Friday, August 29, 2014

Drivel - Make Hay While The Sun Shines

Finally, finally I'm getting some sunny days, well at least the mornings. But the rain isn't starting until late afternoon which means that I'm getting a chance to get things done. High priority has been getting the mowing done. This summer has been unusually warm and wet. The grass is growing at an amazing pace. So all my extra time is being spent mowing and chopping with the machete. By evening I'm far too tired to kick my brain into gear for blogging. Give me a few more days and I'll have the majority of the grass temporarily under control. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Drivel - Relaxation

I sometimes have a hard time getting to my relaxation time. Sure, I'm busy. Sure, unexpected things come up that can take up time that I haven't budgeted. But the downright truth is that I get myself so involved with some current project that I don't want to let it go. And worse yet, something else comes along that grabs my interest and I add it to my project list. Before I know it, I have 30 hours of things to do during a 24 hour day. Happens all the time. 

I've chatted with other people, not just farming types, that really like their jobs and enjoy working at them for hours and hours every day. Back in the 70's, I knew several people who worked 12-15 hour days at their jobs, people who really got into their work. Yes, they weren't married. Or should we say, they were married to their work. I'm guilty too though I wasn't that bad. 12 hour days for me were not rare. I had a husband who was very, very unhappy when those days happened, so I kept them from being the routine. But if I hadn't been married, I too would have routinely worked 12 hour days. I loved what I was doing for a living. 

Now that I'm getting the opportunity to explore different aspects of homestead farming, I'm finding that I love doing this too. Without some sort of outside controls, I'd be at it from sunrise to sunset. Hubby is not my only moderator. Happily I also have friends who get me to take breaks. Friends like the one pictured below......
Yup, it's break time. Time for relaxation and socialization. A visit to a common friend's house to celebrate a birthday, share food and conversation, and a nice soak in the hottub. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Rabbit Wives Tales & Myths

..."the rabbit died" 
Before pregnancy tests could be purchased at the drugstore, determining if a woman was pregnant involved injecting a female rabbit with the woman's urine, then several days later killing the rabbit to look for changes in its ovaries. The rabbit ALWAYS died, but somewhere along the line the idea of the rabbit dying became synonymous with pregnancy, not just the test. Thus if a woman was pregnant, one would say, "The rabbit died." 

...lucky rabbit foot
Carrying a rabbit foot in one's pocket was thought to ward off evil spirits and thus bring luck. Not so lucky for the hapless rabbit. 
...rabbit, rabbit, rabbit
Said three times upon wakening on the first of each month, it was suppose to give you luck. I think I got this from my grandfather who was born in Edinburgh, Scotland and lived part of his childhood in England. While my great aunts said "rabbit", grandpop said it should be "white rabbit" because it was the rare white rabbit that was lucky. 

...only eat rabbit in the months with an R in it. 
This most likely applied to wild caught rabbit and probably had something to do with parasites being most prevalent during the summertime. Our ancestors had to deal with parasites and diseases without the benefit of modern medicine, so anything they could learn about keeping healthy could be important. But alas they lived with many misconceptions too. Today's domestic rabbits are fine to eat anytime of the year. 
...white rabbits are deaf
Not true. I've overheard people say that the pink eyed white rabbits are blind. Also not true. 

...cabbits are a cross between a cat and a rabbit
There is no such thing as a cabbit.  Cats and rabbits cannot breed together and produce any offspring. If you see a hopping tailless cat, it has a deformity, most likely spinal bifida. 

...rabbits live off eating carrots
"What's up, Doc." Sadly, many baby pet bunnies have died because of this myth. Rabbits are primarily grass and herb eaters. Roots, veggies, and fruits make up a small potion of their diet. 

...domestic rabbits can breed and produce babies with cottontails and jackrabbits (a hare). 
False. While they might mate, they cannot produce offspring. I've had people swear that they breed domestic rabbits and cottontails together, but it's simply impossible to get baby rabbits from such matings. 
...A female rabbit has two uteruses so she can be pregnant with two litters at the same time. She will give birth to one litter but hold off on the second until the first is weaned. Thus she can produce multiple litters from one mating. 
Partially true. The female has two uterine horns, each with its own cervix that joins the vaginal body. The organ looks like the letter Y. A pregnant rabbit usually has fetuses present in each horn. ALL the fetuses are born at the same time. None are held in reserve. Therefore the doe doesn't produce multiple litters from one mating. But add to that the fact that she can get pregnant again if mated right after giving birth, it just seems like she has a second litter ready to go inside her already. 

...pick up a rabbit by its ears
Ouch! No way! While gently holding their ears might help calm some rabbits while being held, absolutely no way should they be picked up or restrained by their ears. 

There's probably plenty of other myths and misconceptions about rabbits out there, but these are the ones I've heard most often. 

Chickens, a Gateway "Drug"

Chickens are a gateway animal. I'm convinced of that. I've been watching people who get one or two chickens...just for fresh breakfast eggs they say...and before long things get dirty. Dirty like in compost, gardens, livestock and manure. 
--Kris got two banties for eggs. Now he's growing beans, lettuce, tomatoes. 
--Patrick bought two red sex link pullets from me. Now he's built a small raised bed for veggies and a pen for raising a piglet. 
--Herb bought a few chicks two years ago. Now he's got a beehive, more chickens, and a fledgling vegetable garden. He's also put in some fruit trees. 
--Mitch started out with 6 pullets and now raises his own lamb. He just planted a small orchard of bananas and papayas. 
--Judy started out with a few chickens then planted some banana trees. Now she's got a 2 acre orchard of assorted fruits plus a couple of raised beds for veggies. 
--Liz moved into a place that had a couple hens running around. The farming bug bite her hard. She now has fruit trees, gardens, coffee, sheep, turkeys, and farm dogs.

