GROW O'ahu

Island Style Gardening and Plant-Based Living

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Old Friends


Lemongrass needs cut back again…time for tea!

As I shake off months/years of anti-gardening funk and start to grow some things again, it’s a bit like meeting up with old friends. Time stands still for some friends doesn’t it?  No matter how much time passes, you pick up exactly as you left off. But in this case, my plant friends that have far more slug problems than I recall them having in the past! So every night for a week now I’ve gone out after dark (sometimes with preschooler and eldest in tow) with flashlights to remove dozens, perhaps hundreds of slugs from our yard. They are then *ahem* re-homed to the forest, or so I tell the sensitive one. One of those cases when you teach kindness and respect for all life and then it backfires when you try and dispose of a bag of disgusting slugs. 🙂

A quick list of food stuff I have growing again:

  1. Lavender
  2. Rosemary
  3. Eggplant
  4. Lilikoi (passion fruit)
  5. Papaya
  6. Lemongrass
  7. Chaya (tree spinach)
  8. Mamaki (for tea)
  9. Asparagus
  10. Bananas
  11. Ulu (breadfruit tree, not making fruit yet)
  12. Avocado (not too big yet)
  13. Kale
  14. Tomato
  15. Spinach
  16. Swiss Chard
  17. Green onions
  18. Chives
  19. Kalo (taro)

Seriously, not bad considering I haven’t cared at all about food growing in a long time!! Kids and I started some seeds last week and they have sprouted, so soon I want to add to the above list:

  1. Cucumber
  2. Pumpkins
  3. Sweet Corn
  4. Broccoli

grr. slug damage on the eggplant. But since our nightly slug hunts the population is going down!


So pleased these Seeds of Change organic pumpkins sprouted! These seeds were over 3 years old.


Also Seeds of Change organic sweet corn! Old seeds still sprouted.


Seeds of Change organic cucumber sprouted!


Our two banana “areas” since they are not really singular trees anymore! We’ve harvested 4x from the one on the right and 2x from the left.


Our still young ‘ulu tree (breadfruit) from a free tree giveaway years ago. It’s doing really well 🙂


Wetland kalo (taro) from Windward side grows in our super wet corner


Mamaki plant for tea


Chaya, or tree spinach. Tasty if boiled, too tough and toxic to eat raw.


Kale, that grows like a weed.

Thanks for stopping by friends! I know it’s been awhile. Super easy seed starting tip, get your kid’s elementary school class to save all their milk cartons for you! No need to purchase those silly expensive seed starter kits. 🙂



When the Kind Hearted Child Wants to Save the Pickleworms

The pickleworms have moved in. And my son thinks they are friends. I suspected something was up when I saw some little moths flying around and some leaves started to look odd, but I thought I was doing so great with keeping the aphids away!  Then this morning, I found this:

So bold! Didn't even try to hide when I came to the garden!

So bold! Didn’t even try to hide when I came to the garden!

So the small boy and I decided to try and learn something by dissecting the home of our pickleworm.  He was insistent, “Be CAREFUL Mommy!! Don’t cut the worms!!!”   Ok, ok, I won’t cut the worms. So we proceeded with caution, carefully cutting thin strips away from the cucumber to reveal more holes, worm homes and overall grossness! He was delighted. He picked up the cucumber, carefully plucked each worm away and placed them inside one of this yellow rubber boots, where he says other worms live. (I can neither confirm nor deny other worms living in his boots. But he has been going bare foot because he doesn’t want to “squish them.”)


Holes all over!

Holes all over!

I wasn’t sure what this pest was, but a quick buzz around a few garden discussion groups got me a name I could Google, and the University of Florida helped me with some great photos, description, but sadly, not a lot of advice. These are tough little buggers! They only live through the winters in tropical places like southern Florida, some parts of Texas, and of course, here in Hawaii.  Preventing the moths from landing on plants  would be the most organic method of control; this would prevent eggs from being laid, the larvae from hatching and growing into the little worms we found.  But cucumbers and other melons need pollination from bees or butterflies to fruit, so tenting the plants prior to pollination could be problematic.  Also, spraying insecticides of any kind is going to disrupt the lives of bees, not to mention anything other than neem oil isn’t really safe to use around kids, dogs, and chickens- all of which live in my backyard!

Thin slicing reveals happy little burrows for worms to cuddle.

Thin slicing reveals happy little burrows for worms to cuddle.

So for now, our method of control will be early detection, harvest and thin slicing to save as much cucumber as possible. And of course, saving our “friends” the worms.  Because of course I want the rubber boots to fill up with worms. 😀

Saving the worms!

Saving the worms!

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Good Morning Garden Pests!

While my mainland and European friends are getting ready to winterize their gardens, perhaps sneaking one more harvest of cool weather greens or roots from their garden beds before snow flurries start, I’m waking up to this:

Post-Coital African Snails. Eeewww. These things are seriously gross, invasive and eat everything. They also are a known carrier of the Rat Lungworm Disease, which is dangerous to humans. We never had these (or slugs, also a carrier) when we lived in our other house so the occasional nibble from the garden wasn’t a big deal. But now I have put the fear of God into my small boy if he ventures out there to snack without Mommy to cut and wash and cook before consuming anything. I go through a container of Sluggo every other week it seems like, as the only organic method for dealing with these beauties. This morning, they got tossed into the chicken pen where our ladies had a field day running around with them. 🙂


Having a good time there, Mr. and Mrs. Snail?




