Sunday, November 30, 2014

Twig Faggots

Jerry contacted me via email complaining about my idea of using twigs for firewood. He felt that they weren't worth the effort because they were so difficult to use. He had trouble getting them into a burning firebox, they made a mess, and he had to keep repeatedly adding twigs every few minutes. So I guess I need to elaborate on my twig usage. 

I do in fact use twigs all they time. They are easy to get going for a fire and produce heat quickly. But they do need a bit of refinement as to their handling. Here's what I do.....

In the course of ground maintenance I come upon windfallen twigs all the time. The best thing about using them is that they are dead and quite dry, ready for burning. And they are usually brittle enough to mostly break up by hand. So when I'm doing cleaning up or pulling weeds, I'll cast the twigs into a pile as I move along. Then later I'll come back for those small piles, gathering them up in the wheelbarrow to transport them to a central location for processing, usually the lowered tailgate of my pickup truck. It puts the twigs at a comfortable waist high. 

By processing I mean turning them into twig faggots. I had seen a picture decades ago of an Italian farmer who made twig faggots by lining up equal sized twigs then tying them into a bundle with string. I tried that and it was far too tedious and wasteful for me. It took my forever to make a pile of faggots that I burned up in just one evening. Plus they were still awkward to get into a burning stove.  So I abandoned the idea. But since starting this homestead I revisited the idea. I had scads of twigs here that had to be of some use other than being just landfill. So I experimented. 

The method I came up with that works for me is to make rolled up newspaper twig faggots. The beauty of this that even tiny twig pieces get utilized and no need to be exact while breaking up the twigs. I'll use one sheet of folded newspaper to make a faggot. I could use more but one seems to do the job. I'll lay out the sheet as shown......
One full sheet. Then folded just like it was in the newspaper it came from ---

Now I'll break up the twigs and pile them on so that they don't go much beyond the edges of the paper. Why? Because that's the length that fits into my stove. 

I don't try to make the faggot too thick. Thinner is better than thicker. If there are too many twigs it is difficult to roll the faggot and make it stay rolled. And if it's too fat, it's harder to put into the stove. 

I'll roll a faggot then store it in a suitable sized cardboard box. As the faggots fill the box they hold one another together. The cardboard box is also lightweight for carrying, keeps any dirt or twig bits from messing up the place, and is a handy way of storing them. 

Making faggots this way means that any size twig can be used. There is no need to be neat and careful. There is no string tying. Rolling goes fairly quickly. Anything too thick to hand break or crack over the edge of the tailgate or under my foot gets put in a pile for cutting up with the chop saw. So there's no waste either. 
These branch pieces, above, were too strong for me to break under my foot. So they get sawn into 6"-8" lengths. 
Then they stored in old feed bags. I prefer the smaller cat food bags only because when full they are still light enough for me to carry into the house. 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Living With a Cesspool

Having a cesspool is fairly common for many homesteaders. Cesspools are still commonly found in rural areas. Our own homestead uses a cesspool instead of a septic system. 

Prior to moving here, we had experience with cesspools on our first property we lived on back in the early 1970's. It had two cesspools, one for the kitchen & clothes washer, and one for everything else. The kitchen one failed on us so we had the opportunity to learn why. Reason -- soap, grease, too much water, too many chemicals. That cesspool was quite small and was 30+ years old, so our poor habits just nudged it over the edge to failure. The second cesspool was functioning beautifully and the last I heard, it is still doing fine today. 

After that first place, all our residences had septic systems. Oh they had their own issues, but they weren't cesspools. But here we are today, back again with a cesspool. 

We've learned by example, experience, and advice that one should care for their cesspool. It's just another one of things about being self reliant. And our particular cesspool needs tender loving care because its an old fashion type with no cleanout port. There is a 4" pipe opening so that water could be pumped out but no way to clean out the sludge along the walls. So in order to have this cesspool last, we need to be very careful. 

So what steps do we take? Quite a few. Perhaps not all of the are necessary, but it makes us feel better that we are doing them. The one thing that we don't do that we hear some other people do use additives. Everything we've been told by the pros says that here in Hawaii the cesspool doesn't need any bacteria or "good bugs" added. The ground is warm enough to support cesspool "bugs". 

So what else? Basically the goal is that only poop, pee, and normal flush water goes into the cesspool. Very little of anything else. That means no grey water which in turn means... garbage disposal kitchen sink. No greasy dish water! No dishwasher. clothes washer shower or tub water
...minimal toilet paper. Zero is better. (I wrap used toilet paper in a piece of newspaper then pop it into the wood burning stove. Hubby can't bring himself to deal with "toxic waste" without a full hazmat suit, so his toilet paper gets flushed.) non-degradable stuff such as paint, chemicals, oils, dental floss, baby wipes, condoms, tampons, old medications, etc. 

Too much water can cause cesspool failure. So grey water is better channeled to a banana patch. Our house shower and sinks all bypass the cesspool. But excess water could also come from a leaky toilet.So any toilet leaking has to be remedied right away. But if sinks were plumbed to the cesspool, then we'd have to be aware of water use. No constantly running the faucet while brushing teeth, washing dishes, etc and watch out for dripping faucets. 

