Saturday, December 21, 2013

Rainy Day Jobs

.For the past three weeks it's been wet or raining most days. Great for the soil and building ground water reserves, but not much fun for doing farm work outdoors. So it was time to bring out the old job list that's reserved for rainy days.
(Only the second time this past year that the rain gauge recorded over an inch of rain.)

Rainy day jobs all need to be done, but for one reason or another, they get a low priority rating. Guess I'm just a procrastinator when it comes to jobs that don't interest me. I'd rather be outdoors working. Yes, some tasks are essential, but come on, digging in the dirt is so much more fun! 
(Rain drops pooling on the surface of taro leaves. I wonder if local islanders ever used large taro leaves to collect rain water in the old days.)

So what's been occupying my time lately? Fun things like, catching up on paperwork, organizing the tax records, cleaning out closets, mending clothing, washing windows. Ouch! How boring! At least some of the jobs I enjoy but never seem to have enough time and energy to get to-- like re-organizing the seeds, updating the planting schedules, making the charts to summarize the weather data, coming up with plans for future projects, catching up on Internet info, catching those YouTube videos I'd like to watch.

Certain farm tasks make wonderful rainy day jobs. Sharpening the tools. Repairing equipment. Getting the general maintenance issues done. I don't mind these nearly as much as in the house jobs, at least it's part of farming, right? 
(Puddles and mud, a rare occurance here on the farm.)

I haven't found a farmer yet who likes paperwork. Some will trudge through the paper themselves. Others will hire someone to do it. And there are others who just shove it to the back of the desk, then fly into panic mode when it needs to be completed by yesterday! Hey, sounds like me! There are plenty of people out there that love organizing and doing paperwork, but they are not the "lets get down in the dirt and work" kind of people. At least I haven't had the pleasure of meeting one of them yet. The perfect situation would be to have one partner love the farm work and the other partner love the paperwork. Gee, that ain't happening here. While Hubby is an OCD organizer, it all revolves around electronic gadgetry and computer stuff. He couldn't successfully plant a row of peas even if his life depended upon it. Nor could he be enticed to organize the seed box, draw up a planting schedule, clean out the tool shed. 

Anyway, back to the drudgery discussion. I've tried to confront the growing piles of dull work several times during the past year. But we never had stormy days, never got snowed in, never too cold to be outdoors. Instead the sun would shine, the tradewinds would be delightful, the outdoors would be whispering in my ear.....come out and play! So I'd succumb to the call. Warm sun on my skin, balmy breezes blowing hair across my face, birdsong in my ears, warm earth on my hands. It wouldn't be until night that I'd feel any regret or remorse. Then I'd feel lower than the belly of a snake for not getting that paperwork caught up. Luckily I hit the sack by 8 pm, so I don't have long to have to put up with feelings of remorse!   ;) 

So after much self berating.....with the help of much rain, I've got most of the dull jobs caught up....except for all the paperwork. That's partially done. But we are still getting rain here, so it looks like I'll be confined indoors with nothing but that dang paper pile to whittle away at. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Garden Update

My little experiment on eliminating the lawn lead to the creation of a couple new small gardens. It's now been almost five weeks. So what's developed?

The radishes have been steadily producing for almost two weeks. I eat a couple for myself but pick a bunch twice a week and trade them for a couple big tomatoes. 
Each week I am sowing another small patch with radish seeds, so the crop keeps coming. 

The Purple Teepee beans are blooming and already starting to produce their first teenie beans (only 3/4 inch long right now). I intend to save these beans for seed production rather than eating them. 
The taro is in the shady section and is doing well. It would be a bit bigger if it was growing in full sun, but I've found that this variety will produce decent corms even in partial shade. It's nice to have something able to produce in the shadier areas, since it's hard to utilize those spots. 
I discovered that when the taro is small, I can add compost ingredients in a trench between the taro rows then cover it over with dirt or grass clippings. As the material rots down it provides more nutrients to the growing taro. Taro doesn't like it's roots stepped on, so once the trenches are filled and covered over, I mulch the taro well and try not to walk in the bed too much. 
This trench composting technique works well for other vegetables too.

