Tuesday, April 30, 2013

2013 Spring Lambs - The Bottle Babies

Stacy laying down. Left to right: Glory, Page, Connie, Tan.
This spring I've had 6 ewes produce lambs. After giving it some thought, I've decided it was time to start keeping some flock replacements. Some of the not-so-friendly ewes will be replaced with hand reared lambs.

Neighbors ask me why I'm bothering to bottle feed some lambs. The lambs aren't orphans, so why go to the expense and hassle? My answer....I want friendly sheep. Life is easier if the sheep come when called, let me handle them, follow me to new pastures. So much easier to treat them, keep them groomed, get them dewormed. If they break out, I just have to call them (or rattle a bucket of grain) to get them back home. 

The alternative is a flighty flock of sheep that I need a Border Collie to control. Then I would need a catch pen and chute to work on the sheep. And even then it would be a mini-rodeo. No thanks! Been there and as far as I am concerned, it's not for me. I've gotten myself knocked around by sheep way too many times, and I'm not getting any younger. So I'm looking forward to dismantling the sheep chute.


In the past I had two ewes and one ram that were bottle babies. They were a joy compared to my now more traditional style sheep flock. So I am heading back to the friendly kind of flock. My flighty ewes and rams will be sold. 

For now I will be keeping my two dorper ewes. I'd like to get another set of lambs from them before selling the two. And I have three pregnant ewes that haven't lambed yet. So four ewes and one ram will shortly be leaving. Plus of course the extra lambs that are being nursed by their moms. And once the three pregnant ones have lambed, they will also go.


This will leave me with:
...2 dorper ewes
...my old Black Belly ram
...6 bottle fed ewes (2 dorper, 3 Black Belly/St Croix mix, 1 dorper/Black Belly mix)
...1 bottle fed dorper ram
... Plus hopefully 2 ewe lambs not yet born (Black Belly/St Croix mix)

10 ewes, 2 rams. This gives me wiggle room to comfortably add two or three more ewes if something special happens to come along. I'd like to gradually increase the flock size so that I have enough excess lambs for selling or trading. But I don't want to out grow my available pasture. It's a real balancing act......how many sheep to keep in the flock. I've seen two of my friends severely damage their pastures by keeping too many sheep for too long. I'm trying to avoid that mistake.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Storing My Seeds

When I order or buy seeds, I often buy in bulk. This is not only cheaper for me, but since I garden year around, I always have seed on hand. No need to make a special order. But buying in bulk means that I need to store the seed in such a way as to preserve its quality. Otherwise the seed will deteriorate,  not germinate, thus wasting my money. I've been there, done that, and don't plan to waste anymore money. 

Some companies package their seed in sealed containers, preserving the seed better. But most send the seed in paper packets. I transfer seed from paper packets into sealable glass containers. The idea is to control the humidity/moisture exposure to the seeds. For large seed I will use appropriate sized canning jars. Their lids make a good seal. For small seed or small amounts I will use glass test tubes with rubber stoppers. Again, it's a real moisture resistant seal. I used to place a desiccant in the jar with the seeds, but unless it's homegrown seed, I don't bother anymore. The commercial seed seems to be dry enough already.

Once sealed in glass jars, and of  course labelled (at my age I don't trust myself to remember!), I store the seed in the refrigerator. I have a chest refrigerator, so I store seed at the bottom where the temperature doesn't fluctuate.

For homegrown seed, I store it in a jar with a little desiccant. I started out by using powdered milk. But when I mentioned this to a medical lab person, she said that at work they threw away desiccant packets all the time. So she started saving them for me. Now I have plenty, in fact at my age, a lifetime supply! A friend in a floral shop told me about the desiccant they sold that had an indicator crystal in it. When the crystal changes  color, it's time for it to be dried out again (an oven works great for this). So I've mixed the two together giving me plenty to work with while still having the benefit of indicator crystals. I've been told that you can buy desiccant online, but I like the idea of  re-using something destined for the trash. So when I want to add more desiccant to my stash, I can ask my local medical clinic or veterinary hospital to save me some packets from their medical testing kits.

I haven't tried using my freezer for seed storage. For one, seed needs to be dried down more than just natural-dry for safe freezer storage. I couldn't just pop my homegrown seed in there and expect everything to be fine. And second, I have room in my frig for seed storage, but not my freezer, which is often crammed. Plus my system present works for me ok. My seed does just fine.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Radishes as a Trap Crop for Flea Beetles

From time to time  I see an outbreak of flea beetles in the garden. They are very tiny, so I see their damage first, rather than the bug itself. The damage looks like some elf using a mini shotgun went around shooting the leaves with mini buckshot.  I don't go hysterical when flea beetle population explodes, but I do try to reduce their numbers. The damage they do is unsightly on mature plants but doesn't make the food inedible. But when they go after the seedlings they can stunt their growth. 

Flea beetles tend to damage my seedling cabbages and broccoli. Plus they really can do a number on the beet leaves. But I found that here at my location their all time favorite is radish tops. With radishes being so quick growing and not taking up much space, radishes (and daikon) become the ideal trap crop.

I will interplant radishes  with the endangered seedlings, so that if the are any flea beetles around they will munch on the radish leaves instead. By the time the radishes are ready to harvest, the other veggie plants are big enough to withstand the flea beetles.

Once the radishes get harvested, I will lay down a layer of newspaper and cover with a light mulch.  Although I have no proof, I suspect that this acts as a barrier to the next hatching generation of flea beetle. The new adults can't get to the plants, thus die.

I've never had a real bad problem with flea beetles, so using the radish trap crop method works for me. I've heard of people using lint rollers to try to "roll" the underside of the leaves and capture flea beetles on the sticky tape. I've heard of people trying to use a vaccum to suck them off. I don't know if either of those two methods work. I haven't tried them. For now I'll stick with radishes.

