Monday, April 28, 2008

What Are Fronds For?

Are you fern friendly?

Most kama'aina are familiar with the native ferns for which we have uses. Palapalai (Microlepia strigosa), sacred to Laka the hula deity, shows up in great profusion especially at Merrie Monarch hula festival time, and hapu'u (Cibotium spp.) lends itself nicely as a living, shaded substrate for growing orchids, for example. But did you know there literally hundreds of native species of ferns and fern allies in Hawaii? Nearly 70 percent of them grow nowhere else in the entire world.

Many folks mistake the Australian tree fern for hapu’u, however it’s an aggressive invasive species that unfortunately gained popularity in local landscaping because of its robustness. It’s this characteristic that allows it to outcompete indigenous and endemic ferns and makes it threat to native forests. If you have it growing in your yard, the best idea is to prune it with a shovel – that is, get rid of it pronto. Be sure you dispose of it by composting it well and don’t let the spores disperse.

This past weekend the Volcano Art Center sponsored Tim Tunison’s workshop in fern identification, and once more he had us plant geeks scrambling for our ID keys and hand lenses, peering at spores, indusia, hairs, scales, pinnae, stipes and other clues to discover the names of some common, uncommon, and even rare species of ferns in the Volcano area. Identifying ferns is fun but sometimes can be a confounding experience for beginners because of the tiny, sometimes microscopic features and occasionally confusing variations!

If you’re someone who likes challenges and has a healthy amount of crazy gardener optimism, try growing ferns from spores. Here’s what you need:
  • humid growth chamber
  • sterile media
  • ripe spores
Tunison recommended these steps for Fern Propagation:
  1. Collect ripe spores. Look at the back of the frond for ripe spores which are usually dark brown, but some may be black, red, or yellow.
  2. Cut fertile frond and place spore-side down on some white paper, 8 1/2 by 11 inches. Place another sheet on top and press by putting some heavy books on top. Or place inside a book. After a few days, some dust – the spores – will appear. Wait a couple of weeks to harvest all the spores.
  3. Prepare sterile media. You can use peat pellets, Sunshine mix, sand, porous brick or a block of florist’s Oasis.
  4. Put the spores on top of the media. Try tapping the paper a little to distribute a thin layer of spores over the moistened media. (Yep, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Don’t sneeze.)
  5. Place media in growth chamber. If you’re using peat pellets, for example, you could place them inside a clear plastic container with a snap-on lid, such as the ones they sell hydroponic lettuce in, or plastic “clamshells.” Sterilize with a 10% chlorine bleach solution and rinse well before using. Keep media very moist but not waterlogged. This needs a cool environment and no direct sunlight.

In about six months you might see the first baby ferns, which look like flat bits of leaf. Wait a little more until they are developing tiny fronds about the size of a pea, and then transplant. For a more detailed explanation, a good book to consult is Growing Hawai'i’s Native Plants by Kerin Lilleeng-Rosenberger.

Some inspiration: Check out the narrow fronds of this endemic kolokolo fern (Grammitis tenella) hanging off the trunk of a native loulu palm (Pritchardia beccariana). Note that there's also some filmy ferns and a small 'ala 'ala wainui (Peperomia sp.) seedling in the 'ohana, too.

Good luck!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Kumu 'Aina Organic Fruit Farm

Three years ago, Bob and Terri Mulroy came to the realization that they weren’t getting any younger and were burnt out living the urban lifestyle of Boca Raton, South Florida. Terri quit her lucrative job in the advertising department of Office Depot, and Bob gave up his successful air-conditioning business. It’s a familiar story: On the advice of a friend who was already living there, they packed up and headed for Puna to pursue their dream of life in the slow lane. When they set eyes on Kumu 'Aina Farm in Kapoho, it was love at first sight.

Kumu 'Aina, roughly translated as “Wisdom of the Land,” was first certified as an organic fruit farm in 1987. The Mulroys are actively perpetuating and promoting the practice of non-GMO farming, and two years ago the 9-acre farm hosted a no-GMO demonstration with Greenpeace. Although Terri and Bob had always been gardeners, both were newbies to farming. However, that didn’t deter them from maintaining over 800 trees -- including 190 varieties of fruit, some of which they sell at the Maku'u Farmers Market.

The Mulroys grow mainly fruit from South and Central America and Asia, including rollinia (top photo), atemoya, cherimoya, jackfruit, sapote (white, green and black), avocado and…

…some very sexy non-GMO papaya!

The Mulroys also enjoy making cheese from their Nubian cross goats…

…and love those endearing lawn-mowers, St. Croix hair sheep...

