Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate our blessings. Unfortunately, we often take our blessings for granted.
The tropical regions of the world may have many places with as much beauty as Hawaii, and there are many places where you can find good folks. What is so unique about us is that not only are we a beautiful and friendly spot, we have a form of government that allows us to live in relative safety and prosperity. Our form of government attempts to allow for rule of the majority with protection of the minority.
Haiti, for example, fought for freedom from the French centuries ago, but politics and natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes make life difficult. They are enduring, tenacious and hardworking people, but do not have an environment that allows them to prosper. Some of the farmers with whom we worked would be millionaires if they were living in a place like Hawaii.
Not far from Haiti, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are part of the United States but again raging hurricanes devastated the region this year. Because they are located where storms are frequent, this will likely happen again and again. Hawaii, on the other hand, has a relatively benign climate. Even our volcanoes are less violent than those in other volcanic regions.
Sometimes it seems that Thanksgiving is just about eating too much. Unlike much of the tropical world, we don’t usually have to worry about hunger, so we must sincerely give thanks for all the many blessings around us. It is also important to make sure we assist others who are less fortunate. We should also be aware that we could have a disaster that would limit food being shipped to the islands. We can minimize that impact by growing more edibles in our gardens.
Hawaiian gardeners may grow many tropical fruits like bananas, citrus, mangos, and avocados, but often overlook some favorites from warm temperate climates like apples, peaches, pomegranate, figs and persimmons that can also be grown.
Thanksgiving in Hawaii includes pumpkins, palms and persimmons. Let us focus on persimmons. Persimmons are among the holiday fruit found at the market now. Also known as the “kissing fruit,” the persimmon grows here and produces heavy crops. The rather familiar name comes from the puckering qualities of unripe fruit. Many folks have been calling to ask about its culture.
Aside from the amorous tendencies, the persimmon has long been a popular dooryard fruit in the cooler upland sections of Hawaii. The generic name, Diospyros, literally means “food of the Gods.” This prestige began ages ago in China and Japan.
The flavor of the fruit is excellent. It is a concentrated food because all of the sugar is quick energy producing dextrose. However, most persimmon varieties are astringent until fully ripe.
Persimmons do best upon lighter upland soils that are well drained. You are in luck if your property has a good soil but if it doesn’t, be sure to spend some time on improving the soil with fertilizer and compost.
Persimmons like full sunlight and ample “elbow room.” So, the planting site should be an open space no closer than 20 feet from the nearest tree canopy.
If the planting site is a lawn area, practice clean cultivation around the trunk of the tree. In removing weeds do not dig deeply, as many feeder roots of the tree grow close to the surface of the soil.
Fertilizer requirements for persimmons are vague. But, the trees seem to thrive on applications of a good garden fertilizer mixture containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potash plus minor elements. A standard type such a 1-1-1 is satisfactory. Apply the fertilizer in the spring about the time the tree starts to leaf out.
Two close relatives of the persimmon can also add interesting and delicious fruit to your garden and table. The Black Sapote, Diospyros ebenaster, from Mexico is grown occasionally in Hawaii.
The tree is evergreen, up to 25 feet, with a fairly compact rounded habit and handsome in aspect. The leathery leaves are bright green and shiny. The fruit is round, from 2-5 inches in diameter, and dark olive green at maturity with a conspicuous persistent green calyx like the persimmon. The thin skin encloses a soft pulpy flesh that is a dark chocolate-brown in color and gives the name of the fruit. The pulp is soft and sweet. Addition of orange, lime or lemon juice improves the flavor of the fruit that may be eaten fresh or cooked.
The Mabolo (diospyros discolor) is rare in Hawaii except on Round Top, above Honolulu, where it can be found growing wild. This Philippine tree is of medium size, with leathery, oblong, pointed leaves 4-10 inches long, light and smooth above, much paler and more or less silky or hairy beneath. The fruits are 3-5 inches in diameter, covered thickly with short reddish brown hair. The flesh is cream colored, rather dry, sweet and aromatic, usually with several rather large seeds. Seedless forms are known with moister and sweeter flesh of good quality.
Since we have many microclimates, it is important to know what will grow in your area. For example, avocado trees abound in West Hawaii where soils are well drained as long as there is no wind and they have sufficient moisture. Many parts of East Hawaii are ideal for cacao and durian at lower elevations. Upper elevations are great for growing low-chill apples, peaches and other temperate fruits.
Good sources of information on what to grow are the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources Extension office.
Sunset’s “New Western Garden Book” will give you some ideas on what and how to grow. The experiences of your kamaaina neighbors can help. Also check with local nurseries for these fruit trees and many more to make your home gardening a fruitful Thanksgiving cornucopia.