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.