Eating What We Grow

Beets from the Little Red Dirt Garden in Kaimuki

May 5, 2023

When I moved back to Hawaii, one of the things I looked forward to was starting a little vegetable garden. Three years into the project we call the Little Red Dirt Garden, we are still going strong. We are by no means self-sufficient but we enjoy eating and sharing the fruits (and vegetables) of our labor.

How does your garden grow?

Over the years we’ve had some successes and quite a few misses. We are also trying to figure out how things work. Why do we have a bumper crop of cucumbers one year and the next year the plants barely grow? Why does Thai basil survive where most other plants won’t? It is both fun and frustrating at the same time. More than anything we’ve learned to just go with the flow and enjoy what we harvest.


Right now our tomatoes (seeds from Hawaii Seed Growers Network) are going gangbusters. As long as we can harvest them before the critters eat them, we are enjoying them in salads or giving them away to friends or family. We are also making tomato confit or using them in pasta.


One of our experiments was growing kale. I associated it with the cooler temperatures of fall but we have had surprising success, even in our hot, tropical climate. While we have grown lacinato (Tuscan) kale well into the summer, the varieties that excel are the softer leaf Red Russian and Red Ursa varieties. With leaves that are larger than our heads, we don’t need many leaves to make a pot of our favorite Sausage, Kale, and Cauliflower Soup.

Bunch of kale
Red Russian Kale

Hot Peppers

We’ve had success with different hot peppers – from the beautiful shades of the buena mulata peppers – a cayenne variety – to jalapeños. One of our favorite peppers to grow is the poblano. We cook some of them fresh but also dry them (they are called ancho chiles when dried). They are great in carne adovada.

Snow Peas

From November through March the conditions in our area are ideal for growing snow peas. We grow local varieties from Hawaii Seed Growers Network and the University of Hawaii Seed Lab. They start off slow at first but when they hit the height of production, we are giving away bags to friends and family. While they are good in a stir fry, our favorite way of eating them is in a Crunchy Pea Salad.

Snow peas from the Little Red Dirt Garden in Kaimuki
Snow Peas


Many homes in Hawaii have some sort of fruit tree in their yard – mangos, bananas, papayas, lychee, dragon fruit. The papaya trees in our yard were conveniently planted by the birds. If the fruit isn’t eaten fresh, they can be used in any number of recipes.

The first crop of papayas was turned into several batches of papaya-ginger jam. The jam, in turn, was used for jammy streusel bars. Bananas are used for banana lumpia and coconut/banana tapioca pudding.

Bowl of tropical fruit
Apple bananas, mango, and papaya

Other crops, more to try out

There are a lot of other things we grow that we haven’t highlighted in this post. Beets and sweet potatoes have done well. So have many herbs (except cilantro). We have grown cantaloupe, watermelon, and pumpkins to varying degrees of success. We also grow sunflowers to attract bees (and ultimately to feed the birds).

This summer we are trying the Three Sisters – an indigenous intercropping practice for planting corn, beans, and squash together. We assume this method could work in Hawaii and have bought local seeds to give us the best chance of success. We will see.

All in all we are happy with our Little Red Dirt Garden and look forward to many more years of growing food for our family.

Herbs growing in the Little Red Dirt Garden in Kaimuki

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