Friday, September 3, 2010

Growing Capers in Kihei

A Caper Plant 6 Months From Germination

Olives are grown in Kula but the Kihei winter climate is too warm to trigger olive trees to produce fruit. However, the hot, dry climate in Kihei is ideal for growing capers.

Michelle, the author of From Seed to Table, has written a detailed blog page about her experiences growing capers in the coastal region of central California. 

There's a wealth of information on Michelle's page, including various ways to cure and preserve the capers. If you're interested in growing capers, I highly recommend checking out this link as my post will provide only an overview and information specific to growing capers in the Kihei climate.

Caper bushes produce two culinary items, caper buds and caperberries. The caper that's used in American cuisine is the caper bud. If the caper buds aren't cut from the plant, they'll produce a lovely white, or sometimes orchid-pink, flower. The flower develops into the caperberry - an elongated, tear drop shaped fruit - similar to an olive in size.

A Mature Caperberry

The caperberry is common to Spain - it's used in appetizers, antipastos and even in martinis. The Whole Foods olive bar is the only place I've seen caperberries on Maui.

Capers can be grown from seeds or cuttings. I grew the caper plants in the photos above from seeds obtained from Gourmet Seed and Seeds From Italy. There were instructions with the seeds for germinating them in the refrigerator. I wasn't successful with this method as it takes some serious diligence.

Caper Seedlings in April 2010

In November of 2009, I planted caper seeds for the first time. In April, the caper seedings began to grow - the largest of the seedlings was the width of a quarter.

Caper seeds have a low germination.and the seedlings grow very slowly at first. Out of 16 seeds planted in November 2009 only 3 germinated the following April. I had better results from the November 2010 planting as in April 6 seeds germinated. Then I planted seeds in January of 2012 and 2 germinated in April and 2 in May. 

A Transplanted Caper Seedling in June 2010

When the seedlings are the size of a quarter they can easily be transplanted without disturbing the roots.

At 8 weeks from transplanting, the caper seedlings had grown exponentially.

August 2010

In August this plant was producing it's first caper buds. The plant continued to bud and flower until the autumn equinox.

Most information I've found on growing capers recommends planting seeds in November. Since we don't have a 4 season climate in Kihei, there may be some flexibility as to planting times. However, it does appear that the seeds germinate in April and May. My caper plants were noticeably influenced by the seasonal sun changes.

Seedlings growing in 1 gallon plant bags

I've also transplanted the small seedlings into 1 gallon size plastic plant bags filled with potting soil. After the plants have been growing for a few months, it's easy to cut the bags and slide the plant and soil into a container or into the ground. I've had good success with this method as it doesn't disturb the root system.

At this time, all of my caper plants are growing in 12 gallon containers filled with an organic potting soil. I amend the soil once a month with an organic all-purpose fertilizer. So far, the plants have not been bothered by any pests.

April 2011

The plant above was dormant from the fall equinox until the beginning of February when new growth began at the soil line. At the end of March, nodes on some of the branches started to develop and within two weeks the new growth was significant.

The caper seeds I purchased from Gourmet Seed and Seeds From Italy did not produce plants with thorns. Both caper plants look similar and have the same type of flowers. But Seeds From Italy (Franchi) caper plants have a narrow redish edge around the leaves .

After 3 years of growing capers I can say they are not the easiest plant to grow from seed or to keep alive. It seems when the seeds are planted outside in November or December that April is the month they germinate. The seedlings grow very slowly at first and then exponentially. Some plants produce caper buds during their first summer and others don't produce until the following spring.

So far, all of the caper plants that have produced a crop of capers have died before producing again the following year. This might be because they're planted in plastic containers. In 2012, I transplanted the seedlings in to 15 gallon Smart Pots.

I've been curing the capers in the salt brine that Michelle recommended on her blog. Then I transfer them into a jar of sea salt and let them dry in the refrigerator. The caper buds don't taste very good right off the plants but they're delicious when cured in salt.

Here's another method for salt brining:
Preserve Capers in Salt

Capers bushes can be grown from cuttings.
A Simple Way to Root Plants From Cuttings
Dr. Ken Mudge on Cutting Propagation

Interesting information regarding the history of capers:

Photos of beautiful plants grown on a caper farm in Greece:

An indigenous wild caper plant native to the Hawaiian Archipelago:
The pre-contact Hawaiians didn't eat the caper buds or berries.
It's unknown if the species is edible.
Capparis Sandwichiana

 And, a cool video on how to make Caper Butter.


