Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Apple Trees in Bloom

Went to check on my apple trees and discovered that they have blooms on them. Oh how that brought back memories of New Jersey! There were lots of orchards in my area, peach, pear, nectarine. Those apples were great. 

I find the apples grown in Hawaii are acceptable but nothing to write home about. And unless they're grown high on the slopes of Mauna Loa or Mauna Kea, gardeners here are limited to low chill varieties only. I've only found two types being offered for sale here, and I've got one of each. 

Photo above, these are flowers on my Anna tree. This tree is still quite young, so I only let it produce one apple last year....just so I could say that I got an apple. Yup, a silly ego thing, I'm sure. This year I'll let it keep 3 apples and see what happens. 

Growing apples at lower elevations (I'm at 2400', which is a lot lower than the orchards on Mauna area), is quite difficult due to the Chinese rose beetle. Those beetles can destroy the leaves practically overnight. I haven't yet found a real effective way of controlling them. I truly wish there was a bt product that targeted them. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

First Greenhouse Crops

I've been real eager to get something growing in my new greenhouses. But alas, I haven't finished filling the growing boxes with dirt. But I've started at least.

I've been mining dirt specifically for this project. To the mined dirt I've added 25% compost and mixed it in. That's quite a bit, but the mined dirt doesn't look very fertile. I'm hoping that this ratio of compost to soil will work. Time will tell. 

Above -just planted

I've filled about 6' of the new bed. My planting fingers got itchy, so I planted 6 cucumbers and 10 patio tomato plants. Yeah, I'm pushing it. But boy does it feel good seeing something green in the greenhouse. 

I figure that the cucumbers can be a vertical crop, trellised up the sides of the greenhouse. The tomatoes will be a horizontal crop, spreading out to cover the soil. That's the plan at least. 

Above -ten days later 

My first baby cuke! 

Over the next week or two I'll keep mixing soil and adding plants. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Potting Soil

Recently a person quizzed me about what I'm using for potting soil to start seeds. Over the past two years I've used a number of different mediums, but currently this past couple of months it's been Pro-Mix BX. Why? Because that's what I can get a hold of locally that actually works well for me. The "working well" is the important part. 

When I first started growing seedlings I tried an assortment of homemade potting mixes... soil
...sifted compost
...volcanic cinder
...cinder & peat moss
...peat moss
Each had a drawback that didn't work well for me. I'd say that the cinder & peat moss worked best, but the cinder I had was too coarse. I needed something finer. And the pH was way off, so it only good for starting seeds. 

I could have kept experimenting but I needed to start getting serious about growing food. So I looked to commercial potting soils, something with an established track record. By shear luck I stumbled upon several bales of Pro-Mix that someone wanted to sell. I jumped at it. I was able to get a pallet of Pro-Mix MP, which is an organic version. The basic difference between BX and MP is that BX contains vermiculite and a wetting agent (MP doesn't), plus MP uses about 30% coconut coir in place of spagnum moss. MP cost significantly more than BX, and another drawback for me is that it dries out quickly. I had to water seedlings daily, even on cloudy days. When I ran out of MP I looked around and settled on Pro-Mix BX, the version that my local Ace Hardware sells. 

BX is not considered "organic", I guess because it contains a wetting agent. This doesn't bother me, because as I see it, organic gardeners use Dawn dish detergent as their wetting agent and it surely isn't organic either. I amazes me how gardeners that are so wrapped up in being organic will turn a blind eye to using Dawn, cardboard, newspaper, old carpet, regular garden hoses, plastic rain barrels, etc. All these have traces of chemical contamination and aren't organically "clean". But as I said, it doesn't bother me. Realistically, I can't totally avoid chemical contamination in my life. Not even the air I breathe is chemical free. I just try to be reasonable about things, not fanatical. 

So my current potting soil is Pro-Mix BX. 

Some day when I have the time to fiddle around, I plan to come up with a homemade version. In the end, I'd like to be more self-reliant and have my homestead provide for itself the best it can. I have access to homegrown fresh spagnum moss, though I don't know if that is something to use. I'd have to mix it with something else. I also could gather lots and lots of coconuts locally, which couod be made into coir. But I would have to figure out how to do that. I have volcanic cinder which I would need to clean, sterilize, and sift. I have compost & garden soil which would also need to be sifted and sterilized (fungal diseases abound in the tropics). And I have easy access to lava sand. It's a lot to be figured out. As I said, I don't have the time for that right now. But my gut instinct says that lava sand or volcanic cinder,  along with fine high nutrient compost might be the ticket. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Using Pine Needles

I have a tree on the place that sheds "needles" like a pine tree. It's called an Australian Ironwood tree. Because of the dense mat of needles, nothing much grows under one of these trees. But it makes harvesting these needles quite easy. 

Why harvest them? Why not? It's a useable resource that my farm provides. And it's renewable, to boot. 

I usually collect a trashcanful whenever I need them. So what are they use for? 

