Litte Fire Ant (Wasmannia auropunctata) Prevention and Protocol

This blog entry is intended for Hawaii residents to prevent new introductions of an invasive specie onto your property.

Description

Little Fire Ant (LFA), Wasmannia auropunctata, is an invasive ant with a nasty sting. LFA are small, fully red, slow moving and live in trees. They do not swarm and they only sting when they get roughed up. While they are not super painful, multiple stings will leave welts and itchiness for a few days. No ants are native to Hawaii and all cause harm to the native ecosystem. However, LFA cause harm to us humans as well, they can and should be controlled around your home.

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Typical LFA activity on a potted plant

LFA do not spread very far from their nest. So most nests will be brought onto your property by human activities of moving around materials. Maybe in a potted plant or other plant materials. Check all materials brought into your yard before spreading them.

This is important to note. Worker ants do not start new nests. Only a queen will start a new nest by laying a new queen, this new queen will travel very close to the original nest and start her new nest. Queen and worker ants look quite different, and you will usually see eggs where there is a nest and a queen. So only moving a nest can create a new nest. Not moving individual worker ants.

I highly recommend taking a free LFA workshop from Big Island Invasive Species Committee to learn more information from the experts (http://www.biisc.org/lfa/).

Survey

First thing to know is if you have LFA or not. You will need to survey multiple places in your yard to see if or where they have nests. They prefer trees and shaded moist areas. Look at BIISC website for more details (http://www.biisc.org/surveying-for-lfa/).

  • Use a chopstick, coffee stirrer, stick, pencil, anything that you can stick somewhere and can remember what it looks like
  • Spread a thin layer of peanut butter on the stick (LFA love the protein and sugar content of peanut butter)
  • Poke them into crevices on trees, bananas, ti, near shrubs or into grass
  • Wait 30 minutes
  • Check sticks to see if LFA are crawling around near the peanut butter
  • If you cannot identify them as LFA check website above for confirmation details
  • Note locations where infected sticks were found

Survey all soils, mulches, cinders, composts, tree materials (including posts and logs), firewood, potted plants, cuttings, grafts, air-layers, literally everything, before moving them around your site. 

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Chopstick with smeared peanut butter

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LFA Found

Quarantine Potential Infection Points

It only takes a few minutes to survey materials at the entrance of your property. This will prevent nest from entering! Once the survey is completed you can proceed to deal with the outcome of your survey. To learn about chemical products for treatments and prevention check out http://www.biisc.org/types-of-products-to-control-lfa/. Amdro and Tango both work as a chemical control.

Non-Pesticide Method For Prevention

Soapy water will drown the ants. The soapy water breaks down the exoskeleton of the ant and deteriorates their floating/waterproofing abilities. When I bring new materials into my yard, I soak them all in soapy water for 15-30 minutes to reduce risk of bringing in new nests.

I also follow this process before I transplant a potted plant into the ground. That way I’m not spreading a nest to an uninfected part of the yard.

Protocol:

  • 5 gallon bucket with ~ 1 gallon of water
  • 1 teaspoon of soap. Any dish soap will do, but make sure it isn’t ‘ultra’ as that could harm your plants. I use Dr. Bronner’s soap.
  • Stick your whole plant into the solution, soil and all. Make sure there is enough water to completely cover the whole pot.
  • After 15-30 minutes, remove the plants and run water through the pot to wash out any excess soap. (If transplanting I look at root ball to make sure no more ants are moving)
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3 gallon water: 3 teaspoons soap

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Plant soaking in sudsy solution

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Larger scale soaking. Sudsy water

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Soak plants as much as possible

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Rinse out soapy water

Keep the ratio at least 1 gallon of water: 1 teaspoon soap. So 3 gallons of water would be 3 teaspoons or 1 tablespoon of soap. When doing larger containers just make sure the water stays sudsy during the soaking.

This also prevents spreading other pests around too.

Conclusion

I’ve been using this method about two years now and I haven’t spread any ants around to uninfected parts of the property. This process does work! I also soak everything before I give plants away including cuttings and I have never given anyone fire ants. If everyone were to follow this easy protocol we could greatly reduce the spread of these little ants!

This makes for much more happy gardening!

