Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Myth : Tropical Soil is Fertile

When I moved here I had plenty of people tell me that everything would grow great here. Lush. Tropical soils were fertile. I was actually believing this until I tried growing flowers and veggies. Yes, I had been sucked in by the myth of fertile tropical soils. I thought gardening would be easy and take care of itself! 

Grasses grow great on my farm. Ohia, eucalyptus, and guava trees thrive. Things are always green. But when I started growing flowers and veggies I learned something very significant. Those grasses and trees don't need very fertile or moist soil.
My mother's grass. It was mowed too short when it was first started.
Now it never grows thick nor tall. I could improve this but she is not
interested in having to mow the grass more than once a month. 

The fertility of soil on my farm crashes as soon as the sun can reach the soil surface. So wherever I mow the grass short, the soil dries out, the sun kills the micro-organisms, the grass growth is stunted. Whenever I tilled or flipped over the soil, things didn't want to grow well in that spot. Thus the soil itself appears to have rather poor fertility, with it's fertility highly dependent upon the ecology of surface micro-organisms and surface moisture. A thick grass mat keeps the soil surface shaded and moist. Remove that, and the soil's toast.

In my first few years of gardening, I really crashed the soil ecology. In order to get harvestable vegetables, I needed to rely on commercial fertilizer. I knew that I needed to change my gardening methods, but I was so busy clearing land, building the house, and caring for my parents that I resorted to commercial methods for the quick fix. That meant lots of irrigation, fertilizer, herbacides, pesticides, fungicides.

Now after many seasons of adding compost, manures, trace minerals, inoculated biochar, and constant mulches, my soil is producing great veggies. So many people look at the garden and think, "Tropical soil is so fertile!" The same exact thing happens when people look at the community garden here. I always hear, "Well of course, you're starting out with good tropical soil." FALSE! These gardens are thriving because of the work that has gone into improving soil fertility. It didn't happen by chance.

I'm still experimenting and learning about how to handle the soil on my farms and at the community garden to make them fertile. Some tricks that I find work:
...keep the soil surface covered with mulch.
...if I don't have enough mulch, then let the weeds grow and shade the soil surface. This is a better alternative than letting the sun bake the soil surface.
...add compost with each new crop being planted. Plus till in the old mulch.
...use inoculated biochar in the compost, rather than plain dry biochar. I use urine, manure tea, or compost tea to inoculate the biochar.
...use manures in the compost.
...never let the soil bake dry.
...use a little ocean water in the compost for trace minerals. Or use fermented fish waste when I have it.

As I said, I'm still experimenting. I've been using ocean coral, burnt animal bones, and wood ashes. I'm switching to low-till in the improved areas so that the soil surface is only disturbed in a narrow bed where the seeds will be sowed. I'd like to install drip irrigation, but that will have to wait for now.

Ah, so much to learn, so many experiments to try!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Sheep Update - Meet Billy

Little Billy, curious about the camera.

To date I've managed to sell all my non-bottle fed sheep except for one. Still have her for sale. Quite honestly, I'm glad to see them go. For now on, just give me bottle fed sheep!

He's curious about the grass, but doesn't eat it yet. 
My little flock of six bottle lambs is growing up. Although at times it can be a pain in the neck having them follow me around, I don't regret raising them this way. They come when called, willingly let me handle them, tolerate being groomed. I can deworm them with ease and check them for flies daily. No more chasing sheep, being knocked down, getting sweaty and dirty. Bliss! Makes me one happy shepherd.

This past week I've decided to sell the little dorper ram lamb. Actually, I'm making a trade with him. This leaves me with 2 dorper ewes and stud service from this ram in the future. Because the dorper ram is leaving, I've decided to keep the Barbados/St. Croix mix ram lamb that's now one week old. By keeping him, this gives the flock two rams plus one outside ram for stud service. That should be enough.

So........ Introducing the one, the strong, the frisky, the finger sucking, bottle drinking Billy Gra-Ram, Billy for short. While musing over ram names, we both liked Dodge Ram (Dodger for short), but Billy Graham popped up into hubby's head for some reason. I hope the real Billy Graham doesn't mind the honor of having a nice ram named after him. It's just all in fun, afterall.

Little Billy is providing to be a very quick learner. Took to the bottle on his second try. Already knows my routine. In a few days he will be introduced the the flock and see what he thinks of the big guys. But for now little Billy is up by the house learning to bond to my legs and my voice. He is learning that being touched all over equates to the arrival of a milk bottle. That it's normal to have one's hooves handled, things poked into your mouth, the house dogs sniff you all over. And to come to the sound of my voice.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Frugal Games for Saving Money Up

Money is a major issue for most homestead farms. Extra is not just laying round. I've talked with a number of local homestead type families to see what strategies they've used. And I came away with some nifty ideas. These are "games" that people play in order to make money issues less painful.

