BY DIANA DUFF | SPECIAL TO WEST HAWAII TODAY
Growing healthy food in Hawaii is not hard. Many of the fruit and nut trees that grow easily in our state have numerous health benefits and are valuable sources of vitamins, minerals and protein. Regardless of current market values of crops like cacao, bananas, macadamia nuts and avocados, keeping them in production, if only for your own consumption, is a smart move toward Hawaii's food security.
These plants can produce large volumes of nutrition-packed food that can serve us well if, or when, our offshore food supply becomes overly expensive or unavailable. Cacao nibs, which require just a few steps from harvested pods, are loaded with antioxidants. Bananas eaten fresh off the tree are loaded with fiber and potassium and other essential minerals to keep our bodies healthy. Macadamia nuts are a good protein source, as well as a source of healthy fats. Avocados also contain healthy fat and can be used to replace more processed foods like butter and mayonnaise that are less healthy, fatty foods.
Now is a great time to consider the many benefits of growing and eating avocados with the sixth annual Avocado Festival offered next Saturday. This event offers am opportunity for learning more about adding avocado trees to your landscape, as well as a chance to taste a variety of recipes, both savory and sweet, that incorporate avocados.
Over the years, avocados have suffered a bad reputation for their high fat content. More recent research, however, has found the type of fat found in avocados actually works to keep your cholesterol levels in balance and your blood vessels healthy.
One half of an avocado contains 160 calories, 9 grams of carbohydrate, 3 grams of protein and no cholesterol. Most of the 15 grams of fat are monounsaturated or "good" fat. The fiber and monounsaturated fat help lower cholesterol, promoting heart health. Avocados also contain lots of fiber, more potassium than a banana and a good supply of vitamins B-6 and C. All these are good reasons to plant, continue to grow and eat avocados.
Avocados grow and produce well in Kona at elevations above 500 feet up to about 2,000 feet. With a bit of care, they can be grown in all our climate zones, except in high mountainous elevations where freezing occurs. Planting grafted varieties that produce tasty, non-stringy fruit with small seeds will mean a good supply of this valuable fruit. Numerous local varieties are good producers.
Several varieties and lots of avocado growing and agricultural information will be available at Saturday's festival. Starting at 10 a.m. at the Outrigger Keauhou Beach Resort, several sessions will be offered by University of Hawaii staff members. Dr. Ted Radovich will lead a panel on "Bringing the Culture Back to Agriculture" and tropical fruit and nut specialist Dr. Mark Nickum will also be on hand. West Hawaii Cooperative Extension agent Andrea Kawabata will join the UH staff to offer information and answer questions about avocados, as well as other local crops. These UH experts are well qualified to offer tips on grafting avocados and other fruit, as well as organic farming.
Beyond growing avocados, recipes for preparing the fruit will also be offered. Chef Matt Dulin will oversee a recipe contest to determine the best guacamole, best entree, best dessert and the people's choice recipes. Entries and recipes must be submitted by 11 a.m. at the festival. They need to include a 20-portion minimum and a $10 entry fee. The people's choice tasting is scheduled for 1 p.m. with winners announced at 2.
A recipe demonstration will also be included with dessert Chef Hector Wong creating a seven-tier chocolate oblivion cake. Ingredients include local organically grown avocados and chocolate from the local Original Hawaiian Chocolate Co.
The free community event begins with an opening pule and hula by Na Wai Iwi Ola and continues until 5 p.m. with an ongoing lineup of music and entertainment, keiki games and more than 80 participating booths. Information on a variety of healing arts and alternative energy offerings will be available, as well as artisan displays and a small farmers market.
For more information, call Randyl Rupar at 334-3340 or visit avocadofestival.org.
Marlis asks: I'm worried the worms in my new worm bin have died. I've looked near the top where I put food in but haven't found any. Is there hope?
Answer: Yes, there is hope. Usually worms will stay near the bottom of the bin, especially if it is new and there is lots of shredded paper in it. Create a hole in the paper and put your food in it. In a few days, don some rubber gloves and dig deep to check again.
Sometimes when the weather is cold, the worms quit eating and reproducing, but once it warms up a bit they will rejuvenate. If, on the other hand, the spot they are in gets bright sun and the bin heats up, the bedding may be drying out or the worms may be dying off from the heat. Check the internal temperature and dampness level to see that it is worm friendly.
The three Ds of worm composting are dark, damp and dinner. If the bin is placed in a cool spot, protects the worms from sunlight or other ambient light, has the proper moisture level and adequate food, the worms are not likely to leave or die. If any of these conditions are not met, your worms may be at risk.
Maintaining the proper moisture level of the bin can be a challenge at first, but with a little experience you'll learn what the worms like. Mostly, they prefer dampness to soggy wetness. If you can maintain a level of dampness comparable to a wrung-out sponge your worms will be happy. If the bedding material gets soggy, add shredded newspaper to absorb some of the moisture. If the medium dries out, add just enough water to moisten it.
Also be sure you are feeding properly. If you started with 100 or less worms, give them about 2 cups or less every few days until they get going. Too much food will make the bedding too wet and might be more than the worms can handle until they start reproducing in about the fourth week. Worms are amazingly self-regulating. They will reproduce just enough to accommodate the food supply and bin size.
Fear not, your worms are probably fine. Keep looking for them near food and if you really don't find any, it may be time to restock.
Email plant questions to firstname.lastname@example.org for answers by certified master gardeners. Some questions will be chosen for inclusion in this column.
Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant with an organic farm in Captain Cook.
Thursday: "Avocado Festival Benefit: Medicine for the People" is held from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Kalanikai Bar at Outrigger Keauhou Beach Resort. Avocado pupus, Kona Brewery beer, silent auction and dancing are offered. The fee is a $15 donation for the fest and Kona Pacific Charter School.
Friday: "Farm to Fork Dinner" starts at 5 p.m. at Kealakekua Bay Bed and Breakfast in Napoopoo. An avocado-inspired menu with Chef Devin Lowder of When Pigs Fly Charcuterie and dessert Chef Hector Wong of My Yellow Kitchen in Honolulu is offered. Part of $85 fee benefits the Avocado Festival. Seating is limited. Call 328-8150 for reservations.