What are the tricks to manage vigorously growing edibles?

Master Gardener class has been more enjoyable than I expected, and I expected to get a lot out of it. After two three-hour in-person classes and one three-hour Zoom presentation, we have been fire-hosed with information. We had a Hawai’i Natives A-Z in half of an in-person class, and then Tropical Plants A-Z on Zoom. I don’t even mind, strangely. Bring it on!

The last in-class session had some little trivia tidbits about Hawai’i (the state) that grabbed my attention. I’m sharing a couple without citing the references, but please trust they’re legitimate since this program is run by University of Hawaii at Manoa, and there were citations in our handouts. I don’t want to bog down this post.

So, an endemic species is found nowhere else in the world.

89% of Hawaii’s flora is endemic.

And another factoid, which comes from 2015, so the numbers have probably changed:

Hawai’i has the highest number of listed threatened and endangered species in the nation. There are 479 threatened and endangered species in the state (54 animals and 425 plants). Of the plants, 416 are endangered and nine are threatened.

Approximately 45% of all endangered and threatened plants in the U.S. are found in the Hawaiian islands.

Hawai’i is special.

With all this attention on plants and the last bonus topic being on Edible Landscaping, our courtyard was just screaming for attention. Unfortunately, so many plants have to take refuge from pigs here. This photo is just of ornamentals, not the edibles, but it exemplifies how overgrown and unkempt the space has gotten. It doesn’t take long here. The red button ginger was getting so tall and leaning all over the others, fighting for its space.

Last year I had some purple sweet potatoes, which I love, in a paper bag in the pantry, and I had forgotten about them for a while. Then they had roots, so I delayed eating them even further. Finally, the roots were so established, I decided to plant them instead of eating them. Boy, were they happy to be planted. They took off!

One Thanksgiving in Southern California, Bea harvested her purple sweet potatoes. They were huge!! We tried a bit of it, and it was not as bad as you’d think, but they were a bit woodier and starchier than a normal sized one. My brother took it home intent on eating the whole thing, but even he, with his stubborn determination, just couldn’t do it.

Did you know you can eat the potato greens? They’re good. I’ve used them in soups, curries, or boiled, served with a miso sauce on them. They have a little bit of a savory flavor to them. This is another way to help you eat green and purple in the rainbow. One negative is that they’re a little milky at the stem when you cut them. Bea says to cut about five leaves at the end of the vine, the younger, more tender leaves.

I knew the potatoes would take over, so I had put them in pots, thinking that would help limit them. It didn’t take long at all, and the greens were all over. I’m hoping the potato greens will shade out other weeds. It buried my pot of edible ginger, another vigorous grower, thus planted in a pot. I got distracted a bit as I dug out the ginger roots, and then I replanted some little nubs to continue the ginger growth cycle.

And to add to my vigorously growing edibles, my aunty dropped off some chayote starters. She says I can’t kill it. Hmmmm. My brain is on cautious alert. One has to be very careful about what one introduces into the garden. I like chayote squash, but I don’t love chayote. I do feel like some chayote on the farm would be useful, though. Apparently, you have to keep an eye on the fruit so you don’t accidentally grow huge amounts of chayote. She suggested we plant it on a dead tree or somewhere where it can climb, so you can more easily distinguish the fruit from its leaves. For now, it’s still sitting in the box while we figure out where to put it.

I learned about a flower sale at Old Airport on Saturday morning. I bought some cut obake anthuriums. I love their shapes and colorings. In Japanese, the word obake means “a thing that changes” and it can also be translated as “ghost.” Rather than being just one color, usually red, the flower has color changes. I bought two little obake plants, as well. I already have a few obake anthuriums growing in the courtyard, but I thought I should get a few when the specialists were selling them, so I’ll know what varieties I’m growing. Happy Valentine’s Day.

