Rapid Resilient Food Systems

This post will be describing the possibility of regrowing nutritious food sources from nearly nothing, as quickly as possible. Grabbing or finding your quickest growing, most necessary food plants can enable you to grow your own nutritious food in a new place within weeks. This post could be useful to start up a new garden, or to be used if a displaced individual would have some space to grow food.

Background

The garden I tend is 1 mile (1.6 km) from fissure 8, the rapidly growing new Pu’u in Leilani Estates, Hawai’i. This new lava flow started at the beginning of May and is flowing with rapid release showing no intentions of slowing down. I have been unable to tend the garden due to air quality. At this point, I do not know if my edibles are poisoned by the emissions from Kilauea, but when I look at the plants I know they are being negatively affected.

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Strawberry Guava. Almost fully defoliated due to emissions. One of our most invasive species.

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Defoliated invasive Gunpowder Tree, active lava field, dead pasture and forest in background.

The situation

Here in Puna, most people have a bit of land; most people are even willing to grow some food on it. Currently there is a lot of displaced individuals, due to the lava activity, who used to grow their own food. They may be staying at friends houses or staying in shared places. If you are in this position, or a new renter, you will need to ask permission from a landowner to utilize some of their land to grow food. Most reasonable people will understand your desire, and will be willing to allocate a space for you to do so. If the landowner were reluctant you would want to plan out your space to be beautiful and prolific in order to share your abundance with them. The potential problems that could arise in a borrowed space could be: potential lack of cleanliness from a visual perspective and something becoming overgrown and becoming a ‘burden’. The idea is to create a system that will maintain itself after a short period and last there forever in-case a situation like this appears again. Always readily giving garden therapy.

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Edible Sweet Potato and Sissoo Spinach 2 weeks after cuttings planted

 

The Plant List

For a small space these are my necessities: Basils, Comfrey, Cranberry Hibiscus, Culantro, Katuk, Kale, Lemongrass, Mints, Okinawan SpinachPlectranthus amboinicus, Sissoo Spinach, and Sweet Potato (for leaf harvest). For a larger space include Edible Hibiscus, Moringa, and Taro grown for leaves. For a longer term space include all the plants I’ve previously blogged about.

The Facts

Initial Planting: My new garden space is 350′ elevation and much more dry compared to 780′ and wet in Leilani. The bed is small, 12′ x 2′. All I added to an old garden bed was about a 1/3 of a trashcan full of my previous soil mix: 1/2 potting soil, 1/4 compost and 1/4 biochar/sifted cinder. I planted Basils, Canna, Comfrey, Cranberry Hibiscus, Culantro, Katuk, ko’oko’olau, Lemongrass, Mints, Okinawan Spinach, Sissoo Spinach, Sweet Potato, Taro, Turmeric, and a few annuals I was growing. The annuals were: Portuguese Kale, Bell Peppers (shishito and other), Eggplant, Tomatoes and Tomatillos. Once planted, I heavy mulched it, and then I waited. The chickens came out of nowhere and decided to munch on the veggies, so I added a fence, build it and they will come!

Two weeks into garden: Sissoo spinach and sweet potato leaves ready for harvest. I planted a 2′ x 3′ space with sissoo, and I had enough harvest for three hungry adults. AMAZING!

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First Harvest. Week 2.

Three weeks in: Sissoo spinach, sweet potato leaves, Portuguese kale, and culantro all have new growth and ready for harvest. Katuk, cranberry hibiscus and okinawan spinach leaves starting to grow rapidly, not yet ready for harvest. We are well on our way in the garden, within a few more weeks all the perennials will be harvest-able and the annuals will start coming on, as they get large enough. This mini-food system is up and going!

Edit: Four weeks: Sissoo spinach, sweet potato leaves, Portuguese kale, culantro, okinawan spinach, and cranberry hibiscus can be harvested. Tomato, tomatillo and bell peppers flowering.

 

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Look at all that food!! This system is now bustling, and I’m ready to start regular harvests. All it took was 3 weeks!

