Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Analysis paralysis

I get a number of emails from people who tell me how they have been planning to make the leap to homesteading, self-supporting farming/gardening, moving to the country, or whatever. But I notice that many have been stuck in the planning stage for years or even decades. The common denominator seems to be a fear of failure, or perhaps an inability to conquer inertia. I see statements like....

....I want to do it right the first time. 
....I don't want to waste my effort (time, money) doing it wrong. 
....I'm going to quit my job so I need to get it right from day one. 
....I'm planning the best way to do it. 
....I'm working on designing the perfect farm. 
....I'm figuring out exactly how much of the various foods to grow so that I don't have too little of some or too much of others, 
....I don't want to make mistakes of buying the wrong livestock (or substitute equipment, farm, land, equipment). 
....I only want to build it once.
....I'm looking for the perfect farm (house, land, location). 

This is classic Analysis Paralysis. 

This affliction seems to be common, at least in the people I've met or talked with. I see people who never get past the planning stage. It's not that they've given up on their dream, it's just that they have to get it perfect before they could even consider moving onto the next step. If course, it's never perfect enough. 

Years ago I often hid behind Analysis Paralysis to avoid the discomfort of failure, ridicule, criticism.  But about 15 years ago I managed to break out of paralysis. Nowadays I'm more apt to say, "Sure, what the heck. Lets give it a try and see what happens." My current attitude has its downsides too from time to time, but I greatly prefer it to Analysis Paralysis. 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Chemical Free?

Numerous times I've been asked to write about living a chemical-free lifestyle. I've actually tried composing something about this topic several times, but I end up getting too wordy, writing a short book. Then I realize that I was getting preachy, something I don't want to do. I only want to say how I'm doing things, not how things should be done by others.

Let it be known that I don't live a chemical-free lifestyle. Quite frankly, I believe that it's impossible to do that without living an incredibly remote and a stark existence. The world is so chemical dependent and thus chemical contaminated that I could never get away from it even if I wanted to. But I do limit my chemical exposure.

While I take some steps to limit my exposure, I have a long way to go to live a more chemical free lifestyle. Quite frankly, at my age I don't think it would make much of a difference. If I were in my 20's, then I might be more serious about avoiding unnatural chemicals.  But then again, I believe that the world I live in is already quite contaminated and there is little I can do about it...or avoid it. The air, water, soil...all being more and more contaminated daily. Depressing. 

Ok, on a happier note. What do I do about avoiding chemicals? 
...Wash all new clothing before wearing. The textile industry heavily uses chemicals on fabrics. Not all wash out, but at least I can wash away the worst of them. Fire retardant is required on certain clothing, thus I ask, why should I wear pajamas? (and put fire retardant against my skin for so many hours)
...Avoid all processed foods. Reading the ingredients list can be scary! 
...Limit the amount of store bought foods when reasonable. Even fresh fruits and veggies have been treated with various chemicals. Cans and bottles use chemical liners. 
...Be selective on what cleaning agents I use. And no air fresheners. 
...Give thought to which personal care products I use. 
...Keep air circulation in the house. A closed up home builds up chemical levels in the air. 
...Avoid using chemical pesticides and herbicides. Here in Hawaii houses are routinely tented and fumigated for termites. It's surprising that we all don't come down with lymphoma, brain cancer, or some other fatal affliction from the exposure. 
...Limit my use of propane and gasoline. Only use with good air circulation. 
...Take care when servicing our solar electric batteries. 
...Avoid breathing in obvious roadside dust. Of course we can never avoid the dust 100%. 
...Avoid allowing chemicals to set on my skin. The skin can absorb a number of chemicals. 
...Allow all our building supplies to gas off before using them in the house. I even left the windows down during the day on my new truck for weeks in order to air out that "new car" smell. Who knows what chemicals were gassing off. 
...Use medications judiciously. 
...Phase out chemically coated cookware. 
...Store food and water in non-plastic containers. I've acquired quite a collection of glass jars and bowls. 
...Burn no candles indoors. I adore the ambiance that candlelight gives. But I reserve candle use to our lanai (outdoor porch). What's not to like about eating dinner by candlelight? Candlelight dinner is one of my indulgences I'm not ready to give up. 

What else? Off hand, I can't think of another. But just let me hit the "publish" button and I'm sure to think of a half dozen more. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Secret Garden Update

Just a bit of an update for those inquiring minds who keep asking me how the project is coming along. First, please understand that this will be a slow, longterm project. It's something that I plan to only work in a few days a week, a little at a time. I'm seeing it as one of my fun creations. So I don't expect to be finished for a long time. So don't hold your breathe anticipating the end product. 

To help control my own over eagerness, I'm limiting myself to planting only one tiny spot 5 days a week. I know myself.....I could easily lose myself in this project and end up devoting an entire day to designing the footpaths, flower beds, and outdoor art. Gee, I'd get nothing else done. So like the sugar junkie that I am, I have to limit myself to one cookie a week, one dessert, one sweet drink.......and one small secret garden task for each of the weekdays. No more. 

Early on I planted some baby banana trees along one perimeter side. They all survived except one. Not bad. I also planted sweet potatoes as a ground cover there, a couple of cactus cuttings a got from a friend, a few pineapple tops, some ice plant cuttings, some wondering Jew, and cuttings of a bushy flowering plant that I don't know the name of. Everything but the one banana has made it. Then I started limiting how much time I would allow myself to work on this project. Since then I've put in a few shade loving bromeliads.....
They have been doing very well and have spread out some since planting. 

I took some cuttings from a coleus and stuck them into the ground, kept them watered daily, and now they've rooted. So far so good. 

Next in line was some Mexican oregano cuttings. These root extremely easily too. Just put them into the ground, keep moist, and they root in a couple of days. This plant grows well in shade. I planted them next to a cut off tree stump, so they will eventually grow up the stump and hide it.