 

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Heart of Palm (Cocos nucifera)

Description

Heart of palm is a well-known vegetable taken from the terminal bud (youngest leaf shoots) from many different palms. This entry will focus specifically on the coconut tree (cocos nucifera); however, most palms can be processed the same way. Taking the heart of palm does kill a coconut tree, so please only cut down a coconut if it is in an undesired location, like too close to the house. Other species grown for heart of palm generally have a different growth habit and a single plant will produce multiple trunks, which can be harvested without killing the entire plant. Taking the heart out of the palm is a lot of work, but the younger the tree the easier it will be. This was the first time I’ve processed heart of palm and I very quickly realized this is my new favorite vegetable! It is so versatile!

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Propagation

Coconuts are grown from seed. Literally place an unopened coconut on the ground. Give it time.

You can grow them in a patch and let them grow for a year or two and come in and harvest the palm of the really young trees. That way you’re growing them for their hearts and you don’t need to allow them to have the space they need as full mature trees.

Harvesting

Never cut down a coconut in the wild or on someone else’s private property. Coconuts are the tree of life and have more uses for humans than any other plant on the planet. These are very very special and important trees. With that being said, if the palm endangers or is in the wrong place, go ahead and work it. The smaller the tree the safer and easier it is to work with. Do not take on this project with a large palm if you don’t have the capabilities of using a chainsaw. Coconuts are dense and hard to work; a handsaw just won’t work for the trunk (I tried). Heart of palm is very perishable. Work the palm quickly and efficiently and do not open the heart until you are ready to eat it. It oxidizes immediately. Take it into the kitchen to store it right away and do not leave in the sun. You may refrigerate or freeze fresh once harvested.

This is the section of the palm where the heart is located. The rest of the palm is woody and has older fronds. Cut down the entire trunk and cut off this section to work it separately.

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Buck up the rest of the trunk into sizeable pieces and distribute them as borders or around trees for mulch. Utilize fronds however you would like, I mulched them heavily around an orange tree then in areas to suppress grasses. So many uses from this plant!

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Work the heart out of the palm by cutting cross sections of both sides of the heart until you notice a difference in texture and color.

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Bottom Section of HOP

Once you notice the difference, begin to peel off the sheaths. It’s all edible at this point so begin trying pieces to determine if it’s bitter or not. If it is bitter, peel off another sheath and get down another layer. Try it again and see from there. Once you have gotten past the bitter part and into the delicious sweet heart you’re ready to bring it inside.

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Slice lengthwise to take off layers

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keep on going

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now you can begin to taste for bitterness

Now you see why heart of palm has such a high value, it is a lot of work and does kill certain palms.

Eating

Heart of palm may be eaten raw or cooked. This is where things get really interesting. I found that there are a few different pieces and textures within the heart. The main part people eat is the small cylindrical very center. But I really enjoy the larger chunks outside of this portion that come along with it. These remind me of fish fillets. Even when you cook them, we broiled them and added a little lemon and it was literally like eating a piece of white fish. We made ‘crab cakes’, ‘ceviche’, ‘mashed potatoes’ and raw salads with it. You can make creamy soups, sauté, pizza, omelets, curries, chutneys and salsas as well.

My Garden

Someone planted coconuts too close to the house. As I’ve lived here, I’ve slowly watched the coconuts get larger and larger. At this point one developed a nice trunk and started leaning toward the house! I knew one day the time would come to cut the tree down before it gets too large and becomes a danger to the house. And of course if you let it get too large, it will grow directly over the house (searching for all that reflective light like the ocean) and drop fronds and nuts on the house. The house would quickly become damaged. I was talking to a friend one day telling him my woes about cutting down the palm. He said, ‘why don’t you eat it?’ That changed it all. So the day came to cut her down. I got a huge heart of palm harvest and now I use the dead stump to tie string for a trellis. The roots of the coconut are now starting to break down and turning the soil into incredibly fertile soils. The coconut used to suck up all the moisture and nutrients from the surrounding beds, now I see the other side of it and the coconut heavily feeding my beds and plants that are directly next to the stump. Allow the nutrient cycling to continue!

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Happy Gardening!

Cassava Processing – Pressure Cooking

Description

Cassava tubers are an incredible, versatile, starchy food source. It is super easy to grow and thrives in minimal and poor soils! Did you know that processing and preparing cassava is just as easy as growing it? There are many ways to prepare cassava; I’ve found this method really straightforward to get it into the kitchen. This method is for pressure cooking cassava and not making flours, starch granules, or ferments. Once cassava is out of the ground the shelf life is really short, so process it as soon as possible. Not to worry when you have a large harvest, it’s easy to store too!