Excess water can also come from outdoor situations. When building the house we had to be aware of rain runoff, downspout discharge, runoff from paved areas. While we don't have a pool or hot tub, they should not be emptied near a cesspool. But we do have small ponds and catchment tanks, so overflow from them had to be channeled away from the cesspool. 

The pros say that cesspools last 10-15 yrs before trouble starts. But they can last a lifetime if properly installed in good soil and if properly maintained. 

The pros also say...
...don't build that house addition over the cesspool
...don't park your car on the cesspool
...don't pave a driveway atop the cesspool
...don't plant a tree on the cesspool
...don't drill your water well beside your cesspool
Apparently people have done those things. Incredible! 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Drivel - The Blogger

Yes, I've become a full fledged blogger. Two years ago I didn't even know what blogging was, and now here I sit, pretty dedicated to blogging about homestead farming. Who'd have known? I'm no techie, don't have a facebook page, never tweeted. But I've become hooked on the Internet. Humph, not bad for an old geezer....not bad at'll. 

One thing I enjoy doing is teaching. Not in a schoolroom, but one-on-one with a willing pupil. I like sharing info. So blogging about my homestead adventure is somewhat like teaching. It is passing knowledge along to others. I answer plenty of questions not only about farming, but also about Hawaii in general. Many people thinking about moving here ask questions or seek help. I try to answer as many of these emails as I can, though sometimes it's overwhelming. I am truly surprised to see how many people visit a blog about homesteading in Hawaii. But I do let people know that I'm not the expert about any of this. I can only relate about my own experiences. 

Because we are building our own house, I also get building questions. And I think I've demonstrated that I'm not even close to being an expert on house construction. We are learning as we go. And we've learned a whole lot more about how NOT to do something than on how to do it right the first time around. But all in all, it's been fun and I've enjoyed the adventure. 

I can say the same about's been fun and I'm enjoying the adventure. 

If you're thinking about trying blogging, go ahead. It's actually easy. Hey, it's got to be if I was able to figure it out! I use But there are other blogging tools and websites out there. isn't the only one. Good luck and have fun! 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

New Thanksgiving Day Lamb

Thanksgiving Day has brought to the homestead another reason to be thankful......a new lamb! Goldie disappeared a couple days ago into the wooded section of the back pasture. Ewes often find a secluded spot to lamb. This morning she brought her new baby to the flock. He's a big boy, strong, and wide eyed. He's sticking close to mom. 

This lamb's destiny is the freezer. Raising food is a fact of life on a farm. Some animals become our food. The female lambs I tend to keep and bottle feed. The males that are colorful can be sold as pets or future flock rams. This little guy is rather plain looking and does not come from an exceptional mom, so no one will be interested in him. But he will help feed several families. 

The flock is already acquainted with the idea of new lambs, so they are accepting him very readily. I'm impressed how strong he is for a lamb so young. He's doing just fine amid the flock. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Drivel - A Few Days Away

We're off on a Hawaiian vacation again for a couple days. Hubby saw his opportunity to relax for a few days, so we opted to hop over to Oahu and play the tourist scene. 

Shock. We're country bumpkins in the city! Yeah, we both grew up urban but it's long out of our blood now. People, people everywhere. Traffic 24 hours a day on the streets. City people can't understand what country people mean by a quiet, peaceful night. It's just never, never quiet here ....Waikiki that is. But the place has its pluses. A real bookstore for one......Barnes & Noble. Feeding pigeons is pretty cool too. Neither Barnes & Noble nor pigeons on our home island. 

Waikiki is famous for its beaches (and as hubby noted, young girls wearing skimpy bikinis playing beach volleyball). Strolling the beach is pleasant in a cool day. Very few beach goers around. 

We devoted one day to visit the Polynesian Culture Center, the closest thing Hawaii has to Epcot.

I didn't get the feeling there was much authentic cultural stuff there, but most the tourists seem to be enjoying the entertainment even if it was stereotyped and phony. 

Renting a costume really cracked me up. Don a bunch of vibrant plastic apparel and have your picture taken, or hop about "dancing" and have a video done for the folks back home. I just shook my head and by-passed the crowd of tourists lined up to be dressed up. 

In one way I was very disappointed by the phoniness, the amateur half-hearted attempt at a Disney-like park, the constant attempts to get more money out of you by constantly offering upgrades and pitching gifts shop trinkets. But then again, when we bypassed the village entertainment and struck up conversations with the employees who actually were raised on those islands (Samoa, Fifi, Tonga, etc) we learned some really cool stuff about their countries, and got a feel for the modern vs traditional lifestyles of some of the Polynesian cultures. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Rabbit Water Bowls

Kristin liked the picture of my rabbits eating flowers and mailed back about the bowls she saw in the rabbit pens. She asked what the bowls were for. Well Kristin, they are a low tech, super cheap way of supplying water to the rabbits. Most of the bowls cost me zero. A few I paid a quarter for-- yeah, I can be cheap. 

Rabbit watering systems can vary from the simple water crock, to water bottles hung from the cage walls or ceiling, to water nipples running off a central water line. From simple and cheap to the expensive and complicated. I say, do whatever works best in your own situation. 

In the past, a couple of decades ago, I used those typical rabbit water bottles that you see in pet stores. While most of the time they worked fine, I did have times where they leaked and dripped, thus emptying out rapidly. Other times I had bottles that failed to continue working, thus the rabbit couldn't get the water. And in top of it, they cost money. I'm preferring to shoot for self reliancy, so going out to buy water bottles....or any water system....isn't being self reliant. 

