Kali Kava™ ships its first 5,000 Plants!

We are excited to announce that we have beat our initial anticipated shipping schedule by 6 months and were able to fill the first partial orders totaling over 5,000 Kali Kava™ plants to several growers in California, Texas and Florida. This marks the beginning of a revolution and we’re excited to pioneer the American Kava growing industry.

We are taking pre-orders for the next round of plants starting Jan 5th with a 3 month lead time on 1,000 plants. Contact Kali@KaliKava.com

Kali Kava Plants in 115F (45.5C) Heat – Full Sun – 20% Humidity

It is with a heavy heart that I write this. The recent heat wave in Northern California has reached extreme temperatures of 115F (45.5C) and brought with it, a dryness that few outside of the Sahara desert would know. Unfortunately, Kali Kava plants have met their match and wilted over and died. The heat was simply too great and the humidity too low.

Actually… They survived. Thats right! Kali Kava™ has set a new record for the most heat tolerant Kava on the planet and in full sun nonetheless. The same genes that allow Kali Kava™ plants to survive in extreme cold, also allow them to rapidly adapt to extreme heat and the blistering, punishing, menacing sun, that would burn, wilt and destroy normal, tender, Kava plants.

In a world where climate change is a reality, future farmers in the tropics will face unprecedented challenges with rising sea levels, increased temperatures and altered rainfall patterns. This will force kava to either adapt to the rising temperatures, or force farmers to seek higher ground for cooler day-time temperatures. With elevation, however, also comes cooler night-time temperatures and the need for rapidly adaptable Kava cultivars will soon arise. We may be 100 years early, but, these Kava plants may be the last ones standing in the event of continued climatic change.

Kali Kava™ Plant in 115F full sun Northern California August 2020
Kali Kava™ Plant in 115F (45.5C) growing in full sun Northern California, August 2020

Tissue Culture and Micropropagation of Kava

Above is a baby Kali Kava™ Kali Kea plantlet that has been regenerated from a nodal meristem. It is growing in a sterile nutrient rich agar and took 4 months to go from a pinhead sized meristem, to this impressive 3mm tall Jack and the Beanstalk monster! In all seriousness, this took A LOT of work to accomplish – Creating clean cultures that were free of Kava’s 3,000 years of inherited pathogens, and creating the right protocols to regenerate these plants.

Kali Kava employed micropropagation to accelerate the natural selection process for plants that were expressing desirable traits – In our case, heat and cold and desiccation tolerance. Thankfully, along with these favorable traits came other favorable traits such as potency and pest resistance. In many instances of mutation, 99.9% of mutations are counterproductive to what a breeder is hoping for. Hence, it has taken a very long time and tens of thousands of plants, endless combinations of protocols, environmental experiments, and sheer luck to create plants the express the right genes while maintaining all other characteristics. That was our part.

The other 95% of this result was the plants willingness to adapt to conditions that it had likely not seen since the last ice-age. Somewhere dormant within the kava plant, were the genes necessary to adapt to temperature extremes, different soils and light cycles etc.. It was just a matter of coaxing these genes back into expressing themselves. Getting these expressions to stick over time is another challenge altogether which we’ll go over in another post in the near future. For now, we wanted to share with you this small Plantlet, the first of its kind, the revolution starter – Kali Kea™

Is Kali Kava™ Genetically Modified Kava?

Another common question we’ve gotten is if our Kava is genetically modified. The short answer is “No”, Kali Kava™ is no more genetically modified than any other Kava that has come before it. We aren’t “Playing God” (creating a new species), we’re not Monsanto (genetically engineering), and we’re not creating Frankenstein Kava with werewolf DNA in it (transgenic organism). We’ve simply done what every other kava culture has done before us – We’ve introduced kava into a new environment, allowed it to adapt and selected for favorable mutations over generations.

It is good to have this discussion because it opens the door for a better understanding of the differences between the terms “Genetically Modified” and “Transgenic Organism” and “Genetic Engineered” and how they apply to plants, including Kava.

First and foremost, it should be understood that the Kava plant as we know it, is a human invention. It was created by humans in Northern Vanuatu some 3,000 years ago through a slow process of breeding and backcrossing with its ancestral plants until it became its own polyploid, sterile species. Thereafter, somatic mutants that presented desirable traits were selected and propagated and this is how we’ve arrived at the narrow genetic diversity of varieties of kava that was have today. This story is not unique to Kava; there are many examples of food crops such as corn, potatoes, among others, that possess genetics so drastically altered by human migrations and selection processes, that they bear little resemblance to their original genetic ancestors.

