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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Plants, plants, plants

Just finished up the second semester of my plant tissue culture class at the U of H Hilo, learning so much, but time consuming as well. Also been really busy setting up the new web store and learning the ins and outs of shipping plants. I'm starting to get the hang of it, but like everything else there's a learning curve. Growing plants is easy, it's all the other stuff that's the effort. Just had my first inspection since building all the tables and it's all good on that front. I'm looking forward to a good spring.
Cuphea ignea 'Alba'
Been propagating a lot to get ready, but I don't have as much space as I would like. Local sales take care of the overflow of plants, but the locals aren't really all that gung-ho about horticulture. It's so easy to grow plants here, that the concept of spending money on plants is foreign here, people just get cuttings from friends and neighbors. You just plunk the cuttings in the ground & they grow. In fact that's what I call most of the landscape design here, plunking. People get new plants and just plunk them anywhere, basically no design at all, even putting in a path seems like an advanced step here. The other thing I had to get used to is just that there are way fewer people here. I'm used to a city of three million, this whole island has only has 170,000, that's a big difference & even then only 80,000 on this side. The people I do sell plants to are super nice though, there's a lot of retired people, who like to garden. They don't always have a lot of money, but they really like gardening. Mostly, I love hearing the stories about their life experiences, people here come from everywhere. So many perspectives.
Costus 'Rainbow'
I'm always finding new selections, like this white cuphea (above), a local guy said it just came up from seed after a hard cut back. And I'm always finding out new stuff about plants I already grow, like this Costus ginger. I was talking to Sean up at the Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Garden  and he was telling me the flowers on all costus gingers are edible. This one to the right is lemony with a little spicy kick to it. I grew it just for the pretty variegated leaves. The flowers on galanga ginger (used in Thai cooking) are small, white, and hotttttt. Luckily costus can be grown from cuttings, because I can't sell any plants that are grown by division that have been grown in the ground here. The issue is the possiblity of nematodes. California, Arizona, Texas and Louisiana have strict importation rules, it's all about the citrus industry. If I want to sell plants from division they have to be grown from seed first, or purchased from another certified nursery, or grown from tissue culture. Apparently the cinder that a lot of grower use here can have nematodes, unless it's heat sterilized first. We just use coco peat (coir) and perlite, so we can ship anywhere.
Tupidanthus calyptratus variegata
I've been starting to do more airlayering. I've known how to do it my whole life, but it's very easy here because of the mild temperatures. These Tupidanthus airlayer had tons of roots after just 3 months. They were too big for mail order, so I potted them into 2 gallons. I think I'll take new airlayers of the small branches that grow off of these, I think I can get them small enough to be easy to ship. 
Papaya 'Aussie red'
Variegated Banana
I've been learning a lot about tropical fruits too. Pineapples, bananas and papaya, as well as mamey sapote, rambuton, mango, brazilian cherry, jaboticaba, starfuit, tropical apricot, lychee and so many more love it here. I used to try to grow papaya in San Diego, but not well, here they are weeds. I've grown the most popular types, rainbow and strawberry here, but I've also been trying some other selections, like this dwarf Australian variety from 4 seed I ordered. The large fruit is very round, orange flesh and sweet. I like it mostly for the size of the plant, papayas just get really tall here after a year and the fruit is really hard to pick. This one is easy. I'm also growing a giant Thai type, that has fruit that can get up to 8 lbs each, it's popular for green papya salad because of the size, but if you let it get ripe it's delicious. I got some seeds of a variety called watermelon as well, don't know if it's different than the giant thai, so I'll just grow them out and compare and contrast. The early research I did said papayas were male and female, but all the ones I grew got fruit, female right, but no males defies basic genectics. After doing some more research I found out that they can also be hemaphrodidic and males can also produce fruit, but usually it's smaller. The genectics on these can get really complicated. Still learning about pineapples, they are even more complicated. As far as bananas, my favorite so far is Musa 'Ae Ae' the variegated, not only is the plant stunning, the fruit is really great, sweet, slightly acid and great size. 
Cestrum 'Goldspire'
The garden here is also filling in nicely, the fragrance at night with all the Brugmansias (Angels Trumpet) blooming is wonderful. I've also been enjoying the fragrance of a new hybrid night blooming jasmine called Cestrum 'Goldspire'. It has the same strong smell of night blooming jasmine, but with a pretty yellow color and a better habit, it's compact habit is a big plus. So far it only blooms once a year, in the early winter, but I'm hoping it blooms more once it's mature. In any case a really good plant. 

