We’re launching a campaign to get our chocolate-making production underway. The link is gofundme.com/ybvr5ugc .  Here is some more detail on the two higher reward levels.


CACAO TREE – $150 

miyukiFor this level of donation, in addition to the goodies from the earlier levels, you will get a beautiful screen-printed or batik original t-shirt made by Miyuki, an artist living on Kulike Farm (that’s her  to the right).  The shirts will have a print of orange and red cacao pods drawn by Miyuki, and will say “Hakalau Chocolate.”  They are guaranteed to be beautiful!   You need to let us know what size you are.  We will offer shirts made of organic cotton or bamboo.


WWOOFers (farm helpers) helping us winnow


($500+ Depending on length of stay) Starting at a donation of $500 for three days, and open to discussing a full week, we offer our donators to stay in a simple cabin with us during next year’s cacao processing season,  January through April in 2017.

 Activities will include:  Help with several stages of chocolate-making process – picking, opening pods, preparing for fermentation, drying, cracking, winnowing.  Make your own chocolate bars.   Taste a fresh pod and the juice that is excess from preparing pods for fermentation.  Take a personal tour of the farm, learning permaculture methods employed.


 Depending on interest, participate in other farm activities such as harvesting bananas, taro, perennial greens, and vegetables, and learn to prepare these foods.  Make sugar cane lemonade from scratch – cut and press fresh sugar cane juice and lemons.  Swim in the beautiful waterfall pool (see picture below) reached by walking down a stone path through a bamboo grove.


 Farm fruits and the best eggs you’ve ever tasted will be provided, but beyond that you will be responsible for your own food; the cabin comes with a full kitchen. The toilet is a short walk from cabin. Toilet and shower are shared with other guests or workers.  You are responsible for your own transportation (ie renting a car,  we are too remote for bus).

Nearby attractions include botanic gardens, zip lines, waterfalls, beaches, farmer’s markets.  Make this your perch to explore the Big Island – Volcano National Park is an hour away, and sunny, sandy Kona beaches just over an hour.



I have been working on a series of photo essays that follows our small-batch process of making chocolate.  Here are the journals to date.

Journal #1 describes our permaculture-style method of caring for trees, and shows the shape of young trees as well as flowers and young fruit:  cacao-photo-journal-april-2016

Journal #2 is on selecting pods, opening them and staring the fermentation process: cacao-journal-2

Journal #3 goes into more detail on fermentation, judging the flavor of fermented beans, and drying: cacao-journal-3a

Jounral #4 describes roasting, cracking, and winnowing: Cacao journal 4

pods on railing.jpg



We are part of the Conscious Culture Cafe’s efforts to keep waste to a minimum.  See where the blue sign says, “Our compost feeds local chickens and they cannot eat those” – that’s our chickens!

We’re outdoing the chicken-serving restaurant in Portlandia.  In that absurd yet not-too-far-from-reality “Farm” episode, the patrons want to make sure the chicken they eat is local.  They even ask what the chicken was fed.  But, they don’t ask if IT ate local.

We’ve taken chicken feeding to the next level.  Our chickens are locavores. Our goal is to feed our 30+ chickens as locally as possible.  We aren’t at 100% yet, but we have figured out some pretty good systems I would like to share with you.

The chickens have several major food sources:

  • compost,
  • black soldier fly larvae,
  • sprouted wheat berries,
  • azolla, salvinia (both water plants), and comfrey, and
  • foraging in their food-forests.

I’ll talk about the first two sources here, and save the other sources and the food forest description for  other posts.  But first, be aware that our chickens’ diet is not scientifically calculated  to produce the most eggs for the least cost.  We are fine with getting enough eggs just to keep us and a neighbor or two supplied.  It’s more about how chickens fit into the environment of the farm than about maximizing their output. The chickens are healthy, and the eggs are beautiful and delicious, with bright orange yolks.  This is a good enough sign that we are feeding them a good enough diet.


We get some decent-sized eggs.

The compost we feed them is from our farm and kitchen as well as from a local organic restaurant. Two or three times a week, we pick up around five 5-gallon buckets of compost from “The Booch,” as we call  the Conscious Culture Cafe.  The Cafe specializes in live, fermented foods including a wide variety of home-brewed kombucha and several types of sauerkrauts.

Their compost is  ideal for chickens, full of old quinoa salad, garbanzo beans, sprouts, sourdough bread, corn chips, fruit and vegetable scraps – even the occasional failed omelette or rejected buckwheat flapjack.  However, it contains a lot of food scraps that the chickens don’t directly eat, such as lemon rinds and rotten sweet potatoes (plus napkins and compostable paper containers).  This makes great food for soldier fly larvae.