Localvore - A New Trend?

Around my neck of the woods, I am almost relieved to see the word "green" not so prominent in the news.  But, oh but, I'm starting to get sick of the increasingly used term "localvore". What's a localvore? Supposedly someone who's diet is obtained locally. That word "local" can have a vast range of interpretation. 

So what's local anyway? Happily for me, much of my food comes from my own place or somewhere within 10 miles of home. That's pretty local in my book! But how local is local for most people, the ones who don't grow their own? Would it be your town and outlying farm area? Or is it ok to include adjacent town areas? Maybe your state or region? But if your state is large, say Texas or California, would it be a stretch to say that someone in San Diego is a localvore eating food produced beside the Oregon boundary? 

Ooooo,here it goes again. I feel a headache coming on. Advil, aspirin, shot of whiskey. Where are those dang bottles! Help! 

I gather that depending upon who I talk with and in what situation, the idea of localvore can vary greatly. A person will say that they are trying to be a localvore meaning that their food comes from Ka'u district. But the next person (and the local news media here) seems to mean any food produced on Big Island. But get the Honolulu news media involved, and localvore will mean anything produced in the entire state. Now I'm seeing things stretching because imported foods are being mixed in with local stuff and still being called localvore menu. Just how much non-local food can a chef add to the dish and still say its local? 

<<<<<popping more Advil>>>>>>

Do I call myself a localvore? Answer, a flat no. First of all, it's not my personal mission to eat 100% local sourced. My goal is to be fairly self reliant, but that does not equate to being localvore. I could be self reliant by trading my surplus for outside goods. And that's exactly what I sometimes do. (Now if I could only get Costco into my trading network. Wouldn't that be something!) But I am still buying certain things from the stores, who in turn ship the stuff in. Plus I'm still working on food I had stashed away.......stores of canned corn, chicken broth, V-8 juice, and other assorted canned items. And I have no plan on discontinuing my enjoyment of eating almonds, cashews, pretzels, rice, applesauce, noodles, assorted herbs, and crackers. I no longer use much of these store bought items (other than the nuts) and I don't feel the least bit guilty eating it. 

But why be interested in being a localvore? Guess there's lots of reasons. First, it could be one of those lifestyle diet fads people love to get hooked on --- raw, low carb, gluten free (though actual gluten allergies are rare), vegetarian, vegan, paleo, Scarsdale, The Zone, etc. Second, it could be a life philosophy. More and more young people are getting into permaculture and biodynamic life schemes, which being a localvore would be a logical next step. Third, some people believe in supporting their community and being "local". Thus eating only local foods would be part of that. 

I suspect that being a localvore on the mainland would be a bit more challenging or boring as opposed to here in Hawaii. The wide selection of foods that we are now use to eating would be off limits. One would need to can, dry, or freeze seasonal foodstuffs for later use. And if those stored items ran out before the next season, you'd simply have to do without. Not a disaster by any means. I recall that as a child many fresh fruits and vegetables were seasonal. It was a fact of life and not a hardship. And in a way it was delightful, making certain foods a special treat. Oh how I looked forward to fresh blueberry season! And fresh strawberries always meant strawberry shortcake for a special treat. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Insects in the House - Not!

Moving to the tropics, I quickly learned that insects are a year around fact of life. And keeping them totally out of the house is next to impossible. But there are a few steps that I take that seem to help. 

Screens on the windows help keep out the flies, mosquitos, and other fliers. But screens are normal just about anywhere in the USA. Nothing special, but they work pretty well. 