You need to learn the variety you’re growing. Be sure to only dig up the same variety and process it by itself. Don’t mix varieties when you process and cook as they may have different textures and cook times. Variety names do not matter, as I cannot find any information on varieties and cook times, so just stick to your same varieties and learn as you go. I’ve heard on our island we have three varieties: red, yellow and green. But I have at least five distinctly different varieties growing right now, so that shattered that theory. Look at leaf shape, color of stem and leaves, and color of petiole and stipule. Since cassava is typically grown as a clone and not seed, genetic variability doesn’t occur. So these are direct clones someone has cultivated somewhere and it adapted and evolved into separate varieties. In simple: stick to same varieties when preparing and cooking. I like to grow a few plants in close proximity and harvest them all at the same time and re-grow a patch once harvested.

Harvest

Again, you have to learn when your particular variety is ready for harvest, write down when you planted it and write down when you obtain a satisfactory harvest. Different varieties harvest between 6-18 months. You may harvest at specific time depending on the age of tuber you want. I prefer young tubers as you can use them all and not worry about woodiness. So I harvest early.

There are two ideologies when it comes to harvesting cassava. 1. Dig the whole plant up, and 2. Dig a few tubers at a time as needed. I prefer pulling the whole plant up, and pull up multiple plants at once, and have a single large processing batch rather than doing small ones regularly. I like to minimize work and store processed goods to grab and throw together a meal rather than: harvest, process and then cook.

Yank that plant out of the ground! If you’ve prepared soil, it comes out as soon as you pull enough on the main stalk, should be easy to pull up all the roots at once. If you didn’t prepare soil and it’s growing in lava rocks, you’ll have to get down there and move around rocks until you can get the whole thing out.

If you harvest during the week of the full and new moons, the energy of the plants will be in the roots and therefore, create a more nutritious harvest. If you harvest at these times, it is also a good time to propagate as the energy is in the roots and will begin rooting right away. Working with nature!

Post Harvest Processing

  1. Separate stalks from tubers. I mulch the tops of my plants where I harvest, then I take the stalks and stick them in the ground elsewhere to propagate them. Crop rotation is important to prevent pests.
  2. At this stage the tubers should be washed to remove excess soil. Can be done in a bucket or with running water. I’ll usually use a little luffa sponge to scrub if necessary. These skins will be removed so it is not too important.
  3. Next, take washed tuber and cut it into large pieces, there are usually natural breaking points on the tubers, separate at this point and cut off rootlet ends. If whatever tool your using doesn’t cut through the tubers easily, they are woody, not edible, take them and compost them. This is where you’ll need to learn when to harvest your variety. If they are mostly woody then you are waiting too long, harvest them earlier next time. dsc_0721
  4. Grab a knife and slice lengthwise along the whole tuber. You’ll notice the flesh isn’t very thick so you only need to slice that deep.dsc_0730
  5. Stick your finger under the skin at one of the edges, sometimes you may need to use the knife and pry it up.dsc_0732
  6. Slide your finger along the sliced cut along the whole length. Don’t worry the tuber should be nice and juicy and smooth to work with. Turn tuber around the do the same along the other side of the slice.dsc_0733
  7. At this point, you’ll notice the whole skin is coming off in one piece. Continue to work it; it will come off easily in one piece. Compost that nutrient rich skin!
  8. Wash again. Bring them inside. Wow, that was easy!dsc_0750

Kitchen Work

In the kitchen comes the final part of processing. First thing to know: if your knife doesn’t cut through easily, compost it, it’s not worth the frustration!

  1. Cut everything into evenly sized pieces, we usually take one of the smallest roots and use that to size everything (if a tiny outlier exists, its not worth cutting all the larger pieces to that size). The more standardized all the pieces are, the more even the cooking. Tubers are typically cut 3-4 inches long x whatever piece is the average smallest diameter. We prefer to keep cut chunks as large as possible.
  2. When working with them check out the very center of the tuber for woodiness. If you harvest them young there’s nothing to worry about and no woodiness. If woody just cut it out.
  3. Once everything is nice and evenly cut and all woodiness removed, add to pressure cooker.
  4. Pressure cook for 5-8 minutes (dependent on variety). Once time is up, quick release, or pour cool water slowly over top of cooker to cool, so you can release the pressure as soon as possible to stop cook time. The pressure cooker is an important tool and I suggest everyone goes and finds a simple stove top cooker. It is worth it to speed up cook times of our tropical foods. Pressure cooking times starts once pressure regulator is moving and pressure is built, until then it’s pre-heating. You can boil but would probably take 40-45 minutes.
  5. Stick a fork into a cassava piece, fork should enter slowly and fully pierce.
  6. Once cooked take out and allow to dry. Now you have edible cooked cassava! This is your base for all cassava dishes. We typically freeze as much as we can at this stage for quick already processed cassava meals. We freeze them on a baking tray in a single layer and then fill into Tupperware or freezer bags once frozen. This prevents them from sticking to each other as they freeze. Once frozen they won’t stick together. We do the same for our bananas.
  7. From here, fresh or frozen, we make: fries (baked, roasted or fried), hash browns (refrigerate before shredding for best results), throw them in soups, curry, chili or anything really. Now you can utilize them as a potato and use them in any recipe calling for that. This is where cassava gets fun! Tubers do not have too much flavor and benefit from heavy spicing.
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    Fries: Bake @ 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes. Olive oil, sage, rosemary, salt, pepper

