Become a true locavore in 2014


Many of us haven’t yet chosen our New Year’s resolutions. With two days left, it’s time to start deciding.

It’s a good idea to resolve to make changes that will positively affect your life. Think of things that might improve your health, save you some money and benefit your family, your friends and your community.

A great place to start is in your own backyard. Hopefully you have started growing a few edible plants and plan to add more veggies and maybe fruit trees. Probably one of the healthiest things you can do is eat more fresh fruit and vegetables. Start planting now.

There is still time to get your winter greens planted. Nothing could be healthier than a kale salad or steamed collards and chard. Eggplant, peppers and tomatoes will do very well in this drier weather with hot sunny days. Don’t forget root vegetables such as beets, turnips and carrots for winter soups and stews. Sweet potatoes and yams also grow well here and can add healthy carbohydrates to your meals.

In addition to yams, the Polynesians also brought ulu, or breadfruit, as well as taro to supply carbohydrates. These native plants grow well and can produce lots of food for your family as well as your neighborhood.

Citrus trees of all kinds do well in Kona. Avocados do well above 600 feet elevation. Mangoes grow best at lower elevations and bananas will produce anywhere the weather is tropical. If you think you don’t have space for fruit trees, consider the small Surinam cherry or a dwarf citrus. These can even be grown on a lanai.

With the buzz lately about food safety, one way to ensure safe food is to grow it yourself. Not only will you have readily available fresh food, but you can also be sure it’s grown in conditions and with treatments that meet your safety standards.

The bounty you produce can save you money at the grocery store and might earn you a bit of cash if you decide to sell some of your produce. When your garden overflows, you can always get imaginative and add value by preserving your produce. Freezing juice or vegetables for later is always a good plan. Drying or fermenting are other ways to extend your harvest and canning fruit into jams or jellies is an excellent storage technique that can also make great gifts.

If you don’t have time or space to grow everything you like to eat, consider eating only food that is from the Big Island or the state of Hawaii. A few years ago, this was a challenge. Now it is much easier. Coffee, chocolate, bananas and sugar are commodities in high demand globally. All are grown in Hawaii and sold locally. Local beef is available in several supermarkets as well as farmers markets. Local fish is very available. Island bakers produce delicious breads and baked goods. Several area goat farms make wonderful cheeses and you can even stick to your locavore decision when buying honey or wine.

Frequent stores that sell locally grown products, and ask for them if your grocer doesn’t regularly stock them. Farmers markets offer lots of new products to choose from. A Friday and Sunday market in Captain Cook and two Saturday markets in Keauhou give you many opportunities to meet farmers and taste their wares. Remember that money spent at the farmers markets goes directly to the farmers. Locally grown produce seldom costs more at a farmers market, but even if it does, that money is going directly into the local economy and is helping maintain island agriculture. Your resolution to buy local benefits you as well as your community.

Many nonfood items are also produced locally. A true locavore will choose art, clothing, car seat covers, jewelry or furniture made by local artisans. Next time you leave your garden to go shopping, resolve to buy something made in Hawaii.

With some new resolutions, you can start planning ways to make your life healthier, happier and richer in 2014. Happy New Year!

Tropical gardening helpline

Priscilla asks: I have been tending a garden on the property where I live for a while and am thinking of putting in some plants that can add fertility to the soil. Can you recommend a few?

Answer: Nitrogen-fixing plants are usually in the legume or bean family. They have the unique ability to draw nitrogen from the air and sequester it in their roots for their fertility needs and add nitrogen to the soil, especially when they are cut or coppiced. Several of these can be easily propagated once you have them started on your land.

One of the best candidates for your garden might be the pigeon pea, Cajanus cajan. It is a small tree that not only provides light shade and fertility for low-growing veggies, but can also supply you with peas to eat. The peas are produced after flowering in pods that usually dry and turn brown on the tree. When they do, you can pick them and either do a “stomp” between two tarps to get rid of the pods or, for smaller batches, use a rolling pin on peas in a plastic bag. Once you get pigeon peas going, you can always grow more from your own seed.

If you want a light overstory for your cacao or coffee plants at lower elevations, consider gliricidia, Gliricidia sepium. It is a fast-growing nitrogen-fixing tree that can provide light shade. It is easily propagated from cuttings.

Crotalaria or sunn hemp, Crotalaria juncea, is another nitrogen fixer that is easy to grow. It is a single stemmed herbaceous plant that produces seed after flowering. Crotalaria is often cut to use as mulch and replanted in the same place to create more biomass.

Another popular nitrogen fixer is perennial peanut, Arachis glabrata, which makes a thick low-growing mat with yellow flowers. This makes an excellent a ground cover around other plants as long as it gets enough sun. This plant is easily propagated from cuttings.

Planting nitrogen fixers is a good idea any time of year in any phase of your garden’s development. More information on nitrogen-fixing plants is available at agroforestry.ne t/pubs/nftguide.pdf.

Email plant questions to konamg@ctahr.hawaii.edu for answers by certified master gardeners. Some questions will be chosen for inclusion in this column.

Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant with an organic farm in Captain Cook.