Monday, April 29, 2013

Wash Clothes With Berries - Soapberry

The soapberry tree is in a large family of plants called Sapindaceae. Other well-known family members include maple, horse chestnut, lychee, longan, and rambutan.

There are a number of different species of soapberry. Common in Hawaii and Florida is the Hawaiian Soapberry, Sapindus saponaria  and Sapindus oahuensis. And in Florida, of course, it’s called the Florida Soapberry.

The Soapberry is a tall deciduous tree, growing up to 80 feet in height. In Hawaii, it grows from mesic (moist) forests to dry forests.  In general, mesic forests receive less rainfall than rainforests but do not suffer actual moisture shortages. The trees are salt, wind and drought tolerant.  Even though they are naturally found at fairly high elevations ranging from 3,000 to 4,500 feet, they will flourish in low, dry urban locations.

The genus name, Sapindus, is derived from Latin sapo, meaning soap, and indicus, Indian. When soap nuts are moistened, crushed and rubbed together, they produce a soap-like lather. This was used as a cleaning detergent by Native Americans and is still used as such in tropical countries. Saponin is an active ingredient in soap nuts making the soap an antimicrobial natural detergent. Jewelers use it to clean precious metals.

As for medicinal properties, the soap solution is able to treat eczema, psoriasis and head lice. It is reported to have anti-tumor properties as well.

Lately, soap nuts have enjoyed resurgence among those looking for an environmentally friendly alternative to chemical detergents. For laundry use, the directions are simple: put a handful of soap nuts in a mesh or cotton bag and place in the washing machine with the dirty laundry. Soap nuts are said to be safe for wool, silk and other delicate fabrics.  And best of all, doing the laundry with soap nuts leaves your clothes incredibly soft without the need for fabric softeners or conditioners, so it is reported.

Visit for more information on using soap nuts as cleaning agents and for purchase.

Monday, April 22, 2013

What is Jackfruit?

The jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus), originating in India, is a relative of the common breadfruit (Artocarpus incises). Producing some of the largest fruits known, a record 144 lbs. jackfruit was found in that country. In Hawaii, they are smaller, averaging around 35 lbs., with the largest known size of 79 lbs. Depending on several factors, jackfruit trees can produce from 20 to 250 fruits per year, and even up to 500. The fruit is borne along the trunk and older branches. 

In Hawaii, trees will thrive from elevations of 100 feet to 5,000 feet. They are tolerant to salt spray but not strong, drying winds. For good fruit production, irrigation is needed in times of drought. Trees can live to 100 years old.  

In many areas of the world, half-ripe fruit is commonly cooked into curries, soups, and stews. It can also be pickled, dried, and canned.  Ice cream, pudding, gum, and beverages are also made from the fruit. The gluten-free seed flour can be substituted for wheat for those with specific food allergies.

When to pick the giant fruit? Harvest season will vary, of course, depending on location. The important thing to know is that fruit matures 6-8 months after flowering. Factors which indicate that harvest of the fruit is near, include a hollow sound when tapped, change of skin color, increased odor and a flattening of its spines.

Photos: University of Florida Extension

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Monday, April 8, 2013

Growing Pecans, Pistachios and Brazil Nuts in Hawaii

Pecan and pistachio trees are considered temperate climate trees. Therefore, in Hawaii and other tropical areas, optimal production would, in all likelihood, not be possible. The trees will grow, but how much fruit will they yield? Pecans require 250 chilling hours (number of hours below 45 degrees Fahrenheit) before they will produce a good crop. This chill factor will not be met in Hawaii, yet trees will still yield some fruit. Although growing pecans at a higher elevation will give them a better chance to fruit, they also require a hot summer climate to mature the nut.  In addition, two different varieties must be planted together for good pollination and better production.

A mature pecan tree is growing at the Kainaliu Experimental Station on the west side of the Big Island. Elevation is approximately 1,300 feet.  The tree is sporadically deciduous – loses its leaves, and over the years it has produced pecans. The variety is unknown.

There is also a Hall's Hardy Pecan growing at 1,200 feet near Pahoa on the Big Island.  It has produced some nuts, but it is still young. Rainfall is 200 inches annually. 

Pistachio trees need 800 chilling hours and require long, hot dry summers; male and female trees must be planted. Obviously, pistachios will not produce well in the tropics.

A large portion of the world’s Brazil nuts comes from Brazil and Bolivia.  The trees should grow in Hawaii, yet they may not yield good crops. The flowers can only be entered and pollinated by large-bodied bees with enough strength to pry open flowers in order to get to the nectar.  It is unknown whether there are adequate large-bodied bee populations in Hawaii.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Strange Insect on Coleus

                                                                                           Brian Bushe

 The pest on coleus is a scale insect called the greenhouse orthezia, also known as ensign scale, lantana bug, Maui blight and others. The bulk of the insect's body, the large white area, is actually a thick waxy ovisac attached to the abdomen.  Eggs hatch inside this ovisac, and tiny new scale insects emerge.   

                                                                           Brian Bushe

Orthezia infest a wide range of plants from mosses and fungi to grasses, woody shrubs and even small herbaceous plants; it is most commonly found in tropical reagions on lantana and coleus.

Damage occurs as the insect feeds from the phloem tissue of the plant. Copious amounts of honeydew are also produced as the insect feeds; this promotes the growth of the black sooty mold fungus covering the plant.

Biological control - a coccinellid predator beetle (Hyperaspis pantherina)  has proven successful in controlling this scale insect in certain areas. But at times, especially on coleus, the orthezia scale can become out of control. Effective chemical treatment has not been documented, but a thorough spraying of an insecticidal  soap or a horticultural oil may be successful.
On the positive side, orthezia scale itself has been used as a biological control agent of the invasive lantana shrub.