Friday, June 28, 2013

Community -part 4.... Helping Out

Helping one another is part of being a community member. It's a sign that I belong, that I care. I am often the one who is doing the helping, but it is not uncommon for me to be the recipient either. "Helping out" often crosses the line with the idea of "participation", but that's ok. I'm not trying to right a dissertation here, so I don't mind if the points of discussion get a bit muddled. 

I find that helping out forms community bonds. In the past hubby and I have helped erect a quonset hut, lent a hand building a roof, helped install solar systems. We spent a day with a group cleaning a local beach, another day helping with a whale count. We joined a group of community volunteers cleaning up trash in the local park. We have taken care of livestock when owners spent few days away. We've rounded up stray livestock, weedwacked overgrown lawns, gone food shopping and cooked meals. I help at the spay/neuter clinics. Hubby helps people with their computers and loads their e-readers with books. 

Not everyone in a community is capable of physically lending a hand. That doesn't mean that they aren't active community members. Helping out can be as simple as making a daily phone call to check on a house bound senior. Many of us here live alone, so a daily check by a neighbor can be very valuable and appreciated. 

I look around and see all sorts of examples of residents helping residents. I see people care taking a house or caring for animals while the owners are away. I see people cooking meals for someone that's sick. I person in the community recently had surgery, and folks came to mow the lawn, water the house plants, and pretty up the house with flowers before they came home from the hospital. An elderly man ran out of firewood and a younger person came and spent several hours cutting up a hugh pile of  branches and tree trunks, enough to last months if not a year. When I needed advice about a permit problem, a community member searched out the right person for me to contact. A sick resident was returning to the mainland to be with family, so her community organized a luncheon in her honor. 

This month I'm helping my next door neighbor get his overgrown property under control. I've staked out 4 sheep and a goat, moving them around twice a day. Once they eat or trample the  grass down, I mow the munched area and collect the grass clippings for mulching my garden. It's a win-win situation for everybody. My livestock gets to eat virgin grass, they get the attention from my neighbor several times a day (thus taming the wild ones), the neighbor gets rid of his overgrown grass, I get truckloads of grass clippings. The neighbor has a whole acre that needs to be munched by the sheep, so the critters will be happy for quite awhile. Since the area will eventually become a garden, the dirt will benefit from the manure and urine. Plus by having the adults next door, my own pasture has a chance to grow. 

Tomorrow we will be helping with the July 4th celebrations.  Yeah, it's only June 29th, I know but that's when the town is doing it. 

Lest you think otherwise, I don't spend my life just helping others. On the contrary, I have a farm to run, a house to build, a husband to take care of. But I find myself interacting with my community in lots of little ways, and sometimes a big way once in a while. Plus some of the things we do count as entertainment, really! A beach cleaning day or a barn raising day is like a working vacation. Something different to do, often fun, a very satisfying. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Community ...part 3 - Participation

I was chatting with some fairly new people not long ago who were complaining about living here in Ka'u. They said that there was nothing to do. They had done the sightseeing things and were now bored. Impossible to make friends, they said. They were considering going back to the mainland. When I started talking about all the things hubby and I get involved with,  things that we do especially with the community, these people seemed astounded. They had no idea. They have since started getting involved. Whether they stay or move is yet to be seen.

The community here is always doing something. And residents are welcome to get involved, though they won't drag you kicking and screaming to join in. But I find that getting involved with communiy events really helps form strong bonds, plus makes friends. Some events are small affairs, like a half day workshop being hosted by a local artist. Others can be big such as the week long coffee festival, with it's dinners, tours, contests, music fair, and lectures

Some events I can choose to be a worker bee, like helping to set up tables and tents at a local fun-in-the-park day. I can help man information booths. Offer to put up posters around town advertising events. I can volunteer for the annual whale count. Take part in the beach clean up. Go plant trees in the national park on volunteer days. Become a volunteer at the extended care facility, reading newspapers to residents, placing games, taking time to chat and listen. Or I can join local community action groups, such as a 'friends of the park" type group, or a group like OKK that has helped seniors make their homes safer, has cleaned up local ponds, repaired and cleaned forgotten cemetaries, restored local historical buildings. 

Other times I'm a participant /recipient: going on the guided hikes in the national park, having lunch-with-the-ranger, attending various local festivals, signing up for lei making classes, going to hula classes, joining the group making ceramics, going to local lectures, enjoying the town holiday parades.

