Sunday | June 26, 2016
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Summer means learning opportunities in agriculture

The Hawaii Community College Office of Continuing Education and Training is coming to Kona with some excellent classes for farmers and gardeners.

Funded by a local grant, OCET will offer a 50 percent discount for three of the classes. Participants must sign up at least two weeks in advance and have a Hawaii General Excise Tax number to qualify for the discount. Register early as seats are limited. OCET is also working on a partnership with Tropical Edibles Nursery to hold classes at their Captain Cook location. Call the OCET office in Hilo at 934-2700 to register and for the latest tuition assistance and class location information.

Zach Mermel will teach “Edible and Medicinal Mushroom Cultivation” from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday. Students will learn about fungi in general and mushrooms in particular, focusing on edible oyster and shiitake mushrooms as well as several medicinal varieties. Mermel will also present information on ways mushrooms are used as tools for ecological restoration

Students will receive a course packet, mushroom-inoculated material and all instructions needed to start growing mushrooms, as well as strategies for starting a mushroom business.

Mermel and Diana Duff will present “Edible Landscaping for Backyards and Beyond” from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 27. They will discuss the best plants to use for an edible landscape and share information about garden design, plant selection, installation, maintenance and harvest. A potluck is planned for noon.

The class fee is $60. Ask about the 50 percent discount when registering with the OCET office in Hilo at 934-2700.

Andrea Buskirk will share information for those interested in raising chickens, including selecting a breed, designing a coop and maintaining a flock, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 17. The class fee is $49.

Chef Ryan Peters of Cultured Foods Hawaii and Big Island Sausage Co. in Hilo will teach “Fermenting Vegetables for Preservation and Health” from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Aug. 31. Peters will offer some of his products for tasting and will share recipes. Attendees should bring a large, sharp knife, a cutting board and large mixing bowl to use in preparing fermented vegetables. This class qualifies for the 50 percent discount.

Tropical gardening helpline

Lori asks: I was in Hilo last weekend and saw some gorgeous trees in bloom. I have attached a photo. What are they and where can I get one?

Answer: Crepe myrtle is truly a lovely tree when it is in full bloom this time of year. You may find some blooming at the Old Kona Airport Park and in other area public and private gardens.

The various species of Lagerstroemia have flowers that are usually red, pink, purple or white. They have a very crepelike texture and look almost crinkled which probably accounts for their name. It may be hard to find a tree in a local nursery, but if you are not greedy and only take a single cutting or two, you can get a tree rather easily and cheaply by clipping from a specimen you find in a public place or in a neighbor’s yard.

Take a 6-inch tip off a healthy branch that is still soft and flexible rather than woody and about the diameter of a pencil. Remove most of the leaves, except a few closest to the tip of the branch.

Dip the cutting in rooting hormone and insert it about 2 to 3 inches deep into a container that contains a moist, well-draining mix. Make your own mix using equal portions of vermiculite or peat moss and perlite or coarse sand.

Set the cutting in a warm area out of direct sunlight and keep the mix moist but not wet or soggy. Mist it several times a day or cover the pot with plastic bag.

In two to six weeks, the crepe myrtle cutting should form roots. Watch for it to put out new leaves and test for roots by pulling the clipping gently. If you feel some resistance, it has most likely formed roots and is ready for planting in the garden or into a larger pot.

Margo at Sunrise Nursery said one reason you may not easily find crepe myrtle trees for sale is that they are very susceptible to attacks by Chinese rose beetle when they are young. The beetle is not hard to control and once the tree is mature it is much less susceptible.

Email plant questions to for answers by Certified Master Gardeners. Some questions will be chosen for inclusion in this column.

Diana Duff is an organic farmer, plant adviser and consultant.