Thursday, December 1, 2011

Lloyd's TOP 15+ Gardening Tips in South Maui

Note: This post has been updated as of 12/8/11!

Guest post by Lloyd of Lloyd's Naturals in Kihei.



Mixed organic lettuce growing happily in Kihei.


Growing veggies can be a real challenge in any eco-zone. South Maui is no exception, but contrary to popular belief, fruits and veggies can thrive in Kihei under the right conditions.

The key to raising a successful crop in South Maui comes down to the time of year you plant, proper soil preparation, consistency in watering and insect/disease protection.

All of these items can be overcome by providing adequate nourishment to the soil in the form of organic compost and organic fertilizer that adds humus to the soil (I am experiencing great results using fertilizer made from composted turkey litter). These in turn support healthy plant growth and nutrition and require less watering while fortifying your plants against insects and diseases.

Tip #1: This seems obvious, but plant vegetables and fruit trees where they will get enough sunlight. Also, don't plant them too close to the house - where they may not have enough growing space. Consider the proximity of your plants and fruit trees to your house and other features of your yard. Also, if you plant your crops close to big trees, those tree roots will be fighting for nutrients with your vegetables.

 
Haas avocados
Don't plant your avocado tree too close to your house - give it room to grow.


Tip #2: Some soil in Kihei can be clayey with blue rock.  I have used a "soil buster" dolomite-based amendment to initially prepare a vegetable bed. I don't use it much now since my beds are well-prepared and maintained.

Tip #3: Make sure your soil has plenty of compost and humus.  I make my own compost but it is also easy to buy.  Humus is the organic matter in soil resistant to decomposition. Compost and humus are key building blocks to creating a healthy soil.

Tip #4: I can water less frequently and more deeply since my soil has a lot of compost and humus. These plant-derived particles hold the water in the soil and make it available to my plants. I water once every other day, but for a longer period of time.

Tip #5: Start with strong, healthy plants and good, rich soil.  The healthier your soil and plants are, the less diseases and pests you'll encounter. Each time I plant, I regenerate the soil with more nutrients and compost. I don't fuss a lot with pH testing or other tests.


Heirloom pole beans



Tip #6: I like to rotate my beds and plantings. For a main vegetable bed, I'll start at one end and plant 1/3 or 1/4 of it with new veggies, then stagger it out with new plants a month or two later, and work my way to the other end of the bed. I'll plant different plants along the way. 

Tip #7: I also like to let my beds rest between plantings. Commercial farmers often don't like to do this, but I think it's important to listen to nature, which has cycles. In the past, farmers would let a certain amount of fruit and leaves fall and lay on the ground so that those nutrients could go back in the soil.  (Although letting some rotting fruit lay around here on Maui can help breed fruit flies in our warm weather.)  Thoreau said there is a time for generation and a time for rest. I usually let my beds rest for at least a month minimum before replanting. 

If I have a crop like corn which takes terrific amounts of nitrogen out of the soil, I will take the soil from my harvested bean crop, and add that soil to the corn bed, after I've harvested the corn. I will also add a good compost, mix up the soil, and let the soil rest for a month or six weeks.

You can't simply add granular stuff (fertilizer from a bag) back to the soil. You need to include compost and organic plant matter. If I'm working with asparagus, I will cut it back almost to the ground, then give it a heavy mulch and side dressing so the new shoots will have nutrients.


Yes, you can grow asparagus in Kihei.
This asparagus is blooming.

Tip #8: Look at your plants and talk to them. It's not science, but see what they are doing and ask them what they need.  Do this on a regular basis to prevent problems.

For example, if I'm seeing any kind of problem, I will go back to the basics of N, P, K - Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium, the three numbers on a bag of fertilizer.

#8a: If there is a yellowing of the leaf (rare in my garden) or some other leaf issue, especially pertaining to a leaf vegetable like cabbage or lettuce, then I might up the nitrogen.

