Hawai'i Adventure: Plant Babies!

Hawai'i Adventure: Plant Babies!

One of my goals with coming to Hawai'i was to possibly buy some property and grow some of my own food. It makes so much sense on an island where much of the food is shipped across the ocean at great expense and with such a conducive climate for gardening. Aside from some disastrous gardening experiments  in my childhood, an aloe vera plant that survived on my old condo's porch, and a few herbs, I've never done any gardening.

I am currently growing chard, a bean bush, a jalapeno and a cherry pepper, two types of kale, some rosemary, oregano, a few varieties of thyme, cilantro, and spinach. Nothing terribly exotic or exciting—I'm most excited about the pepper plants, personally. But, I'm only going to be here a few months, and this is a great chance to see if I actually enjoy growing plants and have the patience for it.

I think I'm somewhere in the middle. I'm doing some pretty low-effort gardening here, minus the tables I had to build to protect my crops: anything planted in the ground has a decent chance of getting roto-tilled by wandering wild pigs whenever the sun falls. It's a little like the game Don't Starve.

A bunch of torn up dirt around some cement stepping stones. A potted plant is laying on its side.
Some of the damage from this morning
A table made from half a pallet with several potted plants sitting on it.
The current pig solution

I've learned that if you want to grow from seed, it takes a LONG time comparatively. It took me a while to get any seeds. The kale I planted shortly after my arrival is only now producing its "real" leaves, and they're tiny. Meanwhile, the little kale plant I picked up from the grocery store and the baby chard plants my host gave me are consistently producing small batches of greens that I can harvest. It's extra rewarding when greens start at about $7 for a little baggy in this area. Not to mention the satisfaction of walking outside and harvesting a portion of your smoothie or dinner.

A lucinato kale with four "adult" leaves.
My little kale plant has come so far!

Another lesson: it's really hard to get things to grow from seed without the right soil. And also when wild pigs come through and murder all your baby plants because you hadn't gotten around to building a table yet. And when rats sneak into your house and start eating the seeds you're trying to sprout. That definitely complicates things. But I finally got ahold of some potting soil just a few days ago. My attempts to grow spinach in my best guess of what soil around here would work best have been pretty futile. Of six or more seeds, one is barely starting to take root. I have high hopes for the new soil, though.

The herbs—lemongrass, rosemary, thyme, and oregano—I cheated on. I bought them from the grocery store as herbs to make dinner with and then started propagating them by saving sprigs and putting them in cups with a little water at the bottom. After a week or so, roots began popping out of the stems like magic. The thyme was truly miraculous: it was in my fridge that had delusions of being a freezer for a week before I thought to try propagating it.

The pots are all from the assortment of ones my host had lying around. I made the tables from an old pallet chopped in half with a battery-operated circular saw. The legs are old damaged planks from the stall walls. My tomatoes and one of the chard plants were casualties of the first pig invasion. I'm not even sure what's growing in two of my pots that also got attacked. There's a lot in there... I just don't know if they're all weeds yet.

My pepper plants looked great when I bought them but have some sort of disease or virus affecting their leaves. (A member of my host's family runs an organic farm, so I occasionally ask her entry-level gardening questions like, "Does this look bad to you?") Regardless, the cherry pepper plant put out one flower that appears to be growing into a pepper now, and both plants have several more flower buds on the way. I've been here just over a month, and I really enjoy walking out each morning to check up on how everyone's doing. Every few days, my star kale plant has a new trio of leaves, and they're bigger every time.  

a very small bud on the stalk of a plant.
One day, it'll be a pepper! (I hope.)

This has been an incredibly rewarding experience despite the setbacks. I'm sure that the twelve hours of daylight and an abundance of rainfall are effectively putting my gardening on easy mode, and that's just fine with me. Once the plants start growing, the work required is incredibly minimal. I'll plan on growing some things whenever I expect to spend more than a month or two in a productive climate—assuming, of course, that I have a place to grow them.

A funny thing happened related to this whole gardening experiment. When I told friends and family alike about my interest in growing some food in Hawaii—in fairness to them, I did make the mistake of using the words "farm" and "farming"—many of them bolted to the conclusion that farming was going to become my life and livelihood. "What do you know about farming," they asked. It's not unlike saying that you want to learn to fix your car and everyone assuming you want to become a mechanic. And conversely: assuming a great deal about a person and their personality based on how they earn income. People like simplicity: it's easy to mentally fabricate an entire human being from a job title like "plumber" or "doctor."

It's entirely too easy to internalize these assumptions and limit our pursuits or feel pressured to excel at or invest heavily in something that we merely piques our interest. Even more so in an age where we often share our lives on social media, and anyone can be an "expert" on something after a few hours of internet research. There's an oftentimes toxic push to do anything you can in the "best" way possible. Are you using the best product for the job? Do you truly understand fertilizer ratios and soil p.h.? We live in an age of information overwhelm, and it can be difficult to know when we've hit "good enough."

All that to say, growing a little garden—even while being met with some spectacular failures—is pretty fun.

A word of caution on enjoying Hawaiian produce: anything you pick that may have come into contact with the island's prolific slug and snail population must be thoroughly inspected and washed. The snails can act as an intermediary host for a parasite that can ultimately cause a form of meningitis in humans who accidentally ingest them. The jury is still out on whether or not the snails' slime can do the same.