Saturday, February 28, 2015

More Mulch Discussion

Mike had asked about how I handle mulching. How often do I apply it? How thick? On which crops? Do I plant through it for the next crop or do I remove it before planting? If I remove it, can I reuse it or does it go to a compost pile? All good questions. My answers today are different than what they would have been 12-15 years ago, and may be different if I were answering 10 years in the future. I'm still learning and experimenting with mulches. I am still learning. 

How I use mulch depends upon the crop and situation. For example, I use copious amounts of coarse mulch around the bases of bananas. I just constantly add thin layers of new mulch just about monthly, not for weed suppression but as a slow fertilizer feed as the mulch material decomposes.  Weed control is just a secondary benefit. The banana patches are great locations to dispose of chopped up brush trimmings and weeds. I do the same thing around taro with success, though with taro I also add some manures in with the layers. Taro responds very well to a nitrogen boost about halfway through its growth cycle. 

At the seed farm I'm in the process of creating a soil base. Unlike the homestead which is moist and coolish, it is windy, hot, and dry there. And basically no soil. So mulches are heavily used there to build soil and improve soil structure. I've been using the lasagna method, layering cardboard & newspaper along with coarse material, grass clippings, pulled weeds, waste fruits, manures, soil, cinder, and sand. Where I've been doing this for a couple of years I'm actually making garden spots where taro, sweet potatoes, and beans are successfully growing. This aggressive layering method is a failure at the homestead farm. I think that's because it's too wet there. Lasagna mulching, done to the degree I'm doing at the seed farm, just results in a soggy, anaerobic mat that is slimy and smells on the homestead. Only five miles distance in difference, but this method works at one location but not the other. 

So I'm going to talk primarily about mulch at the homestead farm. At the seed farm, mulch use there is a simple matter of bringing a weekly truckload of cardboard and organic debris, then piling it atop what is already there. Add water. Bingo....done. Since I can't cover the whole acre with one truckload, mulch is applied one small location at a time. Thus crops get planted into the older spots and get more mulch as it becomes available. 

On the homestead farm, I'm working there 7 days a week. So I have the time to apply mulch frequently and fine tune the process. Mulching is primarily done in my food growing areas. My goals are moisture retention, weed suppression, nutrients, and overall soil improvement. My primary mulches for this are grass clippings and brush/tree chippings. I have far more grass clippings than chipped up brush. 

I apply mulch by hand, one wheelbarrow or trashcanful at a time. Labor intensive, but a great workout. No need to buy a gym membership here! Applying by hand allows me to adjust the thickness of the mulch layer. Around young seedlings, maybe just an inch. Around established crops, perhaps 3-4 inches. But I have to be cautious with thick layers since grass clippings can heat up at that thickness, thus damaging the plants. I find its better to apply a couple inches, wait a week, then apply another couple inches if I'm using clippings. Coarser chips can be applied a bit thicker without the heat problem, but it depends upon the weather. If it is dry I can get away with a thicker layer than if I'm getting light rains. Since I garden year around, mulch gets applied year around, usually weekly as I mow grass. 

Most of my vegetable crops get mulched. But some don't depending upon the plants and how they are being grown. Closely seeded peas in a solidly sown bed just get a very light covering of grass clippings at the time of sowing. The peas come up quite thickly, shading the soil themselves. Thickly planted leaf lettuce and radishes get none. But most crops get planted with space between the plants, giving ample opportunity for mulch. The idea is to cover the soil so that the sun cannot reach it. 

When I harvest a crop here is usually some mulch still present that hasn't yet decomposed. If it's only a thin layer, then I just turn it back into the soil as I prepare the bed for the next crop. (I lightly rototill or else hand dig the bed in order to incorporate various soil amendments between crops.) If it happens to be thick, as is the case with potatoes, then I'll scoop it up and put it on an adjacent bed that is still growing. Moving it to a compost pile is simply an inefficient use of my time and effort. Old mulch very well could be added to compost, but adding it to the bed in the next row works just fine too. 

I've been fiddling around with using mulch in the garden aisles. I'm not completely happy with what I've tried so far. Cardboard and newspapers tend to get slippery, posing a falling danger. Same with clippings and brush chips. Wood chops resulted in aisles that were chronically soggy, almost boggy in nature. Coarse mulch was difficult to walk on and had the danger of causing tripping. I like using cracked macnut shells the best so far, but I don't have enough of them. So I'm still working in a solution. Since the aisleways are permanent, I have been thinking of using cinders. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Pros & Cons of Mulch

Mike asked via email why I use mulch. What are the benefits and the drawbacks? Mike felt that if mulch was so great, then everybody would be using it, right? But he noticed that farms never seem to use mulch and most magazine garden photos don't show mulch being used either.  Good observations! 

