Friday, September 26, 2008


The Hawaii Bamboo Society held their annual festival at the Papa'ikou Hongwanji, giving the public an educational look at the many uses of bamboo. This sustainable, eco-friendly plant can be grown not just for ornamental purposes, but also timber, screen, fencing, flooring, textiles, musical instruments, food…and the list goes on. HBS members are ardent in extolling the virtues of bamboo -- some seem to even express a devotion that’s akin to a spiritual awakening.

HBS president Lennart Lundstrom says as transportation costs rise, local bamboo plantations could provide alternative building materials for affordable housing and furniture, if approved by the county. Currently the only permitted bamboo housing construction are prefab homes that are made in Vietnam and shipped to Hawai'i. HBS hopes to encourage the public to learn more about bamboo and stimulate interest in it as a renewable local resource.

Of course, the festival was an opportunity for enthusiasts to add to their collections, with many non-invasive, clumping bamboo varieties on sale from Gaia Yoga Nursery.

Hawai'i Bamboo Society meets on Hawaii Island every 3rd Sunday of the month.

Sandalwood Guy

You might forget his name, but you won’t forget his mission. “Every plant makes a difference in absorbing carbon,” says Mark Hanson, who once went to Washington, D. C., to give 5,000 oak trees and 110 cherry trees to every member of U.S. Congress.

Mark is perhaps better known locally as Hawai'i’s ambassador and passionate advocate of native Hawaiian sandalwood. Some might say he’s blessed with an obsession -- great for our native ecosystems when you consider the tree hasn’t had much help since the sandalwood trade nearly wiped it out completely in the 1800s. Native Hawaiian sandalwood isn’t endangered; there are still some stands hidden in mauka forests, but in the inhabited lowlands native sandalwood is a rarity, and native plant enthusiasts consider it quite a triumph when they’re able to grow a tree to a substantial size.

The problem, says Mark, is that native sandalwood is adapted to native soil, which doesn’t really exist in the lowlands any more due to human activities such as agriculture and building construction. Thus, to grow sandalwood successfully you have to baby it a little, as though it were an exotic fruit tree, he says. Pour on the TLC and you too may one day have boasting rights to your very own Hawaiian sandalwood tree in your backyard.

Mark was selling sandalwood seedlings at the Maku'u Farmers Market last week. With proper care these seedlings would be ready for planting in ground in another 4 months.

Mark’s down-and-dirty tips for planting out Hawaiian sandalwood seedlings:

  • Keep the pH at 6.5 to 7.
  • Plant it with chelated iron – just a pinch of Growganic 40% or Ironite.
  • Keep grasses away, which tend to choke out sandalwood seedlings.
  • Add pH balanced topsoil to the planting hole.
  • Cut back on cinder but make sure soil drains well and contain compost.
  • Sandalwood is sort of a parasitic plant, so plant it with "helper" plants. A'e a'e, a native groundcover, is an excellent companion. Also good is 'ala 'ala wai nui, and native shrubs such as 'akia, a'ali'i and aweoweo. Similar non-native plants work just as well, too.

Mark’s latest exciting project is an “Ecodome” made from cement, volcanic cinder, blue rock, and barbed wire. It’s the first green permitted residence ever in Hawai'i County. From the looks of it, maybe Luke Skywalker really does live in Puna. Cool.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Varroa Bee Mite

Here’s an inspiring sight from a hike last year: a non-native honeybee pollinating native ko'oko'olau flowers along Chain of Craters Road in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. Makes me ponder the roles of honeybees in our native ecosystems and how they will be impacted by the recent arrival of the varroa bee mite.

Until recently, Hawai'i and Australia were the last places in the world that were still free of the varroa mite, which feeds only on honeybees and destroys entire colonies. However, the varroa mite is now widespread on O'ahu, and last month the Hawai'i Department of Agriculture recorded the first sightings on Hawai'i Island. So far there’s been no detection on Maui, Kaua'i and Moloka'i.

A varroa mite is very tiny, only 1-1.5 mm, but magnified under a hand lens it sort of looks like some weird Pokeman character, a freaky, hairy, flattened reddish-brown jelly bean with legs. Small populations have been discovered on feral bees in the Hilo area in five locations, according to Clayton Nagata, plant quarantine inspector with the HDOA. At the Kino'ole Farmers Market this weekend, Nagata talked to the public about the HDOA’s efforts to control the spread of the varroa mite. They're using swarm traps made from pressed paper pots baited with beeswax and pheromone. So far there are 150 traps placed within a one-mile radius of where the mites were first found near the Hilo Airport.

Some locations where the varroa mite has appeared:

  • Near Hilo Airport, by Verna’s plate lunch stand and Hilo Seaside Hotel
  • Banyan Golf Course
  • Along Kamehameha Avenue, near Suisan
  • Near the Waiakea Fire Station, old refueling depot in Keaukaha

Only 8 to 12 individual varroa mites have appeared in each wild colony. If the Big Island becomes heavily infested it could be devastating for local beekeepers and fruit growers who depend on these important pollinators. A reduced bee population means local farmers and gardeners would see poor yields and low quality produce. In addition, the varroa mite is bad news for the local industry in Kona that raises millions of queen bees for export to agricultural ventures worldwide; the cost of buying honeybees to release in nurseries would most certainly increase. And what will be the impact on the cost of food?

If you are reading this and you are a honeybee, stay away from airports. The HDOA is trying to establish a honeybee-free zone around airports, and unfortunately, to find out if a hive is infested with the mite the HDOA has to kill the entire colony. The HDOA doesn’t know to what extent the varroa mite has spread on the Big Island.

There is a way to partially eliminate the mite from a commercial hive by using a sticky tape with a miticide; it touches the bees and kills the mites, but this doesn’t help our producers of organic honey.

If you see honeybees or beekeeping equipment being moved between islands, or on the slim chance you are one of the few sharp-eyed gardeners who like seeing bees up close and personal (certainly not me, I’m allergic) and you see what you think is a varroa mite, contact the HDOA at (808) 643-PEST (7378).

Learn more about the varroa mite from the HDOA website here and here. Download a HDOA PDF publication on the varroa mite here.