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    Preserved cassava products: frozen pressure cooked,  frozen hash browns. In jars: puba –  fermented cassava flour

Conclusions

Processing cassava in this manner is easy and accessible for anyone to enjoy this dense and delicious starch. This methodology allows us to use tubers in a certain way, there are other numerous ways to eat and utilize this amazing plant. My favorite method is called puba, take fresh root and mill it into a thick moist ‘flour’. From there you take it and press out all of the liquid. After pressing and it’s fully dry, you take it and press it into jars and allow it to ferment 1-2 weeks. From there you can use it as ‘bread’ and make pizzas and crusts. It’s delicious!!! Cassava is so versatile, now you too can enjoy cooking it up!

Happy Gardening!

 

Bean Processing

Description

I will describe the process of drying and storing beans for use as dried beans or for seed. This process can be done with any and all beans. I am specifically showing lablab as an example because in my opinion this is the superior bean for a wet climate. Read more about lablab here. Lablab pods dry on the vine even in a wet environment. I’ve left beans on the vine for too long and when I’ve gone out to check them, they haven’t started decomposing and very few pests decide to get in there and eat the beans. This bean will also dry out of the pod during rainstorms and during wet humid weather, when most other beans will turn moldy and start decomposing. These reasons make lablab superior. Then to add on the nitrogen fixing capabilities, the fact that it’s a perennial, super productive, multipurpose as a food source, and the beans store well making dried beans another source of food security. Yes beans!

Harvest

First things first, you’ll need to determine what pods are worth opening up and which you can just use their pods (beans not developed). Turn them to their side to make sure they are bulging and they have beans developed. Feel them! If you accidentally harvest immature pods you may eat them sauteed or steamed, certain varieties raw.

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Bulging pods have beans developed. Mature on left, Immature on right.

Harvest beans when dry or nearly dry on the vine. (Beans will be developed, pods bulging and usually become somewhat translucent as they dry).

Post Harvest Processing

  1. If you have dry weather you can leave the pods a few days in the sun to crisp up. If you have wet weather immediately shell all beans.dsc_0665
  2. Shelling: Take the pod, grab the flatter side and pinch the tip of one of the ends and pull away from the pod, dependent on variety a large string will peel off (hence string beans). dsc_0674
  3. Then apply pressure on the bean pod and it will slightly open, then grab the sides of the pod and pull them apart. The pod will typically open as two halves showing the beans (Just like processing snap peas).
  4. With time you’ll soon discover which pods are the right age to determine the bean you are looking for. I try to only collect dried ‘colored’ beans that have already transitioned away from being green and develop their dried colors.

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    Notice some matte (dry) and some glossy (still containing moisture)

  5. Open up all beans all put them into a tray, clean as you go if necessary. (very simple tray, make sure you determine the size of your beans and get some metal screen sized so your harvest wont fall through (dont forget, as the beans dry they do shrink). I use wood and some screen and make a simple frame I can put anywhere in the sun). If you had to you could use a baking tray, but its best to have some ventilation all around your drying product.
  6. Leave in the sun and monitor so the rains never come in contact with your drying beans. Periodically come and move around all the beans for even drying. Bring inside at night.

The magic of lablab – at this stage the rains came for two weeks straight. These beans dried perfectly fine in the garage, with ventilation during non-stop rain with no access to sunlight. If weather like this comes you just have to shift around your beans more periodically, and dry times are slower, but the lablab will dry. Other beans I’ve grown have molded during these kinds of weather.