1- Family #1 keeps their monthly budget money in envelopes. For example, $200 in the envelope labelled "Food". At the end of the month if there is any cash leftover, they transfer it into an envelope labelled "Something Special". Then when they have enough set aside, they reward themselves by spending that cash on something special for the family. Along this same line, they snitch a dollar here, a dollar there from some of the budget envelopes. Just one dollar so that it doesn't really make a big difference. That dollar goes into the "Something Special" envelope. The mother says this also encourages her to try growing more of their own food, plus it's an incentive for her children and partner to try eating new foods and recipes. Her partner now willingly buys clothes at the thrift shop because the money that they save on each item used instead of new goes into his "allowance" envelope.

2- Family #2 (one guy) fixed up a bicycle he got on Freecycle. Every time he rides it to town he figures that he saves $5 in gas. He puts that cash into a jar. Then when some tool or "guy toy" comes along that he's just gotta have, he has the cash without killing his budget.

3- Family #3 takes all their coins that they get as change and puts them in a jar that they glued the lid shut (slot cut in the lid to poke the coins through). That way they can't snitch money out of the jar without the rest of the family noticing. That money becomes a Christmas present to themselves, split up equally to each person. They can then each go out a enjoy spending it without a guilt trip.

4- Family #4 works together on Saturday mornings for 3 hours doing something to earn a little cash. Picking up and processing macnuts from trees that the owners aren't interested in is one of their most common jobs. They also pick coffee from an abandoned orchard, process it and eventually sell the green bean. They've also picked and  juiced various citrus and lilokoi, selling the frozen juice to restaurants. The money goes for family entertainment-- birthday parties, vacations, snorkel equipment, movie tickets, picnics, etc. This gives the whole family enjoyment that they otherwise could not afford. Anyone who wants to work past the 3 hours then earns the money for themselves.

5- Family #5 says both cash and time is in short supply. They grow excess food on their little homestead, but do not have enough extra time to sit at a farmers market to try selling it. And since their excess is not consistent, they have had no luck selling it to local restaurants. The parents have done the ground work and support for their children to sell the excess to neighbors. The kids are paid a commission on what they sell, with the family's share of the sales going to buy much needed seeds, fertilizer, garden tools, etc. so that they can expand the garden. They are planning to get a few egg laying chickens next spring, thus garden waste and unsold veggies can go into making eggs.

I've used the coins-in-a-jar game to save money. That one works for me. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Moving to Rural Hawaii -- A Really Big Change

One of the hard things we found about moving here is that everything is so totally different from wherever you came from. It's sort of like moving to a foreign country where they speak almost the same language. When hubby and I lived in England, I experienced that same sort of sensation......I was mostly comfortable with the language, but everything was so different. Yes Dorothy, we're not in Kansas anymore! On top of it, switching from a urban/suburban life to a rural life was pretty drastic. 

So many of the people moving to Hawaii have the wrong impression about what they are moving to. They are seeing the world through rose colored glasses, for sure. We experienced a bit of that, but we were far more realistic than most people. I tried really hard to know what I was getting into. Athough we were running away from the stressful life and running to "paradise", we at least made an attempt to keep our eyes open and see reality. 

So what could be so different? about just about everything! 

1- Weather. We left damp cold winters, hot humid summers, snowstorms, ice storms, thunderstorms, heat waves. We moved to a mild climate, much like a perpetual first week of June in New Jersey. 
2- We left behind masses of mosquitos, ticks, chiggers, greenhead flies, strawberry flies, and fleas. We now battle constant ants, centipedes, giant cockroaches, and lots of spiders.
3- We traded snakes in for geckos. 
4- We had 4 major shopping malls within 30 minute drive with plenty of stores, restaurants, and businesses. We now are happy to have at least an Ace Hardware within 10 minutes. "Real stores" are 2 hours away. 
5- Before we had dozens upon dozens of restaurants to choose from and every cuisine you could desire. Now you can count our choices on one hand, and forget about foreign cuisine. Just be glad that the food is edible. 
6- We use to have choices when we wanted a service. Now we are glad to at least have an auto mechanic in the area, a hair dresser, a bank, a business service store, a gift shop, a drugstore, a dentist, a doctor, etc. No choices, but at least we've got one. 
7- We left behind the crowds of people and the traffic congestion. To find a crowd you need to go to the post office at 2 pm when it reopens after lunch. Traffic congestion is Sunday around the churches. 
8- We use to drive on streets with lots of traffic lights. Most were two lanes each direction. We were surrounded by high speed turnpikes and parkways. Now we have just a few simple roadways and no traffic lights. Not all of our roadways are even paved here. 
9- We left behind the nightlife. Nightlife now means going to bed at 8 pm. 
10- We left behind the stressful life, the suspicion, the fear, the major crime. It isn't perfect here, but I don't miss all that crazy lifestyle. I've come to appreciate the dull and boring, but the safe and relaxed. 
11- Winter/spring/summer/fall. Gone are the dramatic changes of the seasons. Seasonal changes still happen here, but they are more subtle. Oh, I miss to sound of Spring Peepers, the smell of spring, the scent of lilacs and hyacinths, the first warm day, the smell of autumn leaves, the crisp feel of the first frost, the sound of snowfall. But I surely don't miss freezing, sweltering, dealing with horrendous humidity on a hot summer day. 

