Thursday, February 27, 2014

What Are Roosters Good For?

What are roosters good for on a homestead farm? According to some, they are good for nothing! Especially the ones that crow at 2 in the morning and all night long on a full moon. I tend to agree there. 

Hens lay eggs without a rooster being present. Many non-chicken people aren't aware of that. In fact, I've had people be really surprised that I'm able to have eggs for sale without a rooster in sight. The eggs are infertile, thus they won't produce chicks. If the farmer wants chicks, then a rooster is mandatory. 

Besides siring chicks, roosters have a few other attributes, not many I'd say, but a few. They tend to boss the flock, breaking up squabbles among the hens. Some roosters take the bossing too far, actually beating up hens and attacking people. Those roosters are prime candidates for replacing. 

Boss roosters also tend to protect the flock, sounding the early alarm if something is amiss. I've seen roosters attack cats, mongooses, and even dogs. People tell me that they are protecting the hens. I'm not so sure, because roosters by nature just like to fight. They will respond very quickly to any challenge. Of course most of those roosters don't last long. Either a dog gets them or a hawk has them for a meal. Older roosters often extend their protective act to attacking humans, thus leading to neck wringing, decapitation, or other forms of rooster execution. 

A well civilized rooster can be a nice morning wake up alarm. Crowing at dawn is rather a nice way to wake up on a farm. But it's hard to find a rooster who doesn't also crow at night. That night crowing can be maddening until your brain learns to ignore it. It has taken a few years, but I no longer notice my neighbor's rooster at night. Luckily he's not a big night crower. But he does get going on a full moon. 

And another thing, they are pretty. I've seen some gorgeous roosters. Really stunning. And a handsome rooster just looks so nice on a farm. 
(This young rooster should be quite handsome once he grows up.)

One last thing roosters are good for ....eating. If I order straight run chicks, then about 50% will be roosters. Looking at it realistically, a farm simply can't house all those roosters. The poor hens would be harassed to the point that they'd lay very few eggs. The roosters would fight among themselves. Life down on the farm wouldn't be good. So what to do? Simple. Eat them. Yum. 

Chicken Breeds

It must be spring 'cause I'm starting to get emails asking which breed of chicken is best to buy. As with just about all advice when it comes to depends. 

Years ago when I placed my first chicken order, I was looking for meat birds. So I ordered Cornish crosses. They are great little meat chicks, but require extra attention to rear them if you wish to give them quality life. I haven't raised them again only because I don't need plump little roaster chickens anymore. For the right people, they could be the right chicken. They are for meat only, not eggs. 

The following year I wanted to get into producing eggs. I wasn't sure which breed to get, so I ordered Rhode Island Reds because they were a traditional chicken.
Rhode Island Red hen     (Photo from
I also ordered Black Australorps because someone told me that they were their favorite egg layer.
Black Australorp hen      (Photo from
 I found the Rhode Islands to be pretty good birds and still like the breed to this day. They are pretty reliable although not the most productive layer of the biggest eggs. But they can forage on they own fairly well. They are friendly with people though a bit pushy with the other hens. The Black Australorps were great egg layers their first year. The second year they strongly became broody. I got very few eggs. But if I wanted to rear chicks using hens, this breed as older hens make very broody mothers. A fine choice. 
Buff Orpington hen         (Photo from
The next year I tried ordering a Buff Orpingtons and Barred Rocks. Both breeds are fairly nice eggs layers, much like the Rhode Island Reds. The Buff Orpingtons were very docile and friendly. Not real good on self foraging because they didn't seem to realize that there dangerous things that go bump in the night. I eventually lost them all to the hawks. 
A Barred Rock pullet, a young hen. (Photo from
The Barred Rocks were people-friendly but a bit more cautious of the hawks. A nice breed I'd rank right up there with the Rhodies. 

Next I tried White Leghorns and Aracaunas (Easter Eggers).
Typical white leghorn hen.     (Photo from
 The leghorns were flighty nervous nellies. But man could they produce eggs! One every day. And BIG! Scrawny looking hens that were quick to peck me, but I liked the egg production.
Aracauna pullet with egg. (photo from Flickr)
 The Aracaunas turned out to be good egg layers too,but not as many as the leghorns. I like Aracaunas so they will always be in my flocks. Good layers of nice sized eggs. Most of the eggs are greenish to some degree or other. Some are light blue. Some have more olive tones. 

Next I tried Red Sex Link (McMurray's variety is called Red Star), a red production mix. 
Red Star hen (photo from
And also the Black Sex Link (McMurray's variety is called Black Star), a black production bird. 

Now these two really can pump out the eggs! And big eggs too. But I find that by the third year they drop way back on egg production. So they are not long life egg layers. Two, maybe three years at most, then they need to be retired. But I don't think you can beat them for the first two years, great birds. 

Every time I order chicks I like to get some breeds I haven't had before. So this year I'm adding Cuckoo Marans and Delawares. I like variety. I have a friend who sticks with one breed and one breed only. Not my cup of tea. So this year's chick order will include a few replacement Leghorns, Barred Rocks, Red Stars, and Black Stars. Plus the new Cuckoo Marans and Delawares. 

