In Tough Times, The Tough Go Gardening

Ashly Trask demonstrates plant propagation techniques to interns

A master gardener shares tips for growing your own food, and it’s easier than you might think

In times of economic crisis, home gardens flourish.

“But the key is to hold on to it when things go back,” says National Tropical Botanical Garden’s nursery manager Ashly Trask.

“During tough economic times, the victory garden concept always gains popularity, but growing your own food goes beyond making economic sense,” she explains.

“It’s not only good for our wallets, it’s good for our psyches, good for our bodies, good for our communities, good for our island, and good for our planet.”

Trask’s passion for growing food led her to recently conduct a workshop, From Seed to Salad, for at-home gardeners to help expand their knowledge at NTBG’s headquarters in Kalaheo.

“The idea for the workshop came from the desire to offer more community outreach and involvement-type experiences at the garden,” she says. “This is a subject I feel strongly about so it was the first in a list of ideas when we talked about possible classes to offer.”

One of the topics discussed was how anyone can garden.

“You can do it with a little bit of time,” she says.

Even people who don’t have access to a backyard can grow food on their lanais. It is a plant’s location in relation to nature’s elements that is most important.

“Location is not just important in real estate,” jokes Trask.

Plants need access to sunshine, particularly afternoon sun.

“It’s not about where the vegetable garden will look pretty but where will it grow,” says Trask.

Another important question to ask before starting a garden is how much time one desires to spend weeding.

Ashly Trask demonstrates grafting technique. Coco Zickos photos

“It’s the No. 1 occupation of a gardener,” says Trask.

For backyard gardeners, cardboard mulching reduces the effect of weeds. Another option is having a container garden, especially for those whose only outdoor access is a lanai.

“It’s so labor free, it’s not even funny,” says Trask regarding container gardening.

Weeds can be one of the most overwhelming aspects of gardening, but they can be mitigated through regular plucking as well as natural substances like vinegar.

“But make sure to spray the vinegar directly on the weeds because it will also kill the veggies,” she warns.

For a healthy garden to thrive, one must also consider what methods to use for fertilization and removal of pests.

Trask advises gardeners not to use chemical fertilizers.

“You might get instant results, but they’re kind of plastic,” she says.

Use coffee grounds, chicken manure or compost instead.

For bugs, Trask says, “soapy water is your best friend.”

Though the ending is not good for the insects – the soap’s surfactant suffocates the bugs – the removal of abundant pests is necessary for a plant’s health.

On the other hand, some bugs are OK.

“They’re going to be bugs, you’re outside, it’s nature,” says Trask. “A healthy garden always has a few pests around.”

Trask’s knowledge of gardening goes back to her childhood. Growing up in a rural area, she worked on farms and in greenhouses as a child, and has continued to do so throughout much of her life, working for eight years as a propagator on the Mainland.

“It is what I’m good at and it’s what makes me happy,” she says.

She also picked up many of her skills from her maternal grandparents, who were avid gardeners. They canned their own vegetables and traded produce with friends.

“My mother as well was a masterful gardener – it was always something I was around. My first job as a kid was hand-picking strawberries,” she says.

Trask moved to Kaua’i seven years ago and currently grows fruit trees and herbs at her home in Lawai. She also raises chickens.

“So a big part of my gardening reality has become figuring out how to keep the chickens out of the garden,” says Trask, who is working on creating a raised bed for more plants.

Trask hopes she will inspire others to grow their own food.

“The idea of vegetable gardening can be daunting to many of us,” she says.

But there is a vegetable garden suited for everyone.

“I would love to impart a greater appreciation for this incredible year-round growing environment we are lucky enough to live in.”

For more information, visit or contact Trask at