After some thought from different angles, I opted for the low tech approach. I offer fresh feed to the rabbits twice a day, so it's simple to also top up water bowls at the same time. Plus if they happen to spill their bowls, no harm done. The water simply drops onto the dirt below. 

Suitable bowls were surprisingly easy to come by, so I didn't even have to make consider making them myself. Crocks would have been better because of their flat bottoms, but I've found that other bowls also work. I had a couple of unused bowls right in my own kitchen. I asked around and had several bowls given to me. And I found 2 bowls at the thrift shop for fifty cents. See? No need to spend $5-$10 per rabbit for a water bottle. Times that by 17 rabbits and you can see that using bowls is quite a savings. Plus I'm using bowls that would eventually just end up discarded in the dump. So now those ignored bowls have a purpose. 

I really haven't had a problem with the rabbits constantly dumping their water. Perhaps they're not bored? Their hutches are set up so that they have a "privacy cave", lounging shelf, and a communal section where they can see and sniff the other rabbits. They are outdoors, as averse to being inside an enclosed building, so they can watch what is going on around them. They get offered a wide selection of fresh foods twice a day. They get petted and talked to twice daily. So I'm not seeing the destructive behavior that I've seen mentioned on the Internet. No hutch chewing, fur chewing, "furniture" rearranging, aggression. 

Now I'm sure the OCD people out there will be appalled by the motley assortment of bowls. But heck, OCD people wouldn't be raising rabbits on a self sufficient homestead. So no worries, mate. Got it under control!  ;) 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Bees - Dead Queen

This past week my mission was to release the new queens. They had been spending time in the hives in queen cages, waiting for the worker bees to get use to her. Hive #1 went without a hitch. Donning only a shower cap (to prevent bees from getting tangled in my long hair) and using a smoker, I was able to open the hive and gently release the queen. She immediately scurried down into the hive. Success! 

Hive #2 went just as smoothly. No objections from the bees. Their queen looked active and beautiful. As soon as she was released, she crawled right down between the frames and into the hive. Success #2. 

Hive #3 started out ok. The bees gave me no trouble. I didn't suspect any problem because as with the other two hives, there were plenty of bees gathering around the queen cage. But when I inspected the cage I could immediately see that the queen was dead. Bummer. What went wrong? I haven't the foggiest. I gave the hive a bit of a check but didn't see any queen cells. So another queen wasn't the cause. 
(Above - dead queen. The green dot on her back is marking paint. Marking the queen makes her easy for a person like me to find her in the hive. The marking paint doesn't hurt her.) 

Now what? I called my mentor for advice, assuming the I would have to call Kona Queen for a replacement. Being a novice, I wanted to make sure that I would be doing things correctly. Since I was going to be out of town for the next two days, my mentor offered to order the queen, pick her up, and install her into my hive. Fabulous! My shining knight to the rescue. Thank you! 

I'll let you know how the second attempt goes. 
The dead queen. The box is what she arrives in. She has several attendants worker bees with her. On the left side of the box is bee candy, which the workers eat. I removed the screen when I attempted to release the queen, but normally it covers the top of the box. 

Boldly Going......

Boldly going where I've never been the garden, that is. 

In the past 10 years I've been growing, or trying to grow, veggies I've never tried before. Coming from the Eastcoast, I've seen exotic and unusual veggies offered in the stores, but I never tried growing them. Now that I'm on the path of self reliance, I'm giving those odd ducks a go. 

Years ago I'd come home with a chayote, a daikon, or  a pink striped eggplant and try making something edible out of them. That was before one could google up a good recipe, so I'd have to search the library for an appropriate cookbook....or simply wing in at home. Not knowing that what I had purchased was poor quality (chayotes too mature, daikons old and limp, etc.) combined with my lack of a good recipe, most of my tries were failures. We never liked the stuff. 
(Above...chayote, or as we call them here, pipinola. I prefer to eat them when they are smaller and younger.)  (photo from

Today things are different. The web offers all sorts of info on new veggies to try. Growing advice. Recipes. Personal experiences with the items. Plus I've become a pretty good gardener so that I can now grow it myself.....sometimes. 

So what good steps do I take? 

...seeds. The various seed companies often sell some of the not-so-common and things I've never tried before. Local seed exchanges are another good source for me to explore. While some exotic stuff might not be offered that day, if I strike up conversations with the other seed exchange participants I can offer find sources of new veggies for my gardens. I once posted a request on Craigslist and got new taro varieties that I found other local folks were growing. 
(Above ... Winged beans. Commonly eaten here.)  (photo from

...growing info. Google searches can help track down lots of info both from other gardeners but better, from lots of ag extension services and universities. I still collect gardening books and refer to them when trying new vegs. Local gardeners are often a wonderful source of how-to. The problem is finding them, but a note asking for help and posted on local bulletin boards helps. I've talked with such local gardeners via the phone or over lunch at the local sandwich shop. I once posted a request on Craigslist and got numerous responses. It's the old "ask and you shall receive" concept. No one is going to kidnap me and teach me to grow pipinolas during my abduction! I have to be the one to initiate the quest to learn about unfamiliar crops. 
   That brings me to the main reason people tell me why try don't try growing new things.....they don't know how. That won't stop me! I'll go around searching and asking. 

