Sunday, March 1, 2009

Waena farming in Puna, Hawaii.

The term "waena" stems from the Hawaiian term "waele" meaning "to clear of grass." In a cultural context waena style farming is an ancient practice of farming in an agriforestry setting. Historically it was most practiced in Kona, Ka'u, and Puna, but in the last century many of these techniques have been lost and the upland farms have been abandoned for lower level elevation properties and techniques. In some way my project here is rediscovering the wheel, but the the need is timely. Much of the valuable lower altitude agricultural land has foolishly been lost to development and a fair bit of the farms still in operation are somewhat vulnerable to drought and introduced pests. These issues do not face the prospective higher altitude farmer who works in harmony with the forest, and as far as I can see this may be one of the most valuable techniques for the would be homesteader/permaculturist in any mid to high altitude tropical environment.

My acreage here near Volcano is in a natural state, with virgin forest and a good deal of natural topography. There are many peaks and ridges and holes to be found, with a vertical relief of perhaps 10 feet. Obviously many zones that require sensitivity the needs of various plants to flourish and it is easy to make mistakes. The major food staples of taro and sweet potatoes do very well here indeed--and to have one's nutritional needs covered with reliablity is more than many can hope for.

The main advantage, however, is this--you don't screw up the ecosystem. There is no clearing or machinery involved, and if one were to cease production within a decade, for certain, the site would return to a natural state. This is no small thing and far more responsible and low impact than many "green" concepts out there. Of course yields are not as high, hypothetically, as they might be with a cleared lot and flat ground--but neither are the infrastructure needs. The vast majority of fertility and composts come from the site itself in a proven sustainable manner--the ohia trees are excellent soil builders--and with careful culling of limbs, thining, and utilization of biochar the whole makes for an uniquely viable system.

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