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




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:

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Going Vegan: Garden & Pantry Challenges

A Re-blog from January 1, 2012, because it’s still so relevant! I’ve learned so much since this time though- as a gardener, a cook and a mom. While we still depend on store-bought things for foods that don’t grow well here (apples, peaches) we have moved to making up meals based on what’s in the garden and ready to eat. I still gain inspiration and ideas from Happy Herbivore and other plant-based bloggers like Post Punk Kitchen and our whole family’s health is improving. The issues of fatigue, high blood sugar, etc that plagued me in my first pregnancy are not here this time around, and I credit a whole foods plant based diet for that. 🙂


Garden greens tossed with local avocado, peppers, onions, tomatoes and black beans

Garden greens tossed with local avocado, peppers, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, lemon juice and black beans

January 1, 2012

A few weeks ago while exchanging emails with a vegan acquaintance friend she wrote, “I don’t have kids or husband so not sure what the challenges would be.” At that particular moment I wasn’t sure either.  I hadn’t actually gone shopping yet.  For these past few days I have simply been using what I have already in the house and modifying previously cooked recipes.  But as the Christmas leftovers reach their gross point and get passed along to the chickens or dogs, the fridge was looking pretty bare, so we (Joe, Ethan and I) headed for the commissary today.  I was feeling pretty pleased with myself for having downloaded the Happy Herbivore’s meal plan the night before, complete with shopping list! Being vegan was going to be a cinch!

Um, not so fast there.  I quickly realized the first challenge to my change: Shopping. First, the place is crazy busy and my darling toddler has already made it clear he’s in no mood for shopping and we’ve been here 10 minutes.  (For the record, we went AFTER a 2 hour nap and snack, but apparently that made no difference today.)  A new way of eating = a new way of cooking = a new way of shopping.  I can’t just cruise through the place, hitting all my same-olds, tossing into the cart brainlessly.  Produce was pretty easy- LOTS of it- but I did get some stuff I haven’t bought in a while like cauliflower and seemingly huge amount of mushrooms.

As soon as we hit boxed-canned-bagged aisle, it was all over. I had to read everything. I had to search for things I had never looked for before. (Olives? Cooking sherry? Red lentils?)  The super cool-car-shopping-cart wasn’t cool anymore, as Ethan exercised his vocal chords.  Ethan and Daddy exited Stage Left.

Ahhh. Peaceful shopping.  Now, back to reading labels.  And realizing there is freaking MILK or WHEY in EVERYTHING. Thank god I’m not going gluten-free! What a nightmare.

By the time I finish the monster shopping list ($248.00!!!) it is 5:30 and I should be putting dinner on the table already, not just putting in the car.  So we head on home, 3 grumbly-tummies as I promise to throw something together the minute we go inside.

And so we come to challenge #2: Prep Time. As a meat-eater or even a lacto-ovo vegetarian, throwing together dinner is a not complicated.  Chicken breast in the skillet, rice in the steamer, broccoli in the pot. Done.  Or my other great stand-by meal, frozen wontons in chicken broth with chopped cabbage/greens and green onion. Done.  But I not only have come up with NEW stand-by meals that are easy and quick, but come to the realization that quality vegan food is not fast.  Good grains take a LONG time to cook. All that rainbow of vegetables for good health take a LONG time to cut, wash and prep. Jars of sauces or mixes won’t do most of the time as they contain milk, so one must CREATE their own sauces.  This takes TIME.  And what a working mom does not have much of is, time.  And while I have help from my mom and husband in nearly everything at home, my choice to go vegan has left them in a hands-off the kitchen mode. I would have to do a lot of teaching before either of them would help do cooking that is more complicated than boiling pasta or cooking chicken.  And frankly, I have to re-teach myself first.

