Laie Gardening Club gleans from the Nihipalis

Ben and Gerry Nihipali[Story and photo by Mike Foley, originally published in Kaleo, April 23, 1998]

The Laie Gardening Club gained insights into growing food at home for healthy eating when they toured Ben and Gerry Nihipali‘s home garden on April 18 [pictured at right].

The couple got totally committed to home gardening after Ben experienced angina in 1994 and was told he had two blocked arteries. They opted for treatment through therapy and more nutritious eating.

“It was a complete life-style change,” said Gerri, explaining that she and Ben switched to being vegetarians for a few months after, but have been vegans ever since. Vegans do not eat any animal products, including fish, fowl, eggs or cheese. Ideally, the couple hope to reach the point where they grow all the fruit and vegetables they need for their diet at their Moana Street home.

They acknowledge home gardening can be frustrating. Recent heavy winds, for example, impacted some of their plants. There’s also the usual fight against bugs and weeds; and some people tend to plant one time only, and then grow too much.

“Plant what you’re going to eat, and eat what you plant. It’s important to know why you’re gardening,” Gerry advises, citing budget, diet, the beauty of flowers and even intellectual curiosity as good reasons.

“It’s been a healing, emotional factor, too,” Gerry said. “I really look forward to working in the garden. If I don’t get out there because I’m busy, I really feel like I’m missing something.”

To minimize the frustrations and make their gardening as productive as possible, Ben explained how they make good use of small plots planted in redwood boxes about eight inches deep that have been raised three feet or so off the ground. Plants with deeper roots go into ground-level boxes.
“Be plant-specific when you water,” Ben advises. “Try not to water the weeds.”

To fight against weeds, Ben said they make their own soil using organic rubbish — fruit peels, grass clippings, a little top soil — mixed in a container, and three-to-six weeks later they have fertile compost, which they then cover with mulch. “Now we weed with our fingertips,” Ben said.

Though their yard is not large, the space is effectively used with a combination of the raised boxes and boxed-in beds. Dry lehua taro is planted along the wall and even single taro plants have been planted in used plastic soap buckets; plus the garden extends next door to the yard of Gerry’s parents, Charles and Mildred Goo.

Plants include sweet peas, papaya, collard greens, limes, strawberries, pink grapefruit, squash, Manoa lettuce, onions, tomatoes, mint, choy sum, kale, and guava. Two of the more interesting plants are:

Pele leaves, or edible hibiscus — a low-maintenance plant that thrives here.”According to the World Health Organization, it’s one of the healthiest green-leaf plants in the world,” Gerry said. For example, it is two or more times as nutritious as carrots, broccoli or tomatoes. She and Ben usually eat it in salads or lightly steamed along with poi.

Pak wan, or sweetleaf bush, which can also be used as a hedge. The young leaves are edible and nutritious.

For help and information, the Nihipalis recommend the Cooperative Extension Service of the Hawaii Institute of Tropical Agriculture at 956-8397, the Plant Disease Clinic at 956-8053, or Insect Diagnostic Clinic at 956-6742, or Hoomaluhia regional park at 233-7323.

Next month the Laie Gardening Club will hold a breakfast garden party at Wylie Swapp’s home on Lanihuli Street in Laie. Swapp will explain how he uses his garden not only for nutrition but also as a source of inspiration for his water color paintings.

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