Small spaces: Crops galore in a backyard

  • Celeste’s irrigation ‘spider’ simplifies the watering of her many herb pots. (Diana Duff/Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • Celeste’s irrigation ‘spider’ simplifies the watering of her many herb pots. (Diana Duff/Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • Just outside her kitchen, Celeste grows herbs that they use regularly in large pots. (Diana Duff/Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • From almost any angle, Celeste’s home is visible through part of her edible forest. (Diana Duff/Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • Celeste carefully inspects her coffee for coffee berry borer damage and removes any damaged cherries she finds. (Diana Duff/Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • Celeste’s Blue Moon coffee has won the Kona Coffee Council’s Cream of the Crop award three times. (Diana Duff/Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • Celeste does all the processing of her vanilla beans before sending them to a store on the mainland. (Diana Duff/Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • Celeste’s favorite tree is her minicado which is highly productive in a small space. (Diana Duff/Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • Celeste carefully tends her bean plants to ensure a good harvest. (Diana Duff/Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • Two working compost bins supply lots of organic matter to amend the soil in Celeste’s garden. (Diana Duff/Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • Celeste quickly transformed the grassy area below her house into a highly productive vegetable garden. (Diana Duff/Special to West Hawaii Today)

On her house site in Hualalai Colony, Celeste Makrevis has planted a virtual forest of edible plants. In less than 10 years on the property she has replaced most of the original grass and ornamentals with some of her favorite edibles. Today she is harvesting from 48 coffee trees, nine vanilla vines, five cacao trees, a prolific minicado (dwarf avocado tree), several citrus varieties, as well as a diverse collection of other tropical fruit trees and a good sized vegetable garden.

When I asked how she was able to do all this, her response was, “I’m driven.”

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She surely is. Not only is she an avid gardener but she’s also been very involved in Kona’s Master Gardener program, serving as its president for the last five years. She’s also worked on several informational presentations as part of the Master Gardener program. One of her presentations on making small batch chocolate is available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ypE7Mtk9vDA. During our interview, she offered me one of her homemade chocolate peanut clusters. It was delicious.

She processes and sells her vanilla to a store on the mainland and shares her bumper crops of fruit and veggies with neighbors. Keeping her veggie garden weed and pest free and fully stocked with her favorite vegetables has its own reward.

She confesses, “We eat a lot of what we grow. My husband is an excellent cook and creates stupendous gourmet meals from our produce.”

Meanwhile, she and her husband started Blue Moon Coffee about eight years ago. Early on they actually had 80 trees in production. At the peak of her coffee production years, Celeste was able to pick about 500 pounds annually from her trees. She has a coffee pulper on site and does her own picking, pulping, drying and roasting. Her hard work and attention to detail has produced excellent coffee that has won her the Kona Coffee Council’s Cream of the Crop award three times.

Celeste credits her mother with her gardening interest and ability. Growing up in Maryland, she helped her mother, who was an avid gardener, in her flower and vegetable garden. One very important lesson she learned from her mom was the value of compost and mulch. Every fall they raked all of the fallen leaves into several piles on the side of the house. In the spring, they would pull them out to use as compost and mulch in the garden.

Every place Celeste lived after leaving her mother’s home, she gardened. She thinks gardening may be in her genetic makeup. She truly loves being outside and growing things. She says she needs to garden for her well-being.

“I find great pleasure playing in the dirt. It keeps me sane and happy. Fiddling with plants is who I am,” she said.

At one point, while living in West Virginia, Celeste and her husband owned a 65-acre cattle farm and, at another property, had a show-stopping flower garden. The garden attracted a lot of local attention and became a stopping point and photo op for tourists.

Tropical gardening was new to Celeste when she arrived here. She had taken the Master Gardener program in West Virginia, but the plants and problems she found here were very different. She soon signed up for the West Hawaii Master Gardener program and credits that program, fellow Master Gardeners, as well as University of Hawaii free publications with helping her ascend the steep learning curve she faced.

According to Celeste, “Home gardeners would all benefit from taking the local Master Gardener program. I learned so much, not only from the classes but also from other West Hawaii Master Gardeners while working outreaches and the Master Gardener helpline. Information sharing is a wonderful way to learn.”

Information about the West Hawaii Master Gardener program and helpful gardening information can be found at https://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/uhmg/WestHI/index.asp.

