Friday, May 31, 2013

The Making of Our Great Rock Wall

Rock wall completed!   Runs entire front of the property. 
When we first bought our property there was a bit of a low, dry rock wall along the street. It had fallen apart in places. I tried plopping rocks back into place, but it really needed a makeover.  Plus it only ran part of the way along the front of the property. I knew that someday I would try to improve it. I wanted to be able to do it myself, but I was wise enough on this project to seek help.

In the process of clearing and cutting brush, we came upon rocks jutting out of the ground. They were added to the rock wall. Then the garden project began. Hundreds of rocks were removed to make the first garden area. Then hundreds more rocks were dug out for the second, main garden spot. All those rocks were also moved to the wall out front. When work was done on the driveway, we had more rocks to move. Then a major coup......a farmer up the road decided to run a water line to his farm. He had load after load of rock that he needed to get rid of. Bonanza! I was just as glad to get the rocks as he was to get rid of them. A perfect match!

Rocks artfully set in place to visually
make a "smooth" looking wall. 
Now I had a plethora of rocks. Next step was deciding exactly where the wall would run, how it should look, and should it be cemented or dry. I opted for cement.

A friend was an experienced rock wall builder. So with the help from another person, we tackled the wall. I have zero experience making rock walls, but while I worked, I watched. Hopefully I learned. I became the "mule". I got the supplies : water, rocks, sand, cement. I learned about string lines, levels, braces, setting up the foundation, choosing bottom rocks versus top rocks, setting rocks into place. Plus bracing rocks, using little rocks in crevices, setting internal rocks, and finishing the top of the wall. I learned how to mix cement, what the right consistency is for this job, how to fill the cement in so that it doesn't show on the outside. I learned how high you can build in a day, how much concrete can be safely poured each day, how long it needs to cure before you can add more height. I learned how to angle the rear wall in order to give stability if the wall is to be higher than 2 feet. Lots to learn.

The rock wall now extends across the entire front of the property. It is high enough to keep the horse and sheep in, but not the goat. The goat jumps atop even the five foot high sections quite easily and likes to sleep atop the wall. Bad goat!...but I love him. He makes me laugh. He reminds me to grab life by the tail and hang on tight for a wild ride, laughing and kicking up my heels at the same time.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Putting Unwanted Logs and Branches to Good Use

First of all, most wood round here gets used for firewood or building material. But I have plenty that I don't want to use for those purposes, for one reason or another. Many a time hubby wanted to load this stuff into the truck and cart it to the dump. But I balked. It just didn't seem right. It had to be useful for something on a farm. I just hadn't discovered its use yet.

First thing I did with this debris was use it to fill in a truck sized hole we had in the pasture. This is the hole I almost drove my truck into one day while clearing the land. So I was bent on filling it in. It took a lot of material and time to fill that giant hole, but eventually it was done. I topped it off with a thin layer of soil, then I started looking round for more holes. I found them alright, but after a year or so I noticed that something unusual was going on at the first hole I had filled in. It had sunk down a bit but that wasn't unusual. The weeds and grass grew very nicely there, staying lush even during drought months. I never watered the area, but things stayed green and perky while the grass around it had stopped growing. Checking it out with a shovel, I unearthed some of the branches and logs. It was quite apparent that they had absorbed and retained scads of water. Plus the smaller pieces were already decomposing. Hummmm. It got me thinking.

I finally found a beneficial use for woody debris, other than just as fill for holes. It could be used as the foundation for growing beds. We get plenty enough rain here in normal times for the decomposing wood to become very water ladened. It would retain this water, making it available for growing plants. And if I supplied nitrogen to the pile, it could serve as a nutrient source too. So I went off to experiment.

The driveway slopes off. I've rolled big rocks to form a back
wall. It's 2 1/2 feet deep in the back. Next step is to fill in the
hole with trunks, branches, etc. This will become a flower bed.
I had planned to create flower beds along the driveway, so I opted to make these my experimental areas. There were spots where the ground dropped away from the driveway sides. By building a rock retaining wall a few feet back from the driveway, I now had a hole that I could fill in. Into the hole  went all sorts and sizes of woody material: logs, branches, twigs. As it went in, I attempted to eliminate all air spaces using smaller pieces, plus some dirt, plenty of weeds, and horse manure. I packed it down as the hole filled. If it didn't rain as I filled, I added water to start the wetting process. When the hole was full, I topped it off with a couple of inches of soil just so that there was soil to plant into.

The first flower bed I made I planted sweet potatoes into because I hadn't yet grown any flowers to transplant into the bed. The sweets did great! I never had to add fertilizer or water. After the sweets I planted a banana tree and flowers. They too did fine and were lush and beautiful. The banana tree clump is still there and doing good, but I have since replanted sweet potatoes. This is the third year. I've never irrigated the bed, but I have used compost for mulching it.

I'm working on the fourth bed now. The only problem I am seeing so far is that the neighboring trees are aggressively growing roots into the beds. This is a boon for the trees, but means that the beds become less useable as flower beds as time goes by. Ohia trees can form a very dense root mat.

I plan to use this idea on my arid south farm, which by the way has no ohia trees on it. So the beds should work better since they won't be getting root-choked.

Recently I discovered that using woody material for making beds is nothing new. There is a system called "hugelkultur" for making growing beds as ditches, swales, and mounds. Wow, looks like I inadvertently reinvented the wheel!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Our Front Door Symbolizes Self Reliancy

door handle
Our home's front door epitomizes my idea of self reliancy. It is a daily nudge to keep me focused on the idea of self reliancy. Plus it shows that it need not look like one is living in the middle of a junk yard when your home uses recycled/repurposed materials. The door is unique, pretty, and functional. 

