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Farmers, backyard gardeners share seeds and more

April 11, 2016 - 1:30am

Some brought leafy cuttings in gallon buckets, while others laid out baggies of tiny hot peppers and boxes of roots and tubers. Most brought seeds: squash seeds, pepper seeds, carrot seeds, herb seeds, and beans of all sorts, to name a few.

Nobody brought soil — a little fire ant infestation is that last thing someone wants to bring home from a seed exchange.

Farmers and backyard gardeners alike dropped by the North Hawaii Education and Resource Center in Honokaa on April 9 to replenish their seed and root stores. But instead of browsing through pages of a catalog, they browsed tables and talked story, learning more about their new acquisitions in the process.

The first Hawaii Island seed exchange took place in Kona in 2002.

“It just grew from there,” said Lyn Howe of Puna.

Howe is the coordinator of the Hawaii Public Seed Initiative, one of the sponsors of the event, along with the Kohala Center, Honokaa Seed Exchange, and Hawaii County. Researchers from the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at the University of Hawaii at Manoa also attended and gave presentations during a morning session.

CTAHR extension agents such as Glenn Teves of Molokai, one of the presenters, are constantly breeding new seed varieties, which is a boon to the Hawaii Public Seed Initiative’s goals.

“It’s a reaction to the fact of small seed companies being (bought) by larger ones,” Howe said. When that happens, and varieties of seed are subsequently lost, there is less genetic diversity to protect against crop loss.

“This (the exchange) is how people have gotten their seed for thousands of years,” said Ilana Stout, who works with the seed initiative and is a graduate student at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. “The idea of buying from a store is (new).”

Seeds gained through exchanges have another selling point for Hawaii growers.

“They’re tropical adapted,” said Marielle Hampton. Hampton works on an organic vegetable farm in Paauilo and is researching Cucurbita moschata, a type of squash, for future Hawaii cultivation. “Mainland seeds are bred for earlier [start] times, or cold tolerance. They’re not adapted to Hawaii.”

There’s not even one fixed meaning for “adapted to Hawaii.” A plant won’t grow the same way in Puna as it will in Kohala, for example, because of the different climate zones. But a Puna farmer can cultivate Puna-specific seeds that will thrive in the area.

Hampton said Saturday’s crowd of more than 60 was typical for Honokaa seed exchanges, which take place twice a year.

Near a box of ginger roots, Tiffany Cox and daughter Azure, 6, browsed through the offerings.

“We came to the last one,” Cox said. Azure has “been growing things since she was tiny — anything and everything.”

The pair had already picked up a piece of sugar cane and a long stem of tapioca root, along with ginger and yacon, a type of South American tuber.

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