Another shade lover is polka dot plant. I ripped a few up from another garden and transplanted them into the secret garden. They transplant quite readily. They can be invasive, so I have to ruthlessly rip out excess plants at least once a year to control them. No problem.......compost fodder.  :)

Hawaiian ti is another plant that tolerates shade. I took a number of cuttings from my mother's plants, removed all the leaves, and simply stuck them into the ground. Kept moist, they root fairly quickly. These rooted and have started pushing new leaves. 
This is another ti variety, leaves removed, it's difficult to see. But it's a dark purplish one. I just planted it so it isn't pushing leaves yet. I also put some sweet potato cuttings in for a ground cover. 

Sansevieria , aka mother-in-laws tongue. Another shade lover. Easy to transplant. 

A scented geranium called citronella. Also called the mosquito plant. Personally I haven't found it to be effective in repelling mosquitos but the foliage is interesting in itself. Mine will grow ok in semi shade, so I picked a spot that gets a bit of sun. It grows well from tip cuttings. 

This one I know as chicken gizzard plant. I put fresh cuttings right into the ground be watered them once a day. It didn't take long for them to root. 

Upcoming will be variegated pineapple, more coleus, bird nest fern, variegated ivy (one has to aggressively control this otherwise it invades everywhere), impatiens, and more types of bromeliads. On the perimeters that get more sun, I have waiting in the wings spider lily, aloe, green agave, variegated agave, blue agave, hibiscus, sweet potatoes as ground cover, pineapples, and plenty more bananas. Who knows what else I'll add. 












Saturday, June 27, 2015

Banana Flowers & Bunches

I never knew what bananas looked like on a tree until I started my farm project. For some odd reason I thought that they grew UP, not down. Don't ask me why I came up with that visual idea....perhaps something from my childhood. 

Of course I knew that bananas grew on a "tree", so I was a bit surprised to find that it's not really a tree. You mean that this "tree" grows for a year to two, produces one clump of bananas, then dies? Whoa. 

I got this neat photo of female banana flowers (below). Usually I never get to see them. Maybe this tree is an oddball, or maybe I'm always too late in looking, but I normally don't see the female blossoms on the ends of the baby bananas. 


So where are the male flowers? They are in that big purplish bulb-thing hanging down under the baby bananas. That bulb opens a layer at a time revealing male flowers underneath the opened stealth covers. 
For edible bananas, those male flowers don't mean a thing. Edible bananas aren't fertilized. There are no developed seeds inside a banana that we eat. 


The above stalk of fruits are well along the way to becoming fully developed. The little bananas start out thin, then gradually grow larger but are very angular in shape. Then finally the fruits plump out, looking like real bananas. Commercially they are harvested green, at this stage. Then they are ripened via chemical treatment. But on my homestead they are ripened naturally. I wait for one banana to start turning yellow before I cut the entire bunch down off the tree. The others then rather quickly ripen. This leaves me with an over abundance of bananas, yes. But they are quite usable for trading and sharing.

Vinegar Fly Trap

Vinegar flies are what I use to know as fruit flies back in NJ. But here in Hawaii, fruit flies mean something totally different. So those little annoying gnat-like flies one finds buzzing foods in the kitchen are called vinegar flies in Hawaii. 

Vinegar flies show up if I leave food sitting in the kitchen, especially fruit. First I'll see one or two. Not a big deal. But before long there are dozens. Now it's annoying! Totally eliminating vinegar flies in this environment is impossible because of year around rotting fruits out in the woods and people's yards. So my goal has always been just to control the ones who end up in my kitchen. And by the way, there are many critters out there that rely upon vinegar flies as a food source. Thus eliminating vinegar flies would cause a shift in the ecology, one that might be detrimental. Therefore vinegar flies can exist in my book, just not in my kitchen. 

The easiest and simplest way I've found to control them is to make a jar trap. This is only one type of homemade trap. There are many variations. But I found that this one works well for me, plus the cats and dogs have no interest in the jar. And I don't notice any unpleasant odor from it. 

I'll use a stable, squat jar, one that is not easily knocked over. 

I prefer a small jar that can be tucked in a corner of the food preparation area. That way if some flies arrive while I'm working with food, they'll be trapped after clean-up. Since they're already in the area, the jar will draw them in. 

So I take the jar......pour in an inch or two of apple cider vinegar, take a bit of waste plastic or plastic wrap to cover the top, and secure the plastic with a rubberband. 
To neaten things up, I'll trim off any excess plastic.  Next I'll cut a small hole in the center of the plastic covering so that the flies can enter.
 Done. Set it into place by the window and forget about it for awhile. I find that the sun coming through the window warms the vinegar, which seems to lure the flies better than when the jar is in the shade. But I suspect that the trap works either way. The flies enter the trap and can't find their way out. Eventually they drown. 

A little note......I notice that the flies inside the trap will walk around the top rim of the jar trying to find a way out through the plastic covering. But they don't seem to walk to the center where the entrance hole is. So the trick is not to make the hole anywhere near the rim. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Honomalino Bay & Miloli'i

Honomalino Bay -- destination of the June outing of the Auld Biddies Club. Five old geezers, who still see themselves as young and beautiful of course, take a trek to one of the secluded secret beaches. Here's an inside view of one of our favorite swimming spots. 

Honomalino Bay / Beach

Located just south of the Hawaiian fishing village of Miloli'i, it's accessible via 4 wheel drive if you happen to own one of the very few houses along the bay. But for most of us, we park at the county beach park (Miloli'i Beach Park) parking lot and walk in. It's about a mile over a somewhat rough trail that's easy to follow.


The trail passes a few houses, weaves between lava humps and trees...


It passes scenic waterfront, and crosses a short lava field ..........


.........before opening up onto a salt & pepper beach rimmed by coconut palms.


 Since most tourists decline to make the walk, this beach is often delightfully deserted. A piece of paradise! And besides, the trail itself is quite interesting. It passes by many historic sites of interest, including a quite old and still actively used fishing shrine. 