See what happens if you let a few chickens hang around. It must be some sort of virus that those dang chickens are carrying. Before long you go a bit crazy and start adding other farmy stuff. It gets to be addictive. 
Yup, for sure ....they're a gateway drug, oops I mean, gateway livestock. Get a few chickens and you don't know where your life will be heading next. It will be out of your control. Before long you'll be lusting after seed catalogs, buying rolls of livestock wire for making pens, comparing the ingredients lists of feed bags. You're ruined for life. You'll never be content to live in the city ever again. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Feeding the Rabbits, Homestead Style

I've been working out a diet list for the rabbits, trying to figure out what and how much of the local feed stuffs they will eat. So not to have raging hunger interfere with the results (heck, I think I'd eat cardboard if I was really hungry), I've been making sure that they have constant access to hay cubes. 

Items offered so far that they will eat.....

...cucumbers & the leaves 
...bananas, leaves, and cut up trunk
...strawberries & the leaves
...tomatoes, ripe or green
...carrot tops & roots
...anything in cabbage family (cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, etc)
...any of the bok choy types
...celery, stalks & leaves
...oranges & tangerines (I remove the rind) 
...sugar cane, cut up and split
...radish & daikon, leaves & roots
...turnips, leaves & roots fruit
...seeds and pulp from pumpkins and winter squash
...flesh of pumpkins and winter squash, but they are not crazy about it
...zucchini squash
...fresh corn on the cob, they will eat the cob too
...beets & the leaves
...sweet potatoes & the leaves
...pipinola leaves and fruits
...thimbleberry leaves
...young leaves of pumpkin and squashes
...false staghorn fern, young leaves- not crazy about it but they will eat a bit
...ginger leaves, they will eat some but not a lot. They like the white ginger flowers. 
...various basils
...cilantro bean leaves
.. honohono grass 
...greenleaf desmodium 
...mamaki leaves
...plantain (the weed)
...ti leaves
...guava fruit
...yacon leaves
...rose bush trimmings

I'm still in the process of trying foods. So the list will grow.

Next on the list to offer: 

...cooked taro corm fruit
...papaya leaves
...string beans
...pea vines

Things they've rejected or barely nibble include:
...molasses grass
...kikuyu grass
...guava leaves leaves
...guinea grass

Bummer. I've got a LOT of that stuff growing around here. 

Some of the things on the "will eat" list they really like, such as cucumbers, apples, parsley, cabbage.   Other things they just eat a little at a time, such as ginger, ti leaves, banana trucks. And I've noticed individual preferences. While some of the rabbits will eat every bit of honohono offered, others will only eat a couple tips. Since I've just started this, I don't know if there are any seasonal differences. I'm aware that some plants are more preferred at different times of the year. So that will be something I will discover in time. 

Walking Stick Insect

Here in Hawaii I've seen one variety of the walking stick insect. 
With the advent of plenty of rain this year, I've been seeing more of them on the farm than usual. But the only place I regularly find them is in the unmowed grass. 

Walking sticks are herbivores. That means, they eat plants. I don't know exactly which plant these particular guys prefer, but it's something in the meadows. I haven't found them in any of my flower beds or veggies so far. Technically I guess they would be classified as a pest, though I don't believe they are causing me any problem. But I'm sure some grass or weed isn't too happy getting munched on. 

I know that some species of walking sticks will eat plants that people deem valuable, but I suspect that the type we have in Hawaii prefers grass or a weed of some sort. They seem harmless to me, and I find them to be rather interesting. In fact, I think they're pretty cool. Their fragile thin legs are amazing. When these insects are disturbed they will often fold up, looking all the world like a dried bit of dead grass. When push comes to shove, they will fly off. They are not the best fliers, but they can manage to flutter several feet away. The approach of my lawnmower prompts them to take wing. 

Walking sticks are one of the multitude of things that make my homestead fun. I smile every time I see one. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Being Prepared on a Homestead?

I find myself living at a time of uncertainty. Will life remain stable? Or will our government or society collapse? Reading the news I see where there have been places around the world where daily life quite rapidly deteriorated, going down the tubes practically overnight. Surely within the span of a month or so. Not just financial collapse, loss of savings and pensions, but real chaos. It's astounding how quickly lawlessness develops. Looting. Riots. Rapes. Genocide. Young men quickly form roving gangs of marauding thugs. This not only happens where governments collapse or civil wars break out, but also where climatic disasters occur (ex. Hurricane Katrina). Just recently a section of our island was hit by Hurricane Iselle. Those people had an up front education about being cut off from help, being isolated, and having to fend off looters. Aahh, doom & gloom. 

I see that one of the main reasons people cite for being interested in self sufficiency is a fear or expectation of society collapse. They figure that they will simply grow their own food, then all will be well and they will survive. People email me to assure me that I will survive whatever the future dishes out. Seldom do they consider those other aspects of collapse...the roving lawless gangs who will attempt to steal one's equipment, livestock, and crops. Who will gleefully kick you off your farm, rape, torture and kill for the fun of it. Gosh, more in your face doom & gloom. 

Sounds like fun, eh? So you don't think it could happen? Think Libya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Zambawie, Iraq, etc. Collapse and vicious aggression happens quickly. Think government sponsored aggression - Syria, Tibet, Palestine.  Think what happened in the aftermath of Katrina. 

Doom and gloom. Doom and gloom! 

Rather than hiding my head in the sand, saying it couldn't happen here......or going the opposite route by stockpiling an arsenal, there are a few things I can do. Prepare to some degree. Have some food, water, cash, and supplies stockpiled. Arms and ammo too, for sure. Perhaps have a hidden cellar for storage or for short term hiding. If not a separate cellar, then perhaps a hidden room or attic. Have firearms and be willing to use them. Learn how to use them before you need them. Know how to make basic defense weapons from scratch. Keep a bug out kit. Have an evacuation plan. Keep some big watchdogs. Dogs aren't a fail safe, but they help. Keep a nice assortment of basic tools and general supplies. Keep cash accessible. Banks will shutdown as soon as chaos breaks out. 

I know a person who survived the Khmer Rouge by having the skill of farming. Knowing how to grow food for the enemy saved her family's lives although life was decidedly unpleasant until they were able to escape. Even after escape, life was terrible until they could immigrate. Being persistent eventually paid off. 

