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Self-sufficiency landscaping is a way of life in Africa

March 16, 2014 - 12:05am

We are traveling in Ghana, and it seems like everyone is working harder to make ends meet — just like in Hawaii. To follow our trek in West Africa, check out our blog on

Back in Hawaii, if you are looking for a way to save on food bills, plant fruits, herbs and vegetables. We live on an island where we can grow almost any food crop in the right microclimate.

When it comes to fruit trees, there are scores of species and varieties from which to choose. If you are unfamiliar with some of the weirdly named edibles, get connected to the Tropical Fruit Association. Ken Love, Brian Lievens, the Hamiltons of Plant it Hawaii and others are promoting many unusual plants with economic potential. This group meets each month to educate the community and share information.

“Lucky we live Hawaii.” Not only do we have lots of land and not too many people, we also have a stable government. No matter where we go as we travel up Africa’s west coast, we see hard-working folks and great climates to grow food, but the political situations are not stable. This makes it difficult to thrive for folks who just want to lead simple, healthy lives.

So let’s focus on what we can do here.

In Hawaii, consider the gardening activities you may find of value for a productive future.

Plantings of southern peas, lima beans, pole beans, okra, pigeon peas, manioc, yams and sweet potatoes, plus eggplant are keeping many gardeners in fresh homegrown vegetables.

Now is a good time to plant papayas and bananas. These plants do well near a vegetable garden since they require the rich soil and moisture for best production. They also serve as a windbreak.

Fresh herbs and spices are also natural for vegetable garden areas.

Homegrown flavor plants will add interest and piquant taste to vegetables.

Most herbs are readily available at area garden shops. They will do well provided the soil is well drained and with sufficient nutrients. Many areas of the island have adequate soil, but organic materials help make conditions even better. Rocky areas will require more effort. Some folks rely on growing in containers where soil is limited.

Warm weather types you may plant are basil, chives, oregano, summer savory, catnip, parsley, lemon verbena, tarragon, mints, pot marjoram, hot peppers, rosemary, citronella grass, vanilla orchid and edible ginger.

Basil is considered one of the finest spices for pickling. It is of two types — sweet green basil and the dwarf form. Very few plants are sufficient for the needs of the average family. Sometimes one or two plants of basil may be grown in the flower border. The leaves and flowers have a clove-like, spicy flavor and are prized for use in spiced vinegar, for pickles, in gravies, soups, stews and salads. Basil is an especially choice flavor for tomato dishes.

When dried and powdered, basil is used for spicing meat or fish, sausage, liver paste and similar products. The flowers with the tender tips of the stems with their foliage are cut, tied in very small bunches and dried.

The chive is the smallest member of the onion family. Its tiny bulbs grow in thick bunches, but the young leaves, which may be cut freely, are of delicate and pleasing flavor similar to that of a very mild onion. They add a delicate snap to salads and dressings, dry bean dishes, jellied chicken, hot vegetables, eggs and other mixtures. The plant grows to a height of 6 or 8 inches with dark green, grass-like foliage and bears pretty, violet clusters of bloom. They are propagated by dividing the clumps and replanting in rich soil.

Edible ginger, often confused with the common ornamental ginger, grows well in Hawaii and produces choice roots if given rich soil and sufficient moisture. Ginger should be grown in every home garden. It is an erect herb, 2 to 3 feet high. It grows from thickened rhizomes which branch finger-like and send up new shoots from the tips near the surface of the soil. If desired for preserving or candying, the roots should be dug while tender and succulent. Fresh green ginger is an indispensable part of chutneys, giving them much of their spiciness and pungent flavor. Ginger relatives, such as turmeric and cardamom, popular in Hawaiian and Asian cooking also grow easily here.

Edible gardening does not end with vegetables and herbs. Trees and shrubs can also supply edible bonanzas. Last year, good crops of lychee, avocado, citrus and mango have encouraged homeowners to plant fruit trees. There are many other fruits and nuts to consider as well. You can grow cloves, cinnamon, allspice, rambutan, longan and other interesting and useful crops in the home garden. A handy book written for local conditions is “The Hawaiian Organic Growing Guide” by Shunyam Nirav. Area garden shops and nurseries are also a great source of information and plant materials.