Growing Kona coffee is still profitable for many West Hawaii farmers but the berry borer infestation has made it more labor intensive and expensive for growers. Crop diversification is one way to manage the risk of losing money on a single crop. Some Hawaii farmers have chosen to diversify with tea plants.
Several workshops will offer information for those considering growing tea. “Grow Tea – Propagation Workshop,” sponsored by Bonnie Perata and taught by Eva Lee with support from the Kohala Center, will be held from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Feb. 2 at Tropical Edibles Nursery in Captain Cook. The cost is $10. Another will be offered from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Feb. 12 at the University of Hawaii-College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources Mealani Research Station in Waimea. “Tea 101: Production and Processing Basics” will be offered for $25.
Lee’s workshop will be a hands-on experience in propagating tea plants from cuttings. She will share a general overview of tea growing for Hawaii, including the types and varieties that grow well here. Fertility and pest management as well as information on harvesting and processing will also be included.
You can start growing tea with a few “mother” plants to use for cuttings. Lee, founder of Tea Hawaii &Co., has been growing tea on her farm in Volcano for 12 years. More information is available at teahawaii.com.
To get started, Lee recommends getting a few plants and then increasing your stock by vegetative propagation. Taking care in the process will net the best results.
Several websites provide some information on tea propagation. The UH-CTAHR publication “In-Ground Procedure for Rooting Tea Cuttings” can be found at ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freepubs/pdf/SCM-23.pdf. Another website with useful information on tea plant propagation is vegetableipmasia.org.
The basic procedure involves the following steps.
1. Grow out shoots on the mother plants. Allow shoots to grow out for at least four months to about 12 inches long. Select and remove healthy stems from the mother plants.
2. Prepare stems for propagation. Look for stems that have green wood that is hardening and turning red. The midsection of the stem is best to use for cuttings. Remove the green growing tip and the woody base of the stem. You only need one leaf for each cutting. The cuttings will be about an inch and a half long.
3. Fill sterile pots with the planting media. A dampened mix of vermiculite and perlite will work well as a medium. Dip the cuttings into a rooting hormone before planting to help them form roots.
4. Prepare a place for the seedlings with dim light during the day and adequate water. A shade tunnel out of direct sun works well. Cover it with shade cloth or black plastic. Plants will do best with light misting daily.
5. Prepare for out planting. In two to four months the plants should develop roots. You can begin preparing them for out planting in about six to eight months by gradually exposing them to more and more sunlight each day until they are completely “hardened” to full sun.
6. Plant young plants. At this point you can remove the tunnel completely and transplant the new plants into the field. They will likely be about a foot high at this point.
For more information or to register for Lee’s workshop call Perata at 328-9817 or email email@example.com. Space is limited.
Information and registration is available for the UH-CTAHR workshop by calling Didi or Perci at 887-6183 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Space is limited to 12 students who register by Feb. 5.
These workshops offer an excellent opportunity to explore tea as an alternative crop for Hawaii. Check them out.
Tropical gardening helpline
Joanne asks: I have been on the mainland for a while and missed lots of the meetings about controlling the coffee berry borer. Where can I get up-to-date information about spraying, trapping and best practices?
Answer: Kona Coffee Farmers Association meetings are great for learning the latest coffee berry borer control information. Its website, konacoffeefarmers.org, has information about upcoming meetings, as well as notes and comments from members on a variety of coffee related topics. You can also contact UH-CTAHR Extension Agent Andrea Kawabata at 322-4892 for information about upcoming events or workshops with the latest coffee berry borer information.
The association is holding its seventh annual Kona Coffee Expo &Trade Show from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday at the Old Kona Airport Park’s Makaeo Events Pavilion. Lisa Keith will present “CBB Development” at 2:30 p.m.
Mini workshops and talk story opportunities with area coffee farmers throughout the day should also be helpful in getting the latest information on the coffee berry borer.
Vendors and resource groups will staff booths with information and products to offer. This is a great event for coffee farmers and those interested in Kona coffee.
Email plant questions to email@example.com 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.