  1. Once beans are fully dry. You can move them around and even toss them together and you will know once they are fully dry, they sound like small pebbles, think of the sound of fresh green peas vs. dry beans. If in doubt allow them to dry longer. If there is any moisture it could spoil your whole batch once it’s stored.
  2. Store them for seeds or to use as dry beans for cooking. I store them in mason jars if I’m going to eat them, and I store them in plastic baggies inside of mason jars in the refrigerator if I will use them for seed. We also tend to dry our beans, cook some of them and store them cooked in the freezer. Creating that feeling of opening up a can of cooked beans without ever having to leave the property. More ways to preserve, and make life a little bit easier when there is easy to grab, quality food, when you don’t have too much time for cooking. Or in my case, too lazy to go to the store.

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    White Whippoorwill Cowpea – left. Wonder Bean ontop of Thai Soldier Long Bean – middle. Luffa ontop of Lablab – right.

Best Beans for Wet

We got 254 inches (6451.6 mm) of rain in 2018. I need a bean that can handle wet and rainfall at any time. My three favorite beans as of now are ‘White Whippoorwill Cowpea’, ‘Thai Soldier Long Bean’, and Lablab. All of these beans have been super prolific, delicious as a green bean (could be preserved by pressure cooking and canning). They all dry well on the vine, as well as in my post harvest bean processing, and all three make delicious dry beans! When you grow beans like these you have to remember not to plant too many, unless you enjoy the burden of overabundance!

Conclusions

Through this procedure you can establish food security and go full circle with your plants, from seed to seed. Most beans are very prolific and now you can store all those beans that you missed as green beans and have dry beans for soups, chili, bean dip, hummus, tofu, tempeh, bean salad, bean sprouts, or anything bean related. This also allows you to propagate from your plants as well; not only is this insuring future seed security for yourself, but also gives you adapted genetics in your specific microclimate, and well, we know Hawaii is all about microclimates. Grow them, eat them, and share them. I never need to buy beans again!

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Sure is hard to capture a photo during a dimly lit rainstorm in the garage. Lablab dried just fine!

Happy Gardening!

 

 

Spiny Chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius)

Description

Spiny chaya, Cnidoscolus aconitifolius, is a highly nutritious, productive, and fast growing perennial tree ‘spinach’ that reaches heights of 20 feet. There are two main cultivated varieties, or species, of chaya. This article focuses on the specific spiny or estrella variety. Although there is some confusion with naming as well, I’m going to stick with this specie as the spiny chaya and the spineless chaya as Cnidoscolus chayamansa, which will have a write up at a later time. Chaya is rich in protein, calcium, iron, carotene, riboflavin, niacin, and ascorbic acid! Once dried and ground it also becomes a great supplement for us humans or for great animal feed. And really, it’s just a beautiful plant!

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That kalo relative is 7′ tall. look at that chaya over story

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Propagation

Propagate spiny chaya by woody cuttings. You may either stick into the soil or just leave large trunk pieces on the ground and they will root. Use cuttings 1-3 feet long.

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Stick 1-3 foot woody cutting into the ground

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cutting just getting going

Care

Spiny chaya is carefree. Stick it into the ground and wait for leaves to emerge and begin consuming! Be mindful of the small hairs on the leaves that cause irritation, so don’t plant this in a high traffic area where you would potentially bump into the leaves on accident.

Eating

Harvest and prepare spiny chaya wearing gloves, to prevent being poked from the spines. The spines disappear with cooking and leaves do not reduce much in size once cooked. Spiny chaya contains toxins in the leaves and must be cooked for 5-15 minutes before consumption to cook out the hydrocyanic glycosides. I have also had a delicious ‘kimchi’ that uses this plant as the only source of greens in the ferment. The leaves are cooked first then cooled and fermented.

Where to obtain planting materials

This plant does not grow from seed; you’ll need to find someone growing this plant to get woody cuttings. This plant is much less common than the spineless chaya that everyone seems to be growing, therefore, it may be difficult to find.

My Garden

I’ve known about chaya as long as I’ve been in the tropics, but I have never had good luck with spineless chaya growing here for some reason. I recently learned about the spiny variety and got to observe its growth habit and consume it while spending some time on the dry side of the island. I brought it over here to see how it grows in the wet environment. So far its growing and putting off a few leaves, they have only been in the ground a little while so they haven’t taken off just yet. I am not able to fully report how it likes the wet, but I’ve read they can handle wet and that it takes them a little time to develop their roots before getting really vigorous. The goal is to grow this around my fruit trees for an easy constant source of mulch for them and an easily obtainable food for me. The waiting game begins!