Moving by itself is a major hurdle. But moving to such a different life is even more of a challenge, in my experience. Luckily I had some training runs beforehand. We had spent quite a bit of time living in England. We also spent time living in Taiwan. Thus I treated Hawaii as another foreign country. It made the move much more understandable. Not real easy mind you, but something that I had experience with adapting to. 

Leaving behind my city habits took a lot of time and even lots of effort. Adopting a rural viewpoint took even more effort. But I am truly pleased that we made the change. I don't ever want to go back to that previous lifestyle. Am I now a country hick? I truly hope so! 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Farm Gates

Simple swinging bar gate with center chain-lock.
People around here who live on a half acre or more tend to have their properties gated. Their land might be fenced, or have a stone wall, or just have the perimeter lined with trees or bushes. And if they live on raw lava, often just the driveway is blocked in some fashion. A simple chain and lock is common. Other times it's a length of fencing that is pulled aside to let a car pass. And then there are those of us who opt for a gate.
Wood facing on a metal gate. Solar powered opener. 
Why gate your driveway? Most obviously - keep cars and trucks out. But it also tells people that they shouldn't enter without permission. It's like the front door of your house. Knock but don't enter unless the door is opened for you. So even a simple rope cross a driveway is a reminder not to tresspass.

Gate made of  fencing with orange ribbons tied to it. 

Post and rail with board, set back from the road. 
A gate with close bars or with fencing on it is commonly used when the land has sheep that need confining. But such a gate is also used to keep something out....pigs. Feral pigs can destroy a garden or nursery in one night, so fencing and a proper gate is mandatory for protection against foraging pigs. 

Basic chain with lock. Kapu sign!
 I find it interesting to see the different ways people gate their driveways. Rope. Chain. Wooden gate. Metal gate. Plain. Fancy. Some people really get into having an individual style gate. Or some unique color. Makes giving directions a lot easier......."Go one mile and look for the red gate on the left."

Close mesh metal gate keeps pigs out. 

This one is designed to keep the sheep in. 

Wrought iron gate, jumbo style. Allows large commercial
trucks to pass through. 

Sturdy bar gate with chain lock around an ohia upright post.

And last of the photos, our gate here on our farm. We opted for sturdy metal to keep the neighbor's stray cows from destroying the garden for the umh-teenth time. Then we had problems with some feral pigs so we welded hog panel to the gate. Most recently the elderly farm dog started going under the gate, so we added plastic mesh to the bottom. To top it all off,  I choose yellow paint in order to be unique on the road. Very easy to give directions! 

Bright yellow metal gate with mesh. Locked of course. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Grass Clippings

It turns out that the lawnmower is one of my really important gardening tools. It's never used in the actual garden itself, but it creates the material that is my favorite mulch : grass clippings.
Dry, brown clippings. Excellent for nest boxes and mulching.
In reality, I use grass clippings for more than just mulch. They are a major ingredient in compost, they are used as an edible litter in the chicken pen, plus I sometimes use dried clippings for lining the hens' nests.

Fresh green, and very wet, clippings great for the
compost pile. Also wonderful for the chickens.
Grass clippings make a nice garden mulch. They are easy to apply. I can control the thickness and get then into tight places. And they decompose as the soil microbes feed on them, thus creating food for the plants. Between crops, they are easy to till into the soil. And I can readily get more when I need them.

Mulch in the vegetable gardens. 
As a compost ingredient, they are easy to work with. Already finely chopped, they compost down quickly and are easy to mix with the other ingredients. I can choose to add very green clippings which are high in moisture and nitrogen. Or I can pick the clippings from overgrown pastures that  are mostly brown and quite dry. It all depends on what the compost pile needs.

Pineapple bed at the community garden. Mulch helps keep
the grass at bay.  
 The chickens love kicking around a pile of fresh clippings. They will end up eating a lot of it. And what they don't eat just adds to the pen litter. That pen litter is harvested weekly, sent thru the tumbler composters, and is ready to use as mulch in the garden in three weeks. Certain plants really respond well to this dressing, such as the kale, chard, collards, taro, and most greens.

Mulched areas have very little weeds. 
I harvest all my grass clippings from "clean" land, that is, land not treated with commercial chemicals. I have plenty of my own land that needs topping off ocassionally. In addition, my neighbor is really glad to have me come mow his acre anytime. I've actually had people offer their land for mulch harvesting, but presently I have all the land that I can handle.

