Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Drivel - Just An Update

No, I'm not dead nor have I dropped off the face of the earth. Just been working to the max. Storm clean up have been a constant effort. Just imagine having to wedge clean-up chores between all the regular routine jobs of keeping & creating a homestead farm. But I'm not going to kill myself trying to get it all done ASAP. I'm just chipping away at it a bit every day. 

Chipping away at it is basically how we've been creating this farm and building the house. I know that this method would drive some folks nuts, but we've managed to live with it ok. least I have. Hubby tends to want everything done yesterday, but he's tolerated this chipping-away method pretty well. 

Today while moving the tree trunk slices up closer to the house so that they can cure a bit protected from the rain, I discovered that one of my plants is blooming. 
I don't know it's name but I think it's a bromeliad of some sort. It's never bloomed before, so I'm pleasantly surprised. 

Between clean up and regular chores I managed to forage for guavas. These are the sour kind, just for feeding to the chickens. There's a clump of trees on my way back from town and they've dropped quite a but of fruit. It took me about 15 minutes to gather these buckets, a worthy harvest for the time spent. The hens will appreciate them. Foraging is one of the ways I acquire feed for the livestock. 

Recently we've been having some colorful sunsets. The sunsets here are often beautiful. So I shall leave you with tonight's end-of-day artwork seen from my livingroom window.......

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Cooking Atop My Woodstove - Cooking Rings

Debbie J wrote via email, "Your woodstove is really small. How do you regulate the cooking heat? Don't your pots boil over?" 

With a kitchen wood fired cookstove, it's fairly easy to regulate the cooking heat. And the stove is big enough that the cook can put a pot on the back burner to keep things at a slow simmer or below. But as Debbie pointed out, my stove is tiny. It barely holds two pots and there is no way to find a cool spot on the stove to move a pot to. So I had to be creative. 

I remember from way back in my early childhood that my grandmother used a variety of methods when cooking on a wood fired stove. One was the use of metal rings that could be set atop the stove top for her to place a pot on. She had different sized rings for small to large pots, plus they were different thicknesses. Some had vent holes in them, some didn't. I've looked in old catalogs and antique barns for these old fashioned cooking rings, but I've never seen them. So I'm guessing that someone local made them for her. 

Since my grandmothers cooking rings aren't available, I've come up with a substitute. Her rings had handles, which must have been very convenient. My solution lacks the handles. I'm using old mason jar rings, the ones for the wide mouth jars. . 

They are not as big as I'd like, but they do the trick. So if one of my pots is boiling too briskly, I can place a ring on the stove then plop the pot atop it. 
This brings to cooking down to a simmer. Works pretty nicely. 

Some day I plan to have a blacksmith make me some proper cooking rings. I just haven't gotten around to it yet. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Riding in the Back of a Pickup

In the past I showed you how dogs around here often ride in the back of pick up trucks. The idea really drove many readers crazy. They were outraged. Well, if that upset you, here's one even better.........
PEOPLE riding in the back of pickups. It's for real. And it's reality here. 

Yes, there are official regulations governing riding in the back of a pick up. How to be seated. Which way to face, that sort of thing. But riding this way is legal here.

Last year someone on the county council was pressured by some mainland newcomer to make riding in truck beds illegal. But wisely the county brought it to public discussion and rejected the idea. Why allow it? Because Hawaii Island has a lot of poor people who have large families. A pickup is often their ONLY vehicle, which is necessary for them to have for farming or their work. So it has to accommodate the whole family, too. If riding this way were made illegal, lots of people wouldn't get to work, get to doctor appointments, go shopping, go visiting, go a family outing, etc. It's a traditional means of transportation on this island. 

If seeing people riding like this drives you crazy, then I'd suggest you may be happier not coming to Big Island. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Recently I've had a few readers ask me about vog, what is it? How does it affect people and my farm? 

Vog, sometimes thought as volcanic fog, is the acidic gases spewing out of the volcano and mixing with the atmosphere. There's an assortment of chemical brews in the stuff, but the main component seems to be sulfur dioxide (SO2). As it mixes with the air, it undergoes chemical changes resulting in acidic components (think: sulfuric acid) and reacts with volcanic ash particles resulting in irritating particulates. Rain picks up these chemicals, thus giving areas downwind of the eruption significantly acidic rain. I don't know all the science about vog, but I'm very aware of how it affects us. 
(One of Peter Anderson's photos of the eruption.) 