Final Thoughts

I’ve recently realized the necessity and luxury of growing my own food. I find it hard to find quality produce I can trust. Luckily, I’ve built some relationships with farmers at the farmers markets whom I trust. But buying produce from other vendors is sometimes sketchy. It’s hard to find out where produce comes from, let alone how it was grown. I always prefer local produce even over organic. But you really need ask a vendor you can trust where each product comes from. They will tell you and then you decide if that product is for you. Some other vendors are farms that are certified organic on our island, those vendors are a no brainier to buy from, but I still always ask where the product comes from. Think about it, if you buy a mainland cabbage, it takes at least 3 weeks, by boat, to arrive on our island. Think about how long it took to get from farm to the shipping container. Then being shipped from Oahu to Big Island, SCARY. I feel ok buying highly store-able products; onions, garlic, potatoes, which naturally have a long shelf life, think about plants that can be stored for winter uses. But I do not want to buy short shelf life products like cabbages, leafy greens, tomatoes, or others from mainland. So grow your own food and in the meantime support those local farmers!

 

 

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Keep on gardening!

 

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Kilauea East Rift Zone Eruption

Due to the recent lava activity on the Island of Hawaii, I will not be posting this month. I live in Leilani Estates where the current eruption started on May 3rd. Those of you in non affected areas please share your aloha with those people affected.

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Lava Glow

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Fissure 8. Leilani Estates.

Keep on gardening!

Comfrey (Symphytum spp.)

Description
Comfrey, (Symphytum spp.) or knitbone, is the ultimate permaculture/multipurpose perennial plant. Comfrey is a magical medicinal healing plant; its deep roots have amazing abilities to mine the soil for micronutrients and makes them available in their leaves, bees love it, and it grows prolifically in any environment/soil.

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Propagation

Comfrey is grown from clump-division and from root cuttings. I typically only grow it from root cuttings because it is less work.

Simply dig around in the soil, find the root and cut off a section. Take this section and cut it up into 3 inch bits and replant them horizontally 2 inches deep in new location. Give it a couple of weeks and new leaves will emerge.

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Dig up roots

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Cut into 3 inch pieces and replant horizontal

Care

Comfrey is a carefree plant. It grows about 3’ tall and wide and flowers year round with no care. If you want to utilize comfrey for its soil building properties, you’ll want to cut it back to about 2 inches off the ground, then mulch, compost, or make compost tea from the leaves (wear gloves when handling, hairs on the leaves may irritate). Doing this will make use of the micronutrients mined from the ground and make them available for other plants to uptake. Once cut back, it will start re-growing immediately and start putting up vigorous growth once again. The leaves break down quickly and give their nutrients to the soil. A healthy plant may be cut back completely 4-5 times a year in a temperate environment. In the tropical environment its almost endless the amounts of times you can cut it back throughout the year! Even just growing this plant around your trees will give extra nutrients to them.

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Cut back to a few inches above ground level. Look at all that wonderful mulch!

Uses as medicine

Comfrey has so many uses as medicine it deserves endless research. Historically, comfrey was used internally and externally to treat throat issues, broken bones, arthritis, ulcers, burns, inflammation and many other issues. The main reason I use comfrey is for its antiseptic and cell growth stimulant properties. Healing my wounds in hours. It is seriously magic.

Where to obtain planting materials

Ask a friend who grows comfrey for some roots to propagate. Make sure you get a sterile variety so it doesn’t spread by seed indefinitely. I’ve grown mine for a few years and they have never spread beyond their original clump unless I spread around roots.

My Garden

As an avid environmentalist I spend most of my time outside playing in the waves, forests, mountains and in the garden. Living on a very young landscape, the lava rocks are very sharp and unforgiving. This means I cut myself basically everyday. Sometimes small, sometimes larger. But I have no fear even though I live in a region teeming with staph (Staphylococcus spp.) because I have my go to medicine all around. I simply grab off a bit of leaf and mash it between my fingers and create a poultice. Apply this directly to the wound and throw a Band-Aid to keep it in place, I then wrap tape around the Band-Aid it to actually keep it on my skin (LOL at waterproof Band-Aids in the wet tropics). I have not used traditional western antiseptic in three years and have never had an infection! Yes comfrey!

