Famed Kona Gardener Margaret Krimm’s attention to detail, soil left impression on greenthumbs everywhere

  • 4163343_web1_2-Margaret-by-Nancy-Redfrather-copy.jpg
  • 4163343_web1_4-Margaret--Toni-by-Alice-copy.jpg
  • 4163343_web1_1-Margaret-tending-seedlings-by-dd-copy.jpg
  • 4163343_web1_9-Margaret-s-raised-bed-by-Diana-Duff-copy.jpg
  • 4163343_web1_7-Toni-watering-copy.jpg
  • 4163343_web1_5-Toni-s-chicken-coop-by-dd-copy.jpg

KONA — I first heard about Margaret Krimm more than 15 years ago from a friend. She told me how Margaret had turned a one-acre plot of rocky Kona soil into a verdant landscape with fertile soil in just a few years.


KONA — I first heard about Margaret Krimm more than 15 years ago from a friend. She told me how Margaret had turned a one-acre plot of rocky Kona soil into a verdant landscape with fertile soil in just a few years.

Margaret had done what akamai farmers and gardeners know to do. She built up her soil before she started planting and she continued to do so for many years. Margaret used leaves collected from neighboring properties to cover the areas she intended to plant. While she and her husband Joe built their small cedar home, the leaves rotted, the microorganism population grew and soon fertile soil began to cover the rocks. Every few months she spread more leaves and started collecting mulch from the county transfer station and wood chips from local tree trimmers.

These she piled into covered wind rows to which she added her garden waste and coffee pulp. The piles heated up and broke down into compost. After three to six months of decomposing, her piles became a rich soil additive that she put on top of the leaf mulch. In addition to her mulching and composting efforts, Margaret also incorporated holistic agricultural techniques based on Dr. Rudolph Steiner’s principles of biodynamic farming. Her biodynamic sprays and compost preparations were essential to the long-term fertility she created. Her soil building efforts cost very little, involved lots of hard work and paid off in wonderful crops.

Margaret designated more than half an acre for coffee and fruit trees and began creating raised beds behind her house for her veggies. She also created beds in her front yard to plant her favorite bromeliads and other ornamentals. All her work toward creating a rich planting medium resulted in beautiful plants as well as tasty and nutritious produce.

Gardening was not a new skill for Margaret when she arrived in Kona in 1982. Growing up in Bavaria, her family always had a kitchen garden. Once she finished school in Germany, she was anxious for adventure and decided to travel to New Guinea to work on a coffee farm. There she met and fell in love with coffee farmer Joe Krimm. Within a few years, Joe and Margaret moved back to Germany closer to her family and got married. The move from tropical farming to life in temperate Germany was a difficult shift for them and they began seeking a place where they could apply their knowledge of coffee farming and enjoy a milder climate. Hawaii was a logical choice and they found an ideal spot off Middle Keei Road in Captain Cook.

They began life in Kona by bulldozing the plot and building a small cedar house on it. After finishing their house and spending a few years building soil, they planted 600 coffee trees and began farming organically and biodynamically. Over the years, they added other interesting orchard crops including several different citrus varieties, tropical apples, Malabar chestnuts and a sausage tree. Margaret and Joe cultivated, picked and processed all of the coffee they grew. It wasn’t until 1995, after Joe’s death, that Margaret needed to hire a few workers to help her out. All of her trees are still highly productive today, more than 30 years later. The secret to her farm’s success is definitely in the soil.

When I first visited Margaret’s garden about 10 years ago, I was struck by the variety, size and quality of her vegetables.

A woman with a good sense of humor, she laughed when I accused her of dancing naked in the moonlight in order to get such great produce. She did confirm my more accurate assumption that it was her rich soil that was behind her gardening success. Her vegetables all grew in raised beds that she created using the many rocks that were available on her land. Over the years, she’d grown a wide variety of crops and developed many outlets for her produce, selling to Island Naturals, KTA and ChoiceMart. With both temperate and tropical gardening experience, her crop list included some unusual items like kolrabi, celeriac, some interesting types of radishes, vanilla, turmeric and black pepper as well as asparagus and more than a dozen lettuce varieties. If she liked it, she grew it. She ate fresh food from her garden every day and made sauerkraut and mustard from her brassicas and pickles from her cucumbers. Enjoying a German-style lunch with Margaret, the only thing we consumed that she didn’t grow was a great German beer.

Margaret shared her knowledge freely with her neighbors and those who dropped by for a visit. Many gardeners were inspired by Margaret and some came to work with her on a regular basis.

When I asked her loyal volunteer helper, Alice Mattraw-Sachs, about working with Margaret, she referred to all her wonderful gardening skills then added, “I think Margaret really taught me how to recycle, she reused everything at least once. She also taught me the importance of variety testing and with that the absolute need for good record keeping.”

At least once a year, Margaret’s brother Toni Hilmer comes for a long visit. A retired architect, Toni is always designing and building useful new structures on her property. On my recent visit to the farm, Toni showed me his latest addition, a new chicken house. Having grown up with gardening in Germany and learning about tropical gardening from Margaret, he has been a great asset to the farm. The screen house he built a few years ago provides a covered drying area for coffee beans as well as enclosed trellises that protect bean plants from pest attacks.

“Pests? We hardly have a problem,” Toni said when I asked how pests were controlled on the farm.

When they do appear, Margaret’s organic formulas of soap and oil or lime are applied.

After Margaret’s death in May of this year, Toni decided to stay in Kona and keep the farm running. He loves the work and will continue farming Margaret Krimm-style until at least the end of the year when he plans to sell the property.

We can all learn from Margaret’s example.

She knew good soil was the key to good crops and spent time building soil before she planted. She was adventurous and experimental, growing lots of different crops, trying new varieties, saving seeds from her favorites and combining organic, sustainable and regenerative principles to grow all of her plants. She was the queen of compost and mulch and using them moved her into gardening royalty as she produced plentiful, large and delicious crops year round.


Margaret will be missed in Kona, and she left us a gardening legacy we can all use and enjoy.

Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant living on an organic farm in Captain Cook.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email hawaiiwarriorworld@staradvertiser.com.