Growing Dryland Taro Part I

By Glenn I. Teves, County Extension Agent,
UH CTAHR Cooperative Extension Service

Molokai is blessed with many Hawaiian taro varieties, in part due to the vision of the late Martha and Cowboy Otsuka in seeking out and preserving these legacies. Also, under the direction of Alton Arakaki and Faith Tuipulotu in making huli available each year at the annual Molokai Taro Field Day.

With the advent of drip irrigation and water distribution systems, taro can be grown in areas where it could never grow before. In the past, dryland taro was only grown in the uplands in mulch where seasonal rains were sufficient to bring the taro to harvest.
Most varieties will mature between eight and 12 months, and keeping plants actively growing is the key. Taro loves water, and along with fertilizer, will flourish before your eyes. Dryland taro is distinguished from wetland taro in that the latter grows in water ponds or lo`i. Different varieties were selected for these two conditions. Taking a soil sample of your planting area is the first step in growing upland taro. Call our office at 567-6932 for more information on taking a soil sample.

The biggest challenge in growing taro is weeds, but there are strategies to minimize them. One is to prepare the ground for planting by adding the required fertilizer and amendments. Give the ground a few very good soakings so weeds emerge. Before weeds get half an inch high, scorch weeds with a propane torch. Be safe with fire, and have your water hose charged and ready for action. After killing most of the weeds, it’s important not to disturb the soil since you have now wiped out all the weeds on the surface of the soil, and any soil disturbance will bring up more weeds from below the surface. The use of plastic mulch is also an option in controlling weeds, but can also cook the roots in hot months. Once plants cover the surface, temperatures under the mulch won’t be as high. However, taro grows better without it since they prefer cool roots. Another option is the use of vegetative mulch to control weeds, retain water, and keep roots cool. However, additional nitrogen fertilizer is required to feed both mulch and taro because microorganisms that break down organic matter utilize nitrogen as a food source, and will steal it from the plant if it’s in short supply.

Now you’re ready to plant huli. It’s a good idea to surface sterilize huli to kill any nematodes on the remaining corm, and also insects in the stalks or ha. This is done by dipping it in a solution of one part Clorox and 10 parts water for a couple of minutes. Don’t need to rinse, just plant. It’s a good idea to sort the huli by size, planting the larger ones at the end of the row so these are harvested first, with the smaller ones planted near the water source. When using drip irrigation, tie up the drip line as you harvest and the rest of the row can still be irrigated. Some farmers make a hole with a digging stick; I use a pineapple planter. Dig a small hole about three to four feet deep, drop in the huli and cover so it stands on its own. You can plant two feet apart in lines or zigzags along the water line, or in a furrow or in beds two feet apart in all directions. Taro loves water, but water lightly when first planting until roots emerge. When healthy leaves unfurl, this is an indication that roots are emerging. Water can be increased and the surface kept moist since taro roots move laterally and stay close to the surface. There’s such a thing as too much water for dryland taro because they also require air near their roots to grow

Growing Dryland Taro Part I | Molokai Dispatch

1 Comment

  1. Brian Lieberman
    May 6, 2023

    The Kalo growers on Molokai offer several important lessons that can be applied more broadly to agriculture and food systems:

    Respect for the land and traditional farming practices: The Kalo growers on Molokai have a deep respect for the land and the traditional farming practices that have been passed down through generations. They recognize the importance of maintaining the health of the soil and the diversity of crops, and they use traditional methods such as terracing, irrigation, and companion planting to achieve these goals. This respect for the land and traditional farming practices can serve as a model for sustainable agriculture and food systems.

    Community-based agriculture: The Kalo growers on Molokai have a strong sense of community and work together to grow and harvest their crops. They also share their knowledge and resources with other growers in the community. This community-based approach to agriculture can help to build resilience and sustainability in local food systems.

    Emphasis on food sovereignty: The Kalo growers on Molokai are committed to food sovereignty, which means that they have control over the production, distribution, and consumption of their food. They recognize the importance of maintaining local control over food systems, rather than relying on outside sources. This emphasis on food sovereignty can help to ensure that communities have access to healthy, culturally appropriate food.

    Preservation of cultural traditions: Kalo is a staple food in Hawaiian culture, and the Kalo growers on Molokai are committed to preserving this cultural tradition. They recognize the importance of maintaining their connection to the land and their cultural heritage through the cultivation and consumption of kalo. This emphasis on preserving cultural traditions can help to maintain cultural diversity and promote cultural resilience.

    Overall, the lessons that can be learned from the Kalo growers on Molokai include the importance of respecting the land and traditional farming practices, building community-based agriculture, emphasizing food sovereignty, and preserving cultural traditions. These lessons can help to promote sustainable and resilient food systems that benefit both people and the planet.


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