So which breed should I tell people to get? Gee, I'm not a good one to ask because, as you can see, I go for variety. But it really depends upon what the person is looking for. What's the priority? A friendly hen? One that can survive by just foraging? Jumbo sized eggs? Lots of eggs but smaller? Brown eggs? White eggs? Green eggs? Broody hens to rear your own chicks? Non-broody hens so that they don't quit laying? Just meat birds? Or dual purpose giving you some eggs and some meat? 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Pre-sprouting Seeds

Now that it's springtime and I'm planting more things into the gardens, I'm going through seed leftover from last year. I'll use up the older seed first before sowing the fresh stock. Not sure about the germination, I prefer to pre-sprout the seed so that I don't end up with a spotty bed with lots of gaps. 
Pre-sprouting seed is easy. I just use two cloth rags. I wet them in water then wring them out. Inside one rag I spread out the seeds. 
Then I roll up the rag and seeds. Ends up looking like a long sausage. I then lay this sausage in the second rag and roll the whole thing up. 
It ends up looking like this. I then put it in a warm spot. In my case, that's on a table three feet from the woodstove in my livingroom. Each day I will unroll the rags and check for germinated seeds. And if the rags starts drying out, I will redampen them.
Eventually, unusually in a couple days, I'll spy some rootlets. Wonderful! The photo is of green beans that I'm now sprouting. The one in the upper left I must have missed yesterday when I checked because to root is rather developed, it's far easier to plant the beans when the root is smaller. Less chance of snapping it off. 

So why do I use two rags? Because it keeps the moisture more even up against the seed. If my rags were bigger then maybe I wouldn't use two. But two works for me. 

I like setting the seed near the heat source. The little extra warmth gets the seed germinated faster. I could also set the sausage roll in a patch of sunshine on the kitchen counter. That would work too. I would just have to be careful not to let it dry out or bake. 

As I pre-sprout seeds other than beans, I'll post the photos so that you can see what they look like. 

So how do I plant these sprouted beans? I just poke a hole about 1 1/2 inches deep in the prepared bed, drop on the bean, and gently cover it over. Give it a little drink of water and the job is done. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The 10 Most Common Questions......

These are the ten most common questions I was asked when I announced I intended to quit my job, sell everything, move the Hawaii, build a house and a homestead. 

#1- Are you crazy? 
     Well honestly, most likely I am but not when it came to moving and changing my life. 

#2- You're not taking the TV? Are you crazy? 
     I'd already spent a good portion of my life watching TV. I am crazy enough to want more out of life. Every hour spent watching TV could be spent riding my horse, walking in the forest, planting in my garden, enjoying a swim, at the beach. Now I'd rather live life than sit in front of a TV. 

#3- You're selling and giving away almost everything you have before you move? Are you crazy? 
     We didn't see the sense in paying to ship boxes of stuff that we most likely wouldn't ever use again. So we eliminated 90% of our material possessions. It turned out that we should have done 95% because we sent things over that we haven't touched in 12 years.  

#4- You're moving from a comfortable suburban life (3 bedroom rancher, multiple shopping malls within minutes, dozens of restaurants and movie theaters, nearby hospital, etc) to a 2 room (not two bedrooms, no it was just two rooms plus a bath) house shell, virtually no electricity, no city water or sewerage, no trash pick up, no telephone.......are you crazy? 
     It's been a dream to build our own house and live self reliantly. No better time than now to start working on our dream. It's a new adventure. We'll learn a lot. 

#5- You're going to live on a live volcano only a mile from the rift zone? Are you crazy? 
     That sounds worse than it is. We are in a zone 3, which means that we are protected from the rift zone by good sized hills. But the possibility of lava is still there. So we built our house on the hilltop. If our road turns into a lava channel, guess we'll need to make the driveway go the opposite direction -- out the back of the property and use the neighbor's easement to the highway. But think of it this way, hey we'd have a front row seat for lava viewing! 

#6- You're moving to where they have earthquakes? Are you crazy? 
     Little earthquakes happen here frequently. No big deal. Every few years there is a bigger one that gets your attention. And some day when Mauna Loa erupts, there will be some really big ones. Yes, they might happen in my lifetime. But then again, they might not. I'll just prepare and take it as it comes. No worse than living with monster hurricanes that wipe away houses. I accepted that when living in NJ. 

#7- You're moving to where they have tsunamis? Are you crazy? 
     Well, we're at 2300' elevation. If a tsunami were to affect us, then I pity the rest of the world. No, I feel pretty safe from tsunamis. 

#8- You're building an unpermitted house? Are you crazy? 
     By mainland standards, I would be crazy. But 50% or there abouts of Hawaii homes are unpermitted. It's a real headache for the building department here but there's not much they do about it. As long as you keep out of trouble, get along with your neighbors, and build a near to permitable house, they will leave you alone. You'll pay real estate taxes as though its permitted, so don't try to fight that. Unpermitted houses have their pros and cons. We accept them and are comfortable with the idea of being unpermitted. 

#9- You really think you can really grow your own food? Kill your own meat? Are you crazy? 
     Having lived a life where everything can from a supermarket or restaurant, I wasn't sure if I could raise my own food. But I wanted to try. It took 10 years, taking little baby steps through the years, but I am proud to know that we can survive comfortably on food that does not come through the commercial channels. So there.... I did it! Ha! Guess I wasn't crazy afterall. 