There is consensus on the origin of Kava being Northern Vanuatu and that it was created by humans. Therefore, Kava is not a native to any of the Pacific Islands where it grows, from Vanuatu to Hawaii and everywhere in between. All Kava varieties found throughout the South Pacific are Vanuatu varieties that either mutated by adapting to new environments, or were chosen by chance somatic mutation. Either way, humans continued to genetically modify Kava by forcing the plant to adapt to new environments, and by propagating the favorable somatic mutations that were observed.

So far, we’ve established that 1. Kava is a man made species. 2. Humans have genetically modified kava since they created it. 3. Kava is not a native species to any of the islands that it grows.

From a geneticists standpoint, the term “Genetically Modified” simply means the modification of the genetic material of an organism. This is a heritable form of mutation, which usually has a causable agent such as chemical, radiation, fire, and even human or animal selection. This differs significantly from an engineered “Transgenic Organism”, which typically inserts or moves genes from an organism that don’t already exist in the genome. This process can be natural or intentional. For example, it is difficult to trace the true origins of sweet potatoes because its genome was naturally GMO’ed by genes inserted by a naturally occurring agrobacterium some 8,000 years ago. People have been eating GMO sweet potatoes for thousands of years and never realized it! “Genetically Engineered” differs from both of these definitions in that it refers to the direct artificial modification of an organisms DNA using bio-technology.

To sum this up the term “Genetically Modified” simply means that the heritable DNA of a plant has changed from its ancestral plant either by natural or unnatural processes. Kava is by definition, a GMO crop due to the role of human selection in its evolution. The common use of GMO, differs from “Transgenic” which means that an organism contains the genes from another plant or animal that is not already present in the ancestral plant. “Genetically Engineered” differs from both of these definitions in that it refers to the direct artificial modification or recombination of an organisms DNA using bio-technology.

So is Kali Kava™ GMO? No more so than any other variety of Kava. Is it Transgenic? No, Kali Kava™ does not contain any genes from other plants or animals. Is it Genetically Engineered? No. Kali Kava™ is simply the next progression in Kava’s journey from its origins in Vanuatu, throughout the Pacific Islands, and its end point is here in California. Like all other environments that kava has found itself in before, it continues to adapt to its new environment and change. We’ve introduced Kava to its new environment and selected for desirable traits in the exact same manner that all previous Kava stewards have done before this point in Kava’s history.

Is Kali Kava™ Grafted?

While we’ve grafted many kava plants, they’ve always stayed true to their original phenotypes. Meaning that this Kali Kau™ branch will continue to be a rahmadel, even though its grafted onto this Kali-Kea™ plant. But we’re still open to the possibility of epigenetic exchange which may one day result in a new branch that looks different than either plant. Kali Kava™ plants are not grafted. The entire plant exhibits favorable enhanced genetic expression, not just one branch.

Is Kali Kava™ Hydroponic Kava? It can be.

A lot of people have speculated that the way that Kali-Kava™ gets so big, so fast, and so potent is that its grown in hydroponics. It CAN be, but we prefer good old fashion outdoor soil. This plant pictured above is only 10 months old and has some unique features. One, you’ll notice the sprawling lateral roots. Two, its FLOWERING. Three, it has changed phenotype from being a dark black Hiwa plant into some green stems, and some purple banded stems much like a Mahakea plant. Growing environments, different nutrients and supplements, and selecting for mutations, creates new varieties of plants. Hard Stop.

Kali Kava™ – 18 month Plant Yields

One of the first questions that we get is, “What kind of yield can I expect growing Kava in California?” We will save you the time with a succinct answer: Anywhere from 2-4lbs fresh green weight per plant at 18 months. For those of you who would like a more in depth answer, the rest of this post is for you. As many Kava growers know, there are numerous factors that go into the quality and yield of Kava plants. Let’s start with the basics: Genetics, Terroir, and Nutrients.

Genetics

Genetics are an important factor in yields because they ultimate determine the upper limit for the potential of a plant. When we talk about genetics we mean both the hard-coded DNA of the plant, as well as the mRNA, which are genetic expressions. Kali-Kava™ plants share common genetics with all other kava plants from the Pacific, but have altered gene expression. Some of the 138 altered genes have unregulated and expressed 24X their original forms. With these genes being unregulated and down regulated in response to alterations in their environment, comes dramatic changes in the plants morphology, chemical makeup, nutrient and sunlight requirements, and ultimately the quality and yield of the Kava. We have adapted high yielding, fast growing varieties with excellent chemotypes for both drinking kava and medicinal markets.

