In The Garden
Friday, November 26, 1999

By Suzanne Tswei

Rooted in

Bullet Growing Vegetables in Hawaii: A How-to Guide for the Gardener: Kathy Oshiro, Bess Press, $14.95


You need to look no further than the calluses on Kathy Oshiro's hands and the dirt under her fingernails to find the credentials for her first book, "Growing Vegetables in Hawaii: A How-to Guide for the Gardener." When she writes about brewing manure tea as a fertilizer or using old tires to build a tower of dirt for growing potatoes, you know she's been there and done that in her own back yard.

"I am not a botanist or a scientist. What I have is a lot of experience growing vegetables, and cooking them and eating them," says Oshiro, who also included a couple of favorite family recipes for each of the 36 vegetables featured in the book.

The 51-year-old Oshiro has had a sizable vegetable garden almost all of her life, not to make money but to supplement the dinner table with fresh home-grown food. When she was about 8, she began to tend to her mother's garden on the family's one-acre home in California. While in college, she and her first husband operated a five-acre farm where they raised beef cattle, goats, hens and vegetables.

But all of that experience didn't translate well to gardening in the islands after she moved to Maui in 1979 to work as a federal social worker. She had to deal with a tropical climate, different soil and vegetables she'd never seen before.

"Like daikon, I'd never tasted it before. I certainly didn't know what it was. Of course, I had no idea how to grow it. Or, what to do with it after I grew it." But Oshiro knew she loved the taste of the root vegetable as an accompaniment to sashimi and as home-made Japanese-style pickles, and she set out to learn how to grow it.

Along with her new discoveries, such as bamboo and Chinese cabbage, Oshiro also kept growing familiar vegetables such as beans and tomatoes, which didn't grow for her the way they did on the Mainland. She read as much as she could about growing vegetables in Hawaii, then she set out to experiment in her own garden.

"Gardening is actually more an art than an exact science. It's like cooking. You have a recipe but you may want to adjust it to suit your taste. You need to find the best way for you, depending on your soil, rainfall, elevation and the specific kind of vegetable."

For example, Oshiro advises using the elevation of your garden and the time of year to calculate the right time for growing tomatoes. In warm elevation, from sea level to about 1,000 feet, tomatoes are best planted in the cooler months. Between the 1,000 and 3,000 foot level, tomatoes can be grown year 'round. At elevations higher than 3,000 feet, tomatoes should be planted from March through August.

Selection of the right varieties is important to growing any kind of vegetables in Hawaii, particularly ones that are sensitive to warm weather.

Oshiro suggests selecting varieties developed or recommended by the University of Hawai'i.

"You can try to grow a beefsteak tomato. That's a real beautiful tomato," she said, describing it as big and red and tasty.

"You can try, but you aren't going to do real well with it in Hawaii. It's really a mainland tomato. The local kinds of tomatoes aren't as pretty, but if you grow these, at least you'll have fresh tomatoes in your garden."

Oshiro admits to plenty of failures in her own garden. Manoa lettuce, which grew fabulously in her back yard on Lanai, has been a disappointment at her Big Island sheep farm until this year. The drought this year may be the secret to her success, she says.

Along with advice for growing specific vegetables in Hawaii and recipes, Oshiro's book also has sections on soil, fertilizers, pests, watering, container gardening, seed sources and other practical how-to subjects. The book is attractive and easy to read.

"I want this book to be user friendly. I want people to not be afraid to try to grow their vegetables. It's supposed to be fun. It's outdoors, it's fresh air, it's good for you."

Aside from the fun, you'll be eating fresh, tasty vegetables grown with only the amount of pesticide you want to use, Oshiro says. And, you'll be a big hit with neighbors and friends when you give away the extras.

Book signings

With Kathy Oshiro, author of "Growing Vegetables in Hawaii: A How-to Guide for the Gardener":
Bullet 8 p.m. Dec. 4, Barnes & Noble Booksellers at Kahala Mall, 737-3323
Bullet Noon Dec. 5, Borders Books Music & Cafe at Ward Centre, 591-8995
Bullet 4 p.m. Dec. 5, Borders at Waikele Center, 676-6699

Do It Electric!

Gardening Calendar in Do It Electric!

Send queries along with name and phone number to:
In The Garden, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu 96802.
Or send e-mail to
Please be sure to include a phone number.

In The Garden by Suzanne Tswei is a regular Friday feature of the
Honolulu Star-Bulletin. © All rights reserved.

E-mail to Features Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1999 Honolulu Star-Bulletin