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  • Writer's pictureNancy Redfeather

Growing and Thriving in the Summer Gardens of Hawai’i: A time of unprecedented change.

We know that we are living in a time of unprecedented change. We can feel the chaos swirling around us daily, unsettling what we know including the view we hold of ourselves, our community and our future. Everything is in flux, but within these historical periods and moments of chaos, we know that new ideas, new thinking, and new possibilities arise. We know that the future will look very different from the past, and how it will look is being formed in this present moment.

All of you reading this right now are the “early adopters” who see that change is upon us and are working in ways to create a more livable and healthy world for your self, your children, your Ohana, and the greater community. You have a deep and growing desire to participate in the development of your families’ food system and at the same time, form healthy connections and relationships with the Earth. The peoples who came here thousands of years ago and flourished, were also earth centered people with deep connections to land and spirit. We can still feel their presence. Although much time has passed, and the world has changed, that legacy remains.

Hawai’i is unique, alone and geographically isolated in a vast sea, 2390 miles from the nearest port.

Hawai'i's climate, plant and animal life, history and weather are unique and rich with diversity. We know it is the rich diversity of people, environments, foods and climate that are some of our greatest assets. Yet we have built an economy based solely on tourism, and are now rethinking that base. As Pierre Omidyar pointed out in Civil Beat essay this week, “The Future of Hawai’i Depends on You.”

I think we have all known that a time like this could come, where supply chains would be disrupted in ways that would challenge us to rethink where our food, water, energy, and economy come from. The cost of food will rise, the availability of food coming from outside Hawai’i will decrease, and all of you are taking steps to lessen the harsh realities of that situation.

It seems like a good time to talk about creating healthy home growing systems that will allow your food production capabilities to thrive into the future and the opportunities for growing that are inherent in this Summer season.

Like so many of you, my husband Gerry and I have been continuously growing food in the gardens of our one-acre homestead in the mauka area of Kona for the past 20 years. And like so many of you, I have discovered a few techniques that seem essential for long term food production in this place: building soil fertility, creating soil inputs by recycling what is here, growing, selecting, and saving seed, growing crops in season, growing varieties that want to grow here and we like to eat, experimenting with preserving foods and cooking fresh foods from the garden, innovating new systems to deal with climate change, and trying not to do more than I can handle as I age.

I hope that some of you will share your gems of growing knowledge on our Hawai’i Seed Growers Facebook page, or send them to me and I will gather the communities knowledge and pass it along to all of you. Together we can pass along our experiences that have worked for us and have allowed us to continue growing food for our families.

Gardening works in layered systems, and one learns by doing. Book knowledge can be helpful for sure, but experience and nature herself are our best teachers, we learn through experimentation, observation, rethinking and redoing. We also learn by connecting with people in our geographical area and sharing best practices. Due to the accelerated interest in locally produced seed, currently many varieties are out of stock, but be assured we will be restocking website varieties and adding many new ones during this second half of 2020. Our growers are all seasoned and experienced farmers and home producers in the Hawaiian Islands. When you purchase seed, you receive the benefits from many long years of trials and selection work on farms across the State to bring the most hardy and tasty varieties to your gardens.

Now, let’s explore the possibilities and the challenges of the Summer Season of growing in Hawai’i, taking into account the diverse climate and soil systems we live in.

Summer is in full swing. If you live in Kona, you are in the rainy season, and this year we did not have our usual winter dry season, so it has been raining for 15 months straight which presents unique gardening challenges. If you live in other areas of Hawai’i, you have probably experienced a much drier time, with intermittent rains. The daylight is long, and the temperature, especially the night time temperature, is higher influencing growth, and determining what can successfully be grown. Remember it is not what you want to grow, it’s about what wants to grow at this time of year. Also, there are many pests that show up when a plant is being grown out of it’s season or the soil needs more balanced fertility. Let’s talk about those two things: 1) crops that thrive in this season and 2) creating systems to increase and balance our soil fertility, and then end with a few thoughts about how to view the pests and diseases of summer.

There are still many kinds of seeds available on the Marketplace that will thrive during the Summer growing season for a fall harvest.

This is a great time to grow all the beans, bush and pole, dry and green beans. There are still 6 varieties available at The HSGN Online Marketplace that all do very well in Hawai’i. This past week I put up three more trellises on the Peking Black Vigna, a black bean for the tropics that cooks up quickly. I have invested in a few “horse fence panels” and use them for my Vignas. I buy 5’x16’ galvanized fence panels at Home Depot and cut them into two 5’x8’ trellises that need only a post at each end. Because they are galvanized, they last for many many years without rusting. This size is perfect for the Vigna Beans but tall green beans and the Violet’s Multicolored Butter Bean require a taller trellis.

Here are some links to Blogs from this past year on Bean varieties that are available now:

Also available are two types of Long Beans - White Beniquez Bean, Ele Ele Black Bean, Black-eyed Peas, Purple Wing Beans, and the Lualualei Green Pole Bean. All these varieties will do well in this season.

The drier summer is the perfect time to grow tomatoes.

Right now, there are three varieties of tomatoes available: Gold Cherry, Jay’s Tomato, and Chadwick Cherry. Start your seed and bring them up for transplanting out into your garden; you can grow them on a trellis or pole teepee, or just let them sprawl along the ground. If you have a large fall harvest you can use them to make a red pasta sauce. I always use my cherry tomatoes for sauce because I can grow so many. I wash them, pop them into the blender, blend and then cook down slowly with garlic, onions, and plenty of fresh, finely cut herbs and then freeze in smaller containers for the next half of the year.