Other factors I think that can help survive a collapse:
...having basic survival knowledge and skills.
...have a warning system. Barking dogs. Something that makes noise if triggered -- a driveway alarm, or even a simple string strung and attached to tin cans, etc. Boobytraps. 
...paying attention to what is developing around you. Trying to evacuate too late traps many people. persistent and don't give up. Some people have survived horrible situations by being ready when an opportunity came along. 
...stay optimistic. Keep a good attitude and sense of humor. Real hard to do when chaos ensues, but survivors tend to have these qualities. 
...don't panic. It kills. Try to keep your emotions detached if possible. willing to defend yourself. Otherwise guaranteed you WILL be the victim. 

Nothing will completely protect you other than luck. But luck's not something one can buy or store. Oh here I go again....doom & gloom. 

As I've said, I don't see myself as a prepper or survivalist. But it surely doesn't hurt to be prepared. As the people who lived in the aftermath of Hurricane Iselle learned, having two weeks worth of drinking water, food that doesn't require cooking, medical supplies, pet food, and basic living supplies is a real good idea. Having cash hidden someplace at home is very beneficial. Some people wisely choose to load up on gasoline which came in real handy for generators and chainsaws. Being prepared got many people through this crisis. 

So you say, "Ok Su, how is this about your homesteading experience." Lets say that the whole idea of homesteading has made me prepared. No, I don't have a year's worth of food, but I have enough for a month plus the means to grow more. I can produce much of my own seed stock. I can produce meat and eggs. I can cook and heat water using resources on the farm. I'm learning to use local medicinal plants to supplement my medical supplies. Plus I'm starting to cultivate them. I'm on solar to generate my own power. If gasoline becomes scarce or unavailable I can continue to garden using hand tools, plus having developed methods to create my own fertilizers. I have the means to collect rainwater for the garden and the house. I have the knowledge to build pedal powered tools. I am part of a community and trading network. I have chosen an area where I can survive without having to deal with climate extremes. Sure, yeah, yeah, yeah, so I've got a giant volcano in my backyard. That's easier to deal with than a crazy government or war. 

Nothing will protect me if total chaos breaks out. But having access to enough cash will at least give me the opportunity to buy transportation away. 

What I am prepared for is local temporary problems. Like the hurricane that just hit. Like Mauna Loa erupting. Like serious inflation / depression. 

Rabbit Hutches

I've been fairly quiet this week because I've been rather busy. The kukui and macnuts are dropping, so I've been busy processing those. Plus there's lilokoi to juice. I've been grooming some spots around the homestead to plant pipinola, winter squash, and pumpkins. But the biggest project has been expanding the rabbit hutches. 
I've got 16 young rabbits. So far I've got 13 individual hutches. So looks like I need at least 3 more, but I'd like to have a few extra empty ones. Yes, that's a lot of rabbits, but they aren't here to be pets. Their number one reason for being part of the homestead is for meat. Second is manure. Third is for selling some to other people. 
Each rabbit needs it's own space when confined. Rabbits can be raised in colonies, but they are near to impossible to individually monitor that way. Plus a lot of space needs to be provided in a colony situation in order to prevent hostility. They have been known to kill one another in fights and murder entire litters. Besides, here in Hawaii rabbits are not allowed to be housed on the ground, so that pretty much rules out colonies without an expensive concrete pad. 

I'm providing each rabbit with 14 square foot of hutch space....a 2'x5' floor and 2'x2' lounging shelf. 
The shelf gives them a little "den" for privacy. 

Right now the rabbits have to stay in their hutches, but I plan to build some grazing pens. The floors of those pens will be wire mesh that the grass can grow up through, but it will keep the rabbits up off the ground and prevent them from digging out. Plus importantly, it will prevent mongooses from digging in. I'm not sure yet what the dimensions will be, but I'd like to give the rabbits a chance to hop around and do whatever rabbit behavior they feel like doing--- except for digging out. Sorry Bugs, no digging here in Hawaii. So I'm thinking along the lines of 3'x20'. I'll build one then see what the rabbits think about it before making any others. If the adults aren't impressed, then it will still make a fine weaning pen. 

By the way, well over 50% of the lumber for the hutches is reused material that I've been saving, just waiting for a project to be used on. I used cut up pallets to support the lounging shelves. All the metal roofing is old used pieces but I am using a couple panels of new green fiberglass roofing because I didn't have enough old roofing to do the whole job. All the wire mesh is new. Some of the hinges and latches are used stuff but I had to buy some new because I needed so many. The bunnys' water bowls are all what-not items bought cheaply at yard sales. 

For right now, the manure falls to the ground under the hutches. I put some logs around the bottom to keep the chickens from scratching the manure all over the place. I don't mind them picking out bugs and worms, but I want to collect that manure for the garden. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Different Farming Styles

I get asked a lot of questions about how I'm farming, what method do I use to grow our food. People often are looking for the ultimate answer, the one true method to raise food for themselves. Well, there isn't any one true method, I tell them. It all depends.....on a lot of different factors. Every person has to decide and discover for themselves what works for them. 

To develop what works for me, I had to make a lot of decisions. Did I want to use the chemical approach, organic, biodynamic, permaculture, natural farming, etc? But why not use a mix of these methods? The purists act like one cannot use a little of this, a bit of that. But I've found that small growers working "down in the trenches" have no qualms of mixing the methods. I talk with plenty of successful small growers who do not adhere to any one particular farming philosophy. 
Today I briefly visited a small farm down the road from me. He's gradually expanding the square footage of growing space. He's approaching my own square footage, though 100% of his production is geared for human consumption while I have over half my growing area in livestock feed production. 
He's operating primarily as a CSA with 25 members. He's soon expanding that to 35 members. He's been pretty successful in his efforts. But boy, we both have quite different approaches to producing food. 

In some ways we've both discovered similar things that work for us. Like-- beds rather than rows; permanent  walkways; mixed farming philosophies rather than adhering to just one method, rototilling for bed preparation. 

