The Big Island

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Today we flew to the Big Island and stayed in Hilo. Hilo gets between 130 and 300 inches of rain a year depending on your elevation, and I can already feel the humidity. This is definitely not a good place to grow mangos. This island has a different character than Oahu. The mountains in Oahu raise suddenly from the ocean; but on the Big Island the volcanoes raise smoothly and you don't even feel the change of altitude.  

Hilo is a historic city, with old buildings and numerous historical renovations.  We rented a car and went to the hotel. We stayed in the Naniola Volcanoes, a nice old hotel with ocean view. 

Sugar cane was the preliminary crop here during the 20th century and Hilo was the hub for harvesting and shipping this cash crop. The use of land started changing with the eradication of sugarcane and the planting of ginger, potatoes and tropical fruits. However, there are still acres and acres of available land for planting.   

Our first visit was to the Waile Agriculture Group. They are located in the rainforest in Homonu about 14 miles north of Hilo just above Kolekole Park. Lesley Hill and her partner Mike were waiting for us while their workers were processing an order of palmitos or heart of palm. The property is about 110 acres of tropical fruits and ornamentals. Their main crop is heart of palm to supply elite local restaurants and to ship to other islands in Hawaii and the mainland. Lesley gave us a tour for their fruit collection. They have rambutan, lychee, pulasan, longan, durian, mangosteen, some citrus, start fruit, breadfruit and jackfruit. Jackfruits are use for wind breaks. Big trees provide shade for their ginger production. Close by the main house they have planted a sapodilla relative that caught my attention, with silver shiny leaves and yellow fruit with orange deep flesh. I asked her about it. She brought it from Thailand. I couldn’t resist collecting some budwood for our collection.

That night we had our first meeting with a group of growers of the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers Association. I was invited by Ken Love the Executive Director of the Association to be their key speaker in Kaua next week.  The Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers Association is structured with chapters in each island. They proposed that I speak on the Big Island in Hilo and Waimea before the official meeting.

This is a busy time for the rambutan growers and many of them can’t attend the conference in Kawai. My talk was focused on our own experience at the Fairchild Farm, the different crops we produce and I shared some of our results in terms of promising cultivars. The meeting was at Komohana Extention Complex in Hilo, coordinated by Pete Kincaid and Lesly Hill.