Peppers are another crop that will thrive in the Summer for a fall harvest. If you haven’t planted the long yellow Hawaiian Sunray, you should really try it. It is sweet, beautiful, delicious and can be stuffed or cut to add nutrition, color, and taste to so many dishes. Nana’s Fingers Hot Peppers are another variety that will add spice to your life. The following is a recipe for a spicy pepper paste from Big Island grower, Michelle Carrillo:

1) Roast dry clean peppers in a cast iron pan on low heat for a few hours, until about half the peppers get blackened on one side. (Be careful while doing this, some folks are sensitive to the strong pepper smells that will emerge!) Let the peppers cool before the next step.

2) In a Cuisinart, Vita-Mix or blender, blend the peppers with apple cider vinegar, honey, salt, freshly ground black pepper and any herbs you have available in your garden. I like to add thyme and rosemary.

1 cup roasted Nana’s Fingers

¼ cup apple cider vinegar (more or less depending on your desired thickness)

¼ cup honey

½ teaspoon salt (adjust according to your taste)

½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Harvest your Nana’s Fingers at full red ripeness for the best flavor. You can remove the seeds to make your pepper paste less spicy, but I like to keep the seeds in so the pepper paste doesn’t disappear quite so quickly!

If you haven’t yet added the Leisure Cilantro or Dill to your garden, this would also be a good time of year to add those. And don’t forget there is still plenty of time to add flowers to your beds or borders.

Now, a few thoughts about increasing your garden’s fertility. If you have started regular composting of green and brown yard organic matter (OM) and are adding kitchen scraps and other OM around your property, congratulations! You are on your way to feeding the soil, not the plant. If you have not started a compost pile yet, it’s never too late!

Choose a slightly shaded spot in your garden and begin layering green and brown OM, kitchen scraps, and manure if you have animals. Be sure to keep the pile slightly moist if your summer is very dry. I have to put a wire around my pile (see photo) because I have so many wild chickens who would be constantly tearing it apart. Of course, that is one way to turn a pile! I don’t turn my piles though, I just let them compost in place and it takes about 3 months for the microorganisms to do the work for me. I have started making compost piles directly IN my garden beds, especially beds that seem to have a lower fertility than others. Once I make a pile there, the fertility of that area rises considerably. Remember bringing in OM from off your farm or garden brings in possible new risks. It’s always a good idea to “quarantine” any OM, potted plants, etc. until they have passed the peanut butter stick test, assuring that you are not bringing in the Little Fire Ant. For great information see One more thing, keep track of what you are growing and where. Rotation of varieties and crop types is essential for a healthy garden. Don’t grow the same type of plant in the same place over and over, it just invites trouble. We can discuss more about soil fertility in another Blog, it’s a big subject.

Last but not least, let’s talk about pests and diseases that seem to be around this summer in Hawai’i. Finding varieties that are disease resistant by season and offering the seed on the Marketplace is one of our short and long term goals. The increased rainfall in Kona has brought pests and disease to my lettuce and peppers. I should know better than to try and grow peppers when it is very wet, and I have over time found a few varieties of lettuce that seem to withstand the pounding rains. This last point is important, if you try many varieties of a crop in a particular season, you will see that some do much better than others. Keep your notes in your garden journal. Just because once variety of lettuce does well in winter does not mean that it will work for you in summer. There are “general” indications of what to grow when, but you still must experiment.

Generally, good summer varieties are: Beans, Corn, Pumpkins & Squash, Tomatoes, Peppers, Okra, Taro, Sweet Potato, Eggplant, Radish, Daikon, & warm weather Greens.

There have been reports this summer of Flea Beetles, Bragada Bugs, Webworms, White Flies, Green Stink Bugs, Pickle Worm, Thrips, Fruit and Melon Flies, Mosaic Virus on Tomatoes, and the Pepper Viruses in Hawaii’s gardens, so there is a lot of chewing and sucking going on out there. Personally, I don’t deal with insects, but rather I concentrate my time on soil building, rotating crops, mulching, composting, planting in season, planting varieties that are hardy and like to grow here, etc. But every year there is something that comes and just devastates a whole row of something. For me, this year it was white fly on a long row of peppers that I was growing for seed and next a mama turkey coming down my sweet corn row pulling up every green shoot for the corn seed underneath! I had taken a couple of eggs from her nest the week before when she was out foraging, so I guess there is some kind of justice and balance there. If you concentrate on building healthy soil, using varieties that like to grow where you are, if you talk to your neighbors that grow gardens and share knowledge, best practices, seed, and starts, the pests and disease will lessen.

Each day when I harvest and make a meal from our gardens and orchard, receiving fish from the ocean and meat & eggs from the land, I feel deep gratitude for the opportunity to live in a place where I can do that every day of the year. The physical work that it took to create the harvest is what keeps me healthy and when I eat this food and complete the circle, I again feel deeply grateful that I can partner with the land especially during this challenging time and trade my time and labor for a healthy harvest that I can also share with family, friends, and neighbors.

If you have other mana’o to share about your best practices or thoughts on these times, please send it to me at and I will compile them and send out to this group by the middle of August.

Take good care of yourself. From all of us at the Hawai’i Seed Growers Network…

Aloha and Mahalo for all you do to keep our communities growing,

Nancy Redfeather

Kawanui Farm

The Hawai’i Seed Growers Network produces locally-grown, resilient seeds that are adapted to Hawai'i's diverse micro-climates with the goal of improving the success of farmers and gardeners.

Local Seeds for Local Needs

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