Ants! Ants are everywhere, even in the posh condos and hotels. We've got giant ones here and itty bitty ones the size of large dust specks, and a multitude of in-between ones.  Newcomers to the islands always complain about the ants. You never can completely rid yourself of them. I'm happy to just keep them out of the house. Luckily our place is up on foundation piers, so I can put ant bait at the base of each pier. Normally I'm not a big proponent of toxic stuff, but Amdro is the only thing that is really effective as a barrier attack. I've also used liquid boric acid baits, but Amdro is superior. I don't put out the baits unless I see ants, and so far I haven't had many problems. Now my mother's place is on a concrete pad, so the ants have easy access. Keeping the ants out at her place is a constant battle. Mom's goal is to just keep their numbers down to an acceptable level. She has had good luck using the liquid boric acid much of the time. But sometimes a new species of ant shows up that over populates, so then the Amdro gets used. 

Ants are a real hassle in the gardens. They bring in mealy bug, scale, and aphids. Thanks guys! Just what I want! So from time to time I have to take steps to reduce their numbers. Again, Amdro or boric acid baits work. I just have to protect the baits from the rain. For some ant species I will mix sugar in the bait, while for others peanut butter works better. In the house I don't have to use either, but outside  these baits work better. 

Cockroaches, we grow BIG ones here! In polite company, we refer to them as palmetto bugs. But let's get real, they're cockroaches. The hardware store carries a trap from Japan that uses sticky paper and a lure. They work fairly well, but I think they only catch one out of ten. There always seems to be cockroaches that the traps don't get. So my approach is boric acid powder. If I get cockroaches in the house, they're invariably in the kitchen range. So I'll pull out the range and dust underneath with boric acid powder. I'll also dust under the burners. That usually does the trick. My mother gets cockroaches in her dishwasher, so when that happens I'll pull out the washer and dust behind it. 

As a general house preventative I've been dusting boric acid powder behind the walls as we build the place. Any cockroaches, or any other bug, that tries to hide in the walls will eventually meet up with the boric acid powder. This method works really good! 
Little moths and millers sometimes become a problem. The quickest way to get rid of them is to zap them with one of those electric shock "tennis rackets". It's easy, quick, and very satisfying to hear the buggah explode. 

Centipedes. Just saying the word sends shivers down the spines on many people around here. These centipedes are giants, often 6 inches long ir more! And their bite is incredibly painful, sending plenty of people to the hospital emergency ward. Although they are easy to incapacitate once you see them, your first warning that they're around is usually the searing, burning, excruciating pain at wherever spot they got you. It's too late then. At that stage once you've dispatched the centipede, you're running for ice and ammonia to try to stave off the worse of the pain. Keeping centipedes out of the house is tough. Having your house up on piers helps because you can put aluminum collars on each pier to deter the centipedes. But they will climb up stairs, bushes and trees touching the house, or anything else that bridges the gap. And if your house is on a concrete pad, well forget it. You'll just have centipedes. People will douse insecticide along door sills, trying to deter centipedes. Some people believe that it works, others aren't so sure. My mother faithfully uses various insecticides but so far the centipedes aren't impressed. Fresh sticky tape catches them but within 24 hours the tape no longer is sticky enough. Mom keeps glue traps beside the door entrances and from time to time they catch a centipede. Ah, one less in the house, thank heaven. 
Photo taken from 

Outside there are all sorts of interesting looking insects and critters. Most don't bother people, but some bite and sting. Wasps. Yellowjackets. Crab spiders. Scorpions. Most of the time these don't make it into people's homes. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Buzzwords - Defining the Terms

The buzzwords post generated lots of email with people asking me to define each one. Well, in my experience there isn't just one definitive definition for most. Don't ask me why, but there seems to be differences in opinion when it comes to classifying food growers. Even the USDA doesn't do a great job of it, and they're the ones who have to come up with the legal definitions. When it comes to their regulations, they wimp out when it comes to the hairsplitting with the small growers by just saying, if you make under a certain amount annually, then your not governed by the regulation. No need for them to say what differentiates a larger gardener from a hobby farmer. 

So here's a list of what I'm thinking. Feel free to chime in with ideas, opinions, different viewpoints! 