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Comfrey with: edible hibiscus, kalo and lemon

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Comfrey with: cranberry hibiscus, perennial peanut, sweet potato, snake fruit, cacao and tamarillo, hapu’u, pigeon pea and waiawi in the background

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Comfrey with: sweet potato, edible hibiscus, gliricidia, vi apple, ice cream bean, and ulu

 

Happy Gardening!

Culantro (Eryngium foetidum)

Description

Culantro (Eryngium foetidum), or sawtooth coriander, is a small potent herb closely related to the cilantro/coriander (Coriandrum sativum) plant. Culantro has a very similar taste to cilantro; it is stronger and more pungent though. Culantro can be considered weedy, is a truly tropical plant, and will thrive in your garden with no help. Plants can easily be trained to become perennials. Quite the contrary of cilantro in our tropical environments, cilantro doesn’t like our rains, heat/sun and is hard to establish. Why grow something so difficult if you could just grow culantro with no effort?

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Propagation

Culantro is grown from tiny seeds. Plants left to flower will set seed prolifically and do not need to be re-sown with your help.

Culantro can easily be up-planted and moved anywhere desirable. Don’t worry if you break a few roots, this plant is extremely hardy and will bounce back.

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Flower and seed head

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Up-plant and replant

Care

Culantro is a carefree plant. If you would like to perennial-ize your plants, cut off flower stocks when they appear. Consistently doing this will force the plant to keep producing edible leaves and it will not end its lifecycle.

If you want to propagate more culantro: let one of your plants go to seed and continue to cut off the flower stocks on your other plants. Your single flowering plant will set lots of seed and drop them all around itself. Give them a little time and new plants will emerge all around your flowering plant. Once the plant flowers it will die. But you should have plenty of keiki to replace it.

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Cut off flower stock to keep plants from ending their lifecycle

Eating

Treat culantro as you would cilantro. Use young tender or older leaves raw or cooked. However, use less of the leaves, as it is more potent than cilantro. Flower heads may be blended to create a pesto or salad dressing as well.

Where to obtain planting materials

Look around your property for it; chances are it’s already a weed in the garden somewhere. Seriously.

You could ask someone growing it for some seed, or a young up-planted plant would be easier. Or try to find it at a plant sale. This plant is easy to find and identify (leaves, flowers and scent are unmistakable).

My Garden

When I first moved onto the property I would cut the grass and get a strong scent I could never place. As I left the grass to grow, I would walk around and get poked by the flowers of this unmistakable plant. This plant would force me to cut the grass sooner than I would like because it would always poke me! One day I was at a plant sale and noticed this plant. I saw a photo of the flowers and looked at the leaves. I immediately realized this was the plant prolific in the grass at home. I noted the name and checked out the plant once I got home. Realizing this scent I associated with cutting the grass was cilantro like, or rather the pungent scent of culantro. I decided to up-plant this and move it into the herb spiral at home. This was about two years ago. Those plants are still growing strong in the herb spiral and still out there in the grass. Food and medicine are literally all around us without our knowledge!

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Culantro in the grass

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Culantro surrounded by Sisso Spinach and Winged Bean above

 

Happy Gardening!

ko’oko’olau (Bidens spp.)

Description

ko’oko’olau (Bidens spp.) is a medicinal native Hawaiian plant. The two species I will describe are Bidens menziseii subsp. filiformis, and Bidens hawaiensis, both endemic to Hawaii Island. There are over 200 species of Bidens worldwide, with many of them being highly medicinal. Medicinal properties include: promotion of good health, cleanse the body, prevents: strokes, diabetes, constipation, stomach, and liver problems. Basically good for everything, do some more research to identify more medicinal properties. This plant is also highly ornamental!

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Bidens hawaiensis

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Bidens menziseii subsp. filiformis

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Propagation

ko’oko’olau grows well from seed or cuttings. I prefer to grow them from seed so they have a stronger root system, as they tend to fall over when they get large.

