“But Kava Guru,” you may ask, “why learn how to grow kava kava when there are so many online retailers offering products almost as new and potent as the fresh variety?” While it is pretty easy to get high-quality dried kava root at reasonable prices these days, there’s still a difference between kava brewed from fresh roots and that brewed from the dried variety. This why many “kavasseurs” decide to take the next step in their kava appreciation by growing kava at home! If you want to try growing kava at home, search for a kava vendor selling live seedlings or rootstock. Make sure that you have somewhere to store all of your equipment and tools before you start growing your kava. Something like these prefab cabins may be the perfect outbuilding that you need to have for your garden so you can make your plants the best they can be. They could also be an ideal solution for storing your garden furniture in, so once your plants have grown, you will be able to admire them in all their glory. Keep in mind that domesticated Piper methysticum (kava kava) plants are sterile-meaning they produce no seed-and new plants must always be grown from cuttings or the root bundle of the plant. Kava kava has relied on humans for its propagation for hundreds if not thousands of years.
Basic Requirements of Kava Kava
As a tropical plant, kava kava is happiest at temperatures of 68-80 degrees Fahrenheit (20-25 Celsius), and in conditions with lots of water, sun and moderate humidity . If you live in a warm southern state, say Florida, Texas, Southern California or of course Hawaii, you may just be able to keep kava happy outside all year long! Residents of more northern states can usually still plant kava outside in the summer, but should take it inside or to a greenhouse once temperatures drop to 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 Celsius) or below for three consecutive nights. In nature, kava kava usually grows under the jungle canopy, so it does best with partial shade rather than full sun, especially when young; a good indoor solution is to keep kava in a pot next to a sunny window to provide good light conditions or you may want to store it within a
light deprivation greenhouse here and there to mimic natural growth . You might even want to buy an LED light to ensure your plants get the correct level of sunlight. Check out agron.io to learn more about this. Watering and Soil Requirements
Pot your kava kava plant in loose soil that allows for water drainage to prevent root rot: growers usually recommend a blend of 50% organic compost and 50% Perlite or coconut coir. Remember, kava evolved to expect regular rainfall in its jungle habitat, so water your kava regularly! If you’re growing it in a drier environment such as indoors, you’ll probably want to mist your kava’s leaves with a spray bottle to maintain a good level of humidity. Make sure to keep it away from air conditioning vents (or areas of high wind, if outside), as it could dry out your kava plant . When kava kava is young, it typically needs a soil depth of between 6 inches to a foot to put down roots; however, as it matures kava will require much deeper soil so that its root system can expand. One method is to repot kava in your garden bed: select an area where the soil is at least 2 feet deep, then dig a hole 2 to 3 times deeper than the length of your kava plant’s roots. Add a couple trowelsfull of compost, manure, or fertilizer (see below for the recommended fertilizer ratio!). Then backfill the hole with about half the loose soil you just removed, place your kava plant into the hole and gently tamp the loose soil around the base of the stem .
As a jungle plant, kava kava rapidly depletes nutrients in the soil, so it will definitely do best with a rich fertilizer in the mix. You can add a natural humus, animal manure, or even a commercial nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium (NPK) fertilizer. If you go with an NPK fertilizer, use an element ratio of 14-14-14; when the plant is young, use about the half the manufacturer’s recommended dose to avoid burning the young kava’s roots, which can lead to root rot-definitely not something you want! Once your kava has reached maturity at one or two years, you can add more fertilizer. Replenish your kava plant’s fertilizer once a month. A bonus of adding fertilizer is that it helps the soil maintain a pH balance of between 5.5-6.5, which mimics that of the soil in kava’s indigenous jungle habitat .
