By Léo Azambuja

Herb starts at Hoku Natural Foods in Kapa‘a. Photo by Léo Azambuja

I like to cook and eat good food. And by good, I mean delicious and healthy food. But I’m not a big fan of complicated recipes. I’m actually not a fan of following recipes at all. I like to just create dishes on the go.

Whether you’re an unpredictable cook like I am, or you follow strict rules, I believe the best, easiest way to enhance your dishes is by adding herbs. Ok, garlic is wonderful, and onion is halfway there, but nothing compares to fresh, delicious herbs. The problem is that it can get quite expensive to get creative on herbs. Unless you take the matter in your own hands, literally, like I did a couple years ago.

Tired of spending a little fortune on herbs every month, I decided to grow them. From the beginning, I elected to do it in the easiest way possible; to avoid failure.

I bought a few bags of dirt and five-gallon buckets at Home Depot. Hoku Foods Natural Market in Kapa‘a has a cart full of organic herbs, and most cost only $2. So I got some cilantro and rosemary. I planted them in six buckets, and placed everything near the water hose on the side of my house.

Herb starts at Hoku Natural Foods in Kapa‘a. Photo by Léo Azambuja

Every morning, I pick up my dogs’ poop in my backyard. No, I don’t throw it in my pots. But I do walk past the pots to throw it in my trashcan. So no matter what, I have to walk past the hose and the pots — and I never miss watering my herbs.

Within a few weeks, I had a heck of a lot of cilantro and rosemary. In fact, it has been two years, and I still have two very healthy rosemary plants — actually mini bushes — from that first batch. I got adventurous and planted oregano, which goes in every pizza, and thyme, which became my new favorite herb.

Then, I found out about a guy in Kapahi who sells herb starters for a dollar. One dollar! I went there, and walked away with a few tiny basil starters and cherry tomatoes. Honestly, I wasn’t sure neither of those starters would survive; they were just too small. But I did get a good piece of advice from this guy; all you need is fish and algae fertilizer at Ace Hardware. He also told me to plant only one starter in each five-gallon pot. I reluctantly followed this instruction, because I always thought putting more plants in each pot would yield more herbs.

Well, it turned out the guy was right, on everything. The tiny basil starters grew so big that I made enough pesto to fill more than a dozen jars. I just couldn’t eat enough basil. I also used lemons from my own tree, and mixed some oregano, thyme and cilantro in different batches of pesto. Now I really wish I wrote down the recipes.

Herb starts at Hoku Natural Foods in Kapa‘a. Photo by Léo Azambuja

The tomato surprised me too, and it would be a long time until I would buy tomatoes at the store again. I harvested them every day for a long time.

I’m kinda trying different things now. We have some kalo and cherry tomatoes that came from Kalalau, and some wild mint that came from Miloli‘i. The eggplant is finally giving fruit. And we still have tons of herbs and tomatoes.

If you do it right, and fit it within your daily schedule, it’s really easy to take care of your garden. You can also get a timer and easily build a surface irrigation system for way less than $100; probably half this amount if your garden is small.

Any way you choose it, if you grow your own produce and herbs, you’ll spend a fraction of the money you would otherwise spend at the store.

Oh, and my back fence was covered by lilikoi, or passion fruit, for 16 years. Every summer I would buy carbonated water and put fresh lilikoi juice, seeds and all, inside the bottles. It was the best soda I ever had. Unfortunately, my neighbor sprayed his guinea grass with weed killer, and my lilikoi became collateral damage. But we just planted some more — that we grew from seeds — and it’s already spreading. Hopefully, next summer we’ll have lilikoi again.