Best place to grow food on Big Island

senglish09July 1, 2012

Greetings everyone,

I am planning on buying land somewhere on the Big Island (Hilo side), and want to figure out the best place to be able to grow as much of my own food as possible, including fruit trees, and also be somewhere with elevation (maybe 1000 ft) where it is a bit cooler. Any suggestions?


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steiconi(12a-Big Island, HI)

That's exactly what we were looking for, too! Rain, acreage, soil, elevation. We moved to the Big Island 7 years ago with the plan of living all over until we found what we wanted. 3 years and TEN rental houses later, we made our decision.

Our first choice was the Hamakua Coast, North of Hilo. Unfortunately, that seems to be everyone's first choice, and it can get expensive. Plus, it seems like the choices are a 1/4 acre shoved up against your neighbors in a tiny town, or a 200-acre spread where you want to be, with a huge price tag--we couldn't find 5 or 10 acres. Of course, that was 4 years ago, the market might have changed.

We wound up buying 3 acres in Hawaiian Acres, an affordable subdivision between Hilo and Volcano. Our lot is at 1500 feet elevation, the highest part of the subdivision; the lower edge is under 1000, I think. These are "spaghetti lots", only 150 feet wide, but nearly 900 feet long. The developers were able to put in fewer roads that way.

There is only about 3" of soil, so we had strips ripped by a bulldozer (the lava sheet torn up into rock) and created planting holes with lots of mulch. We did not rip "pin to pin" (the entire lot) because we wanted to preserve the sense of place. Plus, 3 acres is a huge amount of ground to fill, and you'll just wind up with a jungle of weeds if you don't keep up the maintenance.

Large parts of the area are thickly covered with waiawi (strawberry guava trees), which can be difficult to remove--and keep away. Parts of the acres burned about 30 years ago, and are more open.

More questions? Ask!

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 3:01PM
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Hi Lee,
Thanks so much for your reply. I've definitely been looking at the area around Mountain View, and possibly even as far as Volcano. Hamakua Coast is still pretty pricey (though spectacular), so I probably won't go that direction. So can you tell me more about how you prepared your land? You wrote that you ripped strips using a bulldozer, but then did you have to haul in topsoil? I know that soil can be an issue, depending on where you are. And what are you able to grow on your land? Can you grow citrus trees at that elevation? What about avocados, bananas, and papayas? How is the pest situation with your garden? Are you able to get a decent harvest? Oh gosh, I realize that I have about a hundred more questions, so maybe I'll leave it with these few and see what the responses are! And of course anyone else who wants to throw in their two cents, I really appreciate any and all advice!

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 5:09PM
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steiconi(12a-Big Island, HI)

Not topsoil, but mulch. The green waste at the dump is shredded, available for free if you shovel and truck it yourself, or you can pay to have large or small amounts delivered. There are other kinds of mulch available; mac nut husks are popular. EVERYTHING here is acidic; the soil, water, air, so you have to add lime to neutralize it.

Citrus and bananas grow great here. Papayas and avocados are a little slower than at sea level, but do produce plenty of fruit. Lots and lots of other fruits do great here, too.

Outside, we (seasonally) grow green beans, chard, bok choy, cabbage, peppers, lettuce, asparagus, thimbleberries, pineapple, naranjillos, and a buncha other stuff I can't think of offhand. In the greenhouse are tomatoes, cukes, zukes, watermelon, strawberries, grapes (taking over in there), onions, more. Chickens and tilapia are popular home-grown protein sources.

We're keeping the little fire ant at bay by checking every single plant we bring in. There are fruit flies, and whitefly in the greenhouse (where you grow plants that don't like it wet). Mynah birds and cardinals get some fruit if you don't pick it promptly.

Infrastructure: If you aren't on the highway, you'll be on water catchment (not municipal pipes). You'll take your garbage to the dump, and pick up your mail at the post office (general delivery; it takes a couple of years to get a box). You may not be able to get cable TV, DSL (look into satellite service), or newspaper delivery; find out before you buy if that's important! Some areas don't have telephone landline service, you'll have to find a cell service that works--not all do everywhere. And you may have to pay additional fees to get electricity hooked up. A lotta roads are not paved or even maintained, so a truck or SUV is a good idea. In fact, bring a truck over from the mainland; it's cheaper to ship than to buy one here. Used vehicles typically have extremely high mileage and trucks carry a premium. You'll need it to get your trash to the dump, remember.

You can get practically everything you need on Craigslist when people decide they don't like it here and go back to the mainland. It usually takes about 3 years for those people to give up, so their stuff is still in good shape. :=]

    Bookmark   July 4, 2012 at 12:40AM
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Wow, this is great information! Thank you again for taking the time to write! So now for more questions, if you're up for it, of course!