We differ in a number of ways.....
...He bulldozed off the top 4-6 inches of soil in order to eliminate grass, weeds, and to flatten the area. I retained all my topsoil, filled in low areas to achieve a flat growing space, and tackled the weed problem with close grazing, tilling, mulch, and ag vinegar sprays. 
...He installed an extensive drip irrigation system. While I have dreamt about having such a system, I have not been able to justify the expense of the pipes, pumps, filtration, fertilizer injector, and miles of hose. Keeping such a system working can be a real headache. Plus I'd have to purchase commercial fertilizer for such a system which is contrary to my self-sufficient approach. While he has county water that is relatively clean and under high pressure, I have catchment water that is "dirty" and requires the use of a home pump. He also has grid electricity while I work off of a small solar system for the gardens. Thus he has the necessary basics for a drip system, and I don't. 
...He opts to use liquid fertilizer delivered via drip irrigation. His set up is "one size fits all" meaning that everything gets the same amount of fertilizer. Much easier on him, but wasteful of fertilizer which eventually escapes into the water table. Not my choice. I prefer to go with nature's method of decomposing organic material and micro organisms, plus re-mineralization of the soil. Less fertilizer escapes and ends up in the ground water this way. 
...He prefers working with bare soil. I prefer using mulches. 
...He has two very large greenhouses for crops wanting higher temperatures. Here again, I have a difficult time justifying the expense at this point in my homestead development. So I have to fiddle with alternative methods. 
...He uses a mix of methods for controlling pests and diseases. I opt to use organic or non-chemical methods. 
...He uses numerous people to operate his farm. I prefer to work alone. 
...He grows only vegetables. I grow fruit, veggies, grain, livestock feed, plus chickens, rabbits, pigs, and sheep. 
...He targets a retail market in order to create cash income. I grow food to feed ourselves and share with others. 

We both produce food. We both seem to be pretty happy with our methods and results. So who has the best method? Both! It comes down to what works best for each of us and what we're satisfied with. 

Drivel - Tai Chi

Part of the fun of moving to Hawaii is that I've been exposed to activities I never dreamed of participating in before. I knew they existed, but I looked at them with my Eastcoast disdain. Only after being here awhile did I finally try a few. 

     Luckily my first exposure to yoga was a gentle form aimed at seniors. The emphasis was on breathing, getting in touch with one's body, balance, posture, relaxation, stretching. The instructor's voice was incredibly soothing. Within a couple of sessions I was hooked because by practicing some of my yoga I was able to fall asleep so much faster. Various yoga exercises are now permanently incorporated into my life, little things like breathing, checking posture, relaxing. I'm not into all those exotic positions like I've see in many yoga classes, but I do greet each morning with the gentle yoga I first learned. It has helped not just physically but also mentally. Working hard on homestead and house projects, I often ache and find myself slouching because of it. The yoga training helps me get my body back in balance, relieving back and shoulder aching. 

      Before moving here I never placed any value on massage. But building a house and creating a homestead just beat up my body something fierce. I was really out of shape when I arrived, so when I started working all my muscles complained, my legs ached, my back and neck screamed, my arms were killing me. My knees drove me to doctors who wanted to do various surgeries. On the prodding from a dear person I much admired, I tried medical massage. I am incredibly thankful. Medical massage is another of those things that I've incorporated into my life now. People have asked me what's it like. Well, it depends upon the masseuse for sure. I've settled on using two, going to the one who is most effective for the particular problem that's bothering me at the time. I haven't tried a chiropractor yet, but I think most of my problems are soft tissue issues rather than bone alignments. A few sessions of massage usually gets me back online again. After a particularly hard week, a couple days of massage seems to help fix me up. 

Tai Chi:
       My latest addition....and the blog title. While in Taiwan I had often watched people doing tai chi in the mornings. I found it mesmerizing. I wanted to be able to do that. Just recently I've had the opportunity to join a beginners class offering a graceful and gentle form of tai chi. I'll tell you, I'm hooked. Like gentle yoga, the emphasis is upon balance and body, but also on memory. And heaven knows that I could use better memory! 
I'm not a graceful sort of person. More like a workhorse rather than a ladies riding horse. So I tend to be pretty mechanical in my movements. But tai chi hopefully will change that. I wouldn't mind being a bit more graceful. I am definitely improving my balance. More so than with yoga, I'm becoming more aware of the movement of my body parts. I'm learning to slow things down. Learning how improved posture leads to better balance. Surprisingly to me, I find that tai chi really uses muscle strength. Because movements are slow, it takes decent strength to hold ones arms, legs, and body in the various movements. 
I've been through one ten week learning session so far and am eagerly looking forward to the next set of classes starting in September. Like my gentle yoga and medical massage, tai chi is becoming a constant companion. Homesteading and house building is hard on me (I'm not complaining. I love what I'm doing), so if these three activities help keep me functioning well bodywise and mentally, then they are winners. Whenever I find myself slipping into "hyper gear", doing a bit of the tai chi movements brings me back to the slower lifestyle that I prefer. Even after 12 years I find its far too easy to fall back into that Eastcoast hectic mode whenever I get stressed. Gee, a lifelong ingrained habit is easy tough to beat. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Cucumbers Galore!

Recently the community garden has been flush with cucumbers. Plus my own gardens are pumping out far too many cukes too. Must be the combination of summertime and lots of rain. There have been so many cukes in the community garden that the volunteers aren't taking them all. So what to do with the glut of cucumbers? There's no way I can throw them up into the compost! 

Hubby doesn't like cucumbers all that much. So only a small amount ends up in his salads and stir fries (yes, they are good cooked), not enough to make a dent in the harvest. I'm a pickle lover, so I've made a few jars of pickles, enough to last me a long time. Humm....still too many cukes. There's lots of recipes for using cucumbers, but again, hubby's not fond of them. 

I've resorted to making some cucumber dishes for trading purposes. Some pickles, of course. Some cucumber salad and cucumber salad dressing for a friend who supplies me with goat milk. 

I recently discovered that I like a cucumber smoothie, much like cold cucumber soup. Blend up a juicy, very ripe cuke along with some yogurt, dill, onion or garlic chives. Yum. I made one using mint and basil instead of dill and chives. Yum. Sometimes I add a bit of milk so that it blends easier, other times it's ice cubes. I'm getting hooked on these for breakfasts. 