Next stop: Mealybugs, followed by Sooty Mold! Always in pairs, the mealybugs eat the juices out of the plants, dripping a sweet excrement as they do so, which then forms into this black moldy stuff below the site of the bugs. I have cut back the red hibiscus, which seems to be the only plant the mealybugs like, but it hasn’t helped. I hate spraying anything, even neem oil, especially in this area because the bees and butterflies love my Hugelkultur! So later today I will be mixing up some insecticidal soap and washing all the leaves on this plant to get this infestation under control. I put a cup of vegetable oil mixed with 2 tablespoons of dishsoap into a large spray bottle and fill with water and shake. Simple and effective, but due to the oil content, must be done in the evening when it’s cool as as not to burn the leaves.

White clusters of soft bodies bugs that look like a fungus: Mealybugs

White clusters of soft bodies bugs that look like a fungus: Mealybugs





The Mexican Oregano under the red hibiscus is covered with the black sooty mold. Eeew.

The Mexican Oregano under the red hibiscus is covered with the black sooty mold. Eeew.


Making my Swiss Chard look like Swiss Cheese. Grrr.

I’m fairly certain this is either slugs/snails or Chinese Beetles. I came out with a flashlight two nights ago to check and see if the beetles were munching away (they only come out at night) but I didn’t see anything. I have treated the soil with Sluggo and will also be mixing up some more neem oil to use as a systemic to pour on the roots in this bed. Spraying broadly is just not a good idea because I have cucumbers and squashes that need to be pollinated by happy bees and though it’s an “organic” method, neem oil will kill them too. 😦

There’s more evidence of munchers on the kale, though not as bad. Also, one variety of kale (Dinosaur variety) didn’t have any damage, so I will be planting more of that one! So it’s not all just pretty pictures and harvesting in this garden- we have issues too! Happy growing, friends. 🙂

More lace work on the kale!

More lace work on the kale!



A Hugelkultur of course! I first learned of this method during the Permaculture Design Course that I participated in earlier in 2013.  It was 72+ hours of sustainable, food, garden, method, awesomeness. A Hugelkultur is like the ultimate symbol of the essences of “permaculture” which is notoriously hard to define. It’s cheap, easier than digging beds, uses materials that are readily available on-site, it promotes bio-diversity and has a tendency to look a wee bit messy. All things I love 🙂

This method of growing is great for places that you don’t want to water as much or like we did, have annoying stumps that would be labor intensive to remove.  Check out other images here:

The house we moved into about 6 months ago now (my reason for a long blogging hiatus!) had these seriously annoying areca palm stumps in the front yard. Someone got the brilliant idea to chainsaw these guys, but not all the way down and didn’t remove them. Areca palms do not really grow back- they might get a few leaves again, but they will never be full like they were before after a massacre like this! And they were dangerous- sharp spiky bits sticking out everywhere with little kids running around wasn’t very safe.



So we set to chopping them down a bit farther, piling the large pieces up and then added grass clippings, mulch, some compost starter, kitchen scraps and scraped a layer out of the chicken pen and added that too.

The "mound" with added clippings and compost.

The “mound” with added clippings and compost.

We ended up with a nice little mound and transplanted many of the plants we had brought with us from our other house. I wanted a lot of bio-diversity, so there’s herbs, flowers, some aloe and few native species like Popolo berry.

Transplants and lined the mound with color pots.

Transplants and lined the mound with color pots.

Here it is, only 5 months later! This thing is so happy. All the plants thrive, it takes hardly any watering at all and with the exception of a few mealybugs, there are no pests in this bed. The bees love it! Butterflies have started hanging around as well.  Our Hugelkultur is a success and if you find yourself plagued by stumps- do the easy, lazy gardeners permaculture way and build one of these!

About half of the plants here are edibles!

About half of the plants here are edibles!

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Year Round Growing! Tips for Starting from Seed

New life!

New life!

As part of the Master Gardener program we sometimes do little demonstrations or mini-workshops at the Oahu Urban Garden Center or farmers markets.  A few months back I did some outreach at the Navy Exchange Garden Center and talked with folks about starting from seed. Many of the commercially available veggie plants do quite well in our climate, but the variety is lacking. You’re pretty much going to find the same nurseries supplying Home Depot, Lowes and all the other garden centers. Ordering seeds from places you like and trust is the alternative, but it’s an experiment! Not all varieties do well in our Hawaii climate- I have found certain types of tomatoes to be quite fussy and not worth the trouble, and “cool” weather kales can’t take the heat in certain parts of Oahu. I wrote about seeds vs. plants before, and it’s still a balance! It’s Fall here now, the days are a little bit shorter and cooler nights, which means I’m going to try again on some broccoli and some root veggies that didn’t do some well when we lived on the other side of the island.

