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They're tiny and not so sweet. Due to the heavy rain, this year's mangoes could be ...
Coming up short
Every summer for the past three decades, Shizuo Nakamura has picked enough mangoes from two trees in his Kaimuki back yard to eat, trade with neighbors and even give away.
Not this year.
The 80-year-old Kaimuki man is mostly grumbling about a few, tiny mangoes that don't taste so sweet.
"There's nothing but leaves on the floor. Everybody comes around and I say, 'Look, no more,'" Nakamura said Saturday while sweeping his driveway with a metal broom. "The rains killed everything."
The mango season in Hawaii officially starts this month, but the word from residents who have trees, workers at grocery stores and farmers is that there might not be enough to go around.
Why? Many blame the 43 days of rain from mid-February to early April, which disrupted Hawaii's normally ideal mix of springtime sun and rain.
Shane Hokama, produce manager at Times Supermarket in Waialae, said a Waimanalo farmer who usually supplies the store with mangoes lost his entire crop because of the deluge.
"All the trees got wiped out," said Hokama. As a result, the supermarket raised the price of its Hayden mangoes to $2.19 a pound and is now hoping for a rebound in production before the end of the season in September.
"It's usually way cheaper, like $1.59," Hokama said.
In Chinatown, Harold Otani was looking at some mangoes of the spicier Pirie variety at $3.99 a pound for a granddaughter visiting the island from Las Vegas.
"I'm buying because she loves the Pirie," said Otani, who shops at the Sun Chong Co. Ltd. market at least once a week and has never seen prices this high.
Mango farmer Melvin Matsuda said his latest harvest on 25 acres in Mokuleia was 30 percent lower than expected.
"I suspect it was the rains that affected the yield," he said. "We cannot prove it, but that's just what happened after the rain."
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Shizuo Nakamura's Kaimuki property has two mango trees. Due to the record rain earlier this year, the trees have borne no fruit. "Only leaves," said Nakamura.
The rare extreme wet weather also affected mango production in normally arid Makaha, according to farmer Mark Suiso, who grows 15 different varieties of the fruit in 1.5 acres. He said mangoes are watery, not as sweet and perishing faster.
"It's a weird situation," he said. "You are not going to get really good-tasting mangoes."
The state Department of Agriculture has no crop forecast, and an official count will only be known at the end of the season. In 2003 there were 481,000 pounds of mango produced in Hawaii.
Moisture trapped inside mango trees can cause a fungus to set on the flower and prevent it from developing, said Joni White, a volunteer at Oahu Master Gardener in Pearl City. She said people can try to stop the "powdery mildew" from attacking fruits by pruning trees, which makes them less dense and allows air and sunshine to pass through.
"For a homeowner, that's the only thing they can do," said White, who staffs a plant help line at the Urban Garden Center.
Mangoes hanging from branches in trees in Diamond Head and Kaimuki also were ripening at much smaller sizes, some resembling red tennis balls. A number of residents said the lean season is discouraging them from putting up signs on the street to sell mangoes.
To make things worse, the unofficial shortage could also be leading to more cases of people stealing the fruit.
With its branches slumping onto the sidewalk, a tree fronting Sione Vave's home on Monsarrat Avenue often falls victim to tourists heading to Diamond Head Crater as well as joggers circling the landmark.
Vave said the household of 10 people has been relying on that single tree since a second tree in the back yard stopped producing mangoes.
"Every day, you could go out and pick mangoes," said Vave. "Now, we only go out every other day."
Down the street by Kapiolani Park, Lia Reynolds said the only mango tree in her mother's home was recently stripped of its low-hanging offerings.
"She was gone for three weeks, and when she came back all the fruits were gone," said Reynolds, who is visiting from Washington, D.C. "We see that a lot, you know. These are great mangoes."