One of the community garden volunteers makes cucumber ice cream. It's sounds weird, but it is really good tasting. Everybody loves it. 

I still had an excess. I gave some to a veggie seller at the farmers market. I took a pile to the senior center to hand out. Any that have blemishes I'm feeding to the rabbits. They greedily love them. So at last, none have to become compost. At least somebody benefits from them. 

The bummer is that the cuke vines have stopped flowering for now. So shortly I'm going to be in the opposite situation, cukeless. Looks like it's either feast or famine. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

"Don't Let Your Children Grow Up To Be Farmers"

I wanted to share a good entry Jenna posted on her blog.

There's money to be made in corporate farming for sure. The proof is that our giant food corps are thriving and control many of the actions our government takes. Their CEOs and upper management are comfortably wealthy. Medium to large independent farmers often are able to make a decent living, depending upon a lot of factors, in spite of Big Ag. But then, it's to Big Ags benefit for them to survive since successful large farmers are their main customers. Very few small farmers actually make a decent living, and it's usually a struggle. Most small farms have to have off-farm or non-farm oriented income. I know some that run on-site repair shops, make art to sell to galleries, build furniture, teach at the local community college, have part time jobs in town. The homestead style farm definitely doesn't make a livable profit. A small family can live off their farm as long as they don't mind poverty, but homestead farming isn't profitable under today's government regulations. 

So why homestead or small farm? Each person who doggedly stays on their homestead/small farm regardless of the money problems knows that's there's more to it than $. As Jenna says in her blog, ....I'd like to publish it here for those of you who don't know how to navigate to Cold Antler Farm....

<<<Let your children grow up to become farmers. Let them know what it is like to be free from fluorescent lights and laser-pointer meetings. Let them challenge themselves to be forever resourceful and endlessly clever. Let them whistle and sing loud as they like without getting called into an office for "disturbing the workforce." Let them commute down a winding path with birdsong instead of a freeway's constant growl. Let them be bold. Let them be romantic. Let them grow up not having to ask another adult for permission to go to the dentist at 2PM on a Thursday. Let them get dirty. Let them kill animals. Let them cry at the beauty of fallow earth they just signed the deed for. Let them bring animals into this world, and realize they don’t care about placenta on their shirt because they no longer care about shirts. Let them wake up during a snowstorm and fight drifts at the barn door instead of traffic. Let them learn what real work is. Let them find happiness in the understanding that success and wealth are not the same thing. Let them skip the fancy wedding. Let them forget four years of unused college. Let them go. Let them go home. 

Farming never has been, and never will be, an easy life but for many it is an easy choice. For me it was the only choice. Perhaps that is what it takes? Being a farmer means wanting to do it more than anything else. It means giving up things other people take for granted as givens, like travel and the latest fashion, new cars and 401k plans. It means making choices your peers won’t understand, your family will disapprove of, and other farmers will scoff at. It means making a decision and owning it,really owning it the way few people get to own anything in their lives anymore. Let your children grow up to know this responsibility. Let them literally put food on the table, lift up their bootstraps, and learn how much effort a life worth living entails.>>>

Good food from good effort and the good earth. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Attack of the Pickleworm!

Pickleworm moth. Ugh! I hates 'em, I do. The first time they attacked my garden, I hadn't the foggiest idea what they were. But I quickly learned. 

Pickleworms go after a number of crops. Cucumbers. Squashes, both summer and winter types. Pumpkin. Watermelon. Gourds. Melons in general. USDA reports indicate that the moth prefers some crops over others, but here on my farm, the moths are non-discriminating. They go for them all about the same. 
Above, an adult moth. (Photo by John Capinera, U of Florida)

The adult moths are your standard little night moths. They hide during the day. 

I've found the little pickleworm maggots inside squash blossoms, destroying the interior. They leave a round little hole in an unopened flower.
(Photo by John Capinera, U of Florida)

But mostly they enter young fruits. Often very young fruits abort because they are damaged so quickly. But others continue to grow. If attacked late, the fruits will actually grow large enough to harvest. If there isn't a lot of damage, I can cut away the ruined spots and use the rest of the veggie to eat. The pickleworm infestation doesn't ruin the eating quality of the undamaged areas. 

How can I tell I've got pickleworm? Easy. Look for their holes. On flowers sometimes. Mostly on the fruits themselves. And if I see a tiny yellowed aborted fruit, I now know that it's pickleworm. While I was learning, I use to break the fruits open and I'd find a small maggot. Aha, busted! Pickleworm! 

Here's a cucumber with a hole. Cut open it looked like this......
There's the little maggot. Can't see it? Here it is again where I moved it for better viewing.....
This little guy is in it's final instar stage. It's ready to pupate and become a moth. Younger instar stages have rows of little spots running down their bodies. At first I thought I had two different pests, but then I read that the last instar stage loses its spots. 

How to control pickleworms? I can opt to do a couple of things. 
.....grow parthenocarpic cucumbers in a screen cage. The screen keeps the moths out. And parthenocarpic means that it doesn't need to be pollinated. 
.....cover the crop with screen, reemay cloth, or even plain sheets during the night and remove them during the day. This keeps moths out at night and allows bee access during the day for pollination purposes. 
.....grow the crops in a screen cage and hand pollinate
.....bag each female flower and hand pollinate. If too many male flowers are being destroyed, then bag some of them too for a source of pollen. 
.....spray flowers inside and out with dipel frequently and after each rain. That is hard to do during wet years, but much easier during drought years. It is a daily job because new flowers are always emerging. 
.....set out moth traps. Homemade moth traps help, but they also catch plenty of other night insects, some of which are beneficial. 

I've found that growing pickle type cucumbers is better. Less pickleworm damage even if I do nothing. And growing the crops in tall grass helps. Guess the moth has a harder time finding and getting to the flowers and fruits. I've managed to harvest pumpkins by simply letting the vines run through tall grass. Of course it's a bear to find the blasted pumpkins, so I have just as hard a time as the moths! 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Reasons For Growing My Own Food

Cindy asked via email, "Why are you so set in growing your own food? You preach frugality, but isn't it really cheaper to buy food from the stores? Plant fertilizer is expensive and so are seeds. And you have to buy all those garden tools. If you add up all the costs, supermarket food is a better deal. You'd save a lot of money." 

