Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween 2015's great! Around here it brings out the community connection more so than any other holiday. The local library hosts a costume event, with every costumed child getting a chance to win a brand new e-reader. Schools hold parties. One of the local music bands staged an event in town, open free to everyone who wished to drop by. Music, pupus, dancing, just plain fun. Bowls of Halloween candy appeared in local businesses, inviting people to nibble. Children trick or treated through town. And dozens and dozens of Halloween themed parties took place throughout the district. Lots of community sharing going on. 

My own group of odd-duck friends once again celebrated friendship, shared a meal, and watched a movie.........guess what........Rocky Horror Picture Show, of course!
Heck, it's traditional after all. Us old foggies know all the lines, sing the songs, and shout out the audience participation lines. Ouch! Yes, we're that daffy. But you bet were enjoying the silliness. 

Daffy? For sure. Nothing like a bunch of 50,60,70,80 year olds in homemade costumes......

Zebra, with tail ....

Gypsy serving homemade pizza.....

Nurse with hand crocheted hat, pretty nifty......

Hippy tourist helping herself to the buffet.....

A pirate watching Rocky Horror......

And your guess is as good as mine. Perchance a nerd in lighted glasses? By the way, I think he's the only one in attendance who hasn't thought about applying to Medicare or Social Security yet. We'll let him slide for now. 

Columbia, from the movie.....

Yes, we said we would all come in costume. Ok, this one's a joker. Not a bad t-shirt, I have to admit....

Yup, this cowboy is packing REAL guns. Hey, don't mess with old people!

Dr. Livingston, I presume? 

Someone you definitely don't want to meet in a dark alley alone....

Tony The a Tiger attacking the zebra! 

So people, for once I'm going to ask the audience if they connect with friends and neighbors during Halloween. Or is my little corner of the world a prime venue for an odd ducks convention?

Friday, October 30, 2015

Biotrash Pit, aka : Hugelpit

"What is a biotrash pit?", I've been asked. I have used the term often enough on the blog, so perhaps I need to explain. It's a hole in the Hawaiian, a puka.....into which I throw my coarse organic debris. Some of the dips on my farm are big enough to hide a truck or car in, for real! Over the years I've filled a few in then planted bananas. No need to water or fertilize the bananas, ever. Even during drought, the bananas seem to do fine. And since I add a generous layer of coarse mulch seeded with a bit of manure each year, no need to use commercial fertilizer. 

My pits are a good place to throw twigs, branches, tree limbs, chunks of tree trunk, dirty cardboard boxes, banana trunks, discarded coconuts, palm fronds and any other large organic matter that will take time to degrade. Plus I throw in lots stuff to fill in the gaps.....just about anything. Weeds, sawdust, dirt, excess manure, old kitty litter, dog poo, paper trash, macnut shells, rotten fruits, pulled out ferns from the pastures, garbage that's too rotted for even the chickens to eat, and just about any and all biodegradable waste. 

Above -- It's really difficult to make sense out of this photo, but believe me, this was once a giant hole that easily could have swallowed my truck. I've spent the past several months filling it in with the debris generated by our last wind storm. Lots of leaves, twigs, and tree branches. But also some knarly tree trunk chunks.  I would throw in about a two foot thick layer of stuff then squash it down by either tramping all over it or running the ATV over it. Then I add a light covering of soil Inorder to add soil microbes, and add some water to wet it down a tad. If I have them handy, I'll also throw in rocks as I fill the hole,mabout 3 per cubic foot, to add a tad of stability. The reason for the rocks is that I plan to plant banana trees. If the ground is too soft, the trees will simply fall over from the weight of the bananas. 

I've thrown pickup truckloads of green waste into this hole. As I said, months worth of clean up. Many layers upon layers. It amazes me just how much green waste it takes to fill up a hole. 

As the pit is being filled, I'll add water if needed to keep things lightly moist. This year has seen a lot of rain, so I've been spared the chore of hauling water to the pit.  Once the pit is filled, I'll top it off with a light layer of dirt/compost, then apply a couple inches of coarse mulch. Whatever I happen to have handy.....ti leaves, banana leaves, sugar cane waste, bamboo leaves, coarse weeds, guinea grass. It all works as a coarse mulch. I'll now add water to these layers so that everything is moist. 

Ah-ha, time to plant bananas! I'll make a hole for each young tree, a hole large enough to hold about a 5 gallon bucket of soil.

Above -- Hole made in the debris. I set the bucket into the hole so you could see it.

Above -- Fill the hole with dirt.

