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Getting Started

Many “kavasseurs” decide to take the next step in their kava appreciation by growing kava! This article explains everything you need to know about growing kava kava at home.

How to Grow Kava Kava

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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 [1]. 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 [1]. 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 [1]. 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 [2].

Fertilizer Requirements

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 [3].

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 [2]. 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 [2]. 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 [4]. 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 [4].

While it's easy to get high-quality dried kava root these days, learning how to grow kava kava is worthwhile for those who want the freshest kava brew.

Macropiper excelsum seeds, Maori-KawaKawa, Kava Kava

Macropiper excelsum, Kawa-Kawa New Zealand Pepper seeds

Macropiper excelsum belongs to the family of the Piperaceae, the pepper family. It is native to New Zealand. It is endemic there meaning that it occurs only there. Due to that fact M. excelsum is also known as New Zealand pepper. Furthermore the Maoris, the natives of New Zealand call the plant Kawakawa. “Kawa” means bitter referring to the leaves that have a quite bitter taste. The New Zealand pepper grows as a shrub that can get 3 m high. The leaves of the Kawakawa are heart- shaped and dark green to yellowish green. The color of the leaves depends from the place where the plant grows. If the plant is exposed to light the leaves are lighter. The venation of the leaves is clearly visible. They get 5 to 10 cm long. The leaves of the New Zealand pepper are very aromatic. Sadly they are often eaten by insects and are hence clustered with holes. The flowers of Kawakawa stand together in spikes. The spikes get 7 cm long. The flowers are small, whitish to greenish. M. excelsum is dioecious meaning that male and female flowers are on different individuals. One needs always two plants for reproduction. The female plant bears the orange fruits that are eaten by birds that distribute the seeds in that way. The sweet fruits of Kawakawa are also edible for humans but they have diuretic effect. One should not eat too much of the sweet fruits. The Maori use the seeds of the New Zealand pepper as a spice. It is related to Piper nigrum that is normally used as a spice. In addition the leaves are used to produce tea. The tea shall help against bladder inflammation. The fresh leaves can be eaten raw and shall help against toothache and stomachache. M. excelsum has an anti inflammatory effect. The Maori also like the exhilarating effect of the plant.

Cultivation

The seeds of M. excelsum need a pretreatment. They should be put for 24h into warm water. After that they need a cold period. Therfore the seeds in the substrate should be put for about 1,5 months into the fridge. After that they should be placed sunny. At a temperature of about 24°C and constantly moist substrate, germination occurs after 1 month. The germination time can vary.

Macropiper excelsum, Kawa-Kawa New Zealand Pepper seeds   Macropiper excelsum belongs to the family of the Piperaceae, the pepper family. It is native to New Zealand. It is endemic there meaning that it occurs only there. Due to that fact M. excels