Monday, June 18, 2018

500+ Calves - Kapapala Ranch

Once again, I was privileged to be invited to Kapapala Ranch to witness the livestock being worked. This time was 500 calves due for branding, castrating, vaccinating, deworming, and tagging. Non-ranch people I talk with envision the cruel torture of calves, but it's nothing like that. Believe me. It's a fairly low key process where calves are kept distracted during the unpleasantries. The ranch owner oversees the operation and insists upon the calves being restrained & worked on for not more than 30 seconds each. I've timed some done at an incredibly short 12 seconds! Once released, they rejoin the other calves and watch the goings on while waiting for the gate to be opened so that they can rejoin the mom-herd. 

I've covered this sort of event before, so I won't repeat myself. But each time I come to Kapapala, I see and learn new things. So let's talk about that. 

In the past I've watched from behind the corral fence. A safe place for a novice to be. But after a few farm visits, I guess I've passed the test since we were invited to observe from inside the corral. In fact, we stood under the supply/hospitality tent, watchful to keep calves from entering the area and creating havoc. Only a couple of calves considered charging through the tent and we proudly prevented them from destroying the area. Ha! We had a job! ....happy to contribute to the event. I don't know if it was intentional that we had a job, but just steering two calves aside made us feel a useful part of the cowboy community. 

Ranching is often a family lifestyle here. Youngsters are around cattle from early on, watching, learning, and eventually helping. 

They learn to handle horses while still quite small, and seem to enjoy watching the calves, learning about their dispositions, body language, "cowness". The calves too seem curious about the tiny humans. 

I'm often asked by folks not living here if the Hawaiian cowboy still exists. Of course! Many also have jobs that have nothing to do with ranching, but they are skilled cowboys nonetheless. So for some it's a weekend job (and wow, what a dream part time job!), and for a few it's a lifestyle. 

And for the working farm dog, it's their entire existence. They live and breath to work. Even at an event like this where their help is not wanted, they find it hard to resist missing anything. They intently watch from the sidelines, wishing and hoping they'll be asked to join in. 

Thought I'd show you what they use to quickly vaccinate so many calves. Since each calf is only down for seconds, things have to be done quickly. Special syringe-like "guns" hold special made vials of vaccine or medications. A squeeze of the handle injects a pre-set dose. Zap. Done. Each calf received three injections. Because of the brief time limit allotted to work each calf, three people were needed for this task. They walked from calf to calf, administering their dose while others completed their own tasks. 

Extra syringe guns are kept ready in waiting inside a cooler.

Past readers have fixated upon the branding aspect of these work events. Branding is indeed by hot iron, a procedure that takes 3 seconds. The irons themselves need to be kept properly clean and heated. This ranch has homemade iron heaters that work off of propane. The one pictured below is shutdown already, so you don't see the flame inside the cylinder. But these homemade iron heaters work really good for the job at hand. 

Multiple branding irons are used so that there is a constant rotation and readiness of the irons. Each ranch has its own unique brand so that ownership can be quickly determined from a distance. No need to endanger a person by getting close to a touchy cow. 

I'm not going to get into the argument of the pros & cons of branding here, mainly because people have no personal experience working with wild ranch cattle. If you've never worked with them, you can't possibly understand the problems of dealing with them. 

Another procedure that is done with the calves is castration of the males. These calves are all fairly young, making the procedure quick and usually not bloody. A ultra sharp knife, an emasculator, and a skilled cowboy gets the job done incredibly quickly. Emasculator? That's the instrument that is used to remove the testicles in a manner that does not cause bleeding. It cuts off the testicles while at the same time crushing the blood vessel shut. If done by a skilled hand, it is quick, effective, basically bloodless. This event had several emasculator a ready for action. Extras were stored in surgical disinfectant until needed. 

Before I get lots of emails telling me how castration isn't needed, let me say this. Castrating the 250 or so young bulls will allow all 500+ calves get a chance to spend their time eating, relaxing, and being peaceful. Being around a bunch of horny young bulls is NOT a fun experience. Every cow is on edge, nervous, can't get the time to eat enough, to relax and sleep enough. It just ends up with a herd of skinny, poorly developing calves. Bull calves don't stop to eat. Heifer calves are constantly harassed. Not good. 

By lunchtime all 500+ calves were done and back with their moms. After watching the herd for a half hour to look for any calf having a problem (there were none), the herd is released back into the pasture.  On the couple of branding events I've attended, I haven't seen a calf get into trouble yet. But I'm sure it could happen, so skilled watchful eyes scan the calves before sending them and their moms back to graze. 