The tree gets planted and watered in. Then I'll mulch around it with a 6 inch layer of mulch, such as bamboo leaves or grass clippings. Ta-da. Done! I can now walk away, only to add mulch from time to time to keep the soil covered. Of course, this is a good spot to dispose of my coarse, large leaves. Leaves and stalks from bananas, ti, sugar cane, guinea grass, etc all make good mulching material around the bananas. 

The homestead farm is 20 acres. There are lots of good sized pukas on it, so I don't think I'll run out of biotrash pits in my lifetime. I never need to haul any of my green waste to the dump. 

One thing I've learned is that all that green waste decomposes over time. Thus the hole sinks. So I initially grossly overfill the hole knowing that it will sink at least 50%. Once I plant the bananas, I continuely add mulch. This helps keep the hole filled in, but not completely. The more tree trunks and limbs used to fill the pit, to slower the sinking process proves to be. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

TLUD Biochar Stove

TLUD = top loading up draft. It's one of the many stove concepts out there. 

I use a homemade TLUD stove for making biochar out of the scads of windblown twigs that accumulate around here. My latest stove has reached the end if it's life, so I'm building a new one. I'm making a few modifications to the new replacement to see if it works better for me with the fuel that I have. 

I picked up a metal trash can. Yes, I actually paid cash for something! But I found a piece of discarded stove pipe at the metal recycling, and snagged that for free. 

I flipped the trashcan upside down and proceeded to cut a 6" diameter rough hole in its bottom. I used a hammer and old chisel. Pretty crude but effective. 

3/4 the way around the metal no longer cooperated, so I just folded the flap inside to finish the hole making process. My previous stove didn't have a large opening like this. I was seeing problems with smoking if I wasn't ultra careful in using ultra dry fuel. So I am hoping that adding more air will correct that. We'll see. 

I then set the stove pipe inside the trashcan, over the hole. Looking down the pipe, it looks like a proper fit. By the way, if this hole proves to be too large, I can block part of it with a piece of metal. 

Looking down the stovepipe I realized that something was wrong. I forgot to install a grate so that the fuel and fire would stay inside my stove. 

So I picked up the trashcan and slid a BBQ grate under the hole. Good so far. 

I did a very brief test fire and realized that I need more holes. So I flipped the trashcan over, and using my trusty old chisel, clobbered more air holes. These holes will provide the secondary air source for igniting the gases given off by the burning.....sometimes called a second burn. This prevents smoke. 

Ok. Here's how it looks so far. Trashcan with holes. Pipe inside running inside, and up to two inches below the top lip of the trashcan. That two inch gap is important. It could be more but I've found that two inches works with past stoves. I'm hoping it works for this one too, otherwise I will need to cut the stove pipe down in height. 

The trashcan stove is set atop two cinder locks sitting on a concrete slab, with metal guards around it. Nothing combustable in the vicinity. 

I put an old metal pot beneath the opening for catching the embers. This turned out to be too small so I later switched to using jumbo steel pan that had once been used in a restaurant. It holds about four times what this pot does. 

The stove isn't quite ready to run yet. It needs a flame constrictor in order to help it run fairly smokeless. "Smokeless" is a goal that I have. No need to frighten the neighbors with billowing smoke. 

So again the old chisel and hammer gets used to make a hole in a piece of old roofing. I guessed at the diameter for the hole, figuring that I could make it bigger if the stove smoked. But it turned out to be fine. 

Now to test the stove. I packed the interior stove pipe with broken up twigs. (I break them up by running over them with the vehicles in the driveway. I just spread them out on an old tarp and drive the truck over the twigs in my routine comings and goings. As they become small enough pieces....1" to 3", I scoop them up and store them in old feed bags.) I packed it tightly, which means no empty spaces but still little gaps between the twigs for air flow. Twigs work fine with this kind of stove, but sawdust wouldn't. Air needs to run up through the fuel from the bottom. 

I use some cardboard pieces for lighting the fuel from the top. A couple of torn up pieces of cardboard and a squirt of 90% alcohol gets it going. 

Once the fire seems well lit, I'll add the flame constrictor. I should see flames not smoke. If it smokes then the fire isn't ready.........or something needs to be modified on this particular stove design. But happily I got a nice clean flame. 

On top of that I'll add a chimney. The chimney gets the fire roaring because the gases being given off get ignited via the secondary air source (that is, the holes in the bottom of the trashcan.)  I use a briquette starter as a chimney, because it's so easy to use and lasts forever. Without a chimney I don't get good second combustion. 

The test burn went well. The stove worked exactly like I wanted. 

So what about the biochar? How do I know when it's done? 