(Above....yacon. I'm a big fan of yacon. Love the stuff.)  (photo from These easiest thing nowadays is a google search. Lots of recipes out there on the Internet. But another source is local food festivals. Back in NJ there were dandelion, strawberry, muskrat, blueberry festivals. Here in Hawaii I've been to lilokoi, mango, avocado, breadfruit, and taro festivals. Wonderful sources of info! Strike up a conversation or two and I take home all sorts of new knowledge. 

Boldly going......that's the point. I have to be bold enough to give something new a chance in the face of failure. Bold enough to ask questions and seek out information. And finally and most importantly, bold enough to place the stuff on a dish in front of hubby! He's not one to try new foods. One look at something odd and freaky colored on his plate and he thinks --toxic waste! But over the years I've gotten him to try many a new food, some of which he now willingly eats without too much whimpering. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Drivel - Perspective

Jenna W. made a nice post on her blog ( that basically hit upon the idea of perspective. I had just recently come upon this sign in a local greenhouse the other day. The two made me pause and think. I agree in that much of my frustrations and depressions were either influenced are caused by my own perspectives. You know....."the glass half full or half empty" sort of thing. 

This sign hits a note with me especially when it comes to the ideas of wealth and material goods. Since early childhood it was drummed into me, both verbally and by example, to strive to attain success via wealth, goods, and superior performance. Acquire as much as you can and always strive for more or better. Success = having more than your neighbors. It applied to everything -- better clothing, better food, better job, higher grades in school, etc. We were the first people on our block to have a Philco TV. Not the first to have a color TV and that bothered my father. He criticized the neighbor's color TV something fierce. We had to have a newer car, better landscaping, better toys for his kids, better quality clothing and of course a house in a better neighborhood. We never had extra money but my parents would go to the ritziest restaurant whenever they needed to take someone special out for a meal. As kids we had to get better grades, high scores on the IQ and SAT tests, graduate high in our class, be someone special in whatever club we participated in. Frankly, this aspect of our upbringing warped our lives and set the stage for us to be in perpetual debt up to our ears. My parents never did attain happiness or contentment. They viewed themselves as failures all their lives.

I lived my life according to my parents' example for several decades, never coming anywhere close to "success".  Looking back, it was a sure fire way for me to be chronically frustrated, unhappy, frustrated, and angry. Angry at total strangers because I perceived them as being happy because they had what I didn't. And little did I know that it all wasn't necessary! It could be removed with a change in perspective. 

Somehow along the way it finally dawned on me that happiness was all about ME. In order to be happy I had to change a lot of things about myself. Foremost I had to stop competing with others. Then I had to stop competing with myself! I didn't need to attain more stuff or more money in order to be happy. I didn't need to be better than other people. And ya know, a funny thing happened. A different person soon came out of the closet. I think I'm becoming the person I was born to be. 

Back to perspective.... Not only has my attitude changed, thus less frustration, depression, and anger , but a homestead lifestyle is becoming quite comfortable feeling. My farm doesn't have to be the prettiest or most productive. Reusing old stuff is just fine. No shame in using wood as fuel instead of propane or electricity. Used vehicles work for me. Every new day is an opportunity. Every thing that doesn't work out the first time around is a chance to learn more about it. Perspective doesn't make problems and hurdles go away, but it does make them easier to deal with. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Drivel - Chasing Your Heart

If you've been following this blog, you're aware that I'm fulfilling my lifelong heart's desire to create a farm and live a homestead farmer's life. My tales have generated many an email from others who have taken the leap to chase their dream. Their stories tell of some pretty fantastic changes that are far bolder than what I've done, and I applaud these people. 

Numerous people said how they quit their jobs and started the business they always dreamed about. Others took drastic cuts in pay to take the job they truly wanted. One woman ditched her complete urban lifestyle to become a traveling medical volunteer. One man told me how he tried several times to make it as a farmer and finally achieved success on the fourth try! Wow, what optimistic persistence. Another person made a drastic life change to start growing miniature roses for resale. All their stories fascinate me. These are people who get my utmost respect, 

We recently spent time with a friend from back east who brought us up to date about his children. His son, who has a college degree had made the decision to pursue what his heart really enjoys doing -- blacksmithing.
He's currently learning his trade while working at a historic village re-creation. Not a great paying job but one that is giving him the opportunity to learn his craft. And from people who have come to watch him work, he's starting to get orders to do custom work. Personally I think this is grand and heartwarming. I'm not sure what his parents think. But Owen is following his heart, his life long desire. 

I think I've already mentioned that around my area we have plenty of examples where people have ditched one life's path in order to live the life they really want. We have a cattle rancher here with a Ph.D. in literature. Doctors making handcrafts and selling them at farmers markets. A pharmacist turned coffee grower. Many a college grad now immersed in the life of an artist, woodworker, underwater photographer, fisherman, hunting guide. The couple running the coffee stand down the road both have college degrees and have abandoned their first careers. I never noticed this sort of thing until I moved here but I suspect it happens everywhere. 

Not all their stories are instant success stories. Some tell of failure and of having to change tack. Some of repeated failure until success was achieved. Many are still works in progress. But at least none will have tombstones engraved with "I wish I had....." 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Egg Washing ---- Or Not?