Surface sow seeds and they should germinate within two weeks.

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sprouted seed

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keiki awaiting transplant

Care

It would be safe to call ko’oko’olau a weed, as it propagates readily and grows quickly. Needing no care at all. I have noticed ants love farming on menziseii but it doesn’t seem to affect them.

They prefer full sun but will grow in part shade. These two varieties grow from the coastline to about 8000’. And need good drainage, meaning add lots of cinder into the soil mix. Or grow them on straight cinder or straight lava like they grow in the wild!

Did I mention they are frost, drought, heavy rain, scorching sun, and high winds tolerant? Yeah, grow ko’oko’olau anywhere and everywhere!!

Bidens menziseii subsp. filiformis grows to about 15’ with the largest trunk diameter I’ve seen is over 5 inches!

Bidens hawaiensis grows to about 6’ in a more shrub like habit.

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Eating/Preparing

Grab a few leaves and throw them in boiling water. You could also dry the leaves first, 3 cups water to 1 tablespoon of dried leaves.

Where to obtain planting materials

I highly recommend sourcing seeds or cuttings from your local species as the islands of Hawaii contain 19 endemic species. Please grow the correct species, as keeping genetics pure will allow these species to continue to thrive in their endemic habitat. As some of these species are rare, it would be wonderful to promote and propagate them in the correct environment and hopefully seeds will spread and become more naturalized and hopefully spread from cultivated specimens and retake their landscapes.

If you live in puna contact me for a seed source. I will share when they are in season.

My Garden

I first learned of Bidens menziesii while working on Mauna Kea replanting the high elevation forest. Working closely with this plant gave me an appreciation of this species. On the mountain this seems to be the fastest growing species, making it the pioneer plant the mountain needs to become reforested once again. This is a keystone species that we plant with Sandalwood, as the host plant. This plant also goes to seed within half a year and sets seed vigorously. Perfect for a restoration plant. In the forest at home this plant grows well, but has not flowered yet. Possibly due to the amount of shade it receives.

I’ve only been growing Bidens hawaiensis for a little while now and do not have quite as much experience with it. Although it has already flowered, I was not able to catch seeds because the rain knocked them off.

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ko’oko’olau growing under mamane tree on mauna kea

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ko’oko’olau growing in the forest at home with hō’awa

Happy Gardening!

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)

Description

Lemongrass, Cymbopogon citratus, is a wonderful aromatic perennial multipurpose clumping grass. Lemongrass is an essential flavor in Southeast Asian cooking, but also a great mulch plant, being high in carbon makes it an excellent addition for your carbon ratio in your compost pile. It also works great as mulch around your plants; cutting the plant back to 6-12 inches tall it will regrow vigorously. The roots go deep and help prevent soil erosion as well. This plant is closely related to citronella grass, (Cymbopogon nardus), meaning that lemongrass also contains insect repellent properties (great next to your tomatoes or bell peppers). And finally lemongrass is a great barrier plant; most weeds will be stopped in their tracks trying to cross a lemongrass hedge.

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Propagation

Although lemongrass does grow from seed, it is better to get a non/low-seeding variety as it will be less likely to spread. The only way to know for sure if it is a non-seeding variety is to divide shoots, or grow cuttings, from a superior variety and grow a clone.

To take cuttings from an existent clump: pull off 2-3 shoots; trim the tops and stick into the ground 2-3 at a time. To create a hedge, plant them (2-3 shoots) 2 feet apart. They can also be rooted in water, but I’ve found they root just fine in the wet soil environment I live in.

Propagation by division: Find a mature clump (12 inch diameter) and pull the whole clump out of the ground. Divide the clump with a spade fork into 3-4 stocks each, and remove the top of the plant. Replant and water heavily.

They do take their time to establish with both methods. I regularly propagate by cuttings so I can continue harvesting for food while propagated plants establish.

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find center of clump

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push stock down – to pull off a few stocks

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trim top leaves

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stick into ground

Care

Lemongrass is a carefree plant once established. Water new propagations heavily until new growth appears. Full sun is preferred, however, they can be grown in light shade but do not grow at their full sun vigor and become spindly. Mature plants are about 3 feet tall and wide and can tolerate fairly poor soils.