How does vog effect humans? First of all, most people say they are not bothered by the vog. But some people are, especially those who already have other medical conditions. Plus it depends upon one's exposure. Some areas have rather persistent vog problems, other areas occasional intermittent problems, yet other areas with very little vog at all. Depending upon the wind, vog can come and go, be there for 15 minutes then be gone. How close you are to the eruption dictates the type and strength of vog. So Volcano, when the wind is right, can have horrendous vog which drives everybody indoors. But usually they have no vog problems because the wind normally blows vog away from the town. Pahala, Wood Valley, and upper Oceanview experience vog fairly regularly because of the prevailing winds. People living in those areas seem to report the most health problems. On bad vog days, vog can cause: headache, eye irritation, sore throat, sinus and nasal irritation, sore or cracked lips, breathing difficulties & shortness of breathe, increased heart rate, aches and pains, lack of energy and stamina, disrupted sleep, bizarre dreams, and flare ups of existing medical conditions (people notice that skin problems get worse, otitis flares up, more clogged sinuses, and just about any condition that involves inflammation seems to get worse). 

How about me and hubby? Vog doesn't seem to bother me severely. First of all, we don't get much heavy exposure where we are. But when I do, I often get the slightly cracked lips, sore eyes, irritated nose, achy joints. Hubby gets all those plus a light headache and becomes short tempered (he doesn't see it though, but take my word for it, he gets irritable). 

I haven't noticed any significant problems with our own animals. Ranchers over in Pahala report eye irritation in the cattle, plus some wonder if the skin and abortion problems are vog related. Luckily our homestead gets little chronic vog, so the livestock are spared the vog problems.

Our farm cab suffer from three direct vog issues : burned vegetation; soil changes; damage to anything metal. On a really bad vog day, which only happens once or twice a year, sensitive plants will have foliar burns. Lettuce and taro are the top plants to be affected on my place. The burned leaf parts lose color and by the next day, turn brown and die. Farms closer to the volcano or those which get persistent vog report problems with many other different crops. 
(Above..... Vog damage to the taro.)

Soil changes appear to be the result of acid rain. The soil pH bounces all over the place depending upon weather conditions. So I need to monitor the soil pH frequently. The vegetable garden requires pH within a certain range for the veggies to be productive in my system, so I tend to adjust the pH as needed. Plus I have to check the pH of my catchment water. If allowed to get too acidic, it could damage my tanks, pumps, and piping. 

The acid rain and vog (it does not need to be raining for damage to occur) severely damage anything metal. Field fences rust away in a few years, tools rust even when stored indoors, any metal parts disintegrate, the screw heads holding metal rooves in place rust away, even the lids on my mason jars rust on my pantry shelves. Brake rotors on vehicles pit, resulting in frequent brake jobs. 
(Above.....Wear has rubbed off the galvanized protection on my gate bolt, so I'm going to need to sand the rust off, treat the metal, and keep it coated with so e litium grease.) 

So is vog everywhere? Yes and no. As I said, some areas have worse vog issues than others. A lot depends upon the wind conditions. But the terrain also has a bearing. Air tends to pocket in Wood Valley and Captain Cook, so those areas are noted for bad vog. Air also tends to swirl toward and stagnate in the Kona area, so even though it is far from the eruption, Kona experiences foggy air far worse than our homestead farm. A half mile up the mountain from our farm, vog is almost constantly present. But our farm experiences very little vog. So the change in terrain makes a big difference. Down at my seed farm, there is seldom any vog at all. Amazing how things can be so different when only a mile, or even 1/2 mile apart. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Planting Peas in a Bed

Today I managed a bit of time to get one things planted in the garden -- taro, cowpeas, beans, and peas. With the gigantic windstorm clean-up project, I haven't had much time to get to much else. But if I wanted to keep a food supply flowing, I needed to start getting caught up on the garden schedule. I'm not really all that good yet at keeping to a planting schedule, and now I'm way behind. 