As with most remote beaches, there are no facilities here. (There are toilets and trashcans at the parking area.) One is expected to leave no traces and pack out one's trash. No campfires nor camping. But even so, it's a great destination.


The reasonably gentle bay is great for snorkeling in that it hosts a nice population of young reef fish. Sea turtles are not uncommon. The beach itself is a long crescent of mixed sand (coral and black lava) with areas of lava shelves. A blowhole can be found amid the shelves, as can many small pools of evaporating saltwater containing salt crystals. These salt crystals have a incredible flavor, livening up foods, especially grilled meats. 

A real surprise on this trip was the presence of a monk seal. We respectfully hiked past an adult basking on a beach, stopping briefly for a few quick photos. Seals have the reputation of being aggressive if disturbed, so we kept our distance. Besides, it's an endangered species, thus protected. So distance plus caution was the game plan. 


If going or returning from the beach during high tide, be forewarned that part of the trail will be under water. It's not bad, only about 12-15" at the deepest. But on a rough sea day the crossing can be interesting. 



Miloli'i

Before diving into talking about Miloli'i, I need to explain that there are three divisions : the Hawaiian fishing village along the coastline, the residential area on the lava flats, and the residential area on the hill slope. Generally no one includes the hill slope area when describing Miloli'i. It's like that area doesn't even exist. So adhering to precedent, I'm going to exclude it too. The residential area on the lava flats is not considered to be the Hawaiian fishing village. Most of the properties are owned by non-Hawaiians and are mostly vacation homes and rentals. It's the homes along the coast that make up the traditional, and historic, village. 

Miloli'i is generally accepted as being the last Hawaiian fishing village in the State. But don't expect some friendly picturesque village. This is no scenic tourist trap. Plus many of the residents can be unpleasant and even hostile towards tourists. The area is impoverished and junk laden. You'll find no grid electricity or county water. Cellphone coverage is iffy. But if you can get by all this, you'll find a village who's general lifestyle still lies in the past of many decades ago, although it's now infiltrated with the modern vice of drugs (meth), which has brought along crime with it. There once were plenty of free roaming pigs, but the county put an end to that. (note : I have a photo of the old county notice and warning about confining loose pigs, but I'll have to search my photo libraries in order to find and post it. The sign itself is now gone.) So now it's plenty of free roaming dogs instead. Many of the coastal houses are homes to the fishermen. Boats and trailers can be found parked at most. There are no stores, no gas stations, no banks, no hotels, no night life, no tourist information booth.

Miloli'i has a history of hardship, and it's not just the poverty. An 1868 tsunami caused extensive destruction. 1926 saw a lava flow from Mauna Loa that destroyed the adjacent tiny village of Ho'opuloa and sent an arm of lava skimming by Miloli'i village itself.  And yet another tsunami struck in 2011, again causing property damage.  

But there are redeeming factors. The coastline is beautiful. There are coves that are incredibly photogenic. Looking mauka, the hills beg for photographs. At the beach park area and Honomalino Bay there are nice snorkeling and swimming spots. The beaches are lovely and relaxing. The remoteness appeals to many people. Being remote, the night skies are amazing. So are the sunsets. The quiet time away from the rat race results in many a visitor renting a vacation home for a week or two in the flats. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Secret Garden

As if I don't have enough projects that I'm working on.........but heck, life is short. I want to do the things I want to do! So here's what is developing---

With all the rain we've been having, everything is in a runaway growth spurt, including the guava saplings, ferns, vines, and grasses. They are creating quite a formidable tangle that not even the horse can bust through. This tangle is invading my pastures, killing the grass. Thus armed with weedwacker and machete, I decided to rid the farm of the worse of the tangle. In the process I opened up a pretty area that wasn't part of a pasture that would be ideal for making a secret garden. Gee, wouldn't it be neat to have my own special garden hideaway? Sure! 

This is what I started with..........

And this is what it looks like minus the tangle.........

A chainsaw quickly eliminated the saplings, crowded young growth, deformed and diseased trees.......

I ended up with multiple piles of small trees that I delimbed. Lots of poles...........

I decided to use those bigger poles to make a fence. Nothing fancy or complicated. The fence will outline the perimeter of the secret garden. Sure, it's not all so secret yet, but give it time. 

But the fence looked too "incomplete" to me. So I decided to add rocks. I've got plenty of rock around here that needs to be stored for some possible future use. I thought I could use it for the fence and thus store it at the same time. So the fence is ending up looking like this......

The rock part can be as thick or thin as I have rocks for storing. This is what I've done so far......
The rocks are piled about 18 inches thick. Yes, that's a lot of rocks. Most are small though. I'm putting the biggest ones as the face with the little ones behind. 

I've started planting some of my excess plant starts -- pineapples, ti, succulents, and whatever else. I'm also starting to plant bananas, which will form part of the visual screen around the area .......ah-ha! Yes, to make the garden hidden from outsiders. 

This is a project that will come along slowly because it doesn't have high priority. But I'm looking forward to making it a peaceful hideaway. Perhaps a nice place for a gazebo? 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Flora of Ka'u

Since I covered Ka'u fauna, "SJKman" has asked how about the plants. That's a daunting topic. There are hundreds of plants here in Ka'u, so I won't attempt to list them all. Although this is the tropics, the climate types in this district run from one end of the scale to the other. I think the tundra classification is the only one missing. Thus there is a niche for just about anything. Spots in Ka'u can be hot, dry, and sun. Others can be cold, wet, cloudy.....or cold, dry, sunny. Warm & wet. Warm & dry. Whoa, how about I just make a list.....hot, warm, cold, dry, moist, wet, sun, cloudy. Ok now, just mix up the combinations, add tradewinds, and you've Ka'u! So just about anything goes. They say if you don't like the weather where you are, just drive down the road five miles. Bound to be different there. 

