Tropical Gardening Helpline: Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers Conference offers knowledge by the bushel

  • Passion fruit, known here as lilikoi, grows on a fast growing vine that can produce lots of fruit. (Photo courtesy / amazon.com)
  • The trees of the native Hawaiian breadfruit as well as those of the red rambutan and the yellow star fruit all grow well and can be highly productive in Kona.
    (Photo courtesy /Kim and Forest Starr)
  • Some of the tropical fruit growing at Frankie’s Nursery on Oahu includes jack fruit, dragon fruit, longan, avocado, pineapple and mango. (Photo by Diana Duff / Special to West Hawaii Today)

Leonard asks: I would like to expand my edible garden a bit and was thinking of growing some fruit. Any suggestions on what grows best here? I’m at about 1,000 feet elevation above Kailua-Kona.

Tropical Gardener answer: Lots of wonderful tropical fruits will grow well at your location. You might consider starting with a few easy ones. Meyer lemons are always a good choice. Strawberry papayas are tasty and produce fruit within a year as do bananas. The apple banana is especially tasty. At your elevation, most mango and avocado varieties will also do well. Grafted trees can be at full production within five years.

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If you want to try growing some more exotic tropical fruit you might want to attend the upcoming Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers Conference. The theme this year is Bringing It All Together and will feature some excellent speakers and breakout sessions.

This year’s festival will be held on Oahu at Leeward Community College in Pearl City starting at 9 a.m. Thursday with several farm and nursery tours. Registration at the College is Thursday evening starting at 5 p.m. A pupu party is scheduled 6-7 p.m. followed by the keynote speech by Peter Salleras from Australia.

Peter and his wife, Alison, own and operate the 220-acre Fruit Forest Farm in Queensland where they have about 10 acres planted in tropical fruit trees. Peter will talk about his passion for the efficient growing and packaging as well as the profitable marketing of the fruit he grows. Hawaiian fruit growers will definitely come away with some good ideas.

Starting at 7 a.m. on Friday, attendees may review the trade show and network among themselves before the presentations by HTFG, UH and Leeward Community College personnel on agricultural updates begin in Lecture Hall 201B. After lunch, a series of short informational sessions on a variety of topics of interest to tropical fruit growers will take place. Friday’s dinner speaker will be Mike Gabbard from our state Legislature.

The lecture hall will open early again on Saturday for the trade show and networking. Breakout sessions on topics relating to tropical fruit growing will begin at 8 a.m. with a talk on avocado rootstocks at 10. Following that, more breakouts will be offered. After lunch, Steve Murray will share his passion for growing fruit commercially.

Steve is a fifth generation farmer who grew up on Murray Family Farms located near Arvin, at the southern end of California’s Central Valley. His onsite research facility holds over 500 species and 2,000 varieties of rare fruit. Steve is a vendor at five or six farmers markets a week and was voted top farmer at the Santa Monica market. He is a rare fruit enthusiast and will doubtless share his enthusiasm and lots of information with attendees.

Breakout sessions on relevant topics will round out Saturday’s schedule with a networking and wrap up dinner planned for Saturday night.

A series of mini-conferences are planned for the following week on the neighbor islands. Speakers Peter Salleras and Steve Murray will travel to Kauai on Monday, September 24. They will be on Molokai on Tuesday, on Maui on Wednesday, in Hilo on Thursday and in Kona on Friday.

The Kona mini conference on Friday will be a special meeting of the Kona Chapter of the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers. At 9:30 a.m. folks will meet at the HTFG office in Kealakekua at 81-6393 Mamalahoa Highway and car pool to Gerry Walsh’s new orchard. The group will tour the orchard and learn about the work Gerry’s is doing there. By 1 p.m. guests Peter Salleras and Steve Murray will be on hand at the HTFG office to speak and answer questions.

A complete schedule and an opportunity to register for the conference are available at http://hawaiitropicalfruitgrowers.org/28th_Annual_HTFG_Conference_Agenda.pdf.

If you can’t attend the conference but would like information about fruit trees that are available locally, go to the Plant It Hawaii website at https://www.plantithawaii.com/fruit-variety-guide. It has lots of information that you might find helpful. Their annual sale in Hilo is on Nov. 2-3. If you can’t make that, you can get trees from Tropical Edibles Nursery in Captain Cook. Give them a call at 328-0420 and see what they have or can order for you.

Email plant questions to konamg@ctahr.hawaii.edu for answers by Certified Master Gardeners. Some questions will be chosen for inclusion in this column.

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

Gardening Events

Friday: “Aquaponic Food Safety Webinar” from 3:30-5:30 p.m. via Zoom Challenges. For more information and to RSVP for the webinar, go to https://aquaponicfoodsafetywebinar.eventbrite.com.

Saturday: “Seed Festival” from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Kawanui Farm in Honalo. Hosts Nancy Redfeather and Gerry Herbert will offer tours and talk story about their crops and seeds. Refreshments will include tastings of their crops grown from local seed available on the Hawaii Seed Growers Network Online Marketplace. Bring your clean seed to share but no plants in soil. Admission at $8 is limited. Register at kohalacenter.eventbrite.com or by calling The Kohala Center at 808-887-6411.

Farmer Direct Markets

Wednesday: “Hooulu 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 at the Parker School in central Waimea

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

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

“Hamakua Harvest” 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Highway 19 and Mamane Street in Honokaa

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 – 322-4893

Mondays and Fridays: 9 a.m. to noon at UH CES at Komohana in Hilo 981-5199 or himga@hawaii.edu