Yes, you can grow your own food

Backyard farming is a growing trend, and not just among the back-to-nature set.

“More people are growing vegetables because they’re so expensive to buy,” says Michael Gregg, co-owner with his wife Elsie of Ka‘apuni Nursery in Kapahi.

When the couple started a plant nursery 15 years ago, most of their business involved ornamental plants. Now 90 percent of their starter plants are vegetables and herbs, they said.

“It’s not that expensive,” Michael Gregg said. “It’s easy to do a garden.”

But, really, how cheap and how easy?

Gregg offered a primer in between selling a variety of starter plants to beginning and veteran customers at the Kaua‘i Community Market at Kaua‘i Community College on Saturday. He also sells starter plants at the farmers market in Kapa‘a on Wednesdays and at his nursery, open daily, at 5776 Ka‘apuni Rd.

His advice: begin with starter plants.

“Seeds can take time to mature, and some seeds take, some don’t,” he said.

Beginning backyard farmers can plant starters directly into the ground in raised beds or buy bigger pots to grow them in.

The cost? Gregg generally charges between $1.50 and $3.50 per starter plant.

If you want to plant a starter in a six-inch pot in a bigger pot, think 12 inches to 14 inches.

“Here on Kaua‘i because of the tropical climate you have to spray them,” he said, adding that he sells organic sprays — one to fight bugs and another to fight fungus and mold. He said an insecticide soap can be sprayed every two weeks, and a fungicide also applied every two weeks.

As far as fertilizer, chicken manure “is probably one of the best things you can use because it’s nearly straight nitrogen,” he said.

The easiest part of growing your own food on Kaua‘i is “you can pretty much grow anything here,” Gregg said.

“Even weeds do great,” he joked.

The soil is good, and the climate allows a year-round planting season, he said.

“You can have a garden 12 months a year,” he said.

What’s easiest to grow for the Backyard Farming 101 set?

“Probably cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli, eggplant.”

Tomatoes? “Maybe not tomatoes,” he said, changing his mind. Not at first.

Many herbs are easy to grow, too, he said, especially if you don’t have a backyard garden. They still need treatment with sprays to ward off bugs, fungus and mold. He also recommends placing indoor herb gardens by a window for sunlight.

His nursery sells hanging pots that can be used inside. Herbs that can be grown in pots inside include basil, oregano, thyme and peppermint.

“All mints grow really well,” he said.

Community gardens are smart choices for those who do not want to farm alone.

Kekaha Community Garden is located on the grounds of St. Paul’s Church in Kekaha and allows members to garden together. There are no individual plots, but training is available for beginning gardeners.

If you’re beyond gardens and thinking of growing a career in the island’s emerging food industry, a new course, “Entrepreneurship in the Food Industry,” begins March 15 at Kaua‘i Community College.

“Local food production will pump millions of our food dollars into the local economy rather than into the huge food corporations located elsewhere around the world. This will create more jobs and produce increased independence and prosperity for our island,” instructor Glenn Hontz said in a recent news release.

Students in his course will learn how to plan and start enterprises that support the goal of food self-sufficiency for the island.

Tuition is $250 for the course that is held from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays March 14 through May 16 at Kaua‘i Community College. For more information, call 246-4859 or email hontz@hawaii.edu.

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