Monthly Archives: April 2012

Yardening – Edible Landscaping in Your Backyard

Dry land kalo next to a large blooming basil.

Dry land taro and a huge blooming basil are contained by a banana log which adds nutrients and moisture to the soil as it decomposes.

North Shore gardens and lawns are famous for their beauty. But in the new paradigm of yard and garden care, it isn’t a yard or a garden. It’s a yarden, and that means food plants everywhere. As the prices go up and we all become more aware of Nature, this makes more sense every day.

Yardening is chic! Even better, it’s easy. Felicia Cowden uses simple methods of edible landscaping, mostly learned from Lavon Ojai, who recently passed on. The Cowden garden is a legacy of this man’s deep knowledge of forest gardening and healing plants. Our bloggers visited Ms. Cowden’s yarden one day to find out how she does it. She walked us around her house through the densest distribution of vegetation I have ever seen in a yard. As we talked about what we saw, wonderful perfumes floated through the air, tickling the senses.

Papaya trees and dry land taro.

Fruit trees blend in seamlessly with the landscaping - these papaya trees will provide many delicious fruits this year.

It began with the turtle pond. The garden spread out spontaneously from the pond into the lawn, and rather than fighting it she encouraged it. She likes plants you don’t have to pamper, focusing on hardy perennials. Bushes need less maintenance than flowers. She broadcasts seeds – they grow fine that way. The plants move around from year to year, wherever the seeds fall.

She pulls a water hyacinth out of the water cleaning tanks, dripping from its black feathery roots, and throws it in the back yard pool to feed the turtles. It’s easy! Turtles eat the plants – in her tilapia pond, the fish eat mosquitoes; chickens eat the tadpoles. The worry that all these plants might attract centipedes just makes her laugh. Oh, the chickens eat them too, she explains.

Backyard aquaponics tank smothered in flowers.

Hiding beneath these pretty impatiens is a balanced aquaponics fishtank with tilapia. If the tank gets too full, fertilizer-rich water can be drained off to water the garden.

Felicia Cowden does not believe in weeding. She just mows the lawn. Growing in her rich green grass are numerous healing plants that don’t mind being mowed – plantain, for instance. This lawn, she says emphatically, is medicine beneath our feet.

Three years ago she planted eight bananas – the trees are 15’ high now. She creates separate areas with fallen banana tree sections, which are basically 200 lbs. of water with potassium and various other chemicals – a log full of nutrients at the edge of each garden area. If the plants get greedy and try to cross the nutrient log, they get mowed.

Felicia’s secret is her team of invisible helpers. What she really does is farm a micro-herd of worms, mycelium and microbes – they do almost all the yardening, while she just feeds them and keeps them happy. She does not use pesticides and chemicals because they kill the micro-herd. Bad idea – then we have to do the work. It’s the Lazy Princess’s Guide to Gardening.

And what does she grow on her 1/3 acre? Happy volunteer avocado plants wave at you through the picket fence. Ground cover plants keep the weeds down, like sweet potatoes and pumpkins. She has both. Her pigeon-pea grew 12 feet high in 4 months, pumping nitrogen into the soil that feeds the other plants. Next to it, the gliricidia is also a nitrogen fixer, like the shower tree in the next yard and the lima beans growing wherever they like.

Felicia Cowden with her garden stand

Felicia by her garden stand - she has such a bounty of fruit and vegetables that she sells them to the neighborhood.

The fruits from her cayote vine are sweet and tender when cooked. Naupaka heals cuts. She has a mamaki plant from a Wai’ale’ale seed, an oregano bush spilling in enthusiastic waves over the sides of its half-barrel, mulberries, Hawaiian yams, kalo, lilikoi, chocolate, vanilla and coffee.

Low-hanging fruits smile down at you from overhead – noni, lychee, orange, tangerine, guava, egg fruit, fig and Malabar chestnut. A mighty avocado towers above the rest. A kava flourishes near the house, growing from the grave of Felicia’s deceased bunny. In the ex-bunny space, with rich soil and many worms because of all the bunny poop, a lemon tree, a soursop and a cotton tree flourish. Nothing can die here without feeding new life.

The Akamai Learning Center

The Akamai Learning Center classroom.

The Cowden children were homeschooled for several years, and their life science lab was Mom’s back yarden. It’s all a home school project called Akamai Learning. Her book: Life is the School: Love is the Lesson is available from

Check out Felicia’s websites at and

New Safeway Construction Starting Soon

On April 18, 2005, Safeway began a $100 million brand repositioning campaign. As North America’s second-largest supermarket chain, they are refining their offering by rebranding the shopping experience itself. This has produced a new kind of sales outlet, the “lifestyle” grocery store. Starbucks, the “lifestyle” coffee shop, will have in-store kiosks.

As part of this policy, Safeway has plans to build a new retail center in Lihue, Kauai, to be anchored by one of these “lifestyle” grocery stores.