While there can be many uses to choose from, I opt to use them to line the chickens' nest boxes. The birds accept them with no problem. And they don't eat them, as they do grass clippings. They don't kick them out as they do wood chips. They actually appear to like them. It keeps the eggs cleaner as long as I refresh them after each rain. Yes, the girls can muck up a nestbox pretty quickly with mud after a rain. It sticks to their feet and I haven't been able to convince them to wipe their feet off before entering their house. Hey, they tell me that's what the pine needles are for! Ok, ok. I'll just give you fresh ones after each rain. I'll go get more for you. <<<sigh....slave to chickens>>>

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Dirty Chickens

"B" contacted me to comment that my chickens were "dirty". Yup, I agree. If you've ever had chickens in a pen, you'll know that they don't use toilet paper and little commodes, they don't wash their feet, they like to dig up the dirt and kick it around. They poo while sleeping, which means that there will be quite a bit of manure beneath their roosting spots in the morning. And if any of them slept in a nestbox, that box will need fresh bedding. It happens because they don't wear diapers, nor are they potty trained. When it rains, they will walk through mud puddles, tromping mud into the nestboxes. Oh my, chickens surely lack manners and social grace. 

My hens spend most of their day is a large roofed pen (10' by 30'). This keeps them safe from dogs, hawks, and mongooses. It means that I can find the eggs in the nest boxes rather than under bushes helter-skelter around the farm. The pen protects them from bad weather. It allows me to harvest manure for the compost bins. The hens run free to scavenge bugs and lizards in the late afternoon for a few hours when it is relatively safe. I'm usually working in the area and can keep an eye out for predators. If they ran loose all day instead of being penned, then their poo would be on the ground someplace around the farm instead of under a perch, in a nestbox, or on the pen litter. Plus the hens would be in danger of being killed by predators. They'd still be poo-ing, but it wouldn't be as noticeable.....except for on the bottom of one's shoes. Yup, I'd be sure to step in it. By the way, I have feral turkeys and pheasants that visit the farm daily, leaving poo piles behind. I have to keep a diligent eye out to avoid piles. 

Yes, chickens can be "dirty". Animals poo and that's a fact of life. It's not something that upsets or worries me. Unlike some commercial farms, my birds are healthy, have no parasites, nor harbor dangerous pathogens that I am aware of. I don't fear working around my flock. I don't mind them being chickens and dirty-ing up the place. Besides, their manure is valuable. 

If one considers poo to be toxic waste, then farming livestock surely isn't for you. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Multi-Function Chickens -- Permaculture in Action

"D" commented about my permaculture solution to the deep pit beside my driveway. Let me state that I wasn't seeking a permaculture solution per se, but just a sensible solution. And the hugelpit fit the need. Long before I heard the term permaculture or hugelkuktur, I called this project my biotrash pit. In fact, I still call it a biotrash pit. 

My chicken set up is another permie type example of what goes on around here. The chickens eat the farm waste from the gardens. Grass clippings from around the farm goes into the pen for bedding, of which the chickens eat quite a bit of it. The bedding gets harvested regularly and used as fertilizer for the plants. The chickens also get let out to forage almost daily, thus controlling the bug and lizard population. They also eat the occasional mouse they come upon, thus contribute to rodent control. 

Besides fertilizer, the girls give me eggs and meat. Nice bonus. 

And when I let a rooster live in with them each spring, they brood and hatch out new chicks for the flock. 

I didn't create this system solely because it was a permaculture system. No, I did it because it made efficient sense. It's a nice homestead "circle" .....crop waste + bugs + grass fed to chickens produces eggs & meat & baby chicks, which produce fertilizer, which is used to produce veggies & fruits, which produce crop waste, which gets fed to the chickens. 

The homestead hosts other examples of circles and stacked functions. It's just the way it runs on a self reliant homestead. The sheep-donkey-pastures-food forest is another example with the system supporting the livestock and providing human food too. Again, an example including both horizontal and vertical food and resource plants. 

Not only circles and stacking, but interconnected webs. They are all variations on the same ideas. Example : Ponds get runoff from greywater filter systems, ponds support plant life and fish, excess pond water (with fish derived nutrients) goes to garden beds, excess pond plants go to the compost bins, pond water and compost go to produce food, which produce waste to feed livestock (and compost bins), livestock manure used for compost/fertilizer. Compost goes back to the garden beds. Worms from compost bins feed the fish. Aahh, the interconnectedness of all things. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Undocumented Immigrants

Last Thursday I had a few undocumented immigrants sneak onto my farm. I offered them sanctuary, but probably due fear of being deported if discovered, they moved on. Perhaps looking for a better place to live unnoticed? 

What the heck am I talking about?    ....  Guinea hens! 

Above, hiding in the shadows, I spied three vigilant Guinea hens sneaking up the road. On edge and leery of my truck, I slowly drove by them. In the distance you can see my entrance gate. Pulling through, I left it open as an invitation to the birds. 

Hours went by and I forgot about them until I heard a racket right outside my front door. I caught one of our farm cats, Crookshank (above), heading over to check out the intruders. The cat caused the G hens to spook and break out into a loud racket. If you've ever heard a Guinea hen, you know how loud that can be. And it's quite a distinctive alarm noise. In fact, I'd love to have it as my phone's ringtone. It surely would turn heads in a crowd, don't ya think? 

Ok, now there's four birds. I was quite surprised to see that they came all the way up to the house. I offered them birdseed, but they weren't impressed. I threw about some torn up bread, which they also said "no thank you" to. So I let them be to see what would develop. 

That night they slept in a tree by the chicken pen. In the morning before I left for Maui for three days, I saw a group of FIVE Guinea hens cruising around the front pasture area. I bid them goodbye as I left and wished them luck, but first left numerous piles of birdseed here and there. 

I was hoping they would stay. I hadn't the foggiest idea where they came from, but most likely they had been ditched on the road. It's a common enough occurance here. I didn't know of any neighbor having Guinea hens. But when I returned home on Monday, they were gone. Moved on. Hopefully they found a place that suited them.