The small Chinese rose beetle can cause significant damage to the leaves of many plants. Honolulurosesociety.org
Strawberry papayas and apple bananas are tropical fruit treats that are easy to grow. namoarella.tumblr.com
Though we have a climate suitable for growing interesting tropical fruit, many of our favorites take years to produce. For quick results, however, consider planting papayas and bananas to get a crop within a year.
In West Hawaii the sunrise or strawberry papaya is probably the most popular with its reddish-orange flesh and very sweet flavor. This and the Kapoho, which is commercially grown in Puna, are derived from the solo. Recent genetic modifications to prevent ring spot virus include the sunup with reddish flesh and rainbow with yellow flesh.
Papayas grow easily, especially at elevations below 800 feet. They require full sun and porous soil that drains well. To grow the fruit you prefer, start from seed. Acquire your favorite specimen and save the seeds. To avoid rot, wash them in a screen colander removing any flesh and dry them before planting. Since transgenic pollen travels, testing your seeds can avoid legal issues. It is illegal to save and plant GMO seeds. Genetically modified seeds must be purchased from the producers.
Papaya trees can be male, female or hermaphroditic. Males seldom fruit, though they may produce long stems ending in flowers. Female trees produce flowers along the trunk that, when pollinated, produce round boxy fruit. The more desirable fruit of the hermaphrodite is usually pear shaped, fleshy and juicy. Plan to grow papayas in mounds, placing three seeds in each mound. Once they flower, and their sex is determined, you can decide which ones to keep. The female flower will appear with a pointed tip and swollen base, while the flower of the hermaphrodite will have a narrow base and swollen, rounded tip. Your tree should flower in three to six months followed by fruit that ripens to yellow. Expect to begin harvesting within nine to 12 months of planting.
Though papayas are quick to produce fruit, they are short-lived. Their production will decrease as the trees get taller. As they age, they should be replaced for better production and easier picking.
More information on growing papayas and dealing with disease or insect problems can be found at extento.hawaii.edu/kbase/crop/crops/i_papa.htm.
Another quick producing tropical fruit is the banana. Over 40 varieties of bananas are grown on the Big Island. West Hawaii’s most popular variety is the Brazilian apple banana. The plants produce large stalks with lots of short, chubby bananas that have a sweet flavor with higher acidity than the Chiquita variety so popular on the mainland. This variety is known as Cavendish or Chinese banana in Hawaii.
Though apple bananas are well known for their outstanding flavor, many other varieties are available, tasty and interesting to grow. See the poster at hawaiifruit.net/bib1417-lowR.jpg to view alternatives.
The best way to start growing bananas is to buy a plant from a nursery or dig up a corm from a mat of your favorite variety. Plant it in a sunny spot in soil that is rich in organic matter and has good drainage. Bananas contain lots of water and are somewhat drought tolerant but optimum fruit production requires a steady source of moisture. At lower elevations, partial shade and frequent watering will help with success. The original plant will put out keiki shoots. Leave these to create a mat of three to five plants at various stages of maturity.
Upon reaching their mature height banana plants put out a large purple bud. Petals fall off the bud as the fruit develops on the stalk.
Within three months of setting, the fruit will fill out and the first fingers will ripen. To harvest bananas, you cut down the entire plant. It produces one stalk before dying and cutting it saves moisture and energy for others in the mat.
The penultimate book on all things banana is “The World of Bananas in Hawaii: Then and Now” by Angela Kepler and Francis Rust. Kona Stories and other bookstores as well as several local nurseries have the book in stock or can order it for you. Buy local … call around and find it.
Though papayas and bananas will give you quick satisfaction, be sure to also plant other exotic tropical fruit that may take longer to mature so that you can guarantee tasty pleasure in the years to come.
Tropical gardening helpline
Phyllis asks: Chinese rose beetles are eating the leaves on several of my plants. I am spraying with neem oil and liquid soap monthly and have sprayed Sevin where I see damage. I have also gone out with a flashlight 30 minutes after sunset to look for beetles but haven’t found them. Does Sevin only kill on contact or does eating it cause death? Should I spray Sevin every 10 days, as someone advised, to get rid of the pest?
Master gardener advice: If you are sure that the damage is from Chinese rose beetles — slugs sometimes produce similar signs — you are taking the right approach. Hand picking is a good way to start. You might try coming out a bit earlier, right at dusk, to find the beetles.
Neem oil and soap is unlikely to be effective unless you are able to spray directly on the beetle. Some anecdotal information reports that neem oil or neem fertilizer can serve as a Chinese rose beetle deterrent, however.
Using Sevin can help though it may not eliminate the problem. Be sure to use it according to the directions. Sevin will have some effect even if you do not actually see the beetle. It does not need to contact to kill. Be aware that Sevin will also kill lots of good bugs as well as the bad ones and is highly toxic to honeybees and earthworms.
Grubs are usually deep in the soil, making them difficult to kill.
Summer is supposed to be the most active time for the adult beetles, though they can do damage year round. You should probably continue with a control program as long as you see damage.
Thursday: “Permaculture Planting: Papayas and Bananas” with Wade Bauer will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Hawaiian Sanctuary in Pahoa. The class is free with a $12 vegetarian lunch available for purchase. Learn soil preparation, planting, thinning and harvest techniques. For directions, call Bauer at 248-245-9483 or email WadeBauer@gmail.com.
Farmer direct markets: The Hooulu Community Market is held Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Outrigger Keauhou Beach Resort’s Royal Gardens; Keauhou Farm Bureau Market, 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays at Keauhou Shopping Center; and South Kona Green Market, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays above ChoiceMart in Captain Cook.
Plant advice lines are answered from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays at the South Kona cooperative extension service office, call 322-4892. Questions may be submitted anytime to master gardeners at email@example.com or to the Kona Outdoor Circle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.