What in the world is a “lifestyle” grocery store? The format includes

  • inviting decor with warm ambiance and subdued lighting
  • heavy redesign of store layout
  • new employee uniforms
  • sushi and olive bars
  • in-store Starbucks kiosks
  • promotions based on the company’s extensive loyalty card database

You can see the differences are largely cosmetic, suggesting the same pleasant, fashion-focused lifestyle as the décor in Starbucks. PPC Design in Michigan designed the new look.

Over a thousand locations now have the “Lifestyle” format. “Lifestyle” format stores have seen significantly higher average weekly sales. The most recent step beyond “lifestyle” format is to build an entire retail center anchored by a “lifestyle” format supermarket, like the newly completed Avenue Shops at Safeway Center on Oahu.

Arial view of Hukulei Village ~ Photo credit:

This same “lifestyle” format will be used in Safeway’s new 56,000-square-foot supermarket anchoring the Hokulei Village shopping complex on the 22-acre parcel at the junction of Kaumualii Highway and Nuhou Street, west of Kukui Grove Center and across from Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School.

Hokulei Village will offer local and national retail shops, banks, offices, sit-down restaurants, a gas station, bicycle racks, a county transit stop, and a community meeting space. In all, Hokulei Village will add more than 220,000 square feet of leasable space and 1,028 parking spaces to Lihue, with outdoor seating and plazas.

The retail center is expected to set a new standard for a community-sensitive, “green” development on Kauai. Where possible, Safeway says it will use renewable and recycled building materials, minimize construction waste, and use non-potable water for landscaping. Safeway is also exploring renewable energy alternatives for the complex.

Though still in design phase, leasing is actively under way. Wendell Brooks III, senior vice president of CB Richard Ellis, is in negotiation with 14 different tenants. Businesses that have signed letters of intent or have actually signed leases include a major sporting goods firm, a well-known discount apparel outlet, a major drugstore chain, a national fast food chain, several smaller eateries and various financial institutions.

Building the retail center is expected to create up to 150 construction trades jobs once construction starts in 2012. Job-hungry contractors are looking to Hokulei Village as a new source of private sector construction on the following schedule:

By 2012, Phase I will be mostly complete: a Safeway supermarket, another major store, four restaurants, two shopping complexes, a bank and a gas station. By 2013, the bank and one of the shopping complexes should be finished, and 60% of the parking. Phase II will begin construction in 2013 if there is sufficient tenant interest. This will include two major retail shops, a smaller store and three restaurants. By 2014 the largest restaurant and the parking lot are scheduled to be completed.

Safeway will hire 150 to 200 people for its new Kauai store opening in November 2012, while the whole retail center should generate more than 1,000 jobs. In traditional Hawaiian culture a maka-maka is a powerful or wealthy friend. Safeway hopes to be a maka-maka for price-conscious consumers who still want a “lifestyle” experience.

Alexander & Baldwin and KIUC Break Ground for Solar Photovoltaic Facility

A 6-megawatt solar photovoltaic facility is going to be built at Port Allen by the end of 2013 – the biggest on Kauai. It reveals a significant partnership forming between A&B (Alexander and Baldwin) and KIUC (Kauai Island Utility Cooperative). Renewable energy can only be harvested from Nature if you have some Nature to harvest it from. A&B are big landowners who are willing to provide some of their land for energy harvesting, while KIUC has a commitment to increasing its renewable energy portfolio.

As a result, KIUC will end up with the highest percentage of solar photovoltaic energy of any utility in America, and we are going to have one big solar farm at Port Allen!

This is energy not connected to petroleum. We just harvest it like fish or corn. This is important to KIUC in particular, which relies on oil for 89% of its power.

A&B is going to provide 20 acres of land next to the Port Allen power plant, which happens to get more sunshine than most places on Kauai. The energy collected from the sky will be stored in a KIUC battery system, from which Kauai will always have power should the primary grid fail us or cost too much. Hoku Solar Inc. and Helix Electric will partner to build the solar farm.

The hydroelectric installations at Kalaheo and Wainiha have made electricity when it rains since the old days of the McBryde Sugar Co., now providing KIUC with about 5 megawatts. A&B sees solar farming as a continuation of this long-term tradition of using local energy.

Makana Ridge from Limahuli Gardens

3 Tips for Enjoying your Kauai Experience

Makana Ridge from Limahuli Gardens

Makana Ridge from Limahuli Gardens

1. Drink plenty of water and use sunscreen. Our sun is strong! It’s important to stay hydrated – drink regularly, BEFORE you’re thirsty. Use sunscreen even on cloudy days.

2. Practice ocean safety. Swim or snorkle at lifeguarded beaches and pay attention to the posted warning signs. When in doubt, don’t go out!

Go to for more tips on beach and ocean safety.

3. Relax and slow down. Kauai is a rural island and things don’t move quite as fast here. Enjoy the slower pace, the gorgeous scenery, and Live Aloha!