Eating

Prepare stocks by cutting off long ends of tops and trimming the base. Then ‘beat up’ the fleshy shoots before cooking. Add the shoots whole into your dishes and remove before eating.

Tender hearts of stocks can also be eaten as a vegetable in rice dishes.

Upper leaves may be used as flavoring as well, but should be tied in a bunch during cooking for easy removal before serving.

Where to obtain planting materials

Ask a friend for a couple of shoots and replant them. Or look at the farmers markets, as fresh shoots will still be fine for planting, or plant sales.

My Garden

I started off buying a single lemongrass plant. Once it became large enough I started propagating it. I had some space to fill in a newly created section of the yard; it was at the very front of the lot along the road. I had a few trees growing there taking up canopy space but needed something to fill in the ground and mid level so the house wasn’t visible by the road. So I decided to try out the lemongrass hedge. I stuck them in the ground every few feet and waited. Now that those plants are nice and mature it created an amazing barrier. The grass on the lawn doesn’t try to jump into the space and the desmodium inside of the space doesn’t try to jump out over the lemongrass. As the trees grow and fill in even more canopy space I’m surprised that the lemongrass is growing really well in the shade. I also layered this hedge with patchouli in case the shade becomes too heavy and the lemongrass doesn’t succeeded, the patchouli can grow in complete shade.

I’ve followed this same method in a section I just created that has more sun than the previous. However, this time I planted a row of Surinam cherries too. So I should have the lemongrass and patchouli fill in along the boundary quickly, and the Surinam cherries taking their time to fill in the rest of the hedge creating another barrier between my neighbors lot and mine.

The key is to garden in layers and succession, filling in newly cleared areas so all niches are filled, therefore, weeds will not take over.

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barrier hedge

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barrier hedge (lemongrass, strawberry guava, hapuu, avocado, kou, pigeon pea, papaya, soursop)

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newly planted barrier hedge (lemongrass, patchouli, surinam cherry, naupaka, akala, aweoweo, kolomona, apple banana, edible hibiscus)

Happy Gardening!

Pigeon Pea (Cajanus cajan)

Description

Pigeon Pea, Cajanus cajan, is a gardeners dream. This 10 foot tall perennial bush produces beautiful clusters of bee buzzing blossoms, followed by pea pods with up to eight seeds. These seeds can be eaten immature, shelled like peas, or eaten at various stages of ripeness dependent on desires. Not only does this plant produce an abundance of pea pods, the tender leaves and shoots can be eaten as well! Pigeon Pea is also nitrogen fixing, gathering nitrogen from the atmosphere and ‘fixing’ it into the soil. Once they are cut back they release this nitrogen and make it available for other plants. This means they can be grown as a cover crop (cut back completely just as they start to flower) or used for coppicing (cut back periodically once woody between 1-6 feet to regrow later).

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Propagation

Pigeon Pea is propagated by seed. Harvest seedpods when completely dry on plant to save seed.

Check out seed propagation for tips

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Dried Pods

Care

Pigeon Pea tolerates shade but really thrives in full sun. They grow slowly at first, but once they become established they reach for the sky. Pigeon Pea is a pioneer species, meaning; it is the hardiest of plants growing in any climate or soils.

Eating

Young seeds are shelled and eaten like peas

Mature green seeds are eaten cooked, boiled.

Mature dried seeds are eaten split, cooked as a pulse, in soups, curries, sprouted, fermented, or ground for flour.

Tender under ripe pods can be cooked

Leaves and tender shoots are eaten as cooked greens (steamed, boiled)

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Seed at various stages

Where to obtain planting materials

Get seeds from someone you know or buy them

My Garden

I’ve been growing pigeon pea for a while now, trying it in various places to find its perfect preference. All of my plants start out slow taking at least 6 months before they reach 4 feet. At this stage they seem to start to bush out. The more sun they get the faster they grow. The varieties I have only flower in the shorter days of fall so this plant is not producing year round. I stick it around wherever I can and let it grow. I come by and trim the branches in the path and add them to the bases of my trees feeding them the biomass and the nitrogen in the soil. What a great food plant to have around!

