Edible by design: Business couple encourages native landscapes that feed

  • Many hands went into the planting of edible tree seedlings in Jamaica. (Chauntelle Sharp/Courtesy photo)

  • Peter grows many native Hawaiian plants in his nursery including this Hawaiian sedge ahu’awa. (Diana Duff/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Chauntelle and Peter enjoy working in their newly planted native Hawaiian garden. (Diana Duff/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Peter Vellos and Chauntelle Sharp are dedicated to sustainable practices like composting at their Lost Monarch Gardens. (Diana Duff/Special to West Hawaii Today)

CAPTAIN COOK — When I asked Chauntelle Sharp why she and her partner Peter Vellos named their gardening business Lost Monarch, she told me it had a double meaning.

It was a comment on the appearance of the monarch butterfly in Hawaii and the loss of monarch populations worldwide. The name was also their statement noting the loss of the Hawaiian Monarchy.

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“Not everyone gets our message, but often local Hawaiians will get the gravity of our name and compliment us,” Peter said.

Their choice of names is only one of the community and globally conscious decisions this couple have made.

They work with Micah Barker from Bioscape Hawaii on several properties to maintain them according to their shared sustainable principles. They also maintain a small nursery of native plants and encourage their clients to plant natives.

They’ve also done service abroad working with Trees that Feed Foundation in Jamaica.

The couple met in 2014 in Ithaca, New York, at a conference of the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute. Both were interested in sustainable gardening systems and they decided to become partners in Peter’s business called Farmscapers in New Paltz, New York.

Shortly after a winter in New York they decided to move to Hawaii together so they could garden year round.

BUSINESS OF GROWING

Today, the pair combine their past experiences into a business with a focus on growing, installing and maintaining native Hawaiian plants, edibles and other culturally and otherwise useful plants. They often encourage clients to plant ulu trees or taro in their ornamental landscape matching their focus.

In their nursery, they are growing edibles, natives and canoe plants for their landscape maintenance clients as well as for sale. They live and keep most of their nursery plants on several acres in Captain Cook. In addition to maintaining their potted plants they also maintain the existing landscape and have recently developed an area on the property for a demonstration garden of native Hawaiian plants.

The day I visited them, they were tending their newly planted garden and pulling lots of weeds.

“We are very busy during rainy season,” Chauntelle declared, “that’s when the weeds go bananas.”

On the land where they live and in their landscape maintenance business the couple work side by side on all aspects of the job. Behind the scene, however, they do divide the labor. Peter is in charge of organizing their schedule and planning their work days. Chauntelle — who previously worked for City Sprouts in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she teamed with teachers and staff at local public schools to establish and maintain school gardenstakes care of the business end. She is good at marketing and client contact and also keeps their books.

They have experience working in a wide variety of micro-climates here in West Hawaii. They have learned to work with plants at sea level at Kokio and Hualalai while adapting to plant care at higher elevations in Holualoa and at farms near their home.

With a few years of experience working in the tropics, they decided to try to expand their interest in growing edible plants by offering their skills in another tropical locale.

They contacted a longtime friend who connected them to the Yutes 4 Change Foundation in Gregory Park School in Jamaica. The Foundation was running a breakfast program for students and had space to plant edibles. It was a perfect fit for Peter and Chauntelle. Trees were donated by the Trees that Feed Foundation and they raised the money for tools and their travel though a GoFundMe pitch.

During their two week stay, they were able to plant dozens of edible plants in the school yard. In addition to the existent bananas, they added ulu, coconut, avocado, starfruit, soursop, Jamaican cherry, some veggies and many more trees. The plants will be watered, maintained and photographed by a student they hired. They plan to return sometime in the next year or so to check on progress.

A video of the garden they planted is available at https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=v4sVj3mVX8k.

EDIBLE BY DESIGN

Peter was interested to see that for Jamaicans sustainable practices were integral in their lives.

“I was struck by how naturally Jamaicans included edibles into their landscape design,” he said.

Back in Kona, the duo continue to work on their property and those of their regular clients, maintaining their dedication to sustainability and growing native and edible plants organically.

Their practices match many of those promoted by Bioscape Hawaii. They include controlling pests in sustainable ways using organic methods. The pair are firm believers in using mulch and cover crops to control weeds. To maintain healthy soil and thriving plants, they often spray select areas with compost tea or fish emulsion. These offer fertility while encouraging the growth of micro-organisms in the soil. They also include EM1 as well as neem oil in their organic tool kit. The goal is healthy plants that are resistant to pests and diseases and can thrive on their own.

“Tasks that improve plant health and appearance always appeal to me,” Chauntelle noted.

Both Peter and Chauntelle find pleasure in careful mulching of a landscape. Applying a 3-or-more inch layer in a garden bed or around a tree can not only improve a garden’s appearance but also offer the additional benefits of weed control, moisture retention, temperature control as well as fertility and microorganism encouragement. Go mulch!

When asked about his favorite plants, Peter chose a couple of somewhat rare natives. The maiapilo that grows prostrate at the beach and upright at higher elevations producing a beautiful white fragrant flower was at the top of his list accompanied by the hard-to-find mountain naupaka.

He went on to opine on the benefits of planting pono. Their business has been endorsed by Plant Pono which means they qualify for demonstrating superior ethics when growing native plants and avoid encouraging or installing invasive plant species.

I asked for their advice to new gardeners in Hawaii and they listed several important principles. Paying attention to environmental differences topped the list. Different elevations require different plants and different maintenance practices. They also stressed that we have seasonal changes here that may seem slight to us but definitely have an effect on our plants. Finally they stressed the importance of creating a living environment for plants to grow and thrive by composting, mulching and carefully choosing the proper amendments and treatments for the site.

Once you learn the environmental conditions on your site you can select plants well suited to your conditions,” Peter added. “Putting the right plant in the right place, will definitely get you off to a good start.”

I was very impressed with the knowledge and ethical standards of this young couple and hope they will continue to offer a positive example to other local gardeners, maintenance workers and nursery people.

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

Gardening Events

Monday: “Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers” from 7-9 p.m. at the HTFG office, 81-6393 Mamalahoa Highway. Brian Lievens and Eli Ednie will discuss how to create and maintain small nursery areas and propagate fruit trees. Free. Members and guests are encouraged to bring fruit for sharing. Non-members are welcome to attend. The HTFG office is a white wooden building on the makai side across from the Department of Transportation yard. Park in front or on the north side. For more information, contact President Brian Lievens at 895-8753 or greenwizard@hawaii.rr.com.

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.

Saturday, July 6: “Protecting Hawaii’s Native Species” from 10-11 a.m. at the Kailua-Kona Library at 75-138 Hualalai Road. Molly Murphy from Plant Pono will offer information on making pono planting choices in your garden. Contact the library at 327-4327 for more information.

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 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. 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 next to Thelma Parker Gym in front of Thelma Parker Library.

Sunday: “Pure Kona Green Market” 9 a.m. – 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 &Thursdays: 9 a.m. to noon at UH-CES in Kainaliu – 322-4892

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

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