Monday, December 4, 2017

Attaching Greenhouse Plastic in the Mini Greenhouse

"D" wrote to say....."Hi Su,
I am in Honomu and your mini greenhouse is EXACTLY what I need.
Would you please let me know what you used as clips to hold the plastic to the PVC?
A post on your construction method would be great too...."

I tend to keep things simple and cheap. So I use an old worn out garden hose. Using a pruning shears, I cut 3" long pieces. Then using the shears, I cut I slit the full length of the piece. 

I don't bother to drill a hole for the attachment screw. The above pieces are being reused, thus the reason you see a hole in them. 

I guess you could use just about any kind of screw, but I had these little screws with wide heads. I tend to use whatever I have on hand, get for free, or pick up cheaply at thrift stores or yard sakes, 

I use screws instead of nails because they are easy to punch right through the hose and pcv without pre drilling a hole, plus they grip well. 

I apply the greenhouse plastic, then slip a piece of hose over the plastic and over the pipe. Then drill the screw in. I use one of the battery operated drills because I'm working in a spot with no electricity. 

I've had a couple of episodes of quite strong winds and the plastic stays in place. I have the mini greenhouses oriented so that the prevailing wind blows through the tunnel, not against it. Thus I haven't had any problems with the greenhouses blowing over. 

As for the construction, again, I keep it simple. So simple that it drives hubby nuts. He would make them far more substantial. I simply nail two 2x4s to each corner of a pallet for each leg. The two pieces are first nailed together in an "L" configuration then nailed to the pallet. It's not real strong, but I'm not moving the pallets around, so it's stable enough. These are just quick and easy legs. 
Then I bend the 1/2" pcv pipe and screw each end to each corner, one pipe per side of the pallet. I think I used 8' or 9' pipes. But any length would do depending upon high tall you want the arch. For stability, at the top I screwed a top cross bar, connecting the two pipes at the top of the arch. I used pcv so that this brace would be smooth and not tear the plastic. Then for more stability I added four braces (two each side of the pallet table top) going from the middle of one pallet side up to the pcv pipe before I got too far along in its arch. I used guava sticks.....for a few reasons. Guava is free. The sticks are fairly smooth so as not to tear the plastic. Guava is fairly durable. It's easy to work with. So now the pcv arch is fairly stable and ready for plastic. I painted to wood because it made hubby happy. 

The cost was low. For most of the mini greenhouses I used free, reused materials, or things I had in hand. For the last few I had to buy the pcv pipe. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Bean Damage

After quite a long period of little sun, lots of rain, and cool temperatures, I went to harvest my Golden Gate yellow beans. Very unhappy to see the amount of damage in the beans themselves. The plants look fine, in fact, robust. But the beans are showing signs of slug damage plus something else. 

The curling of the pods was to be expected. This is a pole variety that I accidentally planted in the bush bean bed. So it didn't get trellised. If grown on a trellis, the pods would have been straighter. But it's the brown marks that concern me. 

And I've never seen the brown discoloration along the top "seam" of the pods before. 

So what's the problem? Wrong variety for the weather conditions? Too wet? Too cold? Not enough sun? Some sort of disease? Just not a good variety for this farm? 

I'm ending up with 80% loss. That's right. Only 20% of the beans are sellable. 

I still have about a pound of seed for sowing. I think I'll wait until late spring to plant it .......and along a trellis this time! (oops) So I'll see how this bean performs in warmer, sunnier, and hopefully drier conditions before I give up on it. By the way, I cooked up the damaged beans for the chickens and they smelled delicious. At least this one has good flavor going for it. Plus the pods are very low fiber, thus they are quite tender when cooked. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Mini Greenhouse Fixes

My Initial experiment with the mini greenhouses were a success. My hubby saw them as failures because....
....the plastic shredded 
....the ground cloths became slug motels 

Those two problems just need tweeking. Since I plan to keep using these mini greenhouses, I'm upgrading to greenhouse plastic. Greenhouse plastic is thicker, stronger, and UV resistant. Between the winds here and the tropical sun, I don't expect to get 10 years out of it, but if I can get several years I'll be happy enough. 

Covering the ground was good for weed control, but bad for dealing with slugs. When I pulled back the ground cloth just to check out of curiosity, YIKES! It was a slug haven. They must have been having weekly orgys because there were slug eggs here, there, everywhere. Hundreds, no thousands, of slugs. Ok, the ground cover was a real bad idea. It allowed water to drain through it and create a nice dark, moist environment. So it had to go. I'd rather deal with weeds. 

Recovering the mini greenhouses wasn't difficult, it just took time. Lots of backing out screws then re-screwing in order to reattach plastic sheeting. Working at a good clip, it took me 20 minutes to do each mini greenhouse. 

At-da! Job done. Ready for replanting. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017


No rain up until this past week. Only 0.1" the entire week before. Nothing the week prior to that. Not good. 

