Garden tours given by UH Hilo ag students are a regular contribution to Earth Day Fair celebrations since the gardens were established in 2009 by former students.
By Norman Arancon, Associate Professor of Horticulture.
Some 205 students from local pre-K and high schools all over the Big Island toured the gardens by the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo Library Lanai during the celebration of this year’s Earth Day. The gardens were showcased by the Ag230 students of spring 2018. This has been a regular contribution of the class to Earth Day celebrations since these gardens were established in 2009 by former students.
Each semester students are given the challenge to design and maintain a garden that grows food and incorporate principles of sustainability: ecologically sound, economically viable, socially just and equitable, technologically appropriate, culturally sensitive, based on holistic science and promote human development. This year’s garden designs are not short of practices that demonstrate these principles.
Garden plots are established with permanent structures following elements of permaculture such as the use of rocks, spiral garden designs and establishment of perennials. Soil fertility practices include the use of composts and vermicomposts produced from food and paper wastes from the UH Hilo Dining Hall and incorporating nitrogen-fixing plants such as legumes and intercropping of crops with synergistic relationships. Pest management techniques include the use of baits for slugs and snails and establishing sacrificial and flowering crops to attract beneficial insects. Weed management practices employed are mostly non-chemical including hand-weeding and mulching using wood chips.
Annual crops that were either raised in the greenhouse before transplanting or seeded directly into the gardens include cucumber, leafy greens, pepper, tomatoes, sweet pea and legumes among others. Some perennials established by former students and are now at bearing stage include banana, mountain apple, star fruit, citrus, cacao and kava.
In the middle of two gardens lie a demonstration set-up of aquaponics using black soldier flies as the main food composter. The system was originally built by a former student of Ag230, Wesley Owens, in 2015 and since then maintained by the succeeding students in the class. It is a closed system that uses food wastes composts as the main source of plant nutrition. The composted food wastes drop into a 100-gallon water container, feed fishes that further enrich the water which is eventually pumped into grow beds powered by solar cells. The system, a household prototype, has produced a variety of vegetables including peppers, lettuce, tomato, basil and beans.
The garden tour marked the culminating activity of the class leading to a peer- evaluation on the last week of classes. The student visitors seem to have enjoyed the plants and hopefully were motivated by the fact that these gardens are low input. It certainly was an excellent opportunity for the students of AG230 not only to showcase the product of their hard work but also an opportunity to inspire the younger generation.
The Ag230 class is taught every semester and open to all UH Hilo students. It is a General Education course for the World Culture, Global Community Citizenship and Natural Science GenEd requirements. The course is also supported by USDA NIFA ANNH grant.
This article was originally published in the May-June issue of the CAFNRM Newsletter.