Many people in my community are active. Events of some sort or other are constantly going on. By choosing to participate, I meet other people in my area, bonding with my community and meeting new friends.

I was just sitting here thinking of some of the things we have done recently that involves the community in some way ....
...helped out with the "Pork in the Park" event, setting up tents, chairs, tables, trashcans
...ate dinner at our local dinner club in support of the hosts
...spent several days helping to drive people to the local week-long health clinic
...volunteered at the community vegetable garden
...worked with two different community groups that do things locally
...took donated vegetables to the senior nutritional program
...participated in seed exchange events
...gave neighbors rides into town
..volunteered at the local canine spay/neuter event
...join a group of neighbors for dinner and an evening of chatting

In the next few days we will be drive into town to cheer and clap for the town parade, go to a local restaurant to support a new local entertainer (she's going to sing with a local musician group), eat lunch in the park to help raise money for the keiki Christmas dinner, go to the community bingo event, donate books to the little used book store run by volunteers (all books only $.25!), eat lunch at the local cafe to support a new business, go to the local farmers markets and swap meet.

There are many things that we simply don't have time to get involved with, but they sound like fun or worthy events. Community game nights. Bus trips to the astronomy center. Hiking club. Quilting group. National park volunteers. The rodeo club. The ham radio operators. Hula. Weekly ceramics. Flower arranging. Hawaiian language classes. Ukulele. Buddhist temple events. Swimming at the Pahala pool. Garden clubs. Horse riding club. Puppy kindergarten classes. Yoga. 

If I just stayed at home, kept to myself, I could still be happy but I would miss out on being part of a community. I find that I like community life. I enjoy doing things with other area residents. I especially enjoy working alongside them on a job such as cleaning up a beach or helping to restore a building. Plus I enjoy the socializing. It's like having hundreds of aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Community -part 2...Courtesy

In my experience courtesy is a major requirement of being in a community. Courtesy to me is the act of being polite and respectful. But I find that as I practice being courteous, I often breakout with acts of kindness, helpfulness, all of which surely helps the community connection. 

So, as I practice courtesy, I find that I tend to be more courteous not only to other community members, but also those outside my community. I find this happens even if the person is relatively a stranger. Perhaps the person is only someone I see, say hello to, every time I stop at the post office. Soon I find myself opening doors, helping to carry a big box or get the car door open. and surprise, my community just grew a little bit bigger. Who knows, perhaps some day that person will become a friend. 

As I found myself becoming connected to a community, I found my acts of courtesy spilling over to more and more people. I began greeting more people as I recognized their faces. Saying hello, wishing them a good day. Opening doors for others. Getting into pleasant conversations with people in line at the store checkout. Helping overloaded people with their bags. Lending a hand to unload trash bags from someone's car at the trash dump.

I surprised myself by extending courtesy to more and more people, often strangers, even tourists! Before you know it, I'm helping a disabled person put gasoline into their car. Letting someone else take the parking spot we were both heading for. Letting another car into the line of traffic. Helping out a confused tourist. 

The courtesy thing snowballs into actions. Every day brings a different, sometimes new, connection to the community. Often the things I do surprise myself! These acts are definitely not things I would have considered doing while living on the Eastcoast. I often see a person I recognize on the roadside thumbing a ride. I stop, pick them up and drive them into town. I will go out of my way to give a community member a ride to the doctor or even the airport 2 hours away. I often stop to help change a tire or make sure the person with a broken down car is ok, sometimes arranging for a tow and driving them home. 

I find myself returning shopping carts to the cart line inside the store rather than leaving them in the parking lot. My town is small, so there are no cart cages out in the lots. I often buy a newspaper for the elderly shut-in whose house I pass when going to my mother's. It is not uncommon for me to drop off an extra piece of cake or pie to the old man that lives along the highway by himself. 

Hubby and I eat at the local  restaurant each week. Sometimes the place can be jammed, with no empty tables left. The first time we offered to share our table with some tired, worried looking folks, we not only surprised ourselves that we did it, but actually enjoyed chatting with the strangers. We now offer to share the table on a regular basis to the point that the waitresses are aware of our habit. 

Courtesy to me also can extend to compliments. Just the other day I thanked the employee at the trash  dump for keeping the place so clean. Yes, it is part of his job, but it is nice to see that he puts a good effort into it. He was proud of his job and happy to be complimented. My compliment was genuine. 