Well Cindy, if I was just growing a little garden, yes, those few tomatoes or few beans would be very expensive. It wouldn't make much sense from a money saving viewpoint to shell out , for example, $100 for seeds, $100 for fertilizer, $400 for tools, and put hours of labor into producing a little food. But I have plenty of reasons why I think raising my own food is worth it. Let me discuss a few....

...pride in knowing that I can be self reliant. There's a deep satisfaction knowing that I can survive. If the stores closed tomorrow due to war, strike, or other catastrophe, I wouldn't go hungry. And it's because of me, I can do it. contributes to my kakou, my sense of being part of a community, of belonging here, of being "we" rather than "I". The food I produce is often used in trade with others or shared outright within my community. Having never been part of a community before, I have been amazed how great it feels to share food with others, share with no strings attached. It's the no strings attached that is new to me. I anticipate and expect nothing in return. Since living here I have been the recipient of such sharing and it is still surprising to me. 
...fresh fruits and vegetables. Freshness and flavor go hand in hand. To us, fresh foods are superior to anything that can be purchased in a store. My veggies and fruits mature on the plant, rather than being harvested early for shipping purposes. 
...fresh eggs from content hens. Fresh eggs are superior. The flavor depends upon what the hens eat, and mine get very little commercial feed with their diverse diet. They have daily access to pasture in the afternoons and get an assortment of foods in their feed bowls. It makes a difference in the frying pan. Happy hens are important too. While my hens do not free range 24 hours a days they do voluntarily go back to their pen each evening after hunting and foraging in the pasture all afternoon. A much better life than any commercial hen. 
...humane, grass fed meats. Mass production meat and slaughter is not humane, in my opinion. I am relieved to now be able to eat predominantly humane meat. Most of my meats are either home raised, open pastured, or hunted. Besides being more humane, I find that this meat has a flavor I prefer. Sometimes not as tender fall-off-your-fork, but surely tastier. Home produced lamb and pork has the added bonus of being able to be "harvested" at a much earlier age than commercial meats, thus it is tenderer and superior in every way. 
...safer, cleaner food. Commercial foods are far too often contaminated in some way. Antibiotic resistant E. coli, salmonella, listeria, etc. Chemical residues from herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, etc. Purposeful dousing with assorted chemicals to enhance store shelf life, extend longterm storage life, suppress sprouting, retain or give color to, etc. And that's just the fresh foods. What they do to processed foods is mind boggling. Cheeses that never mold even after 9 months in your refrigerator, bread that ferments after 4 weeks but never molds, ice cream sandwiches that get soft but don't melt. A whole list of chemicals listed in the ingredients, plus lots not required to be listed. Foods being modified in bizarre ways. Then there are those foods brought in from unregulated areas. Most of it is never inspected when it's imported. 
...GMO free. I don't produce any GMO foods. While some GMO foods pass my acceptance protocols, others don't. I will eat GMO papayas. But I don't want to support the excessive use of roundup thus round-up ready GMO are out. I've seen reports that higher levels of roundup is now showing up in food, and that is a concern to me. source safe from the effects of shipping strikes and disasters affecting important commercial farms. I'm told that Hawaii ships in 90% of its food. Therefore shipping strikes can have a serious impact here. And anything that effects commercial farms on a big scale certainly impacts the availability, affordability of food. modified foods in my diet. No pink slime, high fructose corn syrup, modified starch, gums, etc. No artificial foods such as colorings, texturizers, flavorings. No fake crab meat, no imitation anything. from terrorism. No fear of my food being sabotaged by some wacko or terroristic group trying to make a political statement. Just picture it, killing one little old lady won't do much for their international image. It surely won't cause the President and Congress to faint in horror. So I figure my garden is safe. Besides, the farm guard dogs do a good job at keeping strangers at a distance. from food fraud. My lamb isn't secretly old donkey or fox meat. My tilapia won't be some sort of secret trash fish. My honey isn't modified sugar water. 
...I don't indirectly support things I don't want to. For example, I'm not an advocate of monoculture. I don't wish to help support the economy of certain political regimes. Nor support what I consider the unfair exploitation of certain ag workers....children, slaves, coerced labor, and the conditions those people have to work and live in. money. Now that sounds like the opposite than Cindy's experience. Sure, store bought food is cheaper if I had to buy commercial livestock feed, commercial fertilizer, commercial pesticides, commercial seed, commercial ........ See the pattern? If I were hooked into everything being commercial sourced, then home food production would indeed be pricey. But I don't buy most of my supplies. My operation is small and thus doesn't require large equipment nor employees. I can eat a large selection of foods that would be rather pricey in the stores. And a bonus of living where I am, I don't have to go to the expense of storing food for winter. I can grow food year around. But even if I lived back in NJ, I'd still be better off eating my home raised foods. I'd just need to come up with methods to economically store foods. And learn to eat seasonally. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Piglet Update

The two baby piglets are growing. They are too strong and wiggly now for me to weigh, but I'm sure they have tripled their weight since they arrived. 
I've been using temporary fencing for making their pen so that I can shift them to new locations. This arrangement seems to be fine with baby pigs but probably wouldn't work for adults. When these guys get too big I may need to run a string of electric fence in order to keep them from rubbing themselves along the fence, thus knocking it down. We shall see what happens as they grow.

That are already in their second pen, having thoroughly rotorooted the first one. The beauty of encouraging them to root is that I'll be able to turn their old pens into garden areas. Let them do the tilling, weed eating, root and rock removal. 
Both these piglets are mostly feral Hawaiian pigs. There's a tad of domestic, but obviously not much. So their instinct is to be spooky and hyper alert. And smart! They are quick learners, coming when called. They don't like being touched or scratched, but tolerate it as long as there is food in their bowls. 
When I let them into their new pen, they were fun the watch. Sampled the grass. Sniffed everywhere. Then broke out into a wild game of tag. They ran, darted, faked turns, jumped over each other, barked and huffed. Such joy! Like watching puppies play chase games. 

