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 tlloyd@easthawaii.net, (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.