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Pigeon Pea with: cacao, cranberry hibiscus, snake fruit, lilikoi, kalo, roselle, pepino dulce and comfrey

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Pigeon Pea with: papaya, banana, koaia, poha, cocona, cranberry hibiscus, okinawan spinach, dragon fruit, mamaki

Happy Gardening!

Air-Potato (Dioscorea bulbifera)

Description

The air-potato, Dioscorea bulbifera, is an incredible perennial plant. The edible tuber of the crop grows in the leaf axils of the vine, meaning the tubers hang in the air! Although this is called air-potato, it is truly a yam. There are toxic varieties that are highly invasive in some parts of the world; however, this variety is delicious and completely edible. The vine can grow 40’ or more in a season, and produces an abundance of tubers.

This is a fast growing vine that has the potential to become invasive. Please do not plant in, or near the native forest, as that ecosystem is too fragile to have another invasive species.

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Propagation

Take a small aerial tuber, or cut off a section of a large one, and stick it in the ground. I’ve noticed they will not sprout until spring, but once they sprout they don’t stop growing until they die back in the fall/winter.

Any aerial tuber that falls to the ground and is not picked up will sprout, creating the potential for invasiveness.

Care

Stick into the ground. Wait for it to sprout. Guide onto a trellis. Consume tubers.

This is actually the easiest growing plant in my garden. If you are trying to keep it on a low trellis, you have to guide the vine daily or it will go crazy and jump anyway to get higher. I grow mine on a teepee trellis and just wrap the vine around the entire teepee.

The plant dies back after production of tubers in the fall/winter. The plant will regrow at the beginning of spring. No need to dig or touch the underground root.

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Eating

May be cooked just like any potato; baked, mashed, boiled. I’ve found removing the skin on the more mature tubers is beneficial.

Where to obtain planting materials

Ask someone you know who grows it for an aerial tuber. Make sure the person has eaten it and you are getting an edible variety.

My Garden

I’ve been growing air potato for two years now and I’m always surprised at the shapes and the angles of the aerial tubers! This plant is so fun to grow and show off to anyone that stops by! Air-potato is so easy to grow, easy to prepare and delicious. Everyone should be growing and eating this plant!

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Happy Gardening!

Poha Berry (Physalis peruviana)

Description

Poha, Physalis peruviana, Ground Cherry or Goldenberry, is a perennial garden berry that thrives with little attention or care. I have seen this plant thriving at 7000’ elevation and where I live at 800’, meaning this plant grows well all over Hawaii! This plant typically reaches 3-4 feet in height and spread, creating a nice mat of leaves and edible fruits. Poha is closely related to tomatillo and has the same papery husks, but the fruit itself is tart, sweet and delicious.

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Propagation

Poha grows easily from seed or cuttings (Check out seed propagation for tips on seed).

Not all cuttings will root, seems about 1/3 of the cuttings will. So make sure to try multiple cuttings ensuring some will root. Or grab some cuttings with rootlets already established (look at the nodes).

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Rootlets at node

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Rootlets at node

Care

Poha grows well in full sun or partial shade.

Weed around Poha while it is getting established. Once it is large enough, it will take care of itself. Trellising would make harvest easier, but this could also make it more noticeable to the birds that love it, as well as preventing it from becoming a nice edible ground cover.

Poha thrives in poor soils, if you give them some nutrients they will grow even more crazily!! This plant is pretty weedy, which makes for a great food source. Seedlings may appear around your yard, decide which plants are in a good spot and encourage them.

Eating

The only edible part of this plant is the fruit. Harvest when papery sacks begin to brown and become slightly translucent. Their calyx acts as a protective layer, so they may be eaten even if picked off of the ground. I like to harvest them from the plant and let them ripen a few days until they’ve turned a green/golden color and become sweeter. You can make them into jams or juices or eat them raw. Berries kept in their papery calyx will store for a few weeks at room temperature.

