Beginning my Master Gardener volunteer hours

Farmers have been picking coffee on their farms, but it’s not yet in full swing. We’ve had our first picking a few weeks ago. The crew came and spent a few hours, and we had only one bag (about a hundred pounds of fruit). Soon it’ll be time for Round 2, which won’t be the peak yet either. The final selection of verticals for the block of trees that were stumped in February was recently done. Otherwise, it’s ground maintenance and monitoring for beetle and rust and controlling as needed. July wasn’t all that rainy. Well, it rained most days, except the four days around Tropical Storm Calvin, but it usually didn’t rain much.

Our Master Gardener class wrapped up in early May, but to be considered a Master Gardener you have to volunteer at least 40 hours doing approved plant activities, usually associated with non-profits, within a year of finishing the class work. I was hoping to find a regular activity, but haven’t yet identified what I’m going to do. I’ve done some one-off tasks, which have been interesting.

The Master Gardeners are partnering with local Sadie Seymour Botanical Gardens to update, identify, and clearly label what’s there. Bea says that Sadie Seymour was her childhood doctor’s wife. From my perspective there are many interesting places here that were probably passion projects at some point, but then if they aren’t kept up and sustainably funded and regularly maintained, they aren’t quite living up to their potential.

Teams of three went out in certain sections and placed a flagged stake by a plant, assigned it a number, and wrote down the number and identified plant name on our notepad. Our team members happened to each have a different plant ID application on our phones. We’d take a photo, use our respective app, cross-check it with the old written documentation, consult with each other, then write the plant name down. If we weren’t sure, we’d put a question mark near it. We’d also note other maintenance issues down (e.g., if something invasive had taken root nearby and had to be removed). I used the PictureThis app (which has a small cost) which was one of the apps recommended in our Master Gardener class. But after doing this plant ID task, I downloaded PlantNet again based on what one of my team members was seeing each time. It was a fun, social educational task.

The other volunteer task I did was air-layering ‘ulu (breadfruit) at the Amy Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden. I’ve never air layered anything, though I’ve peripherally watched my mom over the years and also her observing/helping UH. The air-layering was taught and done on one of the regular Saturday morning work periods at the Greenwell garden. The Garden Manager and volunteers were so friendly, and it’s a great opportunity to work amongst, not just learn from, experienced and knowledgable people. I really enjoy getting to know people by working with them, especially volunteer work, and everyone I met was friendly. I appreciated that mid-way we were told to take a break, and snacks were provided. It’s so useful to have someone ensuring you take a break. Once I’ve set my mind and suited up for yard work at home, I almost always overdo it. There’s always just a little more you want to get done.

It should take two to three months before these stems develop roots and can be cut and put in pots. We saw some failed attempts from earlier air-layering. The stems weakened and folded over at the stem wounds, i.e., the cuts we make and cover to encourage root growth. It looked like the earlier air-layering had been done slightly differently than the instructions we were given. I shared my concern/thought with the Garden Manager that we volunteers did all the air-layering, but we didn’t have the feedback whether what we each did worked. We learn by trying something, observing and learning the effects, and adapting accordingly. When I showed Bea this photo, she wasn’t worried about the stems developing roots, but was wondering how the remaining “tree” would fare afterward.

En route to the area where we worked on the ‘ulu, I found these purple sweet potatoes being grown. These makeshift contraptions were to keep wild pigs out. We all have to keep pigs in mind. This allows the potato slips to start growing without getting immediately uprooted. More soil gets added in later so they can grow in mounds. I’ll have to ask more details in a future visit.

I found this website addressing pigs and potatoes. I found this quote interesting, in the vein of making peace with the pigs:

Ala has employed the natural relationship between the pig and the potato. “I was taught from my Dad, his Dad and my great grandfather that we use the pigs to till the ground so it’s easier for me, so I don’t have to do all the hard work.  The pigs will till the ground—I will come behind, mound the ground, plant the sweetpotato cuttings and wait until the potatoes are ready, a good 3-4 months from planting. After harvesting, we will put the pigs back where the sweetpotato were. They will clean up whatever I missed, fertilize the ground and then I can plant more cuttings.”

It’s pretty clear from this photo where the pigs have tilled our land. Maybe we should mound the ground and plant potato slips …

A bonus to my morning at the Greenwell Garden was that I happened to be there on a day when a couple who volunteer planned to invite everyone for lunch at their nearby house afterward. They even came up to me to inform and invite me along. It was a fascinating group of people, including a few of their board members and kupuna (honored elders). So I lucked out! I’m so thankful for the hosts’ warm, generous hospitality. Such aloha spirit.

3 thoughts on “Beginning my Master Gardener volunteer hours

  1. Sounds like you’re well on your way to becoming a master gardener.
    I wonder if the pigs used to till the soil were then put in a pen to keep them from eating all the plants? There’s not much left when pigs till the soil around here.

    1. I know! We have LOTS of potato slips, so they aren’t “precious,” but if I plant them, I don’t feel like just directly feeding the pigs, which is probably what would happen.

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