I have already determined that bringing my beloved pickup truck was the right choice, so it's good to have that reinforced. So I'll be able to haul mulch and whatever else I need. And by the way, I absolutely love craigslist! I totally furnished my house, and even built a greenhouse in my back yard with free windows, all from craigslist, free section. There is also something called "" where you can swap stuff, and it exists in Hawaii (I checked!). Gotta love the internet :)

So basically what you are describing is you have created trenches in your land which you filled with mulch, added enough lime to neutralize the acidity, and plant directly in the mulch, right? I know that it rains quite a bit, so have you had any trouble with waterlogging? I would imagine the trenches have a slight slope, in order to drain (and as you said, the greenhouse for plants that can't tolerate so much wetness). Do you ever have issues with wild pigs, or any other mammals in the garden? I have a family of rats living in my garden right now, and they really love my tomatoes, something I didn't expect, but there you go. How big is your garden? Do you ever try to grow rice or grain? Is your garden organic? Mine is, but of course I've had to plant extra for the pests, and I imagine Hawaii is a great place for pests to flourish. Though I am thinking (more than likely erroneously I know) that pests diminish somewhat with elevation. Famous last words! Oh, and here's one more question: do you ever see frost? I think maybe around Volcano there might be an occasional frost, but I really don't have any idea. I do know that a single frost means the end for a lot of plants, though I've harvested lettuce in winter, where I had to brush the snow off the leaves (but I do live in a relatively temperate climate, so I only see snow about once a year).

Ok, I lied. A few more questions! Since I'm also interested in land around Volcano, I'm wondering if you considered buying up there, and if so, why you decided not to. Was it elevation? I understand it can get cold up there. I've seen properties which abut the forest reserve, which would be great. I'm a woodsy kind of girl, so the more surrounded by woods I am, the happier!

Anyway, once again I've inundated you, and I hope you don't mind me taking advantage of your generosity! Thanks again!!!

    Bookmark   July 4, 2012 at 6:55AM
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steiconi(12a-Big Island, HI)

I used to Freecycle here, but it's gotten full of flakes who want something for nothing--they post endless "WANTEDs" then don't show up when you make arrangements with them.

Not really trenches; long paths where the rock is broken up. To plant, you move some rocks to make a hole, and fill with mulch and amendments. There are lots of natural cracks in lava, so drainage isn't generally an issue.

The only pig I've seen on our property was our neighbor's pet. Haven't seen him in a while, think he got eaten. But there are wild pigs here, and many gardens are ravaged. The only other mammals are rats, mice, and mongoose (brought here to control the rats, but rats come out at night and mongoose are daytime animals, so it didn't work out). A mouse ate all my sprouting seeds in the greenhouse once, but that's the only garden-rodent problem we've had. Our cats think it's great fun to bring mice into the house for a nice chase, but that's a whole other issue.

We garden in patches, a little bit here and there, couldn't say how big. Haven't tried rice or grain, have heard some people grow amaranth. Yes, organic, yes, fewer pests in the cooler areas.

It hasn't gotten below about 45 degrees F while I've been here at our house, and my weather-nut husband says 40 is as low as it goes, but there are stories that it actually snowed here once many years ago. Might be true, maybe not.

More likely to frost in Volcano, but I don't actually know. It is too cold up there for me. VOG (acidic Volcanic smOG) is more of an issue around the park than it is here. The VOG seems to flow down the mountain through natural low channels, so if you're in one of those, you'll have it worse (we aren't).

Lottta pigs in the forest reserve. Where there are pigs, there are hunters, who not only bring their guns, but fire them. Gunshots are common here.

Incidentally, this area (well, much of Puna) is referred to as the Wild West. Police response time is slow (like half an hour or so) and some people here don't believe laws apply to them. Loose dogs, pilfering (and stealing!), loud music, ATVs, speeders, abandoned cars and dumped garbage (c'mon, people, the dump is free!) are all issues around here. Oh, and the $&$%##!!! helicopters taking tourists up to the volcano. Sometimes I can see three or four at one time, and they're noisy.

Some of the larger subdivisions have discussion groups and websites with great info. On the groups, lots of people have already posted "tell me everything there is to know" type questions, so you'll get more info if you join the group, then search the archives.

Fern Acres discussion is on y@hoo groups (this site won't let me post that) and website

Hawaiian Acres group link below.

Here is a link that might be useful: Hawaiian Acres

    Bookmark   July 4, 2012 at 1:09PM
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