The door is made from lumber salvaged from an old redwood water catchment tank. The hinges came off an old door. The metal band holding the planks came from something salvaged, though I forgot what. The screws are recycled/salvaged. The lock, handle, and latch handmade from trees on the property. The exterior handle is made from a bent branch from an ohia tree. I'm not sure which tree species are used for the interior handle and latch. 

I do not take  credit for making this door. It's the creation of the previous owner. And it's a wonderful creation. It is solid, well made, and will last the lifetime of this house.

These homemade latches/handles work flawlessly. They are really ingenious. Very smooth and easy to work. The top interior latch is the locking mechanism. It's a sliding lock. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Goldie Joins The Lamb Flock

Goldie is quite comfortable with around the other lambs. 
Goldie is the latest of my bottle fed lambs, since she is so much younger than the others, I decided to hold off putting her into the flock until she was strong enough to stay out of the way of the boisterous gang. After only one day in with them, she's learned to hold her own.

Goldie's ewe name is Ewe-Con Gold.

Goldie with Tan and Connie
She's a mixbreed sheep-- mostly St Croix and Barbados BlackBelly. Since I don't really know the background of her mom, there easily could be some other breeds in there too. One thing that Hawaiians seemingly like to do is mix the breeds all up. They will purposely mix their dogs, rabbits, horses, cattle, and pigs. As a result it is difficult to find anything purebred here. A buyer needs to be knowledgable because that rabbit advertised as New Zealand White is most likely a white mixbreed rabbit. I've heard people say that in their litter of puppies they got a chow, a lab, a pointer, and a border collie! And they advertise them as such. For some reason the concept of purebred isn't alive a well on this island.

Anyway, back to Goldie. Little Goldie was a small lamb who's mother wasn't the smartest sheep on the block. Hubby puts it this way, "That ewe didn't come from a thinking family!" Mom kept running around the pasture, climbing up and down the gullies, with poor little Goldie trying to keep up. After 5 days of this, little Goldie was getting no larger. I guess too much exercise and too little nursing time. I wasn't planning to keep this lamb, but it looked like she might die at the rate she was going. So I separated the two, training Goldie to the bottle. Mom barely noticed that she was minus a lamb! This behavior is not what a shepherd should be choosing in replacement stock, but I have since become quite fond of Goldie's personality, so she will stay and become a flock member. I hope she has inherited better mothering instincts from her sire's side. But if Goldie proves to be a poor mother too, then she won't be bred anymore, nor will her offspring be added to the flock.

 Goldie's now strong, very active, and very outgoing. She's the first to show up when I come with the bottles. She's the initiator of the lamb races. Smallest of the group, she the boldest and smartest so far. She is so endearing that I can't help but like her.  

Friday, May 24, 2013

Dealing with Tradewinds

In Hawaii, tradewinds are a given, very much a sure thing. Frankly, I love the wind. But my garden has the opposite viewpoint. It doesn't agree with me on this one. Plants do poorly in the heavy wind, sometimes twisting and spinning about, completely tearing apart. I just recently lost a whole crop of young gourd plants to heavy winds. Some plants manage to produce in spite of the wind, but others need some protection.

A young gourd plant down inside of a c-shelter
of rocks. The cardboard is a mulch to conserve
moisture and the rocks keep it from blowing away.
Not only the plants need protection.  If I am using cardboard or newspaper mulch, the winds will blow them away unless I do something to hold them in place. Usually a partial shovel of dirt or a few rocks will do the job. Trellises also fall victim to the wind. I've had rather nice trellises blow over in heavy tradewinds.  Now I make it a habit to stake down all trellises well. I've also had my share of plant tags and row markers blow away. That used to really make me mad to come out and find all the name tags gone. Now I go to extremes to make them secure.

Here's a few things I do because of our tradewinds.
...small temporary plant tags are bright yellow so that I can find them nestled down in the mulch. Their location is indicated by a yellow painted stick/sapling stem. Tags that are intended to stay longer than a week or two are staple gunned to a well pounded in stake.
 ...when tying vines to trellises, I use a stretchy piece of fabric and make the tie in a figure 8. I found that this helps prevent damage to the vine. And I use plenty of ties, not just one here and there. This helps prevent vines from getting kinks and rips.
 ...I stake down winter squash and pumpkin vines very 6 feet or so. This keeps them from twisting and being whipped about.
...I tie certain young plants to a temporary stake, including tomatoes, peppers, gourds, pumpkins, and squashes, until they have grown enough to either be attached to a trellis, be staked down in some other way, or are stout enough to take the wind.
...I align the rows so that the trades blow down the length of the row rather than across it.
...stout, strong plants are grown to the windward side, allowing weaker type plants to get some protection from the wind
...I purposely plant permanent windbreaks on the perimeters, using panex and sugar cane.
...I use large growing plants as wind modifiers for smaller ones. Things like yacon grow large. Japanese eggplant grows rather bushy and tall. So does Hawaiian chili peppers. These help shelter smaller plants. 
...I build permanent windbreaks in some areas -- stone walls and solid fencing. 
...when using containers, I won't fill them to the very top. I'll leave the soil about 6 inches below  the lip of the container. This gives the seedlings a bit of protection. 
...I'll use temporary windbreaks for some plants. A three sided shelter made out of scrap wood works well and doesn't blow down. I've also used a large plastic bottle with the top and bottom cut off . Partially buried into the soil so that it doesn't blow away, it works as a collar to shelter the young plant. 
...The photos show c shelters that I made from rocks laying about. They are called c shelters because they are in the shape of the letter c. By piling rocks about 1 1/2 feet high on the windward side, the plant gets protected while it is young. One could just as well make them out of plywood, but rocks are readily available here. In fact, rock are everywhere! Since I have to move them anyway, I can just move some of them a short distance to make wind shelters. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013


A ripe white pineapple ready for eating
plus 2 slips for planting. 
When I think "Hawaii", one of the many images that comes to mind is pineapples. So of course, I've just gotta grow my own pineapples!