Using Wood Ash

left: pure ohia ash                  right: 50% ash & 50% bone

Wood ash is a valuable item, in my opinion. I use it for the garden on a regular basis. And since I use wood to heat my house and cook food, I create my own and can control what sort of wood makes the ash. Very importantly, I can prevent trash, plastics, and other nasties from contaminating the ash. 

Ash has a rapid liming effect. It raises the soil pH. Since I have to deal with acidic rain due to being downwind from an active volcano, I find that this liming effect is very beneficial. Ash also provides potassium, a plant nutrient. And there is small amounts of various trace minerals.

When my ash is created, I also add bone to the woodstove. The heat from the embers bakes the bone, making it fairly easy to crumble by hand or crush with a hammer when it is cool. Thus I am able to add bone to the ash, adding calcium and phosphorous, both needed plant nutrients. Beside bone, I also bake coral. Once cool, I crush it with a hammer. This adds more much needed calcium to the ash. Soils here are extremely deficient in calcium.

To use the ash, I normally add it to my compost, lightly dusting the various layers as the pile is being created.  In this way, ash is gradually but constantly being added to the garden soil. I rototill or dig in compost with each new crop.

I regularly check the pH of the soil prior to adding the compost. This lets me know if a little more ash should be dusted on. So far I've never had to withhold the ash, not even with potatoes. But I take care not  to add extra ash to areas that I plan to plant potatoes next. I know that the books say no ash with potatoes, but I don't have a problem with it so far. I guess that is because of the active volcano. And poosibly because I rototill in extra mulch to keep the soil easier to dig at harvest time. The extra mulch tends to bind up the excess nitrogen from the compost as the mulch rots down. Plus it also helps to keep the soil evenly moist, something that potatoes really do well  with. I always check the pH before doing the ash thing.

I don't have any special formula for how much ash. As I said, I lightly dust the layers of a growing compost pile.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Seed Sources I Use

People come look at my farm then invariably ask what seed company I use. Like it's the seeds that make the difference?  Well anyway, I don't use just one. In fact, I've used plenty. And I've acquired seeds from other sources too. My sources include:
   Growing my own
   Swaps with other gardeners
   A local seed producer
   Local seed exchanges
   Mail order seed companies
I tend to avoid stores here. I have experienced terrible germination rates from some of the store purchased seed, so I suspect there is a problem on how the seed has been shipped, stored, or otherwise handled. 

Recently I have been growing some of my own seeds. I can get high quality, fresh seed this way with high germination rates. I love it! It's true self reliancy. 

I also swap or buy seed from other gardeners. I can get some varieties this way that are no longer available in the seed catalogs. Most of the time the seed is excellent. I've only had three cases of poor seed, so I longer deal with those individuals. 

The University of Hawaii produces some seed for varieties that have been selected for Hawaii. I occasionally will buy some to give the varieties a try. 

A few times a year there are seed exchange events around the island. I love these events because I can swap for plants that I can't find anywhere else. I've come home with sugar cane, taro, turmeric,  sweet potatoes, and more. 

Then there are the mail order seed suppliers. I order from a number of them for various reasons. And since I'm forever experimenting and exploring, I order from several of them each year. When I don't need much from a company, I will ask among my friends and neighbors to see if they intend to place an order too. That way we can share the shipping costs. 

I'll go down the list and note why I order from them:
...Johnnys Selected Seed - good selection, fair shipping rate, fast service, reliable, accurate, good germination, great service
...Nichols - great people, good customer service, interesting selection, good seed, monthly specials
...Stokes- good bulk prices, good seed, commercial varieties available, good service
...Harris- ditto
...Holmes - ditto
...Seedway- ditto
...Rupp - ditto
...Osborne - ditto
...Dixondale -  good source of onion & leek seedlings
...Willhite - interesting watermelon and melon varieties
...Twilley - interesting commercial sweet corn. Expensive seed. I hardly ever order.
...Seed Savers Exchange - interesting varieties. And they support community gardens, a nice touch.
...Native Seed Search - very interesting native seed. I like them. 
...Rancho Gordo - very interesting Mexican seed. I like them. 
...Kitazawa - good oriental varieties
...Evergreen - good oriental varieties  
...Territorial - sometimes carry things that I an looking for
...Pinetree - ditto
...Shumway - I've ordered OP corn from them. They are not as interesting since they got purchased and are now affiliated with Jung Seed. Last time I looked their shipping rates were outrageous. I don't order much here anymore. 
...Baker Creek - love the catalog. Also has interesting varieties you can't find elsewhere. 
...Purcell Mountain - good price on bulk bean seed. Interesting varieties. Fast service.
...Wood Prairie - good seed potatoes. Good service. 
...Victory - good service. Nice people.
...Southern Exposure - I've found some interesting stuff here. 
...Amishland - I only order if she has a rare variety I am looking for. Prices are outrageously high for a small amount of seed and sometimes the germination rates are abysmal. I've gotten zero germination on some seeds. 
...Sandhill Preservation Farm - good source for sweet potatoes. They have some hard to find seeds. 
...Tomato Bob - I only order during the off season because he can be real slow filling orders otherwise. But I like the guy. His prices aren't the cheapest, but he often has specials and carries varieties that can be hard to find. 

There are some companies that I no longer order from because either their prices are quite high, their shipping rate unreasonable, or their seeds have poor germination rates. But make up your own mind.

Before ordering from an unknown company, I usually check out their reputation on davesgarden.com. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Homemade Plant Markers

Yellow labels in egg carton seed starting trays

In the past ten years I've tried all sorts of ideas for homemade markers. I've had lots of failures. There have been semi satisfactory successes. I still haven't found the ideal marking system. So I'm open to suggestions!

Sticks painted yellow and red mark a planted row. 
My favorite and most successful marker isn't homemade. It's store bought. It's a yellow plastic tab about 5 inches long and 1/2 inch wide. It fits all my needs except one.......it isn't homemade. It is easy to see, it lasts a long time before disintegrating even out in the weather, I can write on it with a regular pencil, you can still read the writing even after a year in the garden. And I can keep reusing them over and over.

