Monday, December 30, 2013

GMO Corn

Is most of our corn GMO? It is true that most corn bought in the supermarket is genetically modified (GM) or engineered (GE). Over 80% of the corn grown in the US today is GM corn. Similar statistics hold for sugar beets at 95%, cotton at 88% and soybeans at 91%.

Not only is the corn, along with all its products genetically modified, but so are a host of other ingredients. In fact, it has been estimated by the Center for Food Safety that upwards of 70 percent of processed foods in supermarkets contain ingredients from genetically engineered foods. (
On the other hand, when eating foods such as tomatoes, radicchio, wheat, flax and potatoes, the probabilities are small that they will be genetically engineered.

For those who may be wondering about edamame (specially prepared soybeans), there are no genetically-engineered edamame. There has been some concern that an edamame field might become cross-pollinated from neighboring fields of genetically engineered soybeans. Soybeans, however, are self-pollinating. Even if the edamame were grown in an area where GM soybeans were planted, there would only be a slight chance (less than 1%) of cross-pollination.

In addition, there are two papaya varieties grown in Hawaii that are genetically engineered, UH Rainbow and UH SunUp. The publication “UH Rainbow Papaya” is available for viewing at the UH CTAHR website:  This bulletin describes the characteristics of the new varieties, the process of genetically engineered fruit, and answers and questions on safety. CTAHR is an abbreviation for College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at University of Hawaii-Manoa.

The frequent question asked, “Is genetically modified food safe to eat?” Some people see no threat eating GM foods, while others vehemently oppose it. The best advice is to get the facts. One place to start is an informative CTAHR website created by Dr. Ania Wieczorek, Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Science.  Topics on the site include Hawaii Biotech, Benefits/Risks, Labeling, Regulations and FAQ. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Onion Thrips

As a common problem in the vegetable, onion thrips is a major insect pest not only of onions and leeks but also attacks broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, garlic, melons, papaya, pineapple, squash and tomato. (Note - thrips refers to one or many.) 

The damage from the feeding results in whitish or silvery streaking on the leaves. Black droppings from the insect may also be seen. Thrips populations are often greater in the warmer months of the year.

There are predators and parasites that attack the thrips but often are not effective for proper control. Sometimes washing with a stream of water will help. Plants, of course, will tolerate a certain level of infestation causing only cosmetic damage. If injury threatens crops loss, then treatment is called for. Synthectic pyrethroid insecticides such as Warrior (lambdacyhalothrin) and Ammo (cypermethrin) are effective in controlling onion thrips.

Bulb Onion Production in Hawaii by R.Hamasaki and H. Valenzuela is a publication available on the CTAHR website.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Planting Hyacinths

Hyacinths, hyacinthus orientalis and its hybrids, are in the lily family, planted as bulbs and known for their beautiful, fragrant flowers. The Roman or French hyacinth is native to Southern France and can remain in the ground year after year in areas of little or no winter chill but not Hawaii or other tropical regions.

They do well in cold climates; they are not a tropical plant. Even garden books note that they can be grown in all zones except Hawaii.  In areas of the country with distinct cold winters, bulbs can be left in the ground and with proper chilling, will bloom the next year.

For gardeners in tropical regions: as mentioned the bulbs need cold weather to stimulate bloom. Here are some instructions when purchasing a potted hyacinth: after the bloom has died, put the bulb with its leaves in the ground. The leaves should eventually yellow and die back. At this point, dig up the bulb, set it in a small pot with potting soil, cover to keep dark, also keep the soil moist. Place in the refrigerator, it must be below 45 degrees Fahrenheit and remain there for at least 10 weeks. Roots will grow and eventually a shoot tip will emerge. At this point, it can be removed from the refrigerator. This is considerable effort and no guarantee it will work; hyacinths may be one of those plants that has to be purchased each year.

Monday, December 2, 2013


The jaboticaba tree is a relatively small tree, growing to a height of 25 feet but spreading up to 50 feet. The unique characteristic about this tree is the fact that the flowers, and thus the fruit, are borne on the trunk and branches. In the Hawaiian Islands, the trees grow well from near sea level up to 4000 feet. Several different cultivars exist. 

Jaboticaba trees are susceptible to a fungal rust disease. The yellow powder on the leaves is the spores of this fungus. Severity of the rust depends upon the amount of rain; drier years may see no rust, but with an abundance of rainfall, the disease will be quite common. A copper fungicide would help to protect the fruit but multiple applications will be needed in rainy weather. Though not mentioned, a larger problem is the birds eating the fruit.

Depending on the abundance of rain, trees can produce up to 6 crops each year.  Jaboticaba is mostly propagated by seeds which run true to type. Air layering, grafting, and cuttings are possible but with limited success. Yields can be well over 1000 pounds per tree.   

And what to do with all that fruit? Jaboticaba jelly is a favorite in the Hawaiian Islands. Jars of  the bright purple fruit appear in local cupboards and are sold at craft fairs. 

Photos by Emily  Needham