“It’s time,” said Carmila Udarbe Monday, capitalizing on the Presidents’ Day holiday to inspect the flats of sweet-onion seedlings at the home of her mentor Basilio “Bunga” Fuertes in Kekaha.
Fuertes and Udarbe will be at the ‘Ele‘ele Shopping Center Saturday from 8 to 11 a.m. to distribute the seedlings at the rate of 10 cents a stalk or, more conveniently, 50 seedlings for $5, as a project for Udarbe, who is a fourth-grade student at ‘Ele‘ele School.
“If people can’t make it because Saturdays are always busy days, they can call me at (808) 482-1165,” Fuertes said.
Fuertes, retired as an agriculture instructor from Waimea High School, has been working with the onion seedlings for several years after becoming acquainted with people from the National Onion Association.
The group annually sends him a tin of seed that he sprouts and distributes to the public for people to grow out in their home gardens.
“This is not for chopping up and eating with saimin,” Fuertes said during a previous distribution. “This year, we have yellow and red varieties of sweet onion, or what people call ‘bulb onions.’ If they pick up the 50 seedlings, we’ll mix the batch with half yellow and half red.”
Udarbe and Fuertes set out the seeds earlier in the fall when Fuertes received his annual tin of seeds.
“This is part of Carmila’s project,” Fuertes said. “This is the first time she’s working with onion seed, and didn’t realize they were so small. We have some areas that have more seeds than others. But she’s learning.”
The next step in her project involves counting out the seedlings and getting them to the people so they can enjoy growing out the onions to fruition, measured by the leaves drying out naturally and harvesting the mature onions.
“It’s easy,” the shy, fourth-grade student said as she looked at the developing bulb on a seedling while playing with her younger brother among the trays of starters and smiling as she recalled the moments where some seeds dropped more than others.
“I met her when she needed a tutor,” Fuertes said. “One day, I asked if she would like to make some extra money by growing things.”
That started the young, aspiring basketball player on her journey with seeds and vegetables.
“She has to ask her coach,” Fuertes said. “She needs to find out if there is practice or not. And we need the approval for the shopping center. We can’t just show up.”
Fuertes said that once Udabe’s interest in growing was piqued, she’s produced seedlings of named varieties for a lot of people who asked for starters.
“Sometimes, we go to Egg Park (also known as Hofgaard Park in Waimea) and people come,” Fuertes said. “So far, she’s done eggplants, both the Waimanalo (do you know they have a Waimanalo-Nitta?) and green varieties, several sweet peppers, chili peppers, and even tomatoes — this is from Mr. Harding at the high school. I don’t know the exact variety, but they’re heirloom seeds.”
Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or email@example.com.