Two years ago I wrote about how we raise black soldier fly larvae to provide protein, fat, and calcium for chickens.  Since writing that blog, we have modified our black soldier fly bins to solve several problems.  The main problem was drainage.  Too much liquid created anaerobic conditions in the bins, making it difficult to use the compost left after the larvae migrated out.  The “larvae-compost”  was too heavy and smelly to use as a soil amendment.  If we mixed in  dryer organic material, such as leaves and grass, and turned it several times, it became good stuff.  But all of that was very awkward to do inside a larvae bin.

So we built these:IMG_1503.JPG

These “compost tables” are part kitchen-waste composter, part  black soldier fly larvarium. They are 5’x3′ plywood boxes on legs.  They are lined with two layers of wire mesh, one larger-weave one for strength, and a finer weave to hold compost in and let liquid drain out.


This is the 4×4 concrete mesh for strength – 6×6 would also work – just needs to be sturdy enough to support many pounds of heavy compost.


(Above) I am in the midst of replacing the old mesh (which was plastic and rats had bitten through it), with  1/2 inch galvanized wire mesh, which will be snugly fit in or tacked well on all sides.  This wire mesh is available in 5’x3′ pieces, so you don’t have to buy the 100′ roll (I got this at Dell’s).


We use either old roofing or a piece of plywood as a cover.  We dump the compost on the cover.  The chickens fly up and eat what they want.  We scrape the remains down into the insides. You can see dried banana leaves on the inside of this bin, too.  Coffee filters and napkins are all in the mix.

Black soldier flies love any compost enclosure they can get into, so they do a great job of laying eggs, and within a week the tables are full of little  larvae.  Extra liquid drains through the mesh, and as they grow, the larvae and other critters crawl out and drop below to the appreciative chickens.


Each of our three chicken enclosures has a compost table. When the table is full  and the compost inside is ready to be finished, I scape the fresh compost down into a smaller bin, seen above on the left with  a Rhode Island Red on top.  We drilled drainage holes into the bottoms of old Rubbermaid storage tubs for this purpose.

Periodically, we add a layer of dry leaves,  grass clippings, and chicken poop to the compost to dry it out, improve the texture, and add carbon and nitrogen. We also add the too-wet soldier-fly compost from the Rubbermaid bins.  After turning twice, and not adding anything new for around six weeks, here is how it looks:


At this point it has become more of a worm bin than a larvae bin – the soldier fly larvae have all migrated out, and worms are thriving.  You could add some worms to make sure, but I found they made it in there somehow – probably from when we added fallen banana leaves.

It isn’t “true” compost because it hasn’t reached high enough temperatures to kill seeds and bugs.  So instead of using it in sensitive areas, we use this compost around trees, shrubs, and other sturdy, well-established plantings.


Even the rooster area gets a compost table.

We still use the original soldier fly bin that we made, which has a pitched roof.  We moved it inside one of the chicken areas so that escaping larvae no longer only feed toads and wild birds. This bin is handy for putting meat scraps in and anything else we don’t want the chickens to have.

So now we have a great kitchen compost system for easily feeding the chickens compost, not letting rats or mongoose get to it, and turning it into a rich soil amendment, while providing the chickens with plentiful larvae, insects, and worms.


It’s warm!  Portlanders would approve!


Mixed vegetable and herb beds

Mixed vegetable and herb beds

…and Why It’s Worth It

For the last two years, I’ve been growing herbs such as mint, lemongrass, and dill to sell to local health food stores.  It has worked out very well as a small-scale, low-risk way to learn about producing a reliable crop, pricing it, selling it, and seeing if I can make a profit.  You notice I said “to learn about.”   I didn’t say that I have succeeded in growing a reliable crop and making money.  But I like to focus on success, and the herb biz has been very successful in providing an education! 

It started with a simple conversation with a produce manager at a major health food store in Hilo, where we are regulars.  We were chatting while she was stocking vegetables, and I mentioned we had a small organic farm.  She asked what we grew. 

“All sorts of things, bananas, papayas, sugarcane.  We have a big garden with veggies and herbs…”


Happy dill

“Do you have any mint?” she broke in.  “We really need mint.”

We had plenty of mint, and lemongrass, and Thai basil, and several other herbs she could use right away, so we started to bring them in.  All she needed was a copy of our Excise Tax form showing we were registered as a farm.  