Terroir

Terroir is the microclimate of a region which includes numerous factors such as altitude, soil type and quality, the temperature, humidity, rainfall and the amount of sunshine hours per year. Terroir is a French word coming from the root word “terre” meaning land, and is often used to describe the land as it pertains to its suitability for growing wine grapes, but can also be used to describe land for Coffee, and Kava. Terroir is the reason why a wine grape grown in France, won’t taste the same as one grown in Chile. Its the reason why the same Guatemalan variety of coffee that was brought to Hawaii in the 1800’s. tastes different than the same variety grown in Guatemala. The same goes for Kava that originates in Vanuatu and grown in the Solomon Islands. Changes in a plants growing environment can signal to the plant to adapt which will present in differences in chemotype, morphology, and even genetic mutations. We have adapted our Kava varieties to grow in the unique terroir of Northern and Southern California with the proper soil amendments and irrigation.

Kava grows well in the sandy-loam soil commonly found throughout Northern and Southern California with adequate soil amendments, fertilization and drip irrigation. When our varieties are grown in coastal areas of Southern California with moderate temperatures (40-80F) and high humidity such as Santa Barbara, coastal Los Angeles, Oceanside, Vista and San Diego, plants require less irrigation and less nutrients.

Northern California’s more extreme climate ranges from 30F to 105F. Our Kali Kava™ varieties grow best when pruned to small bushes. We found early on in the process that plants that survive temperature extremes often regenerate as dwarfs. The taller stalks almost always show chilling damage in the leaves and will wilt and droop in the heat. If the plant survived at all, it would proliferate new shoots at the base and stay close to the ground. This helpful adaptation that was adopted from the few surviving plants is what allows our Kali Kava™ plants to say short and bushy at the base, providing insulation for the corm and conserving water and humidity in dry heat. Long, lanky stalks and large leaves present a respiration problem for plants growing in temperature extremes as they increase the surface area for the plant to lose water and heat, without much insulation around them for retention.

Nutrients

Nutrients play a pivotal role in the quality and yields of kava since the plant was not exactly designed to grow in the soils of Northern and Southern California. When we first began growing kava here, we made the mistake of feeding the plants a primarily nitrogen rich fertilizer which lead to adequate aerial growth, but failed to provide the roots with the valuable phosphorus and potassium needed for optimum root growth. Since Kava plants grown here experience more annual sunlight hours than the Pacific (3,000 hours versus 2,000), the nutrient requirements are much different than their native growing regions. We’ve found that its best to custom tailor the nutrient schedule to the genetics of the plant and the sunny, dry, terroir. In general, we’ve found that sulphur or lime amendments significantly aids in proper nutrient uptake in these types of soils, when heavily irrigated. We prefer to top feed the plants and allow the irrigation to leach the nutrients through the well draining soil.

Yield Of a Kali-Kava™ Kava Plant

Back to the question of yields. In Northern California, kava plants are put out into the ground in Early April. We choose 2′ X 2′ for those on the metric system that’s 0.6M X 0.6M. Those who farm kava will notice that this is extremely dense plantings – Equating to 25,000 plants per hectare or roughly 10,750 plants per acre. Some may ask, “Why would you plant so many plants per acre? Wont they compete for nutrients and overgrow one another, not to mention pest problems?” Kali Kava™ isn’t growing 5 year old plants for harvest, we’re growing 18 month old plants. From our field work, we’ve found that densely planted plots yielded more weight per acre than traditional spacing. In fact, 2 – 18 month old plants at double density produced 4.1 lbs of green material whereas 1 – 18 month old plant at single density only produced 3.6lbs. So while more space DOES equate to more yield per plant, double density produces more weight per field area. The economics are a simple equation – Given an unlimited supply of planting material, if the yield per plant produces more profit than the cost of the cutting, its worth planting.