It's finally starting to rain here, since the begining of November we've gotten over 16" this month. The garden looks amazing, a little wet, but this is a rain forest after all. I love to show it off. My 78 year old mom and her husband were just out here and loved it. It really is crazy how fast things grow here. Right now some good friends from Vista CA are here, and they couldn't believe how mature it is. Still I was at a new friends house the other day and Glen's 25 year old garden dwarfed mine, with mature trees and epiphites everywhere, it  just makes me look forward to future. Here's a great shot of Andy, with his new short hair, from the Volcano the other day. Later.
Andy Maycen at Kilauea Volcano


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Been a while

Apparently my perfectionism gets in the way of my blogging. Uploading photos takes a while and it annoys me. So I figured just start writing and if I get around to it I'll upload pictures. Well, it's been since January, so let me catch you up. I started college again after a 30 year gap, just one class, but still a big deal. I'm taking a class on plant tissue culture, the micro-propagation of plants in test tubes. It was great fun, but did take a lot of time, got an 'A', but two more classes to go to get a certification from the college. It's the first time I've lived in a city where there's a 4 year university with a degree in horticulture, San Diego has none. Just recently went over my transcripts with my adviser, still good from 1982, and everything went through, and it looks like it will take about 3 full time semesters to graduate and get a B.S. I'm considering full time school and doing it, but it is costly, way more than in 1983. Still I'd like to do it for me. Drugs and alcohol really did a number on me back then, (even so had a 3.9 and was on the dean's list), but I've been clean and sober since 1987, so it does kind of feel like a circle that would be nice to complete. I know it won't make a difference in my pay or even knowledge really, 30 plus years of experience goes a long way. I feel like I could teach a lot of these courses, and maybe I will after I graduate.
I also turned 50 in March, and that strangely was a bigger deal than I was expecting. Fifty just doesn't fit with my brain, I guess I just had a different idea of what fifty would be, but given the unconventional choices I've made in my life, where else would I be.
Sadly my oldest dog (only 9) Thai died very suddenly a week before my birthday, he had a run in with one of the very poisonous buffo or cane toads common here in Hawaii, it happened overnight, and there's no 24 hr vet on this side of the island. The symptoms weren't very clear at first and by the time it progressed it was too late. I held him in my arms all night but his heart stopped 3 hours before the vet opened the next day. Andy and I felt very helpless, and I was mad with myself for not realizing just how toxic the toads were, I'm now an expert. The poison can be fatal for animals 20 lbs and under, and rat terriers are particularly sensitive. If there had been a vet available, I think we might have saved him, but I just don't know. We buried him out in the garden under a special tree. I still think of him everyday and miss him a lot, he was a really good dog. Tallow, the rat terrier left, is surprising better as a solo dog, he had lots of attention issues and now he's the center of attention and completely spoiled. Having his unconditional love made this much easier for us to get through. It's really made me aware of just how fragile life is, and how we should always make the most out of every day.
Basically we've both been working a lot, Andy with two part time jobs, and me landscaping and selling plants. This spring I didn't propagate much, I was so busy working and going to school, then this summer I really made an effort to get the certified mail order nursery going. It was a lot of work and cost, I had to clear an area, grade it, top dress it with lots and lots of base material, like 32 tons worth. Then, I built the tables, a separate mist area and potting area, all conforming to the regulations required by the state of Hawaii. No plants can be in the area for the initial inspection. We got our inspection, passed, but now had to grow the plants to sell. With very specific guidelines, I am doing just that, many many plants.
So the next thing was to get the website up and running. I have three, one for me with my name, my old one www.tompiergrossi.com, my landscape one www.kalolilandscape.com and the nursery www.vintagegreenfarms.com. So this summer I taught myself Dreamweaver a web design program, to learn how to do this myself, my friend Kurt did my old site. I finally got www.tompiergrossi.com up and running with my new content, it's very simple but is a good start. It basically acts as a pointer to the other sites, and I'll eventually add more to it, I just uploaded a list of all the plants we're growing here, over 1,000 taxa.
The landscape site I did on the mac with iweb, I also had to learn that, I really like that site, it has lots of info and pictures of jobs. Now I'm working on the store, adding plants to the availability, time consuming but exciting because this I really want to work. The basic site for Vintage Green Farms was done on the mac, but I'm going to build a new one with dreamweaver, it will work better for what I want to do. The store itself is in shopify, an online template program, they deal with the shopping cart and all that stuff I don't want to deal with. I want to focus on plants of course. I'll add a link from the VGF site soon, when I have more plants uploaded.
I've added another farmers market to my schedule, so now in addition to selling plants at the Maku'u Farmers Market on Sundays, I'm doing the Waimea Town Market on Sundays, it's quite a drive, an hour and a half, but the people are great, and they buy a lot of plants. It also feels good to be cool for a change, it's at 2,500 ft, although it's also really windy.
I'm still getting used to being warm all the time, but it is great for the plants. Andy ordered some different salvia seeds to try, most have done well, a few definitely don't like the heat, but that's how you learn. I'm more surprised by the number of non-tropical plant that are growing great here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Happy New Year