Urban Farmer - seems like anyone with a tomato plant in a pot by the front door is now labelled an urban farmer. But of course there are folks who are more involved by having a garage housing meat rabbits, a garden shed with chickens, a basement with tilapia tanks, and a backyard with nothing but veggie plants (no grass!). Pigeon coops are now starting to appear on the roof. Since ag operations are illegal in most urban areas, urban farmers tend to fall into the shadowy outlaw world. (By the way, I'm a bit of an outlaw myself, so I fully empathize with the full fledged urban farmer.) But where does one draw the line between a city gardener and an urban farmer? And just what is an urban homesteader? I find it hard to define an urban homesteader. 

Family Farmer - the news media focuses on the family farm vs the corporate farm, basically using the term family farm when reporting the decline and death of the family farm. Although small farms have seen a significant decline in the past few decades, the family farm still exists. Or does it? So what's the difference between a family farm versus a small farm? Can the family farm hire outside employees? Does just one member of a family working the farm still allow it to be termed a family farm? Gosh, this is getting confusing! 

Hobby Farmer - this term seems to be displacing Gentleman Farmer. The latter signifies a wealthy owner who conducts farm activities generally for the tax benefits (as opposed to making a profit) while supporting his comfortable, beautiful, home (or vacation) farm. The former (hobby farms) tends to cover both retired people doing something a bit beyond gardening and new people trying to start farming while retaining jobs off the farm so that they have an income. The term hobby farming seems to me to imply a project done for fun or enjoyment, but I don't totally agree with that definition. Many people who call themselves hobby farmers (because they aren't yet making a profit) do it because the food they produce helps them survive. They need it. And many young hobby farmers are trying to learn to farm with the intent to quit their off farm jobs eventually and become full fledged farmers. 

Organic Farmer - nowadays this term is defined and regulated by the government. But it wasn't all that long ago that Rodale introduced the idea of farming without any man made fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. But since the government has gotten involved, organic farming can now incorporate the use of the very chemicals that Rodale advocated avoiding. Yes, a certified organic farmer can legally use a whole list of "non-organic" chemicals, though their use is regulated via the regulations. But on the other hand, animal manure not processed via government regulations is now banned. Rodale would be quite surprised if he were alive. Great examples here in Hawaii - Farmer A lost his organic certification because a sheep and a sheep, one chicken.... were allowed to roam his multi acre coffee farm to control weeds and bugs. The sheep and chicken poo were of course non-processed au natural, thus prohibited even though coffee cherry never was in contact with the manure. organic certification allowed! Farmer B uses sheep to keep the grass short in his orchard and to eat fallen fruit, thus helping to control fruit fly. At one time Farmer B was praised for this method and invited to speak at seminars, promoting this natural control method. His method caught the eye of a USDA official and ZAP...lost certification. No livestock allowed in the orchard. Crazy, no? One more thought -- once upon a time if you grew your veggies by Rodale's guidelines you would of course proudly say that your garden/farm and food was organic. No more! The term organic is regulated by the government. If you don't fit the regulations, you cannot use the term, legally that is. Nowadays if the product advertises "organic" it's most likely from a big commercial farm. 

Homestead farming - subsistence farming usually involving one family core group (as adverse to a commune) where emphasis is placed on self sufficency. 

Small family Farming - farming for profit which involves a family core group. Emphasis is more on making a profit than in self sufficiency (homestead farming). 

Mini Farm - I'm not sure on this one at all. Is a mini farm one too small to support a family? How's it different from a hobby farm? Or are all mini farms hobby farms too? But then, an herb or miniature rose farm could be really small in size but still be capable of supporting a family. I know if a three acre herb farm that does fine, and a one acre miniature rose nursery supporting a family. Are these mini farms? They are certainly not hobby farms. 

Apartment Farming and Balcony Farming -  oh, these are a real stretch for my thinking patterns! Farming in an apartment? On a balcony? I'd tend to call it gardening, myself. 