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One of my cuttings after a pruning/harvest and mulching. Growing with banana, mulberry, sugarcane, ti, and sweet potato.

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Multi-diverse agroforestry with chaya overstory. Including: elderberry, cassava, edible hibiscus, balsa, Alocasia spp., mexican sunflower, tree tomato, bamboo, ginger, turmeric, and i’m sure more!

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Spiny chaya growing to its full potential in a multi-diverse windbreak. Mexican sunflower, bamboo, banana.

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Spiny chaya privacy hedge. Growing to their full potential. Notice the spacing to have a full wall.

Happy Gardening!

Sacha Inchi (Plukenetia volubilis)

Description

Sacha inchi, Plukenetia volubilis, or inca peanut, is a highly productive perennial vine that produces edible nuts and leaves. These nuts are high in protein, oils, and fatty acids omega 3, 6 and 9. Some people call them a superfood. The vine climbs up to about 7’ and tops off. This plant contains toxins in its raw form and must be roasted prior to eating. The nut flavor is slightly peanut like and the leaves may be eaten or drank in tea form after roasting. The fruits are extremely ornamental and always make people stop and look!

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Vine climbing pink trellis

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immature fruits

Propagation

Sacha inchi is propagated by seed. Check out my seed propagation blog. Plants can be grown directly in place or planted in a pot and transplanted once 6 inches tall. Seeds germinate fairly rapidly within a few weeks.

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Direct sow seedling

Care

Sacha grows at a moderate pace and is not overly aggressive. Weed around them and put them on a trellis. Once they get going there is no maintenance. Apparently harvests are typically around 100 nuts and the plant produces nearly year round. Making about 4-5 harvests leaving you with 400-500 nuts per vine per year. The nuts also have an extremely long shelf life if left inside of their shells (at least a year in my experience).

Eating

Sacha inchi flowers 5 months after sowing and nuts are harvestable around 8 months. Allow fruits to fully ripen and dry on the vine, yes even in an extremely wet environment they will dry on the vine. Once they are brown and dry you can pick them off the vine.

Shell them using pliers then roast them. This may be done in a pan as well. I also sometimes throw a few in soup or curry and boil to add some extra nutrients to my meals.

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All Stages of processing: Right – dry harvest. Middle – open shell. White nut- edible part. Brown shell – use pliers to open to get edible white nut.

Where to obtain planting materials

This plant is still a little bit rare here on our island. Ask someone growing it for seeds, as they are so prolific and easy to share.

My Garden

I’ve been growing sacha for just about two years now. I originally had 5 vines growing. Two didn’t make it through the sulfur and lava event but three made it. These plants are just starting to get going once again and are full of flowers and immature fruits. This is just a hardy beautiful plant. It look me a while to figure out how to eat it since there isn’t too much information in that respect out there. And now I recently acquired what I was told was a sacha relative, Plukenetia spp., but as of now looks really similar so I’m not sure if it is a different species yet, but we will see once it starts growing more and flowers. What a fun plant to grow!

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Sacha relative growing with sissoo spinach

 

Happy Gardening!

Mamaki (Pipturus albidus)

Description

Mamaki, Pipturus albidus, is a Hawaiian endemic medicinal tree. Mamaki is a short-lived, fast growing pioneer specie that grows 10-30 feet, typically 10-15’ during the first year. The leaves are commonly used as a general tonic and cure-all in the form of a delicious tea. This plant hosts our endemic butterfly, Vanessa tameamea, in its caterpillar stages and adds beauty to any landscape.

Mamaki is a key plant in the young native forests as it grows quickest and fills space, creating shade and more favorable environments for our native plants. This is a major role that needs to be filled as our ‘Ohi’a lehua are losing the higher canopy, now the lowest strata of canopy can be filled with Mamaki and when the younger longer-lived trees are ready, they will break through the canopy of the Mamaki and grow toward the sun. Or the Mamaki will die back naturally, and allow space for that longer-lived tree to grow in that space.

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Sea of volunteer mamaki

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Ripe fruits and flowers

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Pulelehua (Vanessa tameamea) our endemic butterfly – it only lays eggs on mamaki and caterpillars eat the leaves

Propagation

Mamaki is grown from seed, and readily dispersed by birds. Take fruits and smash them and spread them around. Each fruit contains many seeds. Directly sown plants grow much stronger, faster and healthier than transplanted plants. If transplanting, move them at a tiny stage of no more than 6 inches, they will be shocked for a little while and will take their time to re-establish.