What about our organic status?  We aren’t USDA certified organic.  I was concerned that produce sellers would require this, but for one thing, as a farm that sells less than $5000 a year, we can legally say we are organic without being certified.  But even if we were bigger, it’s not a requirement.  This store labels produce either “organic” (based on trust) vs. “USDA certified organic” (based on a third-party certification system).  Do consumers know the difference?  Nah.  I think most people assume any label saying “organic” means the same thing, i.e., the vegetables were grown without pesticides and that there is some system that is verifying this.  


Tulsi basil (Holy basil) and garlic chives

Another surprise was that this particular health food store pays farmers the same amount for certified organic and for trust-your-local-farmer organic.  A produce manager at another local health food store that I started to sell to (let’s call it store #2) said he would pay more for certified, but after we were selling them our lovely, quality herbs for a few months and I told him I needed to raise prices to match store #1, he did.   Actually, he said, “Let’s try the price increase, and if the herbs keep selling, we’ll keep the increase.”  A very reasonable approach, and great for us that it worked out.

Store #2 puts the tag “organically managed” on our produce.  I like that, because it subtly enlightens at least the alert customer that the greens they are selecting ARE somehow different from “USDA certified organic.”  It would be pretty interesting to do a survey of health-food store shoppers to see how well they understand what they are buying.  Probably plenty think that everything in the store is 100% certified USDA organic.

Both stores try to help local farmers by taking a smaller profit from locals than from the big Californian or Mexican importers.  The policies favoring small and local are a bonus for us and for the customer.  They help ensure that if imports stop, we have food growing right here.

I had started planting herbs because I like to cook with them and because they are part of a healthy organic garden.  The flowers of many herbs attract pollinators – basil is loved by bees; dill, parsley, and cilantro attract small predatory wasps.  The scent of herbs deters and confuses pests, so mixing them in with other garden vegetables cuts down on the cabbage moths and aphids.  Importantly, slugs are not interested in the strong flavors of herbs.

It amazes me that our small farm – really just a big garden – produces several staple herbs now for these two stores, plus a thriving kombucha cafe, plus an amazing local Thai chef (she’s behind the curry pot with the longest line at the local farmer’s market).  It doesn’t take that much work. Several of the herbs are perennials and just require compost, and they love to be trimmed. I harvest, trim, and deliver one morning a week.  The stores put them in small zip-lock bags and add a label.  At store #1, we receive $1.50 per bag, and the customer pays $2.99 a bag, whether it’s dill, sage, garlic chives, mint, basil, or lemongrass. At store #2, we have a price per pound and I make out an invoice. 

It’s not a huge income, but it helps pay for the rest of the garden.  One of the biggest benefits  is just having the connections for when we have other surplus vegetables or fruits to sell.  It’s great to have an outlet for the bumper crop of Meyer lemons that we get for several months, just from one incredibly fruitful tree.  I’ve learned to focus on the herbs that take the least effort, thrive here, and get the best price.  I’ve learned how to keep the annuals going – mostly. There are seed failures and weather conspiracies.   Unquestionably though, it’s worth it for the satisfaction of being part of the local food supply.  I love hearing things like “Mmm that mint smells wonderful” or “Oh goodie, they have lemongrass!”  That just makes my day.

Tulsi basil

Tulsi Basil

Originally published in Hawaii Homegrown Food Network Newsletter on August 27, 2014

Kamehameha-butterfly1Pulelehua (Kamehameha butterfly). The author spotted this butterfly in her garden near some mamaki bushes, which started off her interest in this topic.

There’s a beautiful trio playing in the woods. It’s a native trio that has been here a long time. The players are the māmaki shrub (Pipturus albidus), the koa tree (Acacia koa), and the Kamehameha butterfly (Vanessa tameamea), or pulelehua. If you have the right conditions, you can invite them to your garden, especially to encourage the pulelehua, whose numbers are diminishing, to thrive on the islands again.

Hawai’i is uniquely home to the māmaki, koa, and pulelehua ensemble – all three are endemic; they are found nowhere else on our planet. The female butterflies seek out māmaki shrubs to lay their tiny eggs. When the Kamehameha caterpillar emerges, it builds a small shelter out of the leaf by cutting a half-circle out and pulling it over into a little flap, or tent, that it then sews closed with silk. It uses this as a hide-out while it grows, eating its shelter until it is too riddled with holes, then moving on to make a new one.

Kamehameha-butterfly2The Kamehameha butterfly with wings folded showing the speckled, silvery pattern on the underside.