Native Tree Fern - Hapuu
Okay, now it's really been too long. I know it's January, but it was 82 degrees today, sunny and then it started raining at 3:30. Got about half an inch. Still not enough though, we are having a drought here, only half the rainfall we normally get, only 45" last year, normally 90". We live off catchment (water off the roof, we catch in a 10,000 gal tank), as of today it was down to a foot (full is 7'). 10,000 gals should be a lot, but the trouble is you need the water when it doesn't rain, a bit of a glitch in the system. A big thanks to my neighbor, a retired Hilo agriculture professor, who has a well and lets us use it to fill it up. I'm going to have to fill this week, so far maybe 5 times since we moved in.

It's surprising how fast the cinder soil (10-30 yds deliveries to date) here drys out, three days and new stuff wilts. At least now most of the plants are pretty well established and can last between rains. The mulch (100 yds) we put out has really helped, the garden has really grown.

I'm beginning to tell the seasons here. The plumerias go kind of dormant in the winter, but even now I still have a few blooming. Some winter blooming salvias do only bloom in the winter, like S. wagneriana, but others like S. mexicana 'Russel's Form' bloom all year. Still waiting to see if the Hollywood plum I brought will flowers and bloom, (still has most of it's leaves). I bought a Golden Dorset Apple (low chill) here, still waiting on that one as well. The Figs (Ventura and Panache) have done well and fruited, even thought they are still in the 5gals cans. Vegetables and annuals are odd though and seem to grow whenever, but the poppies (Papavar somniferum) just wont live. Most things thrive, but a few have difficulties. I'm not sure if it's the pH (we are way acid at 5.5) or what. Nutrition leaches almost instantly. I've started using Nutricote 100 day slow release in the nursery pots, and that stuff is magic in this climate, no burning and the plants jump, but it costs $75 for a 50lb. In the ground we've been using triple sixteen ($22 for a 50lb) and a great slow release from Japan called Complehumis, an organic based 8-8-8 with molasses as a coating, about a buck a pound, that I really like. Down side, the wild pigs here apparently love it, luckily our garden has a hog fence. Hogs out, dogs in.

Still learning here, but the Japanese garden I'm landscaping is really coming along.
Trying to get some of my work known on the island, for the web site & stuff. Check out the new site

www.kalolilandscape.com



Path in the Japanese Garden
Covillea racemosa
I'm really enjoying landscaping and growing plants here, but I do need to start making more money, I think I may have underestimated what it would be like to have to start over from scratch. Still though glad we made the move. I'm more relaxed here, the other day I actually found myself driving below the speed limit (common here). Andy and I are both working pretty much full time and have enough money to get by, but just not enough to get ahead, and that's without a mortgage. The nursery is coming along, but with no money to move it forward, new base material (to level), tables, shade and such, the process has been slow. To outsiders I'm sure it looks like we are moving fast here, but to me, painfully slow.

We have started to makes more friends here, and that feels really good. People here are really nice. Quite a few are like us, new transplants. I'm meeting a lot of people at the farmers market on Sundays, and Andy meets tons of people at Paradise Plants up in town where he works.

Variegated Banana 'Ae Ae'
So far I've harvested two crops of bananas, which grow super good here, duh. The trouble is you get too many, I sold the extra variegated ones at the farmers market. They have a sweet, lightly apricot flesh and holds on to the acid even as the peel browns. I also got a nice bunch of dwarf apple bananas,my favorite, most of those got frozen for smoothies. Those were quick, less than a year from planting. Still waiting for pineapples, those take two years they tell me.


We lost our roommate Jeff, he baled in the Oct. while owing us over 4,000 dollars. Just left one day with no notice & left all his stuff. We called the police and after a few days went though his room looking for clues, only to find a straightened up disaster zone, including large Tupperware containers full of dirty dishes. Who lives like that? He finally emailed & made arrangements to pick up his shit. Good riddence. I am so tired of sober AA people using us, just broken people. He said he pay us back, but I guess we will have to wait and see. So no more helping people (at least in AA)



I like living alone (with just Andy), but a roomate would really help with the bills. We also talked about setting the room up as a vaction room rental, but we'll figure it out.

I've also been working on other projects, like these benches that convert into a picnic table. Making tufa pots, since pots are so expensive here. I did put up a new 400 sq ft shade house, which is really helped with propagation.


A few friends have visited, Cliff & Dae from Arizona & my bother David and his boyfriend Robbie from California. More expected - tom

David, Andy, Tom