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Ripe berries

Where to obtain planting materials

Grab some cuttings from a friend who is growing them in a similar climate to yours. Or keep an eye out at farmers markets and plant sales. They are a really common plant around here.

My Garden

I’ve been growing a single Poha for about two years. Originally, I had it planted in one of my garden beds. It would spread too much that I would constantly be pruning it have having to cut off flowers and undeveloped fruits just to keep it in its space. Making the harvest smaller and smaller. This plant wants space! Once I finally figured out a good place to grow them, I took some seed from my fruits and planted them. I ended up with four young healthy plants. I took these four plants and planted them about 2 feet apart around a lava feature. After about three months of being in the ground they started flowering and fruiting. I harvest about 50 berries weekly. As these plants get older they only produce more. I guess it’s about time to start making jelly!

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4 Poha planted 2 feet apart around rock feature. Also around: Heatless habanero, mamaki, papaya, dragon fruit, cocona, edible hibiscus, okinawan spinach, crotolaria, all filling in space until the ulu tree is large enough to produce

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also within this guild is banana, koaia, kului, cranberry hibiscus, and popolo

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Happy Gardening!

Seed Propagation

Description

This month I will be talking about seed propagation, an important skill to develop to maintain food security, particularly starting annual plants and fruit trees.

Seeds are amazing. They are little packets of life awaiting the correct environmental conditions to spark life. Seeds create genetic diversity within specie. This allows plants to develop environmental preferences, creating specific varieties and in turn, potentially creating new species and evolving into new plants.

With human help, we would call this process selective/genetic breeding. This is where a human collects seeds from a particular plant with favorable traits and continues to select seed until the desired traits have become normalized. This is how beets and chard have become ‘different’ plants, when in reality they are the same plant grown for specific qualities. That being the roots in beets and the leaves for chard. This process should be done in your garden to establish plants that are adapt to your environmental conditions.

Planting by the Moon

This may sound a bit faithful or superstitious, but in my experience, planting with the moon truly makes a difference. Today I noticed 90% of the seeds I planted 5 days ago sprouted. How else could you get this high of a percentage of germination without the moon? Beans and amaranth literally sprout within two days, its incredible!

Tip: If you don’t believe me, go ahead and plant seeds randomly, but make sure you write down the date, and then, look at the moon phase. Plant seeds throughout the month and notice that most all of the seeds will sprout around the new and full moon, regardless of when they were planted into the ground.

Phases of the moon

Check out the chart below to get some hints. I’ve read and tried other methods for moon planting, but I find this to be most useful. Starting seeds two days before the new moon allows the seeds to awaken with water and humidity. By the time the new moon comes around, the seeds have so much moon gravity pulling on them that they cannot stay within the cozy little womb and they jump out, showing beginning stages of germination. The chart below also describes how moon phases directly affect plants growth.

Moon Phase Chart

Seed Planting

Yes, you can just follow what a seed packet says. But a lot of the time I get seeds from friends, save my own seed, or when I buy delicious fruits and decide to plant those seeds, no seed pack instructions come along.

It all depends on the size of the seed, larger seeds tend to take longer to germinate and needs to be planted deeper than tiny seeds. Think about brassica seeds vs. bean or squash seeds. Here is my general rule for planting seeds: plant the seeds twice as deep as the width/thickness of the seed. So a seed that is a quarter inch thick will be planted a half-inch deep. Most times I stick my seeds in horizontally to the depth desired. Don’t worry too much, it doesn’t need to be an exact science, just stick em in and wait for them to sprout. However, seeds smaller than a pepper, Capsicum spp., I surface sow, or lightly dust potting mix on. Literally just add the seeds to the top of your potting trays.

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Peanut seed planted to correct depth

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Seeds smaller than Capsicum spp are surface sown

Preferences for seed starting

I prefer to start almost all my seeds in my ‘sunhouse’, rather than planting directly into the ground. For whatever reason, most things I put directly into beds disappear and don’t sprout, I don’t know if its ants, birds, rats, too much rain or whatever factor I’m not considering, so I just play it safe and plant it somewhere safe and sheltered.