While acts of courtesy keep my community connection alive, the acts grow and spill over into other being nice, happy, appreciative. And while courtesy applies to acts of politeness, it often grows to include acts of caring. Plus one surprising effect, courtesy can be infectious. Countess times I've let another driver get into traffic only to see them extend the same courtesy to another driver a short distance down the road. How wonderful! Yup, before you know it, random acts of kindness break out. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Blame It On The Grass !

A young runner starting to develop.
These runners easily get 6 to 8 feet long!
Now that summer has started, I will be having a difficult time posting 5 times a week. I will try to post often, but I find myself with less free time June thru December. Why, you ask? Grass! The stuff starts to grow in ernest the beginning of June and doesn't significantly slow down until December. and if I don't keep it chopped down, it rapidly transforms my place into a thick savannah. Believe me, some of the grass can grow over a foot a week and get 6 feet high in less than a month. Good for feeding livestock but bad if you're trying to find the shovel you laid down last week, your car, or your house! Gosh, and my mainland friends can't understand why I keep a horse around that I don't bother to ride. Well, she is tall enough to eat the grass that grew too high for the sheep to tackle.

Speaking of grass, tropical grass is far different from the grasses I was use to in NJ. Here a lot of the grasses spread via runners or underground stolens. So they quickly spread beyond your neat lawn and into every nook and cranny, including heading into the flower beds, choking out the vegetable garden, up the sides of a building and even under the siding, through the cracks in your deck, even up through the floorboards of your sheds. It's like the plant from hell.

I dug up this underground stolen with several plants growing from it.
These stolens run for feet and feet about 10" below the surface. 
Unlike fescue and rye which hates being driven on, tropical grasses seem to tolerate taking a beating. Lots of people here with acreage don't bother gravelling a driveway unless they have mud or need the traction. Grass does fine. I couldn't understand that when I first came here. What? Drive across the grass? Are you crazy? But then I noticed that a number of places didn't seem to have driveways, just lawns. Um.

Lots of newcomers put a lot of effort into making their lawns. Within a year or two they start spending their time with the opposite endeavor....controlling the monster they created. Here the grass. There the grass. Everywhere a grass, grass. Aaaayyyyy. Although I'm not a big advocate of herbacides, I can fully appreciate the need to use something like Round-up in certain places. 

Tropical grasses have their benefits. They like to grow. They spread easily. Many make good pastures. They fill in empty spots quickly. Many are excellent forage for livestock. ....... But just don't let them near your gardens! 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Being Part of a Community -part 1

Being part of a community is a big subject to discuss. So I will be exploring this in parts. Ha, my very own series, just like the movies! ...."Ohana, Hawaii" ..."Ohana, the Sequel"....."Ohana, Part 3".  LOL!

Living in Ka'u, Hawaii I find myself involved in a community for the first time in my life. Oh, I've lived in small towns before, and in cities, suburbs, and the English countryside. But never have I experienced community life like I am now. Everywhere I lived neighbors barely knew one another, seldom did things together, didn't get involved. I had plenty of friends, but most lived a decent distance away, not even shopping at the same stores or eating at the same restaurants. Even the times I was in small towns, people generally kept to themselves....except for the town busybody of course! Every town seems to have one. Was this isolation just part of living on  the eastcoast, where people were seldom concerned or even interested? I don't know. In England we were "The Yanks", foreigners. So I can understand that we weren't adopted into any form of community.

So, why is being part of a community important to me as a homestead farmer? The community is part of the network I need to make my homestead successful. The community becomes the source of foods that I cannot grow for myself. And they are the takers of my surplus. They help keep an eye on me, on my farm, on my livestock. Not in a busybody sort of way, but rather with a caring watchful eye. At one time I would have been offended that people watched me come and go. Now it feels more like .... reassuring. I can draw upon the community for help, for suggestions, for information. I can usually find someone in the community to provide a service that I need.

In my community people tend to be nice to one another most of the time, even if they are basically strangers. They are interested without being overly snoopy.

Oh, not everyone is part of my community. Of course not! Not everyone gets along. This surely isn't utopia! People are people, and not everyone has compatible interests. Nor is everyone a "nice" person. Some people take joy in making other people unhappy, just like anywhere else in the world. But there is an undercurrent of interest, caring that I didn't sense living in other places.

