A few years ago I noticed the localvore trend really taking off, even in big cities, with people starting rooftop gardens or digging up their lawns and planting vegetables. I imagine it was a kind of backlash to rising fuel prices and economic hard times, but it makes sense on a lot of levels for a culture that has grown so far apart from its connection to the earth. Perhaps people are beginning to sense it is time to return to our roots – literally.
Here in Hawaii, as in many places, the local farmer’s markets are always busy, with all sorts of delectable locally grown products, from fruit and vegetables to eggs, goat cheese, honey, coffee, and even local chocolate. The Big Island has quite a lot of small farms, animal husbandry, large ranches and even burgeoning suburban ventures like this aquaponics farm just down the street from us. Like us, they don’t have all that much space, but found a great way to make excellent use of what they do have.
We’re on our third year of backyard gardening and keeping chickens for eggs. The first year was enormously frustrating, as we realized four of the six chicks we got were roosters (we did manage to replace them with young hens), and fought bug after blight in our tiny organic garden. I tried dozens of varieties and was disappointed how difficult it was to get that bountiful harvest I dreamed of. But, three years later, we’ve narrowed down the choices that seem happy in our particular spot of land, which is on the dry side of the island at about 1500 feet (though this year we’ve had an unusual amount of rain). We’ve got quite a few long green Thai eggplant bushes that have grown into exactly that: no winter in Hawaii means continuous growth, and some are now several years old and still producing like gangbusters. I don’t really have to do anything to maintain them other than an occasional afternoon weeding. Same with the collard greens – they are like small trees and have still never bolted. The chickens love the older leaves, too. Ginger grows quite happily, as do our chili pepper bushes. And the Tahitian squash – an acorn/butternut type of winter squash – gives us dozens and dozens, which is great, because they really keep for a long time and we can eat on them for months.
Our papayas are now producing, after about two years – we just threw one on the ground, a few weeks later we found dozens of small sprouts, which I separated and nursed until large enough for their own spot outside. Pineapples, which we placed around the edges of our property by the dozens, have taken hold, and a small lilikoi (passion fruit) sprig has taken over and promises a bountiful supply here pretty soon. And of course – our bananas are a wonderful thing to have, even though their maintenance is really a lot of hard work.
I’ve found a few things that seem to work at keeping the bugs and blights away. Diatomaceous earth is fantastic – we even sprinkle it on the chickens to keep off the mites and fleas. Sulfur seemed to mostly cure my cucumbers of a rusty blight, and a solution of neem and/or Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap sprayed around occasionally seems to keep the whitefly and aphids at bay. I was so pleased today to find nearly a dozen fully grown cucumbers hiding under the leaves. It never ceases to amaze me, when things do work, how well they do, even in such a small patch of ground. In fact today I even found something useful I didn’t plant – a type of bitter melon that seems to be saying, “feed me, Seymour”…
If you’ve not yet found your green thumb, as I was sure I would never be able to do, give it a try. You don’t need much space – even a few containers on a porch would work great – and you can share in the joy of eating your own, homegrown goodies. Needless to say, I can’t grow enough to sustain us – yet! – but it’s a start, and a joyful one at that. Happy gardening!