so she’s had to cut it back several times. It's a very handsome specimen indeed, and I'm wondering how it would do in other island water gardens.

I could be wrong, but I don't think these lowland wetland natives naturally occur at this elevation. It will be interesting to see how they perform in a manmade system within the surrounding mauka native rainforest ecosystems. So far it's quite impressive.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Lichen Limerick

Plant geek poetry, courtesy of Honopua Farm.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Whee-ha, Waimea

I always pick up lots of tips and ideas at farmers markets, so I couldn’t resist stopping by the Hawaiian Homestead one in Waimea. Growers here take advantage of cooler upland conditions to raise all kinds of ornamentals and edibles that lowlanders like me only dream of, so I knew I’d be in for a real adventure on this unscheduled side trip on the way to Kona.

Tootsie Weller of the Burdon family is the guiding force behind Ainahua Florals, a family-run business on Hawaiian Homestead farm lots in Waimea. Their artful, Hawaii-style flower arrangements are mainly composed of locally grown flowers. I couldn’t believe the freshness of the plant material and the creative combinations of bright colors and complementary textures. Pure eye candy!

A few booths down I was allured by the scent of lavender at the booth of Ken and Roen Hufford of Honopua Farm. “Look at your feet,” said the amiable fellow there, greeting me with a big, easy smile. “You’re stepping on it.” Sure enough, a layer of lavender cuttings lay on the ground beneath my sandals, the leaves blackened from being trodden on all day by a steady stream of patrons. “That’s our herbal chum – or herbal palu, as we call it in Hawai’i. Draws in the big fish,” he said, revealing one of the tricks of their trade. As if that weren’t enough, he brought out a sample of their pikake essence body mist with coconut oil base and sprayed a cooling shower around my neck. “It’s like wearing a pikake lei,” he declared. Of course, right then I was hooked – I convinced myself I couldn’t live without this heady indulgence and bought a bottle for $15.

Roen Hufford sat behind the tables laden with organic greens and other enticing comestibles. She told me her family has been growing organically and selling at the Hawaiian Homestead market for an impressive 16 years. The mild pink radishes they were selling on this day were a bonus crop of Asian radish called Hong Vit, which they grew mainly for the young tender greens because the leaves aren’t hairy like other radishes and they add a delightful spiciness to the Honopua Farm salad mix.

Right about now you might be stewing some lowlander envy of the kinds of plants upland gardeners of Waimea can grow. If it's any consolation, Roen told me a grower from Kea'au had packed up early that day because he had sold out of everything he brought, all the things that he can grow but Waimea people can't, like anthuriums and papayas.

Heading back to my car I saw some preserves from Eko Farm that looked quite yummy...

...and then I had a close encounter of the botanical kind – the kind made out of pantyhose, moss, and grass seed, and a really out-there puffy paint job. Take some of these babies home, add water, and in a few days you have an attack of the turf people of Waimea. Scary or tasty? You and your kitty can decide.