The information below is from a handout I developed when doing Master Gardener outreach.  I also blogged about my seedling setup here.

What sort of soil should I use?

Your growing medium needs to be a lightweight soilless mix.  You can purchase prepared mixes or you can make your own. A good recipe is 9 parts sphagnum peat moss, 1 part perlite or vermiculite.  This ensures a light mix and the perlite allows light to penetrate for those seeds that require light to germinate (not all do).

What should I put the seeds in?

You can sprout seeds in almost anything with drainage, but to ensure good root development the container needs to be a few inches deep.  Re-use yogurt cups, nursery pots, or cut off the tops of soda bottles and insert holes.  You do not have to purchase special containers.  Clear containers are good when gardening with children to allow them to examine the roots developing.

Which seeds to start in pots, which ones to direct sow into the garden?

Generally, root vegetables, corn and beans do much better as a direct sow into the garden, but can be started in pots.  Almost anything else can be started in pots then transplanted.

How much light do they need?

Leggy, sad seedlings.

Leggy, sad seedlings.

A window sill is not the best place to sprout seeds. In Hawaii, we do not necessarily need to worry about warming mats for germination (temperate climates usually do) but we do need to place our seeded pots under a light that is close to the soil surface, about 2 or 3 inches.  This prevents new sprouts from “reaching” for the light and becoming “leggy” or having leaves on the top but a weak stem so they fall over.  Any light will do, though you can purchase special growing lights.  Some seeds germinate best in the dark, so you can cover your pots for 1 or 2 days first, and then allow them in the light.  This mimics the dormant or winter process of being under snow or fallen leaves in nature.

How do I water them?

Moisture is important for germination, but you don’t want your pots too wet. A misting bottle is useful for keeping the soil moist and then water from the bottom if possible to encourage strong root development.  You can do this if your seed pots are in another tray such as an under bed plastic storage box.

How many should I plant?

If sowing your seeds into individual pots, place at least 2 or 3 seeds in each. After they have germinated and you see leaves begin to form, you can cut the weakest ones to allow only the strongest plant to form roots.

When should I transplant? 

Wait for “true leaves” to form before transplanting. You will know these because they look more true to the type of seed you have planted, such as rough edges on a tomato plant or leafy-looking on lettuce. Allow your new seedlings some time to acclimate to where you intend to put them outdoors before transplanting by setting them in their intended spot for 1 or 2 days first.

Protecting direct sow seeds with a picnic cover!

Protecting direct sow seeds with a picnic cover!

Other Resources:

(HINT: When internet searching, search topic + extension to get Cooperative Extension research based documents. Example: “seed starting + extension”)

Get this handout as a document:


Garden & Life in the New Normal




Despite a completely insane month of September, the garden didn’t give up on me. Yesterday I harvested gorgeous kale, and last week we had more lettuce & herbs from our aquaponics system.
We are settling into our new normal as adoptive parents. Our new daughter has been living with us for about a month, and while we have been parenting, shuffling legal papers, and going to meetings, our green box gardens have been quietly doing their job.  Ready to eat eggplants are on the menu tonight! Pretty flowers on the sweet potatoes remind me of beauty as well as function. Finally, heirloom purple Brussels sprouts are completely surprising me by living in this humid heat. I wonder what they will look like in a few more weeks? I wonder what we will look like in a few more weeks? Aloha friends.

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Planning a 4-H Garden? Read this!

My other blogging alter-ego: Military 4-H in the Pacific. I wrote this post after receiving LOTS of questions from 4-H leaders about what plants to start in their after-school program gardens. And I wanted to promote the Hawaii Homegrown Food Network, rockstars on the Big Island. 🙂 Aloha and Happy Wednesday Friends.

Military 4-H Pacific

Hawaii’s unique climate means unique gardening opportunities and challenges.  I’ve adapted this list of plants from the Big Island-based Hawaii Homegrown Food Network blog.  You can read the whole article here: Short-Lived and Long Lived Food Plants.

Short-Lived Food Plants (life cycle of 2-9 months)

  1. Lettuce
  2. Cabbage
  3. Tomato
  4. Cucumber
  5. Corn
  6. Squash
  7. Spinach
  8. Radish
  9. Peas/Beans

Longer-Lived Food Plants (will produce for 2-3 years before replanting needed)

  1. Kale
  2. Collards
  3. Peppers
  4. Basil
  5. Parsley
  6. Asparagus
  7. Chard

Plants Grown in the Pacific Islands/Unique Plants you might not know

  1. Taro
  2. Sweet Potato
  3. Yam
  4. Cassava
  5. Winged bean
  6. Chayote
  7. Tree Tomato
  8. Chaya
  9. Sissoo Spinach
  10. Okinawan Spinach (often available as plant starts at Pearl City Urban Garden center Second Saturday plant sales, each month)

Fruits/Trees for long term projects

  1. Pineapple (can plant from tops- about 18 months for a pineapple to form and be ready)
  2. Papaya
  3. Avocado
  4. Mango
  5. Lychee
  6. Starfruit
  7. Lilikoi (passion fruit)
  8. Fig

Happy Growing!!  You can also…

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