We owned our property for a couple of years before moving here. I had  a friend keep an eye on the place for me. So whenever she had a pineapple top, she brought it along and planted it somewhere around the house. By the time we made our move, there were pineapples ready for eating. What a wonderful surprise.

These pineapples were my introduction to homegrown pineapple. When we harvested them and cut the open they seemed awfully pale in color but had the most incredible aroma and sweet tasty flesh. I was in love! I later found out that these were a white pineapple, far better than the golden ones. I'm hooked. I only grow the white ones now.

Growing pineapples is easy at my farm. They can be planted at anytime. They only require watering during a bad drought. Fertilizer makes them sweeter and really big. They grow well in rocky, rather poor soil. They do better in full sun but will also produce a small fruit in shady spots.

Two struggling plants in a cold, arid area are producing
pineapples! Amazing. These are at a friend's house and
the pineapples are actually sweet and juicy. 
To start them I use tops, suckers, and slips. For commercial farming it makes  a difference which you use, but for home production it really doesn't matter. If the keiki (baby) is good sized, I just stick it right into the ground. If it is small, I usually start it in a pot so that I can keep an eye on it and give it some pampering. But as the years go by, I find that I have an abundance of hefty keikis, so the little ones can be given away for someone else to fuss over. Some people start their keikis in a glass of water, waiting until roots are showing before planting them into soil. I don't bother. They do just fine with direct planting.

I wait to harvest the pineapple until it is yellowish and aromatic. Why pick it green? Mo better ripe! I'll let the plant continue to grow a new sucker, which I remove to replant. You could leave the plant in place and allow it to reproduce over and over again, but it gets sprawly and looks bad. Since I don't need to get maximum production, I like to restart the plants, keeping things nicer looking and easier to care for. 

The only problem I have had growing pineapples is pigs. They love them and can smell a ripe pineapple from quite a distance. Let a pig near the pineapples and they will get ruined in one night. 
variegated pineapple in bloom

There is a variegated pineapple grown here as an ornamental. It is not edible-- very fibrous. The plants is very pretty, but oh so full of sharp serrations on the leaves. It would be great to plant along a property line to keep people out. 2-3 rows deep and nobody is going to try walking through them. I like the variegated pineapple :
1- It grows very well in the shade. It gets nicely colored in the shade and does not need extra watering. Very pretty. (The sun tends to wash out the color.) 
2- Its flower stalk makes a beautiful flower arrangement addition. 
3- It doesn't require any maintenance to look pretty. No-work landscaping. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

What to do With a Pulled Out Stump

"What do I do with a tree stump in my front yard?", I asked myself. While digging out the slope outside my front door in order to have a small, flat front yard we removed a large ohia tree. The stump came out easily enough after removing the slope, but now what? Without the use of a backhoe, skid steer, or equivalent we weren't going to be able to move the buggah. Oh, did I mention that we removed the slope by hand? No heavy equipment. Just two people, shovels, and o-o bars. Plus determination and a lot of luck that we didn't hit solid lava.

Tree stump in place. I just planted a couple of flowers and added some gourds temporarily for decoration.
The initial idea was to leave it in place until we could borrow the equipment or con some neighbor into moving it for us. The weeks dragged on. One day while studying the stump, I tried to come up with an idea of how to get it out of the way. Dragging it down the driveway with the truck would ruin the driveway. It took too long to get the driveway in good condition to have it ruined in one hour. So what else? The roots had grown around lava chunks, so using a chainsaw was out. Burning it up in a fire was out. No open fires allowed due to drought. Digging a hole to bury it wasn't even a thought because digging that big of a hole around here is impossible by hand. Too much lava rock and going that deep meant we would most likely hit blue rock (solid, very hard lava).

My whimsical heart took over. Ya know, if I propped it up upside down, I could sit a birdbath on it. So with the help of two strong fellas, a base hole was dug and they rolled and wrangled the stump in place, then tipped it up with the trunk skidding into the base hole. A little concrete and rock set it solidly in place. Excess roots were trimmed. Rocks were removed where possible. The stump was left with a concave bowl -- a natural birdbath shape. A little concrete finished off the bowl. When I added water, it proved to be watertight. Wow!

Looking down on the little mini-pond, the home of two very fat guppies. 

The stump is now yard art. I planted a couple of flowers on it. Added two guppies and some plants making it a mini-pond. Now it helps control mosquitos.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Guppies Down on the Farm

When I went in search of my first guppies, a neighbor laughed. What? Going to ranch guppies now, are you? I think people look forward to my next wacky idea. But this one works!

Difficult to photograph guppies in a pond,
but you can make out a few against the white coral rocks. 
Mosquitos can be a real nuisense here. Their numbers aren't nearly as bad as what I had to put up with in NJ, but even one buzzing little critter can drive hubby crazy. His tolerance level is close to zero.

We learned to be really paranoid about mosquitos where we lived before. Encephalitis was a bit of a problem that most people ignored. Most people never got very sick. But then West Nile showed up. When kids and adults started dying, people took notice. Sales of mosquito controlling devices and chemicals boomed. The state sprayed the marshes, prompting the environmentalists to scream. Then a "bt" that worked on mosquitos was developed (aka: dunks). The state began treating every spot of standing water for mosquitos. West Nile cases still occurred but not at the rate that had been predicted. But it was still scary although not as newsworthy. Then one of hubby's co-workers lost her spouse to West Nile. Our group of friends took notice and became avid mosquito killers and avoiders. Paranoid is another way of puting it.

I've found that it is impossible to treat every standing water source here on the farm.  Little cups of water exist high in the crotches of trees. Thus I opted to make traps to kill as many of the larvae as possible. The idea was to entice the females to lay their eggs in places that I could treat with dunks.

