Planting Time in Hawaii

The number one garden question that I receive is seemingly simple, “when do I plant in Hawaii?” In reality, it is a very complex question, especially with our changing weather patterns. What is my answer? Frequently. Get new plants started as frequently as you can, and try a range of edible plant types. This year was a tropical storm year which brought a wild range of growing conditions at 2700ft elevation. Colder, and wetter than normal, and we cannot forget the seemingly endless winds. Though the combination caused a diminished squash crop, other vegetables thrived. Let me explain.

When temperatures and humidity levels shift rapidly, some plants refuse to set fruit. Squash is well known for hitting the pause button when it isn’t getting what it needs. Some plants need it to be warmer, some need it to be less windy, and other plants are more impacted by day length. Observation is the key to understanding this. Some of you may recall my transplanting many stunted Aji Limon chili peppers a few days before Christmas, 2015. Though slow to grow, the wet season that December (sometimes) brings was just right for them. They became big, full plants, and then fruited profusely in June. This had them producing chili just in time for pairing them with mango. It is now October, and those one time stunted, and seemingly mistimed plants, have remained in continuous fruiting. I am sharing this to remind us that every day, every plant, and every challenge, gives us an opportunity to learn. Most mainland planters may have kept those peppers in pots until March or April. I was tempted to try to over winter them in pots. As it turned out, these Peruvian peppers liked the cooler temps, and additional humidity that an upcountry Winter can bring. I learned that not all peppers are alike. Weather that made some chili plants dormant, made another double in scale.

Just this week we had snow on the mountain, known as Mauna Kea volcano. Though the snow is at 14,000ft, and I am at 2700 ft, it impacts my growing, by bringing cool winds down the slope. In order to make the most of this endlessly cold year, I am getting out the seed flats again, and getting a lot of leafy greens going…again. Swiss chard, a variety of kale, collards, peas, and favas will all love this season. Since the temperature is changing rapidly from day to day, I am also using this window of time, where we still have quite a bit of warmth, to start some more tomatillos. I am taking the risk to try a few more pepper starts that all need quite warm days to germinate. Will it work? Only time will tell, but I do know that having a wide variety of plants will keep you, and your community well fed, no matter what season holds in store. Just like these loveable heirlooms, we can adapt, and we will be better gardeners for it. Aloha!

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