The adult butterflies feed on flowering plants, including the flowers of the māmaki shrub, but they make a special effort to feed on sap oozing from damaged koa trees. The males seem to prefer this sometimes fermented and bubbling sap. Kamehameha butterflies’ backs (the upper side of their wings) are brightly contrasting black, orange, and white, but they are pale and mottled underneath, and with their wings folded closed they blend in with the silvery bark of the koa tree.

The Kamehameha butterfly is one of only two butterflies native to Hawai’i. The other is the Hawai’ian blue (Udara blackburni), which lays its eggs on koa and ‘a’ali’i, another native shrub. The Hawaiian blue seems to have a healthy population.

Sam ‘Ohu Gon III, a Senior Scientist and Cultural Advisor with The Nature Conservancy of Hawai’i, explains the importance of pulelehua to native Hawaiians. He points out that pulelehua is mentioned in the long chant of creation, the Kumulipo, on lines 0287-0288:

“Hanau ka Pe’elua ka makua
Puka kana keiki he Pulelehua, lele”
“Born is the pe’elua (caterpillar), the parent.
Emerged is their child, the pulelehua, and flies off.”

As Gon points out, “Of the tens of thousands of living things that are native to Hawai’i, only a subset of the most important species are mentioned in the Kumulipo, representing the range of diversity of the islands. That the pulelehua is among them (and the caterpillar from which it springs) is a fundamentally important point.”

Sadly however, as with many native species, the Kamehameha butterfly is no longer found in places where it used to be prolific. Entomologists with the University of Hawai’i at Manoa set up the Pulelehua Project to map sightings of the butterflies. The Project encourages people to learn how to identify the butterflies, eggs, and larvae, and to take a photo if they see one and submit it to the project’s website — www.KamehamehaButterfly.org. The website has excellent photos showing how to identify the butterfly, compare it with look-alikes, and recognize the distinctive shelters the caterpillars build; see Pulelehua Project – How to Identify. It also has information on several other native host plants for the butterflies; see Pulelehua Project – Other Host Plants.

“Before this project, we knew that the Kamehameha butterfly had declined in its range, and that it wasn’t found in many places where it used to be common in previous decades,” explains Will Haines, principal scientist on the project. “But we didn’t have a very complete picture of where it still occurred. Insect distributions can be very difficult to map. They have short life spans (usually a few months), and many insects disperse far distances… So when mapping distributions, it is really helpful to have as many observations as possible and cast a wide net. Observations from the public really help with this.”

It can be hard for the casual observer to tell apart the Kamehameha from the Red Admiral and Painted Lady butterflies, so photos are necessary to make a positive ID. From the data the researchers collect, they will be able to determine where to establish habitat restoration sites for both the adults and the caterpillar stages of the butterflies.


mamaki-teaMamaki plant with a cup of mamaki tea. Mamaki leaves make a delicious, healthful tea, similar in color to the red veins and stems.

One of the surprising and wonderful things about the māmaki-pulelehua relationship is that māmaki is a useful plant for humans, too, and therefore a welcome member of home gardens. It is in the nettle family, Urticaceae. It grows as a shrub or small tree, usually from 5’ to 15’ tall, that can be easily added to home landscaping. It prefers wet, wooded areas and grows well at most elevations. Like its relative on the mainland, the stinging nettle, māmaki has healthful benefits. But lucky for us, māmaki is harmless to touch.

The leaves can be used fresh or dried to make a tea that is calming, cleansing, and traditionally used as a tonic or “pick-me-up”. Several farms on the Big Island grow māmaki commercially. To prepare the tea, pour boiling water over a handful of leaves and steep for at least 20 minutes, or even overnight, until a rich red color develops. Steeping longer does not make the tea bitter, as it does with caffeinated teas. The leaves can also be cooked and eaten as a green vegetable.

The small, white fleshy fruits, which grow directly off the stem and have many small seeds, are also edible and medicinal. They have a taste and crunch reminiscent of cucumber. They are said to be mildly laxative, and have been used as a healing agent for sores and wounds, and a treatment for thrush in children. Mature stems of māmaki traditionally were used to make a heavy type of kapa (cloth).

Look for māmaki seedlings and young koa trees at native plant nurseries or farmer’s markets. Māmaki grows well from cuttings and seeds, as well. If you grow māmaki, just remember that caterpillar damage is a good thing, and be sure not to spray!