Walking around the farm, I searched for places where water collected. I emptied natural bowls and filled them in with dirt. All items that could collect water were either eliminated or put under cover. Tarps were stretched tight to avoid bellying. Rain gutters were either reset for more pitch, or treated with dunks as needed. Catchment tanks were also put on the dunks treatment list. I found an underground lava tube that was a rich mosquito breeding area, the Hilton Regency for the critters,  that I now treat with dunks.

I began making breeding areas for mosquitos. Yes, on purpose. I now have several little ponds and mini-ponds. Plus livestock watering troughs. The mosquitos love them. All I needed to do was add some mosquito gobbling fish. Thus the reason for the guppies.

I didn't learn about "mosquito fish" until after I bought a half dozen guppies. But it turned out that the guppies were a better choice for the small water containers. But I did go collect some mosquito fish from a local pond and put them into my large irrigation catchment tank. I did it just to have something different. But I could have waited until I had more guppies.

The guppies reproduce on the farm on a regular basis. I'm surprised that it not too cold here for them. So far I've produced enough guppies to stock new ponds with them. And I'm always willing to give some away to other people who want them.

I'm often asked if I need to do something for the guppies. Air stone? No. Filters? No. Heaters? No. Feed them? Well, no. But I do. Since I want them to increase in numbers and not eat their young, I give them a little food. Right now it is a small pinch of ground meat or canned cat food. If the population should ever grow large, then I would consider making a self feeder -- a floating fly trap. But I haven't needed i

Friday, May 17, 2013

Navigating Our Hill -- The Stairs

Our house site is atop a well treed old a-a lava flow. That means it sits on the edge of a ridge about 100 feet higher than the front of the property. It makes for some nice views, looking down over that land. But it means that the driveway to access the house site had to loop around to crawl up the ridge gradually. It makes for a long trip when walking down to the garden or barn.

Work still in progress. 
It didn't take the dogs long to decide the the driveway was the long way around. Down the hill was the shortest distance between the house and the barn. So in a short time they cut a path through the chest high weeds, making a neat pathway. It looked so inviting. One day, being in a hurry, I took the downhill dog-path. Plunge! Yikes! Lava boulders, hidden logs, unseen holes......and the stemmy snags of weeds that grabbed my feet. It wasn't long before I was flat on my face. In fact, I had the opportunity to closely inspect the ground numerous times. But being rather stubborn, I forged on. Gosh, I must surely have fallen further down that hill than I managed to walk. Somewhat bloodied and bruised, I made it. Gee, that was neat! At that moment the idea of hillside steps was born. Well honestly, a zip line first crossed my mind, but I was sure that wouldn't fly past my hubby. And besides, I had to have a method to get back up the hill. I secretly still harbour the zip line idea, or possibly a sled or slide of some sort. Gee, wouldn't it be fun?  

Since that initial plunge, hubby and I transversed ......actually fought and struggled, up and down the hill numerous times at different locations. We finally settled on the spot for the stairs, which happened to be the site that the dogs chose.

Wacking down the weeds, finding the holes and logs was the first job. Once we got an idea of the lay of the land, the steps just sort of fell into place. They twisted, turned, and flowed down the hill. Of course the job snowballed. would be neat to have a fish pond at the bottom.
....then, it would look cool to have a bridge going over the pond., a stone walking road leading to the bridge would be nice.
....and later, a deck overlooking the pond would be so very nice.

So at this point the stairs are almost finished, the pond partially completed, the deck in progress. But the bridge and stone roadway are done.

To make the pond we used parts from an old catchment tank. We did have to buy sand and concrete to make a base. The stone roadway was made from rock on our own property, and of course we had to buy the sand and cement for that, too. The bridge spans the pond using tree trunks harvested off the hill. Trunks were used for part of the walking path too. The rest is made using exterior lumber, mostly 2x6's and 2x12's.

The stairs are used every day. It was a good decision to put them in. Not only do they give character to the property, they are also very functional. Plus it's good exercise. When I first started using the stairs, I barely made it up them without having to rest my legs and catch my breathe. Now I go up them with no problem at all. See? Good exercise!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Driveway to the House

When we bought this land, a rough driveway had already been cut going to the house site. It was pretty rough, but as long as we had a truck or high car, it was driveable. But our low slung Volkswagen bug couldn't safely make it. Upgrading the driveway was low on our priority list when we first arrived, but all along we knew we would have to do improvements, serious improvements.

The time arrived when I wanted a roadway to the back of the property plus a strip of land cleared so that I could put up pasture fencing. We had enough work now to justify hiring an excavator. since part of the work would be fixing the driveway. So when one of the near neighbors hired an excavator for work on their land, here was the perfect opportunity. We could save a bit of money by sharing the equipment transportation cost. I also whimsically decided to have the excavator cut in a circular driveway section up by the house, while the equipment was here. It turned out to be a great idea.

Initially the driveway was mostly just a scraped path up to the house. During heavy rains, it was a mire down in the field area. A torrential rain washed the dirt out up on the hill, leaving very rough lava rocks and exposing a whopper boulder. Even the truck was having trouble with the driveway. 

Being such inexperienced newbies when we first arrived, we purchased several truckloads of cinder to line the driveway. It was the totally wrong thing to put down, and the person who sold us the cinder never said a word. To this day I have no respect for that person, taking advantage of newcomers. So before long the cinder disappeared. Some washed away in the heavy rain, some blown away with the tradewinds, and some crushed to powder by the vehicle tires. 

As  "bandaid-patch" repairs, I began saving any little rocks that I found while working in the garden. I made a soil sifter to help removed larger rock, and simply changed the straining mesh to 1"x1". Any rock sifted out that was the size of a hen's egg or smaller was dumped on the driveway down in the field. This made the driveway passable when it rained heavy. Not a cure, but it helped. 