Here in Hawaii there is a term for the family : Ohana. I don't know if there is a Hawaiian term for the community, but it's sort of like being in a large Ohana. Like in a large extended Ohana, everyone belongs. And people help one another out when there is a need. 

I often talk with the seniors down at our town community center. One time I asked about the time of the great depression and about the time during the second world war. What was the food situation like? Food was in shortage. What did people do? I got back plenty of quizzical looks. I was told that no one went hungry. Those who could, grew food. Those who couldn't, received food. The community acted to feed itself. That's what a community does. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Putting Weeds to Work

I was always told to eliminate weeds. Pull them out, throw them away. I spray them dead. But after decades of battling them (and often losing), I've come to see weeds as a benefit. For real! Crazy, no?

Before I read Ruth Stout's gardening book, I aggressively battled weeds with all sorts of hoes, cultivators, and tillers. Every weekend I was out there chopping weeds. The garden looked good March thru June. July got real iffy. By August the weeds began to win. By September the battle was lost. It happened every year. Some years the battle was lost by mid-July. I only had one day a week to use for battling weeds back then, so maybe if I had had  more time the outcome would have been better. But I suspect not.

A pile of weeds ready for grinding up
Then because of Ruth Stout, I started using mulches. Things dramatically improved. Less weed problems in the areas I was able to get a thick mulch onto. 
Weeds make a nice mulch when ground up.

When I started this farm here in Hawaii, I was in desperate need of compost and mulch. Back in NJ one could always get the town or utilities to drop off truckloads of trees chippings. Landscapers were happy to dump their truckload of grass clippings. In autumn bags and bags of leaves were free for the taking. Stable operators were glad to have people come cart their manure and wood shavings piles away. The local sawmill dumped sawdust by the cart load by the roadway for people to take.  But here, things are different. No free green waste in abundance. (For a while the county dumped free green waste mulch in Waiohinu, but alas, no more.) Therefore the number one use for weeds for me is as green waste to be collected and chopped into mulch. 

Weeds seldom overcome the garden because of  the mulching. But along the driveway, around the rock wall, in the pastures and woods, and on the rocky areas weeds constantly regrow. This means that I have a nice source of green material that I can harvest whenever I need it. To me it is a crop, not a bane. I guess it's just a mental adjustment. Funny thing now is that during times of drought, I'm wishing that the weeds would grow! 

# 2 use for weeds: compost ingredient. No way, you're gonna say! Weed seeds! Well, if I properly manage the composting, weed seeds don't survive. I monitor the temperature of the piles and attempt to get them to a minimum of 165 with each turning. That seems to be sufficient. I simply don't have weeds sprouting out of my compost. If I see it happening, I know I did something very, very wrong. If I don't get the pile hot enough, then weed seeds will survive. The tricky part is getting the cooler outside sections turned over into the center so that material can also heat up. 

Certain weeds work out as animal fodder. The horse, sheep, and goat seek out certain plants that I call weeds. I watch the critters to see which ones they like. Those I allow to stay in the pastures in order to give the livestock variety. I don't know the names of most of those weeds, but I can identify them by sight. I've even purposely sown some of those weeds into the pastures, especially plantains. 

Some plants that are called weeds are edible. I've transplanted nasturtiums and purslane into the garden. I found them growing as weeds. Plantain is also edible, but I haven't tried it. 

Weeds in the garden can be very useful, so I don't try to eliminate them all. So the garden looks a little weedy. Who cares. The weeds I allow to remain serve a purpose as long as they don't over populate. Some serve as a trap crop for insect pests. For example, whitefly seems to infest nasturtiums long before they move to other crops. So the nasturtiums alert me to the problem so that I can take action. Usually just plucking the infested nasturtium plants is enough to knock the whitefly population way back.  Other weeds are very susceptible to mildew, alerting me to take action with the vegetable crops. Weeds can also tell me a little about the condition of the soil. If the new weed seedlings look lush,  things are most likely ok. But if they are spindly or off color, then I need to test the soil and make adjustments. I know that certain weeds thrive in spite of poor soil, but that isn't an issue. My garden soil is improved, so it just needs to be tweaked. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

First Gourd of 2013

I drove down to the Mark Twain (arid farm) land to water the plants and had a pleasant discovery. The first baby gourd has set! Wow, I hadn't expected it already, but I'll sure take it.  :)

This gourd is only a few days old, not even a week. So it will get a whole lot bigger. When it reaches its full size I'll take another photo so that you can compare them.