“I would suggest that people start planting māmaki as much as possible, especially in wet or upland areas on the Big Island, where the butterflies are doing relatively well,” says Haines. “The more you plant, and the more your neighbors plant, the more likely it is that the butterflies will find it. One isolated māmaki planted far from native forests is unlikely to attract the Kamehameha butterfly, but if the whole neighborhood plants it, and if it’s within flying distance from natural populations of māmaki, the butterflies are much more likely to colonize your plants and establish a population.”

He adds that Kamehameha butterflies visit other flowers as well, so plant a variety of native flowering plants to offer a complete habitat for the graceful pulelehua.

As Gon explains, caring for the natural world, to Hawaiians, is like caring for family. “All living creatures of land and sea were considered elder relatives, so the respect afforded is familial and the relationship is reciprocal,” says Gon. “It was expected that people as younger relatives should care for the elders that provide them with life.”

What could feel better than knowing that your plantings have set the stage for the circle of life, as played so elegantly by the māmaki bush, the pulelehua, and the koa tree?

Further reading

More about native plants – http://nativeplants.hawaii.edu/

Bishop Museum, Hawaiian Ethnobotany Online Database –http://data.bishopmuseum.org/ethnobotanydb/ethnobotany.php?b=d&ID=mamaki

William Haines’ “The Kamehameha Butterfly and the Pulelehua Project”
Kamehameha butterfly caterpillar [YouTube]: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwUKQYRhhq8

A hatching Kamehameha butterfly caterpillar [You Tube]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saVpxbtziQQ 

Nathan Yuen, “Kamehameha Butterflies in the Koa Forests,” July 31, 2013 (really nice pictures): http://hawaiianforest.com/kamehameha-butterflies-in-the-koa-forests


Originally published in Hawaii Homegrown Food Network Newsletter on June 26, 2014.


Coconut, one of the most important Hawaiian plants.

The coconut, niu, is a uniquely life-giving tree for humans, a mainstay if you live near a tropical coast. It produces the only seed that we can open to drink vital water, eat nourishing nut-meat, and even make healthy oil. The coconut palm’s fronds, trunk, and fruit all have many uses. “Every part of the plant plays its role in the Polynesian lifestyle,” says Momi Subiono, a Hawaiian ethnobotany educator from Kona.

“Kanaka maoli cherished the tree for its uses for weaving. The stump is used to make drums, the shell of the nut used as a vessel to hold liquid. We brought it with us through migration so it was very very important to us. At every stage of the tree’s life it is used for different things. Baskets for steaming things in the imu, netting for use as a strainer or for firemaking.”

Here we will focus on the fruit, and specifically how to choose a coconut for the purpose you want — whether that is to drink a coconut full of sweet water, chew the delicious meat, save up some flakes, make some coconut milk, , or press some oil.


Yuri Zharow, a student of agriculture at UH Hilo and a coconut aficionado, will show us how to check the pico to tell the age of a coconut.

To understand how to select a coconut, it helps to know a little bit about the plant.

The coconut tree, Cocos nucifera, is in the palm family, and the fruit is actually a drupe, not a nut. Each coconut is made of an outer husk around a hard brown shell that protects the inner seed,or endosperm. The tough husk, made of useful fibers called pulu niu, or coir, makes the coconut buoyant so it can float to its favorite place to grow, along the shore. (Often after being picked up by a human and purposefully planted!)

Inside the inner hard brown shell, the endosperm is the food that will feed the coconut embryo as it starts to grow into a new tree. The coconut is unique among plants in having an endosperm that is part liquid — the coconut water, or noelani. This water has electrolytes and minerals that will feed the embryo as it sprouts.

At a few months of age, the green coconut is full of clear coconut water. As the coconut matures, the endosperm thickens, becoming coconut meat, and the water gradually dries up. The meat continues to get firmer and thicker and also more oily. The outer coconut husk starts to turn yellow and, in around 15 months from the time it flowered, it turns brown and the coconut falls off the tree.

After falling, an embryo embedded in the thickening endosperm starts to grow. The endosperm dissolves, and is absorbed by the embryo, which uses the sugars and minerals to grow a shoot. A spongy mass (called the sprout, or the coconut apple) starts to form inside the coconut, and if you have ever tried eating this, you know it is a crunchy, sweet delicacy — unless it is too old, at which point it tastes soapy.

The shoot will eventually sprout through one of three “eyes,” thin areas in the husk that are handy for poking through, with a sharp tool, to get to the water (one of the eyes is easier than the other two, which are considered “plugged.” For illustrations, see the Wayne’s Word reference). The embryo will also send out a root that pushes down through the husk.