Finally the excavator arrived! A happy day! In the matter of only three days, we had a road cut to the back, fence line cleared for a 5 acre pasture, numerous unwanted trees removed, an old concrete wall busted up into workable pieces, fence post holes hammered, and  the driveway repaired. The "valley" that went through a dead riverbed was built up a few feet making the crossing less of a severe dip. The giant boulder in the middle of the driveway was removed. The new circular driveway was cut in. And in general the whole driveway was smoothed out then covered in several inches of base coarse. 

Over the years the lava rock base coarse has been gradually crushed to sand where the tire tracks are. Once a year I pick up about a ton of crushed lava to spread in the tire tracks. But before I do, I broom up some of the sand to use in the garden. Since the driveway is about 1200 feet long, that equates to quite a lot of sand. I don't go crazy gathering sand.....just scoop up any major piles. The sand seems to do well for the garden soil. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Frugality -Saving the Pennies (It Mounts Up)

Penny pinching can be fun. Really! I play silly little games with myself  over penny pinching ideas. Often I get bored with the game and stop doing it. But surprisingly sometimes the game sticks and it becomes a habit. I try to keep in mind not to get too serious about these little games. Otherwise I might become the old old woman I knew of as a child who saved a house full of empty cereal boxes to use for writing down notes and lists.

Snuffling around the internet I've seen all sorts of penny pinching ideas. I try them a couple at a time to see what comes of it. Some other ideas were suggested by friends or I've seen other people doing. Yet others I come up with myself.

So it is comes, the list of crazy things I've done or still do:
... rinse off paper disposable coffee filters and use them again. By using them twice, you cut the cost in half. The more reuses, the more frugal you get. This idea actually morphed into my making a few cloth filters out of cotton muslin. I now reuse these cloth filters over and over again, rinsing them out between uses and occasionally dropping them in the washer. A quilting friend gave me the muslin, so the filters cost me practically nothing to make. Note: hubby prefers the taste of filtered coffe, thus the reason for not switching to a French press.
...making and using rags. No, I don't buy store bought rags, but I have a friend that does. At the local Ace Hardware they sell rags in a box and guys buy them! Rather than throwing  away worn out clothing, towels, and sheets, I cut them up for rags. Plus I don't throw away rags, I rewash them. Hubby laughs because I different grades of rags. Good cleaning rags. General use rags. Throw away rags, for cleaning up nasty stuff, wiping oil or paint. The front and back of an old t-shirt makes nice rags. But I also use the sleeves and around the neck. Those can be throw away rags. Our thrift shop often gets too much clothing donated, so from time to time I can pick up a trash bag of assorted clothing for a dollar. Great rag material.
...plastic shopping bags. Before there was a bag ban here, I had scads of bags I saved or were given to me. I reused what I could for bag uses, but I still had scads. I heard that a local woman was braiding them into rugs and mats, so I gave it a try. Now my old dogs have cushy pads to sleep on that are braided from discarded plastic shopping bags. I made the pads the size that would fit into an old pillow case. I stuffed the case so that it is over 6 inches think. Both house dogs find them more comfy than a standard blanket or pillow. So by making my own pet beds I saved a bundle. Plus the pillow case is washable so the can be kept clean easily.
... Reuse containers for flower pots, saving food leftovers, storing sewing supplies, storing workshop tools, sorting hardware (nails, screws, bolts, etc). I will buy dry pet food in the economy size bag and to keep it from getting moldy in the bag, I'll transfer it into smaller sealable containers. I've reused pill bottles, food bottles, milk jugs, just about everything. The cut off tops of soda bottles make good funnels. I've used the soda bottle necks and screw top part for electric fence insulators. The milk jug caps work as good gaskets for grabbing the greenhouse plastic that you nail on to the greenhouse frame. They keep the wind from pulling the plastic off.
.. Make potholders and hotpads out of rags. Really quick to do if you have a sewing machine. Of course you could make them by hand too. 
... Recycle a broken ladder into a garden trellis. Recycle a broken wheelbarrow into decorative garden planter/ornament. 
... Make garden ornaments out of twisty bizarre tree branches. Make a bird bath/mini pond out of an upside down tree stump. 
... Save the string from feed bags. Roll it up  in to a ball. Use the string for all sorts of little jobs that string comes in handy for. 
... Put the soap ends/slivers into a jar with a little water. After it gets soft, use that for hand washing. 
... Use those extra pillow cases that come in the sheet sets for laundry bags, shopping totes, and to store things to keep the dust off. They also work good for transporting the cat to the vet's office. 
... Use cardboard and newspaper under grass clipping to keep weeds down, in place of store bought weed cloth. 
... Wash and reuse ziplock bags. 
... Use broken trashcans, rubbermaid type storage boxes, and garden totes as growing container beds. Great for radishes, lettuce, and greens. 
... Use old or broken coolers for growing containers. Being insulated, they work super great.
... Salvage useable items off of items being taken to the dump. I've salvaged screws, nuts and bolts, springs, handles, latches, rubber molding, metal plates, and all sorts of odd parts. These get sorted and stored in those jars and containers that I saved. These bits and pieces not only come in handy for repairs but also for my experiments and curious creations. 
... Unravel an old knitted item and reuse the yarn to make something else. At the thrift store I can buy big bulky knitted sweaters for a dollar. It's cheaper than buying yarn at the store. My mother likes to crochet and she has made potholders, knee pads, arm warmers, cozy bags to keep pots of food hot when being transported, etc. The cotton and wool yarn makes good biodegradable garden ties for trellises in the garden. 
... Plastic/foam egg cartons make good storage separaters for little hardware items and notions. The
paper ones I use to make fire starters. So for the fire starters, I save and use sawdust and old candle pieces. I don't buy eggs but people give me the cartons. 
... I make tea out of plants that I can grow. Rose. Mamaki. Mints. Citrus. Hibiscus. Strawberry. Raspberry. Chamomile. Tulsi. 
... Wood pallets are useable to make gro-boxes in the garden. I have made shelves and racks out of them for the barn. Even furniture. In the greenhouse they can be used to make plant boxes, pot holding trays, growing benches. Although I haven't done it, I have seen people use them for the subflooring in sheds. They can be cobbled together to make livestock pens.  And at the very least, they can be cut up for firewood. 
... I save rubber bands to reuse. I never seem to have enough of them. 

