Friday, March 16, 2018

Why Grow Food?

I can't tell you just how many times I've been asked, "Why go you grow your own food?" I hear the question over and over again. People point out that there is an abundance of found in the stores, the prices are cheap or at least affordable, it takes lots of work to grow a food garden, it takes money to grow your own food....and on and on and on. Lots of reasons. I've already talked about this topic before, but I'm getting so many questions about it recently that I thought I'd explore it again from a different angle. 

I have my own personal reasons for growing food, but other growers have their own, sometimes much different reasons. I'd like to list a few of mine in order to give people thinking about this topic something to mull over. 

... Independence. There's something very satisfying to me to be food independent. I find comfort and satisfaction in self reliancy. 

... Cleaner food. I can control what, if any, chemicals my food is exposed to. Commercial foods, even those listed as organic, can be exposed to a wide assortment of chemicals. Not only chemicals concern me. Bacteria, parasites, feces, and urine at times contaminate commercial foods and I'd rather not be part of that on a regular basis. 

... Fresher food. I like picking my food right off the plants, often moments before I consume them. I like eggs and meat that are extremely fresh. 

... Better flavor. Until I moved to Hawaii I wasn't aware of just how superior fresh picked fruits could be. The taste of bananas and citrus that are tree ripened is amazing. Some of the heirloom bean varieties have incredible flavor. There are plenty more examples. Freshly harvested food simply tastes so much better. 

... Variety. Though not an issue for most urbanites, rural areas often don't have a good section available. I can grow a broad selection, including edible flowers. How cool is that! I can grow herbs that are difficult to near impossible to find in the stores. 

... Confidence. Personally growing my own food, I know what went into producing it. Commercial foods, you have to guess and have a lot of faith. Is that cheese really safe? Is that meat contaminated? Is that organic milk truly organic? Are those veggies really safe? I have personally heard tales of overt cheating, right from the mouths of the farmer involved. Sprays applied the day before harvesting -- a real no-no. Chemical dewormers used just prior to slaughter. Antibiotics used just prior to slaughtered. Commercial forbidden herbicides used on organic fields.  It's happening. Plus I've read news accounts of cheating -- fish and meats misrepresented, GMO evidence in labeled organics, that sort of thing. 

... Satisfaction. I like being a small farmer. It's a passion that had smoldered in my soul for decades. Plus I like being a member of a dying race, the small farmer. Sadly, the small farmer is disappearing. Perhaps I'm enough of a rebel to like bucking the trends. 

Learning to grow or otherwise obtain our food has been an experience! It is physical work, but also a major learning challenge and emotional rollercoaster ride. I'm happy to be doing it. 

Do I save money growing my own? That's a question I'm often asked, I think because everybody expects me to say yes. In my own situation, I'd say that I now do, over the long haul. But initially there were up front expenses and losses that negated any gains. Even now, there are crop losses that I have to deal with. The trick for me is to be mindful not to put too much of a financial investment into a crop, no more than I'm willing to risk and lose. For example, it makes no financial sense for me to invest in a modern hydroponic system. The cost of the pumps, piping, racks, tanks, greenhouses, etc would be an investment I could never get back in food savings, ever. 

Yes, I grow my own good for many different reasons. I works for me. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Prejudice in Hawaii?

More Questions from "J" ...........
"Is it hard not to be ethnically Hawaiian? Is there any hostility towards non Hawaiian people?" 

I gather that "J" is thinking of possibly coming to Hawaii ! 

First of all, everywhere I've been to in the past I've seen prejudice behavior towards one group or another. It's a sad statement, but as a species, we aren't very civilized yet. So, does prejudice exist in Hawaii? Sure. Let's explore that a bit. 

Is it difficult living in Hawaii when you are not ethnically Hawaiian? I don't think so. It hasn't been a problem for me. But I'm sure it could be for some people. By far the vast majority of the population here is NOT ethnic Hawaiian. Lots of Japanese. Chinese, Mexican, Portuguese, and Filipino. To a lesser extent, Polynesian, Micronesian, and lots of others. And most people are mixed. Hapa this, hapa that. Yup, we're mostly mongrels. Very few purebred anything, including pure Hawaiians. By the way, true Hawaiians make up a very small fraction of the population here. But I've met plenty of people who claim to be true Hawaiians but have very little actual ethnic Hawaiian in their bloodline. So things are quite murky. 

