BY NORM BEZONA | SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY
Lucky we live Hawaii, but we can learn a lot from gardeners on other tropical islands. Right now we are in the Dominican Republic working with farmers on a project sponsored by the Florida Association for Volunteer Action in the Caribbean and the Americas. Voltaire Moise, who is from Haiti, is working on the uses of edible crops, while I work on some of the production problems.
Like the Dominican Republic, we in Hawaii can grow almost anything. We have many climates depending on elevation and whether you are on the rain-swept eastern side or the drier leeward part of the island. Below 2,000 feet, we can grow the tropicals and above the warm temperate and even cool season crops. Tropical fruits are the favorite for most since they are varied and unusual.
Many of these fruits are high in vitamins, minerals and energy. Instead of popping vitamin pills every day, we should consider fruit. Those vitamin pills on your shelf, besides being expensive items, are not nearly as palatable and eye appealing as fresh fruit — especially when it is grown in your backyard. You can purchase books that give descriptions on most of Hawaii fruits from local garden centers and bookstores.
Let's just look at those introduced from South America.
Take vitamin A for instance. One papaya is supposed to contain 4,000 IUs (international units) while 5,000 IUs per day are listed as adequate. Passion fruit and relatives like banana poka, poha, avocados and Surinam cherry are other South American fruits high in vitamin A.
Some fruits famous for their contribution of vitamin C are guava, papaya, soursop, poha, cactus fruit and passion fruit.
One of the fruits highest in vitamin C is the acerola, or Barbados cherry. The fruit is not a cherry but a member of the Malpighia family. The family is a fairly familiar ornamental shrub in many gardens and bears the highest known vitamin C content in fruit. As a comparison, oranges average 49 milligrams of vitamin C per 100 grams of edible fruit (100 grams is about 31/2 ounces), while the Barbados cherry, picked as it is turning green to red, averages more than 4,000 units per 100 grams.
Don't forget the pineapple. Even though we see it in the stores, it is fun to grow your own. The pineapple will produce several crops a year if you have a large number of plants; varieties like red Spanish, smooth cayenne, queen and abakka are found in our gardens. When grown in the home garden, they tend to be much sweeter than the commercial fruit found at the supermarket.
In addition, there are dozens of lesser known fruits, like the mountain apple relatives, that make outstanding ornamental shrubs and trees, as well as fruit producers. Although the mountain apple is native to India and Malaya, jaboticaba, pitanga and Brazilian plum are also very attractive with delicious fruits. The common Surinam cherry has fruit that varies from tasty to terrible, depending on seedlings.
Another favorite in its homeland is the Sapodilla, chicle or chewing gum tree from Central America. It is an attractive shade tree that grows to about 30 feet. The dark brown fruit is about the size of an orange and tastes like a combination of brown sugar and butter. It will tolerate wet or dry conditions and will grow from sea level to 2,000 feet.
Before you plant, remember, fruit tree adaptability to moisture, temperature and wind conditions will be important factors when determining selection. For example, West Indian avocado would have a chance of success in warmer, lower areas, but would be a definite gamble in high, wet inland locations. By the same token, Mexican strains are desirable in higher, cooler areas.
In addition, there are other factors to consider when selecting fruit trees.
Fruits for home use should be selected on the basis of eating quality, rather than for their market appearance or shipping endurance. Pollination requirements must not be overlooked in selecting fruits. Solo papaya needs no pollinators, but avocado varieties should be chosen with regard to assuring proper pollination.
Pest-resistance as a factor in selecting fruit trees is more important to the homeowner than to the commercial grower because the commercial grower has equipment for pest control while the homeowner may not. The less pesticides required, the better.
Fruit selection for the home grounds should assure a long season of available fruit by using a variety of early, mid-season and late production plants within the range for the species.
There are hundreds of fruits that can be grown in Hawaii gardens. As we explore island cultures in other parts of the world like Hispaniola, we may find even more to add to the list. If you need help on selecting fruit trees, contact a local nursery or garden store for assistance.
This information is supplied by the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.