Monday, June 29, 2009

Reuse and Rethink

This quaint greenhouse and potting shed is nestled in the delightful organic garden of Leslie Laird of Volcano. Leslie’s greenhouse features recycled materials such as reused windows from a coffee shack in Kona. One big multi-paned glass window is mounted sideways on hinges on one side of the greenhouse, sort of like a cold frame; it lets in light and can be opened or closed to regulate air circulation and temperature.

Her garden is a diverse display of her adventuresome approach to gardening. If it sounds intriguing, she’ll try it. Hugging the stepping stone path leading up to the greenhouse are plants she has grown for the first time...

Cleome. Before the blossoms appeared, her son thought she was growing marijuana…

Wild arugula. Looks great, the taste packs a punch, too…

Salad burnet. Grows incredibly well in her location. She likes the way it looks, but doesn’t really like the taste, and has way too much of it.

Here’s a list of some of the other things growing.
Won bok, green onion, tatsoi, celery, purple snap beans, broccoli, mustard greens, Asclepias, snow peas, Pentas, pineapple sage, Shasta daisies, rose-scented geraniums, lavender hyssop, red and purple salad potatoes.

Leslie’s property backs up to pastureland and so she has to battle with invasive plants and animals from the other side of the fence.

A low fence in her own yard protects her edible garden from wild pigs, but it doesn’t keep out the kalij pheasants and wild turkeys that wreak havoc in her plots now and then.

Leslie removed huge clumps of rhizomatous kahili ginger, that most pernicious weed of Volcano, before she built her greenhouse, but it still comes back in certain areas. Kikuyu grass is great for feeding the cows in the pasture, but it creeps in and takes over any bare patch, so Leslie is experimenting with lemongrass and comfrey as natural barriers. Even invasive Himalayan raspberry, the bane of Volcano gardeners, will pop up occasionally through the kikuyu grass that she mows down.

The garden is now 4 years old, and Leslie has discovered a few helpful tips from the successes - and missteps, too - along her gardening path:

Grow what you like to eat. Says Leslie: “I discovered kale grows well, but I don’t eat it. Chard and lettuces, yes; kale, no.”

Grow what you’d like to try. Be bold and discover something new.

Grow what grows in your area. At 4,000 feet elevation, Volcano is cool and wet. Tomatoes are difficult to grow, rhubarb is easy. And it’s one of the few places in the world where you’ll see plums and pears growing next to hapu’u ferns and ‘ohi’a trees.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Out of Beds with Kona Coffee

“I have a rain gauge in my ear – I can tell how much rain has fallen by sound,” says certified organic coffee farmer Una Greenaway. Since 1977, when she and her husband first caught the fever of the “back to the land” movement and moved to Captain Cook, Greenaway has been tuning her senses to the land she cultivates at Kuaiwi Farm.

Her well-honed sense of place has paid of well: In 2007, Greenaway captured first place the 2007 Kona Coffee Cultural Festival's Gevalia Kona Classic Cupping Competition, and in 2008 the farm won 2nd place.

This was the seventh time in the last 10 years that an organic farm had taken highest honors, and it was yet another crowning moment for farmers and gardeners who have long asserted that organic methods lead to superior results with regard to nutrition and taste. I toured the farm recently with a group attending the “Sustainable Saturday” workshop hosted by the Kona Outdoor Circle - they had invited me to do a presentation earlier that day on sustainable container gardening,

Greenaway’s farm is small – only 5 acres – but it provides income and more than enough food for her small family. Only two acres are planted in coffee – the rest of the land sustains fruit trees, cacao, macadamia nuts and several small kitchen plots. I was duly impressed with her methods and choices for growing a variety of veggies.

Una begins her greens with seed planted in Black Gold organic potting mix in window boxes. She says that for her microclimate she finds that varieties that do well in the southeast U.S. continent are also good for Kona. She chooses greens that she likes to eat and that grow well with a minimum of predation from insects and don’t get powdery mildew, such as tatsoi, ‘Black Seeded Simpson’ lettuce, ‘Green Glaze’ collard greens and dinosaur kale.

The farm is part of an ancient ahupua’a and kuaiwi, a Hawaiian field system on the mauka side of Kona. The soil is deep, and to prevent erosion Una plants a ground cover around each bed. This tiny variety of wandering jew forms dense borders that can be rolled back and tucked in around the beds.

Ancient ti plants of the kuaiwi provide leaves for mulch to keep the soil moist and cooler; she harvests the ti leaves and lets them turn brown before using them. She waters the beds well before placing the leaves between the plants, otherwise the leaves tend to shed the rain. For smaller leaved veggies, Greenaway uses brown mountain apple leaves instead. The tree on this visit was festooned with an incredible profusion of bright pink blossom - looks like a bumper crop of 'ohi'a 'ai this year!

You can visit Greenaway’s farm, or take one of her workshops on chocolate candy making – to see the Kuaiwi Farm website, click here. If you go you’ll no doubt be convinced that a broad understanding of how the ecology of a place fits together – the soil, water, insects, topography, sun and wind exposure, climate and temperatures throughout the year and so forth – is the key to growing a productive, successful garden.

Slowing Down in Volcano

Here’s an interesting snail, identified by a local malacologist as probably a native Hawaiian endemic one, cruising on a kahili ginger leaf in my yard. A nice reminder to slow down when life gets too hectic, as it was this past May for me. If you’re wondering why it’s been a month since my previous post, it’s because I was moving. I’ve just moved to Volcano, Hawai'i Island, where I’m finally beginning find my gardening chops again. I’m discovering that in Volcano you do weeding with a machete, gardening is actually forestry, and you can always blame acid rain and vog if you can’t figure out how to make something grow. And it’s still very lonely to be a coqui frog here.