Protecting Kava from Pests and Disease
It’s pretty rare for kava grown in the home or garden to have disease or pest problems, but it can happen. Some pathogens kava is susceptible to include phoma or “shothole” fungus, cucumber mosaic virus (CMV), Pythium root rot, root knot nematodes, melon aphids, and spider mites. Whew! The most common causes of these pathogens is diseased or infested starting material, and poor growing conditions that make the kava plants susceptible to infection. Buy your kava plants in person if possible, or if ordering online, check them as soon as your shipment arrives to make sure the plants don’t show signs of disease like wilted or curled leaves, holes or spots on leaves, or roots that might be swollen, deformed, or rotted. Compost any diseased looking plants you find, and don’t mix the compost in with healthy plants . Poor growing conditions can also contribute to disease, especially poor soil drainage, so always make sure your plant’s soil drains well; maintaining a moderate level of humidity can also go a long way toward deterring pests like spider mites and aphids. You can also usually wash pests off kava leaves with a strong jet of water, or apply a gentle insecticidal soap to the leaves-just make sure not to let it dry on them. Sprinkling a little diatomaceous earth around the top of the soil can also help control soft-bodied insects . This should work for most people, but unfortunately, some people will have a harder time with it than others. If the water or insecticidal soap doesn’t make much of a difference to their visit, it may be time to think about bringing in a pest control expert, similar to these experts from Nebraska (
https://www.pestcontrolexperts.com/local/nebraska/) so that they can make them leave for good. You don’t want pests to disturb your Kava so you must try everything you can to get rid of them. How to Propagate Kava Kava
Let’s say your kava plant is growing wonderfully and you’ve started to think about getting some seedlings started. There are two ways to propagate kava plants, both of them fairly easy once you get the hang of it . The first method is to divide your kava plant’s root bundle: gently pull your kava plant from its pot or garden bed and brush off any excess soil. Then divide the root mass in places where you see smaller root masses branching off-this may be easiest at the edges of the root mass, where there are usually many root offshoots. Remove the offshoots and repot them in smaller containers, then replant the parent plant, and you’re done!
Young kava seedlings can be grown from root or stem cuttings.
Once your kava plant has sufficiently matured, you can also take stem cuttings to make new kava seedlings. These are areas along kava’s aboveground stem, usually near the nodes, where new leaves branch off on daughter stems called pikos. To make sure your plant is mature enough, wait until the stem is tough enough that you can’t easily penetrate its skin with a thumbnail. Use a clean blade to remove greenwood stem cuttings from the stalk, and pot up the cuttings in a loose mixture of organic compost and vermiculite or coconut coir. Place the cuttings in a greenhouse ( to create humidity) or a heated propagator. You can also place a loose plastic tarp over the cuttings and mist the inside periodically to maintain humidity .
Harvesting Your Kava Root
Ah, now we get to the part you’ve all been waiting for! Growing kava is a project that takes patience, not least of all because you must wait 2 to 5 years for kava to fully mature before harvesting its roots. Harvesting kava before at least one year of age (ideally two or more) could kill or seriously harm the plant. This will also give time for the accumulation of kavalactones in the roots, making for a stronger kava brew ! Luckily, kava kava is easy to harvest: simply pull the roots gently from the soil, wash off the rootstock, and snip off a few lateral roots. These are the roots growing along the soil. Lateral roots are generally considered to be higher in kavalactones and have a better flavor than the vertical root . After repotting your plant, examine the harvested roots and discard any that have mold on them. Cut the fresh roots into small sections, and freeze or sun dry any that you don’t plan to use immediately. Now you have your very own supply of exquisitely fresh, potent kava root. Yum! Mahalo, Kava Guru
REFERENCES 1. “Kava Plant for Sale”. Buy Kava Direct. Accessed June 2nd, 2014. http://buykavadirect.com/kava-plant-for-sale/. 2. Green, Jenny. “How to Grow Kava Kava”. eHow. Last updated May 29th, 2014. http://www.ehow.com/how_4421053_grow-kava-kava.html. 3. “Kava Plants”. Kona Kava Farm Accessed June 6th, 2014. http://www.konakavafarm.com/kava-plants.html. 4. “Growing Piper methysticum– Kava Kava”. Plot55. Accessed June 5th, 2014. http://plot55.com/growing/p.methysticum.html.