Into the Dirt: kalo graduates from aquaponics

Apr 20, 2011 by C.Kaui Lucas | Story Popularity: 8


We're not serious aquaponic practitioners, just experimental gardeners. Today we graduated the kalo from the aquaponic cinderbeds (Google 'Olomana Gardens) to the garden.
A month ago I took some sweet potato slips and put them in the float bed's open mesh cups (with some of the roots in water constantly, which they are not supposed to be, but it works for a busy schedule.)

The ornamental 'uala came from the South Kona Farmer's Market several months ago. It was featured in the edible landscaping section; the leaves are spiky with purple accents.
The poor plant nearly died from [my] neglect. I guiltily took the wilted plant and put it in our aquaponic-ciderbed ICU. There it thrived on my neglect. A couple of months later it was a cascading mass of purple vine and vibrant green. I took little cuttings and put them in separate cups, in the float bed. Two weeks later the 4-6" cuttings made it to the big time real dirt garden. It was nerve wracking. I'd almost killed them once. It's been over a month now, and they are doing very well. Not as dramatic as the aquaponics, but landscaping was part of the job description.

With that success in hand, today the kalo mana ele'ele were transplanted. Some of them are more than two feet high and have taken over the cinderbeds. Mana ele'ele is an upland kalo, distinctive for its dark purplish stems, and traditionally known for cultivation on Hawai'i Island. Drought tolerance is also one of its virtues.

I'm not so worried this time. We might plant some 'uala slips between the kalo. Since the new taro patch is in the front yard (formerly inedible lawn) it's easy to keep an eye on.


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  1. Olin Lagon says:

    Thanks for sharing. That's an amazing setup! Do you think the Kalo could have reached harvest size in the system? I've seen some kalo in aquaponic systems at UH though they were not harvest size.

  2. C.Kaui Lucas says:

    Great question. I don't know the answer. They rooted well, but we didn't see korms when we checked them in the cinderbeds where they've been for more than 6 months. That was the other reason we moved them to the dirt. I was at the office yesterday when the transplanting happened, and I haven't heard the full report. The one large plant I checked did not have a korm.
    Our aquaponic system is truly experimental. We are aiming for something that works in our real world of busy lives with not much gardening time. One of the problems is we don't have enough fish. We put vermicast in a couple of times, but I suspect there weren't enough nutrients in the water for korms.
    What has been astounding is how much growth the system supported, with so little input. We harvested lots of tomato (really fragrant and yummy,) eggplant, herbs, green onion, and okra. However, when I took the monster 'uala out-6 feet of tangled vine-there were no tubers.
    A couple of weeks ago I visited the aquaponic pope, Glenn Martinez, again, and he's got everything, including 5ft high trees and root vegetables growing in his cinderbeds, but I don't remember seeing kalo. He has evolved a new simplified cinderbed/vermicast system that doesn't use fish. We might try that next since we are dismantling and relocating the aquaponics. He does have a real lo'i, fed by water from his duckpond, and the kalo grows about 1/3 faster than conventional lo'i, with huge korms. The experiment continues.

  3. Olin Lagon says:

    Wish the kalo and uala had korms/tubers :( Maybe the top part of the plants thrive in the system. Here are some pics I took of kalo in an aquaponics system (Dr. Kai Fox was doing the testing). I haven't followed up with him on the results but he was trying different setups to test korm development: Good luck with the experiments. Ease of growing is a key factor :)

  4. C.Kaui Lucas says:

    The famous Dr. Fox. Thanks Olin. I've heard his name mentioned several times, but never looked him up. Great resource.

  5. A.B. says:

    nice pics Olin! I've visited Dr. Fox's amazing hideout on the Windward side and he's got all kinds of amazing things going on over there. Did you get to see the black soldier flys?

    @ C.Kaui Lucas, thanks for sharing... can you keep us posted on how much energy you're spending per month on your system? Thanks!

  6. C.Kaui Lucas says:

    Funny happy epilogue to this story. I finally caught up with Joe's son in law who brought us the huli to plant in the first place, and did the transplanting. YES there were corms. The kalo was so crowded together in the upper cinder barrels you see in the picture, that it all came out in one tangled mass of corms. Enough to fill a 5 gallon bucket. He said the outer ones had some water rot, which he trimmed off. He took the kalo home and made taro chips, which were so good he and the guys who did the work ate them all :0
    We have a very relaxed family share system, so it's not as strange as it might sound. He regularly brings us pig, fish, lobster, breadfruit, avos etc, and does his share of work. He said there are now some 200 keiki plants, so I'll get some chips eventually.
    He also explained that the 'uala vines need to be wrapped around the plant and trimmed to produce. He used to work on a sweet potato farm, so he'll show me when the time comes.

  7. C.Kaui Lucas says:

    @Mano Nguyen What a fun little math adventure this was. The system runs on 2, 12v /0.35 amp (seems low, but that's what the label says) 330 gal. per hour pumps from Lowes. Using for conversion, I get 4 watts, which makes .192 kWh per day for both pumps. has the formulas for calculating energy costs, very useful for someone like me who has never calculated how much it cost to run a particular electronic appliance. Using HECO's average residential rate for O'ahu of 21.53 cents per kWH= about 4 cents. Here on Hawai'i Island it's 6 cents. Now we know (IF I did the math right) thanks for asking!

  8. C.Kaui Lucas says:

    @Mano Nguyen, you asked per month, so $1.20.

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