Terri’s advice for wanna-be Hawai'i organic fruit farmers:

  • Plant things which will turn a profit quickly within 3 to 5 years, such as sapote, rollinea, egg fruit, pineapple, papayas, and greens.
  • Put more thought into the situation. Plant things within livestock pens BEFORE you get any animals. Otherwise you end up having to harvest things to feed them all the time. “Don’t take your neighbor’s offer of sheep for a telephone line like we did. Plan it first,” says Terri.
How tasty is the fruit at Kumu 'Aina? When the Mulroys brought their dog Dweezey from Florida to the farm, he actually started eating all the fruit he could get his paws on, and now he's practically a vegetarian by choice. His favorite? Jackfruit!

"Gee, dis skin is RUFF! But some ‘ono."

Fruitful Labors

At Kumu 'Aina Farm, for better, tastier fruit, you first have to get past the gnome.

This past weekend, owners Bob and Terri Mulroy opened their organic fruit farm in Kapoho to the community to host a workshop with horticulturalist Dr. Mike Nagao of UH CTAHR, sponsored by the Know Your Farmer Alliance. Grafting, pruning, and air layering are some tricks of the trade fruit farmers use to get more production out of their crops, and Mike shared his mana'o to fulfill our fruity fantasies.

So you’re tired of the stringy avocados in your backyard, and your lychee tree has lots of leaves but no fruit, and you want another tree exactly like the sweet longan you already have. What to do?

Tips for grafting avocados:

  • Scion wood and rootstock should be about the same diameter (about as wide as a pencil or your finger) so that the cambium layers match well and grow together.
  • Use scion wood that is mature and bulblike. Don’t use new flush or flowering wood.
  • Graft two varieties that fruit at different times of the year so that you get fruit all year! For example, graft Malama (October fruiting) to Green Gold (April fruiting). UH CTAHR recommended varieties are here.
  • Rubber band and parafilm are maintenance-free -- use it and forget it. The rubber band eventually disintergrates and falls off, and the buds burst through the parafilm.
  • Don’t graft a tree that is flowering or flushing out, because it is putting too much energy toward that type of growth and your chances of successful grafts are lower.
  • If your graft isn’t growing in 3 to 4 weeks, give it up and start over.
  • More info on avocados in another free publication from UH here.

Tips for air layering (longan shown here):

  • Use a pair of pliers to remove the outer layer of bark to expose the cambium – it’s what fruit farmers do in the field because it’s faster than using a knife.
  • Apply rooting hormone powder, wrap in wet spaghnum moss, and then wrap with plastic or aluminum foil. Tie both ends with twist ties.
  • Roots should grow out from the cut in about 4 to 6 months. If not, prune off and start over.
  • Tips for pruning fruit trees:
  • Prune off branches growing straight vertically.
  • Make cuts at an angle instead of horizontal.
  • Prune to the “collar” so that the area heals with a donut-shaped scar. Otherwise, dieback of branches may occur.
  • Remove no more than a third of the growth. If you remove more than this, you might end up with just vegetative growth and no fruit.

Tips from Dweezey the Fruit Hound:
  • Take frequent breaks in the shade.
  • Make friends.
  • Indulge in some juicy ripe organic tropical fruits whenever you can.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Pele's Gardens

She’s back: Pele in all her glory, devouring the land, crushing the lehua blossoms as she takes what is hers. Creation, destruction; the cycle inevitably continues. Here on the island of Hawai'i we are now watching a giant plume of ash and SO2 emissions rising up out of Halema'uma'u crater, the home of Pele, keeping us on alert in case of evacuation. Like other residents, when I look into the glowing red heart of Kilauea volcano, I experience awe and excitement with a tiny bit of terror mixed in. It’s all part of what makes this place so special and worthy of our respect; those who are inspired become reaffirmed in their devotion to the land. There is undeniable, ultimate power and energy manifested here.

Destruction passes over the kipuka. Within these oases ancient ones dwell; flora continue to flourish and support the next generation of fauna. And at this time each year, native forests provide for the waves of hula halau that sweep through in search of material for making lei. In preparation for the Merrie Monarch hula festival, dancers collect native plants including maile vine, palapalai fern, and lehua blossoms and leaves according to protocol. Halau have increasingly become more aware of their kuleana, their responsibility, in the forest with regard to the native plants they gather. Many have learned to take only what they need, and instead of unceremoniously dumping their adornments into the rubbish after the festivities they return plant material back to the land with understanding and due reverence. That is right action according to the knowledge and wisdom of ancestors, staying connected with the ‘aina.

Maile, palapalai , and ‘ohi’a lehua are natives of the Hawaiian rainforest that are fairly easy to grow if you live on the windward side of the islands, and it’s convenient to have them in your yard for lei making. Palapalai needs filtered sun and a wet spot in your yard. I keep mine on the lanai in a lava-like hypertufa bowl I made, and the Lyman Museum in Hilo has some planted in a shady area next to a hose bib. Palapalai tends to stay small in a container, so if you want large fronds, plant it in the ground instead.