Here’s a guide to selecting the coconut for the use you want.

For water: Coconut water, noelani or “dew from the sky,” is valued as more than water, as it contains electrolytes similar to the benefits people get from drinking sports-drinks. “The water is pure and not infringed on by the air,” said Momi. “It is very healthy and it has even been used as a replacement for a blood transfusion. That is how powerful it is.” Women are encouraged to drink it when pregnant and nursing so their milk will provide all the nutrients necessary for a healthy baby. To get a coconut full of water, pick one that is immature, but at least 5 months. It will still be all or mostly green. When you hold it, it feels heavy because it is full of water, so full that shaking it you won’t hear a sloshing sound. Check out the stem end — if it is poking out, there is all water inside and no meat.

Young water coconut.

A young coconut full of water has a pico that is still pointing out.


On this older coconut, the pico is a little pulled in; it will have water but also some meat inside.


Another sign of an older coconut (both water and meat) is when wrinkles appear.

The young coconut has sweeter water, gradually losing sweetness and becoming more oily as the coconut ages/matures. You may even find one in an early stage of fermentation that tastes lightly carbonated.

For spoon meat (`o`io): The soft immature coconut meat, called jelly or spoon meat, is found in a green nut. Traditionally this and coconut water are the first foods an infant receives as it begins weaning.

For coconut milk/cream: Coconut milk is made of blending up the coconut meat and squeezing the liquid out of it. That is the richest form. It can also be blended with the coconut water or regular water. Coconuts at many ages of maturity contain a blend of water and meat. The greener the coconut, the younger and sweeter the water and the softer the meat. A little yellow on the outside and a few wrinkles should hint at ample meat as well as water inside. Look for the stem end (pico – the navel) to be pulling in (see photo). As the coconut matures, the embryo begins to pull in the end of the coconut, so the deeper this pico, the more mature the coconut (and the more meat vs. water inside).

For meat: To eat fesh coconut meat, to add as chunks to cooked recipes, or to dry for flakes and flour, you want a slightly older coconut where the meat layer has thickened. Look for yellowing outside with puckers and wrinkles in the skin and a pico that is well pulled- in. When shaken, you may hear sloshing, but the water in these coconuts may have soured — taste it before using!

For oil (mano’i): The oiliest coconuts have a husk that is brown to silver, feels light when you pick it up, and may have already dropped to the ground. When the water has all dried out, the meat peels right off the shell. The flesh becomes grey and oily, and it may have an “apple” forming.

For planting (malo’o): The old grey-silver coconuts are the ones for planting. “At the proper elevation, it doesn’t need much care,” says Momi. “Most trees sprout from the nuts on the ground. They don’t even have to necessarily be buried. People do in their gardens but many coconuts grow very easily under the tree. At the right elevation it fruits readily.”

Canoe Plants of Ancient Hawaii says “Traditionally, a coconut palm is planted at the birth time of a kama`aina. The tree bears fruit around the seventh birthday, for up to 70-100 years, providing food for a human lifetime. There may be up to 50 fruit a year. A he`e, octopus, was often planted in the bottom of the hole, furnishing fertilizer and giving the plant the idea of roots that spread and grip, and a body that is fat and round.”

In summary, any stage that you open it, from young jelly to firm flesh, niu has a good use! So go ahead and wahi ka niu – break open the coconut!

Resources Used

http://www.canoeplants.com/niu.html – Canoe Plants of Ancient Hawai’i


Native Planters in Old Hawaii: Their Life, Lore, and Environment, by E.S. Handy, E.G. Handy and M.K. Pukui (1991)

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/02/08/1274840/-What-s-for-Dinner-v8-28-Traditional-Polynesian-Cooking-Basics – jungle kitchen everything done by hand

Wayne’s Word – Edible Palm Fruits



Originally published in Hawaii Homegrown Food Network Newsletter on April 21, 2014.

A large percentage of open pollinated papayas contain genetically modified DNA.A large percentage of open pollinated papayas contain genetically modified DNA.

Do you know if your papaya trees are GMO? I thought I did. I thought that since I raised trees from organic papaya seeds from a seed exchange or health food store, they were pretty certainly non-GMO. But I wasn’t positive, so last February I attended a “Seedy Saturday” workshop that included free testing of papaya trees. I learned about papaya genetics, cross-pollination, and how to ensure you grow non-GMO. And I learned that at least 6 of our roughly 50 trees were GMO.

However you feel about eating GMO papaya, organic growers must avoid planting GMO seedlings or seeds if they want to produce fruits that can be marketed as organic. That may not be as simple as it sounds.