Container Farming - most people who use containers are gardening, but there has been a recent move toward farming in containers. A few years ago I would have raised eyebrows at the mention of container farming, but not now. In order to farm in areas of no soil, innovative people are building unusual container farms that surprisingly are productive. 

Vertical Farming - utilizing the 3D aspect of your land, thus growing crops vertically and not just traditionally horizontally. Trellising is vertical farming. But so is building containers upward, like a set of stairs. Green walls are an example of vertical gardening. 

Backyard/Frontyard Gardening and Edible Landscaping- pretty much self explanatory. The movement is causing controversy in some towns, urban areas, and some suburbs due to restrictions. Yes, people have been arrested for growing a veggie garden in their front yard. 

No Till - a farming method where the soil is no flipped over or rototilled. Some no till systems rely upon herbacides while others use mechanical controls for weeds and cover crops. No till has proven effective for grain farming in certain areas with suitable soil. 

Factory Farming - commercial farming utilizing controlled conditions, usually in buildings or greenhouses. Both livestock and vegetables are factory farmed. 

Better Than Organic - small farmers that opt not to conform to government regulations for organic (there's an annual, hefty fee plus lots of paperwork and costly annual inspection) and who often incorporate Rodale's principles ( using natural manures while not using any manmade chemicals) are adopting this term. 

Naturally Farmed - similar to Better Than Organic but placing more emphasis on natural life cycles. Livestock outdoors on pasture. Veggies in the field rather than greenhouses. No hydroponics. 

Korean Natural Farming (aka Dr Cho's Natural Farming) - a specific style of farming following the teachings of a Korean experimenter/researcher, Dr Cho. Calls for specific homemade formulations for soil amending and foliar sprays. When raising chickens and pigs, calls for construction guidelines for pens and housing, plus certain diet amendments. 

Sustainable- can be continued indefinitely without degrading the system/environment. Not necessarily natural or organic. There's a lot of leeway in how farmers and gardeners view sustainable. Lots of debate in this category. 

Subsistence farming - just enough to get along. No surplus worth talking about. This term usually implies a poverty situation. 

Self Sufficient - not relying upon outside resources. As being used today, basically assumes that some outside resources are being employed, like tools, basic input items such as concrete, sand, wire, nails, that sort of thing. The focus seems to be that the gardener or farmer is producing their own fertilizer, sprays, seeds, livestock feed, and a significant potion of their energy needs. Or...Or...Or....that they can trade surplus for those items that they need.  I get confused when I listen to discussions about self sufficiency because everyone tends to stretch the boundaries as to what's acceptable and what's not. 

Biodynamic - a proscribed method of farming following the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. An organic style that incorporates mystical aspects. 

Permaculture - a system of design modeled after natural eco-systems which aims to be sustainable. There is some controversy among its supporters and followers as to how rigid the system needs to be in order to be termed permaculture. 

Polyculture versus Monoculture - polyculture is an agricultural approach allowing for more than one crop in the same space. Examples would be alley planting (example: rows of apple trees where the space between the rows is used to grow green beans), companion planting (two or more plants that grow well in proximity to one another. Example: beets grown among lettuce), multi-cropping (example: radishes growing around the base of trellised cucumbers). With polyculture even livestock can be part of the equation (fish in a taro pond). Monoculture refers to vast plantings of a single crop.......think fields of wheat or corn, commercial orchards, most commercial farms.

Gardening versus farming - gardening brings a vision of a person supplementing their food. They still rely heavily upon outside food sources. Farming gives me the feeling that the person is producing significant amounts of food, enough to cover a major percentage (if not all) of their fresh food needs ..... or producing a crop for income purposes. 

Localvore - a food system based upon local produced food, rather than foods shipped into the area. 

Green - don't ask me. The term green is being thrown around all over the place nowadays. What's green, what's not? 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Taking a Break - Vacations

I know of many small family and small farmers who are loathe to leave their farms or take a break. Why? I hear various reasons. And if you're already wondering, yes, I'm one of those guilty of hating to leave the place. For real! 

