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Tropical Gardening: Thanksgiving mahalo

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The terrorist attacks in Paris and other tragedies occurring around the world reminds us again to give thanks for living on this little speck of paradise we call Hawaii.

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The terrorist attacks in Paris and other tragedies occurring around the world reminds us again to give thanks for living on this little speck of paradise we call Hawaii.

Sometimes, it seems better to stay at home, but just about that time an opportunity comes to reach out and share our good fortune with others. America’s Farmer to Farmer Program funded through Peace Corps and several non-governmental groups give folks here a chance to volunteer to help others. If you are interested in short-term volunteer service, check out peacecorps.gov and Partners of the Americas.

As an example of service, folks such as those at Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill are partnering with the Salvation Army and others to make sure everyone has a special turkey dinner. Free meals will be served there from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Thanksgiving Day for anyone in need. If you are interested in helping with preparation and serving, contact Paul at 326-0209.

Almost 100 turkeys will be cooked with kokua of other restaurants including Buns in the Sun and Fish Hopper to be served at Jackie Rey’s. For anyone housebound, call the Salvation Army at 326-2330 for free meal delivery.

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If you can take the time to have a really amazing experience, Haiti is just a short distance from Florida. Haiti is a beautiful country that shares the island of Hispanola with the Dominican Republic. Compared with almost 30,00 square miles of land surface on Hispanola, our 4,000-square-mile island is a mere speck.

Although Haiti is considered one of the poorest nations in the western hemisphere, it has wonderful scenery and delightful people. Because of an undeserved reputation, few folks visit there.

The tropics have many places with as much beauty as Hawaii, and there are many places where you can find friendly people. What is unique about Hawaii is that not only are the Islands beautiful and friendly, we also have a form of government that allows us to live in relative safety and prosperity.

Our form of government attempts to allow for rule of the majority with protection of the minority. It is just enough capitalistic that it rewards free enterprise and just enough socialistic that most folks have food, shelter and medical care.

Now, some readers would disagree, but compared to most tropical African, Asian or American countries this is rather unique. Haiti fought for freedom from the French centuries ago, but its own internal politics left it a country where one never really feels safe. Most people live very close to hunger and ill health.

They are enduring, tenacious and hard working, but without an environment that allows their talents to prosper, they struggle to thrive. Some of the farmers with whom we have worked would be millionaires if they lived in a place like Hawaii.

In America, Thanksgiving for some might be all about eating too much rich food and the worry the weight gain likely will continue through New Years Day. Unlike much of the tropical world, we don’t usually have to worry about from where our next meal comes.

However, this time of year should remind us to sincerely give thanks for all the many blessings around us and be willing to share when we have the opportunity. Not only do we live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, we are blessed with the abundance of a great variety of food crops.

Many fruits grow wild along the roadside and, of course, in our gardens.

Hawaiian gardeners can grow tropical fruits such as bananas, citrus, mangoes and avocados, but we should not overlook some favorites from warm temperate climates such as low chill apples, peaches, loquats, pomegranates, figs and persimmons.

Persimmons are among the favorites and can be found in the market now. Eating persimmons is an easy way to sweeten any day the healthy way. Also known as the “kissing fruit,” the persimmon tree grows here and produces heavy crops. The rather familiar name comes from the puckering qualities of unripe fruit. As you bite into the fruit, it can remind you to make love not war.

Aside from the amorous tendencies, the persimmon long has been a popular dooryard fruit in the cooler upland sections of Hawaii. The generic name, Diospyros, literally means “food of the Gods.” This prestige began ages ago in China and Japan.

The flavor of the fruit is excellent. It is a concentrated food because all of the sugar is quick energy producing dextrose. However, most persimmon varieties are astringent, or puckery, until fully ripe.

Persimmons do best upon lighter upland soils that are well drained. You are in luck if your property has a good soil, but if it doesn’t be sure to spend some time improving the soil with fertilizer and compost.

Persimmons like full sunlight and ample elbow room. So, the planting site should be an open space no closer than 20 feet from the nearest tree canopy.

If the planting site is a lawn area, practice clean cultivation around the trunk of the tree. In removing weeds, do not dig deeply, as many feeder roots of the tree grow close to the surface of the soil.

Fertilizer requirements for persimmons are vague. But the trees seem to thrive on applications of a good garden fertilizer mixture containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potash plus minor elements. A standard type such a 1-1-1 is satisfactory. Where the soil is high in nitrogen, look for a bloom aid formula low in nitrogen. Apply the fertilizer in the spring as new leaves flush.

Two close relatives of the persimmon also can add interesting and delicious fruit to your garden and table.

The black sapote, Diospyros ebenaster, from Mexico is grown occasionally in Hawaii. The tree is evergreen, up to 25 feet, with a fairly compact rounded habit and handsome in aspect. The leathery leaves are bright green and shiny. The fruit is round, from 2 to 5 inches in diameter, and dark olive green at maturity, with a conspicuous persistent green calyx like the persimmon. The thin skin encloses a soft pulpy flesh that is a dark chocolate-brown in color. The pulp is soft and sweet. Addition of orange, lime or lemon juice improves the flavor of the fruit that can be eaten fresh or cooked.

The mabolo, Diospyros discolor, is rare in Hawaii except on Round Top, above Honolulu, where it can be found growing wild. This Philippine tree is of medium size, with leathery, oblong, pointed leaves 4 to 10 inches long, light and smooth above, much paler and more or less silky or hairy beneath. The fruits are 3 to 5 inches in diameter, covered thickly with short reddish brown hair. The flesh is cream colored, rather dry, sweet and aromatic, usually with several rather large seeds. Seedless forms are known with moister and sweeter flesh of good quality.

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Check with local nurseries for these fruit trees and more to make your home gardening fruitful.

This information is supplied by the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. For further information about gardening and landscaping, contact one of our master gardeners at 322-4892 in Kona or 981-5199 in Hilo.