Saturday, June 21, 2008

Seeding Hawai'i's Future

If the 6th Annual Seed Exchange at Amy B.H. Greenwell Garden was any indication, Big Island gardeners are eager to grow all kinds of edibles, and that bodes well in the current push for sustainability in Hawai'i. Farmers, school gardens, community gardens and gardeners-at-large offered abundant seeds and cuttings to satisfy all appetites for homegrown vegetables and herbs, and they dispensed helpful advice for growing, too.

Nancy Redfeather and Jerry Konanui opened the event, welcoming festival-goers who brought gifts of fruit from their gardens to share with the community that had gathered that day.

After the presentation of the festival's theme of the creative power of fire, there were two exquisite hula performances. This introduction was barely over when the seeding frenzy began, however. The crowd was elbow-to-elbow, crammed into the tents; gardeners were buzzing about like honeybees, collecting their botanical treasures, filling baskets, bags, and envelopes with seeds and cuttings and talking story with fellow growers.

There were also excellent expert lectures, on topics such as seed saving and ways to create abundant gardens. Personally, I saw very little in the way of exchange per se; more frequent was the altruistic generosity of the festival participants who asked for nothing in return and freely gave propagation material to any member of the general public who wanted it. The true spirit of aloha came alive through spontaneous, thoughtful action. Each seed that was passed to a new gardener was planted in the sincere heart of someone seeking to grow more food for themselves and their community.

As it happens with many transforming experiences, sometimes pictures tell the best stories….

...beans, Hawaiian poppy, tulsi brahma (purple)...

...locally grown cacao seed...

...seeds for medicinals: olena (tumeric), organic tobacco grown in Honaunau; okra seed...

...tropical 'sun hemp,' a nitrogen-fixing, green manure cover crop...

...jackfruit tasting: savoring the 'ono flesh, then saving the seed...

...Know Your Farmers Alliance was there, of course...

...and perhaps even you were there. If not, hope to see you next year!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Code Red for Green Thumbs

Are you gardening by the codes? Most likely you are, but in case you aren’t, it’s time to get educated.

The Voluntary Codes of Conduct are recommended by the Center for Plant Conservation for those participating in various aspects of horticulture. These guidelines are designed to promote education about invasive species and to encourage affiliated groups to take appropriate action in preventing the spread of invasive species. One of the key purposes behind the codes is to make groups self-regulating so that there will be less need for government regulation when problems from invasive species become severe.

This week I proposed that the Hawai’i Island Master Gardeners Association adopt the Voluntary Codes of Conduct for the Gardening Public, and I’m happy to report that they voted for it. This puts them at forefront among organizations that are working to educate the people of Hawai’i about their kuleana – their responsibility – to preserve our native ecosystems and watersheds.

The Center developed several professional Voluntary Codes of Conduct. There are codes of conduct geared for five specific groups: Government, Nursery Professionals, Landscape Architects, Botanic Gardens and Arboreta, and the Gardening Public. So far over 45 major groups across the nation have endorsed these codes, including influential nurserymen and landscape architect associations, botanic gardens and garden clubs. The University of Hawai'i Lyon Arboretum in Honolulu is the first botanic garden in Hawai'i to adopt the codes. See a list of all the groups here.

I hope that you, too, will make a personal commitment to adopt the Voluntary Codes of Conduct for the Gardening Public, and tell others about them, too. Unlike the continent, Hawai’i is a small, isolated place; change, good or bad, affects us in a big way. The choices you make even in the gentle pastime of gardening can have a major impact in the quality of life that surrounds you.