  1. i'm sure i've never heard of anyone else growing capers on Maui before Jane! You may just have discovered the next hot specialty crop. Absolutely Fabulous!

    (oops, i was just fixing a spelling error. Can you edit that out Jane?)

  2. Hi Julie! Now that there are some serious olive growers in Kula, capers and grapes might be next! Kula could become the new Napa!

  3. Hi, Jane, that is another pretty plant, but after reading the article you referenced, it sounds pretty tough to process, and about those thorns... Maybe there's a cultivar that's thornless?
    You might have a great idea there for the more arid ag areas, since those plants sound pretty rugged. Maybe the Maui Cattle Company could graze them periodically, leaving a pasture patty or two to organically enrich the soil, keep the rows in order, then all we'd need is some way to get picking figured out. I like the idea of grapes more.
    Mahalo for the nice pictures, too!

  4. Hi Pomaika'i! Right now the plant is almost 2 ft wide and 1 ft tall and there aren't any thorns as yet. But I suspect they will develop as the plant grows larger.

    The summer issue of Edible Hawaiian Islands had an article about olive farming in Kula - if you didn't see it the farm's website is

    Kula could be transformed in to a gourmet agricultural growing region like Napa. Capers could easily be grown there too - especially in lower Kula where it's hot and dry like Kihei. And, caper leaves/plants are fed to hens and livestock like you mentioned. Hmmm...maybe I should buy some ag land in Kula now while it's still a depressed market!

  5. Just found your blog as I searched online for roselle and I love what I see! I grow in florida where we seem to have 2 seasons summer and fall lol. I will be starting my roselle in 20 gallon tubs and love this plant. Those white flowers are beautiful! If you have not tried something called malabar spinach or winged beans I would they love heat sun and humidity! The winged beans and a pernial and come back from there roots but the malabar spinach is a 6 ft vine of yummy greens that you can cook or eat in a salad! I'm enjoying your blog. Take a peek at mine sometime

  6. Hi organic-momma! My roselle plants are growing good in 20 gallon containers. They're big plants and require lots of water and generous amounts of fertlizer but they really produce a lot of calyxes. Mahalo for the tips! I'm going to plant wing beans for the 1st time in the fall. I haven't tried growing malabar - I'll have to trial it this fall too. The only spinich I've been able to grow here is Matador - it's available from Gourmet Seed or Seeds From Italy and it's very heat tolerant.

  7. Hi capparis spinosa! I'll check out your blog - I'm still trying to figure out how to grow capers successfully.

  8. Hi capparis spinosa! LOL! Okay - I'll just have to keep working at it!

  9. Wow Jane! Your plants are beautiful! Thanks for the link to my caper posts. :) It's so amazing that your plants are blooming at 6 months. You should be able to harvest your own seeds soon.

  10. Hi Michelle! Only 1 caper bush survived last summer but it grew exponentially once it started growing. I was surprised that it produced caper buds and flowers - it did have a few caperberries too.

  11. Beautiful caper plant. I didn't have luck in starting from seeds, luckily my daughter found a place that sells caper plants and bought 2 for me.

  12. i am amaze with this plant and would like to grow some of them but haven't have any luck. in my country is impossible think in buying plants outside so i have to do it by seeds. what is the best method to get capers seed to germinate??
    cold stratificaction? sulfuric acid? i am confused...when you put seeds in fridge it means the seeds should get cold or frozen? in spanish fridge is not well defined. thanks in advance

  13. Hi postmorten! So far, Franchi seeds have had the best germination of the seeds I've tried. The seeds don't germinate very well in the heat. The best results I had were from seeds planted in November.

    I planted seeds directly in potting soil. Out of maybe 16 seeds, 6 germinated and then I transplanted them into separate containers. It's easy to transplant when they're still very small.

    I tried germinating seeds in the refrigerator but that didn't work very well for me as I forgot about them. I haven't tried any other methods. Caper plants can be grown from cuttings. It might be easy for you to find cuttings as caper plants are very common in the Mediterranean surrounding countries. Good luck!

  14. Hi,

    May I use some of your pictures of caper plants for an article about capers in the Swedish garden magazine Natur&Tradgard?

    Kind regards
    Lotta Flodén
    Managing director

  15. Curious how the plants are doing now. Was contemplating trying to start a plant or two in Kihei myself

    1. Capers are very temperamental. The longest I've ever kept a plant alive was two years.