My ‘sunhouse’ consists of a clear plastic roof to allow sunlight in, but keep rains out. Also the space should be rat and bird proof, for me, I just threw netting around my table. This space should be near a water source, whether that be a small catchment system coming off your roof to allow a hose to be attached. Or simply close enough to your home structure so that you can water with a hose. The place should be raised off the ground, so grasses and other weedy plants don’t drop seeds into your trays. This system could be as simple or elaborate as needed. I know people who just grow their seeds under the eve of the house on the sunny side. So just keep these factors in your mind when creating a place to start seeds.

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My Sunhouse

I typically use three types of trays or pots to start seed: the typical 4-pack, a smaller 6-pack tray, and a larger ¼ gallon pot (for fruit trees). These can all be purchased for under a dollar each. You could cut toilet paper or paper towel rolls to size, or really use anything you can think of, you just want to make sure you can take out the plant safely without damaging roots or soils.

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My prefered tray sizes

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Use larger pots for larger seeds

Plant Variety or Crop

One of the main problems starting seed and growing vegetables in the tropics is variety. Think about it; ‘typical’ vegetables in the grocery stores are temperate or Mediterranean climatic plants, because well, that’s where mega farms are located. The ‘western’ diets consist of those plants because those are the plants that developed in the regions where those people lived.

The tropics are another story. We simply cannot grow onion, broccoli or other ‘staple’ vegetables (unless you live in higher elevations or have a completely controlled environment). However, there are relatives of these common plants that do thrive in hot, humid, wet environments. So these are the seeds to look for. When I buy heirloom seeds online, I look for Thai or Southern varieties because I know the climate is similar. Another option is University of Hawaii seeds because they too have been selected to thrive in our environment. The best way to ensure optimal results is to change your diet to include things that grow in your climate.

Final Considerations

  • Label all seed trays, you may think you’ll remember dates and varieties, but after a month I cant remember anything of that matter!
  • Use quality seedling soil mix. I used regular potting soil for a while, and once I switched to seedling mixes the difference was night and day. I also add biochar to my seedling mixes to add soil structure and drainage.
  • Once you fill your trays with soil, water them multiple times before adding seeds, it will fill in air pockets and make the medium moist and ready to start germination.
  • Add multiple seeds into trays in case some of them don’t germinate. It’s easier to thin out plants than it is to start new trays if you have spotty germination. One plant per tray is ideal. Multiple sprouts in a single tray create too much competition.
  • Flats may be used if you plan to transplant them into their own trays when they are ready.
  • Once seeds are planted, water them daily; in the morning or the evening, and keep a steady routine, plants rely upon consistent conditions.
  • Seeds do not need nutrients before they sprout. Long-term germinating plants, like fruit trees, I simply throw in cinder or cinder soil. Once they sprout, place them into their own pot with nice soil and allow them to grow.
  • Starting from seed saves money rather than buying starts at a market. You could buy a single plant for $3 or you could buy a seed packet with 300 seeds for $3. Hmm.
  • The only downside to buying seed packets, are that they come with too many seeds for a small scale, and our environment is not conducive to store seed regularly. So there are a few options: you can share seeds with friends, or plant all the seeds in a pack and share the excess product. Plant all the seeds and eat most of them as sprouts or micro-greens, saving the largest and most vigorous for the garden to become mature plants. The final option is to save them temporarily for yourself. My method for storing seed: get small zip lock bags; add unused seed. Make sure it’s labeled well, air free (as much as possible), then take all your baggies and put them in a mason jar, then store in the fridge. Seeds will last a few months and retain their viability. If you leave your seeds in their original packets they will deteriorate pretty quickly.
  • Hybrid seeds do not set viable seed, buy non-hybrids if you plan to save seed. I typically buy heirloom seeds because they are open pollinated and have specific qualities that I desire. Also, who wouldn’t want purple beans, orange tomatoes and red carrots?

 

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Store seed in air-free baggies in a mason jar in the fridge

Happy Gardening!