This pen, which is 15' x 15' should last them about 3-4 weeks, I'm guessing. Then I'll have to move the panels and their doghouse to the next location. I'm just assuming that as they grow bigger that they will go through a pen faster each time. 

Grass Clipping Mulch

I'm a big user of mulch, number one for weed control. During drought years, mulch is a major water conservation method. And another major use for mulch is to provide a good environment for the various soil micro organisms, which are what decompose the organic matter thus creating fertilizer for the plants. Lastly, mulch helps maintain an active worm population. 

My most often used mulch is grass clippings. Why? It's what I have the most of. I'd really prefer using our county mulch, but it's no longer available to me in vast quantities at an affordable cost. The county mulch is composed of mostly coconut tree trimmings and made an excellent soil amendment. But it is no longer being delivered to Ka'u. So I've had to resort to my number two favorite....clippings. 

Since I'm a big user of mulch, I finally upgraded from a hand push style mower to a riding tractor. I don't regret the upgrade at all. 
With all the abundant recent rain combined with the time of year, summer, the grass has been growing by leaps and bounds. So I've had no shortage of grass to harvest. The main problem is finding days when the grass is dry enough for mowing. 

I can harvest quite a bit of clippings in just two hours. 
The easiest way I've found so far for transporting the clippings is by loading them into trashcans. 
It might seem to be faster to simply fork them into the back of the pickup truck then unload from there, but that proved not to be the case. I find the trashcan method to be easier on me and take less time. 

When I apply this mulch, I don't pile it too thick. About a 4 inch fluffy layer is enough. That will compress down to around 1 to 1 inch in a week. Just about right. Thick enough to smother germinating weed seeds. Thin enough to allow most rains to reach the soil. If applied too thickly, then the clippings have a tendency to get gloppy and slippery, a sign of anaerobic decomposition. Since I want oxygen to be able to reach the soil, anaerobic decomposition is not good. Another problem of the mulch being too thick is that I get mice living in it. Mice will eat my vegetables. Not good either. 

Do I see slugs? You bet! But then, I see slugs even without mulch. The mulch offers me plenty of benefits, so I'll just deal with the slugs. 

Did you notice tractor, red truck, red trashcans? Actually yellow and green are my favorite colors, but I'm definitely attracted to red. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Hurricane Iselle

This hurricane has been an interesting lesson. Lots of people had said that Mauna Loa would deflect a hurricane. Many others, including all the weather people, said the volcano wouldn't affect a hurricane. Now Iselle is showing that the truth is somewhere between those two extremes. 

Up until late last night, the predicted path showed Iselle making landfall and crossing the island at Volcano. This would have had the hurricane crossing directly over Mauna Loa. But Mauna Loa proved to an immovable object that somehow affected Iselle. According to radar, the shape of the hurricane sort of splated when it met Mauna Loa. The course changed and now Pahala became the official landing zone. That's quite south of Volcano. Iselle slowed in its path dramatically, then started to reorganize and go on a path wrapping south around Mauna Loa. So now instead of tracking north of Mauna Loa and up the Hilo side, it is oozing to  the south and heading to go south of Kona. 
(Above, runoff from the mountain down a dry gulch. This gulch seldom ever sees water, only in the heaviest rains.)

Because the storm is traveling so much slower than predicted, rain amounts will be higher than projected. As of 9 am, I already have 8.8" of rain at the homestead. According to the radar, rain will continue for a couple more hours but I don't know if it will be heavy or light. 
(Above, looks like a natural waterfall, right? No, it's just rain runoff. Water from the rain is being diverted into a culvert that prevents flooding.)

As of 9 am, there hasn't been a breathe of wind. Just about 9:30 the tree branches started to very gently move. So it looks like we could get some wind from the back part of the storm, maybe. The center of the storm is passing our area as the storm is reorganizing and starting its path out to sea. 
Above, water runs down a culvert, emptying out onto the field beyond. No, that's not a stream or lake. It's normally dry grass. From the grassy area the water will flow out into non-used land where it will seep into the lava lands. None will reach the ocean on the surface. 
I ran down into town this morning at 7 am and hardly a soul was around. Lots of emergency trucks cruising around looking for trouble, but the town was quiet. The only people I saw were out taking photos. No trees down anywhere. Just a few spots where water had been flowing across the highway. 
Nothing serious so far. Not out of the usual for a heavy rainfall. Frankly, I've seen a LOT worse in the past. 

The culvert in town was draining a lot of water. Lots of soil in the water. 
One of the street drains formed a cute waterfall into the culvert. 
I snapped this photo of the water rushing by, then got into a brief conversation with a county emergency worker. While we were chatting, the sound of the rushing water increased significantly. We turned so find that the water level had risen a good 10"-12" and that the entire bottom of the culvert was now covered. The water had begun to form waves, resulting in the higher noise level. Hummm, time to leave.....just in case the water got worse. One good thing from this though, the culvert got cleaned out. For years it's been accumulating leaves, branches, and bits of trash. 
This is the 5:15 am radar showing that the storm had shifted south. Parts continued up the Hamakua coast and to Maui, but the main body turned south, wrapping around the south flanks of Mauna Loa. 

So it seems that a hurricane can't cross directly over Mauna Loa. It's got to split and flow around it. Interesting. I wonder if the hurricane were larger if it would act the same? I don't think I'm all that curious to find out.

I checked a weather satellite feed and got these pictures of Iselle being soundly defeated by Mauna Loa. ......

11 am radar showed Iselle reorganizing south of South Point and heading basically west. The white cloudy areas east and north of Big Island contains plenty of rain and wind still. But the worse punch of the storm seems to be pau (done). 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Double Hurricane Warning

I've been getting lots of concerned emails, folks worried about those two hurricanes heading our way. Rest assured, we'll be fine. The media is making a big deal about this, actually causing people here to get worked up. Maybe that's good for those who are too laid back about taking precautions, but just about everybody here is always prepared for heavy rain and brisk winds. They're totally normal here. Now if these hurricanes were category 3 or above, then that would be a different story. 