I'm always asked about weed seeds. Don't I have problems? Quite honestly, not to date. Sometimes a patch of weeds will sprout in the garden, but I can either flip them over with a shovel, cut them with a scuffle hoe, or simply lay a thick layer of mulch over them. Seedlings are fairly easy to kill. But when I do have a trashcan full of seedy clippings, I normally direct that to the chicken pen so the girls can hunt out the seeds. They do a good job.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Horse Manure

Yoshi, my homestead horse. 
Meet Yoshi, superintendent in charge of manure production. Often referred to as the mobile lawn ornament, this retired ranch horse is an important farm employee. She works 365 days a year, demands minimal benefits, never takes a vacation, and doesn't belong to a union. She helps keep the pastures under control, keep my land taxes low, and produces all the horse manure I need.

Having on-site manure production is a farm requirement for my homestead. Years ago I use to go out a gather manure from others' pastures, but often the timing was wrong. Other gardeners beat me to the close piles, so I had to hand carry buckets a distance. Trudging around unimproved pastures dragging five gallons buckets was work! Manure gathering was time consuming. Plus I never knew when medications and dewormers were being used on the horses. I didn't want manure with unwanted chemicals in it.

Having always enjoyed horses, I wanted one of my own for the farm. While just the fact that it would produce horse manure was plus, I wanted a safe horse that wouldn't intentionally hurt me. If I were able to ride, that would be a bonus, but it wasn't mandatory. I initially purchased two horses with the fantasy idea that hubby and I would go riding together. That never happened, so my hubby's horse was sold. That left Yoshi as the farm horse.

Horse manure is one of the ingredients of my compost. It's a very important source of fertilizer on the farm. Using compost really works well for me, helping this homestead to be reasonably self reliant. No need to purchase commercial fertilizer for the gardens.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Farm Pets

Can a homestead farm justify supporting pets? On my farm...sure. But any homesteader needs to be sensible about pets. Pets are freeloaders, and there are only so many that a homestead can afford to support.

Pets do indeed offer a service, at least for me they do. They can be enjoyable, offer companionship, teach me lessons. Companionship is their number one value to me.

Knowing that I will be on a severe budget in a couple of years, I try to limit the number of pets on the homestead. They're going to be living here for years and won't understand that my financial resourses have diminished. I don't believe in acquiring pets, then killing or dumping them when times get tough. I value life far too much to do that. So once they are here, this is their home for life.

Pets that can forage for their own food tend to be more welcome here. I have a pet goat, Mr Bucky. And 4 pet chickens, two silver dove wing banties, a frizzle, and a leghorn who doesn't lay.

I currently have 2 freeloader dogs, throwaways who no one wanted. One is elderly and the other partially blind, so their chances of getting rehomed is close to zero. They're here to stay. The farm also supports a group of freeloader cats. Not good ratters, they have become pets. Everyone is neutered, so at least the population won't grow. Right now they eat commercial pet food, but if times get tough, they will have to learn to eat pig, mouflon, and pheasant.

Pets on this homestead have a living standard on par with my own. Basic food. Decent shelter. Basic in-house health care. A low stress life. Nothing fancy. No pampering.

I believe a homesteader can get into trouble by adding too many pets. Sometimes it's intentional via impulse buying, or "rescuing" animals. Other times it just happens...feral cats wander in, stray dogs come by and stay, etc. Sometimes it's by no fault of the farm owner, other than having respect for life and thus not killing the strays. Sometimes it's the unrealistic approach by a first-time farmer. I know one quite small farm that has 17 rams in their flock because the lambs were too cute to sell or slaughter. Another mini-farm has 25-30 roosters running around because the owner couldn't bring himself to kill and eat them. Both these people are struggling to feed these animals that have become pets. In these cases, pets are a burden that brings stress, worry, and expense. Not good for a struggling farm, at least in my view. I've learned from those farms to be very careful not to fall into the same trap.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Day Off... Leads To Memorable Adventure

Honomolino Bay.     Ocean kayaks parked on the beach. 
Every once in a while I have to remind myself that I'm living in Hawaii. I get so wrapped up in my busy life that I tend to neglect enjoying this dropdead beautiful place. So when a friend invited to spend a day at the beach, I took her up on it.

What has this got to do with homesteading? Well, I believe that I need to love where I am living in order to be content with homesteading. If I hated where I lived, then what's the incentive to live and work there? Thus in order for me to be successful, I not only need to like where I am settled, but also go out and actively enjoy it. Sometimes I forget that as I slowly, almost unnoticed, settle further down into a rut. Ruts might become comfortable and safe, but they are not "living life" as far as I am concerned. Ruts cause me to lose my enthusiasm ....and enthusiasm is a requirement if I am going to create and live on a family homestead farm. 
Coconut trees surround the beach and bay. 
So one morning a friend and I headed off to Honomolino Beach. This is one great beach that not too many people go to. There's only two ways to get there, paddle in by kayak or hike a mile down a sometimes rough trail carrying all your gear. We travelled light and hiked in. (there is a 4 wheel drive road but only for use by the couple residents that live in the area)

