PostHeaderIcon Bucket Lo’i

Pi'iali'i growing in a bucket-lo'i.

Pi'iali'i growing in a bucket-lo'i.

For the last couple of years I’ve kept taro in the greenhouse in large molasses tubs filled with water. The taro themselves grew in smaller buckets of topsoil submerged in these tubs, which I have dubbed bucket-lo’i. Of all my taro, these taro grew the best and produced the largest corms and healthiest leaves. The upland beds just didn’t have good enough soil to keep the taro healthy, and the containers of taro just never flourished. Containers have been too variable to grow happy taro. The soil is either too dry or too wet, too rich or too devoid of nutrients, too hot or too cold – all in the same pot over the course of a season. But the bucket-lo’i – they were steady as a rock. The water has an excellent moderating effect, changing temperature slowly and also keeping the taro hydrated.

Pi'iali'i corms big enough to fill my fists. There are bigger, but I'm happy with this size.

Pi'iali'i corms big enough to fill my fists. There are bigger, but I'm happy with this size.

I had tried using water to grow taro before but failed. Problem is, I used the same media I was using to grow containerized taro. Not soil. In the end, that proved unsuitable and rotted out the taro. In researching growing lotus in a bucket, it came to light that topsoil was the ideal media. I used this topsoil to grow my lotus and Chinese Water Chestnuts and they grew richly and without troubles so I decided to give it a go for the taro too. At that time I had a number of varieties of taro that really would have benefited from wetland cultivation. Even under the best of conditions, they simply did not thrive with upland cultivation. Sadly, many of them are lost and I’ll have to take a collection trip to Hawaii and/or get contacts there to send me starts to rebuild my collection and get this conservation thing happening again. Fortunately, some of my favorites have survived, so it’s not all bad news. In time, once I work out these details, I hope to have the entire collection of taro listed here growing happily in my collection. We’ll see.

This may look a little redundant, but the water on the greenhouse floor goes away. Honest.

This may look a little redundant, but the water on the greenhouse floor goes away. Honest.

Rather than fill up a full tub, I decided to experiment with 3-gallon buckets first and plunge that into the 25-gallon tub of water. So I filled up a couple of 3-gallon buckets with topsoil as I was digging an inground taro bed. I watered that into a good mud and stuffed a couple of offshoots into each. I grabbed a couple of 25-gallon molasses tubs and filled them up with water then plunged the buckets of taro into this. The plain ol’ topsoil worked perfectly. Here my topsoil is silty with a bit of sand and clay – not a bad loam at all. Not nearly too rich for the immersed taro either. They just kept growing and growing and growing. It worked so well that all I had to do was top off the tub every once and a while. Nearly maintenance free. With all the projects I have, I like that a lot. I kept gambusia fish in the buckets too – they keep the mosquitoes under control and give off just a bit of nitrates for the taro. When the rest of my taro was suffering for one reason or anther, the taro in the bucket-lo’i were thriving. That was convincing enough for me. I lost a lot of varieties of taro before this and it is time to stop losing taro.

Bun Long taro waking up from dormancy and ready to go into their new home.

Bun Long taro waking up from dormancy and ready to go into their new home.

So, I’ve decided to take the tubs to the next level. Instead of smaller buckets nested within big tubs, I’m planting straight into the tubs themselves, filling them with topsoil leaving room for a few inches of water. Into this I planted the taro. First varieties to go into the tubs are Bun Long, Pi’iali’i and a variety I call Porter’s Kai Kea. All three are robust taros that have performed well for me in the past. The Bun Long and Porter’s Kai Kea had actually spent the last year in a couple of flooded 3-gallon buckets that got stuck in a corner of my greenhouse. They survived an unusually frigid winter that killed many of my other tropicals down there. So they’re being promoted. The Pi’iali’i starts came from the bucket-lo’i experiment down in the pit-greenhouse. All three are also proven delicious taros too.

Freshly planted bucket lo'i. From left to right, Bun Long, Pi'iali'i and Porter's Kai Kea.

Freshly planted bucket lo'i. From left to right, Bun Long, Pi'iali'i and Porter's Kai Kea.

With the additional room the taro will be able to get a little bigger than those sitting in the three-gallon buckets and hopefully produce a lot more keiki – offshoots. Of course, the Pi’iali’i in the 3-gallon bucket has put out ten keiki again – so I expect even more when they become established in the larger buckets. The primary goal for the buckets is to multiply my crop. Even these buckets are just a stepping stone for me on the path of building true lo’i – inground flooded beds in which I’ll grow taro in much greater numbers than these buckets. But for now, these tubs are sufficient.

Same three buckets a couple of chilly weeks later. When it warms up, the taro's growth will accelerate significantly.

Same three buckets a couple of chilly weeks later. When it warms up, the taro's growth will accelerate significantly. The plants in the foreground are Butia capitata seedlings.

Eventually I’ll have a little collection of buckets growing taro. I’ve already got six down in the pit-greenhouse plumbed and ready to go and a few more up topside I can scrounge up and re-purpose for this project. From that I’ll have enough taro to have a handsome little harvest, make some lau  lau, and produce keiki for the larger beds. Even with the larger beds up and running I’ll probably keep these bucket-lo’i going as backups.

To keep the mosquitoes under control I’ll use mosquito fish in each bucket, which will also provide a small amount of nitrates that will feed the taro. I may experiment with azolla too. Azolla is an aquatic fern that’s also a nitrogen fixer. It will also serve to help keep the water cooler too – it will cover the water similar to how duckweed does. I certainly cannot wait to see these in full growth – mature taro is a lovely plant to behold.

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