Thursday, October 31, 2013

Eliminate The Lawn -- Making a Kitchen Garden

I decided that I'm tired of mowing the lawn around our house. We never use the lawn. We thought that  we'd sit out there on lawn chairs, but it's never happened. We also pictured eating at a picnic table, but that's never happened either. No one sees that lawn but us. And neither of us has an interest in it. So I've decided to limit the size of lawn around here. Ditch the lawn mowing and switch to weedwacking just a limited amount of grass here and there.

Now, what to do with the space. Being a farmer, first thing that popped into my head was to plant something. Sounds pretty good to me! 

First thing I did was remove the grass along the curvy stone wall and plant taro. Taro is edible and it will look nice in front of a rock wall. I only cleared a two foot wide strip as a starter, but I plan to get rid of the grass in the entire area eventually as I get more taro starts. 
My favorite sod remover, a 2 1/2 lb mattock.

Next I removed the sod from the area on the other side of the rock wall. Here I planted purple colored green beans. It's a bush variety, so no trellises needed. I also tucked in a few taro starts for aesthetic reasons. Eventually this area will host food plants that look ornamental (aka- pretty), such as colorful peppers, balcony tomatoes, tulsi, colorful chards. And eventually more of the sod will be removed. 

Now for the bigger lawn area. This is going to take more time. But I'm removing the sod and digging in some compost. I've already planted the dasheen starts that I had. Next to go in will be radishes. Then I'll start the kitchen garden. It's a perfect spot for it. 

What goes into a kitchen garden? Things that you want handy. I often find that running down to the main garden is too much trouble just to clip some parsley or a few bits of chives. So I'll plant them right outside my kitchen for easy use. Chives. Garlic chives. Parsley. Oregano. Basil. Sage. Thyme. Summer savory. Stick oregano. Leaf celery. Arugula. 

People who know me know that I don't waste anything. I'll recycle, re-use, re-purpose. So what about all that sod I just dug out? For right now it will sit in some trashcans and buckets until the grass is dead. Once everything is killed, the soil will go right back into the garden. Nothing lost, nothing wasted. 
My sod busting mattock is used so that the flat blade slices the sod just below the soil surface, cutting the roots. By keeping the blade sharp and clean, it is fairly easy to do. I find that standing with my feet somewhat apart and swinging the blade so that it slices the sod between my feet is the easiest on my back. I can cut sod for about 15 minutes before I need a few minute break. I'm really careful with this tool, but steel tipped shoes might be a good idea for someone a bit careless or who has a strong attachment to all their toes. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Next House a project - Update

The final window is in place. The sill for this window was really difficult. Lots of notches and cut outs. But it's done! By the way...a trick to make it easier handling the windows. Take the individual window glasses out so that you only have to lift the frame to install it. Much lighter that way. Once installed, it's easy to just put the glass panels back in place. 

One more wall to enclose, but that is going to include a door. A bit more tricky to do. 

Next step is super easy....exterior siding.  Cut, nail, and caulk. Zip...done. Trick -- design the wall so that there is nothing but straight cuts. Avoid complicated bits and angles. In this wall, the trim will handle any gaps in the siding. 

The game plan :
...install electrical outlets
...apply cedar T&G on the interior walls
...trim out the room, inside and out
...sand and paint the ceiling rafters
...remove the two sliding glass doors between the livingroom and this newly enclosed porch
...install the flooring in the livingroom and enclosed porch 

I still need to sit down and decide about the flooring. Got the livingroom decided-- 6"x24" tiles that look like wood. But no decision yet for the enclosed porch. We're leaning towards sheet goods of some sort. 

Sifting Garden Soil

First if all, let it be known that I don't sift my garden soil except for the carrot bed. I have my reasons. Read on.

This week I read an article instructing new gardeners how to start a garden bed. One of the steps included sifting the soil through a 1/2 piece of hardware cloth. I not only find that not to be necessary, I find it to be detrimental. By sifting, one removes all small stones and cinder larger than 1/2 inch, chunks of organic material, half rotted leaves and grasses, decaying roots and rootlets. All the things being removed are important soil components, in my opinion. 
Rocks to the left. Organic debris on the right. I leave it all in place. 