When growing vegetables, constant soil moisture is real important. Two weeks of almost no rain has kept me watching my soil closely. But combined with that no rain has also been a general lack of wind and sun. Thus my two major moisture robbers have been absent. But finally I was getting concerned. Yesterday's checking indicated that it was time to irrigate. 

So what did I hear the weatherman say? Flash flood warning for all of Big Island? Whoa baby, rain! Yes! Sometimes I luck out. In the past 3 days the farm has gotten over 4 inches of rain. Wow. End of dry spell for now. 

Weather is real iffy here. While rainy spells seem to have a season, the yearly trends recently haven't kept to the script. The past few years have been much wetter than what I use to expecting. And the rain has been happening thorough out the year, rather than primarily at a particular season. 

If this were the rain pattern all the time, farming would be much easier. But no. Sometimes years are significant drought, which puts a real monkey wrench into farming. Drought has its benefits though -- lots of sun, warmth, available days to get work done. But it also means that water must be hauled if the stored catchment tanks get used up, which usually happens with long droughts. 

For some reason, folks who want to get into farming or serious gardening don't realize just how much the weather affects growing plants. I sort of knew about it when I got started, but the reality really hit me during my first drought. Then again during my first extended rain period. And I'm still working on ways to deal with the weather ....
...storing extra water
...incorporating more compost into the soil
...learning how to manage the mulching better
...discovering which varieties need extra moisture, or conversely, preform better during dry spells 
...experimenting with shade tunnel
...experimenting with rain protection tunnels
...using greenhouses
I haven't gotten into exploring drip irrigation yet, but it is something I really need to try. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Snowing in Hawaii

First big snow of the season in Hawaii. In fact, both summits are seeing snow. Pretty cool! 

Last night I noticed a dusting of snow on one of the webcams. By this morning the snow was obvious. Plus the summit road was closed, a sure sign of snow and ice. Since it's suppose to snow more tonight, the road will stay closed until the plow clears it. Yes, Hawaii owns a snow plow! 

According to the weather service, they are expecting around 6" of snow, give or take. But sleet will most likely be mixed in at times, making the snow cover icy and as hard as a rock. Not the fun sort of snow to play in. But no doubt people will go up there for some early winter fun, and you can bet there will a snowman built down by a beach somewhere, or possibly some kid's front yard. 

Tomorrow I'm going to be occupied, otherwise I'd drive to a good vantage point to take some photos. Some years the snow caps the mountain and makes for some stunning photos of the beach in the foreground and the snow covered volcano in the distance. Always a great picture to email to friends. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Expanding the Growing Space

While I have plenty of growing areas to produce all the fruits and veggies that we need to survive ourselves, it's the extra cash crops that I'm focusing on. Thus the reason I need more garden spots. But looking around my farm, I see that I'm limited as to available open, sunny areas. Resale veggies are ones that require sun. So the flat, open area in the front of the property will remain the primary growing area.  The problem there is the lack of soil depth and lots of rocks. I've already spent years removing rocks, and it looks like I'm going to be doing more once again. Gee, my first thought was, "Where do I need more rock walls?"

I'm actively working to expand. Besides looking for more nooks and crannies, I'm also coming up with ways to expand the main garden. By removing the grass aisles, I'll gain over 33% more actual planting space. So that looks like a viable option. Plus it would be the fastest way since most of the rocks have already been removed from previous gardening activity.

Above, the aisleway has been turned over, then compost was tilled in. 

Another option is converting the ornamental taro growing area into veggie beds. That's a real tempting option too. 

Down along the chicken pen is a 20' x 15' spot that gets decent sun and has adequate soil. I could move taro to that area, thus freeing up better locations for more veggies. 

Much of my grassy, pasture zones get plenty of sun, but are full of rock and poor soil. Those spots would take some serious work. But it's a thought in the back of my head. 

Above, I've prepared the soil along the back edge of a low rock wall and planted a little taro. Utilizing the narrow, small margins helps increase my production.'s another "edge" garden site. I'm putting 20 pineapple starts along one of the concrete pathways around the house. Noodles helped me remove rocks and till in the compost. Gee, I had to be careful not to run him over with the tiller. He's not afraid of motors, obviously. 

Some of the new areas will be used for vine crops .... pipinola, pumpkins, gourds. So I'll only need to prep the spots where the individual plants will be growing, not the areas in between where the vines spread. At least for now, that's the plan. I can prep more ground after the harvest. 