 The purpose of this article is to reduce the unwanted spread of GMO papaya by sharing information about:

  • how to test papaya trees to determine if they are GMO;
  • how to greatly decrease your chance of having trees that pick up GMO pollen; and
  • how to ensure you have a source of non-GMO papaya seed.

The recent “Papaya Testing, Tasting and Talk Story” workshop in Pahoa was organized by Lyn Howe of the Hawaii Public Seed Initiative (see – http://kohalacenter.org/publicseedinitiative/about.html) and hosted by Councilman Greggor Illigan. The main speaker was Dr. Richard Manshardt, Professor of Horticulture, Tropical Fruit Crops-Genetics and Breeding at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, one of the team of researchers that genetically engineered the ringspot-virus resistant papaya, aka the GMO papaya.

We were invited to bring in leaf samples of our papaya trees for testing. I brought in 16 samples (2 from neighbors), and within a few days received the news that 2 of our trees were GMO. I then followed up with testing 10 more trees at the Hilo Extension office and found that 4 of those were also GMO. How was it possible that seeds I planted from organic, non-GMO papayas grew into GMO trees?

Here’s how: If a non-GMO flower is pollinated by a GMO tree, seeds inside the fruit will be GMO. The fruit itself will still be non-GMO, but planting those cross-pollinated seeds will result in GMO trees. There are ways to intervene in this process and make sure your papaya fruits aren’t cross-pollinated. But you have to understand the sex life of the papaya.

Papaya Sex Primer

Papaya plants come in three sexes: male; female; and hermaphrodite, which has both male and female parts on the same flower.

If your goal is to ensure your trees don’t pick up genetically engineered pollen, you need to be able to tell the sex of your trees. Papaya seedlings all look the same, so (unless you are able to do DNA fingerprinting) you have to wait for the tree to be old enough to flower, and then you can tell the sex by looking at the flowers.

 MG 4150Male papayas produce many flowers on long stalks.

The male papaya tree has no fruit, just a big cluster of flowers on long stalks (see photo).

The buds are thin and shaped like a stretched-out spoon. Occasionally – just to be confusing – a male tree can produce a hermaphrodite flower and fruit at the end of the long stalk. This seems to happen during unusual weather conditions.

Female papaya trees have fruits, but if not pollinated, they will have fruits with no seeds. The flower is rounder shaped (see photo), puffed out by the fat ovary inside. The flower has an ovary with branching lemon-yellow stigma (where the pollen from a male or hermaphrodite lands), but no bright orange male anthers. The fruits can have many shapes, depending on variety, but are always somewhat rounded, like a pear or a globe.

Hermaphrodite papaya trees have fruits with seeds. The flowers are thinner than females, with a tubular shape. Hermaphrodite papaya flowers contain both male and female parts within each flower, very close together. This arrangement nearly always ensures that the flowers will self-pollinate. The male part (stamen) has orange pollen-containing anthers on the ends of short white filaments. The pollen can drip right down onto the female part of the flower (pistil). Thus, all hermaphrodites bear fruit. The fruit is elongated, somewhat football-shaped, compared to the rounder fruit the female trees produce.

FemalepapayaflowerFemale papaya flower. Note the long petals and fat ovary with branching yellow stigma on top. Credit: Richard Manshardt 2014.

HermaphroditepapayaflowerHermaphrodite papaya flower. Note the orange male anthers, and cylindrical ovary with no branching on top. Credit: Richard Manshardt 2014.

Farmers will plant three papaya seedlings where they want one tree. They wait for them to reach flowering age, and cut down any males, females, or extra hermaphrodites, leaving one hermaphrodite per planting spot. This usually works because due to being a dominant trait, hermaphrodites are the most common papaya sex, followed by females, with males being the rarest.

Increase Your Chance of Having Non-GMO Seeds

Here’s the major tip: only let hermaphrodites grow. If you let males grow, you don’t get fruit. (Also, if it’s a GMO male, you could be spreading GMO pollen throughout the community.) If you let females grow, they are open to picking up pollen wherever they can get it, and this could be wind- or insect-borne pollen from a GMO papaya. Manshardt conducted a pollen-drift study (Manshardt et al., 2007) in which GMO embryos were found in seeds of non-GMO ‘Sunrise’ papaya trees growing within 100 feet of a GMO ‘Rainbow’ field. Most (70%) of the female trees were affected but a few hermaphrodites were, too (13%). A study by Hawaii SEED (Bondera and Query, 2006) found extensive contamination of non-GMO papaya seeds by GMO pollen.

