Thursday, March 26, 2009

Grow Your Own Container Greens

Growing in a wooden barrel in my backyard now is some arugala and lettuce - red oak leaf, and a local variety called Anuenue, a kind of Manoa lettuce. Looks like the light rains and cool temps we're having in Hilo are the creating the perfect conditions for a flourishing crop.

Living on the windward side sometimes presents unique growing conditions. Take my friend living in a rainforest in Volcano Village, for example. He has installed window boxes around the deck and filled them with a premium potting mix and an organic fertilizer to grow greens. Although there appears to be adequate sunlight, his plants are rotting from the roots up. What is the problem? Possibly too much water.

Commercial potting mixes tend to be high in peat, which is excellent for retaining moisture. However, in high humidity locations, you should add perlite or fine cinder to the mix to improve drainage. Incorporating perlite also has the advantage of making hanging planters lighter in weight. A plastic container sometimes can have an attached saucer or tray that compounds the drainage problem. If you don’t have to worry about water spilling out onto the area below it, remove the container’s attached catchment by simply pulling it off – usually it’s a snap-on piece.

Rat lungworm infection is a concern for many salad-lovers these days, especially in East Hawai'i. Growing greens in containers can make slug and snail control much easier – the critters are easier to spot and hand-pick, and you can use a non-chemical control measure such as copper tape barrier around the container. Instead of a metaldehyde-based snail bait, use one made from iron phosphate, such as Sluggo, which is more earth-friendly and breaks down into nitrogen, plus it isn’t attractive to pets and wildlife. Also, if you’re growing your greens high up off the ground the snails are less likely to find it. No matter how you grow your greens, however, always inspect and wash them carefully for safety’s sake.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

O-bama, O-rganic, Oh!

Hurray! There’s now a kitchen garden on the White House lawn. But no beets – Barack doesn’t like them (uh-oh, remember what happened to Bush and broccoli…). Michelle Obama broke ground on a new organic garden at the White House, something that hasn’t been in existence since the days of Eleanor Roosevelt. See my earlier blog on the campaign for this symbolic support for food sovereignty and sustainability here.

And gosh, what a coincidence – Michelle and I wear almost exactly the same designer black knit pantsuit when gardening. Okay, okay, so I’ve actually been known to wear denim, but no, those aren’t my tats in the above photo taken at the Hamakua Alive! festival last year.

Governor Lingle, it’s your turn to jump on the bandwagon. I’d be glad to come by and give you a hand, as I am sure many school children would, too. The Hawaii Island School Gardens Network is up 50 participating schools now. You'll be hearing more about them on my blog this year.

For 10 easy to grow veggies for kids, click here.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

BIAN Plant Sale

The Big Island Association of Nurserymen will hold its semi-annual plant sale at the Edith Kanakaole Tennis Stadium, in Hilo, on March 6, Fri. from 5 pm to 9 pm & March 7 from 9 am to 2 pm. This sale is usually a good opportunity to buy fruit trees and unusual varieties of ornamentals. In previous years they had some gorgeous vireyas for sale, like the one you see here. But of course you have to get there early, before the primo plants are gone.

Admission is free, and part of the proceeds goes toward funding scholarships for agriculture students attending University of Hawaii at Hilo. There will be educational booths, too, including Hawaii Island Master Gardeners who will be on hand to provide info on fruit fly trapping.

Mamaki, Hawaiian Nettle

When early Polynesians sailed their great double-hulled canoes to the pristine sands of Hawai'i, they brought with them a way of life that had sustained them in the ‘aina they left behind. The plants and animals they had chosen for the journey provided them with food, shelter, clothing, medicine, and other basic necessities. However, the strange new landscape offered its own unique bounty of flora and fauna never before seen by human eyes. The resourceful settlers found some of these forms of life particularly useful; thus, the first Hawaiians became part of a native ecosystem, joining a web of life like no other place on Earth, isolated in the middle of the Pacific.

Unlike nettles elsewhere, the endemic Mamaki (Pipturus albidus) is a nettle without prickles. It evolved over thousands of years until it no longer needed to expend energy creating a defense against the grazing animals that later impacted the landscape along with the humans who brought them. The healing properties of nettles are well known in many cultures across the globe, and some Hawaiian uses for mamaki are similar to those found elsewhere.

The mamaki in my backyard has perfect, large, shiny but hairy leaves, but since I live in town at 400 feet elevation there’s little chance that Kamehameha butterfly larvae will ever visit. However, just in case they ever do decide to drop in, I’m happy to say I’m ready for them.

Traditional Hawaiian Uses
Fiber: Inner layer of bark yields fiber for kapa (barkcloth)
Medicine: Leaves made into tea, tonic. Taken to reduce high blood pressure and high cholestrerol.

Mamaki grows on all islands except Ni'ihau and Kaho'olawe, usually on the edges of the understory of mesic and rain forests, at altitudes between 1500 to 4000 feet, sometimes to 6000 feet.

Host Plant
Primary food source for some native insects, including the larvae of the endemic Hawaiian butterfly, pulelehua or Kamehameha butterfly (Vanessa tameamea)

Best by seed – after separated from the berry they sprout easily and usually stronger plants result. Also can propagate from cuttings. For propagation tips, click here.

Landscaping Use
Can be shaped into a tree to 10’ in wet conditions; grows as a spreading, low bush in dry conditions. Not aggressive and usually takes well to pruning if no more than one-third is removed. White mulberry-like fruit attractive to birds, which spread the seeds. Plant in nutrient- rich, well-draining soil in semi-shaded to shaded location.


Common Hawaiian Trees, Kaulunani Friends of the Urban Forest
Growing Hawai'i's Native Plants, Kerin Lilleeng-Rosenberger
Growing Native Hawaiian Plants,
Heidi Leianuenue Bornhorst
In the Gardens of Hawaii, Marie Neal
Plants in Hawaiian Medicine, Beatrice Krauss