Wanna get a dull homesteaders' get-together roaring? Simple. Casually ask someone if they wash their chicken eggs and just say that you think doing just the opposite might be a better idea. They might say, "I never wash eggs. It's removes the protective bloom." Then reply, "Washed eggs are cleaner thus safer", then sit back and watch the show. It won't take more than a few minutes before everyone at the gathering is voicing their passionate opinion. Ha, ha. I did this once and was amazed. I came away learning a lot, but also learned that there is no perfect answer. 

Before continuing with the topic, let it be known that the "experts" don't agree either. USDA requires graded retail eggs to be washed while the EU requires such eggs to be unwashed. So the USA and Europe are on opposite sides of the debate! 

Info for those of you who don't have chickens....when an egg is being laid, the hen's "butt" slightly everts (turns out) keeping the egg clean. The egg's surface is wet but quickly dries due to the egg being hot. That surface moisture seals the eggshell with what is referred to as the "bloom". This bloom helps keep the egg's innards safe from outside contamination. 

From what I can gather, if the egg does not get dirtied after being laid, then there is no reason to wash it. In fact, even in the USA some various state/local regulations require no egg washing for resale eggs. But other areas require all eggs to be washed, clean or not. How confusing! 

In commercial mass egg production, eggs get filthy. Things are not like a typical homestead situation where the farmer hand gathers then cleans each egg individually. Thus US commercial eggs really need to go through a wash and a disinfecting rinse. In the past few years the industry takes things one step further by treating the shell with a sealant to keep moisture in and contaminants out. That sounds like a good thing but then again, how much of that chemical is leaching into the egg parts that we eat? If bacteria can get into a washed egg through the shell, so could the sealant chemicals. (Side note : people without refrigeration store eggs at room temperature in isinglass or coat the eggshell in vasoline. Sealing the shell works. Thus some homesteaders wipe their eggs with a rag moistened with food grade mineral oil in order to seal the shells of washed eggs.) 

When the bloom is washed off, eggs are more susceptible to going bad quicker. "Bad bugs" can more readily enter a washed egg. While unwashed eggs can be stored on the kitchen counter for many days, washed eggs must be kept refrigerated. 

So lets say that I have decided that I don't want to wash my eggs. What might I do? First off, I would use either sawdust or wood chips in the laying boxes. I've tried plenty of different substrates and have the best luck getting clean eggs using those two. Next I would maintain a deep litter in the chicken pen along with a roof to keep the litter protected from the rain. I just recently experimented with deep litter and found that the eggs are far, far cleaner. I'd also gather eggs frequently, 3-4 times a day if possible. The more frequently I check for eggs, the cleaner I find them. I'd use fine sandpaper to remove a speck of dirt, but any really soiled egg would need to be washed. 

On the other side, what if I decide I prefer to wash my eggs? Well, using sawdust, deep litter, and frequent egg gathering are all still great ideas. But I'd follow some extra guidelines for washing. Generally recommendations that I've seen call for the temperature of the wash water should be 90 degrees F or 20 degrees F warmer than the egg's temperature. The idea is that the contents inside the egg would swell slightly, using internal pressure to keep contaminants from entering through the shell pores. Honestly, I'm not too sure that this is true. Perhaps just a wives tale or urban legend? But it sounds good, right? 

For only slightly dirty eggs, I read that people clean them in a variety of ways. A light rubbing with fine grit sandpaper. A light wiping with a dampened cloth.

For dirtier eggs -- wiping with a wet cloth. Some people opt to wet the cloth with vinegar, peroxide, baking soda solution, or a mild bleach solution. Some people will use a soapy cloth or a dish scrubbing pad. Just about everyone then immediately rinses the egg in fresh running water, then either hand dries or sets them out on a towel to dry. There are commercial egg wash chemicals that can be purchased, too. Most websites say to not submerse eggs in the wash solution and don't soak them. But on the other hand, there are egg cleaning machines that do exactly that. So who is right, who is wrong, or is there no real difference? 

On my homestead I opt for unwashed, clean eggs. I'll just lightly wipe clean eggs with a cloth barely dampened with a mild bleach solution and allow the egg to air dry before refrigerating. But sometimes, especially during rainy times, I do get dirty eggs no matter how much I try to keep nest boxes and substrates dry. And there are those days that I can only collect eggs morning and evening, and those eggs tend to be dirtier. So if I get some dirty eggs, I wash them with some dish detergent/water solution them immediately rinse them well in running water. Each egg gets set aside in a clean towel until all the dirtied eggs are washed. I then wipe each with a clean cloth dampened in a mild bleach solution and allow the eggs to air dry before refrigerating. The eggs are then stored in the coldest section of the refrigerator. And like many other homesteaders that I share info with, I also take the step to wipe the cleaned eggs with a mineral oil rag. Why? Because some of my buyers do not have refrigeration. The mineral oil seal helps keep their eggs fresher for the upcoming week. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

My Homestead Firewood

Ah, thoughts of winter must be cropping up inside the heads of the mainland readers because I'm getting emails asking about winter firewood. 

Where I'm now living, preparing for winter means changing the angle of the solar panels and closing the house windows at night. How simple! And boy, I surely don't miss those winter preparations that I use to do when living on the Eastcoast. It was a normal way of life back then, so I never gave it much thought. But looking back, I surely don't miss it. 