#10- You're moving to an area that's like a third world country! Are you crazy?
     It took some getting use to, and we had to adjust our lifestyle, but all in all we've come to love it here. Yes'm, things don't work like back on the mainland. People here don't necessarily think like mainlanders. The police, politicians, government officials all see things a bit differently than "back from where I came from". The local residents are stranger, have odder habits. But people here are far more tolerant too. Sometimes it's frustrating to deal with, but other times there's advantages to being in a third world area. 

So, did you notice the recurring theme? My mainland friends thought I went over the cliff, jumped off the deep end, that I was plumb loco. But guess what, I've got the last laugh. They all wish they had made a move away from NJ. I tell them that's it's not too late, but they don't believe me. They are still living under an umbrella of fear, something that permeates your life when you're living there. They are even afraid to move. How sad. I was like that 15 years ago. So I can understand how they feel. But luckily I became "crazy" and made the move. 

R.I.P. .....Almost

Most accidents occur within five miles of home. Oh, I've heard that old cliche over and over again through the years. Well an hour ago, it almost came true for hubby and I. In fact, we are incredibly grateful to be alive and well this hour. You see, we came extremely close to having a very serious head on accident one mile from our home through absolutely no fault of our own. Today we drove to Kona and back, quite a distance. But only one mile from home, it was near tragedy. 

A tourist used very, very bad judgement by making a u-turn right where our road meets the highway. The intersection is on a blind curve, so it's dangerous just turning at that location, never mind making a u-ey. And as fate would have it, in a downpour, a SUV came around the turn in our direction. We had stopped to make our left onto our street and watched in horror as the tourist proceeded to pull his u-ey. In a flash we were aghast to see the SUV swerve to avoid the tourist and come right at us head on. Head on! In a split second the driver then again swerved to avoid us, missing us by an inch if even that, and shoot past us on the rain slick muddy side of the road. How that driver not only missed two cars in his path but also a telephone pole, a tree, and a rock wall & fence is nothing short of miraculous. And he maintained control, heading back onto the highway to avoid a ditch, across two lanes, coming to rest on the opposite shoulder. Thank heaven there were no cars behind us or surely he would have had to hit something. He somehow didn't skid out on the mud, nor on this section of highway notorious for being quite slick in the rain, skid out at all. Yes, there have been dozens and dozens of cars in the past that have spun out of control due to the slick pavement here.

When we saw the SUV heading right for us, we little time to prepare for impact. I was certain the head on inevitable. I pulled my feet up against the base of my seat, tucked my elbows in, and sat back against the sit. Couldn't think of anything else to do. Hubby took his foot off the break hoping that being pushed back by the impact would somehow lessen the severity of the collision. We had both looked at the tourist prior to seeing the SUV and noted the color and make of the car, but didn't have time to note the license plate. SUVs bearing down on you have the ability to distract one from such a task. 

After the SUV came to a stop, we immediately pulled off the road and went back to check on the driver and occupants. Thankfully they said that they were fine, though shaken, and proceeded to check their vehicle, which turned out to be undamaged. Meanwhile, the incredibly stupid tourist cowardly drove away not even bothering to see if anyone was injured. I was prepared to barrel after them if our SUV heroes  had been hurt or damaged, but since all seemed to have survive unscathed, none of us thought that chasing those tourists down in the rain was a good idea. 

One never knows when something like this will happen. You can be doing nothing wrong but still end up dead or so injured that your life is changed forever. This incident is a prime example of why I live my life for NOW. I'm often asked why I retired young. Why we didn't wait to make our move. This is why. You never know when you're going to die or not be able to live your dream. 

Oh, life is so sweet tonight. I'm incredibly happy to be alive and well. 

Seed Farm - The Resident Critters

I was working at the seed farm the other day and was pleased to find that it's the home to assorted critters. For some reason I feel more at ease knowing that there's animal life around me. Unlike a city person, I'm comfortable with critters. Guess I'm just "country blooded".    ;) 
Day gecko. This little guy is about five inches long with a startling iridescent tail. He was heading across a mulched area, and being so small and short legged, it would have been like me walking 3-4 miles. So I gave him a helping hand and moved him to the other side. He scamped off into the greenery. 

Butterflies. Until today I didn't know the name of this butterfly. I see dozens of them around the seed farm. So very pretty. I also came upon a caterpillar of the monarch butterfly. Monarchs are common here. 
Blind snake. I don't know if the one we have here in Hawaii is the brahminy variety, but the one I saw looks very much like this photo but the snake is blacker. The blind snake is Hawaii's only allowed snake. It is seldom seen because is stays under the litter out of sight. And if exposed, people mistake it for a worm. But it travels much faster than any worm, disappearing in a second. If you manage to catch one, you become instantly aware that this is one very different sort of worm. 

While moving some buckets of soil I flipped back a large section of mulch. Behold, a blind snake! I carefully, quickly caught it. No easy feat. And keeping a hold of it was even harder! I saw its little tongue flick out several times, "tasting" or sensing the air. I had hoped to photograph it, but I was unable to keep it in my hand. Rather than risk squashing it, I allowed it to escape. The one I caught was about 6 inches long, pretty big. Quite honestly I'm pleased to know that blind snakes live on my seed farm. They supposedly eat ants and termites, big pluses as far as I'm concerned. 

