GROW O'ahu

Island Style Gardening and Plant-Based Living

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Don’t Weed Your Garden

With a completely neglectful approach to gardening, you get good surprises. Like huge popolo berry that pop up, seemingly overnight!

Popolo berry! No berries yet, but in the next few weeks those tiny white flowers will turn to green berries then dark purple

Popolo berry! No berries yet, but in the next few weeks those tiny white flowers will turn to green berries then dark purple

Popolo berry is a an important native Hawaiian plant, and one that you can’t pick up at your local garden center. It just sort of pops up wherever it feels welcome, I think. The one pictured here is the biggest one that I have right now, but there are at least 5 others of various sizes that I have welcomed by not weeding! Now that I have a few growing, I’m going to try my hand at propagation of this useful plant. I know a few healers who would love to have a supply of this on hand.

Other delights I encountered on my early morning look in the garden include blooming nasturtiums, celosia, lettuce sprouts, kale sprouts and daikon sprouts. I have abandoned my once ambitious seedling growing efforts to now just throwing some seeds on loosened soil and see what happens. This has yielded far better results than expected. In summary, everything so far, has grown. And I was able to dismantle my seedling growing station with lights, etc which took up a lot of space and if I didn’t tend to it would quickly die.

Here’s a few more shots from the lovely morning here on Oahu. Aloha, Friends.

Nasturtiums are blooming

Nasturtiums are blooming

Celosia (I think!)

Celosia (I think!)


Kale sprouts

Kale sprouts

Strawberries are flowering

Strawberries are flowering

My first try at daikon, sprouts!

My first try at daikon, sprouts!

Tiny lettuce sprouts

Tiny lettuce sprouts


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Little People that Care


There’s a whole lot of internet chatter on parenting. Most of it I don’t read. Sometimes an article will pop up in my inbox or newsfeed that has added some more fuel to so-called mommy wars. I don’t participate. I do like to take part in writing and activities that encourage, support, spread love and generally help humanity. Because my husband and I want to raise kids that care. And kids are watching how we grown ups are interacting with each other. Beyond all other traits, this one matters most to me.

How do you raise kids that give a shit? (About the world, and not just themselves?)

I don’t know if I have the formula or not, but our little people care about stuff. They have interests beyond what can be found on a screen. When my little guy wanted to save all the little worms we found in our cucumbers last year, I knew we were doing something right. Now he is an experienced butterfly farmer! He participates in all aspects of our little hatchery.  He helps get the caterpillars and saves the butterflies with wet wings so the geckos won’t eat them. After he is finished examining the dried up chrysalis, he smashes them, because he is 5 after all.



He grows things. Six weeks ago we mixed a bunch of flower seeds together in a cup and he sprinkled them in a spot of his choice in the garden.


This is how it looks today!


Six weeks ago this was a bare patch. My son threw some old seeds from the fridge out here 😀


Today we spent more than 3 hours just piddling around outside with bugs. We discovered a praying mantis in one garden and a new species of butterfly that is now frequenting our yard (Chinese Swallowtail.) It was really fun.

IMG_1117Now we have a very mobile 1 year old that is crawling circles around her mama! I let go of the worry of injury and mud and let her go in the garden today. She crawled, scooped, touched and covered herself in mud. And was so content, so happy and after 2 hours was so TIRED that she actually napped! 🙂


So get outside, friends. Even if it’s cold, windy or rainy wherever in this beautiful world you happen to be. Spending time outside with the kiddos fosters a sense of love and wonder for them and a whole heap of love and appreciation for me. We all win this one. ❤




Gardening is More Fun with Friends

Many years ago when I was spending a lot of time in a ceramics studio, someone made the comment to our teacher, “Why do you still commute over here? Don’t you have a studio in your home?”

I will never forget what he said.

“Yes, I do. But then I’d be that lonely guy just throwing teacups in my garage. This is more fun.”

There’s so many hobbies, pastimes and in fact occupations that can be done on your own. But I’m an extrovert and a social person and while I do occasionally love the quiet solitude of my gardening endeavors, most of the time I would love someone to chat with.

I was so pleased to find that a local Facebook group I belong to was having a “seedling swap” this morning. In my experience, there are few “online” communities which become real communities, so this seemed fun. And it was! I brought home a bunch of papaya, some varieties of basil, daikon and an unusual tree, the chermoya.

Seedlings on the curb, waiting for the swapping :-)

Seedlings on the curb, waiting for the swapping 🙂

And look! They even blog about stuff!! Have I finally found my peeps? 🙂

Aloha friends, and happy gardening!

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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:

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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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This is Important

If you watch no other media today, watch this: Winona LaDuke talks Seeds

She is fierce.  And most importantly, she’s right on. And talks about the issues in a way everyone can understand.  She tells stories to illustrate the importance of food crops to all of us and how genetically engineering them is a threat to food security around the world. But then shows how communities can work to save the integrity of their crops.  I had the privilege of meeting Ms. LaDuke once, and her presence is powerful.


Winona is an internationally renowned activist working on issues of sustainable development, renewable energy and food systems. She lives and works on the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota. As Program Director of Honor the Earth, she works nationally and internationally on the issues of climate change, renewable energy, and environmental justice with Indigenous communities. In her own community, she is the founder of the White Earth Land Recovery Project, where she works to protect Indigenous plants and heritage foods from patenting and genetic engineering. A graduate of Harvard and Antioch Universities, LaDuke has written extensively on Native American and environmental issues. She is the author of five books, including Recovering the Sacred, All our Relations and a novel, Last Standing Woman




Life begins again here at the Green Box Garden. Sunday I planted 44 pots with 11 different herbs & veggies and we have germination! My gardener heart sings when I see these. Happy Wednesday friends.