I had harvested two taro plants last week and still hadn't replanted the ohas and huli. So that got done.  With the job completed, I asked myself why I had put it off. It only took 15 minutes. Sigh. That's what happened when I get overwhelmed. Even small jobs get put off. Sigh again. 

The beans, peas, and cowpeas were more involved. These three went into the garden beds, so I had a bit of prep to do. 

1- Chop or pull out the major weeds. 

2- Test the soil pH. I knew from past testing that the soil was in pretty good shape, but with the volcano spewing out tons of SO2, the pH has been bouncing all over the place. I've been adding calcium carbonate between each crop, which slowly helps control pH. But sometimes I need wood ashes to align the pH quicker. So today's tests showed the soil too acidic, thus a dressing of wood ash was called for. I have no special formula for how much ash to use. I just dust it on like adding powdered sugar over a cake. Since I test the soil between each crop, I don't worry about it. Plus the amount of vog I get is unpredictable, making pH control far from being a precise science project. I also added a light dusting of coral sand (calcium carbonate source), some crushed heat treated bone, and a bit of biochar though I didn't have very much today.

3- Top dress with a light layer of manure and/compost. Which do I pick? Easy -- whichever I happen to have. Today's choice was horse manure. I seldom have an excess of either manures or compost, so it's whatever I'm lucky to have that's ready. Maybe some day I'll be fortunate enough to put more science behind this step. 

4- Flip the soil. If the soil is rather firm, I'll use the rototiller, the beds I planted today were all in good shape so it was faster just to use a garden fork and flip the soil. This step not only mixes the amendments in a bit, but also assures that the soil is light and airy, thus ready for young seedlings to grow. 

5- sow the seeds. 
No, I'm not being paid by Stokes to advertise their seeds. I just happened to use a bag of Stokes seeds and forgot to move the packet for the photo shoot. 

With the beans, cowpeas, and peas I lay out the seeds on top of the soil. Peas are spaced about every 2-3 inches, beans about every 3-4 inches, and cowpeas about every 6 inches. Today's varieties were all bush types, so no trellising had to be taken into account. Once the seed is spaced, then I go back and push each one I to the soil, about an inch down. 

Now it's time to set the seed. By this I mean that I pat the soil down, making sure the seed is firmly surrounded by soil. Soil contact with the seed is important. Next I water the seed in. Any seed that floats to the surface by the watering process just gets poked back down.

With my night time temperatures being below 60 degrees, I'm using a plastic cover to increase soil temperature. This results in far better and faster germination. Plus it keeps the soil moist. The wind here dries out the soil surface every day. 

I use whatever I happen to have to hold the plastic sheeting down. Today was some pieces from a wood pallet and some rocks. Since the plastic is only going to be in place for a few days, I don't get too fancy or complicated with it. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Drivel : If I Knew Then What I Know Now, I Would Have.....

More gravel on the driveway. Everybody around here complains about this mistake. 

Would have leveled more land while the excavator was working here. Taking the tops off the highest rises and using the material to fill in the deepest holes would have given me a lot more usable pasture land. 

Would have made the perimeter fencing a higher priority. 

Would have started removing the eucalyptus trees from the very beginning. The latest windstorm has shown me that having weak trees on the farm is a big mistake, 

Would have placed planting orchard trees near the top of the work list at the very start. The orchard should have been planted during the very first year. 

Things I hear other people say.................
Would have purchased better and more land even if it cost more. -- Luckily we opted to spend everything we had, plus a tad more, to buy the best and most average land that we could find in our price range. 

Would have made a good workshop before trying to create the house. -- Luckily we bought a house shell, which gave us a dry place for our tools. Yes, we lived with our tools for years as we built the house around them. But that was ok.

Would have bought better quality tools even though more expensive. -- We made the decision to buy some good quality tools before moving here and shipped them over with us. While other people shipped over clothing, house furniture, kitchen stuff, we shipped tools instead.

Would have paid more attention to which way the bad weather came from. -- One of the first things we did was track the sun, record wind direction, keep rain & temperature records, etc. Thus we learned early on about how the weather would effect our building plans. 