There are small farmers using mulch, but mostly on perennial crops. Annual crops are planted with farm equipment in mind, so mulch doesn't fit well into that picture. The exception is the use of plastic mulch....huge sheets of plastic laid down in rows through which a crop is planted. I have seen this technique used for corn, tomatoes, peppers, squash, and melons in certain situations. And a variation of this is the use of red colored mulch to enhance a tomato crop and reflective plastic (white or silver) to repel insects. Big farms can't use organic mulch simply because farming techniques can't accommodate it. Applying vast amounts of mulch would be difficult for most crops. Current systems of weed control, row cultivation, pest control, harvesting all prevent the use of mulch. Except for dust mulching. Depending upon soil type and weather, there are situations where a farmer will use shovel hoes or cultivators to produce a fine surface dust which acts as a moisture retaining mulch to some degree. In orchards, the use of mulch is more common than with annual crops. Here in Hawaii there are macnut farmers who return the harvest debris to the orchard in the form of mulch for under their trees. Others will maintain a layer of volcanic cinder under the trees as a mulch. I saw an orchard in NJ that was trying a fine pebble mulch under the trees. And another using coarse sand. But I can't say how effective those were. Since I saw zero weeds I have to assume that those farmers were also using a herbicide. 

So how about the pros and cons of mulch on my own homestead? Remember that I'm in Hawaii, so I don't need to be concerned with frozen or cold soil in the spring. Mulch in cold zones can keep cold soil from warming up in the spring. 

Pro--- when applied before weeds germinate (or while they are quite tiny), mulch effectively keeps weeds from taking over the garden.
Pro--- soil under a mulch retains moisture far, far better than that exposed to the sun and wind.
Pro--- soil temperature is cooler under a mulch. Most crops prefer cooler-than-air soil for their root zone. 
Pro--- soil micro-organisms thrive under a mulch. They are protected from the sun and wind, plus are exposed to less temperature and moisture fluctuations. 
Pro--- as the mulch decomposes, it supplies nutrients to soil microbes and worms. 
Pro--- worms thrive better under mulch
Pro--- soil structure is better under a mulch. Less apt to have drainage and compaction problems. Less apt to show hydrophobic characteristics. 
Pro-- good utilization of onsite organic material. 

Con--- creates a hiding place for pests. It's easier to miss noticing and finding destructive insects. Slugs like mulch. And so do mice. 
Con--- it is difficult to use on certain crops, especially those that are close to the ground, like radishes, leaf lettuce beds, micro greens, etc. 
Con--- if applied too thickly it can prevent rain from reaching the soil. Also along this same line, too thick mulch can cause the soil to stay too wet under certain circumstances. 
Con--- depending upon the material being used for the mulch, as the mulch decomposes it can rob the soil and crop of nitrogen. 
Con--- applied too thickly, certain materials can generate heat, thus killing or damaging the crop. 
Con--- certain mulch materials will significantly impact soil properties, thus affect not only nitrogen levels but also P, K, and pH. 
Con--- over proliferation of undesirable fungus and molds. Especially a concern when the mulch is matted and wet. It becomes slimy, slippery, and stinky. 
Con--- may contain weed seeds. Especially a problem when using old hay and straw. 
Con--- flammable (sand, cinder, etc not included.) Not a concern on my homestead, but it could be a real serious issue elsewhere. 
Con--- material brought in from other areas could bring pests and disease, plus could contain noxious chemicals. 

What do I use for mulch? Organic material. While cinder may look pretty around my fruit trees, I would have to use a herbicide like round-up for weed control.....or an awful lot of hoeing. No thank you to either.

1- Grass clippings are my number one mulching material. Easy for me to apply. I've learned how to effectively use them while avoiding problems. And I have year around access to them. 
2- Right there along side grass clippings is brush chippings. Chipped up brush and small tree branches make good mulch. 
3- Third is chopped up brush. This makes a coarse mulch. 
4- In the past I've used newspaper and cardboard with varying results. I now only use them in certain situations and seldom ever on my homestead farm. They are better reserved for the seed farm where it is drier and hotter. 
5- macnut harvest debris (husks and shells) make a good mulch for me, but alas they are costly. So I don't use it much. 
6- shredded green waste from the county. I'd use truckloads of this stuff if I had easy, cheap access to it. At one time I did. But not anymore, sigh. 