Houses on the coast might experience trouble. The winds can really whip up the waves. And people with big eucalyptus trees, breadfruit trees, or albezia trees too near their buildings might be at risk. Yikes, I've got giant eucalyptus trees!!! Oh well. Such is life. But we took the big one near the house down a couple of years ago out of concern over high winds. Our house is surrounded by large ohia trees. Yes there is risk, but not enough to cause us to evacuate. The barn is more at risk because some of the giant eucalyptus trees could reach the barn if they blew down in the right direction. I wouldn't mind seeing the wind take out some of the higher branches. Wind pruning can be good. And I've got a chainsaw for clean up. 

In my own area, people are not freaking out. Yes, they are freaking out in some areas, but not in Ka'u. Ka'u residents have been through higher winds many times. And rains of over 10 inches are not all that rare. No one has bothered to go crazy buying stuff. But then, people in my area tend to already have basic supplies stockpiled because of two things.......we're a long distance from Costco and Walmart, so people stock up......there's always the chance of tsunami or lava, so people stay prepared. 

It will be interesting if the hurricane actually hits Big Island. Historically there is no record of one doing that. Many people think that a direct hit to Ka'u can't happen. So we shall see. Since I've been living here, the hurricanes heading right for us have always either veered away or broken up into tropical storms. This first one is forecast to smack Ka'u right on the nose, so it will be a good test. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Kukui nuts

Around here we have a lot of kukui trees, also known as candlenut trees. As one of my numerous self-reliancy explorations, I wondered what these nuts could be used for. Checking into their historical use, I discovered that Hawaiians had used them for medicine, food (though sparingly), oil for a variety of uses, and as an oil to burn. Light was produced by both burning the nuts themselves and by extracting the oil to be burnt in lamps. 

My first thought was how to process the nuts to get the oil. I didn't find any directions on how to do this, so I began toying around with them. I processed the nuts in a variety of fashions, and finally settled on this.....
1- collect fallen nuts from trees. Can be green mature, partially dry, or dry. It doesn't seem to make much difference except that the dry ones come out of the shells easier. 
...husk them to get just the hard shelled, heart shaped nut. 
Above...this green one is three lobed, indicating that there are three nuts in this one.
I separated the three lobes. Very easy to do just using your hands but I prefer using a kitchen knife.
Again just using my fingers, I pop each nut out. The nut is encased in a loose fitting inner husk which is easy to remove.
Above is a much drier husk and nut, which falls apart very easily.
Today's collection of nuts, all dehusked and ready to be rinsed off.

2- rinse them off just to make them nicer to handle. They can be pretty slippery and stinky. 
3- boil them for five minutes. Cool. Spread out in the sun to dry. I do this in order to kill the bugs, fungi, molds. You could most likely skip this step but I prefer to do it. 
Above, washed, boiled nuts ready to be cracked open.

4- crack them open to extract the nut meat. Hitting them with a hammer works, the old "puka and a rock" method also works good. I prefer to use a hammer and puka (hole in a big rock). 
Rock with a puka (hole). 
Nut in the puka ready for cracking. 
One tap and it's cracked. 
This nut came out whole! 
Above, nutmeats in the front tray, empty shell in the round plastic bowl on the rightmost shells with nutmeat adhering to them in the left tray. I use a small kitchen knife to scrape out the nutmeat before discarding those shells. 

5- store the nut meat in the freezer until I have enough worth running the dehydrater (or dry small batches on the car dashboard if we are having bright sunny days). 
6- once the nuts are well dried, run them through the Petella oil extractor. 
7- store the oil in the frig or freezer until it is used. 

Now I'm sure that there are people who use different methods, but this works fine for me. Im told that some people roast the nuts in an oven before extracting the oil, and I suppose that's fine too. But my method works too. It gives me a nice oil that doesn't go rancid fast. If I didn't already own an oil extractor, I would try using a food processor. Just make a nut paste and let it sit. The oil should rise to the surface. If using a food processor, roasting the nuts first would make sense.

I prefer to deshell the nuts when they are super fresh because it gives me a real fresh light colored oil. In the past I use to dry the nuts for a couple weeks before cracking which resulted in mostly whole nuts but the oil was darker and had a string smell I did not like. So I tried deshelling the nuts without drying them, and discovered I liked the oil better. 

...Skin oil. Since moving to Hawaii, I seldom have problems with dry skin anymore, but occasionally I'll get some itchy, scaly patches or wind chapped skin. The oil nicely moisturturizes these areas and they seem to go away quickly. It also soothes lightly sunburned skin. I've never tried it on serious sunburn, since I avoid getting that badly burned. 
...Hair treatment. If I've been out in the tradewinds all day, my hair looks worse than usual. I'm constantly sporting the flyaway look anyway because that's what my hair does, but sunny windy days makes my hair even worse. I'll put oil on a soft hairbrush and brush it into my hair all over just before I'm due to wash it. I'll let it sit for 5-10 minutes before showering and washing my hair. That seems to make my hair behave better for awhile. 
...Wood treatment. Since the oil is non toxic, I use it in wooden spoons, cutting board, and other wooden items in the kitchen. It gives the wood a nice matt finish. 
...Soap making. I gave a supply to a local soap maker and she made some nice soaps using it. The soaps had a nice creamy lather with a good feel. 
...Crafts and jewelry. The whole kukui nuts can be buffed, sanded, polished or otherwise worked to make them quite attractive. They make nice leis and wrist bracelets. Of course that means that one cannot harvest the nut meat to make oil. 
...Fire starters. I've cracked the nuts then lit them to use as fire starters. It works but not as easy or well as wax/sawdust starters. 

I've never tried it yet, but I've read in a number of sources that Hawaiians used the oil to burn for light. One of these days I'm going to try putting some in a tiki torch and see what happens. 

Zero waste on the homestead ----  the removed husks and waste nut meat goes into the compost or simply gets dug into the garden. The cracked shells are used on any muddy spots of the garden walkways in order to give better traction and avoid slipping.