Saving seeds is sustainability in action


Gardens can be works of art in many ways. A beautifully landscaped piece of property offers visual pleasure. Artistic gardeners and farmers often use their creativity to design attractive and efficient gardens and orchards that produce well while keeping costs low. It takes another level of ingenuity and creativity to make a growing operation sustainable, but many growers are finding a variety of ways to reduce off-site inputs.

Reducing, reusing and recycling wastes are hallmarks of sustainability. Looking closely at the waste you produce in your gardening or farming practices can spark creative ideas for recycling or reusing what might have ended up in the landfill.

Turning kitchen and garden waste, such as prunings, weeds and dead leaves, into compost, vermicompost or mulch is a good start. These processes reward you with wonderful soil additives while disposing of waste. Try on-site mulching with yard waste like dead leaves. Tree trimming services may also be willing to deliver wood chips at a reasonable price which can be used immediately to mulch pathways or saved to break down into compost over time.

Propagate your own plants or share cuttings, corms and huli with neighbors or friends. Okinawan spinach, Malabar spinach, many herbs and even tomatoes can be grown from cuttings. Bananas grow well from young corms and pineapple and taro plants grow well from the huli you get following harvest. Many fruit trees produce best when grafted onto healthy root stock, some can be successfully grown from air-layers and some, including papayas, will grow easily from saved seeds.

Many vegetables and herbs that grow well here produce seeds that will germinate and produce a new crop. You don’t need to buy tomato, bean, or pepper seeds every year and once you’ve found a lettuce or green that goes to seed, you can probably get a very similar or even improved crop by saving the seed and replanting it.

Seed saving is definitely one of the masterpieces in the art of sustainable gardening and farming. Though not initially difficult, selecting, harvesting and saving seeds to produce a reliable crop can take some know-how and practice. Recent seed saving workshops and exchanges have started many gardeners and farmers in this very sustainable practice.

A seed exchange will be held in South Kona on June 22. With a month to prepare, you should be able to have some seeds, huli or cuttings ready for the free exchange.

If you are growing peas, beans or corn, it’s quite easy to save seed. Leave the pods or cobs on the plant until they are dry, then you can harvest and remove the dry beans or kernels to plant or bring to the exchange.

Remove pepper seeds from mature fruit and let them dry. Remember that pepper plants of different varieties growing within 400 feet of each other can cross pollinate. Some very interesting crosses may result from your saved seeds.

Tomatoes are a bit more difficult, as they have to be soaked for a few days until the gelatinous seed covering ferments away, then dried before planting.

Many mustards, arugula and lettuces go to seed here within a few months and the seeds are easily harvested in dry weather. Most basil varieties as well as fennel and cilantro also produce flowers and seeds in a short time. Again, drying the seeds before planting is often an important key to success.

Guidelines for basic seed saving are to grow open pollinated seeds from nonhybrid plants, allow the healthiest plant that has the best size, taste and disease resistance go to seed. Collect seeds when they are dry or pick the fruit containing the seeds when it matures. Remove seeds from their coverings – fruit, pod or cob – and allow them to dry before planting.

Lots of information about seed saving is usually included in the program at local seed exchanges. For more advanced techniques, consult Suzanne Ashworth’s book “Seed to Seed.” It includes seed saving and growing techniques for more than 150 different vegetables.

Start saving easy seeds now and you may soon find yourself becoming a seed saving artist.

Diana Duff is a local organic farmer, plant adviser and consultant.

Tropical gardening helpline

Email plant questions to konamg@ctahr.hawaii.edu for answers by Certified Master Gardeners.

Some questions will be chosen for inclusion in this column.

Donald asks: I want to start a garden at my new house in Kona. We seem to be getting a lot of rain lately. Is this a good time to plant and if so, what should I plant now?

Tropical Gardener Answer: Now is the perfect time to install a garden in Kona. Summer is usually the wettest time of the year and your plants will be happy with the frequent watering they get from rain.

Depending on your location, you will probably need to supplement the water supply, especially until they get established. If you get rainfall of an inch or more, you can hold off watering for a few days. Get a rain gauge to help determine the amount of rain you actually get. An inch per week is plenty for established plants, but newbies do best with regular watering.

Choosing plants for a garden in Hawaii can be lots of fun as so many things grow well here. With the current move toward eating more locally grown food, you might want to consider installing some plants that are edible as well as attractive. You can round out your garden with tropical flowers and other ornamentals to add interest, color and fragrance.

Many ornamentals grow well through the changing seasons here in Hawaii. Lots of fruit trees promise long productive lives here as well. Consider installing citrus trees if you have room. Dwarf varieties don’t need much space and will reward you with fragrant flowers and a bounty of fruit. Dwarf avocados and mangoes are available as well as small fruiting trees like Surinam cherry. If you have room, plant a fig or a pomegranate. If you are above 1,000 feet, consider some varieties of temperate fruiting plants that have been bred for warmer climates. These include several varieties of apples, pears, peaches and blueberries.

Many plants that grow as annuals in temperate zones will produce for much longer in our tropical climate. Peppers, eggplant and tomatoes are good examples. These plants need lots of sun and, especially tomatoes, sometimes grow best in dry weather. Plant peppers and eggplant now and install tomatoes and squashes such as kabocha in August.

Root vegetables, including beets, should do well, carrots, turnips and the tropical yacon. Both pole and bush varieties of beans grow well here. Greens are another reliable source of food. Tender lettuces can rot if they are too wet, but hardy greens like kale and collards will give you lots of tasty leaves for salads or steaming. You might also want to include some native favorites like taro and sweet potato.

Now is a great time to get your garden growing. Choosing the right plants for your elevation and location will help guarantee success. Visit a local nursery with a knowledgeable staff to help you make decisions about what will grow best in your particular microclimate.

Farmers markets

Wednesday: Hooulu Community Market, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa at Keauhou Bay

Saturday: Keauhou farmers market, 8 a.m. to noon at Keauhou Shopping Center

Sunday: South Kona Green Market, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Amy Greenwell Garden in Captain Cook

Plant advice lines

Email questions to Master Gardeners at konamg@ctahr.hawaii.edu.

Call UH-CES in Kainaliu from 9 a.m. to noon Thursday at 322-4892.

Gardening events

Monday: “Kamehameha Schools on Ag” from 7 to 9 p.m. at the UH Kainaliu Experiment Station with Perry Kealoha, KS Land Asset Manager. Learn ways KS plans to help the local ag community. For more information, contact Brian Lievens at 895-8753 or greenwizard@hawaii.rr.com or Ken Love at 323-2417 or kenlove@hawaiiantel.net.

Saturday: “Loving Local Foods” from 9 to 11 a.m. at Kohala Elementary School Discovery Garden Cooking class with a guest chef. and garden work party. Contact Karla Heath at karla@andreadean.com for more information.