Taro Survivors

Kai Kea patch after a year of drought and heat and winter dormancy.

Kai Kea patch after a year of drought and heat and winter dormancy.

I started a couple of in-ground taro beds early last Spring. The idea was to see if I could keep taro alive thru our harsh environment. I’ve had other beds fail but that was during a multi-year drought. One is dug in about 9″ deep and is positioned in a way that drainage water that runs across our property when it rains hard will flood it good. The other isn’t dug in but has a berm of soil around its borders to slow the exodus of water. It too will get flooded as well.

The soil was a nice black sandy loam. Before I dug, the soil had supported dense stands of giant ragweed that stood nearly as tall as the house, and Johnsongrass that was taller than me for years so a lot of organic matter and infrequent floodings in the Fall and often early Spring has converted that soil into some very rich living soil, contrasting with the rest of our property that is a very sandy and dry soil.

Bun Long returning from a very long and harsh dormancy.

Bun Long returning from a very long and harsh dormancy.

I planted Bun Long in the bermed bed. 21 of them got planted at 12″ spacing. Normal spacing is 18″ but since the heat is so extreme here I felt that planting a little denser will shade the soil better. The Kai Kea went into the dug-in bed. Unfortunately, in digging it out, the prime soil was removed and the remaining soil was rather rocky. Nevertheless, I cleared out good planting holes for each keiki.

Happy Kai Kea taro stretching out after a long sleep.

Happy Kai Kea taro stretching out after a long sleep.

They grew gangbusters that very wet Spring. The weeds grew up around them too, but a fringe benefit was that the grass kept the soil cooler – I’ve cooked enough taro in our hot Texas summers, so I kept them only moderately controlled. Deer nibbled on the leaves but not much – apparently raw taro didn’t fit into their palate very well.

That summer the rain stopped. I kept them watered, but even with regular waterings, even the weeds wilted and the taro declined. I had backups of both varieties but it was still heart-breaking to see them suffer. Eventually they disappeared altogether and for me that was the end of that experiment. I moved on planning the next experiment for the next generations of taro.

Another Bun Long poking up thru the weeds.

Another Bun Long poking up thru the weeds.

This Spring and summer were also very dry too. We got spatterings of rain here and there during the Spring and then that stopped altogether when it went from an unusually cool Spring to an extremely hot Summer with zero precipitation. The beds had become overgrown with weeds but I had all but given up on them anyway and no taro had sprouted anyway. I occupied myself with pit-greenhouse renovation plans and that in turn got put on the back-burner with the opportunity to get started in beekeeping – something that I had been waiting for for a long time.

But, this late summer we eventually did have some significant rains with a little bit of flooding even. For a couple of weeks it would rain every few days and in some cases every day. The good soaking was refreshing – the drought and heat had killed half of my remaining collection of taro, even with irrigation. That’s another issue I’ll be addressing this winter to prepare for next Spring.

Diminutive little Bun Long survivor.

Diminutive little Bun Long survivor.

Nevertheless, I mowed the tall grass down to get some good green material for mulch to prepare one of the beds to plant bananas, and after mowing that bed down and mulching it, I see a taro leaf. A few days later I go back out there and there’s another taro leaf. Two or three of the Kia Kea had sprouted! That was thrilling. I inspected the Bun Long bed and found a sole sprout out there too.

I took a scythe out to the Bun Long bed and cleared out the vegetation there to let more sun get to the soil and watered it some more. Now there are a few plants sprouting up. And, in the Kai Kea bed, nearly every plant that I put in there has come back! After more than a year of sitting in there dormant and dry, these taro have returned with vigor!

I have plans for assembling some lo’i and the taro in these two beds will be relocated to friendlier locations. All of my aquatic containers did spectacular this year so the Kai Kea and Bun Long will receive similar treatment. Having them come back is great – but I want them to grow enough to pull in a harvest and it’s apparent that the summers here are just too extreme to put them in the ground and have a harvest from them without some significant soil modification. For the upland beds I’ll use infrequently flooded raised beds – flooded and allowed to dry down to mud and repeated. That way both the wetland and upland taro will never dry out.

But, it’s still exiting that these taros have survived this extreme environment. Not only did they overwinter in dormancy, they also survived the extreme Texas heat and drought too. Kudos for those taro – they’ll get a special place in my new beds for certain.

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About MikeV

I'm a horticultural enthusiast. My life is deeply shaped by my plant passion. I am decidedly tropical, influenced by having lived on Guam, by life on Hawaii as a young child, and a deep infatuation for fruit and veggies common to the tropics.

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