Is the hostility due to prejudice? Some. Sadly, Hawaiian families tend to bring up their children to be resentful and often prejudice. And "local" families pass on their prejudice feelings about ethnic minorities, especially Micronesians and caucasian mainlanders. Most of the hostility occurs with the young people, especially in the schools. But adults can be quick to display their dark side in the right situations. I've witnessed their prejudices erupt into vocal outbursts and hostile physical displays. I've seen the results of bullying and outright physical fights. But I can't say that it's real common and visible. Back in NJ I saw far more open prejudice against the Blacks and Puerto Ricans than I see going on here between ethnic groups. But any prejudice, however minor, is ugly and totally not acceptable! 

To date I've gotten along with most groups here. That includes many Hawaiian families, though I've found that breaking the ice with their community was a bit more difficult initially. But I've never been fearful being around Hawaiian families. In fact, the only time I've had any trepidation being with any group was when I've had to deal with criminal drug users. Now....those are people that can be dangerous and it doesn't matter what their ethnic make up is! 

 So "J", being anxious about being non-Hawaiian isn't necessary. But perhaps one should be aware that any newcomer to Hawaii will need time and conscious effort to adapt. It's not like moving from Oregon to Washington state. There's a somewhat different culture going on here compared to the mainland. And to make it a bit more "interesting", each island has its own tweaks. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Banana Skipper / Banana Leaf Roller

After a disappearance of many years, the banana leaf roller (aka- banana skipper) is back. I happened to have spied an affected young tree on my way up the driveway. 

It's pretty noticeable. These two baby trees, shown above, had their leaves decimated . Closer inspection revealed a classic roll......

And inside that roll I found the caterpillar....

Checking the trees, I discovered 6 caterpillars. Of course, I destroyed them all. Next step, check all the other clumps of banana trees. Zero caterpillars. So happily only one clump had obvious banana leaf rollers at this time. But I will have to keep an eye out for the next couple of months. The trick to controlling this one is to destroy the caterpillars before they can turn into adults. 

This event reminded me of the value of spreading a crop around in different locations in the farm. That is, not growing all my bananas in one spot. To date I have 8 different areas for growing bananas. Thus if one clump gets infested with some sort of pest, all my bananas aren't necessarily infested. I found the banana rollers in only one clump. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Managing House "Bugs"

"J" recently asked me, "I saw your post a while back about insects. Have you found any permanent solution for managing them, especially centipedes?" I've covered most of this info before, so I'll just update it and post it in one spot. 

What's your definition of a permanent solution for managing them? Do you mean 100% permanent eradication? That pretty much won't happen in the tropics because we don't have winter freezes. And besides,  insects can easily travel from the neighbors properties to your own year around. Since I'm not willing to soak my property with insecticides, I will see insect populations increase at times. Depending upon the insect, I may or may not take action. Why no action? Because I host several natural insect eaters on the farm. In order to keep those around, they need to eat year around. Skinks. Anoles. Chameleons. Tree frogs. Mice. Assorted birds. They all help keep things in balance. 