Speaking of eating, it's now lunchtime and time to feed the 50-60 helpers. This ranch produces a great BBQ lunch for everyone before they head home. 


Sunday, June 17, 2018

Starting Onions

"C" lives local to me and stopped me in the post office to ask about my onions. Being a total failure to being able to start his own onions, he wanted to know how I did it. Do here it goes.......

     I start onions from seed, sets, and seedlings. I diversify so that if one method temporarily fails, I have the other methods to get onions from. That might sound crazy to most gardeners, but here in the tropics, crop failures are common. By using a variety ways of doing things, I'm more apt to have steady food to put on the table. After all, my goal is to harvest food, not adhere to the "best" way of doing it. 

     Seeds --- I find that seeds are by far the slowest way to produce onions. In addition, they take a lot more care and attention. Initially I had a lot of problems trying to get seedlings successfully. I'd sow a pack of seeds and be lucky to get a dozen onion plants. I quickly saw that direct sowing out in the garden was a complete failure and waste of effort. Poor germination. Poor survival. And if the turkeys found the patch, they'd eat them all. Fencing off the turkeys wasn't going to improve the situation much, because I got very few surviving seedlings anyway. Ok--- back up---try something else. 
     Now I start the seeds in a small tray, then as they sprout I transplant them into a larger growing tray, spacing them about an inch apart to give them room. The room just makes it easier to pull them for transplanting later. They will grow in one of the mini greenhouses until they are 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick, whereupon I transplant them out into a garden bed. Why bother with this? Because sowing directly out in the garden simply doesn't work for me, so I now use the mini greenhouses to produce my own transplants. And I like the idea of growing onions from seed I sow myself. 
     Sets --- In the past I've been given onion sets. They are an easy, though more expensive way to grow onions. Most of the onion sets for sale are long day types, so they don't bulb here in Hawaii. But they can produce thick shanks, looking like leeks, that are juicy and delicious. Sometimes the variety is an intermediate type and I get thick shanks with a wide bulby base. That's fine too. 
     Our local Wal-Mart usually has onion sets for sale each spring. And it's not unusual for friends to gift me a bag. I've always been successful with them, especially in soil enhanced with a generous amount of compost. 

     Seedlings/transplants --- I buy seedlings from Dixondale. I've always had great success with them. I usually order 10 bunches which gives me an abundance of onions. The biggest plantlets go right out into the garden beds immediately. Anything smaller than 1/8 inch in thickness goes into a grow-on tray in the mini greenhouse to plant out once they grow bigger. I seldom have much loss using these. 
    I've talked with other gardeners who say they have lots of loss using these seedlings. I'm not entirely sure what they are doing wrong. My method: 
...remove them from the shipping box immediately. them in a cool, dry, airy spot until I plant them. That means on the floor of my north facing lanai.
...plant them as soon as possible, usually within 2-3 days. 
...plant the larger ones directly into the gardens. Plant the smaller ones, less than 1/8" diameter, into growing trays in the mini greenhouses. 
...make a point to keep the soil lightly moist but not overly wet for the next week or so. 
...apply only a very light layer of mulch until the little onion plants have grown some. Don't bury them in mulch. 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Eruption Update

In general, things are maintaining the status quo. Fissure 8 is continuing to fountain lava at about the same height, but it's not so visible because the spatter has built a cone around it that's a bit over 150' high now....and growing. Will it slow down or get bigger? When will it stop? No one knows. 

(USGS photo) Above, that's fissure 8 on the right and the lava river in the left. There's some beautiful photography coming out of this eruption. 

The lava river is still flowing with incredible volume, about 25,000 gallons of molten lava a second. Yes, a second. It ends up flowing into the ocean down at Kapoho and has created around 250 acres of new land. Hey, wanna buy cheap land in Hawaii? 

(USGA photo) Above, the new lava land. The red is pahoehoe lava flows down by the coast. At night the lava glow turns the clouds brilliant red. 

Kilauea summit is in a cycle of deflating then producing a minor explosion of ash and steam. It's happening about every 20 hours. The floor and walls of Halema'uma'u are gradually crumbling into the hole left by the receding lava. The caldera is also sinking. Giant ground cracks are appearing around the crater as the ground subsides. The summit is gradually caving in. As more material sinks into the throat of the volcano, earthquakes occur with the shifting and the cracking. Eventually the pressure gets too high and explosion of ash and stream, generally going 5,000 to 10,000 feet (as measured above sea level, and since the summit is already 4,000 feet high, so the plume isn't all that spectacular as it first sounds.) for the past several days Kilauea has been maintaining this cycle and no one knows what will happen next. 