Small rocks & cinder:
          I keep anything smaller than a hen's egg. Bigger pieces interfere with the rototiller. But rocks and cinder help with drainage, help maintain soil structure, and are a source of minerals for plants, microbes, and other soil denizens. It makes no sense to me to remove small rocks via sifting then later add rock dust for minerals and cinders for drainage. Hey, it was already there before you removed it! The soils of England are a prime example of the adverse effects of rock removal. For decades small children were rewarded for removing stones from the fields. Those soils now suffer the effects ....compacting, clumping, draining poorly, lacking mineral fertility. 

Organic material (rootlets, leaves, twigs, etc):
         Sifting the organic material out, then turning around and adding compost sounds like a waste of good time and effort. Why not just leave the decomposing material right there in the soil in the first place? The microbes that specialize in breaking that stuff down are already in place and doing their job. Besides, the chunky stuff helps retain moisture while at the same time promoting drainage. 

The only place where I sift soil is the bed dedicated to carrots. Reason? Rocks cause the roots to split and grow weird. I find that this sifted soil is more difficult to maintain. It drains poorly. It tends to become hydrophobic if it dries out. Worms don't like it. It compacts readily. 

My suggestion -----  skip the sifting. Just pick out the big pieces if they get in the way. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Silly Halloween Fun

Halloween. Probably the most fun holiday in our community. It's when a bunch of aging seniors can act like little kids! Do you go through a second childhood when you get older? You bet, and we love it! 
Yes, a group of us got together for a movie and dinner. The movie? Rocky Horror Picture Show, what else? Hard to get much sillier than that on Halloween. 
Bowls of popcorn, platters of pupus, and a bunch of us gathered around a large screen TV shouting out lines and dancing the Time Warp. 
Those who never saw Rocky Horror before were truly befuddled. What came over their friends? This movie is terrible but everyone is enjoying it? Oh my god, is that ............oh, it is. 
What's with the light sticks? What's this newspaper for? Egads man, who's spraying water? Before ya knew it, confetti everywhere! Looking into the goody prop bag, there still are a playing card, surgical gloves. The Rocky Horror virgins hadn't a clue. 
It didn't matter. What mattered was that we came together as a group to share the evening. We are members of a group. We care about each other. 
After much silliness, we "broke bread" together. For some deep primal reason, sharing a meal causes some sort of special bonding. I'm not a psychologist, but I can feel it. It is real. 
Myrna produces a good homemade meal, but somehow it's the lingering conversation that is oh so satisfying. 
Not everyone who comes to our Saturday night get togethers returns. Perhaps it's too much like eating at home rather than a restaurant? Too personal maybe? Or that they see that this is a group who have become friends and that they don't want to join. Or perchance they are afraid to take the first step? 

But if Halloween was a newcomer's first exposure to the group, then I can completely understand.  What a mass of totally insane, bizarre wackos! 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Next House Project -Enclosing Another Lanai

With the kitchen project just about finished (we're awaiting the arrival of the basket drawers), we've decided to tackle the next project. We have a lanai, as known as a porch, off the livingroom. This lanai overlooks the front pasture, front gardens, and the barn down the hill. It's a pleasant view and when we were buying the place we thought we would sit out on this lanai on a daily basis. In reality, we haven't used it once! It's too chilly first thing in the morning and at night for us to consider eating breakfast or dinner out there. As a result, the lanai started being used for storing stuff. A sad ending. But we wanted to change that.

Last couple days I've been working to properly store all the stuff that accumulated on this lanai. Gosh, where did it all come from? In the process I rediscovered several items that had gone missing. At our age, it's easy to lose stuff.

Next, measure, make marks, get a plan going. At first we wanted 48" high windows, but when we looked closer, 42" would look and work out better. Initially we planned on several 36" wide windows, but in person. 3 six foot windows would look better and fit well. As we went along, we modified the plans.

Quick, before hubby had a chance to change the plans (which he's apt to do on a daily basis), I ran up to town and purchased the windows and a pile of lumber. With the windows safely at home, it was just a simple job of framing out the holes.

The 3 windows went into place quickly. You can in the photo that there's a fourth. That will be for the end when the far wall is made. That shall be another day.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Community -You Can Do It!