This gourd is a local variety that we call Ka'u Big Butt. Its shape and size makes for very nice bowls.

As you can see in the photo, the ground here is very rocky. There is some soil between the rocks, but on first impression you'd think, "Rocks, nothing but rocks." So it comes as a surprise to some people that things can actually be grown here. Gourds is one of those crops.

This particular gourd will become a practice or training gourd, I suspect. Because I did not discover it soon enough, it has some scarring on one side due to the wind rubbing it against the rocks. But even training gourds have their worth.

In addition, this gourd is valuable for its seed. The plant was the most vigorous and the earliest to set fruit. As long as it proves to be disease resistant, I will be keeping the seed for future planting. Since the only other gourds around are also Ka'u Big Butts, the seed should be true to form.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Utilizing Our Arid Land

When we purchased 1 1/2 acres down the road, a friend asked, "Why did you buy that land for? It's hot and dry, not good for farming." He was a bit in disbelief that I intended to farm there, although someday it will morph into our retirement location. I was looking for something warmer and drier than the main farm. Some things just do better warmer and drier. 

So what are my ideas? Well, that depends upon how much water I intend to use. For now, it all needs to be trucked in.

Things I can grow with minimal irrigation:
... Purslane. This green grows exceptionally well in the dry, poor soil of the new place. There is a small niche market for it, and I can feed the excess to the chickens. In fact, I could develop a local chicken fodder market for purslane since flock owners around here like the idea of feeding it to their birds for the omega fatty acids.
... Sweet potatoes & gourds. The locale historically was a Hawaiian sweet potato and gourd production area. I've already experimented using traditionally Hawaiian ag techniques and have successfully produced both crops in that area, although not on my own lots. But I currently have both now growing there. I've used very little irrigation for either so far.
... Dry land landscaping plants for resale. -- cactus and other succulents, plumaria, bromeliads, bougainvillea, aloe, panex, agave, palms. I'm not sure I want to get into the nursery business, but the opportunity is there. I already planted some of these type plants, but only for my own landscaping. So I know that they will do fine there. By using a bit more water and fertilizer, I could propagate them.
... Pin cushion protea. These grow well in the area, but I'm not ready to get into the business. Possibly a future option.
... Pineapples. These would require some outside water, but they don't demand a lot. The local white pineapples are always in demand. I put in about 50 starts for my own use and they are growing well.
... Local desert plants. While it would make no sense to intentionally cultivate them, there are two plants growing abundantly in the area that I can use. One is Christmasberry whose berry can be ground and used for pepper seasoning. The other is Haole Koa whose young leaves and stems can be used for animal fodder and whose seeds and seed pods are used by local crafters. I have harvested leaves to add to the chicken feed but found it to be tedious and not a productive use of my time. I have hat bands made from the seed pods and I've  toyed with using the seeds to make a necklace. Very pretty but time consuming. I equate it to quilt making....time consuming, tedious work to do as a hobby or on a rainy day. But there are crafters out there who use the seeds and pods on a regular basis.
... Moringa. Currently a fad crop, but it has its plusses. There is a small niche market for it now, but I would most likely use it as livestock fodder.

Things that require more water:
... Now for the reason for wanting this location -- good to reduce problems with moisture related plant disease and dry enough for seed production. On the main farm, saving seeds is a challenge. The seeds often mold or even sprout right in their pods. They never dry down. Before pods go brown I've had beans and peas start sprouting! My radish and Chinese cabbage seed would get moldy in the pods long before the pods would dry. And with diseases, some veggies really suffered with fungal diseases in the dampness of the main farm. To date I have already produced two bean seed crops. Everything went beautifully, proving that the site will be quite useable for seed production. The main issue to be addressed will be water.
... Hot weather crops: Some crops just can't be produced on the main farm. I will be experimenting growing them on the south farm. I already know that papayas, mangos, breadfruit, and breadnut will grow there. I plan to try tepary beans, edible soybeans, lima beans, and malabar spinach.
... Hydroponics. A contained system would not waste precious water and produce a variety of crops. I plan to toy with simple hydroponic systems later on this summer. It should be fun. 
... Raising tilapia. While I'm told that tilapia will grow at my farm, fish breeders agree that it is too cool there for breeding them. Thus a small pond will be made on the warm farm in order to produce more tilapia babies for growing on to meal sized fish. 