There are a lot of things that I don't save or reuse simply because I don't accumulate them in the first place. I don't buy fresh fruit in those molded plastic containers. I don't buy butter, yogurt, or cottage cheese in those plastic tubs. I don't buy onions in those mesh bags. I don't buy stockings to wear, so I can't find cute ways to reuse them. I don't buy foods in cans, so I don't have cans to reuse. I bring my own take-home container to a restaurant, so I don't have styrofoam take-home boxes to reuse.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Frugality - Working On It From The Top Down

When I first looked into ideas on being frugal, I saw that people were doing things like cutting out store bought toothpaste, cutting paper napkins in half, rinsing off coffee filters, using eggshells to start seeds in instead of pots. There were lots of things people talked about, but they were only penny savers. When I finally had to get serious about living on less money, I kept track of how we were spending our money in order to come up with a workable budget. At that point it dawned no me that saving pennies might be fine, but I could do a whole lot better by focusing on some of our bigger expenditures. Saving one big hunk off of a hugh expense was worth hundreds of little penny pinchers.

Our biggest expenditure by far was our medical : insurance, co-pays, deductibles. The first thing we did was downgrade the coverage from "high" coverage to "low". This saved several thousand dollars a year. Yes, it is a risk taking less coverage if something serious would happen, but that's what the insurance game is all about...weighing risk to benefits. So we chose the risk we were willing to take. Even so, our medical budget, excluding dentist and eyes, as long as nothing out of the ordinary happens, is $12,000 a year!!!  That's a hunk. Because of our remote location, the only alternative at the moment that is cheaper is to go without coverage at all. At our age, we are not yet willing to go the route. And for now we are not yet forced to do that.

By resisting going into debt (mortgage, car loans, credit cards, etc) we have cut those expenses out. No interest to factor in. A good part of being frugal, in my opinion, is avoiding debt when possible.

Other big expenses include real estate tax. By dedicating almost all of our main farm to pasture, plus using the other 1 1/2 acres 100% for ag, we reduced our tax burden by over $1000 a year. That forced us into being farmers, but  that was fine by me.

Fuel is another big expense. We were able to save hundreds of dollars on propane by making a couple of changes. We switched to wood heat for the house. About 3/4 of my cooking is done using wood heat. (I have access to abundant wood sources at the price of my time and labor). The propane tanks are turned off when not in use. I don't know yet the exact figure of how much we save per year, but it's in the hundreds. The other fuel is gasoline. To cut our gas costs I no longer use the truck for routinely driving about. Instead a more fuel efficient car is used. I try to organize my runs to incorporate all the errands in one trip. I also carpool when feasible for trips to Kona and Hilo. That shares the gas cost among the carpoolers. Plus friends in the community are now announcing if they are making a trip to town and offer to pick something up if needed. For example, just last week we went to Hilo and picked up a few items for a neighbor. The previous week a friend picked up a special tool for me. This sharing system saves a lot of gas expense.

Another frugal move was to shop online. Sure, the it hurts the local merchants. But in order to survive I need to be frugal in how I spend my money. I will often check prices online (taking in account the shipping and handling fees) before checking locally. If the local merchant can't come close in price, then I'll order the item online. Surprisingly I often can do ok locally if I ask. Plus another thing, if the shipping cost on an online purchase is high, I will email the merchant and ask if they can do better do better by using USPS flat rate. They often do. And if they don't, I tell them that this is why I'm not buying from them.

All these big savings are well and good, but that hasn't stopped me from doing many of the penny saving things too. From my point of view, it's a case of choosing where I want to be frugal and to what degree. As with other big changes in my life, I am learning the frugal habit by taking baby steps, making one change at a time. Plus by being frugal in some areas, it leaves
me with more money available for spending (or saving) in other ways. I suppose it comes down to deciding just how and on what I wish to use my money.

So what little penny savers am I doing? Oh lots. Some rather sensible, and some I'm sure my friends think are silly. I think I'll talk about penny savers on another post.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Self Reliancy = Not Buying All That Material Stuff!

One of the mantras I hear from lots of people who moved to Hawaii is "simplify, simplify, simplify". They were running away from the confused, congested, material lifestyle. I know exactly how they feel because that was one of the things that I did too by moving here. Hubby and I actually gave away or sold over 90% of our "stuff" when preparing to move. So we moved with what could be fit into a two-horse trailer. That was mainly tools, books, favorite items and mementos, some clothes, and a few other things.

I wish I could announce that we successfully made the transition, but alas when we set up here we lapsed back to the habit of buying, of accumulating "stuff". Changing our lifestyle in one giant step just didn't work for us. It took awhile to kill the material habit and stop cluttering up our lives and spending away our money. And after ten years, we still have a way to go. But happily we have made a lot of progress.

Each month I try to pick out items or habits to eliminate from the budget. Sometimes I just quit buying it. Other times I learn to make my own a lot cheaper. Sometimes I just change my habits.