(The bigger one in front is three long. They get bigger! )

Now this critter I'm not so happy about. It's an African snail that has a voracious appetite for all the plants that I like to grow. I've been doing battle with this species for months now, eliminating dozens and dozens, possibly hundreds of dozens so far. I've definitely made a dent in the population since I don't find as many now, but I will never be able to eliminate them. I turn them into chicken food, so they don't go to waste. 

Centipedes. Egads! These critters are far worse than the African snails because they sting. Wearing gloves is a must when working the seed farm. You never know when one of these things is under a rock or a pile of mulch. I can't help but jump every time I come upon one. I've discovered that my reflexes are still pretty good. It's amazing how fast I can jerk my hand back! Luckily I don't come upon them too often. 

Mice and rats. I haven't actually seen a live one, but I've seen the damage that they've done at night. And I've caught a number of them with traps. Like the snails and centipedes, I'll be forever in battle controlling their numbers. They attack my crops, so I won't be too happy having many of them around. 

Purple finches flit around in the weeds and brush while I am working. 
Saffron finches work the weeds, scavaging for seeds. When I moved here I thought that they were canaries like I used to see for sale in pet stores. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Seed Farm - From the Beginning

Via email --- Rick asks, "Your seed farm really interests me. Can you tell me more about it? How did you start? You said that there is no soil to grow in. What can you do there with no soil? Why did you buy it when you already have a good farm?" 

Ok Rick. Here's a bit of background about the seed farm. Plus what Ii am now doing there. 

Hubby and I are retired, sort of. He went back to work because not working didn't sit well with him. Plus he wanted the extra money to be able to buy his toys and build a house to his liking. I retired from my career but now work full time creating a homestead. So based on that, we both think that our actual retirement is still down the road, someplace in the future. With that in mind, we've been looking around for a retirement property. Some place that suits us where we will build our handicap friendly, tiny, very low maintenance home. We found the land we were looking for just five miles from our farm. 1 1/2 acres with an ocean view. Virtually no soil though, just broken lava with bits of plant detris between them in places. 

In the interim between now and building our retirement home, I'm using the land for a seed farm and for crops requiring more warmth and dryness than exists at the homestead. But the land is not "farming friendly". 1/2 acre is wooded with a shrubby "trash" tree. On the other acre what weeds can grow there stand thick and five feet high. Quite a tangle. 
Using the truck to gauge it, you can see that the dense weeds are 3-5 foot high. The tall guinea grass can easily go 6-7 feet high! 
In the past year on 1/2 acre I've weedwacked down the weeds three times. To select areas I've applied multi layers of cardboard, newspaper, grass clippings, plus a little soil/compost/manure. Not much of the latter though. I'm finally getting ahead of the weeds with less and less of them being able to punch through the mulch. 

This past week I took a closer look at how things are coming along and discovered that I have close to an inch of manmade "soil". Wonderful! It got my farming blood roaring and before I knew it I was carting down water and more things to plant .... Taro, bananas, pineapples. 

I have several pallet grow boxes there which I used to produce my first seed crops -- purple stringbeans and sweet potatoes. The boxes now will each give me a cubic yard of soil to use. Ah, things are looking up! 
Using a hand pick ---- forget a shovel, it won't work in lava --- I've made a small hole every two foot in rows 3-4 foot apart. I filled each hole with about a gallon of soil. Into these spots I've planted taro. 

As of today I now have five long rows of taro planted. Two rows are lehua varieties. The other three rows are interesting to look at but I haven't yet identified what varieties they are. One has light green leaves and stems with beautiful pink along the stem bottoms. Another has purple red stems and dark green leaves. The final one has brownish streaked stems, green leaves with a purple piko. I'll be acquiring some more taro huli in the few days and plan to put in at least two more rows soon. Over the course of the coming month, I'm aiming to put in at least 8 more varieties, named ones. These named varieties will be for resale in addition for home eating. 

The new seed farm didn't make enough money last year to even pay the real estate taxes. I only produced 9 small seed harvests for resale. But for now on, now that it is developing soil, it's time for it to earn its keep. So some seed crops and resale plants need to be grown this spring. 

In the next few weeks after the rest of the taro, pineapple tops, and banana keikis are planted, I hope to put in okra, soybean, and winged beans. After that, it's anyone's guess what crops I'll try. I'm thinking corn, sorghum, beans, squash, cukes.....but it will take some experimenting and creativity to get past the soil situation. We'll see. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Grow Box vs Keyhole Vs Hugelkultur

I've been asked via email why would I use a box container garden versus a keyhole garden versus a hugelkultur bed. On my homestead, each is used. Each has its benefits and drawbacks. The idea is to choose the one that best works for a particular situation. 

The box container gardens that I prefer are made from 4 wood pallets that sides are lined with something impervious, such as plastic sheeting. They are easy and quick to make, cheap, simple to fill and empty. And they work wonderfully within the framework of their design. Issues to keep in mind with these boxes are:
...they drain readily thus will dry out quickly
...they are easy to fill with just about any combination of biomass
...they can be easily disassembled and relocated. Great for temporary use. 
...they make root crop harvesting very easy. 
...they don't look pretty unless you put extra work and money into them
...the nutrients deplete within 6-9 months, so they need rebuilding. 
I use these grow boxes especially where there is little soil, such as at my seed farm. They are also very well suited to areas where I want to add more soil because once I harvest the crop, I can dismantle the box and spread the "manufactured" soil around. The box holds almost a whole cubic yard of soil, and that's a lot for spreading! 

