Ever Green

By Lois Taylor

Friday, September 17, 1999

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Richard Sakuoka measures out and packages seeds, above,
in his rather seedy laboratory. Below, he examines some
corn seeds developed for Hawaii.

UH lab source of good seed

MOVIES give you the wrong idea. If Miramax were doing it, the seed laboratory at the horticulture department of the University of Hawaii would have stainless steel work tables with test tubes and beakers and computers and people in white coats running around saying "Clone the rutabaga and the world will be ours."

Actually, the seed lab in St. John Hall looks, well, seedy. It's no bigger than a small classroom, and the experiments are generally conducted elsewhere. But what the faculty there has accomplished for the fruit and vegetable industries in Hawaii goes far beyond the shabby office.

Richard Sakuoka, a horticulturist and seed specialist who runs the lab, explained how it began in the late 1960s. "At the time there were no commercial seed companies in Hawaii. New crops that were developed by the University of Hawaii had no sales outlet to local farmers and home gardeners. On the mainland, many universities after developing a new variety would turn it over to a seed company to market.

"Here, we were developing varieties of fruits and vegetables that were specially adapted to local disease and fungal problems, and to our climate. What thrives on the mainland will not necessarily do well in Hawaii." So the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources started marketing the seeds themselves.

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin

The lab's first big success was with hybrid tomatoes, a few of which are now named Anahu, Kalohi, Puunui, Healani and Kewalo. They were developed for resistance to root-knot nematode and other common tomato ailments. Because they are grown locally, they can be harvested when between three-quarters and fully ripe and actually taste like tomatoes. Those brought in from the mainland must be harvested earlier, which accounts for their peculiar quality of looking like a tomato but tasting like something to stuff mattresses with.

Seeds from the university's hybrid tomatoes will be sold tomorrow at the Foster Botanical Garden "Edible, Ornamental, Old, New, Everything Fall Plant Sale." The named varieties are designated F-1 hybrids and are either vines or bushes. Sakuoka recommends growing tomatoes on vines cultivated on stakes or circular metal cages available in garden shops. "This is more practical for the home gardener," Sakuoka said, "since you can grow more plants in a smaller area, and the tomatoes are kept off the ground to prevent soil rot problems."

The tomato seeds should be planted in flats or peat pots, and transplanted into the garden three to five weeks after plants appear. Plants should be spaced 15 inches apart in rows spaced 2 to 2-1/2 feet apart. As the plants grow, Sakuoka said to remove side shoots, leaving only the central shoot. Support stakes, about 4 feet long, should be stuck into the ground next to the seedlings, and the vines tied to the stakes at 12 inch intervals.


Bullet What: The Edible, Ornamental, Old, New Everything Plant Sale
Bullet Where: Foster Botanical Garden, 180 N. Vineyard St.
Bullet When: Tomorrow, Sept. 18, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Bullet Admission: Free
Bullet Information: Call 522-7065

If tomato plants are cultivated in cages, they are left unstaked and unpruned. The university recommends a 10-20-20 fertilizer, using 1/4 cup applied in a circle about 6 inches around the base of the plant and about 3 inches deep after the fruit first appears. Apply more fertilizer every two weeks after the first harvest. Plants should be watered once or twice a week until fruit appears, then heavily soaked two or three times a week.

Even these college educated tomatoes will have some insect problems, which are best dealt with by using a general purpose tomato spray available at garden shops. Since you are going to eat the tomatoes, be extremely careful about following the directions on the label, and err toward less rather than more.

Harvest your tomatoes when fully red and ripe for the best flavor, and don't worry about having too large a crop. Give them to family members and friends, who will then offer to baby sit or wash your car for further handouts. If this all seems like excessive work, or you live in an apartment, most major supermarkets sell Waimanalo-raised university tomatoes when they can get them, and at premium prices. But they are worth it.

The plant sale will also offer other seeds developed by the university, including lettuce, cauliflower, corn, bell peppers, chiles, long eggplant and mustard cabbage. There will be papaya seeds, but it takes a long time to grow from seed, and "You're better off buying seedlings," said Sakuoka.

Instead, try the new super-sweet corn with white kernels. Sakuoka guarantees it is the best tasting corn you'll ever try. But don't overcook it. Steam it for 8 minutes or microwave it for 4 minutes, or else you won't be able to tell it from the mainland tomatoes.

Do It Electric!

Gardening Calendar in Do It Electric!

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Evergreen by Lois Taylor, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu 96802.
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Evergreen by Lois Taylor is a regular Friday feature of the
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