There are some insects I have little tolerance for having around....
...vinegar flies. I have no objection to them outdoors, but I don't want them in the kitchen. Foremost for control is not to have any unprotected fresh food sitting around, especially fruits. Things get stored in the frig or outside. Outside they need to be protected from rodents and birds. That is all sound advice, but I don't always listen to myself.....thus the reason for the saying "do as I say, not as I do" evolved. Therefore I keep a fly strip in the kitchen near the counter where I tend to sit fruits. I've used other sorts of traps and controls, but for me the old fashion flypaper works best. 
...flies. We have very little problem with flies around the house. Outdoors I keep fly traps, especially in the pasture areas. This helps protect the sheep against flystrike. I have traps by the dog kennel, plus I pick up dog poop as soon as I notice it. This poop is buried to prevent any lain eggs from developing into more flies. The house is protected with screens, letting very few flies into the house. The occasional fly usually gets captured by the flypaper in the kitchen.  
...mosquitoes. I have dozens of mini ponds that are stocked with small fish to eat mosquito larvae. And I use bt ( mosquito dunks or granules) in the rain gutter system where I can't flush out the larvae. That also treats the catchment tank, which I keep covered but is not 100% mosquito proof. 
...ants. They are fine outdoors, though I discourage high populations of them in the garden areas. But I don't want them indoors. Whenever I see them,  I use a boric acid solution to kill them. They drink it up and take it back to their nests, killing the ants. 
...cockroaches. Living in the tropics cockroaches are a given. I use boric acid powder under the frig, freezer, and range. Plus when we closed up the house walls, we sprinkled boric acid powder between the upright 2x4s. I also have a bit of boric acid powder inside the electric receptacle boxes in the kitchen by the range and sink, two very enticing spots for roaches. So far this is controlling most of the cockroaches that get into the house. Occasionally I'll spy one in the bathroom, whereupon I'll dust some boric acid powder into crevices behind the sink and around the toilet. 
...centipedes. Happily I don't have lots of centipedes on the farm. Since we've lived here I've only come across 2 adult red ones and perhaps 6 adult blue ones. All were killed immediately. I think the red ones arrived on equipment. I don't know how the blue ones arrived. All the blue ones were found in the same area -- under items stored in an outdoor storage shed. I set up traps (nice hiding places for them) after finding the first two when I moved some lumber. The traps lured four more. Since those initial ones, I haven't seen any others but I check occasionally. 

Centipedes.......some people will routinely apply a perimeter spray around their homes. I really don't know if this makes any difference, but I don't plan to ever use it. I tend to avoid applying toxins around my house. Some people will apply the pesticide just to their doorways in hopes of deterring centipedes from entering into the house. Some other tricks include...
...(especially during dry spells) leaving a rag soaked in boric acid solution just beside the doorway. This is to entice the thirsty centipede to drink it. Since centipedes are often found in the bathroom, they seem to be attracted to moisture. Pet owners teach their pets to leave the rag alone. 
...keeping bed linens, sofa & chair material up off the floors. Centipedes will climb right up into bed if the bed has a dust ruffle close to ground level.
...storing shoes up off the floor. No fun finding a centipede when you slip you feet into your shoes. My mother had scorpions and centipedes where she lived and would find them in her shoes occasionally. So she took to hanging her shoes on a hook up off the floor. 
...keep dirty laundry and used bath towels off the floor. Centipedes will nestle inside, attracted to the moisture and darkness. 
...keeping a rubber mallet handy to whack the centipede to death. A long handled pancake turner works well too to chop them in half. 
..having a centipede finding dog. My friend had a dog that was a super great centipede hunter, alerting them to any centipede in the house. Just a couple of weeks ago my own dog, Noodles, alerted me to a centipede while I was visiting a friend. He found it in a doorway and was highly interested. I praised his actions and hope he does it again. I'd love to have him alert us to centipedes! Perhaps the next time I'll be prepared to capture the centipede to use it as a training tool for Noodles. 
While living with centipedes may sound scary, it's not a big deal. Really. Even in areas where they are common, you don't see them very often. Usually you will come across one if you are out working in your gardens moving rocks. Just don't touch it, for they will quickly bite. If bitten, a quick application of ammonia followed by ice (hold an ice cube to the bite for 10-15 minutes) will take care of most of the discomfort. I have been bitten twice now, on the finger, while working on clearing land down on my seed farm. (I now wear gloves while working there.) I keep an "afterbite" stick in my truck for such occasions. That, plus an ice cube from my cooler (I bring something cold to drink while I'm working there), takes care of the bite. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Weather - Sun

"J" asked......Does the sun shine very much in the winter there? 

Weather here in Hawaii is quite a different experience that I ever had on the mainland or in the UK. Back there, if there was sun, rain, or clouds, it extended for the entire region, at least for miles around. But here that's not the case. The weather can be one way in the farm and totally different 5-10 miles down the road. We have a running joke here that if it is raining, people will say that it's a nice day to go to the beach, because often times it will be dry and sunny along the coast. So if you ask, is it sunny during the winter, you need to specify the exact location. It may usually be sunny and dry most of the time in my town, but often rainy and cloudy 10 miles away on my farm. 