While there are still plenty of endemic plants in this region, the entire area abounds in introduced varieties. Ranchers brought in grasses and forage plants. Farmers brought in a vast range of food plants, hedgerow plants, flowers, and cover crops. Tree plantations host a variety of introduced tree species. Then there are the hundreds of ornamental and medicinal plants purposely brought in. And we just can't point fingers at the newcomers to these islands. The Hawaiians themselves brought plants with them for cultivation purposes. 

So I guess I'll just address my own farms.......

If you come to my two farm sites you'll be able to pick out plenty of palm trees. And though you may not know what they are, you will see large numbers of Christmasberry, ohia, haole koa, assorted fruit trees, macadamias, coffee, bananas. There's plenty of greenery that includes dozens of different varieties of shrub and tree....most that I don't know what they are or what they're called. The pastures have many types of grasses and herbs growing in them. My gardens are home to a wide assortment of edible plants. And of course there are also the flowers that I've purposely introduced. 

It's easier to say what doesn't exist here than to say was does. You won't find varieties that require winter-like weather. No oaks, maples, birches, most stone fruits. No lilacs, daffodils, hyacinths, tulips to grace flower gardens. Most apples won't thrive here, though I do have two low chill apple trees that are doing well. No pines except for a few types. Some cool weather plants might survive if coddled, but disease usually takes these stressed plants. For example, I have tried growing blueberries but the plants succumbed to rust. 

When we moved here, palms, bananas, and banyan trees looked so exotic to us. They didn't exist in NJ. Of course we are use to them now. Much of the vegetation was foreign to me. I've gradually gotten to know some of it, though I haven't put enough effort into learning about all the different plants. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Coffee and Rain

The weather has been really unusual for the past many months in that it has rained a bit almost every single day at the homestead farm. Luckily it has been much drier at the seed farm, so my seed production has been ok. That five miles makes a big difference, 

I have been surprised to see how much the coffee is liking the rain. The trees are starting to bloom for the third time this year. I've never had them do this before. 


I have trees that have ripe cherries that I've just picked, green cherries of various stages of development, and new flower buds being produced. Often this is all on the same branch, especially with the trees that are getting a lot of sunshine. The deep shade trees are tending to produce flowers on just the branches without the immature cherries. 

Now that many of my trees are old enough to be producing, I've been watching them closer. So I'm learning a bit more about their habits. The sun trees are well branched & compact, shorter, heavy producers, but require more water and fertilizer. The deep shade trees are open & lanky, taller, lighter producers, but don't require as much water and fertilizer to look good. 

So far I haven't seen the coffee bean beetle, but I know that's only a matter of time. I'm sure the little beetle will eventually find these isolated trees. I've put out monitoring traps, but as of yet, I've caught none. Once they show up, I'll show you what I will be doing to control them. 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Fauna of Ka'u

When I think of animal life in Ka'u, of course I think of those that I tend to notice. Just like most places, there is plenty of animal life around but most is not noticed, like insects, spiders, nocturnal animals. And some I'd like to not notice, or have them not notice me! ....ticks, scabies mites, mosquitos, flies, centipedes, crab spiders, and all the other annoying nasties. 
That a nasty, this is a golden orb spider that's very common around here. 

Mammals ..........
     Dogs are more popular here in Ka'u than I was use to anywhere else I've lived. Pampered pets. Guard/watch dogs. Hunting dogs. Ranch working dogs. Personal assistance dogs. They can be seen riding inside cars, in the back of trucks, in livestock carriers, atop cattle trailers, even occasionally on motorcycles, scooters, bicycles, and ATVs. 
Where people travel, you'll find their dogs along. Dogs running around town is much more common than the places I've lived before, with the exception of when I initially was in Taiwan, though that situation is now changed. I'll see the "regulars" running around Naalehu, Pahala, and Waiohinu. Most people leave free running dogs alone although our mainland transplants seem to have the compulsive need to round them up. And people living down the more isolated roads have to deal with the much maligned feral and abandoned dogs. Because they frequently attack livestock, most are shot on sight. 
    Cats are not quite visible as the dogs, but there's a lot more of them. While lots of people keep cats as pets or ratters, feral cats abound. The National Park and County Parks actively kill feral cats, as do some residents, but most ferals are tolerated as long as they are neutered. 
     Small mammals include both wild ones and pocket pets. Mice and rats come to mind, for sure. Rabbits are plentiful in Ka'u, and guinea pigs are common enough. The much hated mongoose seems to be everywhere. 
     You wont see the Hawaiian monk seal too often but it uses the Ka'u beaches to rest. It doesn't breed here or call it home, but like many visitors to Hawaii, some like to bask on the beaches. 
    Who can miss seeing the big mammals -- horses, donkeys, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs. Most are the domestic type, but there are plenty of ferals up in the hills. Feral pigs, Spanish goats, mouflon, and escaped cattle that now breed in the upper forests. Ka'u hosts a large population of large livestock. 
    Gee I almost forgot the Hawaiian hoary bat. I occasionally see one working the field over my big garden area. And I've spied a few while driving at night. 

Birds.........
     
(One of the pheasants that lives on my farm.)
Ka'u is home to a nice assortment of native birds, although there is far less of them since non-native critters were introduced. My top favorite that I've seen on the farm is the I'o, the Hawaiian hawk. Even though I've lost chickens to this hawk, I still like the idea of having the hawks around. Another native bird that I've only seen once at the farm is the pu'eo, the Hawaiian owl. My number two favorite. 
     Non-native birds are everywhere in good numbers. Cardinals. Mynah birds. Doves. Finches of many kinds. English Sparrows. Canaries. White Eyes. Barn owls. Even plenty of turkeys, mostly the Rio Grande variety. Then there are the pet birds: parrots, lovebirds, finches, macaws, cockatoos, parakeets. And farm birds include chickens, ducks, geese, and peacocks.
     And how can we forget the nene? The Hawaiian goose. There's a pair not far from our farm. Plus the water oriented birds along the shore, the plovers, ducks, and such.