Our little camp site on the beach for the day. 
A morning of snorkeling, an eclectic lunch, an afternoon of walking the coast. I could easily forsake the world and live in a tent under the trees. This is paradise.
Heading on out. Just a short walk later the absence of the car keys
was discovered.      Oh my!
But the title of this post says "Adventure". Such an idyllic place, how could I have an adventure? Well, as the comment on the photo above says, it's those dang little things called car keys. Normally when at this beach we are the only ones there. But this time we had company, a bunch of tourists/vacationers. So in order to safeguard our valuables while we tooled about, we buried the keys, cash, and credit cards in the sand. Upon leaving the beach at the end of the day, we retrieved everything but the keys. Such are the problems with being over 60! The memory isn't all that great anymore. The error of our ways wasn't discovered until we were almost back to the car. O-o-o-o. Drats! Since my friend was the one who had buried the keys, it was her job to hike back the mile to retrieve them. I shouldered her backpack + stuff and headed out, now well weighed down.

What an end to a good day. Both tired out, we now each had our new challenge to go that one step further. Maybe not a challenge. More like a necessity. But I'm sure it will be an ending we won't forget for awhile. At least I can look forward to not forgetting the keys for awhile.

While my friend was hiking those two miles, I entertained myself talking with tourists. Just having fun, acting the part of the local color. Tourists are often so entertaining. I remember when I first started coming to Hawaii. I'm sure the I asked all those inane questions too, while some local took the time to give me answers.

"Where'd your friend go?"
"To go retrieve the car keys."
"Down that trail?"
"Sure. It's safer that way."
"Yeah. The beach is down that trail and there's plenty of sand to hide things in."
"How far is the beach?"
"One mile."
"A mile? Couldn't you bury them closer, say right over there?"
"I suppose so but it's awfully close to the car. People might find them and steal the car. No, a mile away is much safer."
...tourist leaves after giving me a very odd look. I chuckle inwardly. I remember thinking that people who lived in Hawaii are often odd. Ah, I've become one of them!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Living With Acid Rain

Rust on the back of a solar panel. 
Our farm is located downwind from an actively erupting volcano. Thus we deal with what's called "vog" -- volcanic fog. This vog contains sulfur dioxide, which as it travels and reacts with moisture in the air, becomes sulfuric acid. This attaches to moisture droplets and minute particles in the air. Depending upon your distance from the volcano, the vog may have more sulfur dioxide or more sulfuric acid. Where the farm is, we get a bit of both. Luckily we also live near a pali which diverts ocean breezes up the side of the mountain, thus pushing the vog a bit higher up the mountain in our little zone. We usually miss the worst of the vog in that it passes by 1/4 mile higher up the mountain. Only 1/4 mile! Not much of a distance. But it makes all the difference in the world as far as making our farm livable and comfortable. Therefore from sunrise to sunset we seldom experience vog. It's during the night when air moves down the mountain that the stream of vog may pass over the farm. We seem to usually just get the edges of the path of the vog, but occasionally we get the full brunt of it. Perhaps twice a year we get vog enough to burn the tender leaves of lettuce and taro.

Vog gives us our acid rain, And acidic it can be! If we are experiencing vog and also get a good rain, the pH in our catchment tank sometimes plummets to 5 or even 4.5. I've never measured the pH of the rain itself, but that's an idea. I think I'll do that someday. Might be quite revealing. 

It doesn't take a pH meter to tell you that we live with acid rain. Just look at the tender leaves of lettuce or taro. They get burnt. The petal tips of many flowers, such as protea, also show signs of being burnt. Two other very apparent indicators are smooth concrete surfaces (they show signs of etching) and exposed metal (it rusts). 

Rust is a major problem. Major! And it doesn't have to be rained on to rust. Wherever moisture can travel, things will rust, though not as quickly as it would out in the rain. Tools inside a shed or garage will rust quickly if not treated with oil or grease. I even see tools rusting on the shelves in the Ace Hardware store! For real! 

Metal out in the rain really suffers. Fences rust away really quickly. Rooves rust if not kept painted and watched over carefully. Even catchment tanks can rust away. Garden tools suffer dramatically with rust, shortening their lives. A wheelbarrow can become ruined in a year, or two at the most. Leaf rakes rust away in less time. The rivets on your fiberglass ladder rust away. Even the clasp on your dog's collar will rust.

I use Ospho to treat rust. It's phosphoric acid and chemically reacts with rust to change it from iron oxide to iron phosphate. But it's not a cure-all, not a one time-walkway solution. The rust will come back if you don't keep on it. Since it's a liquid, I can use a small paintbrush to treat hard to reach spots. Another item I use is lithium grease. I coat the hinges and mountings of gates, door hinges, heads of bolts, screw heads, spots on the truck that have gotten nicked, tools, locks, etc. In the house I use car wax on the refrigerator, freezer,  range, and anything else with iron metal. 

The vog eats up window screens in a hurry. So when the screens corroded away, we replaced them with the plastic kind.