If trying to broadcast seed over a large area (restoration or successional food forest): collect fruits, add a little bit of water, and blend for 1-2 seconds to create slurry. This slurry can then be broadcasted via squirt guns or cups and buckets.

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Smash fruit prior to planting

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Various stages of fruit and flower development

Care

Mamaki is extremely tender when young. Young trees are easily snapped or broken when working around them. It’s easiest to just leave them alone until they develop a root system that will hold them strongly up. Since Mamaki is a pioneer species they tend to have a high germination rate and a high mortality rate. This is normal. Trees throughout any stage may die back, just take standing dead wood to the ground to feed your other plants and give the live ones a little space. Natural thinning to feed the forest, wow, what a helpful plant!

Eating

Young leaves are edible raw or cooked. Fruits are edible, but too many can lead to diarrhea. The leaves are boiled for a delicious medicinal tea. Take a handful of leaves and add them to boiling water, let steep 30 minutes for the most delicious golden green tea. Mamaki leaves also make an amazing sun tea! Take leaves and throw them into a glass jar full of water. Leave that glass jar in the sun and out of the rain, I usually put a coffee filter over the top to prevent bugs from entering, leave in the sun 4-8 hours. I like to drink it while its still got the warmth from the sun, but also makes a great tea for the next day. Drink within 48 hours.

Medicinal benefits of tea: anti Vog, aiding respiratory, tissue cleansing, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, fighting insomnia and irritability, promoting relaxation and vitality!

Where to obtain planting materials

Many places sell young plants but I typically see them in small containers where the roots will be totally root bound and will likely never redevelop and grow the way they want to. Find a friend who is growing Mamaki and get some fruits from them. Your success will be much more plentiful. A single mature Mamaki will produce tons of fruits and seeds!

My Garden

Mamaki always volunteers (germinates without cultivation) in areas where the forest has been cleared or the soil is disturbed at my house. I clear an area, plant it out with trees and come back in fill it in with ground cover. During the first few months my ground cover will slowly be establishing, during this initial establishment stage I come through and weed 1-2 times being very careful not to pull up Mamaki sprouts. Once an area has been gone through and the Mamaki left alone they will grasp ahold and start shooting up and growing really quickly. This means that the weeds (typically Arthrostemma) germinate and establish faster than Mamaki, but if you allow the Mamaki to have a little bit more germination time and time in the tiny keiki stages it will establish and overtake most other weeds. The Mamaki will really start filling in and you have a small canopy started. In about a year you have a lot of coverage and height and variation in heights of the new canopy. Mamaki will continue to germinate as long as there is enough light in the area. This can create thickets of Mamaki that will self thin, feed other plants, and over time allow favorable microclimates to develop until emergent species over take them. Not only is this an amazing forest helper but also the medicinal benefits are tasty and incredible. Volunteer Mamaki plants grow right outside of my side door where I can quickly grab them with taking less than 10 steps and get back inside and make up a tea, this is perfect when I’m feeling sick or have some respiratory issues and need a good healthful tea! Thank you nature!

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volunteer keiki – make sure to learn how to identify mamaki when small

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Mamaki growing with naio, okinawa spinach

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Mamaki growing with ohia, lama, kopiko, hame, loulu, kookoolau, avocado, strawberry guava

 

Happy Gardening!

Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

Description

Turmeric, Curcuma longa, or ‘olena, is a potent perennial spice, dye, and medicinal plant. The plant grows 3 feet tall and creates edible spicy rhizomes. This plant is high in anti-inflammatory properties and is widely known to curb or completely cure arthritis within a few months of regular use. This plant is highly ornamental with big green leaves and a very showy flower!

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Propagation

Turmeric is propagated from small pieces of rhizome, or modified stems. Turmeric does not produce seed.

Place 3-6 inch pieces of rhizome twice as deep as their diameter into the soil in the early spring. And then await emergence. You can also wait for shoots to grow on rhizomes you have saved in a cool, dry environment and plant them once the shoots appear.

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Fresh harvest

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Stored and sprouting rhizomes

Care

Turmeric is commonly grown like an annual, and has a natural die back/dormancy phase during winter when leaves die completely. Shoots will reemerge in spring and come back to life.

Make sure soil is high quality and not too rocky for ease of harvest and for larger rhizome production.

Once the leaves have disappeared, the harvest can begin. You may dig up the whole root mass or dig roots as you need them. If you live in a dry area, digging up the whole plant isn’t an issue, but in a moist humid environment, I prefer to leave in ground and harvest as needed to avoid losses due to moisture on stored rhizomes.