Hot, dry, and sunny may have disadvantages for general vegetable farming, but I plan to take advantage of these conditions to expand my homestead farming operation. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Paloma and Propane Use

Our hot water heater, a Paloma.

We get our hot water from an on-demand, propane fired unit called a Paloma. Paloma is the name of the brand, but the name is used generically around here to mean a propane on-demand water heater.

We don't know how old our unit is because it was a used unit that the previous owners installed. But the thing is still working ok. Once it went on the fritz, but hubby was able to taken it apart is clean it well. Since then it has been doing fine. Around here you learn to repair most of your stuff yourself, since at-home repairmen are scarcer than a steel penny.

For many years we simply ran the paloma 24 hours a day. It has a pilot light, so when you turn on your hot water, the unit engages and heats the water running through it. We never gave hot water a thought. Just turn on the faucet. Earlier this year we decided to try to shave our propane dependency. So we now turn off the paloma except when we plan to take a shower. Sure, it means walking out and turning the unit on once or twice a day, but it turns out to be well worth the effort.

February 1st I installed a newly filled propane tank. One June 8th, it ran out.  That means we got 4 months plus 1 week out of that tank. Let's say for simplicity, we get 4 months out of a propane tank. That's 3 tanks a year. In 2012 we went through 6 tanks. Wow, we managed to save 3 tankfuls!!!!!  That's a good savings. 50%.

Propane tank stored below, Paloma above.
Closet is outside of the house.

We use the paloma basically just for taking showers. Since I run a woodburning stove in the morning and evening, our hot water for doing dishes and cleaning comes from a pot atop the wood stove. Oh, not every time. I do have a propane range that I use when I'm in a hurry or the woodstove is not running. And if a big bucket of hot water is needed to clean up the floor in a hurry, then the paloma is turned on. But it has become a habit to start the woodstove first thing, plop the teakettle and the big pot on top. 

Hot water for the clothes washer comes via a hose slung up on the roof. Simple. Cost nothing, other than the original cost of the hose. 

My aim is to be reasonably self reliant. And to spend as little actual cash as is feasible so that we can survive ok. Do this while at the same time live comfortably and at a lifestyle that agrees with us. Thus being able to slash our propane use for hot water in half is delightful!

I'm still awaiting on the propane use for cooking. I installed a new tank on the propane range Feb 1st. So far, it hasn't run out. So that will be another report. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Our Solar Update

Hubby lining up the new batteries in the box. 
We ended up replacing the battery bank. The batteries, L-16's, were 6 years old. Everyone was telling us that 6 years was average lifespan for them.  Well, we guess that 6 years is ok since we are still learning about caring for batteries, but we hope to do better with this new bank of batteries.

The new batteries starting to be wired. 
When we went to Interstate Batteries to buy a good quality hydrometer, we had the opportunity to talk briefly with the battery tech. We learned quite a few things. First, check batteries with a hydrometer right after they have had a good charge. Second, we will be able to recover, thus use, the four best batteries of the old array. We plan to use them on a different project. The four lesser quality batteries most likely not worth putting the effort into them because of the amount of power that would be needed to recover them. We plan to give them to a friend who has a very large solar array and thus has the capacity to shock them good. Maybe he will be able to recover them enough to use them for something.

We ended up replacing the battery bank with 6 volt golf cart batteries, instead of L-16's. Reason....they are a lot lighter and easier for us to handle. Frankly, we are just too old to tote around L-16's anymore. We purchased 8 batteries because we will be moving the Stecas off to their own system (4 batteries). We already have the right number of solar panels up, so we don't need to change that. The system for the Stecas will have their own four panels. By the way, we use unisolar panels. We opted for them because of the sun situation we have here. We live in a forest (thus panels can get partially shaded during the day) plus the days are often bright-overcast rather than clear sun. the unisolars are better under these conditions.
The old L-16 batteries. 

Back to the action.... we managed to lift four of the L-16's out of the battery box and into a storage shed. After that we were pooped, so we left the other four in the box for another day. We still had plenty of room to install the 8 new golf cart batteries.