Mike had two more questions..... How often do I need to reapply mulch? What do I do with the surface mulch when I need to dig or till the soil? Um. How about if I answer those on another post. Otherwise I'd be writing a book here.    :)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Taro & Standing Mulch Update

Each week day I work on a number of different projects rather than just focusing one one until the job is done. I know that most people don't work this way, but sticking with one project till the end seems too much like a job to me. I left those boring drudge jobs behind several years ago. This system that seems hodgepodge to some people works just fine for me. It keeps me interested and enthused with my homesteading efforts. 

Thus this post......this is an update on my new taro patch and standing-mulch project. I started several weeks ago clearing out a brushy area, using the cut up brush as a coarse mulch for the baby taro plants. I cut stuff as I needed it, leaving the rest for the future when I needed more. As I cleared the brush I planted taro. So this is what it looks like today......

The taro in the foreground has produced large leaves because that was the first patch I planted. The further you look back, the younger the plants are. The babies that I planted today you can't even see. 

Back where the younger plants are is the area that was covered in brush several weeks ago. All that brush has been snipped up and used as mulch on the taro. The process took several weeks, adding light layers of mulch repeatedly over time. The coarse mulch layer is about 10 inches thick in the foreground. The neat thing about this type mulch is that it won't form a water impervious mat. Instead, it allows rain through, keeps the soil moist, and blocks weeds. Pretty neat. One of the reasons it doesn't mat is that the brush stems are cut up too and incorporated in the mulch. Yes, very stemmy. It keeps the mulch springy. Those stems will gradually degrade. When this taro is harvested in a year, all the mulch gets dug into the soil, including any stems that haven't rotted. It greatly improves my otherwise pathetic tropical soil. 

In the far back of the picture the ground shows greenery. That's where I harvested standing mulch but am allowing it to regrow. I did not remove the roots. As I expand the taro patch, I will totally remove the brush and roots in order to plant taro. In the meantime, the brush will regrow greenery that I can use as more mulch material later on. One other point about not removing all the brush prior to actually using the space. The greenery will shade the soil surface, keeping the sun from killing the soil microbes. Since I use organic material as my fertilizer, healthy soil microbes are important. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


'Tis jaboticaba season again. What the heck is jaboticaba? It's a tropical fruit that looks like are large dark purple marble, though I've seen a few as big as ping pong balls. They are somewhat like a large grape with tougher skin, a pit like a cherry but with some of the flesh adhering to it. They're ok to eat fresh out of hand but I find  the skin to be bitter if I chew it too much. What I prefer is to cook them and make juice. 

The way this fruit grows makes harvesting memorable. It flowers, thus produces fruit, right along the trunk and branches. The first time I saw one of these trees in fruit I was agog. How totally strange. 
(Photo from 

My next door neighbor has a small jaboticaba tree. And I have a young one that isn't fruiting yet. Happily my neighbor doesn't bother with half the fruit and lets me harvest them once he has gotten what he wants. 

I brought home a few baggies of fruit last week. Skipping the fresh fruit eating opportunity, I washed the fruits, split the skins with a knife (I could probably skip this step), harvesting the pits in order to plant them.  I dumped the fruits in a saucepan, added water, and set them atop the wood stove. I then let them simmer for the evening, adding more water as needed. 
( above, add water and cook.)

Once cooled, I very lightly mashed the fruits using a potato masher, being cautious not to do too much mashing so to avoid the bitterness. I then drained everything through a sieve, discarding the pulp and skins (they go to the chickens). I'm left with very dark purple juice. 

Now, this is where I stop processing. I'm happy with the juice that I can use as a treat in breakfast smoothies. Taste? Something like tart Concord grapes. Adding sugar makes it taste more grape-y. 

Just about everybody I know makes syrup or jelly out of the juice. But it needs a lot of sugar, something I try to avoid. But sometimes I crave a sweet treat and jaboticaba & fresh pressed sugar cane is excellent! 

This juice is quite dark and very purple. I thought I'd shine a flashlight through it to show you the wonderful color but a standard flashlight didn't even slightly cut it. After trying progressively stronger flash lights, I pulled out our cyclops spotlight, the big boy that can light up our street 600' away. Whoa, it took that baby to light up the juice! 

Monday, February 23, 2015

100,000 Miles

Warning - disclaimer. This post has absolutely nothing to do with homesteading. But it's just for fun! 

Terrible quality photo, isn't it. Recognize what it's of? It our current VW's odometer. Elsie just hit 100,000 miles. Wow! 

