Friday, Sept. 29, 2023 |
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This column is produced by Diana Duff.
BY DIANA DUFF | SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY
If you aren’t growing edible plants now, you might want to start in 2012. With financial, political and climatic turmoil surrounding us, it’s a good time to start investing in healthy, homegrown food for yourself, your family and friends, as well as Hawaii’s food security.
Making a new year’s resolution to plant fruit trees and a few of your favorite herbs and veggies makes good sense. Growing food in any of our year-round growing season, is smart and not difficult. Many plants that die in winter in other climates can continue to grow and produce for several seasons here in Hawaii.
Beyond a favorable growing climate, we have lots of other motivating factors to consider. Around 90 percent of the food we buy travels long distances to get here; food gathered from your garden is obviously fresher, better tasting and more nutritious. Growing your own also offers the opportunity to select uncommon specimens from seed catalogs and enjoy a wider variety of flavors.
Gardening is also a great way to connect to the earth, the soil and the seasons, as well as other people. It can be a group project, offering a chance to work with friends and family who may do most of their connecting electronically. Sharing the produce also is an opportunity for making connections.
Healthy practices, like working out-of-doors, doing moderate exercise and eating more fresh fruit and vegetables, are also among the advantages of edible gardening. Nothing tastes better than a fresh tomato or juicy orange picked while you are gardening. Grow tree tomatoes or mountain apples and you can have a similiar refreshing experience with fruit that’s hard to find in stores.
The accessibility of homegrown food is another factor to consider. With high gas prices, it is financially wise to walk to your food source. Considering the time, energy, car wear-and-tear and gasoline required to buy food, stepping out your back door to pull a few carrots, pick some limes or gather basil adds up to considerable savings. And, saving both time and gasoline definitely qualifies as a sound sustainable practice.
No less important than all of these reasons to plant edibles is becoming part of an effort to ensure Hawaii’s food security. Should gas prices go higher, shipping strikes occur or unusual weather conditions make importing food prohibitively expensive or downright impossible, we need to know our cupboards will not be bare. Increasing the amount of food grown locally lessens our vulnerability to issues that can affect food shipments.
A large native population was totally self sustaining for thousands of years here. Though we may want Irish cheese or Greek olives, discovering products that can be locally grown and satisfy our desires for variety opens up new taste experiences and helps ensure our food security.
If planting some edibles this year is too difficult in your locale or with your time schedule, you can still help with efforts to increase local food production by supporting Hawaiian farmers. Helping to keep farmers in business is definitely helping the cause. If you can’t grow, buy from someone who can and help ensure their ability to keep growing.
Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant with an organic farm in Captain Cook.
Tropical gardening helpline
Email plant questions to email@example.com for answers by certified master gardeners.
Some questions will be chosen for inclusion in this column.
Helen asks: I would like to grow the crocus that saffron comes from. Will it grow here and if so, where can I get it?
Answer: Crocus sativus is commonly known as the saffron crocus. Most plants in the crocus genus require a chill to grow well. C. sativus is no exception. It originated in South Asia, was first cultivated in Greece and the best saffron today comes from Iran and Kashmir. The recommended hardiness zones for good production are zones 6 to 8. Our zones here in Hawaii, even at higher elevations, fall in the 10 to 11 range. I don’t think our climate is cold enough.
Best flower production for this plant is also dependent on hot, dry summers and a wet, chilly fall. These requirements are also hard to match in Kona.
That said, you can always try at an elevation around or above 3,000 feet where fall temperatures might get into the 40s or colder. Or maybe you could plant them in a refrigerator with a grow light on for eight hours a day. Although the spice is very expensive, the effort to grow the plant here just might not pay off.
If you want to try, you can order the bulbs online from whiteflowerfarm.com. They only ship crocus sativus bulbs in September so you’ll have to wait until next fall to order. The bulbs must be planted as soon as they arrive. Four to six weeks later they should put up leaves and their lovely lavender flowers. It is the stigma of the flower that is used for saffron.
It takes up to 75,000 handpicked blossoms, each with three saffron stigma, to make 1 pound of this valuable spice. You only need a few threads or about 1/4 teaspoon of saffron powder, however, to give the distinctive saffron color, flavor and aroma to a dish for six people. You can probably get that from three to five flowers. If you succeed in growing the plant, getting it to flower and provide saffron, please let me know how you did it and I will spread the word.