Would have checked on what the neighbors were like before buying. -- We met just about everyone before buying. They all seemed weird and quite wacky, but generally ok. 

I would have built a smaller house. -- We purposely set out to build a small house. 600 square feet was our target but we discovered that we liked more space under a roof. Adding on is easier than finding out you built too much. 

One person told me that they would have bought a tractor with attachments, including a bucket, a scoop, a hammer, an auger, and a brushog. Initially I opted not to go that route. I wrestled with the idea of farm equipment and 12 years ago opted to avoid the big stuff. Looking back, the tractor with attachments might have been a wiser choice. Or at minimum, a skidsteer. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Time to Die, A Time To Be Born

On a homestead, I've become acutely aware of the circle of life. Some things die, some are born. It's an ongoing affair. 

A homestead blog that I enjoy just announced the passing of one of their goats, Gruffy.
Death is normal and inevitable. 

Today I'm announcing the birth of a new goat kid. 
This little one was born during the night. When we found it this morning, it was already dry, well nursed, and standing strongly. 

We haven't named this one yet. I'll let my neighbor come up with some suggestions. If it had been a boy, I might have opted for Gruffy. But it's a little girl, so that name seems too harsh for a doeling. I'll let you know what her name turns out to be. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Wood Pavers

What to do with all the wood from the downed trees? To date I've given three truckloads away, but I still have lots. I truly mean, lots, and lots, and lots. The smaller branches, less than 5" diameter, I'm saving for friend who can use them for firewood. But I've got lots of tree trunks, over 20 large trees and dozens of smaller ones. With the glut of down trees due to the storm, there is no market for the wood. Not even "free" is working. 

I came up with an idea. I can cut them into "wheels" and use them as pavers to make a patio. 
(The ones in front measure 23" across.) 

We've been talking about making a deck or patio behind the house, some place to have a couple of lounge chairs or a hammock. So perhaps wooden "wheel" pavers set in sand or gravel would be attractive and functional. I've decided to give it a trial go. 

Step one....chainsaw the tree trunks into wheels. We're making the wheels rather thick to prevent them from warping, twisting, or cracking in half. Step two....remove the bark. Step three, set them in the shade with good air circulation and protected from the sun until its time to set them into place. 

I've never tried this before nor do I know of anyone who has. All suggestions are welcome! 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Porch Gate

One of our farm dogs, Crusty, is a diehard thief. His favorite target is food, any sort of edible food whatever. And one of his successful targets has been our crippled cat's food. He often sneaks up on her porch and eats whatever she has left behind. But recently the thievery has gotten out of hand, stealing her  food as soon as we walk away. 

Feeding this kitty, Becca, has its issues. She is hind leg problems making jumping impossible. Thus we can't simply feed her atop something high. We started blocking Crusty by using barriers, like a box or piece of plywood. We tried feeding her in a box with a cat sized entry hole. Worked for awhile. But trying to keep Crusty away has become a nuisance. So we needed a better solution. And believe me, the command "No" just wasn't doing it. "No" only worked if we were within correction distance. Since Crusty's survival for 9 months before living here depended upon successfully thievery, he is a real master at sneaking. 

Solution.....a gate that Becca can come and go through but Crusty can't. 
Crusty is not a chewer, a destroyer of objects like a gate. Thief yes, destructor no. So a gate was a good option. It's a simple made gate. Just four 2x4s with corner braces, and four 2x2 upright rails that Crusty can't get through. 

So far it's worked like a charm! 
Oh yes...... It's mounted on hinges with a gate latch to keep it closed. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Storm Damage -- Monday & Tuesday Update

Monday update : 6 hours spent cutting up trees, dragging brush into piles, cleaning up the mess, rebuilding the chicken coup, fixing fences. Although things are a far way from being done, at least things are functioning around here now. 
(Trees fell, yanking out massive root balls.)

We now have 4 giant brush piles of slash. My plan is to slowly go through the piles, cutting out any branches larger than  inch then grinding up all the small stuff. That's the plan for now. That assuming that the old shredder still works. 

There are cut up log piles everywhere. The smaller diameter stuff will go for future firewood. The bigger diameter stuff will go for various projects. 

David rebuilt the front of the chicken coop.......