I want to stop the burning process when flame disappears. People would say that means when the fire has died back, no flames coming out the top, and just burning embers inside the stove. It's important to stop the burning process at that point. If not, then the embers will continue burning all the way down to ash. With twigs that happens quickly. Now if it's ashes I wanted, well just it burn until the fire goes out. But if it's biochar that I'm looking for, then I need to stop the burning process. I still get some ash along with the biochar, but that's not a problem. 

The easiest way I've found to stop the embers from burning is to quench them. With this stove I simply pull out the grate from under the trash can and allow the embers to drop into a pan of water below. Now you understand why the original pot was too small. There were more embers than it could hold. The restaurant pan holds all the embers easily, plus enough water to quench them. Perfect. 

PS- No photos of the end product because I somehow screwed up my phone camera. It's now taking monster sized photos in some weird mode. I need hubby to fix it. I'm no good with these techy electronic gadgets. I'll get photos for you later. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

House - Building a Walk-in Closet

We're back to working on the house again. I skipped over finishing the bedroom in order to make the walk-in closet, a place to stash the bedroom stuff. On two sides of the bedroom we have porches that we really don't use. So I've decided to close in one for a large (8'x 20') closet. 

I don't have the before photos of the porch area. Dumb me deleted them from the camera before I checked to make sure I had transferred them to the computer. Oh well. You'll just have to use your imagination. 

Rather than removing the support posts and the railing, we left them in place and framed around them. 
So the framing looks a bit odd. It actually was quicker and easier doing it this way. 

We also installed windows for not only light, but air flow. Things get moldy here and air flow helps control it. There are three 2x3 windows along the 20' wall, plus one 2x3 on one end. 

The other end has a 3x3 window that will match the 3x3 that we plan to install in the bedroom wall. From the outside, hubby thought that the two windows should match. Thus both are 3x3. 

We've gotten as far as getting the siding up on the long wall. 

Still plenty of work to do. Electrical. Siding on the end walls. Sealing the walls. Exterior trim and battens. Interior walls. Ceiling. Floor. Staining and painting. And importantly, doorways between the bedroom and closet. So this part went up pretty fast. The rest will seem to go slowly by comparison. 

We need to move some electrical wiring and run wire for lights and outlets in the closet. That's hubby's job. So more progress will be on hold until he has the time to do that. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Pig Traits

I'm often asked what it's like to raise pigs. I don't have lots of experience in this department, so every time I get new piglets I keep learning more about pigs. Prior to coming to Hawaii, my pig raising escapades involved commercial piglets. They were far, far different from the part ferals I'm working with now. These part ferals are way more active and aggressive. 

My current pair are very active rooters. In fact, I'm exploiting that trait in order to rid my future garden area of grass. As soon as they are moved into fresh grass, they both root around ear deep (and often have their complete heads underground!) ripping up the sod. This pair could destroy a manicured lawn in minutes.

Another very piggy trait I see more so with this pair than any previous pigs is their aggressive eating habits. They will both dive into the same bucket and try to out gobble their sister. Within seconds they are pushing, trying to flip the other guy out of the bucket, biting ears, and squealing. Then they will switch buckets, repeating their piggish behavior. 

Somewhere along the way one pig gets flipped right over the back of the other, ending up being in the other side. But the eating never stops. They just shove their faces right back into the one bucket again until all the food is gone. Then it's a repeat performance with the other bucket of food. When they finally get full, I'll refill the buckets so that they can nibble with less tussling until it's dinner time. Whereupon they do it all over again. My previous piglets never carried the food fights to this extreme. 

Another piggish habit, one that I don't like, is that the reddish brown one bites. Not fun. She's smart enough to not bite if I'm holding a short length of pipe in my hand. But arrive without the pipe and she'll try to bite my hands and feet. She's the smaller of the two sisters but surely the meanest. And she's going to be the first one to go into the freezer. At the rate she is biting, I won't be waiting for her to get very big. The black one is just fine and enjoys head and belly rubs. But I have to fend off the red one in order to do that. So I've learned with this duo, some pigs are aggressive and not interested in being tamed. 

So far each piglet I've raised has been different. Some nice. Some not. Some smart. Some pretty stupid. Some that I like. Some that I'm more than willing to butcher. I've had rooters and non-rooters. Jumpers and non-jumpers. Some afraid of dogs. Some that liked to run and play with our farm dog. And now the red one who tries to attack and bite the dog. Poor Crusty is afraid of this red pig. 

I wonder if mean pigs taste different? Naw, I don't think so. But we'll find out soon enough because the red pig will be going to feed a bunch of people at the Saturday night get together. She just needs to get a little bit bigger first. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Visiting Einstein

This has nothing to do with homesteading........

Who is Einstein? A cockatoo living at the zoo in Hilo. 

