Get a jump on your spring planting

by Diana Duff
Special To West Hawaii Today

Spring is fast approaching. Gardeners are itching to start their summer gardens. One way to get started now, before the summer rains come pouring down, is to browse seed catalogs, order some interesting varieties and plant them soon.

Most plants will mature about 90 days after seeding, so you can start harvesting veggies and enjoying flowers by June if you plant early in March. With more than a month before we get longer days and warmer, wetter weather, it’s a good time to plant seeds.

Start by dreaming. Though we can garden year- round, we can use some dreaming downtime. Check seed catalogs online or order some to ponder in an easy chair. Several companies have seeds that do well here and come highly recommended from local gardeners.

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange offers hundreds of varieties of flowers, herbs and veggie seeds. It emphasizes varieties that perform well in warmer climates like ours. Its Cosmic Purple carrot might be worth a try.

At ctahr.hawaii.edu/seed, you’ll find a list of seeds that have been perfected to grow well in Hawaii. Its Anuenue or Manoa lettuces are tried and true for great salads.

Autograph trees are invading Hawaii’s forests

by Diana Duff
Special To West Hawaii Today

Sunday, December 5, 2010 7:40 AM HST
Many gardeners in Hawaii have become native plant enthusiasts. More and more people are awakening to the beauty of our native species and learning about them and the vigilance required to save them from harm or eventual extinction. Events like Arbor Day at Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden, offering free native plants and information on growing them, help folks learn ways to grow and care for native plants. Interest in these plants, which have thrived in our native forests for millennia, helps raise awareness of the threats a multitude of invasive species pose to them.

One particularly threatening species, the autograph, or signature, tree (Clusia rosea) caught the notice of Darcy Ames, who has witnessed firsthand the encroachment of this species on the ohia forests near her home.

“When I first bought property in Holualoa, I thought the autograph tree was quite lovely,” Ames said. “After a few years of experience, inspection and investigation, I began to realize this tree was capable of destroying the habitat of our ohia and other native species unless we began a proactive course against it.

“After witnessing the damage it can cause, I can honestly say that I hate what this plant is capable of doing. Autograph seeds can be dropped by birds and root as much as 20 or 30 feet in the air in the crotch of an ohia tree.

Create healthy soil in your own backyard

by Diana Duff

If you are thinking you can’t grow food in your garden, think again. Many Kona residents don’t plant edible gardens believing they haven’t got good soil. Yes, we are soil-challenged here, but help is just a few months of easy recycling away.

We all have rocky soil. At lower elevations, soils are not only rocky but can also be dry and alkaline. At upper elevations, rocky soil is often wet, sometimes boggy, and acidic. No can grow? Wrong. If you think “no can,” try again. Since we are all on the sustainable path, composting presents a solution to two issues we face: recycling waste and building soil.

You can get started toward your gardening goal by getting some beds defined and laying in a passive compost pile that will give you a good soil base, alive with microorganisms. Use those pesky rocks to create borders for your beds, and then start piling garden waste into them. Cut material into small pieces for fast breakdown. For a base of decomposed waste in several months, mix dried leaves, leafy prunings, grass clippings, weeds (without seeds), broken up twigs and branches less than 1/2 inch diameter. If you live in a dry area, dampen the pile and cover it with a tarp or black plastic to maintain a dampness level comparable to a wrung out sponge. In wet areas, covering can help keep the pile from getting waterlogged, which can lead to smelly anaerobic decay. In any case, a balanced mix of organic inputs including green matter for nitrogen, brown (dry) matter for carbon, air and moisture speeds the process. After sitting for several months, you’ll have a base of decomposed organic matter. Mix in some of your rocky soil to improve aeration and you are ready to plant.

Sustainability — reviewing our progress

by Diana Duff
Special To West Hawaii Today

Sunday, October 24, 2010 7:19 AM HST
Sustainability has become a kind of tired buzzword. Businesses are clambering to be labeled “green.” Political pressure to be Earth-friendly has caused changes that sometimes result in increased effort and higher prices, but most of us are still participating in endeavors toward zero waste.

Every little step toward a more sustainable lifestyle is good, but with all the buzz it’s easy to lose the impetus to continue reducing your ecological footprint. It may be time to check your progress.

Master Gardeners Visit Waimanalo

HONOLULU — What’s new in mulch? Trouble with your root balls? Master gardeners from around Hawaii made a field trip to Waimanalo Sunday to learn about the latest techniques and innovations in Hawaii agriculture.

The Waimanalo Agricultural Station is like the promised land for master gardeners. It’s where the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture tends test beds, conducts research on organic gardening and develops the newest techniques in soil management.

Master gardeners are volunteers, trained by university extension service programs, who are able to educate the public on gardening and horticultural issues.

Master gardeners came from all around the state Sunday for a field trip to the Waimanalo Agricultural Station.

“I think as a master gardener we get so focused on our own islands. Coming together to be master gardeners of Hawaii rather than just our island, we share different programs that are going on. We find out what can we bring back and augment on our island,” said Melanie Stephens, a master gardener from Maui.

Master gardeners to offer advice on plants, insects and diseases

After more than 28 years of free public service to home gardeners in our communities, the University of Hawaii Master Gardeners will host its first statewide conference Oct. 15 to 17.

The Master Gardener Program in Hawaii started in 1982 with a group of 15 Oahu residents interested in learning about home gardening. It is part of the program found throughout the United States and Canada. The program, started in Washington state in 1972, is a public service to provide training to volunteers under the leadership of land-grant universities and the national Cooperative Extension Service.

To date, more than 94,865 people have become master gardeners nationwide. Local master gardeners answer home gardening questions on a plant help line and expand educational outreach efforts of the UH extension service.

For the conference, some of the top specialists in their fields will share new information about agriculture in Hawaii and backyard gardening ideas.