The story ends well. I threw together a recipe from Happy Herbivore called Skillet Green Bean Casserole, and it was pretty good. While I was cooking though, Ethan ate leftovers from the night before because that kid was too hungry to wait for his mama to experiment in the kitchen.  Which leads me to the 3rd challenge: My Resolve. How important is this to me, really?  Do I really believe this will work to correct my health issues, help me lose weight and get pregnant again? Do I really think one person not eating meat or dairy is actually helping the planet? And what about my chickens!? I’m already contemplating eating their eggs (not eggs in general) because I feed them organic food and they are quite happy and well-cared for.  But does this make me a hypocrite? A sell-out?  Or just practical?

And then I see the scale. Down 5 pounds in 5 days. Skin clearing up. Achy-knee feeling better. More energy to get up and get jogging. And I think, yes, I can do this.

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Comfort Food from the Garden: Risotto!


Oh warm deliciousness! This was super easy, creamy and lovely, using very simple ingredients: arborio rice, veggie broth, “spinach” and mushrooms.

For the rice part, I used the recipe from the Vegan Slow Cooker for risotto. It is basically cooking the arborio rice in a crockpot in veggie broth slowly over several hours, stirring it about every 30-40 minutes. The texture is worth it- creaminess without the cream!

For the add-ins:

Re-hydrate dried shiitake mushrooms according to package directions (pour boiling water over them and let stand for 10-15 minutes)

And from my garden, the star green ingredient here: Cholesterol Spinach or gynura nepalensis. You can read about this fascinating plant as it was featured a few years ago in our local paper. It is incredibly easy to grow, pests don’t bother it and when cooked, it’s quite tasty. (It’s a bit tough raw.) I just pulsed the mushrooms and spinach a few times in the food processor, then sauteed over low heat with salt & pepper. When the rice was done cooking, I spooned the spinach and mushrooms into the skillet. That’s it!!

It grows here in my front yard bed!  For substituting regular spinach here, I would not pulse it, and cook it less time, as these leaves are much thicker and tougher than your garden variety spinach. Enjoy 🙂

Large, low growing leafy green right under the Grow sign :-)

Large, low growing leafy green to the right under the Grow sign 🙂

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Rockin’ the Helpline, One Bad Connection at a Time


Yeah, that was me you called today at 453-6055.  I answered (perhaps poorly) questions about fertilizing lemon trees (you don’t have to- they like crappy soil); getting rid of mealy bugs (neem oil!) and transplanting keiki bananas.  All in a days work, on the ol’ MG Hotline.

We have this small but efficient little office over at the Urban Garden Center that has air conditioning (!) and three bookshelves, 4 file cabinets and a wealth of knowledge in the form of veteran Master Gardeners who help us interns answer questions from the common to the obscure.

“What is this plant?!” A walk in guest brings us a bag with some sort of wilted shrubby looking thing covered in fungus.

“What ground cover can I use that is so easy and I can’t kill it?”

“Why are my papayas so hard and taste bad?”

This is the community service aspect of the Master Gardener program, which is the reason the program exists at all! Many years ago it was recognized that university faculty couldn’t possibly help every home gardener with all their questions- so the Master Gardener program was born, at every Land Grant University across the nation.  We get training in basic botany, integrated pest management, soils, water, climates and a hundred other relevant topics.  Then, we learn by answering questions.  Digging around an office or doing online searches for reliable information (hint: add the word “extension” to any plant search) helps us learn a lot more.  We also have Plant Help booths at farmers markets, conduct workshops at the Urban Garden Center and are increasingly visible in other community work as our numbers grow.

Today there were challenges with phone connections; one caller had to try three times to get his question across: What do I do about too many limes? Uh, eat ’em or give ’em away, I said. 🙂

We get at least a dozen calls a day, many are answered on the spot, but others require taking a message, doing some research and then calling the person back.  We also mail out paper copies of research publications, especially if the caller doesn’t have internet access- which LOTS of people do not have.  The digital divide is still quite real- so referring someone to a website is not always a viable option.

I love becoming a Master Gardener, the friends I make and the things I learn.  Today I learned about how I can bring my own dead lawn back to life from a fellow Master Gardener. I might be great at growing vegetables, but I’ve been efficiently killing the grass. And reading all those university publications feeds my nerdy little heart, and I love that even more.


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.