I've also bought a number of markers that I wasn't happy with, for one reason or another. Some you could only use once, some became brittle in the sun, some required a special pencil, some got lost in the mulch, etc.

Over the years I tried making plastic markers. I've ut up milk bottles, bleach bottles, styrofoam trays, old vertical blinds. Most wouldn't take a pencil for labelling. I had to use a marking pen. I don't mind the idea of a marking pen, but the writing fades away, even with the so called permanent markers. It's really annoying to check your taro 6 months later and find that all the names have faded away when you thought you were using permanent ink.

white tag made from styrofoam tray
I've used colored survey tape. This works pretty good, but alas, it is a store bought item. And the writing will fade away and the tape gets brittle though it takes a while. You just can't stick it into the soil and expect it to stay. You need to tie it to a stick. But it works fine for labeling pots that I intend to sell. I punch a tiny hole in the lip of the pot, thread the tape through, and tie it into a knot. Can't get lost that way, 

I've cut up aluminum cans, hoping to get something permanent for the orchard trees. But the metal oxidized quickly so that the writing became illegible. I even tried using an engraver to write the names with, but they also became unable to read in a few months. The vog here can get pretty bad 
and it damages unprotected metals quickly. 

Labels for trees I have made out of  wood. I have painted the names on. Very time consuming. But they last and stay legible. But this is not something I'd want to do in the veggie garden. 
wood stakes with aluminum name tag on top

Failures include: 
   Using wax pencil (aka- china pencil or china marker)
   Using permanent markers
   Using regular pens
   Making plant markers out of clear-ish or white plastic (they get lost out in the garden rows)
   Making them out of styrofoam (too light, they get blown away)
   Metal cans - they oxidize or rust away
   Popsicle sticks - the writing fades away in the weather

So it looks like I'm left with the yellow markers. I have been re-using them for quite awhile. At least I'm getting my money's worth out of them! To re-use, I simply erase the old name and rewrite on them. ...again and again and again. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Growing in Shady Spots

Just about all food gardening is done in the sun. But I have sections of land that have shade issues. And I do not want to cut the bordering trees down.  I hated just to give up on those areas, so I experimented. I asked other gardeners what they had tried in shady spots, I looked around my neighborhood to see what we growing naturally in shade, and I searched the internet. I discovered that I could indeed utilize the shaded areas. Now I'm not talking about dense shade or all day shade. But I have spots of dappled shade, others with a few hours of morning shade, others with afternoon shade. 

My first thought was coffee. I have indeed planted coffee trees in the heavily shaded areas, but I wanted vegetables. So coffee was relegated to those spots that got too much shade for anything else. Ok, back to veggies.

My first experiment was sweet potatoes. And surprisingly, I was successful. Since that first attempt, I have discovered that some varieties of sweet potatoes produce quite fine in semi-shade, while some do not. My current shade area for sweets gets morning shade until 11 a.m., then full sun the rest of the day.

In this "morning shade" section I also can grow greens : chard, mustard, Chinese greens, beet and turnip greens, purslane, and leaf lettuce. Plus tulsi, cutting celery, oregano, basils. I am trying some new stuff this year but I don't know yet how they will do : okinawan spinach, New Zealand spinach, and malabar spinach.

On the other side of the field I have another section that gets great sun until 1 pm, then complete shade.  There I can grow beets, rutabagas, Portuguese cabbage, collards, potatoes, bush beans, short vined peas, kale, and broccoli. But I notice that the beans and peas are not quite as productive as those grown in the full sun. But they still do ok.

Along one area I have a strip of dappled shade after 3 hours of morning sun. I find that a local brushy tree called mamaki grows just fine there. Mamaki is used to make a tea. I can also grow regular tea bushes there, so those two produce a significant portion of my homemade teas.

I'm quite pleased with myself on this shade growing experiment. I've worked out a way to use most of the designated garden area. I'm still toying with veggies to see what grows where, which grows best.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Plant Pots -Making Our Own

With all the containers going to waste in the trash, I just can't bring myself to buy pots to plant into. I have friends that buy pots at Walmart, Home Depot, Target, etc. It goes against my grain, especially since self reliance/self sufficiency is my aim.

Depending upon the type of seed or plant, there are all sort  of possibilities out there.

Egg cartons:
     The paper ones can be used to start beets, spinach, chard, the sort of thing. Even cabbage, broccoli, etc. When the sprouted seed is just starting to make its first true leaves, I will gently break the carton into each little section. Gently plant each one. You don't disturb the roots this way. If I have been keeping the egg carton moist, never letting it dry out, the paper is soft and quickly rots away allowing the growing roots to escape.
     The plastic ones are good too. I cut the top from the bottom and use both. Using a knife, I cut slits in sections so that excess water drains out. I start seeds in these that I intend to transplant to larger pots, for either selling or allowing them to grow bigger before planting out into the garden. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, flowers, herbs all do well.

Plastic bottles and containers:
     I create drainage by making holes in the bottom. I have a small soldering tool that quickly burns small holes. A friend says that he uses a drill. That would work fine too. Plastic containers of all sizes and shapes can be used for pots. For ones that are odd shapes making it difficult to remove a growing plant, I simply make a slit down one side before putting the soil in. Holding the slit together with a rubber band or piece of blue painting tape, the slit can be opened at transplanting time. Simple. But nowadays I have so many old cottage cheese, and the like, conatiners that I no longer need to deal with the more difficult ones.

Plastic soda bottles:
     These I cut the tops off of and put holes in the bottom. Some are shaped better than others for using as pots. The big two liter ones can make good pots, but I tend to use then to make fly catchers, fruit fly traps, and drip wateres.

Gallon Milk Jugs:
     I convert a number of these into hydroponic units for growing leaf lettuce. I've given possibly a hundred away, trying to introduce the idea to others. But I also use them for pots. I cut the top off then burn holes in the bottom. I use these for plant starts that intend to sell. Right now I have maybe about 50 planted with onions. By the way, the half gallon and quart sized containers make good pots too.

