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Short- and long-lived food plants
Certain temperate food plants can produce for one or two years or even longer in our climate. These long-lived crops include, kale, collard, peppers, basil, parsley, asparagus, chard, and many others. These require less labor, because they don’t need to be replanted as often. Many temperate fruits (e.g., apple, plum, peach) can also grow well in Hawai‘i, although many require a certain number of chill hours (temperature below 45°F [7.2°C]) in order to set fruit. The amount of chill required for producing many temperate fruits is only experienced at higher elevations in Hawai‘i.
We can also take advantage of the world of tropical food plants. Examples are staples such as taro, sweet potato, yam, and cassava, legumes such as winged bean and pigeon pea, and vegetables such as chayote and tree tomato. Many of these are long-lived. There is also a wide range of long-lived perennial leafy vegetables that are unfamiliar to most people, but are tasty and nutritious, including chaya, sissoo spinach, Okinawan spinach, edible hibiscus, and cassava (also produces edible tuber).
Many tropical fruits produce for years and even decades, and can form the foundation of a homegrown diet. The starches include banana (dessert and cooking types) and breadfruit. Nuts include macadamia, pili, Malabar chestnut, and coconut. There are innumerable fruits that can be included in a home garden such as pineapple, papaya, avocado, mango, lychee, starfruit, passion fruit, dragon fruit, jackfruit, fig, guava, and every kind of citrus fruit. All of these can be accommodated in small gardens by keeping them pruned to a small size.
Craig Elevitch is director of Hawai'i Homegrown Food Network and an educator in agroforestry. His books include Agroforestry Guides for Pacific Islands (2000), The Overstory Book: Cultivating Connections with Trees (2004), Traditional Trees of Pacific Islands: Their Culture, Environment, and Use (2006), and Specialty Crops of Pacific Islands (2011) all of which promote diverse agricultural systems that produce abundant food. Pathways to Abundant Gardens: A Pictorial Guide to Successful Organic Growing (2007) highlights Hawai'i gardeners and their vibrant, bountiful, and sustainable food gardens.