First of all, Elsie is the car's name. Yes, our favorite cars and trucks get named. My very first VW was Korbi (a nickname for "Now I'm Broke" spelled backwards). Then later came Thio (thank heavens it's orange. The story behind this was that my family members owned nothing but green cars.) Imoto (I'm orange too). Then there was Dr Polara, a wreck of a sedan. It came with that name, by the way. Not my idea! We also had The Blue Beast and Big Truck. Our previous VW was Arby (actually RB = red bug). Currently my truck is Artie (RT = red truck). Our spare sedan is the Double Decker (previous owners were Mr & Mrs Decker). The previous spare sedan was a bright yellow car called The Yellowjacket. I once had a car called Smarty Jones, after a Kentucky Derby racehorse. This car was as far from being a snazzy racing car/horse as I could possibly get, but it was fun to say that I rode in Smarty Jones. People would hear that I rode ON Smarty Jones. Fun to watch their expressions before I corrected their misunderstanding and told them that was my car's name. 

So have you figured out Elsie yet? 

LC = little convertible. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Handmade / Home Crafted

While I have my share of manufactured items, I tend to prefer handmade/homemade "stuff". Why? Not because it's better quality .... sometimes it is, sometimes it's not. No, it's because it often creates a connection with my community at some level. It's an interaction that use to exist all the time when I was a small child, but rapidly died out as my parents and relatives became proud of having store bought. 

I grew up learning that Aunt Teenie made my new Easter hats, Cousin Reds made the birch beer soda I was lucky to drink during the summertime, the winter gloves & scarves I wore were often made for me by cousin Pat. Grandpop made our holiday noisemakers. (I still have that New Years noisemaker he made for me and cherish it.) Homemade jams and pickles often came from Aunt Mary. It was not uncommon for neighbors to bring homemade cookies. 

Somewhere along the line we started looking down our noses at this handcrafted stuff. I was too young to realize what was going on. But the old wooden handmade kitchen table went to the dump, replaced by the modern chrome & formica one. Old handcrafted furniture went the same route. The handmade clothing eventually stopped. Store bought Christmas cards replaced our homemade ones. Homemade soda, pickles, sauces got replaced by store bought. My parents even started buying bread and cookies from the stores, stopping the steady arrival of Mom's and Aunt Ruby's incredibly light breads and biscuits. Campbell's soup replaced homemade soups. Many a homemade holiday ornament went bye-bye. Egads, we even got a silver artificial Christmas tree that was my parents' pride and joy.

Store bought items bring no feeling of connection. Connect to Sears? Woolworths? When I looked at that silver Christmas tree did I have warm fuzzy feelings about the store it came from? Hardly! 

But every time I put on my new Easter hat, I could feel and picture Aunt Teenie. Drinking homemade soda I couldn't fail but think of Cousin Reds. It's the connection. It was a constant reminder that I was part of a big family of relatives and friends. 

To this day I appreciate home crafted items, be they jams, soaps, kitchen gadgets, etc. Every time I use or see one of these items I can't help but think of the person to made it. It just reinforces my connection to my ohana (extended family) and community. 

So all this jabbering brings me to my photo for the day........
These are hats made by a good friend. And you know, I love them! Not because they are better, not because they are colorful, not because they are warm. It's because they were made by a friend. They are useful, so I often grab one to wear when needed. And ya know, each and every time I can't help but smile, thinking about my friend. Yes, homemade & handcrafted gives me that warm fuzzy feeling. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Learning For Myself

Joanne, via email, pointed out that I seem to like to experiment a lot. "Why waste all that time and effort only to end up with a failure?", she asked. She went on the list dozens of Internet sites where I could find instruction lists in order to do things "the right way" on the first try around. Thank you Joanne for your concern. But I like to experiment for reasons that I suspect many younger Americans won't understand.

 As a child I was encouraged to become independent and to think. I rode my bicycle for miles from home, explored the local woods with friends, took buses and trains to travel to the city museums. I had access to tools and scrap wood, using them to make "go carts", tree forts, and other stuff which generally failed. We visited the local dump to pick up choice bits of trash that we used to make things - "forts", tables, toys, wagons, etc. We had a lot of freedom to learn by the hands-on method. Adults often offered advice as long as it wouldn't result in something a bow and arrows that really worked. Ours were made wrong so never shot an arrow for more than three feet. And the wheels we nailed onto our go-carts never lasted for more than 15 minutes. Adults were wise enough not to point out the engineering mistakes we made when it came to something we could really hurt ourselves with. Now this may surprise people younger than generation was doing this stuff independently in our pre-teens and early teens. Yes, you heard right...pre-teens. No chaperones, no organized play sessions, no adult supervisors. Our parents encouraged us to go out and play. In fact, they kicked us out of the house and we were told to go play. 

Via our various attempts I discovered for myself that there often was more than "one way to skin a cat", as a neighbor was fond of saying. When I got old enough to learn how something should-be-done, I already knew that there was at least one other way it could be done, too. Just about all the kids around me learned this way. 