Every time I post something about being in a community (and loving it by the way) I get emails from people wishing that they could join me. Whoa, whoa. Don't hop on a plane yet! If you haven't explored community life in your own area, you might be very disappointed trying to live here. Community life exists everywhere. It's what you make it. No need to fly all the way to Hawaii.......though its not a bad place to explore the community phenomena.

Before living in Hawaii, I was never a part of a community. Looking back, it was my own damn fault, but I couldn't see that at the time. I never participated in groups. Didn't go to the local square dances. Didn't join the reading club, hiking club, trail riding club. Never visited the gym group. Didn't get involved with ceramics. Nor tried the local theatre group. Never tried ham radio. I did join dog showing clubs but found people there to be very competitive, aggressive, not at all friendly and pleasant. But by their very nature, of course the people were competitive! They competed for ribbons at dog shows, a dog-eat-dog sport. But even more than not joining groups, I seldom went to community events. Nor did I get to know my neighbors. Boy, I was a sorry candidate to become a member of a community of any sort. 

Upon moving here, I wanted a whole new kind of life. So I didn't already have rules or habits, and I was curious to see what this area was all about. Discovering my community didn't happen overnight. It was a slow process. In fact, I had a hard noggin and needed to be hit over the head several times before I discovered that there was this marvelous community life out there. Now I embrace it on a daily basis. 
I'm the one with the drill. We're making a community greenhouse. 
I make an effort to support community events. I either attend as a spectator or volunteer to work behind the scenes. I volunteer to help out on various projects, like beach cleaning. I participate in some other events, like whale counting. I try to keep in touch with people. And I try not to become too over extended or too involved, thus making community life a chore, drudgery, or something unpleasant. 

Community exists on numerous levels. There are ethic oriented communities -- Filipino groups, Hawaiian, Japanese, etc. Some communities revolve around religion or a particular age group. Others form because of a common interest -- ham radio, hunting, horses. Yet others are more influenced by region, such as a neighborhood or town.....or identifying with our district of Ka'u. So one has a choice of the type of community focus that would interest them. 
                                      (Friends at a community event.)

Getting involved in a community can be as simple as saying hello to everyone you meet, even strangers and tourists. Before you know it, people talk back and there is an opportunity for a bit of an exchange. Taking the effort to help someone is a start to getting involved. Things like helping someone take their groceries to their car, giving a stranger directions, helping unload the trash from their car at the dump. 

In the past I've been told real community connection killers : 
...why be friendly with that person, what can they do for you? 
...why help that person, they won't appreciate it.
...why give that person anything, you won't get anything back. 
...why be nice to that person, it's just brown nosing. 
...don't talk to strangers.
Gosh, I grew up with this. It's no wonder I never was part of a community! But I still hear bits of conversation like this around me and I feel sorry that those people have built a high stone wall around themselves. They unwittingly keep themselves at a distance. 

I was told once that there is danger in getting involved with other people. I could get my feelings hurt by opening up and participating in a community. Sure, of course! But I have decided just to shrug off as much of those perceived insults, hurts, and rudenesses as I can. Just be as slippery as goose shit, my grandmother once said to me (she almost never cursed, but I suppose goose dirt or goose dung just wouldn't give the same effect). I like that imagery, slick as goose shit. Thus I refuse to let others' negative feelings get dumped into me - let them slide off. Interactions with other people will never be prefect. I accept that. So I'll take it as it comes but won't get too personal.

The bottom line is I am glad I went against my childhood training and reached out. I actually accomlished it! Some days I discover that maybe I reached out to people I wished I hadn't, but that's ok. I just pull my tentacles in and move on. There are always others out there who will enjoy a bit of connection. 

So joining a community can be done just about anywhere. Perhaps if I had been a community member back on the Eastcoast, I wouldn't have moved to Hawaii. Wow, maybe I was fortunate to be unconnected because I'm really happy to be living here in on Big Island. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


'Tis the season for some mighty fine limes. The Tahitian limes are in full production. This variety is incredibly juicy and seedless. It definitely is my favorite when it comes to juicing.