Keyhole gardens work. I find that they are a fun alternative to the pallet boxes. I make mine out of cut down pallets, lined with plastic. The central basket which holds the composting nutrients I usually make from old metal fencing. Unlike packet boxes, coarser and denser material is often used. This adds a longer life to the bed. 
...they drain readily thus have a danger of drying out
...the lower strata often utilizes wood, keeping the beds moister
...the refillable nutrient basket prolongs the useful life of the bed
...they can be more attractive than the pallet boxes
...will eventually need rebuilding in a few years
These can be used several years before they need to be rebuilt. That's because of the nutrients being constantly added via the central basket. Depending upon their size they can hold 3-4 times more "manufactured" soil than the pallet boxes. So if I were to need a bunch of soil for some project, I could always open the keyhole, rob the soil, then refill it by starting over again. 

Hugelkultur beds have a permanent place on my farm. I make most of mine as pit gardens on the main farm, and as pit/mound combinations on the seed farm (not there yet but it's in the plans). Reason- main farms has lots of holes and pits that need filling in. Seed farm doesn't.  Simple. 
...good use to dispose of waste tree trunks, branches, and punky wood
...good way to fill in holes and make them food producing areas
...good for disposing of coarse, woody, brushy waste
...great way to store moisture in the ground for trees. I find them excellent for bananas. 
...use in place of swales for spot capture of water runoff. 
...I don't foresee needing complete rebuilding in my lifetime. Top dressing should suffice. Or perhaps harvesting the top two foot for using elsewhere then rebuilding that two foot cap. 

The above ground hugelkultur beds that will be built at the seed farm will act as windbreaks. The tradewinds can be fairly brisk at that location. The other big benefit is that the seed farm is pretty dry. Hugelkultur methods retain moisture. At the seed farm I am creating an expansive hugelkultur bed to change the contour of the land. Once completed the area will be flatter and create a moisture retaining area for food plant production. This is a big project that will take months to complete, but I'm in no hurry. Trees planted in conjunction will have access to improved moisture and nutrients. 

The other two biggest differences as I see it are:
1- the amount of biomass and time needed to create them. The pallets boxes require the least of both. The keyhole is next. The hugelkultur pits by far require a lot! It often takes me weeks if not months to fill up a hugelkultur pit. 
2- the amount of time and power... I can throw together a pallet box in a day and have it planted. Tools needed- hammer, some nails, a staple gun, a scissors, some wire and a wire cutter. The keyhole requires a few days to make and fill, plus a circular saw to shape the pieces. The hugelkultur bed requires tons of biomass, and quite a bit of that is woody. So now I need to have a chainsaw, a come-along and chain, a wedge, tree loppers, hand pruners, something to move logs and big branches, an o-o bar (a heavy steel bar often called a spud or tamper). I cut all my wood up into handleable sized pieces, otherwise one would need a skidsteer, backhoe, or an excavator. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Collecting Biomass

I've talked about compost, mulch, pallet growing boxes, hugelkultur, keyhole gardens, and one of the laments I hear in emails is that people would love to try these ideas but they don't have lots of biomass laying around. Other people talk about having to purchase straw for these projects. 

First of all, I purchase zero biomass. Gee, it's free for the taking. Yes, just my labor and time. Maybe lots of labor. Where? I look around. Neighbors sometimes have leaf and brush piles just begging to be taken away. Local landscapers love to unload in my yard rather than pay to dump at the landfill. Professional woodchippers also wish to avoid dump fees. Utility companies often clean their easements and are willing to dump the debris someplace. Sometimes they have it piled in their base yard where one can load it into a vehicle and take it home. 
(A pile of weeds and debris sitting in a parking lot, ready for the taking.) 

Check with your parks division. Back in NJ we were able to pick up truckloads of tree branches and trimmings, which we cut up into firewood. Every fall the towns collected leaves, so people set out bagged leaves on the curbs. So every day coming home from work I picked up a carload. Plus there was a small woodmill not too far away. Sawdust and scrap was free for the loading. Cabinetmaking shops often have sawdust and scrap they wish to have people cart away. I wish these things existed near to where I now live, but alas, no. So I have to look for other sources. 

I didn't have much of a lawn in NJ, but I never lacked for grass clippings. I just put up a notice on the feed store bulletin board that I would pick up bagged clippings within town limits. I developed a steady pick up route that way. I would run my round that same time every week so that people knew when to expect me. Bags were ready out on the curb. But here in Hawaii I have lots of neighbors with large expanses of grass. So with my trusty lawn tractor, I can mow to my hearts desire and collect scads of grass clippings. 

Here on my current farm I have plenty of vegetation. Brush, grass, weeds, excess trees, bamboo, bananas all give me plenty. It just takes my time and labor to collect it. But I still do some gathering looking for particular biomass. Abandoned wild fruits do great for feeding the garden plants via trench composting. The taro responds to it especially well. A feral grass called guinea grass is rather easy to harvest and is a good filler for the pallet grow boxes. And I've discovered some side roads that have lots of partially rotted tree branches that are great for the foundations of hugelkultur beds. 

