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.

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