The 2023 block of trees are stumped

In one full day’s of work, Antonio stumped the block of trees that were designated to be stumped this year. All done with a hand saw. Antonio is a very hard worker. Over the next two days, two others dragged all the branches to the edge of the coffee road down the center of our property so that the branches can easily be chipped. Chipping usually takes about an hour, with several guys feeding in the branches.

The stumping makes it clear what weeding we now have to do, including getting rid of the ever-present autograph trees. Even though our weeding efforts are not perfect, because there’s regular attention paid, the weed tree situation is manageable. There are no longer years of weed trees taking root.

I think we’ll do like last year and methodically get rid of all visible autograph trees in the stumped block, so that we have a moment in time when there aren’t any visible. And after the coffee stumps leaf out, we’ll count the trees. It’s easier to get around and count them when they’re little and not branched and leafed out, and we can see where we are in the block. We have been estimating the number of trees, and by actually counting them, we’ll feel more satisfied with the better accuracy. It will take three years to get the count, though, since we’re doing it by stumped block and we only started last year.

Below are four photos of the same area, by the road (Mamalahoa Hwy.) Note the leaves of the dwarf banana plants in the upper left of each photo. I’m glad to have this area stumped, because the trees are densely planted, and they grew very tall. There wasn’t much circulation between them, and it was a hot spot for coffee leaf rust. It was also the area I was most plagued by mosquitoes. The terrain is very uneven, too. It was a difficult area to weed when it was grown in, as is now very visible. Maybe we should rebuild and reinforce the rock wall terraces while the coffee is stumped. I’ve tried to find photos from the 1970’s and 80’s of this area, but I haven’t been successful.

And a few more photos. In the last photo we can see our other non-coffee trees more easily now.

Don’t waste what is valuable

We have had a very dry January. I know California has been a different story. I feel for the state, with all that devastation wreaked by nine atmospheric rivers within three weeks. You want precipitation at manageable amounts in appropriate timing. Even in our dry season, we should get some rain. Ideally we’d get a soaker every once in a while.

We got a few sprinkles a couple of days just before the one day with a thunderstorm directly over us. We only received 3/8-inch of rain, though, which was something, but less than hoped for. This post’s feature photo was taken on that day. Many of the tree’s leaves had been hanging down due to lack of water, and they had been starting to turn yellow.

We’ve been waiting for rain and forecasts for more rain so that we can stump. Stumping is tough on the trees. We don’t want to stump when they’re already stressed from lack of water. And we don’t want to stump if they won’t soon receive water. With dry farming you’re at the mercy of the weather. This business isn’t profitable enough, or rather, it isn’t yet breaking even, to justify the costs of irrigating. As I mentioned in the last post, anytime after the winter solstice, i.e., as the days begin to lengthen, would be a good time to stump and give the trees more time to recover from the treatment and grow. Hopefully, conditions will be good for stumping in February.

On another note, I’ve noticed that the pocket garden in Kailua-Kona that I wrote about in July 2021 has been going the wrong direction for a while. Pocket gardens utilize open spaces of dirt that might otherwise remain bare. Now it seems like the pocket garden has been destroyed or maybe vandalized. I don’t know the story. It is 1-1/2 years from the time I took the last photo, lush and green, in this 3-photo gallery. In the first two photos, taken recently, the tall, light brown trunks are papaya trees. You can see how much shorter they were in the July 2021 photo. Some of the now tall papaya trees are still standing, with fruit, but other papayas have been knocked down and trunks cut into smaller pieces. The dirt looks dry and there’s no taro, turmeric, ti plants, or citrus. Anyone reading this know what happened?

I will close on a more positive note, inspired by UH. [Side note: I introduced my uncle as my uncle Harold to a friend yesterday, and he corrected me and said, “I’m UH.”] I dropped off some bananas and took a quick photo of just one of his pineapple stands. If he eats a pineapple, he does not let the crown go to waste.

