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Tropical Gardening: Edible landscapes to reduce food bills

  • Photo courtesy of Voltaire Moise Kona gardener Kannan Eluthesen is shown here with a young Durian tree. His wife Janice is also an avid gardener and contributes much of their food supply with an edible kitchen garden of herbs and vegetables.

Looking for a way to save on food bills? Then plant vegetables. For many backyard vegetable gardeners on the mainland, spring means the beginning of their gardening efforts. However, this is Hawaii so we can plant our vegetables anytime depending upon the microclimate. There are many vegetable gardening activities for the entire year.

Plantings of southern peas, lima beans, pole beans, okra, and sweet potatoes, plus eggplant are keeping many gardeners in fresh homegrown vegetables.

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Now is also a good time to plant papayas and bananas. These plants do well near a vegetable garden since they require the rich soil and moisture for best production. They also help as a windbreak on the windy side of the vegetable patch where wind is a problem.

Fresh herbs and spices are also natural for vegetable garden areas.

Homegrown flavor plants will add interest and piquant taste to the ordinary round of vegetables.

Most herbs are readily available at local garden shops. They will do well provided the soil is well drained and with sufficient nutrients. Many areas of the island have adequate soil, but organic materials like compost help to make conditions even better. In rocky areas like Kona, garden beds will require more effort. Some folks rely on growing in containers where soil is limited.

Warm weather types you may plant are basil, chives, oregano, summer savory, catnip, borage, hyssop, lemon verbena, tarragon, mints, pot marjoram, citronella, vanilla orchid and edible ginger.

Basil is considered one of the finest spices for use in pickling. It is of two types — sweet green basil and the dwarf form. A very few plants are sufficient for the needs of the average family. Sometimes one or two plants of basil may be grown in the flower border. The leaves and flowers have a clove-like, spicy flavor and are prized for use in spiced vinegar, for pickles, in gravies, for soups, stews, salads and meats and fish cookery. Basil is an especially choice flavor for tomato dishes.

Sweet green basil, too, is just the right herb for flavoring soups.

When dried and powdered, basil is used for spicing meat or other fish, sausage, liver paste and similar products. The flowers with the tender tips of the stems with their foliage are cut, tied in very small bunches and dried.

The chive is the smallest member of the onion family. Its tiny bulbs grow in thick bunches, but the young tender leaves which may be cut freely are of delicate and pleasing flavor similar to that of a very mild onion. They add a delicate snap to salads and dressings, dry bean dishes, jellied chicken, hot vegetables, omelets, and other mixtures. The plant grows to a height of 6 or 8 inches with dark green, grass-like foliage and bears pretty, violet clusters of bloom. Hence chives should be used more often as ornamental border plants. They are propagated by dividing the clumps and resetting them in the fall, preferably in rich soil.

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Edible ginger, often confused with the common ornamental ginger lily, grows well in Hawaii and produces choice roots if given rich soil and sufficient moisture. Ginger will long remain as one of the world’s most popular spices and should be grown in every home garden where adapted. It is an erect herb, two to three feet high. It grows from thickened rhizomes that branch finger-like and send up new shoots from the tips near the surface of the soil. If desired for preserving or candying, they should be dug while tender and succulent, rather than when old, tough and fibrous. Fresh green ginger is an indispensable part of chutneys, giving them much of their spiciness and pungent flavor.

Edible gardening does not end with vegetables and herbs. Many beautiful trees and shrubs can also supply edible bonanzas. This year, high prices of lychee and mango have encouraged new homeowners to plant fruit trees. There are many other fruits and nuts to consider as well. You can grow cloves, longan, avocado and scores of others if you have the room. Local garden shops and nurseries are a great source of information and plant materials.