Thursday, March 12, 2009

Peak Food: growing taro as a basic staple.

It would be next to impossible to find a basic staple as effective for the small homestead as taro. It is no mystery as to why the ancient Hawaiians and others throughout the Pacific revered it so highly--what is a bit of a mystery is why in modern times taro production and consumption has been much diminished. I expect the main issue is that few anymore cook "slow food" sorts of things, and a great deal of misinformation about "toxins" in the plant has discouraged others from even giving it a try. It's hardly any big deal--and any Hawaiian homestead is incomplete without at least a few of these plants.

I grow a number of different varieties here on the shoulder of the Volcano, but mostly I focus on table taros as opposed to poi taros. Yes, there is a difference--in flavor, in consistency, in the amound of "bite" in the raw corm and all the rest. It's important to discover not only what grows best in ones area but also what style is best suited to the usages you expect from the plant. As I use the taro personally as a basic starch in most everything, the firmer table taros are what I focus on, although many do very well.

In the climate I have, most varieties go from very small 'oha to maturity in perhaps 13 months. I find due to the moisture it's often best to harvest small to avoid disease and root rot, but all in all I haven't had much trouble with any of that. Most of the types I grow produce perhaps 6 'oha through their growth cycle, so you can get a bit of an estimate of how long it takes to get a sustainable taro patch up and running. You had better expect 2 years to really be functional. Don't expect to run out and just purchase a bunch of plants. While many farmers are generous indeed with their plants--it's important to realize that they're a valuable gift that you just wouldn't want to toss away to anyone. You'll figure out why. . .as well, you don't want plants from just anyone as it's very easy to import a disease that will destroy your efforts forever. Be aware, there are pitfalls in this as in anything, and the plant is so important to sustainable success here you don't want to make any big errors.

All in all the plant is easy to grow if you give it good practice and sensitive attention.

Please be considerate. These plants are very emotionally valuable to some here, including this atheist. Think like you're planting crucifixes, and your taro patch is a temple of sorts. Don't be some pinhead hippy stoner about the whole thing, so in touch with yourself you're about to get twitchy, ahem, or elsewise. Don't pretend you know what it means to the Hawaiians--you don't. Understand what it means to you, which may rapidly become every bit as valid. Respect a plant that embodies hope. As magical as the plant is, you'd have damn insensitive not to get it. Of course, if you're that brain dead, you'll never be able to grow it, either.

There are people out there more knowledgable than I, for sure, when it comes to this sort of thing that you'll find to get you started if you look. I don't know of anyone else on the island that is growing at my altitude, however, so perhaps there is something to (re)contribute here to the lore. Historically they did, but no longer. At this point I don't really have any huli to give away, as I just replanted, but within the year should be at my goal of 1000 or so plants and will be in a better spot to be helpful to others. 


kohledfusion said...

Jay, I may have asked you this before, but do you know which types you are growing? I'm trying to figure out what you gave me & if they are table or poi! I just got Lehua & Piko Kea if you want some when they pup.

jaywfitz said...

Well, I could tell you what my taro mentor Jerry tells me-- "listen and you'll hear their names" but unfortunately the taro doesn't speak Gaelic. I take his comment to mean "don't bloody worry about it" and by and large that does seem the traditional attitude. Most of what I grow are lauloa types, some are piko, some are manapiko. I believe I gave you lauloa eleele amao. But not it if had a green sinus. While I enjoy the lauloa especially, the Piko types seem to be especially good producers.