Number Six Cans (well, I think that's what they are called):
     You know the big jumbo can that bulk canned veggies come in? Well, that's what I'm taking about. The restaurants use these big cans, so I have a constant source. Using a bottle opener, I punch four holes in the bottom. While I can use them for all sorts of plants, I plant sweet potato cuttings and taro in them for resale.
     Smaller sized cans cans can also be used as pots, but I find that they need a bit more attention in their use. I use the smaller sizes for plant starts I put in the shade. The sun heats up those cans rather quickly.

Used Coffee Bags:
     My friends save me their used coffee bags, so I usually get the two pound size that Costco (Kirkland) coffee comes in. But I can use anything from 8 ounces and up. Using a scissors, I'll make a couple holes in the bottom. Now the bag is just like those black grow bags you buy! I use them for sweet potato cuttings, tomato cuttings, starting avocado seeds. 

Buckets:
     Any size bucket, or bucket like container, makes a good pot for larger plants. 

Sturdy Plastic Bag:
     The bags that large sized dry cat food comes in can be used for plants too. Not all brands use plastic, but some do. Same with dog food and livestock feed. Cut down to proper height, these I use for banana trees that I plan to sell. 

I know that there are ways to make pots out of compressed peat moss. And another out of rolled newspaper. I've heard of people who will cut toilet paper tubes and paper towel tubes into sections to use as little pots. I've seen pots made out of compressed cow mature. I know of a person who reuses old pcv piping to make pots by cutting it into suitable lengths. I've never tried these methods  simply because of the time factor plus the fact that I have a seemingly unlimited source of pot material already. But I'd enjoy hearing from other gardeners of how they get creative in making pots. 

Do I reuse discarded commercial pots? Sure! I just clean them well and disinfect them first. I'll reuse them until they finally start to break into pieces. 

What about terra cotta? I love those pots, but they are very hard to find in Hawaii. I will even use broken ones, breaking them up with a hammer and adding the pieces to the garden soil. I cherish the large ones, making them into ollas for watering in dry areas. But that's another story. 

Mosquito Control

One of the first things I was amazed by when I came to Hawaii ( no, I didn't discover the Tahitian canoeists until later) was the low mosquito population. Coming from New Jersey, I expected to see scads of the nasty buggers. Especially in southern Jersey, one gets eaten alive during the warm months, with the worst time being spring before the state has treated the bogs and ponds. And although some places here had a few, some more than others, nowhere came even close to what I was used to. That all being said, we hate the little biting buggers and take steps to control them.

Totally eliminating mosquitos in my area is probably impossible. That's because there are spots that tend to hold water in around here that allow them to breed in remote locations in the woods. We have small lava tubes just below the surface of the ground where water tends to pool. I lifted the top off of an open one once and found hundreds of very active mosquito larvae in the water. Water cupped in a tree crotch, water at the base of bromilliads, water in cupped lava formations all can be breeding grounds. 

I've been fairly successful in reducing their numbers around the house. I noticed that they tend to hang around semi-shady areas, so that's where I concentrate my battles. I make water traps so that I can destroy the larvae before they molt into adults. Small basins, or anything that 
will hold water, make good traps. An inch or two of water does fine. I have around a dozen of these basins set around. I empty them each week, eliminating a good chunk of potential mosquitos. Then they are refilled with fresh water. 

Along these same lines, I made two decorative little fish ponds amid the landscaping. Each is a home to guppies. Since I never, ever see mosquito larvae in the ponds, I'd say that the guppies are  100% effective. 

I make sure there is no pooled water about. No tin cans, tires, buckets, cups, etc that could hold water.  No tarps stored outdoors. No wheelbarrow just sitting out there when not in use. That sort of thing. 

Rain gutters......I was surprised when I looked. Dozens of larvae! The pitch is not enough to prevent water from pooling in spots. The gutters really need to be reset, but it's a job that I can't get to right now. So I use a hose the flush them out once a week. 

Dunks. You can buy them at the store. I use them in the catchment tanks. Even though I have covers on the tanks, they don't keep mosquitos out. (That's why I dont care if I flush the gutters into the cotchment tank.)  Dunks work great in killing the larvae. 

Livestock tanks, like the catchment tanks, become a haven for mosquitos. I could use dunks, but guppies works just fine. A lot cheaper and self maintaining. 

The field catchment tank that I use for the garden has mosquito fish in it. True to their name, they hunt mosquito larvae and eat them. 

Occasionally some of the little biting buggers get into the house. The best way we've found to kill them is one of those bug zappers that looks like a tennis racket. It's rather satisfying to hear them explode. 

I've never tried one of those mosquito machines, the kind that has a lure, fan, uses a propane tank. I've heard from people that tried them that they work so-so. Since I have the majority of our mosquitos under control, I don't see the need to spend lots of money buying a machine, paying for lure and maintenance, buying propane. 

A trick I learned back on the mainland...... Well, I don't use it here because I don't need to, but it worked back in Jersey. I noticed that mosquitos were really attracted to our dogs. I could put one into a wire dog crate and use it as mosquito bait. At the end of the crate opposite the door I'd set up a box fan so that the air blew away from the crate. I made a billowy cover out of old ,women's stockings for the box fan, so that when it was turned on the cover filled out like a four cornered sock. So..... I'd put a dog in the crate, cover the top and sides with a sheet, turn on the fan. The dog slept in comfort on a hot night and the fan caught hundreds and hundreds of adult mosquitos. I think there is a commercial version of this idea advertised on the Internet. I'll see if I can find it and post a photo. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Making Firestarters

I often light two fires a day, so using a fire starter comes in handy. Now, I could buy 91% alcohol or BBQ lighting fluid, but why? I have the ability to make my own little fire starters for free. Here's how. 

First, I have saved the sawdust I made while building the house and barn. I use it to line the chicken nest boxes and to make my fire starters. I think I have a life time supply stored up! If I were ever to run out, I could collect more from the various wood workers around here.