Eating

Fresh leaves are used as an herb, and young shoots and inflorescences are boiled as a vegetable in some places.

The main use of turmeric is for curries and spicing, but I enjoy a simple tea to give me my regular dosages of medicine. Turmeric needs to be combined with black pepper in order to increase absorption into the body. The spice is very potent so a little goes a long way, and commonly will stain your cutting board and knife.

Tea recipe: boil ½ gallon of water, add 2-3 inches of coarsely chopped turmeric once water has boiled (with or without skin). Add pepper if desired, or drink tea while you are eating a meal with pepper added. You may simmer roots for 20 minutes, or simply add turmeric chunks and allow cooling on its own (usually over night). Strain and drink a cup a day! May refrigerate or leave at room temperature.

Where to obtain planting materials

Turmeric is commonly sold at plant sales and there are a few different varieties sold here in Hawaii. There is the common yellow turmeric, white turmeric, blue turmeric, and black turmeric.

You may also get some turmeric at the farmers market or grocery store and leave it on your counter until it sprouts and plant that.

Or of course ask a friend for some bits of rhizome, if someone has grown the plant for at least one life cycle they will have plenty of material to share!

My Garden

I’ve grown turmeric ever since I’ve lived in Hawaii. My first harvest I found in the forest where I was living, and harvested many pounds and I spread that around everywhere. I now have turmeric growing in almost all my zones. I’ve made dedicated beds so I can have an easy harvest. I’ve also stuck rhizomes in many places just to plant sprouted bits. The farm I am staying now has turmeric growing in many places in very diverse polycultures and in the early stages of succession in multi-diverse food forest/agroforestry systems. What a beautiful and useful plant to spread everywhere!

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Turmeric. Bamboo. Edible Hibiscus. Papaya. Kale. Perennial peanut.

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Bamboo. Cassava. Air potato. Kale. Papaya. Kalo. Avocado. Perennial peanut.

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Happy Gardening!

Cuban Oregano (Plectranthus amboinicus)

Description

Cuban oregano, Plectranthus amboinicus, also called Spanish thyme, Indian borage, Greek oregano, oregano or false oregano, is a highly fragrant, quick growing, mat forming, perennial herb. This plant grows up to 3 feet tall and 5 feet wide if left untrimmed, the growth habit tends to sprawl, and becomes woody at its base. This plant is also highly ornamental and two varieties exist, a variegated variety and a solid green variety. The flavor of the herb is likened to oregano, thyme, and pine with a mix of peppery minty flavor. Quite a complex arrangement! In my opinion, it deserves its own distinct name, however, common names tend to describe other plants!

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Propagation

Cuban oregano grows extremely easy as a cutting. Use cuttings 6-8 inches long and plant about 4 inches deep into the soil. It is best to start in shade and move into full sun once it develops roots. Or plant directly in the garden with some overhead vegetation cover to produce shade. However, a developed plant prefers full sun.

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Cut stem

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Remove lower leaves

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Stick 4 inches into soil

 

Care

Cuban oregano can withstand shade, but becomes leggy and thin, rather than a dense mat it forms in full sun. This plant grows quickly. Mature specimens become sparsely covered and leafless in the lower stems and regions of the plant. In order to counteract this behavior, regular pruning and harvesting is recommended.

Eating

The flavor is rather strong; therefore, a small quantity of fresh leaves is used for spicing. In its native range this herb is used for masking the intense aroma of fish, goat and game. This plant is also used medicinally to treat coughs, as well as minor infections and inflammation. The aromatic oils make this plant useful as an insect repellant and also for laundry scent.

Where to obtain planting materials

Ask anyone growing this plant for some cuttings. If you grow this plant you have plenty of propagation materials to share. This plant may also be found at some plant sales.

My Garden

I’ve grown Cuban oregano for a long time now, but most of my ground covers tend to get shaded due to the overwhelming abundance of growth in my garden. This plant can be easily maintained under shade as it grows slower and doesn’t grow more than you can harvest. I worked at a horticulture therapy program where we grew Cuban oregano in full sun and it was always jumping out of its beds and trying to grow everywhere. Which is wonderful in the correct situations! It’s a lovely plant to observe and smell. Give it space and let it grow. Currently here at my transitional garden it is already growing well on its own. With a little bit more care and tending it would fill space nicely.

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Cuban oregano growing with lilikoi, pineapple and gardenia.

Happy Gardening!

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!