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HTFG Completes Plant Containment Greenhouse in South Kona

November 12, 2020, 3:14 PM HST
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Going on three years in the making, the Hawai‘i Tropical Fruit Growers organization has completed its greenhouse in South Kona, which earned approval from the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture (HDOA) last week

The state-of-the-art containment greenhouse will allow for the safe import of various types of produce from all over the world, opening up market possibilities for farmers across the state and increasing Hawai‘i’s ability to eventually achieve food sustainability.

The $263K greenhouse, funded mainly by the state’s Grants-in-Aid program, will provide fruit growers with insect and disease-free plant resources imported from around the world.

“The greenhouse enables us to bring in, effectively isolate, and safely propagate fruit we believe will be productive in Hawai‘i,” said Mark Suiso, HTFG president. “Hawai‘i did not evolve naturally with fruit. This facility has technology that will allow us to efficiently introduce desired plants and evaluate them to assure they can safely be released and grown in our state.”

To ensure introduced plants don’t bring in any unintended problems, the 30×30-foot greenhouse is surrounded by a five-inch moat and 15-foot concrete barrier. It is further secured by an electric fence and security system.

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Specialized USDA-approved micro screen walls will prevent any insects from gaining access and limited staff entry to the greenhouse is through double doors. A solid, specialized plastic roof sits atop the greenhouse, and interior halls between the greenhouse’s eight rooms are blackened with insect traps in each room and hallway.

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Ken Love, HTFG executive director, said greenhouse wastewater will be treated with bleach before released into a holding tank and finally a septic system.

“There is always a concern that water passing through growing media could contain bacteria that might have been missed in the initial plant inspections,” he said. “The bleach treatment will kill any bacteria or virus that travels from the dirt to the drains and into the holding tank.”

According to Love, all chosen imported plants will go through five stages of inspection:

  • HTFG on-site at exporting farm
  • Country of origin’s Department of Agriculture
  • USDA upon arrival in Honolulu
  • HDOA in Honolulu
  • HTFG before entering the greenhouse
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Imported plant stock will arrive as small, bare-root trees or cuttings. Once the seedlings are received at the Kona greenhouse, they will be potted in a sterile and organic nursery mix.

HTFG members will decide what plants to import and clone, and they will be quarantined in the 900-square-foot greenhouse over a two-year period before released. The project’s six rooms can each hold about 1,000 trees and two, small-tube pot rooms can hold up to 4,000 seedlings.

Love said virtually unknown fruit like sweet-sour tampoi has “great economic potential” for Hawai‘i growers as does the creamy, sweet and savory durian, which can currently be exported from the state to the US mainland.

“We have already arranged to bring in 500 hachiya persimmons from Japan and 1,000 durian from the Philippines,” Love added. “Other trees are being grown out for us in Borneo, Queensland, and India.”

In addition, the specialized containment greenhouse enables HTFG to apply for a specialized controlled import permit to bring in new varieties of citrus and mango. This more restrictive permit is required, as Hawai‘i is already growing citrus and mango, and the prevention of introducing new pathogens to existing crops is crucial.

Once plants are settled in the greenhouse, smart monitoring systems will result in minimal interaction between plants and people, as the goal is to minimize exposure between the confines of the greenhouse and the outside world.

To nurture seedlings in a controlled setting, the greenhouse has a timed irrigation system that controls misting, fogging, and spraying to mimic ideal growing conditions, including those of the equatorial rainforest. Each growing room has Wi-Fi sensors for monitoring and recording temperature and humidity readings.

“The precise production of desired growing conditions will produce healthier plants more quickly,” Love noted. “This includes cuttings from most citrus, Chou ume plum, and any desired local plants like those in the mountain apple family.”

The new greenhouse is a sister project to HTFG’s existing statewide fruit tree repositories where trees are available for sharing among organization members, plus to the public at periodic sales. Love says the distribution of the greenhouse’s resources will be similar.

“Ultimately, we want to see a diverse selection of fruit grown productively throughout the state and with little dependence on importing it from outside the state,” Suiso added.

For additional info, contact Love at [email protected] or HTFG President Mark Suiso at [email protected].

HTFG Mahalos

HTFG noted in a release that it especially appreciates the funding efforts of state legislators Mike Gabbard, Richard Creagan, Donovan Dela Cruz, and Nicole Lowen.

Mahalos were offered to Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser, Sharon Hurd, Lance Sakaino, and Clare Okumoto of the HDOA; Mike Scharf, Matthew Goo, Peter Follett and Dorothy Alontaga of the USDA; Dr. Robert Paull and Andrea Kawabata of the University of Hawai‘i; and Kenneth and Ader Takaki of Ken’s Masonry, Mark Dixon Construction, and Diamond Sprinklers.

Thanks were also extended to HTFG members statewide, particularly Brian Lievens, Greg Garriss, Chuck Cope, Shinobu Doucette, and Xavier Chung.

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