Second, I ask people to save me the candle nubs and wax that they don't want. As  a result, I often find myself being the recipient of a box full of perfect, half used  candles. I have a decent supply of old candles, and more keeps coming in. If my supply ever dries up, I could use some of my excess beeswax.

Anyway, now I have sawdust and candle wax, next on the list, paper egg cartons. I cut the lid off of a paper egg carton and discard it (often into the compost pile). I then fill each egg cup with sawdust. After I carefully melt the wax over a double boiler, I pour wax into each egg cup, stirring the wax and sawdust together with an old chopstick. Now let it cool and solidify. Once cold, I cut each egg cup apart.

To use a fire starter, just place it under the kindling and light the paper cup. Before long the sawdust and wax will catch, burning long and hot enough to get a good fire going.

I've heard that one could use dryer lint in place of sawdust, but I don't use a clothes dryer. But I've got plenty of sawdust.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Predators!

Starting out with livestock, I learned very quickly that I had predators to deal with. Either that  or have no livestock. Predators very quickly discovered that a new smorgasbord had opened up in town!

The predator list for my farm includes:
   Dogs
   Cats
   Feral pigs
   Mongoose
   Hawks

Dogs are not a constant danger, but when they are creating havoc, it can be devasting. Around here we seldom see feral dogs. In fact, I'm not sure we ever actually have had them. But strays and abandoned dogs are a real menace. People tend to blame hunters' and neighbors' stray dogs for  the problem, but on my road it is almost always dropped off abandoned dogs. Only three times in the past ten years has livestock on my road been damaged  or killed by another neighbor's loose dog. Only once by an out of control pack of hunting dogs. So the overwhelming number of attacks have been by abandoned dogs. 

So what do I do about dogs?
1- My entire 20 acres is enclosed by either 4 foot high fencing, rock wall, or sturdy gates. This wasn't cheap! But after losing plenty of sheep, I had choose between fencing/livestock vs no fencing/no livestock. I opted for livestock, so over a period of two years, I erected a fence and rock wall. So far this barrier has successfully kept out all but one dog, and luckily that dog had no interest in the livestock.
2- The fence is enhanced with a hotwire top, mid, and bottom. It's main function is to keep the livestock from damaging the fence, but also to deter dogs and pigs from pushing under the fencing. 
3- I keep a farm dog who helps keep strays off the property. She will chase any that she sees along the fence line. 

Other farmers will keep a flock or herd protector. Down the road an alpaca owner kept two Antolian Shepherd dogs. Flock protecting dogs are fairly common. A friend of mine kept a donkey to protect his sheep. Other farmers rely upon traps to capture dogs, thus eliminate them. 

What about cats? What damage could they do? Well honestly, I have never had an issue with cats causing much damage. My farm dogs keep ferals away from the house. I've never had my own cats hurt my chickens even when they were chicks. But I do take steps to keep the chicks protected from cats until they are 8 weeks old (the age that they no longer need supplemental heat). With the dogs keeping the ferals away from the house area, I don't have the problems that other people report-- cat fights, tom cat spraying, bird kills around feeders. So the farm dogs are excellent protection. 

Feral pigs! Pigs are real common in my area. At times their numbers explode and neighbors call in pig hunters to bring the population down. One time a hunter trapped around 150 pigs on my neighbor's place. Yikes! Prior to fencing my land, we occasionally had pigs come by. But our farm dogs kept most of the pigs at bay. I have one particular dog who feels it is his duty in life to chase away feral pigs from around the front half of the farm. Boy, let a pig into your garden and it's history!  They can do an incredible amount of destruction in just one night. 

My pig control methods include barriers (fencing, rock walls, hotwire, secure gates) and farm dogs. This  so far has worked. But I do allow one feral sow access to my back 5-6 acres. Why? We harvest the piglets, well actually a friend does. So far no other pigs have joined her. She knows how to leave the area obviously to breed, but must be possessive enough to keep other pigs out. That's just fine with me. We get pork while doing very little work for it.

Mongoose.....a pervasive pest here. They are notorious stealers of eggs and killers of young chickens. I've lost plenty of eggs to these critters before I ever learned that they would do that. They broke into the chicken pen and wiped out an entire year's half grown chickens. When I was experimenting with chicken tractors, they got the hens twice. Needless to say, I really dislike mongooses around the farm.

I control mongoose by trapping. Being aggressive, greedy meat eaters, they readily enter traps. I have heard of people putting out poison, but I'm adverse to that. Something else could come along and eat the poison. I also hear tales of owners' dogs being used to run down and kill mongooses. But that's not nearly as effective as a havahart type trap. Once trapped, you need to dispatch the mongoose. Different people use different methods. Drowning, shooting, car exhaust gas,  release and let the dog kill it. Some people can't bring themselves to kill it, so they drive miles away to release the mongoose in a remote area.

Hawks-- We have the beautiful I'o (Hawaiian hawk) living in our area. It's an endangered species, thus protected by law. I don't have any quibble with it being protected. It just means that I have to take steps to protect my birds. Shooting or otherwise killing, harming, or harrassing the I'o is a no-no. So is the I'o a problem for me? Yes, but not too bad. I've lost a few chickens to them, but not too many. I take three major steps to keep the predation loses low.
1- Provide the hens with easy access safe hiding places while they are out foraging in the pasture. I keep a few very alert banties who sound the alarm when a hawk is spotted. Most hens who have witnessed an attack quickly run for cover when  the hawk alarm is issued.
2- Pen the hens when I am not around. I built a very secure pen that is dog proof, mongoose proof, and hawk proof. Invariably predator attacks seem to happen when I'm not home, so now the girls go into their safe house if I leave.
3- Provide edible decoys. Now this might sound cruel, but hawks need to eat. I'd rather have them eat some bird that is not one of my hens. So I routinely feed wild birds out under the hawk's favorite roosting tree. The mother hawk brings her fledglings there to learn bird hunting. Many a baby hawk honed it's skills under that tree. By far the most common "meal" is a dove, a bird introduced to Hawaii as a food source.