Since people know that I run two woodstoves, I field lots of questions about firewood. 
...Do you stockpile a winter supply? 
No. Since I use firewood year around, I just store wood when there is more than I need at the moment. Stockpiling some wood has its benefits. That way I would have dry wood to get me through a rainy spell. I recall the time when we had 39 straight days of rain! Stockpiling has provided me with wood to get through an injury recovery period. Yes, I've injured myself occasionally which meant that there were a couple of weeks in a row where I couldn't gather and cut up wood. 

...What tree species do you burn? 
Whatever I have. Around here on the farm ohia and eucalyptus are most common. Wild guava and loquat are plentiful. But there is a variety of trees around, both natives and introduced. No oaks, maples, ash. But still nice burnable wood. 

... Do you use a log splitter? 
No. I don't need to have a long burning fire, such as overnight. So I don't burn big logs. It's a lot of work to hand split logs ...... I've done that in the past so I know about it all too well ......and it's not economically feasible to buy a log splitter for the homestead. Besides, logs are heavy and I'm no spring chicken anymore. Therefore I don't deal with logs for firewood. I have plenty of small stuff to use for firewood. Logs are better utilized for building low retaining walls, built up garden beds, and other projects. 

... If you don't burn log wood, what do you burn? 
Due to the tradewinds, I have plenty of fallen branches and twigs. Branches up to 6" diameter are always being snapped off. On top of that I have plenty of small trees that I am gradually clearing away to expand the pastures. I have the room to pile up the branches and let them sit for a year to dry out. Then I'll cut it up for firewood. Anything 1/2" diameter and larger goes for firewood. The smaller stuff goes into my biotrash piles to fill in holes on the property, or gets run through a chipper and made into mulch. Some gets set aside for kindling. Before a fresh branch goes onto the dry-out pile, I'll take a pruning shears and trim of the majority of the fresh leaves and fine twigs. They go into the garden grow boxes. No waste. 
Above - This pile of small logs runs from 1 1/2" diameter up to 4" for much of the pile. One chunk is over 6" and will get used in some garden project rather than being split for firewood. This wood came from some trees I thinned out from the pastures. Besides using this wood for firewood, I tend to pick out the straight pieces for trellises and other projects. 

.... Where do you buy your firewood?
That's a common question I get. I don't buy it, simple as that. There is plenty of downed wood around free for the taking. The cost of wood is my time, a saw, and something to haul it with (truck, ATV, etc). If I ever should run out of wood on my own property, there are plenty of neighbors who would love having me clear out some of their windfall debris. 

...How many cords of wood do you burn in a year? 
Truthfully, I can't say. Since I don't burn cord wood, I can't even compare and venture a guess. The vast majority of my firewood is stuff that other serious wood burners would pass over -- twigs,  chunks, small branches. Plus I don't do long burns daily. Every second or third day the livestock cookstove gets run for 2-3 hours, cooking up a jumbo pot of assorted food stuffs. The house stove normally runs a short fire in the morning, and during the winter a brief fire at night to take the chill off. 

...What tools do you use? 
I do have a small 14" chainsaw, but it doesn't get a lot of use. It's brought out to cut fallen tree limbs into handable size, and for the occasional small tree to be removed. A good quality loppers gets a good workout on green stuff. I have two of those compound ones that are very easy to use. One handles up to 1 1/4" and the other can go up to 2".  For anything bigger (or not green wood) than a lopper can handle, I use a sawsall (if it's standing) or a chop saw (if it's already down and carry-able). I picked up the chop saw, used, from a person who was moving. Funny to think that a chop saw is my number one firewood cutter, but it surely is easier to use than a circular saw or chainsaw. 
    I don't have any of the usual firewood tools that I had back on the mainland. No ax, hatchet, splitting maul, wedges, sledge hammer, chains. No rented woodsplitter. No big, serious chainsaw. 

...What do you use as kindling? 
Since I have plentiful twigs, I don't bother using a hatchet to chop a log into kindling. A fire gets started using newspaper, cardboard, fine twigs, 1/2" branches, then bigger stuff when it gets going. I use homemade wax/sawdust firestarters, but if I'm out of them I'll use a bit of 90% alcohol to jumpstart the fire. 
Above - this pile of wind fallen twigs is my source of kindling. Small twigs for starting, larger twigs and light branches for getting things going before the 2"-4" wood is added. As needed, I will tramp on this pile then pick up the pieces and transport them in a cardboard box up to the woodstoves. Anything that won't break up by a good tramping will get cut with the chop saw. 

...Do I ever use coal?
No. Coal is not naturally occurring in Hawaii. It would have to be imported. Thus I don't burn coal.
But we do have something here that burns hot somewhat like coal ----- macadamia nuts! I sometimes get several bags of old or spoiled macnuts. They burn great, but I have to use them just like I would coal. If you've ever tended a coal fire in a woodstove, you know what I mean. I'd burn macnuts all the time if I could get them for free. They make a great fire for heating and cooking. 
    This year I've been gathering the kukui nuts that fall in my mother's yard. I'm going to give them a try as a firewood source. They contain oil and historically were used to burn as a torch by the old Hawaiians, but I have no experience burning them myself. So we shall see. I have several 5 gallon buckets of them, so I'm ready to give them a trial run. 