Another thing I try to protect from the rain is my laundry. Once upon a time I would have left the clothes out on the line, letting the rain soften them. Not anymore. The acidic rain seems to shorten the lifespan of clothing. Weakens the cloth really fast. I notice that the clothes line and ropes in general don't last as long as they should either.

Since I rely upon my gardens for food, I find that I need to watch the soil pH. I use crushed , burnt coral as a substitute for limestone. Home processed bones also go into the soil. Plus I also use wood ash in conjunction with microbe inoculated biochar. The coral and bone seem to work slowly, but add needed calcium and phosphorus. The wood ash/biochar mix raises the pH fairly quickly and provides potassium, trace minerals, and soil microbes.

I've talked with farmers closer to the volcano who have some severe problems with the vog. They have installed overhead irrigation in order to combat the acidic vog and rain. One farmer even resorts to injecting baking soda into the irrigation system on especially bad days.

Living with acid rain is a pain. It's costly and uses valuable time. When I lived on the east coast, the news media would sometimes cover stories about acid rain and speculate what it would be like living with it in the future. Well folks, the future is here, on Big Island, Hawaii. Be forewarned! 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Solar Panels Moved to a Ground Frame

After five days we finally have a new shed roof, but more importantly, we have a functioning solar system again. Yippee! No more having to run the generator. Mother Nature is now doing the work for us. Although the job is not completely done, the installation is completed enough to be working. 

What a difference when the panel is washed! 
We put four solar panels together on an aluminum rack, which we then mounted onto the ground frame that we built. We made four racks for a total of 16 solar panels. Each of the racks is attached in such a way that we can raise or lower one end, thus adjusting the angle to follow the sun during the year. This will give us much more power generating capability, compared to fixed panels. 
16 panels mounted on the new ground frame. 
A new combiner box was mounted onto the ground frame, bringing all the wiring from the panels to one spot. From there an underground wire takes the power to the inverter inside the power shed. The wire is not yet buried, but I will be getting to that job in a couple of days. We opted to go with an underground wire rather than an overhead one.

After getting things assembled, hubby worked on the finishing wiring while I tackled cleaning the panels. I knew they were going to be dirty because I was not able to reach them up high on the roof. Just hosing them off really wasn't enough, but that's all I had been able to do. But boy was I surprised to see just how horrendously dirty they were! With a little soap and gentle rubbing, our dark panels turned a pleasing shade of blue. And not surprisingly, the watts they were producing skyrocketed. Moving the panels to a ground frame turned out to be one very good decision. Now we will be able to keep them clean, treat any rust that starts up, and service them as needed. Quite honestly, I never want to go back to roof mounted panels again. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Discovering my heart

I just put in two weeks of lots of work, both physical labor and mental workout. Long 12 hours days without a break. And it was mostly all about this homestead, or what I call, the homestead sideways --- the local community garden and the local historical garden. And ya know, I found it rewarding, satisfying, and just up my alley. It agreed with my heart and soul. Nothing about it felt like it was an obligation or a chore.

All my life I thought I had the heart of a farmer, but I was never sure. It had never been tested. Since moving to Hawaii, I've had the opportunity to explore and see what my heart's made off. And I've discovered that at 13 years of age I was right about wanting to go to agricultural high school. I do indeed have the heart of a small family farmer. Not one of those big commercial guys, but rather that of a truck farmer or perhaps a heritage livestock breeder.

Small family style farming is all about work, struggle, sweat. Always hoping to earn enough income to survive. Always hoping that things don't go wrong too often so that you don't go broke. And things do indeed go wrong all the time. I've woke some mornings to find dead livestock, crops burned by the vog, a farm truck that won't run. The chipper, chainsaw, or weedwacker breaks while you're using it. The rototiller breaks down on the week you really, really need it. The water tanks go dry because of the drought. A massive outbreak of mildew threatens to ruin all the crops. The fencing is so rusted by the vog that the livestock is in danger of getting loose. The chicken flock comes down with fowl pox.

But sweet things help counter the doom and gloom. Watching newly hatched chicks learn to eat crumbles from your hand. Bottle feeding newborn lambs, and later watching them play "lamb games" as they grow up. Whistling for the horse and seeing her fly across the field at a full gallop, tail and mane flying. Seeing your crops growing every day, then harvesting baskets of wonderful veggies, knowing that YOU grew them!  Gathering fresh eggs each afternoon. Watching the border collie bring in the flock. Watching a newly seeded piece of land turn into a green pasture. 

Just about every morning here starts with beautiful sunshine. Listening to the birdsong is a wonderful way to start the day. When it does rain, as a farmer I am always thankful. I've worked in the rain, truly savoring the wonderful feeling of the rain on my skin.

I've discovered that I'm willing to take the bad along with the good. I see farming as challenging but also satisfying.

Wow, here I am in my mid 60s and finally discovered the true being of my heart. Thank heavens I finally got there! I am very grateful that I have lived long enough to learn this about myself and to be able to put it into practice. I've come to love homestead farming so much that even if I fail, it will still be ok. At least I finally learned who I truly am.

