Friday, July 5, 2019

Passionfruit - Hawaii’s Favorite Flavor




The yellow passionfruit, Passiflora edulis f. flavicarpa, and the purple passionfruit, Passiflora edulis, are grown in most tropical and subtropical parts of the world. The yellow passionfruit is a tropical plant while the purple is considered subtropical, being able to survive some freezing temperatures.


Of the hundreds of species in the genus Passiflora, these two, P. edulis, and P. edulis f. flavicarpa, are solely designated as passionfruit.  In Hawaiian, the fruit is called lilikoi and in Portuguese, maracuja peroba.  When the seeds of purple passionfruit first came to Hawai`i from Australia in 1880, they were planted in East Maui in the District of Lilikoi and that name stayed with the fruit. The seeds of the yellow passionfruit were brought to Hawai`i from Australia in 1923. 


In 1951, there were only a few acres of passionfruit plantings. It was then that the University of Hawai`i chose passionfruit as the most promising crop for development. And by 1958, there were 1,200 acres of primarily yellow passionfruit, and the industry was firmly established.

The lilikoi vine is a shallow rooted perennial, displaying beautiful, fragrant flowers, 2-3 inches wide. The fruit is nearly round approximately 1 ½ - 3 inches wide.  Inside, the fruit is filled with an aromatic mass of juicy pulp and within are as many as 250 small, edible seeds.  These vines, especially the yellow, are fast-growing and will begin to bear in 1 to 3 years. In fact, some vines can flower and fruit within a year after being started from seed. In Hawai`i, passionfruit matures from June through January; the ripe fruit will fall to the ground.

Carpenter bees are efficient pollinators for the yellow passionfruit. Honey bees and the hover fly also help in pollinating but are much less efficient. Wind is ineffective as a pollinator because of the heaviness and stickiness of the pollen.

The yellow lilikoi vine tends to be more vigorous and the fruit generally larger than the purple. While the purple appears to grow better at higher elevations, 400 to 3,000 feet, the yellow fruit is best adapted to lower elevations, from sea level to 1,500 feet. Furthermore, the yellow will yield 3 to 4 times that of the purple, yet the purple fruit is considered to have better flavor and aroma with the pulp being less acid with a higher proportion of juice.

Passionfruit vines are usually grown from seeds.  If the seeds are planted soon after being removed from mature fruit, most will germinate in 2 to 3 weeks. Fortunately, seeds do not require cleaning, drying or storage. They can be planted immediately after being removed from the fruit, even separation from the pulp is not necessary. In fact, allowing the pulp to ferment for a few days may hasten germination. In contrast, seeds that have been cleaned and stored actually have a lower and slower rate of germination. 

Propagation of passionfruit can also be accomplished through air layering and cuttings. Good soil drainage is essential for successful plantings.

Commercially, vines are trained on wire trellises. For backyard production, however, the yellow passionfruit is more productive and less subject to pests and diseases if allowed to climb a tall tree.

In Hawai`i, Oriental and melon fruitflies will deposit eggs in young fruit. This may cause fruit to shrivel and fall from the vine. If older fruit is pierced, the only ill effects will be an external scar. Other pests include aphids, scale, thrips and mites. In spite of all these, passionfruit or lillikoi vines flourish on fences and in trees, in backyards and vacant lots around the Islands.

The juice with its distinct flavor and aromatic bouquet is a key ingredient in making sauce, candy, ice cream, sherbet,  iced tea, or in cocktails.  In the Hawaiian Islands lillikoi is a favorite flavor enjoyed by young and old alike. 

Photos  by Forest and Kim Starr




Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Heirloom Seeds and Hybrid Seeds

Note:
 In this article, we are not speaking about genetically modified organisms (GMO'S).  A GMO  is a plant, animal, microorganism or other organism whose genetic makeup has been modified using genetic engineering, i.e. gene modification, recombinant DNA methods (also called gene splicing) or transgenic technology.


A hybrid is defined as a plant that results from the cross between two plants of differing genetic characteristics, i.e., two species, subspecies, cultivars, varieties, etc. Some crosses may occur naturally, but most hybridizing is deliberately done by man in order to produce a plant with improved characteristics such as disease resistance, greater vigor and uniformity. Hybrids generally have higher yields and better exterior quality.   
  
Today, hybrid seed is prevalent both in agriculture, as well as home gardening, and is a major contributor to the rise in agricultural output in the last 50 years.  The commercial hybrid market actually began back in the 1920’s, when the first hybrid corn was produced.

The disadvantage of using hybrid seeds is that the resulting seed cannot be used at the end of the season for next year’s crop. The seed taken from a hybrid will either be sterile or produce plants that are not true to the mother plant, i.e., not true to type. Thus it becomes necessary to purchase new hybrid seeds each year. 

On the other hand, heirloom seeds are from open-pollinated varieties. This means that plants grown from these seeds will be identical to their parent.  In addition, their genes have not been subjected to modern breeding techniques and manipulation. Note: All heirloom varieties are open-pollinated but not all open-pollinated varieties are heirlooms.

Heirloom seeds can be saved from year to year and planted for the next crop. Although they may have some built-in hardiness, heirlooms generally do not possess disease resistance, vigor and uniformity that hybrids do.

One of the main advantages attributed to heirlooms is their excellent flavor.  In hybridization programs, plant breeders sacrifice flavor in preference to other attributes such as disease resistance and higher yields. 


Friday, May 17, 2019

Basil - a Great Aromatic Herb


Basil is a member of the mint family and is one of the world’s most popular herbs.   In colder climates it is generally grown as an annual, but in Hawai`i   can be grown as a perennial.  After flowering, when seeds have matured, basils will stop producing new leaves.  To ensure continued growth, cut off any flower buds that begin to form. Be sure to cut the branch rather than just the tips, otherwise, new flower buds will quickly appear.  By pruning basil often (every 3-4 weeks), plans remain vigorous with many harvests throughout the season. 

Sweet basil is the variety most widely grown on the Islands, but there is also Thai basil, lemon basil, cinnamon basil and royal basil.  Basil prefers a sunny location with a well-drained soil.  Typically, the best time to harvest basil is in the morning when the essential oils are strongest. However, University of Michigan researchers have found that harvesting basil in the evening between 6 and 10 p.m. increases its shelf life.

This aromatic herb can be used in soups, stews, and rice dishes, and with fish, chicken, and other meat. It can also be a key ingredient in cheeses, vinegars, oils, jellies and teas.  Even basil's flowers are edible and can be candied or added to salads and other dishes. For optimum flavor, add fresh basil in the last few minutes of cooking; the dried spice just doesn’t have the same robust flavor as the fresh.

Cooks often notice that fresh basil will quickly turn black.  This is due to oxidation of some elements in the leaves. To prevent this blackening and insure the best flavor, add basil to salads and other cold dishes soon after cutting. 


Pests – Basil is often grown with few or no pests.  But some of the more common problems encountered are thrips, leafhoppers, whitefly, spittlebug, scale and leafminers.  Insect pests that would be causing chewing damage to the leaves include the Chinese rose beetle, beet armyworm, a pinkwinged grasshopper and flea beetles.  If you see worms (caterpillars), pick them off, or you can spray the plant with an insecticide with the active ingredient, Bacillus Thuringiensis (Dipel, Javelin). Bt is an organic, bacterial preparation which will control the caterpillar but is harmless to humans.