Our system is set up for 24 volts, so we wire 4 batteries together in a series. Then the two groups of four are wired together parallel. All that use to be a foreign language to me, but I'm finally understanding that stuff! 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Hawaii Earthquake Information

This is what we check on the internet when we have an earthquake here. The website gives us all sorts of earthquake information.

The big red square is the earthquake that we just had. It was located pretty far away. According to the volcano information site, the quake was most likely associated with the natural readjustment of the earth's mantle due to the weight of Hawaii Island on it.

Here's some more info from the website:

Sorry the pics are so blurry. I took them from a screen capture, rather than a photo, so they aren't so good. But it gives you an idea.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Earthquake 5.6

Just had a bit of an earthquake. It's been quite a while since we've had an earthquake around here that we could feel in Naalehu. I was down at the post office in town when the floor gave a couple of jiggles, then thump! The building did a counterclockwise hula to a low, slow rumble-rumble-rumble. It was a significant earthquake, but not a biggie. It wasn't until I got home right now that I found out it occurred about 25 miles away under the ocean. A 5.6.  If it had been closer, it would have  been more attention getting.

Earthquakes use to happen in the area fairly frequently when we moved here. Small ones that you could hear coming down the mountain, give your house a rattle, then continue on down the hill. But for the past few years things have been pretty quiet around here. Pahala has been having small ones off and on, but not much on this side of the mountain/volcano. I've actually missed having them, and many people has said the same thing. We were so use to the frequent small shakers.

This earthquake was most likely associated with Lo'ihi, the newest volcano off the coast. Thus it doesn't mean something it going on with Mauna Loa, the volcano I live on. Eventually Mauna Loa will stir to life, but not this time.

Thursday when I get to my desk top computer again, I'll post the earthquake data for you to see. This is what we locals check on a regular basis to keep up to date on the earthquakes,

Monday, June 3, 2013

Our First Solar Battery Problem

Two weeks ago we helped out a friend with his solar battery array. His battery readings had started going a bit wonky, then a couple nights later one of the batteries exploded. After analyzing the problem, he temporarily disconnected one third of the battery bank and stopped using electricity at night as a bandaid repair until he could purchase new batteries.  We lent a hand installing the new batteries and wiring the new battery bank.

Hubby and I had felt fairly smug that our batteries were doing so good, so we thought. Our group were two years older than our friend's and still charging and discharging fine, so we thought. We cared for them attentively, giving them a thorough going over monthly, keeping them in the prime, so we thought. Well, after 3 "so we thought's" you must know by now that we were clueless. A few days ago we started getting wonky readings on the batteries. Oh brother. We borrowed the new hydrometer our friend had just purchased and were really surprised what it told us about our own batteries. The side of the battery bank that we suspected was aging the fastest actually was in decent shape, though not great by any means. Right on the lower readings in the "good" section. The other side was in horrible shape with numerous cells practically dead or real dead. Oh my, oh my, oh my.
The bad cells were dragging down the whole system.

I guess we wouldn't have noticed the aging if we weren't in a sunless weather pattern right now. We've had very, very little sun for the past three weeks. We've had to run the generator a few evenings to top up the batteries. But suddenly that batteries weren't holding the charge

For more than a year we've been talking about moving the dc appliances to their own solar panels/batteries, but we never got around to really thinking it out. It wasn't a pressing issue. But now we have the opportunity to do the job, since we are looking at a major battery replacement job. So over the next two days hubby will be planning out the strategy. We already have the solar panels. We will need a simple charge controller. Four of the decent batteries in our current bank should be usable for the task, as starters. 

As we work our way through this job, I'll show you what we are doing. It will be a learning experience for us too. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

How Much Income is Needed from the Farm?

A blog follower emailed me and asked, "How much income does a homestead farm have to make in order to support a family?" I see this sort of a question being asked on many of the homesteading, family farm, and permaculture style websites/blogs. I find it difficult to answer because of so many variables and definitions. I think this is an individualistic thing.

What do you consider income? Would you count things that the farm produces for you that you would otherwise have to buy, such as food, firewood, manures, etc? Or do you mean the cash you brought in from sales? Or perhaps net profit? On my homestead farm, when I talk about needing a certain income, I'm referring to net profit. And I don't count the fact that the farm, in one way or another, produces 90% of our food. Or that the farming effort supplies other material goods for us. Our farm is pretty well self supporting at this stage, meaning that it brings in enough cash to pay for its cash expenses. But in order to support hubby and I, it needs to generate a net profit. This is something that I'm still working on.