Others.........
    Little lizards and geckos are very common. My farm is loaded with them. The Jackson chameleon also exists here though it's more difficult to spot. The purposely introduced cane toad is here.....I'd like to strangle the idiot that approved releasing them in Hawaii. They are incredibly prolific and have killed hundreds of dogs. And the coqui frog has established itself in a couple of locations in Ka'u, much to the regret of most residents. There are no native land turtles but a few people have turtles or tortoises of various types as pets. Of the sea turtles, Ka'u sees the hawksbill and the green turtles visiting the beaches in order to rest. 
      Then there's the snake. You've probably heard that Hawaii has no snakes. Well, not quite true. Here in Ka'u we have the accidentally introduced blind snake. But very few people say that they've seen one. They are often mistaken for a 6 inch long black worm. 
     Fish are often kept in ponds for food, mosquito control, and hobby breeding. Guppies. Swordtails. Mosquito fish. Tilapia. Koi. I'm not aware of others, but the possibility is surely there. 
 
The ghosts......occasionally there are reports of animals we are not sure are accurate. Hunters reported seeing axis deer. That turned out to be true. The State actively set out to eradicate them recently. They may have been successful. 
      Sometimes people claim to have seen an iguana or a snake. Obviously a released pet, if the report is accurate. I've never seen one although a farmer up the road from me claims that an iguana lived in his orchard or many months before disappearing into the Ka'u Forest Preserve...to live out a lonely life of a single. 

So it appears that Ka'u can be called home by many critters. Including a bunch of us humans.....a surely destructive invasive species. I wonder why we haven't been put on the banned list yet. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ka'u vs Puna

TresJolie asked ...." why did you choose Ka'u over Puna? "

After several exploration trips to Big Island, we actually decided that we liked the North Kohala area around Hiwi, up the mountain slope from the town. Big trees. Very green. Scenic. But very expensive. We couldn't afford a building lot let alone acreage. 

Our next favorite region was the Hamakua coast. Big trees. Very green. Scenic. But very expensive.  (notice a trend?) Land was more reasonable and we considered a few places. But we then discovered that there are loads of chemical contamination left over from the sugar plantations. We didn't want to grow our food in such contaminated soil nor breathe in that dust. 

So went off to look closer at more affordable land. Next on our list was areas around Kona and Hilo. Couldn't find anything suitable around Kona that we could afford. In hindsight we are very glad we failed to move there. Kona is currently plagued by vog which causes us sore throats and headaches anytime we spend a full day there. We also looked around Hilo but felt that it was too wet for what we had in mind. 

This left us with South Kohala next. Too dry. No trees. What land had trees on it was too cold, too pricy for us.

Moving on, we were running out of space. So we spent a couple of our trips driving around Puna and Ka'u, looking, researching, talking with shop owners and residents. We found Puna to be quite affordable. We looked at properties, with and without houses. But we just couldn't warm up to the area. Much of the land didn't have large trees, wasn't scenic without driving a distance, was scrubby and dry lacking the greenery that would indicate an area good for farming. The soil looked like it would need a whole lot of work and years to become productive. The areas around Kopoho looked real good. Plenty of moisture and sun. Soil to work with. Trees. Scenic. BUT the crime factor turned us off.  We learned that crime was common....theft, house break-ins. Junk cars were stashed everywhere. We didn't get a warm fuzzy feeling. We weren't interested in having to lock everything, chain things to the ground, have to look over our shoulders constantly, have to be suspicious of every stranger. 

Ka'u was the last area we checked. Though the district varies dramatically from rain forest to desert, there were many places that fit our criteria. So we started looking at land and found many places worth considering. Not all were within our budget, but overall things were looking promising. The trees were there. The greenery. We liked the people. Crime (theft) was primarily in pockets rather than everywhere. We found many land parcels that were free of sugar cane plantation contamination. And the scenic aspects were there too. The people in the little town of Naalehu, which of course we couldn't pronounce, were the clincher. People were friendly and helpful even though we were so obviously tourists. But Ka'u is remote. It's quite a distance to either Kona or Hilo. Ka'u hosted only one dentist, two very, very small medical clinics, one hospital that is just basic ER only. Very few stores, very few. No night life. But we were willing to accept the remoteness. 

We have no regrets with choosing Ka'u. The first acreage we purchased turned out not to be quite what we wanted, so it was sold in order to buy a better choice of land. This second parcel became our homestead. We have since purchased a small amount of land in a drier area to use as our seed production farm. 

As you can see, we did our research before buying. Even so, the first piece of land wasn't quite perfect, but when something better opened up, we sold/bought and moved on with life. 

We learned something that I'd like to pass along. Just coming on a week or two looking trip isn't the best way. We had time enough to check out the physical stuff like climate, geography, locations of services & stores. But it was hard to get a feel for the place. Did we like the people? Would we fit in? Would we be happy with the lifestyle & culture? Another biggie was that we weren't privy to the inside information .....who was thinking of selling, what properties were being sold that weren't on multiple listing? Lots of good parcels get sold privately via word of mouth. And all too often we would see a promising piece of land go on the market but get sold before we could fly over to check it. Thus what could we have done better? I could have wrapped up my own employment ties and moved over for a few months, renting a house. I could have been the official advance scout. But luckily, things worked out ok.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Mistakes That I Didn't Make

Ok, I make mistakes. BUT there are many that I didn't make. Yeah, sometimes I figure out things in advance. 


...I didn't get a cow. I often though about it and looked seriously into buying a mini once, but luckily I wasn't stupid enough to actually do it. I think I avoided a lot of injuries by not buying a cow. 