Celeste has learned some valuable lessons about the care of tropical plants in her time here. Growing so many different plants in such a small area, she relies heavily on UH information and publications about individual plants as well as ways of dealing with pests and diseases. She has found that she gets very good results by following the UH recommendations based on scientific research. The informative free publications that have helped Celeste so much are available online at https://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/site/Info.aspx.

When I asked about her sources for the wide variety of specimens she’s growing, she gave me a wide variety of answers. Many of her trees she purchased from Margo Lundstrom at her Sunrise Nursery. Though Sunrise is now closed, Margo is still doing plant searches for clients looking for particular specimens. Celeste also gets plants from fellow Master Gardeners and sometimes even finds what she is looking for at Lowes, her favorite best big box garden shop.

Most of Celeste’s veggies are grown from seed. Her favorite seed catalog is territorial seeds located in Oregon. She keeps seeds fresh in the refrigerator between seasons so that she can plant for several years from a single seed packet. She does have a small potting bench and several shaded shelves for propagating from her existing stock. She often adds purchased plants to her garden as well.

To augment her thin Kona subdivision soil, Celeste starts her veggie plantings with a layer of chicken compost, some compost from her compost bins with a layer of bagged garden soil on top. She finds that this gets her vegetables off to a good start and creates a healthy bed for them to thrive. And they are all thriving. She has healthy beans climbing up trellises she has made, several eggplants flowering and fruiting and lots of colorful chard growing in addition to other tasty specimens.

Though one might imagine maintaining her small urban farm would take lots of time, Celeste reports that she only makes short daily rounds of the property. She usually gets up early and is out by 7 a.m. armed with a plan for the day. Whether it is planting, weeding, fertilizing, harvesting or dealing with pests, she generally finishes her work before the day gets too hot.

The overwhelming abundance of edibles growing in such a small place is an inspiration for all gardeners. Celeste has proven that with careful planning, you can grow lots of food for yourself, your family and friends as well as for market. Small scale farming for pleasure and profit is obviously a possibility, even for the slightly less driven.

Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant living in a dryland forest north of Kailua-Kona.

Gardening Events

Thursday: “Hands-On Field Day on Coffee Berry Borer Monitoring” from 9-11:30 a.m. or 1-3:30 p.m. at the UH Cooperative Extension Office in Kainaliu across from the Aloha Theatre at 79-7381 Mamalahoa Highway with Andrea Kawabata, Jen Burt and Matt Miyahira of CTAHR. Registration is required. Each class is limited to 30 participants. RSVP at https://bit.ly/2uqlnzY or by contacting Gina at 322-4892 by Tuesday.

Saturday: “Work Day at Amy Greenwell Garden” from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Meet at the Garden Visitor Center across from the Manago Hotel in Captain Cook. Volunteers will be able to help with garden maintenance and are invited to bring a brown bag lunch. Water and snacks provided. Call Peter at 323-3318 for more information.

“Hawaii Macadamia Nut Association Conference” from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Nani Mau Gardens 421 Makalika Street in Hilo. $35 registration. Keynote speaker, Howard Dicus of Hawaii News Now. Presentations on horticultural issues including pruning, orchard management, machine harvesting and felted coccid management. Vendors on site with crop production aids, machinery and equipment. Register online at Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/hawaii-macadamia-nut-association-annual-meeting-tickets-43853101808.

Farmer Direct Markets

Wednesday: “Sunset Farmers Market” 2-6 p.m. in the HPM parking lot at 74-5511 Luhia St. in Kailua-Kona (across from Target)

“Ho’oulu Farmers Market” 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Sheraton Kona Resort &Spa at Keauhou Bay

Saturday: “Keauhou Farmers Market” 8 a.m. to noon at Keauhou Shopping Center

“Kamuela Farmer’s Market” from 7 a.m. to noon at Pukalani Stables

“Waimea Town Market” from 7:30 a.m. to noon in front of Parker School

“Waimea Homestead Market” from 7 a.m. to noon at the Waimea Middle andElementary School Playground

Sunday: “Pure Kona Green Market” 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Amy Greenwell Garden in Captain Cook

Plant Advice Lines

Anytime: konamg@ctahr.hawaii.edu

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Tuesdays and Thursdays: 9 a.m. to noon at UH-CES in Kainaliu – 322-4892

Mon., Tues. and Fri: 9 a.m. to noon at UH CES at Komohana in Hilo 981-5199 or himga@hawaii.edu