Economic Feasibility of Growing Kava In California

The above scenario of 25,000 plants per hectare considering a conservative estimate of 2lb fresh green weight yield, produces 50,000lbs (22,727KG) of fresh green kava per hectare. This is the dry weight equivalent of 10,000lbs (4545KG) per hectare. Considering that Kali Kava™ varieties produce plants consisting of 60% high potency lateral roots, this is a a ton of high quality, very potent Kava in a very short period of time. Given the current average market value of Kava @ $60 per KG and the average export potency of 5-7% Kavalactones, Kali Kava™ can produce a minimum 9% Kavalactone mix of lateral and stump material in record time, without the long lead times, quality concerns, and importation headaches. The quality of Kali Kava™ would fetch a market premium, especially when grown using USDA Certified Organic methods.

Our next post will go over the potency of Kali Kava™ varieties and how its possible to achieve high potency harvests in record times.

Kali Kava™ – Quality Kava Grown 15 Ticks North of The Tropics

“That is some of the finest Kava I have had in my life,” says Lua Alisi, one of the regulars at the local Kava bar after sampling a shell of Kali Kava’s Kali-Kea™. For the few consumers who have had the privilege of tasting the first harvests of Kali Kava™, they immediately recognize the difference in taste, texture, and potency from the powdered imported kava they normally drink. They note the green astringent quality that leaves their tongue both numb AND dry; numbness being a sensation that they are accustomed to, but the dryness that leaves one’s tongue feeling like a cat’s tongue, is new to them. Thats the freshness that Kali Kava™ can deliver and its not present in imported kava powders, or even the best fresh frozen Hawaiian kava.

Aside from the fresh, smooth, cucumber taste and strong numbing sensation, consumers recognize the potency of Kali Kava™ cultivars as being much stronger than imported powders, or even Hawaiian grown materials which average in the mid 5% Kavalactone range. Kali Kava™ varieties are characterized as having more than 60% of the weight of the plant in highly potent, yellow lateral roots. These abundant lateral roots test at 11.1% total Kavalactones. The stumps, are also no slump, testing at 7%+ Kavalactones, even when peeled. The average Kali Kava™ Cultivar, as it comes out of the ground (Lateral roots and peeled stumps), tests at about 9.5% Total Kavalactones. Compare this with Fiji’s average export of 5.2% powders. Even their highest grade “Waka” which fetches a premium price, tests at an average of 7.7%. Kali Kava™ offers a clear quality advantage over imported materials.

So what makes Kali Kava™ superior to imported Kava ? Is it the genetics? The newly created varieties? Is it the gene expression? Is it the climate? We firmly believe that quality kava is not just a genetic cultivar or a growing region. There are MANY factors that go into making great kava from the genetic selection, to the choice of organic fish based fertilizers, to the post harvest processing and even the preparation of the beverage itself. There are no shortcuts to producing excellent quality Kava.

‘Quality Kava is a process. It’s not a Noble cultivar or the specialized terroir of the South Pacific, nor is it the secret traditional growing methods. It’s an entire process that starts with genetics and ends with the finished beverage. Everything in-between these two endpoints, determines the quality of the Kava.’

-Kali Kava™ Founder

We aim to provide our growers with the specific genetics needed to grow excellent kava 15 degrees north of the tropics and the provide support in all processes from cuttings to finished roots, the entire way through. Our full-system cooperative approach to farming Kava ensures that California will be an origin for the highest quality specialty kava on Earth.

Kali Kava™ – Northern California Kava Growing Test Plot Summer 2018

We’ve heard how impossible it is to grow Kava anywhere other than the tropics. We took the laughs, snickers, and eye rolling as encouragement. We believed that the Kava plant is much more willing to adapt than most experts gave it credit for. We built California’s first test plot… 5 years ago. Here it is in 2018 when we were finally able to develop quite a few well adapted strains from this plot that are perfectly suited for California’s unique microclimates between USDA Zone 9B-11A. Now, we’re partnering with growers in Northern and Souther California, as well as Coastal Florida. A revolution is coming.

Kali Kava – Kali Hiwa™ 18 Month Old Plant Harvest and Processing

Freshly harvested 18 month old Kali Kava™ Kali Hiwa™ Plant
Freshly harvested California Kava Plant

Here we harvest one of our Kali-Hiwa™ plants. This plant was first planted in April of 2017, and harvested in September of 2019. The plant produced over 2lbs of fresh green Kava with 60% of the weight being in the highly potent lateral roots. You can see how yellow these roots are due to the high concentration of kavalactones. The analysis came back at 11.1% total kavalactones. Enjoy the harvesting and processing of this plant below.

As you can see, there were a TON of lateral roots on this plant, accounting for nearly 70% of the total weight of the underground portion. With 11.1% Kavalactone content, we’ll take it!