(USGA photo) If you haven't seen Halema'uma'u before, you have nothing to compare this photo to. But take my word for it, the summit has changed dramatically. It's all sinking into a gigantic pit. 

By the way, each time the summit explodes, the people living in Volcano Village feel shaking like a 5.4 earthquake. It's not truly an earthquake, but that's what it feels like. Now imagine what's that like every night. Yup, the cruel sadistic gods are timing the explosion for between midnight and 5 am. 

Farm Update

This farm is gradually getting back to normal. The volcano eruption caused a bit of disruption due to the ash falls and increased vog, but I've learned to handle it. (I either needed to learn or give up in defeat. Learning was the option I choose.) The main .....and ongoing....... problem has been too much rain combined with too little sun. (As I'm writing this, of course it is raining and cloudy. Gee, what's new?!) This has led to excessive weed regrowth, grass that can't be mowed on schedule and thus overgrowing, garden soil that is often too wet to work, seedlings and crops that rot or mildew. It's been a piss poor year to date. But that's what farming can be like. It's not always a life of sun & roses. 

Although the rain guage is still registering almost daily moisture of some small amount, the ground is actually workable. How about that! No longer mud. We are seldom getting sunshine, but there's enough now to grow most crops, albeit slow growing. I've been sowing a few test plots to determine which crops will grow under the current conditions, and some are doing adequately. So it looks like I'm willing to risk planting again. I've noticed that other farmers in the area are coming to the same conclusion. I've seen them out in their fields, trying to get crops restarted. 

Although the farm has been basically on pause for several months, I'm still getting food for our own table. But I'm not getting enough excess for selling and trading. What's harvestable? 
...Assorted greens -- Okinawan soinach, cholesterol spinach, pipinola and sweet potato tips, chaya, assorted Chinese greens, radish greens, onion tops. 
...Assorted herbs are harvestable for home cooking. 
...Plenty of mamaki and lilikoi leaves for making tea. And plenty of coffee beans stored away. 
...There are still potatoes and sweet potatoes stored in the ground. Plenty. 
...The cherry tomatoes are producing enough for salads several times a week. 
...The onion crop is just coming in, and while there are plenty of onions, they are small. I'm used to hardball to softball sized onions, and these are hardball or smaller. So I'm getting a lot less onions this year. To compensate I will need to grow non-bulbing green onions for the rest of the year. 
...I'm getting a bumper crop of pineapple guavas, I guess due to all the rainfall. Normally I don't bother with them, but since there are insanely plentiful, I've been collecting them for making syrup and adding to my breakfast yogurt (I've been freezing them). We also like them fresh in a mixed salad. 
...The banana trees are producing the best I've ever seen them. Guess they like to extra rain. So we are getting enough bananas for both us and the livestock. 
...Pipinolas are doing really great right now. Plenty for both us and the animals. 
...While the pineapples aren't ready for harvesting, I can see that we should get a nice crop as long as diseases don't get them. Many of the plants are flowering. 
...Papayas are coming in steadily, though not overly abundantly. There's enough for our needs. 
...The taro looks good though I suspect the corms will not make good smooth pa'i'a because of the excess water in the soil. It might be lumpy. I've noticed in past years that my dry land taro does better with steady moisture but not the off and on again deluges. We are not poi eaters but I do eat pa'i'a (pounded taro corm without the water added like when making poi) pounded with herbs. And we also eat some of the leaves and stems occasionally in certain dishes. The rest that we don't eat goes into the chicken and pig food cook pot. 
...The lilikoi is just coming into bloom right now and the vines are loaded with buds. Looks like a good crop coming this year. 

Lots of things are missing. No broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, beets, carrots, peas, beans. The chard, squash, and cucumbers all went moldy. The sweet peppers rotted, though the little hot ones that we don't eat actually are doing ok. The small amount of corn I tried molded in the ear. A total loss. 

In the livestock quarter, things are fine. We have enough eggs and meats. And we have been given assorted cheeses to be "paid" for with future veggies. Gee, I'm in debt. Swore I'd never go into debt again in my life, but here we are.... in cheese debt. 

We're doing fine. I'm cheating by buying a variety of veggies at the local farmers market. But if we had to survive on just what the farm produced or traded for, we could be doing fine. We'd just be seeing less variety on the dinner table. And since that last time I talked about being food independent, we've developed a cheating habit. We now eat Greek yogurt with our daily breakfast. We both feel physically better adding the yogurt to our diet, so I plan to keep it up. We will just plan to produce a bit more eggs or resale veggies to keep the financial balance. The farm is producing our food either by growing it, trading for it, foraging or hunting it, or selling excess and using that money to buy what we don't produce ourselves. 