So although just growing self-pollinating hermaphrodites will greatly reduce the risk of cross-contamination, it is not assured, especially if there are GMO papayas growing nearby. To be really sure, you have to physically keep stray pollen from reaching your papayas.

How to Grow Your Own Non-GMO Papaya Seed

Dr Russell Nagata, CTAHR’s Hawaii County Administrator at the Komohana Research & Extension Center in Hilo, and also present at the Pahoa workshop, described how to ensure that papaya seed you are growing yourself will stay non-GMO.

Start with a hermaphrodite papaya tree that you are sure is not GMO, possibly one you have had tested, and that is a good strong tree bearing papayas you find delicious. When a new flower bud is not yet open, and while it remains on the tree, enclose it in a special glassine envelope. These are the kind of envelopes stamp collectors use. You can purchase them on-line or contact Dr Nagata at Extension and he can provide you with a few per person. Staple the envelope closed to prevent pollen from other trees getting in, and mark with a tag the spot where the bud attaches to the tree. As the flower opens, it will self-pollinate, and a fruit will grow. Eventually the bag will tear and fall off as the fruit grows – this is why marking the spot on the stem is important! Once this fruit is ripe, save the seeds as a source of your own non-GMO papayas.

Nagata also encourages people who only want to grow non-GMO papaya to purchase non-GMO papaya seeds sold by the University. You can order organically grown, non-GMO Sunrise and Waimanalo Low-Bearing papayas through the Extension Service either on-line, here,http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/seed/ or by visiting their office at the Komohana Extension Office, 875 Komohana Street, Hilo. Hawai’i SEED tested the University’s non-GMO papaya seeds in 2006 and found less than 0.1% GMO contamination of the Solo Waimanalo seeds (Bondera and Query, 2006), but the University states on its 2014 updated website “We had our papaya seeds tested by an independent Genetic Test Lab on the mainland and we’re happy to report that we are GMO free.”

How Do You Know It’s GMO?

For your existing trees, you have to test them to know they aren’t GMO. There are no visual outward positive clues. On our trees, the presence of disease was not a clue – none of our trees have ringspot virus. The size and shape of the fruit was not a clue on our trees, either. And while all the GMO trees we had were female, there can be GMO hermaphrodites, too. The only way to know you have a GMO tree is to get it tested.

In order to test for GMO papayas, the team that developed ‘Rainbow’ attached a “reporter” gene to the genetically engineered papaya sequence. This is the beta-glucuronidase (GUS) gene, from a type of E. coli bacterium. When a section of GMO papaya is placed in a special reagent, the GUS gene makes it turn blue. The GUS test is what the Extension Service uses to test samples for being GMO.

As Dr Manshardt demonstrated to us at the workshop, it is possible to do the GUS test at home, with the appropriate chemicals and equipment. At the Extension lab they use a microscope to be sure of results, but you can also see the change to blue with the naked eye. For someone with many trees it could be worth the effort.

How To Get Your Trees Tested

The CTAHR Komohana Research & Extension Center in Hilo tests papaya trees for being GMO at a cost of $3.00 per sample. Take a quarter-sized piece of a very young papaya leaf, at the top of the tree where the newest growth is, still in the pale green, translucent stage, and put it in a zip-lock baggie. (The light green color of the new leaves allows the lab technician to see clearly the change to blue.) Label each sample and corresponding tree so you can identify which tree the sample came from once you receive your test results. The lab will report your results with whatever label you designate the sample (for example, “Lower Orchard, Row B #3).  They do the GUS bioassay and if it turns blue, it’s GMO. They’ll send you a letter in a week or sooner, or may also email you more quickly with the results.

The Extension Service in Hilo is open 7:45 am – 4:30 pm Monday – Friday and accepts only exact cash or a check. The address is 875 Komohana Street, Hilo 96720. Phone (808) 981-5199.

If you follow these steps it will greatly reduce the chances of unwittingly spreading GMO seeds. It may also save you from having to cut down papaya trees and destroy seedlings, as we just had to do.


Bondera, M. and M. Query. 2006. Hawaiian papaya: GMO contaminated. Hawaii SEED.

Manshardt, R., C. Mello, S. Lum and L. Ta. 2007. Tracking papaya pollen movement with the GUS transgene marker. Acta Horticulturae 740: 183-187.

 One of our Exotica papayas, all hermaphroditesWith one of our Exotica papayas, all hermaphrodites.