There are plenty of other methods to deal with predators but this is how me and my neighbors do it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Land Sharing

I meet people in my area who want to garden or have livestock but don't have the land for it. I suspect this occurs often on the mainland too, especially with young people wanting to start out. My solution is suggesting a land share scheme.

Our local community garden uses the land share scheme. They are using part of a farm owned by an absent landowner. In exchange the garden group maintains the appearance of an occupied farm so that the house will not be broken into and stripped clean. They act as caretakers.

A friend owns a horse but no pasture. He found a farm with excess pasture but who needed a maintenance man. So he fixes things around the farm and mows grass in exchange for pasture.

There are landowners around here who need to maintain their pasture tax exemption. Therefore they are willing to let livestock owners use their land. I use parts of two small farms nearby for pasturing my own livestock, in addition to my own pastures. This means I can maintain more livestock without having to buy or lease more land.

"Snowbirds " are common here, families who spend part of their time in Hawaii and part someplace else.. Their properties go unused for 6-9 months of the year. Often in exchange for maintaining their landscaping they will allow someone to use parts of their place for gardening.

For  wanna-be gardeners, I often suggest asking around their area to find someone who would be willing to let you use a piece of their land in exchange for some of what you produce. Or in the case of my horse friend, use it in exchange for some service of some sort. Many people own a bit of land but don't have the time to use it, or don't wish to put out the effort. So a deal could be made.

Traditionally, land is leased. Around here, that usually means big acreage, big bucks, and a long commitment. Small scale land sharing avoids all that.

Vermin Control

Vermin....every farm has them. And you need a game plan on dealing with them, otherwise they take over.

First of all, what is vermin? In my opinion, it's an obnoxious animal that invades your farm and does harm. But I differentiate between vermin and predator, in that predators don't usually set up housekeeping on your farm. Thus I classify feral dogs, feral cats, feral pigs, mongoose, and hawks as predators. While rats, mice, flies, centipedes, and such as vermin.

Flies are a major vermin around here. There are several varieties of flies that will lay eggs on the wet wool/hair of my sheep, thus resulting in flesh eating maggots. Before I learned about flystrike, the term for this fly attack, I was problem free for two years. Then we had a wet winter and the problem appeared. I lost my ram to flystrike and had to treat several ewes. Since that first year, I have had  a few cases but no deaths. Every flock owner I know has lost sheep to flystrike.

I decided to take preventative measures. Commercial flocks, plus many small flock owners around here, use pesticides on their sheep. The sheep are dipped, or a topical insecticide like permethrin is applied monthly. I opted to avoid the expense and work on some other option. What I do now works for me. I maintain fly traps to capture these flesh eating vermin, and since I've started I capture routinely four cupfulls of flies each and every day (except rain days). The flies go into the chicken food. I also shear the sheep during the warm rainy winter months, keeping their fleece short so that it is not attractive to the flies. Now I don't see flystrike.

Centipedes are vermin on my seed farm, but do not exist on the main farm. At the seed farm I noticed that centipedes like to hide under rocks and in rock piles. Thus I set up rocks specifically as centipede traps. For a few days after a rain I will check these traps and kill any centipedes found. Now these guys are not your average garden centipede.  No. They are 6 inches long, orangish red, and their sting is incredibly painful.  Even a minor nip will pain ya for hours. I have come up with a treatment that greatly reduces the pain, but it's best to eliminate the critters in the first place.

African snails....again, at my seed farm but thankfully not on the main farm. These snails eat any vegetation they come upon. In one night they can cause incredible damage to your crops. They survive where it is hot, feed at night, and hide someplace cool. Taking advantage of their habits, I set up traps. They will go under a two inch wet wad of newspaper to hide. Easy trap to make. When I started collecting snails I caught dozens every time I checked. Now I only find a couple. I had so many that I used them as chicken food and sold the empty shells to artists. Now I pop what I catch into a plastic bag and throw it in the freezer. Once I have a potful, I'll process them as chicken food and reserve the shells for later. Ah, waste not

Just about every farm has mice. They live everywhere, it seems. And you never get rid of them completely because more just move in. But my aim is to keep their numbers as low as possible. Every hardware store sells mouse poison, but I have opted to avoid poison. This is out of respect for the endangered hawks and owls in my area, plus I fear my dogs getting into it. Plus it is an expense, albeit not a big one. Thus I use snap traps, feeding the dead mice to the chickens. The mice around here seem especially attracted to chocolate candy. Good bait.

Rats. Worse than mice not just because they are bigger, but because the get trap wise. Once they see a rat caught by a trap, they won't go near one. Rats are a constant problem because I live next to a macnut farm. The rats here live in trees and love macnuts. Every time the farmer sprays his trees or harvests his nuts, I have rats moving in. As with mice, I prefer to avoid using poison. I initially used snap traps, which the rats quickly learned to avoid. I caught a few here and there, but still had a major rat problem. I made all sorts of homemade trapping devices that I read about in books or on the Internet. They worked initially, but then the surviving rats got wise. Since the rats here are not crazy about ground grains, the idea of glass or plaster mixed into ground grain doesn't work. The best bait for rats on my farm turned out to be macnuts, macnut butter, and sharp cheddar cheese. I did come upon one trap that works for me. And since it does not cause the killed rat to bleed or scream, the other rats don't seem to learn about the danger. It is a zapper trap the works off of batteries. You smear bait on the back wall, that rat walks down the tube to reach the bait and in the process touches two metal plates. Zap. Electrocution.

Best rat control I now have are the farm cats. Since I hit upon the right combination and number of cats, I have zero rat problem. Zero. I will sometimes hear cats running on the roof at night and usually in the morning there will be a dead rat laying around someplace. Good cats! No more rats.

Fleas could also be considered vermin here. Because of feral cats and neighbors' dogs, fleas are an ongoing problem. In the past I have tried numerous ways of controlling fleas. But this is one area where I will willing spend the money to buy a flea controller that I know works. I use Advantage. Since my dogs and cats live communally, I don't need to apply it to everyone. By trial and error I've discovered which animals need to be treated and which get the benefit of protection from their sleeping buddy. By buying it in the large size, I can measure it out to treat several animals out of one applicator. Considering the farm maintains numerous cats and dogs, I get by cheaply in the flea control department.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Can One Really Make Money Homesteading?