The Japanese have a word for the sense of regret they feel when something valuable is wasted: mottainai (もったいない). It can be translated as “don’t waste anything worthy” or “what a waste,” and has come to represent the island nation’s environmental awareness.

Rooted in the Buddhist philosophy of frugality and being mindful of our actions, mottainai came to prominence in the post-war days of scarcity and is now handed down from grandparents to grandchildren.

Excerpted from the World Economic forum

Coffee pruning and leaf/soil sampling field day

Friday morning we attended the two-hour Coffee Pruning and Leaf/Soil Sampling Field Day at the CTAHR Kona Research Station, which is about two miles away. We are so fortunate to have this University of Hawaii Extension office so close by. The staff is very knowledgable, patient, and friendly. We are really lucky to learn from the experiments they do at the Research Station demo field.

I’ve taken the pruning class before, but the attraction this time was to look at the demo trees that were stumped in February, March, April, and May in 2022. They also had trees that were stumped in November and December 2022 and January 2023. We could see how the timing of stumping affected the growth of the tree. They will collect data, including yield, over the next years. Just from the visual appearance without the data, it seems earlier is better (February). They think that sometime between Winter Solstice and end-February is probably the best time to prune for most farms.

Attending a field workshop is great to network with the staff and others who are growing coffee. You learn so much, and when you’re walking as a group amongst the trees, questions come up and it’s interesting to hear answers and others’ experience. At the end of the workshop, as a bonus a company had donated tools for a drawing. Our names got pulled and Hubby and I got Felco collapsible hand saw and bypass shears. Extra woo hoo!

Stories I can tell from a few minutes of taking photos

It has been completely dry for a few weeks now. Many of the coffee trees’ leaves are drooping down. The trees near the house have a lot of blossoms on their way to becoming fruit. Such a shame they’ll be stumped. The landscape changes, too, when the trees are stumped. I’ll show this area again after the stumping.

Our ‘ulu (breadfruit) tree is looking good. We have a fruit. We had one last year, but at some point it was gone.

The Buddha’s Hand entry size tree (12″-18″) arrived from California in good condition. Because many of Four Winds Growers’ trees are grown in a greenhouse, their trees would be shocked to be directly placed in sunlight. They have to be acclimated to our environment and “hardened.” So it will be in this shady area in our courtyard for two weeks. It will get moved around a bit during that time to build up its direct sun tolerance. It’s similar to people. You have to build up your protective tan. You can’t just get off the plane and spend the whole day in the Hawaiian sunlight.

Inside the Buddha’s hand is all pith, firm and dense

Acclimating plants isn’t a new concept for me. I am Bea’s daughter, after all. [Aside: Bea’s son and plants is another story. For him, as a joke we purchased Plant Life Support from a favorite store, the Kona Treehouse in Holualoa.] It’s super valuable to have a personal plant expert you can always consult.

Hubby and I are going to take a next step. We’ve decided to finally get the training to be Master Gardeners. I’m excited to learn more, to get tours of nearby special plant places, to network with plant experts, to be in a group where we’ll continually learn, and to hopefully give back to the community in a meaningful way. We have been on the receiving end when we emailed photos to the Master Gardeners to ask what was wrong with a few plants. We received prompt responses, and even got a correction to the first response. I think sometimes they have a newer Master Gardener answer, but a more experienced one checks answers later. It seems like they have a process to let newer members practice in a supported environment.

If you were a master gardener and received this photo and were asked, “What is this plant?” What would you answer?

On another topic, our visiting friend reacted to something she saw in the courtyard roof direction. I asked, “What??!!” Gecko. I told her, “That’s like saying, ‘squirrel!!’ in California.” But it was the first gecko she had seen in several days. I answered, “Oh. I hadn’t realized. You just have to look.” We found these, all different, in one minute. [Bea can’t stand reptiles. Mom, if you’re reading, the post ends here. Skip looking at the photos.] There’s a reason our cat hangs out under these Costus French Kiss plants.