Cardboard and newspaper can be collected from friends, or put up a notice that you are looking for it for the garden. Lots of people would like to see it used instead of just thrown in the trash. Stores often have cardboard they will let you have. Wal-Mart has it already bound, ready for the back of your pick up truck. 

If you are lucky to live near a vegetable farm, then seek out the farmer. There will often be a packing shed where reject veggies are thrown aside into a bin. Ask if you can load up some for your compost pile. Or ask if you can glean a harvested field so that the broken rejects can make your compost. 

At the store level you might not have any luck when it comes to discarded vegetables, because pig and chicken owners are competing for that. But it doesn't hurt to ask. 

If there are horses in your area, stables can be a source of waste bedding and manure. One time I cleaned out an old barn for an owner. Quite a bit of labor. But part of the deal was that I'd have first dibs on the manure for the rest of the time. So for 17, or was it 19, years I got all the horse manure I ever wanted. 

Cleaning manure out of pastures is work and takes time, but if that's your only source for manure, it's worth taking the time. I know of a young girl who made a little business cleaning up horse owners' corrals. She then sold the manure at a flea market. Good for her! Way to go! 

Starbucks and other coffee shops will give away coffee grinds. Just supply them with a lidded 5 gallon bucket and be sure to pick up daily. 

Earning money by mowing somebody's lawn will also give you the lawn clippings. Perhaps a senior citizen neighbor, something close so that it's convenient. In the fall, raking leaves for neighbors accomplishes the same.Tthe extra money can come in handy and it cones with a biomass bonus. 

Of course you could always fall back on buying biomass. Straw is the number one thing to come to mind. But don't rule out spoiled hay. If there is a feed store in your area, put up a notice. Local hay producers and farmers sometimes lose a load of hay to moisture and mold. Yes, it will have seeds compared to clean straw, but composting it should take care of most of the viable seeds. 

Over the years I've used all these ideas at one time or another. Landscaping businesses were my best suppliers. 

I use a LOT of biomass. Anytime I find myself with surplus, I cobble together another growing container, fill it up, and plant something. But I seldom have a surplus bonus because I'm constantly renewing the beds and containers I now use. Plus I use a lot of mulch. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Taro - Planting More

I'm planting a lot more taro. Why? Hubby is now pre-diabetic, so we are adjusting our diet. He is eliminating potatoes, sweet potatoes, wheat, and rice. So we will cook with more taro, which is something he can have. 
(Freshly planted taro huli .... a lehua variety.)
Taro grows readily here. I'm surely no expert when it comes to taro, but many of the varieties grow well on my farm. Up until now I used to grow it then use it for trade and to give away. But now I'm going to have to pay a bit more attention to the crop. I need to learn which ones we prefer and find recipes that we like. 

The first step will be planting more. I'm acquiring some new varieties to experiment with. Today I picked up a new red stemmed one that I'll try. And I harvested a lehua variety which I replanted today. I already know that we like this one made into home fries. 
A new variety for me that I picked up today. I don't know the name
of this one, nor what its best use will be. 
I prepared the new taro pieces for planting. These are called huli. Excess stems were removed. Excess tuber was also removed. Then they were cleaned up in general, removing anything that would rot. Looking over each one carefully, I don't find any disease or insects I should be concerned about. I've had success planting them immediately although it has been suggested that I let them dry out overnight before planting. Perhaps that would make a difference in an area that was wetter. But planting immediately has always worked for me. 

I plant each huli deep, 6 inches down, and about two foot apart in the row. I can't go deeper because that's as much soil as I have before I hit the lava bed. But as the taro grows I will add mulch, with the mulch layer getting quite thick. I find that it takes anywhere from 7 to 15 months till harvest, depending upon the variety. That's for the tubers. Leaves and stems can be harvested sooner. Plants used for leaves and stems get set back, not producing good tubers. So I keep separate areas for the two types of harvest. 

The planting method I just described is the simplest way for me to grow taro. But there are many other ways to do it. As I add new varieties to my garden I'll describe some of the other methods. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tree Protection

Young trees, especially fruit trees, need to be protected. If not, my sheep and goat will surely eat them down to the ground. Yes, I lost some trees early on because I wasn't aware how fond livestock can be of eating them. Not just leaf nibbling. All the twigs. Then the small branches, off goes the bark, and finally anything they could get between their teeth. I would come home to find a 15" long stick sticking up out of the ground. They ate the whole thing while I was in town! That's very expensive livestock food! 
I wanted to come up with protection that would not only work, but would be quick, easy, and cheap. Fencing would work, but I'd have to buy it, plus buy posts to mount it on. So I looked around for a better solution. I didn't have to look further than the pile of wood pallets. Four pallets tied together make nifty tree protectors. I could have nailed them together, but I wanted to be able to easily take them apart. So tying them was a better solution. 

To date the sheep and goats have left the protected trees alone. The sheep totally ignore the trees. The goat occasionally stands up in the pallet and reaches over for a nibble. But by and by, he loses interest and moves on. 

I control the worst of the weeds inside the pallet boxes by using cardboard and grass clippings as mulch. Works for me. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

House Update - The Livingroom Floor

These past two weeks I've worked on getting the livingroom floor ready for tiling. That meant laying down the concrete board. It's a simple job to do. Just takes time and muscle. Most of the backer board went down in full sheets (3'x5'). But of course some needed to be custom cut the fit the odd shaped spaces. I used a circular saw with an old ripping blade. The blade was too dull for comfortable wood cutting, but I saved it specifically for this job. I did the cutting outdoors because the concrete dust will fly! And of course I wore a dust mask and took a shower as soon as I was done. 