As for row crops, for virgin garden spots I'm preparing just the actual row only for now --- not the space between the rows. Eventually I'll expand the 12" rows into 3' wide beds, but not immediately. Why? Lack of time. First step is create a row and get a crop in and growing. Then as time permits, I'll remove rocks and add soil amendments to the aisleways. Rather than prepping the entire area first, it's more important for me to get a crop growing. Thus prep will happen along the way as I'm harvesting crops for market. I know that lots of people advocate...actually insist on... getting the garden area fully prepped first, but that would mean working the soil for three years before growing my first crop. A year of rock removal and bed creation and two years of building the soil fertility. Keep in mind that I'm not using commercial fertilizers, which would give me an instant boost now but would interfere with the development of a long term healthy soil system. No, I'm not going to wait for 3 years. I need the crops now and will simply work with what I've got, improving as I go along. And ya know, I'm no spring chicken anymore. Waiting years to get a new crop going isn't in my favor anymore. I want to see these crops getting harvested before I'm too old to do it! 

So here's my task list....
...choose a spot with at least 3" of soil (even if it's just between the rocks) and gets at least 6 hours of sun
...mow the grass down as close as possible. the rototiller shallowly over the surface to cut most of the grass plants off at the soil surface. 
...mark where the rows will be
...use a mattock to open the soil along the rows, removing the rocks as I go along. Remove any Bermuda grass roots that I see. Open the row about 12" wide. the row with compost, manure, and other soil amendments. Work them in with a mattock, shovel, or tiller (whichever does the job). 
...plant beans, peas, or potatoes

There will be lots of more work in the future. Things like building the soil volume, increasing the soil fertility, eliminating the Bermuda and kukuya grass, removing more rocks to widen the growing area. But the goal I'm keeping in mind is growing sellable veggies ASAP. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Kapapala Ranch

Last day of my Thanksgiving vacation proved to be special. I was invited to Kapapala Ranch for a picnic & tour. What a treat! 

Kapapala Ranch is a large (34,000 acre) working ranch in my region. Yes, it's huge. 90 miles of ranch roads, 350 miles of fence line. It hosts 2400 breeding cows (plus bulls and calves) and 2000 Spanish meat goats, several donkeys, and numerous ranch dogs. It's an amazing operation. Unless you've seen it, it's difficult to imagine the incredible terrain, the beautiful vistas, the forests and wildlife. Seeing this vast ranch just blew me away, for real! 

Starting out from the ranch house, ...

we climbed aboard one of the ranch trucks .....along with 6 of the ranch dogs. Their choice to go along, while several others decided to stay behind. 
3 of the dogs opted to hop out and run the whole distance, one chose to ride the whole trip, and the others hopped off and on like we were a San Francisco street car. 
I got the feeling that those dogs were hoping to find a job along the way, but no luck. This was a day off. Can't call it a day of rest, since several of the dogs trotted miles and miles. 

First let me say that this wasn't like any Sunday drive I've ever gone in before. We travelled the ranch roads at a dog trot speed (8 mph, yes the dogs trotted along with the truck the whole way), so rough that it was impossible to keep one's elbow on the armrest. The road started out pleasant enough, but the higher we got in elevation the rougher the road became. 4 wheel drive LOW was required! 

The open pastures were once planted all in sugar cane back in the plantation days. Now they support cattle. One thing I was surprised to learn was that sugar cane had been planted at rather high elevations. And rather far away from the processing plant. Some of those more remote fields had been abandoned earlier than the closer fields, and while they now sported some tree regrowth, they were still predominately grassy. Interesting fact -- clumps of banana trees exist here and there in the fields. They had been used as markers in the cane fields to warn of dangerous situations for the heavy equipment. When the cane fields were burned off for harvesting, the bananas did not burn. Thus there was a clear warning of existing pukas and fragile lava tubes. Pretty clever solution. 

Around every turn there seemed to be another amazing nature scene. 
The higher we climbed, the more native the forest got. By the time we reached the top of the ranch (5000' elevation), the forest had changed to koa and ohia trees, the home of the i'iwi (a threatened Hawaiian bird). While I spotted i'iwi, there's no way I could get a photo of one. But what a thrill ---- I actually saw my first i'iwi!!!!!! 

Our destination was the ranch reservoir. 

Manmade of course, it supplies the ranch with quite a bit of valuable water. The reservoir looks to hold about 4 million gallons and gets its water from a 3 acre catchment field above the reservoir itself. From here, 9 miles of pipe send the water down to the lower ranch where it is needed. 

It's a great location for a picnic. Up here in "god's country", miles from civilization. 

Heading back down after lunch, we passed the goat herds being guarded by several large guardian dogs. 

We also visited the Ainapo cabin along the way. 

This little cabin was built in 1840 and is quite historic. Isabella Byrd stayed here in her trip up Mauna Loa, though I don't recall the year off the top of my head. This site was an established camping area prior to the cabin being built here, and it still retains its charm to this day. 

Coming downhill, the coastline views are impressive. One turn after the other revealed spectacular vistas. And usually we had at least one dog leading the way. 

What a grand trip. I am ever grateful for being invited along. Mahalo nui loa !!!