Family, what's your definition? A young couple just starting out who hasn't yet accumulated a supply of material goods (tools, household items, clothes, vehicles, etc)? A family consisting of young children? A retired, childless couple? Depending upon who the family is, the amount of income they need can greatly vary, wouldn't you agree? We have already accumulated our necessary material goods. So we now think in terms of maintenance, repairs, and replacements. We have no children to support, no future education expenses to be concerned about. We've already done our world traveling and vacations requiring expense. So our family consists of two homebodies who aren't very need oriented.

And how about lifestyle? How much cash would the family need to maintain their desired lifestyle. Gosh, 20 years ago hubby and I needed $75,000-$85,000 a year to live. Yikes! Now we could do fine on $15,000-$20,000, not including medical (which is an outrageous $12,000 a year for basic). You can see, our lifestyle has really changed. By the way, back in the days of $80,000  per year income, we didn't have to pay our own medical insurance premiums. It was a job perk. Now we have no choice but to pay through the nose if we want medical insurance. 

Some people need to make more money than they need to get by. They have a set idea of saving  certain amount each month or year. Thus their farm would need to make more money than the non-fiscally oriented family. Some people can't bear the thought of living a life where they are just getting by. Society pressures us to have savings, IRAs, stock portfolios, pensions. I know people who have extreme anxiety over their savings, fearful that they don't have enough. For these type people, maybe escaping to the countryside and farm life may not be a good idea. Small farming is seldom that profitable. 

Location of your farm would have a big bearing on your expense needs. Some regions are far cheaper to live in than others. Surprisingly, I find my area of Hawaii to be rather affordable, except for that dang medical insurance. But buying a farm  here is not affordable a compared with other regions of the country. 

Outside income is another consideration. In our case, we will be drawing social security benefits eventually. Some people I've talked with have pensions, alimony, royalties,interest, etc bringing money in. Yet others have non-farm income via part time jobs, sales of crafts or services. Any outside income takes the pressure off  what the farm must produce. 

I'm sure there are other angles to consider. As I've said, this is a highly individual thing.

It may surprise you, but hubby and I have different ideas about "getting by". I'm more of a pioneer type, willing to improvise, make do, or do without. Hubby is an urban type who likes his creature comforts and his toys. Therefore our family homestead farm has to produce enough to make hubby satisfied, far more than it would have to produce to please me alone. 

Flowers- Important on my Farm

butterfly bush

ohia tree
 a type of bromiliad 


So what's the big deal about flowers? Flowers are important to me because they are beautiful and make me smile. They are also a cheap therapist...give it a try. Grab a thick, soft blanket or pillow and sitting down in front of a lovely flower. Take time to really study it, it's colors, the way it is formed, it's feel, it's odor, how it dances in the breeze. The experience is serene, calming, and recharges my personal spirit. I feel connected to nature and become an integrated piece of this world
another bromiliad

Beyond the personal benefit, flowers are an asset to any farm producing vegetables. They draw bees and other pollinators to the farm. 

To me, a homestead farm needs to be not only functional, but also be pleasing to live on. Flowers help to make the farm a home. 

yet another bromiliad

I place a rather high priority on flowers. Before I ever got really involved in creating a workable farm, I started planting flowers on my new land. There was a lot of stress in making the big move here to Hawaii and changing our lifestyles, so I turned to flowers to help me out. Flowers were one of the things that helped me stay sane and calm while I worked through the changes. 
hibiscus - the state flower

I'm a big proponent of flowers. Annuals, biennials, perennials, it doesn't matter. I plant whatever. I'm always adding more or replacing ones that didn't last.




Saturday, June 1, 2013

Black Spanish Radishes

Here's a new veggie that I've never grown before. And honestly, I haven't the foggiest idea what to do with it now that I've harvested them. These are Black Spanish Radishes. Big fellas! The range in size from a hardball to a softball.

One of the volunteers at our local community garden wanted to try growing these. So, into the ground the seed went. I took a few seeds to try at my farm location, too. I just pulled these today. I am really impressed about how big they are.

So, any ideas what to do with them? According to what I've read on the Internet, you use them like daikons. But I'm not overly fond of daikons, either. Anyone have an good recipe? I'd like to give them a try, but is there a good way to make daikons taste less peppery? Maybe cooking them or pickling them? Gee, I need help here!