I'm a big user of lime juice. We both love limeade made with fresh cane juice. Creamy lime popsicles are wonderful desserts and treats. Nothing wrong with lime pie either. A neighbor makes lime curd which is very yummy. And who doesn't like a tad of lime in beer? I'm not a beer fan, so I take my squirt of lime in ice water. Funny thing, but I never used limes until I moved to Hawaii. Now I use them every week. 

This year I've been supplying lime juice by the gallon to some local restaurants. A couple of smaller entrepreneurs by it by the cup or pint jar. And I can use it for trading. Lime juice freezes very nicely, so I can stockpile it for future use and sales. 

In the past I use to squeeze the limes by hand, using a small glass juicer. It was the kind that you pressed and rotated the cut lime upon a fluted point. It worked, but was work. Ok for a few limes, but it got tedious. Since I am now selling juice by the gallon, I needed to upgrade my juicing method. There were a number of options out there, but being a bit miserly, I opted to try a rather inexpensive juicing contraption. I bought a Black and Decker citrus juicer for $20. It turned out to be one of my good decisions. It juices quickly, is easy to use, and simple to clean up. I've made over 10 gallons of juice so far with it. It paid for itself the first day I used it. Now that's a good payback. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Plantation Days 2013

Each autumn our community gets the chance to come together and celebrate the multi-ethic culture that exists here and is based upon the old sugar plantation days. Sugar was king here at one time, being the main employer in the area. With not enough locals willing to work the plantations, the sugar businesses brought immigrant workers in. Portuguese. Japanese. Filipino. Chinese. Puerto Rican.

 These nationals joined the local Hawaiians in the labor force, living in their own ethic camps. Many stayed in Hawaii once their contracts were fulfilled, thus adding their cultural color to their communities. Ka'u still sees the strong influence that these sugar plantation workers made in our area.

Plantation Days celebrates this. Informational booths display artifacts passed down from grandparents and great aunts & uncles.

 Hundreds of photos maintain the memories of the plantations, the ranches, the local dairy, the camps and sugar towns, the activities and events that went on. Ethic music and hula entertains the crowd. 

And various food booths make lunch offerings of  ethic cuisines. Yum!

This is a family event, a community event. Every year it has been growing bigger and gets better attendance. I'm hoping it doesn't outgrow it's venue, for it is held on the grounds of the old plantation manager's home. The grounds are quite nice and comfortable. The home itself was rescued and renovated in the original style. It's a perfect site for the festival. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Making Sea Salt

Salt is cheap, so why bother to make it? For me it's just a part of the self reliant lifestyle thingy. First of all, I don't use much salt. But when I do, I prefer sea salt because if its wonderful taste. And by far, way out in front, is the flavor of our local salt. I was blown away the first time I tasted salt collected at Honomolino Bay. I've since had salt made near Honuapo and find that it is also wonderful. I've become a convert and now prefer the flavor of local salt.

I now make, or collect, my own salt. Collecting it is not as easy as it once was. I use to be able to go to the non-used shoreline of Honuapo and collect naturally occurring salt in the lava depressions. 

But now large numbers of locals and tourists use the area. Sadly, people have pretty filthy habits, so eating the salt is no longer appealing. But I can still use that salt for non-eating purposes.

This is how I make culinary salt:
1- Find a clean shoreline where there is active waves on the rocks. 

I go to an area where the water is constantly active, there are no quiet coves, people do not swim, and no one camps or otherwise uses the area. I usually collect several gallons. Since the ocean can be quite dangerous here, I use a small bucket tied with a short rope on the end of a long stick. I've used discarded fishing poles in the past, but currently am using an extension pole that I also use for fruit picking. It gives me quite a long reach. But I still take care to watch the waves and stand in a relatively safe zone in case a rogue wave crashes in.
2- Once my sea water is home, the first thing to do is filter out the particulate matter.

 Running the water through a coffee filter works well. There's lots of different ways to do that, but I'll just rubberband a filter to the top of the water jug, turn it upside down, and collect the filtered water into glass jars.
3- Now it's evaporation time.

 Since I run a wood burning stove each morning, and during the winter also in the evening, a free heat source is readily available. So I'll just put two pots atop the stove and add the seawater. When the stove is through burning and cools down, I'll just lid the pots until the next time the stove is burning. That way the water stays clean. Each time I will refill the pots as long as I have more seawater to evaporate, so over time the salt gets pretty concentrated.

