Hawaii’s growing season lasts all year, making it an ideal place to grow vegetables. The Big Island is host to five microclimates – from rainforests to deserts. A great variety of veggies grow in this state’s rich, volcanic soil. Like any region, it’s always best to plant the seeds of vegetable varieties that are known to be adapted in the area to be successful in vegetable gardening.
If you’re visiting the island, the high quality of locally-grown Hawaiian vegetables will astound you, as well as the vibrancy of the farmers’ markets. Here are some of the most abundant types of vegetables in the Aloha State:
Sweet potatoes are a traditional Polynesian crop that grows well even in the driest parts of Hawaii. They are more resistant to insect pests and fungal pathogens than white potatoes. It needs full sun and moderate water, and loose, well-drained soil. Good varieties for Hawaii’s climate include Onokeo, Kaneohe Red, and Waimanalo Red.
Kalo or taro
Kalo, also known as taro, is the most important crop to the ancient Polynesians. It’s a mainstay of the traditional Hawaiian diet, and it’s available all year round. It’s best known when turned into poi, a starchy paste that’s a mainstay to any traditional Hawaiian feast. But it can be roasted, turned into chips, and generally treated like a potato. Dry kalo needs full sun, rich, moist soil, and a thick layer of mulch for protection. Meanwhile, wet kalo is planted in shallow pools of cool, circulating water in full sun.
Eggplant loves heat, so Hawaii makes a perfect place to grow this shiny, purple vegetable plant. It needs moderately fertile, well-drained soil, full to partial sun, and moderate water. You will most likely see four varieties in farmers’ markets: Burpee Hybrid, Florida Market, Black Beauty, and Waimanalo Long. All these are round except for the Waimanalo Long, which looks like a Japanese eggplant. Meanwhile, Black Egg and Money Maker are small pickling types.
In Hawaii, most tomato varieties are highly susceptible to fungal pathogens, fruit flies, and root-knot nematodes. They need extremely well-drained soil, full sun, and constant moisture. Roma and cherry type tomatoes are generally more resistant to fruit fly attacks because they mature quickly and have thicker skins. This is why the University of Hawaii developed certain hybrids that have resistance to root-knot nematodes and common diseases, like Anahu, Kewalo, Healani, and Prunus.
Cucumbers grow all year round in Hawaii in areas below 3,000 feet elevation, making them one of the best crops to grow in a garden. In higher areas, they are grown from April to October as they become bitter during the winter months. These plants thrive in tropical climates that the islands have to offer. They need very fertile soil and protection from pests that love to eat the fruit. Some varieties to grow are “Burpless 69,” “Diva,” and “Sweet Success.”
Traditional head cabbage isn’t necessarily grown in Hawaii, but these islands are home to two varieties with an Asian influence. Green mustard cabbage called kai choy, and arid white mustard cabbage called pak choy are grown all year-round. If you grow kai choy, the University of Hawaii recommends the Waianae strain. Though it tolerates heat well, kai choy requires moist soil, so you need to water it frequently.
In Hawaii, carrots are mainly grown in the cooler, upper regions of the state. These crops are harvested all year round. The American carrot, Daucus pusillus, is known to be native to Hawaii.
There are two types of corn commonly grown in Hawaii: sweet corn and a starchy type commonly grown for animal feed. Hawaii breeds sweet corn varieties such as Hawaii Sugar, Pajimaca, USDA-34, and Supersweet #9 and #10.
In Hawaii, fresh ginger is available from February to November, while cured and dried roots are available throughout the year. Freshly harvested ginger from Hawaii is a delight – it’s tender and bright.
Also known as the Maui onion, Kula onion is named after its growing region of Kula. It’s grown on the upper slopes of a long-dormant volcano Mt. Haleakala. It’s one of the first spring onions to appear and is considered one of the sweetest varieties in the world. They are best eaten raw, but they can be added to various cooked dishes.
Since taro is a staple in Hawaii, its leaves are also commonly eaten and used in a range of ways. These large, heart-shaped leaves are steamed and eaten as mineral-rich vegetables. It’s also often used to wrap around the pork to make laulau.
Celeries grow well in Hawaii, especially in the lower regions where there is more water. It peaks in April to August, but it’s harvested from February through October.
Hawaiian chili peppers
Hawaiian chili peppers are small, bright red peppers that are hot like a habanero or Thai chilies. Locals call it “nioi” or “nioi pepa,” and are available all year. It’s commonly used to make chili pepper water, a spicy condiment that is commonly used in Hawaiian household kitchens and restaurants.
Hearts of palm
Hearts of palm is a vegetable harvested from the inner core of stems from different types of palm trees that grow in Hawaii. While you probably have seen or tasted it in canned form only, Hawaiians enjoy this vegetable fresh all year round.
Kabocha squash is one of the easiest vegetables to grow in Hawaii. Also known as winter squash, it tastes like a mixture between a pumpkin and a sweet potato. Its rigid outer shell makes it impervious to pests and tough enough to thrive during the fall and winter months. This vegetable can be found fresh from June to March.
Though it’s not technically spinach, this edible green has become a favorite healthy option in Hawaii. It was native in Asia, but it’s also available year-round in Hawaii. Like okra, its leaves can become slimy if cooked for a long time.
Locally-grown radishes, such as daikon and table radishes, are plenty at farmers’ markets in Hawaii. But you may also want to keep your eye out for the rattail radish. Its unusual appearance and flavor may sway you. Unlike other radish varieties, the edible part is the fruit pod and not the root.