...I didn't buy a tractor. Ever since I was a kid I wanted a tractor. Crazy, no? Wow, did you know that those things are super expensive? They were always way beyond what I could afford, and by the way, until I moved here I never had a use for one. Happily I had the opportunity to drive tractors from time to time, giving me a bit of a tractor fix. Now that I have a farm and could put a tractor to work, I've decided not to buy one. Cost is one thing. But I have no experience on how to fix the thing and keep it running. And while it would be fun to have one, I really don't have enough work to keep one busy. 

...I didn't rely upon the homestead to support us from day one. Good thing I wasn't overly impressive with myself and my abilities. Turns out that they were woefully inadequate. It's taken me quite a while to learn enough to be a bit self reliant. 

...We didn't hook up to grid electric. We had initially planned on it. We're real glad that we didn't. 

...We didn't build too large a house. All my life I've lived in 3 (or more) bedroom houses. In fact everyone I knew looked down their noses at anyone living in less. Small houses were labelled "poor people's homes", so nobody bought one. But now I've come to a time in my life that small is preferred. It helps that I live some place where small homes abound, one bedroom homes are common, and most of one's time is spent outdoors. No need for a big house. Our current home isn't tiny. It's just smaller than I've ever had before. If we do go ahead and build a retirement house, it will be even smaller yet. 

...We  didn't start out with debts and a mortgage. Looking around I see that one of the main reasons for failures when moving here is that those people were saddled with debt. Dozens of people I know lost their homes to the banks. We are being careful to avoid temption. No loans. Never again. 

...Built the house out of treated wood and used cedar for the interior. Great decision! We've acquired enough experience now to understand that we made the right choice. 

...Bought a full sized 4x4 pick-up truck with a towing package. I could have bought something a lot cheaper. But that truck has been a real workhorse. It handles everything that we needed. No regrets on spending the money on it. When it comes time to replace it, I plan to downsize. I've done everything that I needed a big truck for. 

 ...Put in extra water catchment tanks. The extra tanks have come in handy. During drought years I'm reminded that it was a good decision to build more tanks. 

...Adhered to budgets. I'm not a real organized person, so for me to stick to a budget is quite a feat. I created two types of budgets, one fiscal, one for time. The fiscal budget is working out well, training us to spend less, getting ourselves pre-conditioned to live on less income. It's actually turned me into a bit of a penny pinching miser. Hubby? No. But since he's still earning money, he can do as he wishes. Once he retires he's going to have to learn about budgeting. 
     Now for the other kind of budget-- time. I budget my time for the various tasks I need to do. Livestock. Garden. House. Caring for mom. Etc. Rather than spending my entire day working in the garden or building the house, I split up the day to various jobs. If I didn't have these two budget systems, I wouldn't be able to keep myself on track. 

...Moved to Ka'u. It has turned out to be a real good choice for us. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Dumb Mistakes -- Big & Small

I started this homesteading project without much knowledge or experience. Lots of enthusiasm, big on dreams, short on know how. So it's been a fun and sometimes bumpy ride, trying to learn what in the world I am doing. Thus there are been mistakes galore. I figure that the little ones don't count for much even if they were learning experiences, but some of the big ones are more noteworthy. Looking back, some are funny. Some were costly and not to be repeated. Luckily none were deadly. 

.....Parked ATV without setting parking brake. Yeah, it was on a slope but things seemed stable. So when my attention was occupied elsewhere the ATV rolled back down and right off the driveway into a pit. Geez Loiuse!  Had to get the truck in order to tow the blasted thing out. Won't do that again. 

.....Charging around the woods looking for some wayward sheep I took the ATV through some tall grass. Right over a huge monster of a rock. Got stuck, really stuck. Took me over an hour to get the ATV off the rock with the help of a chain and come-along, plus a long string of cuss words.  Thinking back, I was lucky I hadn't plunged into a puka (hole in the ground), or hit that rock and gone flying. Now I have a rule. I don't ride anywhere that I can't see what I'm driving on. 

.....Didn't put on security  latch in pasture gate. I was only gonna be a minute as I went to get the grain bucket. Heading back to the pasture I was met by the entire flock of sheep and one smart ass horse that had opened the gate. 

....Got carried away and bought 14 trees at a plant sale. Completely didn't think about how hard and long it was going to take to dig those 14 holes. Practically killed my shoulders and back over the next few days.

.....Got a dozen ducks before I had the proper set up for them. Temporarily housed them on the front part of the farm while I created their "piece of duck heaven" in the back. Never was successful in permanently transferring them to duck heaven. I guess they had different ideas. They kept returning to the front section and wrecking havoc and destruction on my gardens and fish pond. Had to end up selling those ducks are starting out again with a fresh batch.

.....Letting the trash trees exist. All those little Christmasberry trees got big before I noticed. Once big, they are difficult and dangerous to remove.  Eucalyptus --- and to think I once loved those giant, stately trees. Well, many fell in the January windstorm. What a mess. Lots of damage. Lots of work. Many of them are now too big for us to safely remove ourselves. But 13 years ago they had been a lot smaller and would have been easier. Plus about 8 years ago we had a large excavator working here on the farm. That buggah could have knocked most of those trees down then. No, we didn't do it the easy way. 

......Bought cheap fencing. It rusted to hell, so it wasn't a savings at all because I had to replace it. 

.....Didn't put a top wire in the fence. The horse promptly bowed the fence all the way down two sides of the pasture. It took me two days to repair the fence and run barbed wire along the top. But then mistake #2 -- I didn't secure the barbed wire to the fence itself. The horse has previous experience I'm sure, because she poked her head between the barbed wire and the fence, bowing the whole fencing once again! Grrrrrr. Two more days of repair and securing the barbed between each t-post. I finally defeated the dang horse. 

.....Bought your standard pressboard and composite furniture. It's what all the stores seem to sell nowadays. I would have been better off with raw plywood set on cinder blocks. The furniture "wood" absorbed moisture and disintegrated. Just sort of puffed up and turned to mush. Were now building our own furniture out of real cedar wood. None of that modern composite that passes for wood today shall grace my home. 