All in all the farm is progressing. Most of the compost bins are cycling, producing plenty of fertilizer. The chicken flock is definitely producing fertilizer, believe me! Boy, can those birds process food! The young lambs are growing, and the ones I sold have already left the farm. The two piglets are getting bigger and friendlier. I've just spent two days mowing the weeds down in preparation of rototilling the garden beds. I also found and eliminated two yellowjacket nests......ouch! Yes, that's how I located them in the first place. I got a number of stings. 

Now that I'm getting back to farm production, I'll start posting about how I'm doing things here. 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Crab Claw Stinkhorn?

Found a new fungus in the farm. 

It's a star shaped fungus with three fingers. I think it's one of the crab claw stinkhorns. This one is just about pau. Shame I didn't find it yesterday when it would have been fresher. Would have made a nicer photo. 

This one was growing in some twiggy mulch. It's fun to see what grows out of some of my various mulches. You just never know what will pop up next. 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Visited Pahoa Today

My intention wasn't to drive through Pahoa today, or to get close to the eruption site. Actually, I was heading to Hilo with a friend for each of us to get a dozen little tasks done that gave been accumulating for some time now. Trips to Hilo are not taken lightly, considering the cost of the gasoline plus 1) the risk of driving past Kilauea summit, and 2) the exposure to much thicker vog than we are use to. But go, we did. And don't ask me how we came to the decision to sidetrack to Pahoa, but it seemed like a nifty idea at the moment. The excuse was, "Lets check out the Mexican restaurant for lunch." Sounded good, even though it was only 10 am. And no, in case you're curious, we never found the restaurant nor stopped for what would have been a very, very early lunch. 

Wow, what a thrill. Perhaps we're just easily entertained, but to see the site from a distance was amazing. 

From a distance it looked all the world like a storm with a funnel cloud. But that's no tornado under that dark cloud. It's the fissure 8 eruption. Because it was daytime, you can't see any red. But at night, I'm told by the locals, the sky is brilliant red. Meanwhile over by Kapoho where the ocean entry is, a broad swatch of the skyline is nothing but dark grey cloud, looking like a nasty thunderstorm heading this way. 

I had "E" ask me, "How aware are the people in Pahoa of the eruption? Can they see it? Or is it life as usual?" No, life surely isn't normal. The sky makes it quite evident that there's an eruption going on only a mile so from town. Those clouds are never out of sight. Plus the main roads have roadblocks. Plenty of police and National Guard are visible. No, daily life isn't normal. 

We drive down to the two roadblocks, waved a friendly hello to the officials, the. Headed on toward Hilo. 

Latest map: 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Doing Good to Feel Better

This past few weeks have been bummers. Not there was bad stuff happening in the farm that was out of the usual sort of happenings. Oh yes, "bad" things do happen, but I roll with most of it. Animals get sick....., I treat them. Volcanic ash threatens to cause problems.......I clean it up and/or wear a dust mask. ATV tire develops a leak..... I fix it. Cabbage and carrot seedlings rot away...... I'll seed more in another week and hope for sun. Grass has been continually too wet to I weedwack it down and hope to mow it up if and when things dry out. Piglet digs out of pen...... I show Adam the benefits of having trained piglets to come to "peeeg-peeeg-peeeg" for their dinner. Piglet successfully back in pen with no effort. And on and on. No, the farm isn't the bummer. It's the continuing devastation being caused by Mother Nature's volcano. It's the hundreds of homes destroyed, livelihoods gone, people's dismay. I'm not experiencing their loses, but I empathize with them. There's little I can do to help, though help I have, within my means. 

Today I found that volunteering with Advocats at another spay/neuter clinic did much to help temporarily relieve my funk. While I can't do a whole lot more to help the Puna folks, I can help a few more feral and semi-feral cats have better quality lives. Some of the cats we saw today have been dealt bad hands from life.....through no fault of their own. Some had picked up parasites, acquired injuries, were sick, were debilitated from having kittens, were skinny. We could help these cats have better lives. It felt very good to be making a very significant difference in the life of an innocent creature. 

My inner spirit has been healed a bit today. I notice that some of the tension I've been harboring is gone tonight. That is good. This type of volunteering is the sort of thing that is good for me. The next spay/neuter clinic I'll be helping at will be then end of June. I'm already looking forward to it. I think I'll sleep good tonight.