Voluntary Codes of Conduct for Gardening Public
  • Ask for only non-invasive species when you acquire plants. Plant only environmentally safe species in your gardens. Work towards and promote new landscape design that is friendly to regional ecosystems.
  • Seek information on which species are invasive in your area. Sources could include botanical gardens, horticulturists, conservationists, and government agencies. Remove invasive species from your land and replace them with non-invasive species suited to your site and needs.
  • Do not trade plants with other gardeners if you know they are species with invasive characteristics.
  • Request that botanical gardens and nurseries promote, display and sell only non-invasive species.
  • Help educate your community and other gardeners in your area through personal contact, and in such settings as garden clubs and other civic groups.
  • Ask garden writers and other media to emphasize the problem of invasive species and provide information. Request that garden writers promote only non-invasive species.
  • Invite speakers knowledgeable on the invasive species issue to speak to garden clubs, master gardeners, schools and other community groups.
  • Seek the best information on control of invasive plant species and organize neighborhood work groups to remove invasive plant species under the guidance of knowledgeable professionals.
  • Volunteer at botanical gardens and natural areas to assist ongoing efforts to diminish the threat of invasive plants.
  • Participate in early warning systems by reporting invasive species you observe in your area. Determine which group or agency should be responsible for reports emanating from your area. If no 800 number exists for such reporting, request that one be established, citing the need for a clearinghouse with an 800 number and website links to information about invasive plant species.
  • Assist garden clubs to create policies regarding the use of invasive species not only in horticulture, but in activities such as flower shows. Urge florists and others to eliminate the use of invasive plant material.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Feel the Need for Seed

Seed savers unite! Trade your local-grown seeds and cuttings of food plants and get together with other beneficently seedy types this weekend at the 6th Annual Hawai'i Island Seed Exchange at Amy B.H. Greenwell Garden in Captain Cook, Saturday, June 21, 8:30 am to 12:30 am . This event is sponsored by Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden, Hawai'i SEED, and Know Your Farmer Alliance.

You'll have an opportunity to network with like-minded gardeners and learn more about what's happening in your growing community, maybe even get a glimpse at the wonder and excitement sprouting up in school gardens across the Big Island. This event promises to be fun and educational for all ages!

I'll be there in a special book signing tent with other invited agricultural authors, including Craig Elevitch and Dr. Scot Nelson. Stop by and say howzit!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Determined to Know Beans

Beans are wonderful, magical, rewarding. They’re vigorous and with proper cultivation they’re fairly trouble-free, even in a container. Children especially like growing them because when they sprout the plants look sturdy and robust and it’s easy to see and describe the various parts such as the cotyledons, stem and so on. Last week my jaded 13-year-old son was still delighted to plant some Black-Seeded Blue Lake snap pole beans, certified organic from Seeds of Change, and this week they’re up. I grow them in a wine barrel with a bamboo trellis, and last year I could barely keep up with the harvest. Fresh from the garden, the taste is so…beany. I see older, tougher beans in the supermarkets more often these days than tender young beans which are delicious, so growing your own is a good idea.

I start with organic potting mix – I usually use something OMRI-approved, such as Black Gold. In large quantities that can be too costly, so sometimes I make my own mix using various media. There are several good potting mix recipes online from ATTRA that you can access here.

I add compost and some organic fertilizer, such as Bio-Flora dry crumbles, or whatever I have on hand. The key to preparing the media for beans is to not add too much nitrogen, or you’ll end up with very nice green leaves and very few beans. Insects will usually leave your plants alone if you keep them healthy.

A word about watering. Beans are susceptible to rust and bacterial diseases, so do not wet the leaves or you might spread disease throughout your plants. However, beans do need adequate water, so don’t let the potting mix or soil completely dry out. Water them as needed; morning is best, that way plants have a chance to dry out during the day. It’s a good idea to rotate your crops to reduce the chances of establishing pathogens.

I prefer to grow pole beans because they tend to produce more. There are a few varieties that were developed especially for our growing conditions by the University of Hawaii. (These aren't GMO, by the way.) Manoa Wonder is root-knot nematode resistant, which is a plus if you’re growing them in the ground. Hawaiian Wonder is rust resistant, and Poamoho is stringless. Usually you can find these seeds in garden supply stores, sometimes even in grocery stores. But if you can’t, you can order them from the UH website here.

When your beans start producing, keep harvesting them regularly so that you’ll get a steady supply all season long for stir-fry, seasoned with dill or garlic. If can, can! Most people don’t have time to do canning nowadays, so give your surplus away. Remember, with the rising cost of food your local food bank will appreciate the donation of fresh produce from your garden this summer.