I finally get to the point where I'm using just one pot and its about half full, though in this photo I was evaporating only my last couple cupfuls. 

I'll start seeing salt crystals forming. Very quickly there will be a mass of bubbling salt crystals. Now for the next five minutes I have to watch it carefully, waiting until I no longer see steam. Then I'll transfer the salt to a small frying pan for drying the rest of the way. The reason I do this is that the salt tends to adhere rock hard to my pot. But if I use a small clean frying pan for the final drying and stir it frequently with a wooden spoon, it does fine. In fact, it becomes quite fluffy and white. It only takes a few minutes to drive the rest of the moisture out. 

4- Final step. Spoon the salt into an airtight jar for storage. 
From 4 gallons of seawater I get one pint jar of fluffy salt. Plenty for my own use plus extra to give away or use as Christmas gifts. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Local Art Show

Ok, I can hear you mainlanders now.....(moaning) An art show? How hokey! Yeah, yeah, yeah. Go ahead and grin, but us small town hicks love our little art show. It's all part of being in a community.

Every year our local Chamber of Commerce publishes a little local directory. The local businesses and organizations take out ads and listings, get their contact info in print, and have the opportunity to brag a little. This little directory is handed out free and most people have a copy in their homes. The upstart is that a local artist gets the cover. What a bragging opportunity!

 To determine who gets the cover, we run a local art show. Some years it's big, other years its small. This year it was tiny. But the local residents dutifully came out and review the entries and cast their votes.

Two children submitted entries this year, and although I am noted to hate most kids, these two were dang cute. I instantly liked them.....surely a momentary insanity. But regardless, they were welcomed.

The number of adult entries was low, but the quality was high. Some beautiful handcrafted jewelry, several fine woodworking pieces, a stunning carved slate, a beautiful carved gourd, two very nice photographs, an eye catching painting, and an interesting junk art.

Voting lasted all week, giving people a chance to stop in. I tried finding out how the voting was going along, but it was a better kept secret than the behind the scenes shenanigans of our national politicians.

At weeks end, the Chamber of Commerce hosted a presentation, complete with food and drinks. Yeah, there was no red carpet. Heck, the show was held in the credit union storage building, so there wasn't even a carpet of any color, let alone red. But a number of people attended and were treated to the various artists commenting on their work.

This years top winner was the gourd, a intricate piece featuring honu (turtles). Now how can you not like that? It was locally grown, hand carved, dyed via the Ni'ihau technique using Ka'u coffee. A worthy winner.

I'm already looking forward to the next show.    :)

Monday, October 7, 2013

Pineapples at the Seed Farm

The seed farm is a lot hotter and drier than the big farm, so I thought that growing pineapples there might work. A friend had given me quite a few pineapple starts, and while I planted many at the community garden, I still had plenty left over. So what the heck, I took them to the seed farm.

Rather than build raised beds, I opted to plant them directly into the ground. It's mostly just crushed lava, but I've been applying mulch and a bit of dirt for the past year, gradually building up a little something that your wildest called soil. Not much there, but it does full in between the lava now.

The big problem now is water. The stuff I'm calling soil is hydrophobic organic material. Very difficult to get it wet, but once wet, it can be maintained. Pouring a bucket of water onto the stuff is a waste of good water. It just runs off. Doesn't get the "soil" wet. But I discovered that if the water is gradually trickled on, it gets absorbed.

I wish I had a drip irrigation system, but hey, I don't even have a water system. So what to do? I opted to try using old milk jugs with a pinhole in them. That way the water could drizzle out. I figure that there was nothing to lose trying it.
So I planted the pineapple keikis and mulched them with grass clippings. Close to each one I set up a gallon jug, punched a pinhole, and attached the jug to a stake so that the wind wouldn't blow it away. Then I filled all the jugs with water.
The next day I checked to see what happened. Well, it worked! The water managed to dampen the soil rather than running off. Great! So with much more enthusiasm than when I first started, I refilled the water jugs. I plan to do this once a week for the time being.
In the above picture you can make out the little spout of water if you look carefully.