Nowadays kids don't seem to know that it's just fine to be independent. It's almost like they wait for someone to tell them how it should be done "the right way". Very little independent thinking. Google searches tell them how things should be done, society tells them what kind of house to aspire to, big business tells them what kind of techie toys they should have. Some official somewhere tells them what kind of pets they can have, how their house has to be built, what they can grow in their yards. Speaking of growing stuff, communities now tell you if you can or cannot use compost, manure, greywater, etc. Many places even dictate what dates you can apply compost, manure, even wood ash, plus how much and how it has to be incorporated into the soil, even dictating the soil depth it has to be tilled into. Perchance things are getting too regulated? Nobody is allowed to think for themselves, make their own decisions, experiment and explore? And getting back to my childhood experiences....parents can now get in big trouble for letting their children do the exact things that I was encouraged to do -- be independent, explore, think, go off on my own. 

So I'm an experimenter from way back. The trait has served me well on this developing homestead. When people told me that I wouldn't be able to grow potatoes here, I gave it a go anyway. When they laughed at me for trying to create gardens in lava rock, I experimented until I figured out how to do exactly that. So.....if I didn't experiment I'd be just like so many others around me -- spending my money buying food from the store.

I encourage new gardeners to experiment. Each failure brings new knowledge. And sometimes the experiment works in some wonderful way I hadn't the pallet grow boxes which have been a resounding success. 

I don't get insulted when people like Joanne tell me how to do something "right", I just shrug. And I hope she doesn't get insulted when I go ahead and try doing it some other way. As I've said, there's more than one way to skin a cat! A very good way of looking at things on a basic DIY homestead. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Homemade Woodstove Toaster

A friend related a story about a homemade toaster that involved an old can. There are lots of uses for cans, but this is the first time I heard of one being turned into a toaster. Now ya know, I've used camping toaster thingies, the kind with a long handle and a mesh basket on the end. Slip a slice of bread between the mesh then toast it over a fire. But you can't use that thing atop a wood stove.

I've toasted bread in a frying pan, too. It works though its not as toasty, not as dried. Definitely fried, not crispy thru & thru. But hey, I've pan fried many a piece of toast in my day. 

So here's the tin can idea. Take one big jumbo can? Cut off both ends. 

Use something to support a slice of bread --- mesh, grill, couple of chop sticks or skewers, etc. Set the can atop the woodstove. Add a slice of bread. 

Then watch it closely until crispy on one side. Flip it over and toast the other side. Only takes a few minutes. I gave this thing a trial run this morning (it was 52 degrees in my house the morning I did this...brrr). Works great. In fact, I made myself another piece and put farm fresh honey on it. Yum! 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Addressing Fear

Spied this saying at one of our local stores. It surely applies to those who tell me that they want to have a small farm, but haven't done it yet. So many people have told me that it's been their dream for years but that they are still stuck working their 9 to 5 job and living in the city, the suburbs, or where ever, still not taking the big step toward change. 

Fear of homesteading? I'd say it's fear of failure, not of the actual work of farming. As Joe Saladin says, anything worth doing is worth failing first. And my take on it is that every failure brings me one step closer to success. 

I'm not perfect when it comes to fear. I use to predominantly adhere to the first meaning, but I've gradually changed. Now I tend toward the second meaning more so than not. But number one still has a bit of a hold in me. And admittedly it was the thrust behind the move that popped me out of NJ. But when it comes to homesteading, I'm 100% into "face everything and rise". 

"The choice is yours"........ how true, how true! 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Match Making for Success

Part of the formula for being successful in growing things is to match the plant with the environment. For example, growing tomatoes in the shade is destined to fail. So as I'm learning to garden, I'm figuring out what grows best where and how. Not an easy task! I've had my share of successes and failures. And since I like to experiment, I have plenty of failures. I just consider them as steps toward success. 

Just the other day a friend gave me a group of succulent cuttings. Not edible stuff, but nice ornamentals. I was thrilled to get them because they fit perfectly down on my seed farm. I don't have the time to fuss with and pamper the ornamentals down there, so everything needs to be desert hardy. Matching these cuttings to the seed farm environment = success.  

These new cuttings should do fine. And they will be a great addition to the cactus already planted there. 
The long cuttings on the right are ice plants. The center light green ones are burro tail. The top long green thingy is Euphorbia clandistina (a.k.a. - Ostrich Neck). And the silvery thing on the left....well I don't know that one. Kind of looks like a jade plant on steroids that turned silver. 