#8b: If the whole leaves and stems are doing fine in a fruiting crop, but there is no fruit, I would turn to phosphorus. Phosphorus is key for the flowers and fruit, and also helps the roots.

#8c: If there's a situation with roots, like with carrots or turnips not resisting disease, then I would add potassium to help build a healthy root system.


Bountiful carrots



Tip #9: Some plants do better at certain times of the year. Last March, I planted squash but had to deal with pickle worm. I found out that in Kihei, squash is better to plant in mid-winter, not spring. A lot of seed companies cater to the mainland, and to different seasons. It can be different here, finding out when to plant.

Tip #10: Try different seed companies, especially ones that others have tried here. Some people have had great success with Seeds of Change, an organic seed line, but I've had mixed results. I have had good luck with some organic UH varieties (developed by University of Hawaii).   

Tip #11: Sweet corn can grow well in Kihei. Kihei is a lot like the midwest corn belt, without the winter. Corn likes it hot and dry, and here we can grow more than one season. I am growing three different kinds of corn, of which one is an Indian corn, another is a UH variety.  They are already 2 1/2 feet tall. Corn really takes up tons of nitrogen. I am taking some soil from where I grew beans and using that soil to grow the next crop of corn in. I'll prep the corn bed with organic matter too, before planting.

Tip #12: Add powdered oyster shell to the soil when you grow corn. I like Down to Earth oyster shell which comes in a cardboard box, and is available at Kula Hardware.  The box says to add 4-6 lbs per 100 square feet. However, I don't use exact measurements and approach gardening like cooking. Add some, see how it tastes (or grows).  I fertilize the new corn with a 4-4-4 organic fertilizer.

Tip #13: If you have corn bugs attacking your corn, apply a dab of vegetable oil to the corn silk when it first appears.

Tip #14: I've had good luck with my tomatoes as far as fruit flies are concerned. I've planted some Italian heirlooms, which perhaps are newer to the environment and perhaps the fruit flies haven't noticed them yet, or they are genetically more resistant.

Heirloom tomatoes in Kihei.


I have had some virus affecting the leaf, not powdery mildew, but a virus that will eat the leaf until it is almost transparent. I pick the leaves off, and because it is a virus and can spread, put the leaves in a solution of chlorox and water to kill the virus. Some of the UH seed seems more resistant to powdery mildew. Also, in Kihei, one can grow tomatoes in winter and spring, since it's drier here, unlike upcountry.  Some people trim off the branches from their tomatoes and leave one main leader. I don't like to do that, and will take out just the laterals, side shoots.

14a: Another fruit fly tip. If using fruit fly traps (the big soda bottles with fruit fly attractant), then don't put the bottles too close to the tomatoes. They attract the fruit flies, but you don't want to attract them to your tomatoes too.



Tip #15: Organic gardening can be surprising. I have sometimes gotten a really good crop followed by a terrible one, and not due to lack of nutrients or soil preparation. Sometimes I think there are atmospheric conditions which affect the plants. If I'm out with the plants, I notice that the ambient temperature can change, and feel a burning sensation on my skin when it's hot in Kihei and there's vog. I think the plants can be affected by this too. Don't be too discouraged if you are doing other things right. Just keep listening to the plants and trying new things out.

Tip #16: There are many good products out there to amend the soil. I've mentioned a few, like a soil buster mix, crushed oyster shells, organic fertilizer.  Try different things out and talk to people to see what works. Also, if you are shelling out a lot of money for a product, then ask to see a fertilizer analysis. If someone won't share the analysis with me, even if it's to protect their secret mix, I would hesitate to purchase it.  How can one know that it has a certain percent of this or that without actually seeing the numbers?

By the way, I have been so pleased with the organic fertilizer made from turkey litter/manure that I recently shipped four tons to Kihei and am now selling it in 25 lb bags, priced affordably. Analysis is available at this link (scroll to the bottom) for both types. Please contact me if you are interested.
Aloha! Lloyd of Lloyd's Naturals.


That's me below, posing with a giant papaya:

Freshly picked papaya


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