Some examples of things we've eliminated....
...foods: We changed our diet overall. More veggies and local fruits. Less meat. We now grow most of our own or trade for it. And almost no prepared foods- we make our own. So that means no chips, pretzels, beer, soda, canned goods, packaged foods, etc. (the list goes on forever, it seems) We are not 100% self reliant in the food department yet but we are at the point that we could be and not feel too deprived. I'm gradually reducing store bought items from the budget. Store bought goodies are now reserved just for special treats now and then.
...household paper goods: Yikes, not the toilet paper!!! No, I still buy that. But I no longer use paper towels, paper napkins, paper plates, that sort of thing. I'm not ready to give up on toilet paper.
...commercial laundry soap: making my own is far cheaper, but I found that I need to use warm water for it to work well. As long as I don't have to pay to heat the wash machine water, then it fits into my self reliancy scheme. Right now the sun heats the water running through the hose to the washer.
...many household cleaners: wherever it works fine, I use vinegar or baking soda, or whatever. It depends on the job. But I've cut our use of commercial products way, way back. dresser: I trim hubby's hair myself. My own hair is now natural color and allowed to grow naturally, held back in a pony tail for daily use. No more dying, perming, and styling.
...throw away items: I've said no to moist towelettes, bleach wipes, plastic wrap, plastic tableware,  and the myriad of use-once-toss-it items. I think I now use only one roll of paper towels a year!!!
...large wardrobe of nice clothes: We both feel comfortable with used clothing purchased at the local thrift shop. "everything": once upon a time I was adverse to using someone else's castoffs. No more. I now buy things I need at swap meets, flea markets, garage sales, church rummage sales.
...TV : life is now too busy to waste time in front of a TV. We do enjoy the occasional DVD movie on the computer, but it's a special event not a daily evening occurance. Plus we seldom ever go to the movie theatre anymore.

It's difficult to recall all the changes over the years, of what has been eliminated from the budget. Our spending has become rather practical oriented. This means that we will be able to survive on a lot less cash than we ever have before.

Gone is the habit of buying morning coffee and donut on the way to work. No more dinner at a restaurant five days a week, or lunch from the sandwich shop. No more buying those pretty shoes then having to buy a complete outfit to go with them. No more drawers full of cosmetics. No more microwave foods. No "gotta have" home decorations. No fancy landscaping. No flashy cars. No compulsive purchases of whimsical items. And you know, I really don't miss them anymore, although at first I did. We are gradually settling into a more basic, simplified life.

We still do dinner out once a week, lunch out twice a week, and breakfast out on Saturday morning. We're not ready to give them up just yet. It's a time when we socialize with good friends.

So here I sit with enough "stuff" to fit our needs, plus a bit extra. I try to keep the bit extra down to a minimum. I no way wish to go back to the cluttered life, now that I've broken most of the habit.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Homemade Fly Traps

A few years ago I lost my first sheep, my grand beautiful ram, to flystrike. At the time I didn't even know about flystrike. So I devastated and felt really guilty when he died. I let him down. I swore I'd make sure I'd never lose another sheep to flies.

Since then I'm careful to check on each individual sheep daily. And if we get a rain period where their fleece stays soaked, I will shear them down to 1/2 inch of fuzz. Anything longer tends to draw the flies. And if I still see flies landing on the sheep, then I drag out the hose and dog shampoo. Everyone (including myself) gets a bath! Happily that doesn't happen often.

Plus I started a war on carrion eating flies. They are the buggers that attack the sheep. I don't know what species of flies they are, but there are a couple of different kinds. I tried a few things in the beginning that weren't very effective. Fly bait (golden malrin), store bought fly traps using a commercial lure, fly paper. I soon realized that I wasn't catching scads flies and I seemed to be catching the wrong ones. Duh, I was using the wrong bait! I needed something that smelled dead or dying, or like rotting sheep fleece.

I couldn't help but notice that a dead animal, be it a rat, mongoose, bird or whatever, quickly drew my target flies. And if that animal was cut open (for example, the cat chewed on it), it really, really attracted flesh eating flies. So I concluded the dead meat would be a better bait. So I sacrificed a piece of raw chicken breast to the fly trapping experiment. Guess was a dud. So I next used a bit of beef steak. Another dud. Pork loin, yet another dud. What gives? I guess that commercial meat is too "clean" for the flies taste. So the next rat that the cats killed I wacked it up well with a machete and stuffed it into the fly trap. Success! The trap was crammed full of flies in one day.

soda bottle trap baited with meat and water
Ok, I had the bait problem solved. Now to make a homemade trap out of supplies on hand. The store bought trap worked just fine, but I wanted to go with homemade.
only one entrance hole which gets covered with a cap

Using two-liter soda bottles, I made lots of traps emulating the store trap design. They all worked but the wind tended to blow them over. I thought I might make something better. So I experimented.

My milk jug traps worked ok. But they were not as easy to empty and recharge with bait. Nor did they catch as many flies. So I wanted better.
old cheese bottle & milk jug cap

I tried clear plastic and glass jars. I tried holes in the lids, holes on the sides. They were very easy to empty and recharge, and stable so that the wind didn't blow them over. But they didn't catch as many flies as the soda bottles. 

So I went back to the soda bottles. I solved the blowing over problem by just anchoring them well between three rocks. They are very easy to enpty and recharge, Using a slotted spoon, I can harvest the dead flies and drop them into the  chicken food. And by far......real far......they are the best at catching lots of flies. 

milk jug with hole in the top
By using a piece of fresh dead animal as bait, does it stink? Sure, so I don't set up the trap near the house. Since I want to be protecting my sheep, the traps go out in the pastures. Besides, it's not houseflies that I'm dealing with. It's carrion type flies.

Whenever the cats bless me with another dead rat, I use it to refresh the traps. Of if I am given a piece of fresh killed meat ( pig, mouflon, whatever) I will set aside some for the fly traps.