Einstein arrived at the zoo a damaged bird. When we first met him he excessively head bobbed, crest displayed, paced, and vocalized...both talking and screaming. He had some significant mental issues. After much time and work, he is much more stable, relaxed, and less neurotic. Some worker at the zoo has done marvelous rehab work with Einsten. Thank you! 

For some reason Einstein and I have some sort of connection. He is actively interested when he spies me. Offers me food. Wants to touch or have any objects I am holding. "Mutter-talks" to me constantly. Becomes agitated when I go to leave. I'm aware that he reacts this way to some other people who visit him, but it's interesting to see that he has included me on his list. Why, I haven't a clue. He totally ignores hubby plus most of the other people who stop by his enclosure. 

I visit Einstein every time I go to Hilo. While I don't bring him food as treats, I do offer him a paper object for him to hold and rip. Often it's the cardboard tube from inside a toilet paper roll. Today I forgot to bring one so I offered him a rolled up pamphlet. 

He spent several minutes investigating the little booklet before finally ripping chunks from it. As you can see from the shredded wood in the bottom of his pen, he takes an passionate interest in ripping things to pieces.......especially chunks of 2x4s. Wow, don't let your fingers get anywhere near that beak!!! 

I am not going to get into a discussion about the right vs wrong of animal captivity, zoos, pets. I've learned decades ago that there is no perfect answer, no ultimately "right" answer. So let's not go there. Einstein is what he is.....a captive raised bird that had a rough life and ended up in a better environment where he can have a chance to experience a stable, safe life. He's luckier than most people. Many people visit him and he appears to enjoy the interaction. 

Visiting Einstein is a learning and sharing experience that I hope will continue for many years to come. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Taro Flowers

I've been asked if taro produces flowers. Yes, it does. But I've never been able to predict exactly what triggers the blooming. It doesn't happen the same time of the year from flowering to flowering. Nor is maturity or age of the plant the determining factor. I've had both young and old plants bloom. And not every plant pushes blooms when the others around it are flowering. I've kept note of which plants were propagated from the central huli and which from the side corms. That gave no consistent conclusions either. 

Right now I'm seeing lots of flowers developing among the taro plants. And not just one variety, but several different ones. But to stay with the lack of predictability, many of the varieties I'm growing are not showing signs of getting ready to bloom. Go figure. 

All my taros have similar flowers......a long, narrow spike. The length varies. The color ranges from pale yellow, to peachy, to strong golden. Some of the long spikes will stay closed. Others flare open to some degree. Some varieties produce a single flower per plant. Others will make up to four to five flowers, one right after the other. 

Some flowers are fairly short, perhaps 5"-6". The one below is huge. 21 1/2" long! 

I've never seen any of the flowers naturally pollinate. No fruits or seeds produced. To date I haven't tried hand pollinating. Perhaps one day I'll try experimenting just for the fun of it.  I am assuming that taro's natural pollinator doesn't exist here in Hawaii. Just a guess though. 

The above taro variety is blooming for the first time for me. I've been growing it for four years now with no blooming. Two of the plants are producing flowers which arch back and flare open at the base to expose the stamens and pistils. 

And it appears to be a variety that will produce multiple flowers per plant. It's already pushing the next flower down the stem......
It's the pale colored hook just emerging out of the leaf stem and at the base of the current flower stem. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Turkey Intelligence?

Who ever said that turkeys are a wiley game bird? From what I've seen back in NJ (with wild turkeys) and what I've witnessed here (with feral Rio Grande), this species is lucky it's not extinct. They might be alert for predators, but they surely lack on problem solving intelligence. 

Case......I was weeding to gardens along the front of the property, then mowed the grass along the road for grass clippings to spread over those freshly cleaned up garden beds. The entire job took me about 1 1/2 hours. All that time a small band of turkeys were trying to get from my neighbor's front pasture into my front pasture. 

There's a 42" wire stock fence along the property line. The birds found the fence to be a formidable barrier. 

Not just a hinderance or an annoyance to be flown over or walked around, but instead it was a complete blockage. Those birds fussed along that fence for the entire 1 1/2 hours. 

They stood exactly in that same spot along the fence. They didn't even try walking further up or down the fence line. Periodically one bird or another would try to walk through the fence. They'd poke their head and neck through and try to push the rest of themselves through the opening too small for them to fit. 

Incredibly I watched this the entire time I was working. Nothing ever changed. I wondered just how long these birds were going to be stuck there. 

Geez Louise.....witless birds. When I finally finished and was ready to put the lawnmower away, I decided to move things along for those stuck turkeys. I took a short run towards them in a mock attack. As a unit they promptly flew over the fence. Mission accomplished !