I screwed the back boards down with those special screws made for this job. The first box I bought was Phillips-head, but alas I didn't notice that the second box was square-head. Luckily I had a square head driver in the tool box, otherwise I would have been really, really, really annoyed with myself. 

It turns out that I'm four sheets short to get the job completely done. The entire livingroom is done, but I'm missing 4 sheets for the lanai extension. But since I don't have the tile purchased yet for the lanai, I'm doing ok. When I head to town for the tile, I'll just pick up four more sheets of backer board. Simple. 
(A candidate for the lanai flooring.) 
Living in the house and building around our "stuff" is a challenge unto itself. But I've gotten use to it. Luckily David has also gotten use to it, too. So in order to put the sheets down I moved everything to be side, screwed sheds in place, then moved everything to the other side. Yes, that's work and takes time. But I need to live in this house while it is being built, so I just do it. 

With the cement backer board installed, it's time for David. He'll be laying the time floor. He does a really good job at tiling, so there's no way I'm gonna do it. Why mess it up? 

Now we need to decide the tile pattern. The tiles look like simulated wood planks. I laid them out to get an idea. Hubby and I both like the herringbone, but agree that it will be too busy for the room. So were going with a simple overlap. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

There Be Whales Here!

Aye, Captain. There be many a whale off the Kona coast today! And I got to see them in action! Whoopie! Three off us (hubby, a friend, and me) decided we were ready for a day off and played "tourist", booking seats on Dan McSweeney's whale watch boat. I've been on his tour close to a dozen times now and highly recommend it. 

(A classic humpback whale breach! I didn't take this is from Dan McSweeney's website.)
(Dan's boat.)
A beautiful day in paradise...sun, warm, breezy, seas active but not rough. Even if we didn't seen one whale, it would have been a relaxing three hour boat ride. But see whales we did! 
(Whale tail, that last thing you see whale the whale dives deep.)

Leaving the harbor we promptly came upon a whale. It proved to be a good omen. Passing that whale by Dan headed for the sanctuary area up the coast. Here and there in the distance we kept spotting whale blowspouts, whales coming up for a breath. Once in the sanctuary, we come upon one whale group after the other. Whale here. 7+ whales there. Now two. Next four. Then 6. Whale tail. Another whale tail. Flippers. Backs. More whales! It's the first time I've ever been on a trip and thought, "Oh hum, another whale." 

Occasionally I'd whip out my camera to take a photo, but in the bright sun I couldn't see what I was pointing at. Once back on land I discovered that 90% of my shots were the back of hubby's head!!!!!

Just when I thought the trip was over, we came upon another group of whales, most likely young males flexing their testosterone. One whale breech, another, three, four in a row!!! Lots of flipper flapping. Flipper smacking. More half body breeching. And the grande finale? A full jump just exactly like the full body breech in the top picture. Magnificent! Incredible! There's no way to describe how amazing it was to watch. 

Sometimes the whales were a bit of a distance away. Other times the whales would surface only 400-500 feet from the boat. What a day! 
Back on shore and hungry, we headed for a well hidden fish market in the harbor area. They have the best fresh fish lunches, bar none. Not permitted to extend their little fish shack selling store in order to add a restaurant, they got around the building regs by using lots very large sun umbrellas, some of which are not in conjunction with a table but just fill in a gap in the "roof". It works and its funky.  I love it. But the fish meals are the main draw. Really good. 
Fresh fish tacos. They are famous for these. 
I opted for the catch of the day ruben sandwich. The fish? Ahi (aka: tuna). I'm not an ahi lover, but if its really fresh, then I'll go for it. And this was super fresh! I have to say that this was the best ruben I have ever had. It's was so good that I plan to abandon my usual fish tacos and stick with the ruben for now on. The taste and texture was exquisite. 

If I were a wealthy person, I'd be out on a boat several times a week. It was great. 

February Foraging

Thorough out the year I forage for wild foods, mostly fruits. Some are abandoned tres, but others are wild, having come up on their own. Every season has different fruits available. Right now it's persimmons, loquats, some citrus, plus some late guavas. 

The persimmon happens to be on my own property. A tree planted long ago which has produced dozens of keikis that are now producing fruit themselves. No one around here seems to know who planted the original tree. It's always been there, as far as people know. And every year people come to harvest the fruits. The trees produce hundreds of persimmons, so there's plenty to share. 
I've learned that you need to pick them just before they get ripe. Snagging them with a fruit picker is a challenge. Once you've got them, then you need to let them ripen. Eating them before they are mushy soft will pucker your mouth. Once ripe they are incredibly sweet. 

Loquats grow wild along my street. The wild ones are not as large and fleshy as the commercial varieties, but they are just as tasty. Most people don't bother with loquats, so I get to harvest as much as I want. Over the years I've pruned a number of the trees so that I can reach the fruits easier. A little pruning each year makes life easier. 
Citrus is generally a winter crop here, but not every citrus. But right now I'm harvesting oranges and lemons on my own farm, and limes for several friends' places. I just picked the last of the grapefruits from my own tree, but I know of other trees that are still producing. 