One of our kittens is quite curious about all the things I plant into pots. Future Farmer of America candidate? 
So she sniffed each cutting, tried poking them a few times to see if they did anything, then finally laid down beside them. I got all the cuttings planted into pots, whereupon she promptly pulled several of the out. Crazy kitty! And no harm done. I just repotted them and set them inside the truck for the trip to the seed farm tomorrow. I'm going down to harvest bean seed in the morning. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

More Trees Down

Just when you think it's over................

Last week we had some windy days, one being especially erratic and gusty. And yeah, two more trees came down. Not knocked over by the wind, as I thought would happen. But twisted and snapped off. It's those swirling gusts that defeat these eucalyptus trees. 
The first tree to succumb you can see in the background. It's a fairly good sized tree whose trunk snapped just below the first branch. If I were handy, I could just leave this one in place and make a totem pole out of it! The second tree you can see laying horizontally in the foreground. 
Snapped off about 10 foot up. 

The poor chicken pen just has no luck, attacked by trees a second time. 

This time, no chickens were hurt, but I'm sure Chicken Little was a screeching, "The sky is falling, the sky is falling! See? I told ya so!" Anyway, the chicken pen needed repairs yet once again. I think a priority will be building a new pen and getting the chickens away from the eucalyptus trees. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Preparing for the Wood Rounds Patio

Steve asked via email, "What do you need to do to the wood rounds before you can use them for your patio." Well Steve, I've never done this before nor do I know of anyone who has. So I can't say how it should be done correctly. I'm just going to give it my best guess. 

I know from using eucalyptus on other projects on the farm that the interior hard wood tends to be fairly rot resistant here on my farm, but the bark and inner bark quickly becomes soft and degraded. Thus I plan to remove the bark. I'm using a simple method of hammer & chisel to pop the bark off. It comes off fairly easily. I find that it's a rather boring job, so I'm only doing a few each day. 
In the photo you can see that I've removed the bark. I'm saving the bark for future projects. Most will most likely end up creating soil in the garden, but some will be reserved for artistic creations of some sort. 

I've had lots and lots of people suggest that I soak the rounds in some sort of wood preservative. After consulting a few local woodworkers, I'm finding the general consensus is to soak the rounds in hibor in order to slow down fungus rot and insect damage. I don't plan for these rounds to last forever, but I would like to have that patio around for 10-15 years. The patio will be built with good drainage, but it still will be getting rained on. So wet is something to keep in mind. 

The rounds presently are sitting in the shade in an airy location. They surely won't be dried when we start setting them into place, but I don't want them getting moldy before we even start. Why not wait until they are really dry? That would take many months and since it won't make a significant difference, I'll be setting them into place while still green. I expect to see some checking, cracking, in the rounds but that won't make any difference either. 

I don't plan to paint them or apply polyurethane. That would only serve to make them slippery when they get rained on. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Mamaki -Homegrown Tea

We have a tree growing wild on the farm that is called mamaki. It is endemic to Hawaii and historically has been used for a variety of medicinal purposes. But I just like using mamaki as a pleasant tea to drink. A tea made from the leaves is mild and tastes like a traditional green tea without any bitterness. 
In the above photo, the plant is wet from a rain. That's why the leaves look shiny. Mamaki is related to nettles and you can see the similarity in the leaves. Happily there are no stinging hairs! 

Because I have numerous mamaki plants around the place, I haven't bothered to formally cultivate it. Baby trees just happen to pop up here be there, and if it happens in a good location, I'll mark the spot so that I don't accidently hack the little sapling down. My original tree came up right beside the house, not the best place for a small tree.
 But I wanted the mamaki, so I left it there. It's roots came out from the base of one of the house foundation blocks, so I was adverse to digging it up to move it. Thus it stayed. But now I plan to hack it down to the ground after I harvest all the good leaves. I've got plenty of others growing around, most likely keiki from this very first tree since the birds eat the fruits and thus spread the seeds. 

Ok, the tree is destined to go. But  first I'm harvesting the leaves for future cups of tea. I plan to do the harvest over a period of several days, simply because I don't have enough room to dry all those leaves at once. 

I'm picking the nicest, healthiest looking leaves and tips of branches. The tips I'll dry "as it", then once dry & crispy I'll crumble off the leaves leaving behind the stems. For the individual leaves, I'll snip off the stems before drying. 
Once washed, I place the leaves on a rack well above my woodstove. One of my friends gave me this rack, an old kitchen pot hanger. I find it works great for drying stuff above the stove.........wet hats, shoes, jackets, etc. I often leave my bamboo steamer there so that it doesn't get moldy. 
When I have food to dry, I lay out a clean towel across the rack. The mamaki leaves dry beautifully this way. 
Once dry, I'll store them in a plastic ziplock bag in the freezer until I need some for tea. Mamaki tea with a leaf of mint added makes a wonderful cup of tea. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Double Cropping

To make efficient use of available garden space, I sometimes double plant crops. By this I mean that I grow two crops in the same garden bed. Often one is a vertical growing crop and the other a ground hugged. Or one is a quick growing crop and the other a slow grower. These photos are taken in the community garden on my farm, where gardeners not only learn but experiment. 