So the girls now have a pen where they can get protection from stray dogs and feral pigs. There's no tarp roof over the new section yet, so the hens can come and go. Funny thing is that almost all the girls are opting for the pen rather than freedom. Only about a dozen hens are walking around. But when I looked at 4 pm all the hens were out foraging and at 5 pm they starting flying back into their pen through the open roof. Talk about being creatures of habit! 

We didn't have any working hinges or door latch for the new part, but David improvised. Fencing is serving as the door hinge......

A twisted wire and fence staple as the door latch......

They will do until I get to a hardware store. 

Tuesday Update : a day of rest. We are all beat. Time to rest overtaxed muscles and joints. 

A friend forwarded this picture to me of one of my neighbors' farm. Seems that he had a couple hundred young macnut trees toppled over by the storm. Yes, things are pretty hard hit in the area. 

Storm Damage .... Continued

Saturday was a day of triage, doing just what needed the most to be done. Access to feed the chickens and rabbits. Take care of the newborn goatlets & mom. Head count and tend livestock. Oh yes, did I mention that the horse was running loose? She was up in a neighboring pasture. Fallen trees took out the fence. We weren't aware of this until Yoshi showed up at the front gate wanting to get in. Yup, she headed home and wanted back into her pasture. Good girl! 

Saturday night we went to a friends for dinner but then had difficulty getting home. More trees down in the highway. Thus a roadblock - highway closed. We ended up driving as close as we could toward home, about a 1 1/2 mile, then hubby walked the rest of the way. My plan was to stay with the car until the highway was opened, which the police said would be about another hour. Just one more storm related difficulty. But the info turned out to be wrong. Hubby found out that the highway was projected to be closed for 5 hours more, so he came back for me. We parked our car in the field of a local farm that I know, left a note on the windshield, then hiked on home. 

We didn't find out until late Sunday, but there were dozens upon dozens of trees down blocking the roads in Ka'u. Adjacent landowners and local volunteers chopped away most of the trees and branches, while an overwhelmed state, county, and electric company road crews worked away at the task. If it wasn't for the fact that people in the community came out and worked two days tree clearing, using their own tools and gas, our roads would still be blocked. I guess it's that country people tend to take care of things for themselves rather than waiting for some government department to do it for them. People here have been helping one another clear driveways, remove trees off of houses, drag trees out of roads, repair fences. 

Well, Sunday was back to getting the basics done, with the help of two more people. David showed up with his chainsaw. Matt showed up with his muscle and strong back. 
(Downed branches just piled atop previous downed branches. A real tangled mess.)

Downed trees seemingly everywhere. Over 20 big ones on our place with numerous smaller ones tangled up in the mess. It's gonna take weeks before its all cleaned up. What was a bit disheartening was that more trees had toppled overnight, adding to the workload. 
(These trees luckily missed the catchment tank but destroyed the Costco tent.)

The end of the rabbit hutches is a total loss. 3 hutches. No way could it be salvaged. So new hutches will have to be built. For now some does that are compatible will have to double up. But luckily all the rabbits were uninjured and the three that got loose were easily captured. 
(A tree smashed right through three hutches.)
(Tree removed.)

The front of the chicken pen was a loss and will need rebuilding. Sadly we discovered that one hen who preferred to roost atop the pen door was killed. But everyone else is fine. Once we started removing the trees crushing their pen, the girls quickly discovered their freedom. So they are all having a marvelous time. 
(The front of the chicken pen is gone.)

Most of the slash (leaves, twigs, cut up light branches) is being dumped into my biotrash pits. Hubby has often frowned upon these pits, wanting to just see them filled in with dirt and be done with it. But now they are coming in extremely handy. We have pick-up truckload after truckload of debris. Three of my largest pits are now in the process of being filled, plus one smaller one. Once filled and settled, they will be converted to banana patches. This storm trashed most of my bananas, so I'd like to start new patches. 

The four of us worked steadily until 3:30 pm today, until the point that it was no longer safe to have a running chainsaw in one's hands. Tomorrow is another day. Hubby is going to be incredibly happy to return to his desk job tomorrow. He's not the farm boy type. 

So here's some more photos.....
(Garden fence crushed. Took out the sink and work area. Smashed one lunch table.)

