Although we live in a place that is blessed with a year-round growing season, lots of sunshine, and--in many places--good soil and reliable rainfall, approximately 85% of Hawaii’s food is imported! The food that we bring to the table has travelled many thousands of miles, losing important vitamins and increasing in cost all along the way. The transportation that brings the food to Hawaii from the mainland and other countries contributes to air and water pollution as well.
It is beneficial to seek out organic, locally grown foods whenever possible and shop at our farmers’ markets. The best option, though, is to grow a portion of your own food. I know most people don’t have the time or space to have large garden plots. I encourage you to experiment with even one simple ingredient of your daily diet that you can grow to supplement your food supply. You will appreciate the freshness, the convenience, and the satisfaction of knowing exactly where at least one part of your meal came from, not to mention the joy of knowing you grew it yourself. And there isn’t any unnecessary packaging to add to the landfill when it comes from your backyard.
If you eat a lot of salad or enjoy a few lettuce leaves on your sandwiches, lettuce mix is a simple way to start. You can easily grow a small crop of lettuce mix in a container on your lanai or next to your front door (Fall through spring are the best seasons for this in Hawaii because the summer months tend to be too hot and cause the lettuce plants to bolt, or flower, too quickly.)
- Start with good, organic soil like Black Gold and fill a planting container (I recommend ones that have a depth of at least 1’); water the soil well
- Pick a spot that gets full sun for most for the day
- Sprinkle seeds from a lettuce mix packet that is available at any hardware or garden store (ones that include a spicy plant like arugula are my favorite)
- Put a fine layer of soil on top of the seed
- Keep it well watered; the soil consistency throughout the container should always be like a wrung out sponge.
If you are convinced you have a “black thumb” I encourage you to try anyways; successful gardeners share the trait—above all else--of perseverance. If your seeds don’t sprout or the bugs eat all your plants before you get to them, try again. You can also buy young plants from nurseries that are beyond their most vulnerable stage and put those in your containers or garden plot. If you can, plant ten containers or rows of lettuce and you will probably end up with plenty for your family, even if you’ve got a lot of pests and the blackest thumb in town.
Chemical fertilizers and pesticides are simply not necessary. For specific questions about pests or anything having to do with growing plants in Hawaii, please check out the UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources website. You can ask their experts any question that comes to mind and search their database of questions that have already been answered. It’s a wonderful, simple and free resource.
In July of 2008 I decided to plant a garden in my backyard. Using very little money (in fact most of the costs were covered by my household recycling fund), not a lot of time, and even less expertise I now have an approximately 900 square foot organic garden. The mulch and logs around the perimeter were salvaged from nearby areas where trees were being cut down. The banana tree in the middle of the garden was a gift from a friend who had more than he needed. We grow a lot of the green leafy vegetables that are part of our diet—kale, chard, lettuce mix, collards, arugula, basil and some beets, too. We also have an herb garden that provides us with lemongrass, mint, and parsley. I will add a new feature to my website in the coming months called Watch My Garden Grow. Look for it soon as I showcase the progress of my garden. Send me pictures of your gardens, large or small, too. We can encourage each other and work together to decrease our dependence on imported food.
I strongly urge you to consider organically growing part of your diet. The savings are enormous and the health benefits are invaluable. Gardening is a great form of exercise, too!