GROW O'ahu

Island Style Gardening and Plant-Based Living

Soil: Source of All Life

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The beautiful valley

Part 2 of 6:  The second weekend of our Permaculture Design Course was a wee bit different than the first, by the clever design of our instructors.  Two weeks ago we met in a lush, vibrant, life-filled valley, and were guided by Master Farmers who have been on that piece of land for over 30 years.

In stark contrast, this weekend we met at the Hawaii Agricultural Research Center, a non-profit organization, whose roots are deep in “big ag” as originally the place for research conducted for Hawaiian Sugarcane industry.  And while that is no longer the purpose of HARC, the combination of location (drier side of the island) and topography (lots of bare soil) set us up for an interesting look at contrasts, patterns and design.


Hawaii Agricultural Research Center’s mission is ” to support a viable agricultural sector by researching and applying relevant science and technology to achieve practical solutions and by identifying new agricultural opportunities.”

It was the perfect place to talk about soil.  As the foundation of all life, we spent nearly an entire day cramming our brains full of the chemical, biological and physical properties which make LIFE possible.  And then after a quick 400-level Atmospheric Science Lecture (thanks Hunter) we got busy doing some fun stuff.


Here are group is “consulting” with our client on the mock site we are to design. Our client, “Robbie Wave” was a surfer dude, who really wanted some fruit to make radical smoothies, man. 🙂

We got our first Design Task! Small groups formed and we had about 2 hours to design for very different clients.

In only two weekends, I feel that my design lens has grown, changed and become a bit more refined.  While I would have thought about sun and wind patterns before, I now have very specific places to look for that information, plus a framework to plug it all into.

So what did our group design?  We put together a two phase plan for our client, “Robbie”.  We first tackled the “social” aspect of design and determined that our client was a wee bit lazy, didn’t really want to spend much time fussing with plants and preferred waves over watering.  But he was keen on making smoothies so we used the sun, wind and water patterns we could determine to plan a banana circle, a lilikoi trellis, row of papaya trees, a surinam cherry and a few pineapple, to be located steps from his main entrance door. A few feet farther away, we planned for a dwarf mango and another coconut tree, with further plans for more shade in Phase Two.  Next to where he hangs his surfboards, a small worm bin and patch of kale.  “Robbie” was a single guy who really didn’t like the kids riding their bikes into his yard but liked to have a few ladies around, so we planned a scented gardenia hedge for the front of his yard, to attract pollinators- of all kinds. 🙂  He told us he wanted some chickens too, but again, the human factor led us to make chickens part of Phase Two, after he got clearance from the property owners and kept the kale alive for a few months.  We hope “Robbie” was satisfied with our preliminary foodscape plan and look forward to bartering our Design Services for Surf Lessons. 🙂


Our view from the parking lot shows a freeway in the distance, ocean a bit farther and Starbucks across the street. 🙂


HARC’s new purpose is to support small scale diversified agriculture through testing and research. They have extensive lab space, but a tiny budget.


Author: Carmen

Things I love: justice in all forms; flowers; locally grown food; cloth-diapering; breastfeeding; feminist theory; outdoor play; beaches; wine; Divine interventions; 4-H and coffee. Things I loathe: racism; homophobia; toxic crap; misogyny; litterbugs; the zombie apocalypse and pitbull-haters. My formal education is in sociology, gender studies, and public policy. I'm also a Lactation Educator; 4-H Youth Development coordinator a Certified Master Gardener and a graduate of a Permaculture Design Course. I've been blogging for several years on dozens of topics- everything from women's health to breed-specific legislation. But the thing I like to write about most is my gardening, food adventures and my kids. So there you have it. Please be kind. Thanks.


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