I don't regret my former career at all, not even one iota. There were good days and bad days, but overall it was a good career. Plus much of what I learned can be appled to my second career. But I am glad to have discovered homestead farming. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Replacing a Simple Metal Roof -- Day 4

Hubby changing the wiring on the solar panels.
We finally got the rest of the solar panels with their racks down off the roof, plus the one rack that was on the mini-shed next door. Next  step -- rewire the panels from 24 volts to 48 volts. The reason? The higher the voltage, the further the distance one can drive the power. When the panels were up on the roof they were closer to the inverter. So 24 volts was fine. But now they will be about twice the distance away, so hubby felt that going with 48 volts was the better idea. Our inverter can handle 48 volts just fine. And since the way our panels are already set up, it was a case of simple rewiring. It took some time to do all 16 panels, but it wasn't all that complicated.

While hubby worked on the wiring, I cleaned the back the back of the panels. The surface was developing pepper-like pits that were showing some rust. Even though protected from the run, the surface was obviously reacting to the acidic moisture in the air. Once clean, the entire surface was treated with phosphoric acid, a product called Ospho. Works well. I will have to keep an eye on the panels in the future. 

It was now time to set the panels onto the ground fame. We had removed all the rack except for the two rails holding the four panels together as a group. Thankfully the four panels linked together in this fashion were not too heavy. With not too much grunting and hyperventilation, these two old foogies managed to flip them over and position them onto the ground frame. Good job done, if I say so myself! 

Now with everything off the top of the shed, it was easy to finish up the original job. Gosh, that was what started this whole mess! Time to finish that simple metal roof! The last pieces on needed to be cut. So ask, how does one cut metal roofing on a small at-home job? Buying or renting a hugh sheet metal cutter wouldn't make sense. And the roofing is too thick for metal snips. A sawsall would work but you would need to make a frame to hold the sheeting firmly in place. But there is a trick that works far better and doesn't require expense. Our friend David came by and showed us how. Take an old worn out circular saw blade. Put it onto the saw BACKWARDS. Now go ahead and cut the metal. Worked like a charm. Smooth. Easy. Much like cutting wood. Incredible! 

Finally, finally, finally, the simple metal roof has gotten done! 
Cutting the metal roofing. Yes, using a circular saw!

So here we sat with one fine, simple metal roof but no functioning power system. Back to work! Snuffling around the shed contents, we found the electrical box that we knew that we had somewhere, but alas it turned out to be an indoor box. We needed an exterior box to act as a combiner box for the solar panels. Then measuring the distances we needed for wiring, we discovered we were short by a few feet. Of course! What next? So it looks like we will have to make do until we can make a trip to Kona to pick up an outdoor box and exterior wire. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Replacing a Simple Metal Roof - Day 3

Ground frame completed and painted. You can see the tarp Costco shed to the right that
we had moved in order to make room for this ground frame. By the shadow you can see
that the sun is overhead and slightly past the zenith because it is now past June 21st.
This day was July 8th.
With the basic ground frame completed, hubby had to give some thought as to how to effectively mount the solar panels. This time around he wanted to set them up so that their position to the sun could be shifted between winter and summer. Being that we are living below the Tropic of Cancer, the angle of the sun crosses over the zenith, making fixed mountings for the solar panels rather inefficient. The fact that most of our sunshine occurs before noon each day also complicates the issue.

When we went to start moving and adjusting the position of the new rack, we quickly realized the it needed to be braced better. So with the aid of a square and level, we got the rack squared and plumb then added bracing. Now the sucker was solid! During this process we set the legs upon the concrete footings, positioning the rack in it's final resting place.

Now came a coat of paint. Luckily we still had almost a full gallon of the house foundation paint that had been leftover. And in no time we had most of the paint on the rack, and not too much of it on my hands, legs, and clothes. A painter I am not! Well I'll correct that.....I can paint, but just about everything gets painted! Paintbrush handle, the ground, me, and eventually whatever it is that I'm intending to paint. Good thing I never had my heart set on being a house painter, ay?

In the midst of this endeavor, the dogs broke lose from their pen (three of them need to be confined when not being actively watched because they will eat chickens, lambs, and cats. Yes, they are throwaway dogs with criminal histories that we adopted because no one else wanted them. For the life of me I don't know why we did, but it must have been in a moment of insanity plus a flash of kind heartedness.) We dropped everything, ran around like idiots catching them. Repaired the spot where they had pulled the fencing, then went back to painting. An hour later, here they come again, running amuck, scaring the daylights out of the cats. Quickly rounded up, hole in fence repaired. Ten minutes later, déjà vu all over again!!! Rounded them up one more time. They thought this was a grand game. Yes, we know that the vog has been killing the fencing and it needs to be replaced, but why today? So out came a roll of 2x4 fencing and hubby lined the kennel pen with it. That's just a security patch, but it will gives time to buy new chainlink and do the job right.