....Have you ever considered collecting driftwood for firewood? 
Although I'm surrounded by ocean on this island, I don't see much driftwood on the beaches. And besides, there's not much beach around here. The coastline is mainly jagged rock.  If there were plentiful driftwood, then I would indeed use it. But alas, there isn't enough to make a driftwood collecting trip worth while. 

....Do you avoid burning certain types of wood? 
If you mean tree species, well, no. We don't have much pine around here, but I would burn that too if it were plentiful. And I've burned Christmasberry with no problem, though some people claim that the smoke causes skin rashes. I haven't seen that yet. But I do avoid burning chemically treated woods such as cabinetmaking waste, exterior pressure treated construction wood, plywood, pressboard, painted wood. That sort of thing. 

....How do you dispose of the ash? 
Dispose isn't the word I use. Utilize. That's more like it. Wood ash goes into the garden via direct application and via the compost. Besides the ash, I also put any charcoal into the gardens too. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Big Pigs Spared From The Freezer

Hammie and Chopper are leaving soon but rather than heading directly to a dinner table, they are heading for the breeding pen. 
Pictured above, these two are enjoying a snack of taro sweet bread. They weigh in at between 135 and 150 lbs. They sure grew fast! Yes, they are a bit muddy because they spent a good portion of the early afternoon in their wallow cooling off. Pigs can't sweat to cool off when overheated, so they will lay down in water or cool mud. 

Because hubby dislikes the idea of any animal we own being used as food, I posted an ad for the pigs, letting fate decide what would happen. Last week I had one sold, so I assumed the other would go into our freezer. But when the buyer arrived with gun, knife, and truck, to take away his pig, the buyer's partner decided to take both in order to breed them. She liked the idea of breeding more pigs. With Hammie and Chopper ready to breed (in fact, they might be already bred), in a bit less than 4 months the buyer should end up with a good return on his investment. 

What a turn of events. I went from two weeks ago wondering how I was going to fit two pigs into the freezer, to freezing only one pig, to now zero pigs. Hey, plenty of freezer space now! 

So how did the farm make out financially? Surprisingly well. 

Cash out for ---
....two piglets --- zero
....fence panel --- $105
....purchased feed --- $76

Total cash out came to $181. The fence panels will of course be reused for several years to come. 

Sale price of two pigs, including a partial sack of sweet cob --- $300. 

So the farm ended up $119 in the good. Not bad. Of course that means no fine pork in my own freezer. 

The big savings in raising these pigs were:
1- zero paid to buy the piglets. Around here non-fancy piglets cost $50 each. 
2- inexpensive pen. I used heavy duty pallets for much of the pen. The fence panels made easy access gates. More importantly, they were gates that the pigs couldn't break through. 
3- a lot of their food was home grown or foraged. No cash outlay but it meant a lot of time and effort invested on my part. 
4- no illnesses, parasites, or injuries. Therefore there were no veterinary expenses. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

More Beekeeping Lessons

Before when there were beehives on the farm, I "had" bees rather than myself being a beekeeper. Back then there were no hive problems to deal with, so hives were not managed other than adding supers for honey collection and harvesting said honey. Nowadays that no longer works. People who don't actively tend their hives now will simply lose them. So I'm now learning to be a beekeeper. 

Some more gems that I'm learning.....
....don't over use the smoker
....move slowly and don't be in a hurry
....take care not to deliberately squash workers
....when removing brood frames, protect them from the wind. Hang them in a box and put some protection over them. Chilled brood can die. 
....even if you're opening and working the hive for some other reasons, do a checklist while the hive is open. Visually scan for capped honey, pollen, and brood. Check for uncapped the queen still actively laying? What's the drone cell situation? Any queen cells? Remove them. Any hive beetle or varroa mite? Any moth, ant, yellowjacket, mice, etc evidence? Any other abnormalities? 
....remove and kill the old queen at least 24 hours before introducing the replacement queen. 2-3 days is fine. 
....set up the hive in such a way to prevent rain water from flooding the oil tray. 

Some that I consider "pearls"....
....requeen with Italians. They are less aggressive and far easier for a beginner to work with. queens from a producer with a known reputation for gentle genetics
....have the queen marked. Marked queens are so much easier for beginners to find. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Beekeeping Pearls

I plan to post those little tidbits of wisdom (pearls) that I come across as I'm learning about bees. Here's a few I've garnered already. 

Smoker -

#1- light the smoker, fill it with fuel then use a propane torch to light it. 
No fuss trying to light a bit of paper, then tinder, then building up to the fuel. No burnt fingers from matches or lighter. Just light the plumber's torch, shove the nozzle down into the fuel, leave it there for a half minute or so to light the wood chips. 
Then remove the torch, use your hive tool to smash the fuel down inside the smoker, give the smoke some puffs of air using the bellows and you're good to go. 

...use hickory BBQ smoking chips that can be purchased by the small bag in the stores. They light easily enough, stay smoldering for a long time so that you don't have to keep stopping what you're doing and give the smoker a few puffs of air to keep it lit. Plus they last a long time if you put them out each time when you're done with the smoker. I'm told that the mesquite chips seem to agitate the bees, so I stick with using hickory. 
     To start, dump the used charred chips from the smoker onto some paper, in this case, old wrapping paper. 
Add a few more fresh chips to the pile if needed. 
Wrap it up making a bundle that will fit inside the smoker. 
Stuff it into the smoker with the loose paper at the top. 
Now it's ready for lighting. 

