Macadamia nuts are regaining popularity


Growing macadamia nuts in Hawaii can be challenging. Wild fluctuations in prices on the world market have discouraged many growers. Currently, the price of macadamia nuts is up from a few years ago and, considering benefits the tree and crop offer, more growers are reviving their existing trees or planting new ones.

Consuming locally grown macadamia nuts not only offers good taste and nutrition but also supports our economy. Macadamia nuts can be used in many ways and growers and processors are constantly developing new ideas. In addition to food uses, the trees also provide added value to the landscape by providing deep shade with attractive flowers and foliage. The leaves as well as the husks and shells also make great mulch.

Macadamia nuts are native to Australia and belong to the Proteaceae family. Macadamia integrifolia is the species most frequently grown in Hawaii although new and slightly different varieties and cultivars are constantly being developed.

Macadamia nut trees were introduced to Hawaii in 1882 as a windbreak for sugarcane fields. Thirty years later the Hawaiian Agricultural Experiment Station began encouraging macadamia nuts as a supplement crop to coffee in South Kona but it was not until 1925 that the first commercial macadamia nut orchard was planted in the state, on Oahu.

Though large companies originally invested in the crop, some of that corporate interest faded over time. The recent popularity of nuts as a healthy food that can lower cholesterol levels has been a boon for macadamia nut growers.

The increased interest has enlivened the Hawaii Macadamia Nut Association to plan and hold an annual membership meeting this year. This will be their first meeting and conference in many years and they are putting together an information-filled day June 21 at the Naniloa Hotel in Hilo.

Registration for the meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. with a short annual meeting beginning at 9. A catered lunch is included in the admission price of $40 for the day. Guest speakers in the morning will cover topics including agricultural tourism, soil building and labor issues. Craig Hardner from the University of Queensland in Australia will offer a presentation on the genetic improvement of macadamia nuts for Australia, Hawaii and the world. Scott Enright from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture will be the luncheon speaker.

A call for grafted tree needs from growers by Troy Keolanui will be part of the lunchtime committee reports. Afternoon topics will include the latest research in tree health and pest control as well as presentations on adding value to your crop. Five representatives from large-scale processors will serve on a panel to address issues including quality standards and food safety laws. They will also open up the discussion to address audience concerns. The president of HMNA, David Rietow, will wrap it up with “Where Do We Go from Here.”

Membership is not required to attend, though an opportunity to join the organization will be available at the meeting.

To register or for more information, contact Phyllis Stine at 938-7804 or John Cross at 987-4229. To join HMNA, call Stine.

The organization is working with the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation to get Gov. Neil Abercrombie to sign HB 1931 which would appropriate $360,000 for research into developing methods for managing the macadamia felted coccid and its damage. The Australian pest first appeared in South Kona in 2005. It moves easily on wind, birds, people, vehicles and farm equipment. Uncontrolled, this pest could cause significant damage to the macadamia nut industry. HMNA and HFBF are requesting that folks contact the governor and encourage him to sign the bill.

Tropical gardening helpline

Carole asks: Can we grow loquats here? I had some big juicy, delicious ones in Israel, recently. Are they a variety we can get here?

Answer: We can grow loquats here in Hawaii, especially at upper elevations as they are a subtropical to temperate fruit. They tend to be small with a large seed or seeds and are quite tasty. The birds here love them and are especially good at knowing exactly when they have reached the peak of ripeness.

If you want large tasty fruit, cultural practices make all the difference. Ken Love has an Israeli variety on his farm called shesek, which is actually the Hebrew word for loquat. The Japanese varieties he is familiar with are bigger and have a high brix, sweetness, as well. All 900 loquat varieties are the same genus and species: Eriobotrya japonica.

According to Love, pruning, tree care and bagging the fruit are the practices that make the difference in size and flavor. Fertilizing with a balanced fertilizer quarterly will help loquat production. The trees should be pruned low for easy picking. Also, multiple branches on new growth should be removed leaving only the top and bottom branches.

Love recommends removing all but three racemes on a branch when the tree is flowering and leaving only three to five fruits on each panicle. He also recommends bagging the fruit to protect it from excess light and fruit flies as well as birds.

Evidently, following these cultural practices can dramatically improve the size and flavor of your fruit. Start growing loquat here when you return home and see if you can produce loquats that match those delicious Israeli shesek.

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 living on an organic farm in Captain Cook.