The dog escape interlude gave the paint a chance to dry, so now we started moving the solar panels to the new ground rack. Since I have a task that needs to be done in town, hubby got to finish up. Tomorrow morning we will move the rest of the panels and start reconnecting the solar system. At least, that's how we have it planned.

And we still need to finish the second half of that simple metal roof job!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Replacing a Simple Metal Roof -Day 2

Laying out the concrete pads for the legs of the rack. Crusty, one of the
farm dogs is supervising the job. 
What's the firsts job of day #2? --- purchase the new lumber to make the frame that we will  be mounting the solar panel racks on. So right after breakfast and routine farm chores, we headed to Ace Hardware (the only store within a 2 hour drive that sells lumber). Three 8' 4x4s, either 10' 2x4s, eleven 8' 2x4s, nails, and some concrete stepping stones and we were heading back home. 

Next job, remove the two papaya trees that were in the way. Normally I'd feel bad taking down fruit producing trees, but these trees only produce fruit suitable for chicken feed. Not sweet or good tasting. So I was willing to sacrifice them. The chainsaw made quick work of the task. Soon both trees were down and in pieces. I gathered up all the green fruits and young leaves to use for chicken feed. The rest of the trees went into a hole destined to become my next flower bed.

Smaller of the two papaya trees that had to come down. 
The larger papaya tree down and ready to chop up
into smaller pieces. 
I was surprised to discover that papaya trunks are hollow. 
Trunks were solid down by the base. They oozed
a very slippery sap for several minutes. 
About 2 foot above ground, the trunk
became hollow. 

While I finished cleaning up after the tree removal, hubby started laying out the materials for the ground rack. This time we were building it out of treated lumber, which the vog won't destroy.  And after a bit of contemplation, checking the angles of the sun, and determining where tree shadows will fall, hubby settled on a plan of attack.

The frame almost completed. The rest of
the bracing needs to be made. 
After a brief lunch break, we started building in ernest. The sunshine had disappeared and rain threatened. Geez, what else? But we plowed onward. To our surprise, we lucked out. Although it spritzed a time or two, the rain held off. And after much sawing, drilling, hammering, and squaring up, a ground frame started taking shape. By the end of the day, the basic frame was complete.

Yes, we're not the fastest carpenters around, but we work for free. Wow, I can't ask for more!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Replacing a Simple Metal Roof -Day 1

Old rusted roofing that we removed. 
Brand new roofing to be installed. 
Our electrical shed (it houses the solar system controls and some of the panels are mounted on its roof) has an elderly metal roof. The previous property owner built it out of salvaged materials, and although the building itself is holding up quite well, the metal roof has succumbed to the vog. Over the past few years we have been patching spots as they appear, but the acid rain has been eating away at the channels. Last week one of the cats was up on the roof and it's weight punched numerous new holes. Oh my, time to replace the roof.

If we didn't have the solar panels mounted on the roof, changing the metal would have been a fairly straight forward job. But alas, things don't go all that simple for us. We made the poor choice (in hindsight) of putting the panels on the roof, something that everyone and everybody said to do. Now I'm wondering why? Why do they have to be on the roof? Now that the roof needs replacing, we have to remove the panels. A simple afternoon job is now going to take days plus disrupt our electricity. Hmmm, we have to think about this.

New roofing on the right. Solar panels and rack on the left
still need to be removed so that we can get at the old roof.
We initially thought we could simply disconnect the solar rack, move it over a couple feet out of the way while we removed the old roof panel a slid the new one in place. Wrong! The stainless steel screws used to make the rack were all very badly corroded. Not simply corroded, some were crumbling. The entire rack was in danger of coming apart. Next, many of the screws holding to roof panels in place were impossible to back out. They too were in bad shape. This was looking more and more like a big job.

Well, the solar panels and rack simply needed to be dismantled and totally removed from the roof. So we ended up spending half the day getting that done, being very careful not to damage the solar panels themselves. We salvaged all the aluminum angle so that we could use it again. Of course, the electrical wiring needed to be disconnected. All the stainless steel screws were beyond reusing. So on day #1 we took care of one solar rack and we have to look forward to repeating this process tomorrow with rack #2. much fun.

Next we removed half the old roof, having to use a sawsall to cut off the roofing screws. Once the old roof was off, it was simple to lay on the new panels and screw them into place. This took no time at all, so it seemed.

With the shed roof now half done, and our arms too tired to tackle the second rack, we turned our thoughts to a ground rack for the solar panels. Looking around, the most logical spot to put it would be right where our Costco storage "shed" was located. Ok then, empty the shed, disconnect it from the lumber foundation, pick it up and move it over 15 feet. Since it was only the two of us, picking it up wasn't exactly what we did. We sort of walked it to its new location, moving each of its six vertical posts (we called them legs) a few inches at time. But in no time it shuffled over 15 feet. Once pegged down in place, all the stuff we emptyed out had to go back in. Boy, it was a long afternoon!