Some parts of Hawaii are mostly sunny year around, with only intermittent passing storms. Other locations are just the opposite, overcast and rain most the time with intermittent sunny days. My main farm usually has morning sun, afternoon clouds. By contrast, my seed farm location often gets mostly sun all day long. And these two farms are only 5 miles apart. But "J", unlike Washington state, Hawaii doesn't have long periods or seasons of overcast skies. 

People moving to Hawaii need to do their homework. Weather conditions can vary considerably from one location to the next. And people's individual preferences can vastly vary. What I would consider acceptable rainfall or sunshine, another might deem it too much or too little. 

And to make things more difficult to predict, Hawaii weather is cyclic. We see years of drought interspersed with wet years. That means that some years get lots of full sun days, while wet years see strings of cloudy days in a row. And to top that off, we are an island out in the ocean, thus brief isolated squalls can pass through just about any time. 

Where I live, we see enough sun year around to be living on solar off grid. BUT, for years like this one, I need a generator because we just went through a month of rain. But generally, I get enough sun year around. Now......if I lived in Volcano or Mountainview I would want to be on the grid because of the lack of daily sunshine there. 

So "J", I'd say that yes, the sun shines well during the winter in Hawaii. In fact, the nice tropical weather lures plenty of tourists here from November to April. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Perennial Food Plants

I was sitting down sowing seeds yesterday and I got to thinking about perennial food plants. These are things that I don't have to sow over and over again. Looking over the farm, these are the perennials here. Many are grown as annuals in colder climates, but can be managed as perennials here. 

The obvious ones are trees:
Avocado, guava, banana, orange, tangelo, tangerine, lemon, lime, allspice, clove, cinnamon, Surinam cherry, tree tomato, chaya, apple, peach, sapote, mulberry, eggfruit, papaya (short lived), coffee, moringa, mamaki

Stick Oregano.......
Various mints
Sweet potato (for greens) 
New Zealand spinach
Okinawan spinach 
Cholesterol spinach 
Mexican oregano......
Taro - I have a Caribbean variety that can be managed as a long term perennial
Celery, kale, and some collards can be managed as perennials. Peppers are often perennials here. 

There might be a few more growing on the farm, but I can't think of more at this moment. Down on the seed farm I also have mango and breadfruit. 

There are several more that I could be growing but haven't added them to the inventory yet. Every year I try to make a point of expanding what I'm growing. I'm not sure what will be my next additions, but I'm open to suggestions. You can post your suggestions here on the blog, or you can email me at

ps- I forgot sugar cane, fig, loquat, macadamia nuts, persimmon, and mountain apple. Plus roselle and strawberry, though these both need to be managed and actually repropagated. 

Friday, March 9, 2018


Here's a new one for you......egg fruit. I've also heard it called Yellow Sapote around here. I never saw or heard of this one until I came to Hawaii. The trees do well in my region, and I fact, I have one young tree on the farm. I plan to add a few more. 

How do I describe an eggfruit? Gee, it's nothing like I had on the mainland. The flesh is yellow-orange, firm under the skin and softer toward the center. The flavor is sort of like pumpkin pie, but it's not. Just sort-of-like. It can be eater fresh or cooked. I've had it added to smoothies. That's basically how I eat it. I also had it offered to me as an eggnog type drink. It was good, but when you add sugar and heavy cream to anything, it's good. Right? It can be eaten right from the sliced open fruit with a spoon, with a spray of lime juice. I saw one person eating an eggfruit/mayonnaise sandwich once. Not sure how that was because I haven't been brave enough to try it. 

Eggfruits aren't real common here simply because most people don't grow a tree in their backyard. But they aren't what you'd call rare. I will sometimes see them for sale at the local farmers markets. It's not a wildly appealing fruit, I guess because of its unusual flavor. 

Right now they are in season. Trees are loaded with fruits. A good friend gave me a few, which I shared with two others who have never tried them before. So it looks like I need to go back to the first friend and beg a few more off her. By the way thanks "S" for the fruits!