After more than two years of planning and construction, the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers boasts a new state-of-the-art containment greenhouse in South Kona.
The $263,000 greenhouse, funded mainly by the Hawaii State Grant-In-Aid program, will provide fruit growers with insect- and disease-free plant resources imported from around the world. The facility was approved for operations earlier this month by the state Department of Agriculture.
“The greenhouse enables us to bring in, effectively isolate and safely propagate fruit we believe will be productive in Hawaii,” said Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers President Mark Suiso. “Hawaii did not evolve naturally with fruit. This facility has technology that will allow us to efficiently introduce desired plants and evaluate them to assure they can safely be released and grown in our state.”
To ensure introduced plants don’t bring in any unintended problems, the 900-square-foot greenhouse is surrounded by a 5-inch moat and 15-foot concrete barrier and further secured by an electric fence and security system. Specialized micro screen walls will prevent any insects from gaining access, and limited staff entry to the greenhouse is through double doors. A solid, specialized plastic roof tops the greenhouse and interior halls between the greenhouse’s eight rooms are blackened with insect traps in each room and hallway.
All wastewater from the facility will be treated with bleach before being released into a holding tank, and finally to a septic system.
According to Ken Love, HTFG executive director, imported plants will go through five stages of inspection. First, the HTFG will conduct an on-site inspection at the exporting farm followed by a check by the country of origin’s agriculture department. Upon arrival in Honolulu, the USDA and state DOA will inspect the plants before they make their way to the greehhouse, where they will be inspected before entry.
Imported plant stock will arrive as small, bare-root trees or cuttings. Once the seedlings are received at the Kona greenhouse, they will be potted in a sterile and organic nursery mix.
Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers members will decide what plants to import and clone and they will be quarantined in the greenhouse for two years. The project’s six rooms can each hold about 1,000 trees and two, small tube pot rooms can hold up to 4,000 seedlings.
In addition, the greenhouse enables HTFG to apply for a specialized controlled import permit to bring in new varieties of citrus and mango. This more restrictive permit is required to prevent introducing new pathogens to existing crops.
Once plants are settled in the greenhouse, smart monitoring systems will result in little interaction between plants and people to minimize exposure between the confines of the greenhouse and the outside world.
The new greenhouse is a sister project to HTFG’s existing statewide fruit tree repositories, where trees are available for sharing among organization members, plus to the public during periodic sales. Distribution of the greenhouse’s resources will be similar, according to Love.