Each of my fly traps catches at least a cupful of flies on a sunny day. Since I live in a farming area, the fly population never deminishes. But since coming up with my current fly trap design, I no longer see lots of flies in the pastures. I still keep a close eye on my sheep, especially when it rains for more than two days in arow, but so far things have been fine. The flies appear to prefer the stinky traps over the wet
sheep. Good!

Monday, May 6, 2013


Leopard/Tiger Slug (spotted)

Leather Leaf Slug or is it a Cuban?

Slugs, ugh!

I've never seen I many slugs until I started growing things here. First of all, they are active year around. Ya never get a break from battling them. Since organic material is always breaking down, there's always places for them to eat and hide. At first I thought they only ate green live plants, but wrong! They seem to thrive in mulch, compost, and manure that is a hundred of feet away from the nearest green plant. But they do indeed eat plenty of live plants. Boy, can they do damage in my garden.

I've got 4-5 different kinds of slugs. I'm no slug expert, so I'm not sure what all of them are. But I'm giving a good guess on these:

Tiger/leopard slug
Leather leaf slug (or maybe a Cuban)
Giant African snail
There is also a small snail, a medium sized greyish slug, small black slugs (possibly juveniles of the tiger slug? )
And a predatory snail, which is great since it eats young slugs.

Leopard/Tiger Slug (stripped)
Beer traps: I don't place a lot of dependency upon these because of the rain here. Beer traps need rain protection, which I find to be too much trouble to do except for a few traps here and there. Besides, the slugs here have expensive taste. No Coors Light or Bud for them! Nope, they want the more malty expensive beers. The best luck I've had was with Black & Tan.  Maybe if it didn't rain so often here the traps would work better. Besides I've got another more serious problem with using beer old Border Collie loves beer! Although she knows that it's forbidden, she can't help herself at times.  Every so often I'll catch a wiff of beer-breathe when she comes into the bedroom at night. Dang, she's emptied the traps again!

Citrus cups: during parts of the year I have access to hundreds of discarded citrus. I've used orange, grapefruit, and pomelo successfully to catch slugs. I simply cut the fruit in half, give it a squeeze to get rid of some of the juice,  and put it on the ground fruit side down near the base of a plant. Early in the morning I check for slugs eating the fruit.  Time consuming, but it works for most slugs.

Pad traps: early on I discovered that slugs and snails like to hide under wet newspaper and cardboard. This set up is far the best trapping method for me. I will tie a bundle of newspaper or cardboard, making the bundle about 2 inches thick. Then I'll dunk it in water to wet the bundle a bit. Now it's ready for action. I'll place the bundle near or under the plants I wish to protect. Then in the mornings I just up end the bundle, exposing the slugs. These I pick off and drop into a jar. Later they become duck or chicken food. Time consuming but I can trap easily ten times more slugs than by using citrus traps and 30 more times than using beer traps. Over time the newspaper or cardboard breaks down , so I often will just add another wad of paper to the bottom of the bundle, and it goes back to work. Eventually the paper disintegrates too much to be used as a trap. Then I put it into the compost pile and make a new one. Pad traps work best when the days are dry and the sun is warm.

I'm adverse to adding poison to the soil. Besides, I fear what it might do to my chickens, ducks, cats, and dogs. Thus no Corey's Slug Bait goes into the veggie garden. 

I have had success using Sluggo (iron phosphate), which is not supposed to be toxic to my pets nor the soil, though people still refer to it as a poison. The main drawback is that it cost money. It isn't cheap.  So I tend to only use it whenever I see a major population explosion of slugs. So Sluggo isn't my number one line of defense, but it's in reserve when things get out of hand. down at the community garden a mile away, Sluggo is used to protect the gourds. It does a good job there. 

Deterrents ---
slug on coffee grounds
Coffee grounds: I've read that slugs avoid coffee grounds. I tested that out with two slugs before going ahead and treating the garden with pounds of coffee. Guess what. My two guinea pigs slugs crawled right over a row of coffee grounds with no hesitation. Thus I concluded that slugs really don't avoid coffee. 

Ashes: wood ash is another thing that people claim slugs won't touch. So I tested the theory by capturing some slugs and confronting them with a ash barrier. Guess what. They crawled right over and through it without the least bit of hesitation. So wood ash doesn't deter them. 
slug on ashes

Diatomaceous Earth: since it rains lightly 4-5 nights a week here, this is not a viable option for me. The stuff needs to be kept dry. So I don't know if slugs really avoid this or not.
slug on eggshells

Egg shells: this also failed the slug test. I tried coarsely crumbled shell, then next tried finely crushed shells. Neither slowed down the slugs for a second.  

Ground Glass:
I didn't test this theory. Who wants ground glass in their garden? Not me! 

Copper wire or foil: 
At the price of copper, a gardener would have to spend a fortune to protect a large garden area. And they will still crawl under mulch, thus avoiding any copper bands. The idea might work around the legs of a gro-table or maybe a particular pot but not in the rows of a traditional garden set up. And besides, it's not self reliant, is it? I can't mine and process my own copper. Nor do I have access to discarded copper tubing or wire. Thus I've never tried copper. I might set up a test to protect a tabletop garden, but that will have to wait until I scrounge up some copper wire. 

Muscovy Ducks:
I learned that Muscovy ducks love certain slugs, but not all. They will eagerly nose though the mulch gobbling every leather leaf slug they find. Alas they refuse the tiger slugs. 'Tis a pity. Of course they also help themselves to nibbles of kale, lettuce, and other veggies, making them the less than ideal slug controllers. But they help. As long as I drive them through the garden so that their eye doesn't wander onto the veggies, they do a pretty nice job on the small slugs that get missed with the traps. The community garden uses muscovys for slug control too. Great ducks!