Can you really make money homesteading? Can you make a living? Gee, I'm asked that a lot. The answer really depends on what the inquirer means by "make money" "make a living". Plus it depends upon what standard of living, what lifestyle they expect. And it depends upon how much time and effort they plan to put into it. If they see homesteading simply as a job, then they will most likely be very disappointed.

First let me say that there are indeed people living a homestead style life here in Hawaii. But I have seen far more people either fail or are repulsed by the lifestyle. It surely isn't for everyone. Small commercial farms that support families also exist here. The family needs to be dedicated and willing to work long, hard hours. In my own district there are macnut farms, coffee farms, fruit tree farms, and a vegetable farm that provide 100% of the family support. But it isn't easy.

Selling what you produce on the farm is one part of the "making money" aspect. But farms can also produce things that you normally would have to pay for, such as food, firewood, fertilizer, building materials (lumber, bamboo, rocks). So even though this is not monies earned, it isn't monies spent either.

We plan to be able to survive on our homestead because we have lowered our financial demands. We purposely have simplified our needs.
...eat only what we produce or trade for.
...buy used stuff instead of new, such as clothes, house utensils, tools, etc.
...no TV, clothes dryer, sound system, video games, electronic toys, etc.
...no cellphone plan. Simple pay as you go. And don't use the phone unless really needed.
...no electric, water, sewer bills.
...low real taxes by using the farm primarily for pasture.
...no new cars (ours are 10 years old).
...no unnecessary spending. No expensive vacations. No  expensive 'toys".
...no fancy house. No expensive furniture, decorations, etc.
...no landscaping that cost money.
...no debts. Zero. No mortgage, no loans.
..no buying on credit unless it can be paid in full each month without fees or interest.

We also plan to be diversified when it comes to income. Veggies. Fruits. Livestock. Compost. Biochar. Value added products (macnut butter, fruit juices, roasted coffee, crafted bamboo, crafted gourds, etc). Honey. Seeds. Flower and vegetable seedlings. Cut flowers. Potted plants. Fruit and landscape trees. Plus whatever else I develop.

Getting to this point wasn't easy for us. It took some major lifestyle changes. But once we stopped the spending addiction, we found that we had excess money. That money was channeled into a farm. (It took many, many frugal years in order to buy our land.) Spending compulsions were a significant problem for us. Our society encourages spending. Peer pressure prompts spending. Advertising entices us to spend. Businesses and banks urge us to spend and borrow. 

So back to the question, can one make money with a homestead farm? In my situation, the answer is yes. But you have to work at it. You need to be resourceful. Being disciplined really helps. Being a bit of a salesman is required, because you need to market what you produce. Being adaptable is a requirement. Not every plan works out, so you have to be willing to change mid-stream sometimes. Sometimes you have to stop, regroup, and try again. On that line of thought, I have friends that weren't successful until their second, third, and even fourth stab at it! The guy who took four tries is comfortably successful now, and quite satisfied with where he's at. 

Farming isn't what urban people think it is. Farmers don't whistle songs while they pleasantly walk through their fields admiring their crops. They don't have idyllic storybook farms with grand vistas to gaze at all day. Working, family supporting farms are places of hard physical labor, sweat, dirt, sore backs, hurt fingers. They are places where the farmer worries about his crops or livestock surviving. He worries about what can and possibly will go wrong. He hopes that prices will hold or increase, and bites the bullet if they fall....which happens quite often. There are no guarantees. It's always a risk. 

If you are afraid of taking a big risk, if you can't do without, if you already worry too much, if you enjoying spending money...perhaps this life isn't for you. In your case, your farm most likely won't earn you a living, 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Feeding the Chickens

Chicken feed is really, really expensive in Hawaii. In fact, I am not sure how small flock owners can afford to use commercial feed and still make any sort of profit. The large commercial chicken farms have all gone out of business because of the high cost of feed here.

When I got my first chickens 8 years ago, I started out with commercial feed. Because of my aim to be self reliant, I gradually began shifting part of their diet to home sourced foods. After a couple of years, it became a more and more important to me to see if I could wean myself away from using commercial feed. I've discovered some interesting things along the way.

Initially I simply threw fruits, greens, and leftovers into the pen for the birds to eat. I quickly saw that there was a lot that they either wouldn't eat or just wasted. About this time I was researching how chicken feed was made and discovered that ingredients were finely ground so that the birds ate it all, instead of wasting most of it. So I tried that myself, using a small food chopper. Thus I discovered that if you chopped it all up fine, everything got eaten. I quickly outgrew the small chopper and moved on to a blender and food processor, both of which I pick up cheap at the thrift store.

I discovered that chickens are crazy for meat. And they will eat just about anything that has ground or cooked meat mixed in it. Since I was already running a wood stove to make biochar, I modified the smoke stack to accommodate a large cook pot. So I began cooking waste meat for them.

I then began exploring on the internet what other farmers around the world fed to their chickens. With this knowledge in hand, I began experimenting here at home. So here's a list of what makes up their diet thus far. Keep in mind that no particular item makes up more than 10% of the diet. The birds get a highly varied assortment of foods. And while I use to cook foods for them in the past, the only thing that I now take the time to cook is meat and restaurant/store waste. The reason is to avoid introducing disease organisms that commercial food sometimes are contaminated with. All the food gets ground up except for the meat.

I am still experimenting on foods for the chickens. So this is not my final list.