(End of this work day.) 

Monday, January 5, 2015

The New Kids are Named

My neighbor made the name suggestions. 

The blue eyed one will be Stormy. 
The brown eyed one will be Windy. 

I have a major correction to announce. BOTH kids are males. I must have been blind the first time I checked.......or my brain needed rebooting. I really believed that Stormy was a pretty blue eyed girl, but that pee dribbling from the center of her belly? What? Take a second look. Oh brother, it's a boy, duh. Call me stupid. 

So we have two little buck kids. I would have been delighted if they were doelings, but little bucks are ok too. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

More Storm Photos

We've been too busy to blog, but here are some more photos....
This tree missed the barn. 

At one time this had been a Costco tent. Pretty much shredded. 

Several trees down in the same spot. 

Trees and branches took out the garden pallet fence in several areas. 

All that's left of the 330 gallon water transport tote. Beyond being salvageable. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

New Kids Born In The Storm

The storm killed a lot of trees and damaged a lot of stuff. But in the midst of fury, life arrived to the farm. Two baby goats! 
Sometime before dawn, Honami gave birth. Luckily I had made a temporary shelter for her, not knowing how violent the storm would be here. But it gave her protection from the rain and the wind. And she chose to give birth in the shelter. 

Honami was acting somewhat bewildered when I checked on her. She was letting the babies nurse, but surely acted confused. Giving birth in the middle of a violent storm surely isn't very supportive of new motherhood. All the crashing trees must has upset her. But Honami is doing pretty good, in spite of it all. 

This little one is a blue eyed girl. Judging from her ears, I'd guess she was the second born. Her brothers ears have already unfolded. 

This is the boy. A tad bigger than his sister, he's also a bit more adventuresome. 

Now that her kids are born and she has bonded to them, I'll be letting Honami off her tether. I doubt she will jump the fence and leave her kids behind. We have about a 1/4 acre fenced off for her. 

Wind Storm!

No Internet for the past 15 hours, so I couldn't let people know that we are ok. Places on the farm are a mess, but nothing that can't be cleaned up or repaired. 
(Small branches down everywhere.)

At 2 a.m. We awoke to the sound of branches pounding the roof, rain coming in sideways, and the sound of big trees breaking. Not much we could do but hunker down and wait. A head count showed that all the cats had come into the house. Gee, it must be bad out there. 
Daylight showed that the banana trees had all their tops sheared and twisted off. Above, this had been a lush stand with several developing bunches. Now it's a mass of twisted trunks. Shredded. 

By morning's light I took off in the ATV to inspect the fence line. Found this tree (above) laying right down on the fence, but it looked like the livestock couldn't get past, so I ignored it. The driveway was littered with small branches and twigs. Nothing big, I thought. Just a day of raking to clean up. So I headed to the back pastures. Branches here and there on the fence, but nothing serious. Just drug them off and we'll cut them up later, I thought. Did a head count of sheep and donkeys.....everyone accounted for. Next headed down to the front pastures. .........shock.......
Trees and tree crowns down everywhere! So thick that I couldn't even climb back to the rabbits and chickens. Big trees. Small trees. A matted mess. A tree fell into the garden area, crushing both the work tents. Others crushed the 330 gallon water transport tote, water barrels, Costco storage shed. I saw that the wind had broken the string that held the bean tower in place, but at this point I considered that just a minor annoyance. 
(Half the bean plants are torn out by the roots. Goes to show you that in the future I will be using wire to secure the bean tower.)

Giant trees, roots and all, fell around the barn, aside the big catchment tank, thankfully sparing both. But the chicken pen took a direct hit by not one, but three big trees right snack on the entrance! After the two of us spending the day cutting an access to the chickens and rabbits, it was obvious that I'd be feeding and watering the hens through the fence today. Surprisingly the girls seemed just fine with the arrangement. 

The rabbits are a different story. 

Branches were wedged everywhere. And although you can't see it well in this photo, a tree truck crushed the last three rabbit hutches on the end of row. Totally in pieces. The three rabbits were no where to be seen. (Later in the day we saw all three and managed to capture one.)

Enough for now because we need to get to work again! More update tomorrow.