...cork the smoker when you're done. By putting a cork plug into the smoker's hole, you'll starve the fuel of oxygen. Thus it will go out rather than keep on smoldering down to ashes. That way I get a lot of mileage out of my hickory wood chips. And the charred chips relight easily. 
Above....smoker in use, emitting smoke. 
Above.....smoker spout is corked. Below....close up of cork plug. The cork is from an empty wine bottle. I had to take a razor blade and trim it down a bit in order for it to fit the hole. 

House Update - Hallway Floor

The rest of the hallway floor is now installed. 
There is still a bit of trim work for David to do. And the threshold plate for him to manufacture. But I'm almost ready to claim "finished" and tic off another section of the house. Yes, the ceiling outside the bathroom door isn't done, but that can't be worked on until we do the bathroom project since it involves rebuilding the roof. 

The hallway floor has three levels because the main section (livingroom/kitchen, bathroom, etc) is at one level and the bedroom is at a slightly higher level. Rather than having a step between the two levels, we opted for a ramp. 
It's not a steep rise. And it was difficult photographing it so I could give you an idea of it. So this is the best I could come up with. 

Because of the ramp, the top and bottom posed a bit of a problem to join in a pleasing fashion. David came up with using some of the leftover ash wood from the thresholds, making joining pieces. We were pleased how they turned out. 
I placed a cat food can there to give you some perspective. Once the surbase trim is in place, it will look quite nice. 


With the early freezing weather on the mainland, several readers have asked what I need to do on the homestead to prepare for winter. Truthfully, not much. The number one thing we do is change the angle of the solar panels. During the summer they lay flat. 

For the winter months they are angled. 
There is no need to stockpile winter firewood. No need to can and freeze veggies from the garden. No need to buy a winter supply of hay for the livestock. No need to bring out the winter clothing. I use to do all those things but living here there is no need. 

I can't truthfully say that I miss those Eastcoast and English winters. Neither were pleasant to work in. Oh, there's many fond memories of winters spent walking and playing in the snow, the brisk feel of frosty mornings, icicles and Jack Frost. But I've been there, done that, and I'm glad it's now memories. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Bees Be Here!

I've been pretty busy these past few days making pallet grow boxes, gathering debris to fill the boxes with (I got one box filled, another 90% filled and ready for soil capping, two others half filled), planting new taro keikis, starting two small bean beds, and most interesting -- getting ready for the arrival of bees. 
(Looking down inside an opened beehive with some of the frames removed. You can see lots of bees crawling around. Most of these guys are newly hatched babies and caretakers.)

The homestead is finally home to bees. It took a little prep to get things ready. First we needed to decide where to place the hives. 
1- within sight of the farm watchdog to deter theft
2- where they would get morning sun and afternoon shade
3- protected spot from the tradewinds
4- open flight pathway
5- protected from the livestock
6- away from the neighbor's house
7- not too close to the garden so as not to interfere with the volunteers
8- not too close to the driveway
(Above hive has the tree branch in front if he openings. This triggers the bees o relearn their area.)

Once we decided upon the location we needed to make a level spot and place two cinder blocks for each hive to set on. The reason it needs to be really level is that the bottom of the hive houses an oil tray which is used to capture hive beetles and varroa mites. A bit of work with a shovel, a level, and a few handfuls of gravel and a couple small rocks and the flat pad is ready for the cinder blocks. 

With the help of David and the beekeeper, we moved three hives onto the farm a couple nights ago. The move went smoothly. We waited until just before sunset so that most of the foraging bees had returned to the hive. The beekeeper plugged the entrance holes, David and I picked up each hive and gently placed them into the truck bed. Then it was a slow, careful drive to the farm where we off loaded each hive to its level platform. The plugs were then removed. Leaving them plugged is not an option in the tropics because the hives would quickly overheat. We placed a few tree branches over the front of the hives in order to let the bees know that something had significantly changed with their hive. That causes them to reorientate, thus remapping their area. 

Today the beekeeper came by and we completely opened and cleaned out the biggest hive. Reason? Small hive beetle. Just prior to being moved, hive beetles moved in. So the hive needed to be cleaned or else the bees would leave. 
Above, the beekeeper is checking each frame in the lowest box. We had already cleaned each frame one by one in the upper boxes, removing any that were infested with hive beetles and killing all beetles that we saw. The queen is currently in a cage so that she can't move about. Her presence should keep the bee colony in the hive. Our intent is to replace her with a young, new queen in a few days. She is an older queen and no longer vigorous. 
Once everything was cleared of beetles, the lower box was repacked. The beekeeper replaced two infested frames with two frames full of honey to provide food for the bees while they recover from this trauma. 
I was truly impressed how gentle these bees are. Above is a picture of the bee smoker. Smoke is used to help calm and control bees. But the keeper needed to use very, very little smoke. Just a few small puffs here and there. And while the keeper used bee jacket, gloves, and vail, I didn't. I was dressed in my normal garden garb -- shirts, t-shirt, baseball cap. Of course I wasn't the one with my hands down inside the boxes. But I was carrying frames back and forth, standing right beside the hive, had bees 360 degrees around me. I didn't get stung once though some returning foragers did ding my head a number of times. If they were trying to sting, they didn't make it through the hat.