Monday, January 26, 2009

In the Garden, All A-Twitter

I'm feeling virtuous today, having freed this native koki'o 'ula (Hibiscus saintjohnianus) from its weedy prison in my backyard. While the buzzing of the weedwhacker lulled me into something between zen and a bored stupor, it suddenly occured to me that there indeed may be some merit to Twitter, that so-called "social messaging utility" on the web that allows the whole world to see just how self-involved you really are.

I've added Twitter to the sidebar of this blog as a way to keep me honest about what I do in my garden. However, it isn't a webcam -- you'll just have to trust me. I'll try post whenever I do a garden-related activity; this, I'm hoping, will steer me toward more twitter and less twit out in the garden, that is, it should keep me from doing silly things like planting beefsteak tomatoes or avoiding those things I should be doing, like weeding and pruning...and pretty much everything else.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

ALERT: Rat Lungworm

Rat lungworm, a parasite, causes angiostrongyliasis, a rare form a meningitis that has no treatment. It has been in the news lately because several people on Hawai'i Island have been stricken with severe symptoms after eating raw vegetables from their backyard gardens.

How do you avoid getting sick? Wash raw produce thoroughly; cooking thoroughly also destroys the parasite.

Read all the facts in the official press release from the Hawaii Department of Health in a pdf -- click here. For more info from the Center for Disease Control, click here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Hawaiian Victory

Victory gardens sprouted in backyards across the nation during WWII, and lately the concept is being revived and promoted as a way to feed our families during the current economic recession. I received this email, a post on, from Michael Pollan, the author of Omnivore’s Dilemma:

“The Washington Post reports that efforts by Eat the View and TheWhoFarm to get food grown again on the White House lawn have made it into the top 30 ideas submitted to the contest. The idea is one of over 7000 proposals submitted.

"Ideas for Change in America is a nationwide competition to identify the best ideas for change in America. The top 10 ideas will be presented to the Obama administration just before inauguration day and form the basis of a nationwide advocacy campaign to turn each idea into actual policy.

"In the entry, Victory Gardens 2.0, 'thousands of Americans and people from the around the world are asking the Obamas to lead by example on climate change, health policy, economic self-reliance, food security, and energy independence by replanting an organic food garden at the White House with the produce going to the First Kitchen and to local food pantries.

The many successes of the first Victory Garden movement were the result of effective public policy, bold leadership at a time of national crisis, and the commitment of millions of citizens who were ready to roll up their sleeves for the greater good.

There's no better, more symbolic place for launching a new National Victory Garden Program than at the White House, "America's House". There's no better, more urgent time than now. And there's NOTHING that can beat the fresh taste of locally-grown, home-cooked foods.

Cast your vote at Victory Gardens 2.0.'"

Should the Governor of Hawai'i have a victory garden? Perhaps we could call it an “’ohana garden,” or some other catchy name instead. What do you think should be planted in it? My organic farmer friend on the Big Island says taro, coffee, and papaya for starters.

How does a victory garden in Hawai'i differ from one on the continent? If you already have one, what’s growing in it? Or, if you could have one, what would you plant? Imagine Governor Lingle entertaining visiting heads of state at the mansion. She could provide a dinner that features fresh produce from her own victory garden to showcase Hawai'i’s agricultural endeavors – what would that include? I’m not suggesting that she has to work in it herself, but surely an organic garden would be a better model to follow than the current grass moat and it would at least demonstrate some symbolic support for sustainability in the Islands. Eleanor Roosevelt had planted one on the White House lawn in 1943, over objections of the USDA, and today governors in other states such as Massachusetts have already established theirs.

Community Gardens of O’ahu

Kohlrabi and orchids. Taro and roses. Ung choi, chayote and daikon. These are growing side by side in downtown Honolulu at the Foster Community Garden, adjacent to the parking lot of Foster Botanical Garden. In 60 raised beds wedged between concrete highrises and the vestiges of paradise, the culinary flavors and aesthetics of the city’s diverse cultures intermingle and thrive; within each bed is a story of ethnic identity and pride.

The need for community gardens is growing as unemployment continues to rise nationally and locally, and more people struggle to meet their nutritional needs. Fresh produce is often the most expensive part of the food budget, and for many seniors and others getting by on fixed or low-incomes, community plots provide opportunities to get healthy food, fresh air and exercise outdoors.

Visit a community garden in Hawai'i and you'll get a glimpse at how ethnic groups here historically have had to adapt and to cooperate with each other. Each garden is governed by a set of rules: make sure your plot isn’t overgrown and encroaching on your neighbor’s; don’t use herbicides (presumably because your neighbor might be harvesting); no excessive watering (instead some gardeners use 2-liter soda bottles to provide supplemental irrigation); and no matter how well-intentioned you think you are, don’t work in someone else’s plot without their permission, and so forth. Break the rules or forget to pay your dues and you’re out.

Of course, there usually is a waiting list. For more information, contact the Community Recreational Gardening Program.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Superferry in the Garden

Love it or hate it, one thing is certain about the Superferry: It spreads invasive species. That has always been obvious to me, and many nursery owners, prior to the Superferry launch, even though operations began without a draft environmental impact statement. Now that the draft EIS has finally been made available, what’s it all mean? Well, it could possibly mean that all those tax dollars were spent on building up something that may just prove too costly to operate anyway. It could fizzle out, investors pack up, and we would get stuck with the bill and a further degraded, shrinking native environment.

Gardeners take note: The gorgeous non-native Mtssa. Dark Star 'Orchidworks' above is not an invasive species. However, imported potted ornamental plants, probably palms, are how coqui frogs and little fire ants first hitchhiked to Hawai'i, and undoubtedly it became easier to spread these invasive species via potted plants transported interisland through the Superferry.

It takes some doing to smuggle a potted plant aboard an interisland airline – not as easy as macadmia-nut shortbread cookies. By law, the plant has to be inspected; if it passes, it gets a sticker. Federal inspectors from the USDA are usually stationed at airline terminals and check only plant material going on flights between the mainland or abroad, whereas the Hawaii state Dept. of Agriculture is a separate office and inspects only items going interisland.

Supposedly, invasive plants aren’t allowed on the Superferry, and any plant going onboard has to be inspected by the Hawaii DOA. What I’d like to know is, who is monitoring the Superferry dock now, and how thorough are they really?

On an airline, potted plants are considered baggage; logistically, you’re limited to transporting just a few pots. However, if, say, Mr. Plantfreak wanted to do some serious nursery shopping on a neighbor island he could load up a car, truck, or van with many more potted plants and drive right onto the Superferry with his booty, possibly for even less than what he’d have to pay a regular shipper. He doesn’t even have to be a certified grower.

Compost this: Does the DOA inspect every plant? Does Superferry check the back of every car, truck and van? Or does that just slow loading down way too much? A commercial entity, Superferry wants government agencies to be responsible for inspections and foot the bill for the measures to prevent the spread of invasives. As if there’s piles of money in the public coffers for such things. I don’t know about you, but that just makes an organic gardener like me ponder the inevitability of having to buy little fire ant poison.