Then there are those bananas and papayas. They tend to produce year around although sometimes there are more to harvest than other times. I have several bunches of bananas almost ready to harvest. I'm just finishing up the last bunch. And while the papayas have slowed down, I'm still getting at least one a day. 

When it comes to bananas and papayas, for the past several years I've been planting them all around. Kind of like Johnny Appleseed. Today I planted three young banana trees along a road not far from me. Eventually they will produce and some lucky family will harvest fresh bananas. I see that some of the papayas are starting to produce and that people are collecting them. Good! So I'll start some more seed soon and plant more papaya trees along the back roads. Food for people to harvest. Yes! 

Thursday, February 13, 2014


Part of my homesteading adventure is to explore ways of being frugal. It's no longer a game since the homestead will soon be our means of livelihood. So I've been deciding where I'm willing to spend money and where I am not. One of the conclusions -- paper towels, napkins, wipes are out. I've gone back to using washable rags. 
In order to make the transition back to rags, I found out that I had to have them handy. So I keep a supply beside the kitchen sink in box. In the bathroom, the rag box is a small trash pail under the sink. We found that an old bucket works well out in the barn and tool sheds. 

Where do I get rags? Well surely I don't buy them. Yes, I've know people who do, but that's hardy frugal, isn't it? So discarded clothing is my main source. My own clothes go through a progression, starting out as good clothes, slipping down to going to town clothes, then work clothes, and eventually rags. And sometimes the local thrift store discards a bag of clothes rejects, and they become my rags too. 

Ever think about grades of rags? Some are better scrub rags, such as worn out bath towels. Old t-shirts make great general purpose rags. Some clothes don't make quality rags, so their rags go out in the barn and work sheds to be used as "disposable" rags for paint, oil, grease, and other messy stuff. They're also good for cleaning up dog barf, cat hairballs, that sort of thing. No need to wash those disposable rags. They go right to the trash. It's a shame that clothing isn't all made out of natural fiber anymore, because those discarded rags could be going into the garden. But alas, the synthetic components don't rot down. 

We've successfully made the transition to rags. Hubby no longer looks around for a roll of paper towels, though I do catch him grabbing the toilet paper to clean up a hairball. But the most difficult thing was to train him to throw a used rag into the laundry instead of the trash. Ah, he was trainable! Hurrah! So rags it is, and rags it shall be for my future. 

Silly Socks

Half the socks I wear are mundane white, black, or brown. They're my work or hiking socks. But the rest of my sock draw is filled with the kind of socks that will either make you laugh (I'm hoping for that) or cause you to scowl in disapproval. If you're the scowler type, oh well....that's your problem not mine. 

What the heck is a mid 60s woman doing wearing crazy socks? Having fun! People around here have come to expect it of me and often check out my socks when I come to town. Now would I be one to disappoint them? Naw. I make sure that especially on market day, I wear something crazy. 

These socks have become a form of comic relief. I work hard at homesteading and building my house. Sometimes it's discouraging when things go wrong. I've weathered crop failures, livestock deaths, broken equipment, failed experiments. Sometimes things just don't go well when I'm trying to build the house. And as I grow older I detest losing my stamina and slipping physically. And don't even go to the discussion of memory!!! I don't want to hear it.    :)     So a bit of childlike play comes in handy to keep the old morale up. 

Growing up I was constantly reprimanded to "act your age", "act grown up", "be ladylike". Most of the time I conformed to society's expectations. But sometimes the child in me burst out. Now that I'm older I no longer bother to "act my age". Jeez, acting like an old woman surely isn't fun. What am I expected to do? Sit in a rocking chair on the front porch? No way, Jose! I'd rather let the child out to play as often as I can. Life is much better that way. 

Happily I live in an area that is full of non-conformists and some really weird people. There's quite a bit of tolerance for oddballs here. So no one batts an eye at my crazy socks. Instead of disapproval, I am often greeted with smiles, laughter, and jovial kidding. Yes, life is much better that way. Fun is good. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Well, I've done something I said I would never do.....get roosters! Yes, yes, never use the word "never"! It just backs one into a corner that you sometimes have to wiggle and squirm to get out of. So why in the world get roosters? Ah, the facts of make little baby chickens. 
I have quite a few hens. While most are young, some are older. The older ones are not great egg layers anymore, but one thing they are good at is getting broody. They find an egg and proceed to sit on it all day. So I figure I have two choices that I am comfortable with for dealing with older broody hens. Either make chicken tacos or have them incubate eggs. Since I can't have a store bought incubator (I'm on solar and very miserly with the kilowatts), I can turn to Mother Nature's incubator -- the hen. 
For right now the boys will be with the hens in one big pen. Since none of the hens are being broody at the moment, this will give me time to build several new pens, one for each rooster. Then as I identify some broody hens, they will go to their new digs where they can produce eggs and sit on them. I plan to actually build several new pens so that the boys can be moved to different pens, thus leaving the broody hens in peace. 
I don't know what breeds these roosters are, but for this experience it doesn't really matter. They came from a local mixed flock that produces very nice eggs. That's good because I shall keep some of the young birds that get produced and add them to the laying flock. Of course the young pullets will have to prove their worth in order to stay, but that's a future issue.