Fruits- entire fruit unless otherwise noted. That means skins, seeds, etc. Some fruits I don't have access to, such as longon, lychee, rambutan, abiu, and more. Others don't grow here or are scarce, including apple, peach, pear, many berries, etc.
.....Banana (any stage), pineapple, guava, thimbleberry, papaya (ripe and green), mango (seed removed), all citrus, strawberry, avocado, cherimoya and relatives, sapote, eggfruit

Veggies- entire vegetable (skin and seeds) unless otherwise noted.
.....Asparagus, stringbeans, green shelled beans, cowpeas (shelled), pigeon peas (shelled), corn, eggplant, fennel, dill, melons, parsley, snap and snow peas, shelled english peas, peppers, pipinola, potato, pumpkin, squash, sweet potato, tomato, tomatillo, watermelon

Veggies - entire plant, such as leaves and stems that are not overly fibrous.
.....Amaranth, basil, beet, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, chinese cabbage, collard, coriander, dandelion, kale, lettuce, mustard, nastursium, oregano, portuguese cabbage,  purslane, radish, rutabaga, spinach, sugar beet, taro, turnip, tyfon, yacon.
.....Sunflower (entire seed head before the seeds are fully dry)
.....The leaves and shoot tips of beans, pipinola, squashes, pea vines, pumpkins, sweet potatoes. 

Also, grass clippings, ground up banana trunk, old buggy rice, stale bread, old cheese, sour milk. Just about any kitchen scrap or leftover. Most spoiled foods. The hens own eggshells (commercial eggshell gets cooked first). The seeds of Jobs Tears. Sugar cane juice. Macadamia nut harvest waste (put through a shredder). 

Meat includes commercial meat, which is cooked first. But also included is local slaughter waste from neighbors and hunters, roadkill, trapped rats and mongoose. Most is cooked first. Rats and mongoose are cooked whole, fur and all. 

Flies.... We maintain several fly traps in order to protect our sheep from maggot infestation. Due to the large population of horses, cattle, sheep and goats around here (if they die, they are left in the field for the flies to pick clean in 3-5 days) , there is a never ending supply of flies. Our traps capture 4  cupfuls a day! That's a lot of flies. 

The chickens hunt on their own too. I hve seen them eat all sorts of bugs, worms, lizards,and even mice. Plus they have access to soil and gravel. I supply them with coral sand and ground shells. 

My next step is to try growing more grains & seeds for them. They currently get corn and waste rice. Plus the seeds from basil, coriander, radishes, Chinese cabbage, broccoli, and amaranth. This year I have planted, or will be planting, buckwheat, rice, wheat, oats, and awnless barley. In the future I'll add sorghums, millet, and peanuts. Also plan to give alfalfa, clover, vetch, and moringa a try. 

I have avoided only a few things because they seem to adversely affect the flavor of the eggs. So, nothing in the onion family....onion, chive, leek, garlic. 

The Outdoor Clothesline

solar powered clothes drying


Lately I have seen articles instructing people on how to use a clothesline. While I think this is great, I still have to smile, shake my head, and think , "How sad. People have lost the simple knowledge of how to dry your clothes." I just got an email today from Organic Gardening Magazine with clothesline instructions, and they were good. But again, our children are not being trained with what I consider basic living knowledge. Yes, a sad sign.

I ditched the clothes dryer years ago. Hubby still moans about the towels not being soft and fluffy, but such is life. He'll just have to harbor his fond memories. I harbor my own fond memories of prime rib and steaks, but I no longer eat them....for health reasons. Such is life, get over it, move on.

Line drying clothes is a giant step toward self reliance. No expensive machine to buy. No need for a special 220 electic line or propane (or natural gas) tank/hook up. No need to spend money for electricity or gas. No machine to repair when it breaks down.

My neighbors complain that line drying doesn't work where we live because the clothes never quite dry all the way. True. But I found an easy way around that. Initially I ran a rope between two trees then draped a sheet of clear plastic over it, making a tent. When clothes came off the line, I hung them inside the makeshift tent in the sun for an hour. They baked dry. Since that first crude experiment I have made a small plastic drying house, like a greenhouse sort of thing. I made it out of a discarded canopy tent frame and a sheet of clear plastic. Easy to walk in and out of, easy the hang the clothes. It's an added step in the clothes drying process but not a big deal.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Utilizing Urine

Most peoples' first response to the idea of using urine is "yuck"! Even my own husband considers urine to be some sort of toxic waste to be flushed out of sight as quickly as possible. But a normal person's urine is sterile and in fact is a good ingredient for fertilizer.

Here on my homestead I collect urine to use in compost. And since I check the compost piles every day, urine never its around for long before it ends up in compost. So storage is not a problem.

Urine is collected in a bucket of biochar. I use a five gallon plastic bucket that is easy to sit a toilet seat on. Guys don't need it, but it sure makes it more comfortable for gals! Biochar fills the bucket 1/4 to 1/2 full. Then we simply use the bucket for #1 (that is, to urinate). Each day when I go past the compost piles and check their temperatures, I'll empty the bucket, mixing the biochar & urine into the center of one of the piles. The temperature of the piles runs between 165 to 180 degrees, depending upon the stage of composting and the components.

One of the nice things about using the biochar is that there is no odor, no fly problem. Zero.

Now I'm sure there is some government office somewhere that doesn't approve of using natural fertilizer, but I don't believe this method poses any public danger. There is no odor, no flies, nothing sitting around for days, and the urine gets processed in a hot, biologically active compost pile. It's more sanitary than the thousands of animals peeing in the fields very day around here.

My husband and I are not taking any medications that would be eliminated via the urine. But that is something to keep in mind. Personally, I wouldn't want to be adding medical chemicals to my compost piles.

While composting works just fine without using urine, this method is just one more little step of utilizing what is available in my quest to be self-reliant. Why waste something that is so readily available?

My neighbors have other uses for urine. The common use is as a pig deterrent. Feral pigs are attracted to your pineapples, bananas, macnuts and taro. And of course they will raid your garden if they can. Most gardens and orchards are fenced, but banana trees are often scattered about unprotected. If pigs are suddenly a temporary problem, my neighbors will splash urine on the base of the trees. And they will take their dogs, if they have them, to urinate there too. This tactic has saved many a banana patch until a pig hunter has a chance to come set up a trap.