In the above photo, potatoes were planted down the center of a bed. I let them sprout well before seeding the edges with peas. The peas were not planted very thickly so that they wouldn't shade out the potato plants as their vines grew. Here's another view.....

If I time it just right, the peas will be done harvesting just when the potatoes are ready to be dug up. 

The way these two crops grow together is that the peas must be a vining type, in this case, Sugar Snaps. As the vines run up the trellis, the pea plants no longer rely upon the lower leaves, thus giving space below for the potato plants. By the time the vines are up the trellis, the potato plants are filling out and getting bushy. So neither crop is interfering with the other's space. I choose a potato variety that has small bushy plants. 

The only tricky part is getting mulch around the potato plants. But the fencing has wide spacing, so I can apply mulch by the fistful. A bit slower than the usual dump method, but it works.

Another double planting opportunity is with the pineapple beds. Pineapples are slow growers, plus they have narrow leaves, making for plenty of space around them. It's a good spot for growing small crops, like radishes and short topped beets. It's simple to tuck in a few seeds here and there, 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Windstorm Postscript - Why Trees Talk

Several people have asked me, "What is making the trees pop, crack, groan, and chatter?" No, it's not the branches rubbing together. Nor is it one tree scraping against another. And it's not a hanging branch blowing up against the trunk. It actually is the internal breaks in the tree itself. Incredible and hard to believe, but I've seen it with my own eyes. I don't know if this happens to other trees, but it has happened to these particular eucalyptus trees on my farm. 

Just about all the time one chainsaws down a tree, the truck cross section is smooth and beautiful. I've always like the look of the wood, so it's something I take notice to. So I was pretty surprised when this tree was dropped. The trunk showed internal cracks. They initially weren't as obvious as in the following photos, but within 24 hours the cracks widen considerably and were very easy to see. 
This particular tree had its crown broken by the wind, with part of it twisted right off. I saw some of it happen as the wind swirled, twisting the tree this way, then that way. Amazing wind. I had no idea that the twisting had internally damaged the tree until the trunk was cut into sections. Whoa! 
So I figure that as a strong wind blows a tree like this around, the wood tends to rub along the cracks. That's what creates the sound. 

Now that we've taken some of the noisy trees down, I see that cracks exist mainly in the branches, not the trunks. And now looking up in the canopy several weeks after the storm, I'm seeing that numerous branches are wilting and dying. Perhaps the twisting and cracking was severe enough to cause the affected branches to finally start dying. I'm no expert on trees, so it's just a guess. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Creating a Path Thru the Woods

I've decided on the location of the new rabbit hutches. It's up near the house along a section that is not being used for anything else, not even pasture. The ground had been cleared as part of a perimeter roadway by a previous owner, so all the major trees are gone. It's almost all shade all day long, perfect for the rabbits. Being within 200 feet of the house makes for easy access for taking care of them. But the only glitch is that there is a section of woods between me and that stripe of land. So what to do? Create a pathway for access. 

I first decided I wanted the path wide enough to drive the ATV on. So I scouted out a line where I wouldn't need to chainsaw down any major trees, plus didn't have super major boulders. I didn't mind if the path wasn't straight. If it meandered a bit through the woods, that actually would be rather nice. 

The other problem I have is that the area is full of strawberry guava saplings. I actually encourage these saplings and harvest them for various uses. I coppiced the original trees years ago and now keep a thick growth of new wood so that the poles will be reasonably straight and tall. I don't mind sacrificing a swath in order to create a pathway, but the thick growth just makes for one more obstacle to deal with. 

Once I got an idea of where the path should be, I started removing the guava saplings right down to the ground. The ground surely isn't level here so there are holes and valleys that need filling in. Ah-ha, rocks! Yes, all the rocks that I'm removing from my patio project can be used as fill for my pathway project. Ha! 
So this is what it looks like after a couple hours of work. Yes, I got sidetracked off the patio project, but such is life. I removed a bundle of saplings out of the path and dumped wheelbarrow loads of rocks. So far so good. 

Yesterday morning I wanted to harvest more sapling poles and got carried away. Hack, snip, drag, drag. By mid-afternoon I had quite a pile of useable poles. All the little stuff got chopped up and moved to a biotrash pit. I was pretty pleased with the progress. 