Here's some of the excuses and reasons that I hear:

1- "The farm needs me." Some of us crazy farmers have an inner feeling that the farm needs us to thrive. We become the caretaker, or even the tending slave. I think it's a responsibility thing. I created it, thus I need to keep it going sort of mentality. Willing farm slave, yup. Many of us become that. 

2- "I need to be there to run the farm. Nobody can run it as well as I do." Ah, the controller personality. They need to make the decisions, control the reins. Who could possibly feed the livestock on time or turn on the irrigation? No one could do it as well as they could. 

3- "I'm happy on the farm." I hear this one a lot. A couple of my friends tell that their farm work makes them happy. They are content tending their place. Thus they have no desire to leave. 

4- "I feel safe on my own farm." Some fear the outside world where it is hectic, confusing, and all too often unsafe. The farm is a safe haven. 

5- "I don't like to leave." Or, "I don't want to leave." Is this our basic primate instincts surfacing? Reluctant to leave our home territory? 

6- "Too difficult to recover from being away." Of course things don't often run exactly the way we like when we're away. So there will be lots to catch up on, like weeds to pull, manure to clean up, mulch to replenish, crops to sow, crops to harvest, etc. 

7- "Too much to do to get ready to leave." Many of us crazy farmers try to get tasks set up ahead of time, knowing that we won't be there to do them ourselves. So we spend extra hours pre-filling livestock feeders, sowing extra trays in the greenhouse, running mowers, spraying crops ahead of schedule. We set things up ahead of time so that caretakers don't have to work as hard as we do. 

When I ask why farmers don't leave their farms to go on vacations, they usually cite many or all of the above excuses although one is often more heavily influential in their reasoning than the others. 

And what about me? What's the root reason for my own reluctance to leave? I guess #5 is the base issue. Once I'm popped off of the farm, I thoroughly enjoy traveling, seeing foreign places, doing new things, exploring. But that leaving process is difficult for me. I suppose it's not only simple instinct with me but also genetically enhanced. My mother's side of the family tended all to be homebodies. And my paternal grandparents lived in one house for their entire married lives until forced to give it up due to advancing age. The only place they ever vacationed was the same area in Florida over and over again. None of my relatives were world travelers. Most seldom, if ever, went on trips. So it's in my DNA somehow. 

But all this doesn't mean that a break isn't beneficial. For me  break can be refreshing, kick start my mental motor and inner drive, help me look at the farm from new perspectives, cause new ideas to pop into my head. Usually after a vacation, I'm eager to get back work. 

I just returned from a short two and a half day vacation to Oahu. I missed being home every night, but did enjoy the days. The trip reminded me how much I enjoy living in my area of Hawaii. At this stage of my life there is no way that I'd want to live on Oahu! But it's fine for a visit. 


I'm taking two days off, heading to Honolulu to get my annual "big city" fix. Thus today (gosh, why didn't I realize that this was Black Friday! Was I insane?) we got to luxuriate in the aisles of a Barnes & Noble bookstore. Making it back to the garden section, I feasted my eyes on the titles of dozens and dozens of books. Then it hit buzzword after another. Gosh, there's a whole string of them now. Book titles included all too common phrases like --
   Urban farming
   Mini Farm
   Apartment farming
   Balcony farmer
   Container gardens
   Vertical gardening
   Hobby farmer
   Family farm
   ____Yard Farming/Gardening (fill in the blank with front or back)
   Edible Landscaping
   Factory farming
   No till
   Natural farming
   Self sufficient

And then there are the popular ones that I didn't see on book titles --
   Gentleman farmer
   Grass fed
   Free range
   Better than organic

If the book titles can be used as a poll, then food growing is the popular concern and focus nowadays. I can recall a time when bonsai was all the rage, or indoor plants, and the time there was a flurry of water garden/pond books. Now it's food oriented. Oh how the times have changed from frivolous to survival.