Saturday, March 1, 2008

Organic Ornamentals

It was that time again. The Big Island Association of Nurserymen holds a huge annual plant sale at Edith Kanakaole Stadium in Hilo to raise money for their scholarship fund for University of Hawaii at Hilo agriculture students, and this year’s event was held this past weekend. Plantophiles swarmed into the stadium on the first evening like Chinese rose beetles descending on a veritable feast for the gardening soul. There’s always something new and interesting at the plant sale, and it’s just fun to schmooze with plant people, see what the popular items are and say hi to friends and neighbors. For example, nurseryman Christopher Lichty of Pacific Orchid Farms drew a crowd of kama'aina anthurium collectors who came to talk story and pick up a few more varieties.

“Keep your hands in your pockets,” my wiser, frugal friend warned me at the door, to no avail. As usual, I brought out the folding green for the growing green. (At least it wasn’t Benjamins.)

Schaffer Family Farm of Glenwood, near Volcano, was also there with their organically grown ornamental plants. Organically grown food farms are booming across the nation, and organically grown ornamental plants are the next niche market ready to blossom, say some nursery industry experts. Schaffer Family Farm uses organic fertilizers and mulch harvested locally on the Big Island.

For fertilizer the Schaffers use chicken manure collected from an egg farm below Waimea, which unfortunately, is closing this year due to high operating costs, much to the chagrin of locavores. Nick Schaffer told me his family uses “beach mulch” collected near the mouth of the Wailuku River at Hilo bayfront – they wash it for about 20 minutes to remove excess salts. A bucket of the stuff looks like clean, dark leaf mold, and Schaffer says that he had it tested years ago by the National Resource Conservation Service and it was found to be especially high in phosphorus, as well as having good amounts of potassium and nitrogen.

“Plants love the stuff,” says Schaffer. This bush lily, Clivia nobilis, seems to concur. Hopefully, we will see Hawai’i nurseries experimenting more with locally available materials as demand increases for organic, sustainably produced ornamental plants.

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