Today I moved more rock to level more of the path and used some gravel to smooth out the rough spots. It looks good in the photo above, but what you don't see is that there are still plenty of mini hills and valleys to deal with, plus one boulder that needs a date with a sledgehammer. So the pathway still needs plenty of wheelbarrow loads of rock. But I can start using the ATV to deliver that rock to where they're  needed. Far easier than using a wheelbarrow! 

So the progress in this project will now slow down, because it's now just several trips of rock moving. How boring. But when the path is fairly finished, or when I start using the sledgehammer, I'll post an update. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Standing Mulch

One of my friends is fond of describing my grass and weeds as being "standing mulch". Once mowed, it's mulch, but while it is still growing and green, it's standing mulch. I take advantage of standing mulch whenever I can. Other people seem to be quick to chop things down and haul the debris off to the dump. I'm more apt to utilize that debris. Let me show you an example. 

A couple of weeks ago I harvested a patch of taro that was ready. This gave me a number of "starts" for replanting. Since I had quite a few starts, I decided to create another bed. So I planted these taro starts and lightly mulched them with forest litter, then watered them well.  After 2-3 weeks the plants were growing new leaves and looking pretty good. Time for more mulching. 
Some small weeds were popping up, so first I removed them, adding then to the mulch layer. Now I needed mulch material. I could have created grass clippings, or I could have raked up some forest debris. But growing right next to this taro patch was some weedy brush that I wanted to get out of there so that I could expand this taro bed. 
So the simplest thing to do was chop that greenery up and use it as the mulching material. Those bushes and weeds are standing mulch for this taro bed. 
Using a handheld pruning shears, I grabbed handfuls of greenery and cut it. I could have used a machete but I don't trust myself with one anywhere near a tree. Wild women with a big knife! Eek!  I  just laid the chopped greenery around the bases of the taro plants. I'll let it dry out over the next 3 days then do another layer. Then next week, another light layer. Quick and simple. As the taro needs more mulch, I'll just hack more of the brush down. This creates easily accessible mulch plus removes brush so that I can make a larger garden. Super! 

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Next Project - Outdoor Patio

In the midst of all my other happenings, I've started the next project -- making the outdoor patio using the round slabs we've been creating out of the tree trucks. This is going to be a slow project because its going to take time prepping the area and making the tree rounds. 

First step, remove the bushes and flatten the site. When we moved here, I created a flower garden here. I used large rocks (small boulders) to make a low wall and outline the site, I filled in the bowl with lots of compost, making a fertile soil mix. Now I want to reclaim the soil and use it elsewhere. Around here, soil is hard to come by. Burying good soil under a patio is insanity. Best not admit doing that for you're sure to be labelled a lunatic. Daft for sure. People would be horrified at such wastage. So I'm currently digging it all out and moving it to other gardens. 
Because the house is perched on the edge of a lava flow, there is no room to get heavy equipment in the scoop up the soil and flatten the area. And I truly mean "no room". Even a mini excavator couldn't make it. Thus this is a job to be done by forte. Give me a pile of buckets, a handpick, and a shovel and I'll move this "mountain".   :) 
Gee, I hope all this exercise means that I'll lose a few pounds. This has got to be better than a membership to a health club. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Post Storm - Finally the Worse is Over

I knew it was going to be a long haul, cleaning up this windstorm mess. And it proved to be true. But we finally have all the damaged trees down, at least I think we have. Not all cut up and the slash hauled away, but at least down. My goal was to drop visually damaged tress, but also those the had audibly detectable cracking. The wind the past two days swayed the trees about, causing internally damaged ones to either pop, creak, groan, moan, or chatter. 

The problem now is that we have several very tall trees that are loners. They have lost their neighboring support system. That means that they could very well blow over in the next heavy wind, which could be next week or maybe 20 years from now. We just can't predict that. 

Since all the loner trees are eucalyptus, we'll most likely cut them down over time. A few are in difficult locations, so those we won't attempt to drop. We will let Mother Nature deal with them since those trees are far enough away from buildings and the gardens that they won't damage anything of value. I just have to remember not to build anything within their reach. 

I'm gradually cutting up the trunks and getting them stored for future use. The slash piles will take a few more weeks of work to get them all hauled into the biotrash pits. 

Throughout all this work I've managed to only injure myself once. No cuts, scrapes, or bruises. What a surprise! But I did drop a chunk of heavy wood on my foot and broke a toe. Eeeee! That hurt! Luckily it wasn't a big toe, so it will heal up. Not the first time I've smashed a toe, but I hope it's the last.