.....Used cinder on the driveway when I should have bought crushed lava. That was a waste of several truckloads of cinder. 

.....Started out buying the wrong equipment for land clearing. The most powerful weedwacker would have been a wise choice. But no, I bought all sorts of other tools that were total failures. Looking back, I should have just hired a bulldozer. 

.....Didn't use the best & strongest collar and rope for tying out the goat (he does brush and grass control in specific spots from time to time) . He loved browsing the vegetable garden all night long.  It was a tough lesson to swallow. Now Bucky is on a sturdy boat rope when tied out. I learned to never, never, ever think I'm smarter than a goat. If there is the remotest possibility that Bucky might be able to do something, I can bet that he will accomplish it by the next morning. 

.....Bought kitchen and bathroom cabinets with doors. And made closets in the bedrooms with doors. Everything  mildewed. Everything made of leather turned a soft fuzzy green. The air is too humid where we are for anything to be stored behind a door. Thus every storage spot now is doorless in my house. 

.....Decided to go the route of a permitted house because we thought that's what everybody of course does...that's how things are done. Wrong. Things are a bit dfferent here. Officially yes, you must have permits. Real life is different, at least in Ka'u. We cost ourselves a lot of money, grief, delays, and made ourselves visible to the county authorities. Big mistake. Yes, there are benefits of going permitted. But there are benefits of going unpermitted too. Each person weighs the pros and cons, then makes a decision. 

Of course I've made zillions of small mistakes, but there's a big benefit behind those. With each error I gained lots of knowledge. Like the time I bought the wrong fruit trees for my elevation. The time I tried growing the wrong vegetables for my micro climate. I know now how to research new plants, where to find the necessary info before I try growing something totally new. 


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Naturalizing With Orchids

I'm a great flower lover. They are simply pretty and make me happy. So I plant lots of flowers. Orchids are something I like but know very little about. Regardless, I plant them around the place anyway. I guess it's called naturalizing with orchids. I've talked about my orchids before, but I've been asked to give an update. I was asked to show how I plant them.  I guess I have about 60 of them tucked into the farm by now, maybe more. If one looks carefully for them, sort of like going on an Easter egg hunt, they can be found in lots of nooks and crannies. 

I've learned that orchids don't need to be planted in soil. In fact, they seem to do better without it most of the time. They need really good drainage. No soggy roots. Not needing soil means I have lots of flexibility in planting orchids around.  I  can stuff a bit of moss into the crotch of a tree branch. Good place for an orchid. The moss is just there for support. Over time the moss rots away leaving the orchid pretty much attached on its own to the tree trunk or branch. 

Or I can make a pouch out of a mesh bag, stuff it with moss, add an orchid, then tie or wire the pouch up in a tree. If I don't tie it, the wind will blow it out of the tree. But after a while the orchid will have grown enough roots to hold it in place. By the time that happens the moss has broken down and I carefully cut away the old plastic mesh bag, leaving just the orchid behind. 

Old logs make nice orchid "planters". Bind the orchids in place so that they don't fall off while their roots grow. Once rooted, they hold themselves. And simple lava rock walls can host orchids too. Shift the rocks and stuff an orchid down in the crevice. Or simply plop the plant atop the wall and place a rock over some of the roots to hold it in place until it secures itself. 

All sorts of planters can be good orchid containers. Cobble together some tree branches, add a rope hanging handle, wallah! 

Not knowing anything about orchids, I'm sure I'm making tons of mistakes. But many of my orchids rebloom, so at least I've got some of them right enough. And being that I'm a bad orchid grower, I'm just tickled pink when one of them reblooms. 

A few things that I've learned about orchids is that some do fine in fairly bright light while others need more shade or semi shade. Some like it wet (with lots of drainage) while others like it a bit drier. Some tolerate cooler nights than others. I'm told that my area is excellent for orchids called cymbidiums. But I have many others that rebloom here and seem happy enough. But I've had failures. I'm not knowledgable enough to know in advance which types don't like my location, so I just give those bloomed out cheap sale plants from Home Depot and Lowes a chance here. Most make it, some don't. 

Perhaps some day I'll take the time to learn about orchids. But for now I'm too busy finishing my house, learning to grow food and how to raise livestock. Lucky for me I live in a spot with good orchid weather. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Mother Nature Has a pH Meter

Fibeartgourds sent me this photo of her hydrangea flowers. Note the color --  they are getting blue. 

First of all, yes, hydrangeas grow well in Hawaii's cooler areas. I happen to have one bush on my homestead farm, though it's taken a beating getting stepped on by the livestock. But the buggah is one tough plant and still blooms every year. Like Fineartgourd's flowers, mine are turning blue. 

Why bother to bring this topic up? Because hydrangeas are a natural soil pH indicator, assuming one very important condition......the presence of aluminum ions. Obviously Hawaiian soil has enough aluminum. 

Acidic soil is not present everywhere on this island. In fact there are areas where the soil is far too alkaline. But I happen to live downwind from an erupting volcano. Thus our rain is very acidic. Combine that with a low calcium content of the soil, the soil becomes acidic enough to turn our hydrangea flowers blue. Up closer to the eruption site, in the village of Volcano, the flowers are even more blue. 

It's just kind of fun to have Mother Nature's pH indicator growing on the farm. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Broccoli Greens

Have you ever eaten broccoli leaves? Up until two years ago, I hadn't. In fact, I carefully removed any leaves around the base of a head of broccoli before cooking it. Why? I have no idea.

Young broccoli leaves are delicious. They make an excellent substitute for collards, if you like making a mess of greens. But rather than making a bowl of greens, I'll just add chopped broccoli leaves to stir fry and soups. Steamed first, they are nice in omelets. They are far tastier and tenderer than collards. In fact, I've stopped growing collards. It's broccoli greens for our table now.  

When I grow broccoli, I'll plant one area with the intention of harvesting the head and smaller florets. Another bed is destined for greens. The reason I separate the growing beds is that I pump extra manure to the bed for greens. That way the plants get giant and lush, producing lots of tender, big leaves. I find that rabbit manure makes for really nice broccoli greens. 

This bed of broccoli is in the community garden area. I have another up by the house for my personal use. Both are growing well, but the one up by my house has bigger, softer leaves. I think I over did the rabbit poop in the bed.

 The only thing I have to watch out for is the cabbage moth. It's little caterpillars can make a mess of the leaves, chomping holes everywhere. While the leaves are still edible, they aren't as tender when they are being attacked by caterpillars. So I take the time to watch for them. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Cane Spider Update

Now for a bit of fun.........

There's a female cane spider living at one of the area's community centers. In the bathroom. Up at the top of a shower curtain. And she's obviously quite successful there because she is huge and tending are large egg case, 

What I find that is cool is that she has been allowed to live. She's in good condition. Getting enough food to reproduce. So she must be doing a wonderful job of killing the bugs at the center. 

I wouldn't mind having this gal living at my place. I get way too many annoying moths, little flies, mosquitos, and other itty bitty flyers and crawlers. My daddy longleggers so a decent job, but one big cane spider like this one could eat far more that a bunch of daddy longleggers.

Feral Cats

Just got back from helping out, once again, at a cat spay/neuter clinic. Every clinic I've volunteered at does between 100-200 cats. 

This kitty has cotton in its ears to muffle sounds. This way the cat will be less stressed and thus the anesthesia will take effect better. 

After a long day, I'm ready for a rant. I know that I am most likely just preaching to the choir, but if what I have to say even helps one cat out there, it is worth it. If it gives just one person something to think about and thus moves them to neuter their cats (or their neighbor's cats), then some cats will have better lives. If rants are not your thing, then stop right now. 

Caution    ....    Rant warning

Hawaii, at least on my island, has to deal with the neglect and irresponsible behavior of previous generations of cat owners. What am I talking about? The appalling huge numbers of non-neutered feral cats that have resulted from the original pet owners not caring that their cats reproduced, not caring that they dumped the kittens out in the woods.  And what is so incredibly depressing is that current pet owners continue this same behavior to this day. Granted, not as great a percentage as before, but I've run into dozens of cat owners who do not control the unwanted litters and who dump kittens. I offer free, free, free neutering only to have it rejected. 

Want to hear their excuses? 

...It's against nature. Oh cut me a break! It's against nature to treat cancer too, so if your child comes up with a childhood cancer, are you just going to sit back and let nature do its thing? If your tooth gets abscessed, are you going to sit at home in agony for weeks until it either rots out or the abscess erodes into your brain? If your wife starts bleeding uncontrollably during child birth, you'll let nature takes its course and she will die? 
...The vet charges too much. Gotcha on that one! I can arrange to have it done for free! Sigh....they don't take me up on it, but just try to wiggle out with some other excuse. 
...My husband won't let me. Really? Let me to talk with him. But it never is allowed. 
...I don't have a cat cage (or I can't get the cat into a cage). No problem. I will lend you a cat trap for free. 
...You can do my female, but not the male. Oooooo, yes I'm talking to a man. How'd you guess! I'm amazed with how many men think it's ok to do females but take it personal when it comes to a male. Gee, I'm not taking your nuts off, just your cat's....though heaven knows that neutering you might be a good idea too. Oops, did I say that?   ;)   You're living your sex life through your cat? Cut me a break! How non-macho is that! Think I'm being too strong? I dare you to come see what happens to all those kittens your cat sires. And by the way, feral tom cats are not happy and blissful. On the contrary, they are stressed, on edge, or at war ALL the time. 
...Cats prefer to live free. Living free should not equate to unbridled reproduction. Reproducing cats are constantly under stress. Very few have the opportunity to relax, be lazy, get fat, enjoy a life of freedom. When was the last time you saw a sleek, chubby, old feral cat that is producing kittens? Neutered ferals have a better chance at attaining the image of a content free-living cat. 
...I don't have the time. No problem. Just give me permission and I will come trap, neuter, and return the cats for you. Only some of the  people I know who have non-neutered outdoor cats have taken me up on the offer. Why not all? 
...Neutered cats get fat. That doesn't have to happen. Just as with people, too much food combined with less activity results in overweight. Neutered cats are no longer under a lot of stress and no longer have to roam constantly. Thus their activity level and anxiety are less. If you are feeding ferals, just feed less once they are neutered. Hey, that will save you money! 
...Neutered cats don't hunt mice and rats. I can say from experience that that's not true. I have had many a neutered cat that were proficient mousers. 

I always ask these resistant owners what they do with the unwanted kittens. Now it's time to see them squirm. I've never had one tell me that they dump them. They insist that they find them homes with a friend, a relative, a ".....". But when I offer to have those kittens neutered for free, the people tap dance. Yup, they dumped them.

Dumped kittens sometimes survive, but not too often unless they got dumped near a feral cat feeding station or somewhere where a kind heart feeds ferals. Most kittens die a horrible death. The lucky ones get run over by cars, savaged by mongooses, killed by dogs, killed by a tom cat. The unlucky die after weeks of starvation. And the very unlucky ones die of thirst. Ever try going 2-3 days without water. A 2-3 weeks without food? 

Hey, ever think what happens to feral cats that wander into a county, state, or federal park? Trap & kill is the policy. Ever watch trapped cat get drowned or shot? That's humane compared to what many private land owners do with feral cats. Antifreeze is a horrible way to die. So it getting beaten to death or getting released into the dog pen with two dogs.

Shocking? Sickening? You bet!!!! So have you talked to anyone with non-neutered cats lately about getting their cats done? Have you volunteered at a spay/neuter clinic?