Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Gardening Tips - The Keepers

I can't even recall al the successful gardening tips I've incorporated into my routine. They are just a normal way of doing business nowadays. So I will try to compare when I started out practicing gardening while living in NJ to my techniques now. 

... Use compost. The idea of using compost works well for my methods. But I don't restrict myself to just traditional hot compost piles. I do sheet composting (aka lasagna gardening) when starting out over low-soil lava areas. I sometimes trench compost between rows of taro. My pallet grow boxes are all a form of composting. 
... Use mulch. Another great garden idea that works super for me. Over the years I've become a gung-ho believer in mulching. 
... Use manures. Manure is a major component of my soil amendment mix. I've learned that while not all manure is created equal, it's all a valuable resource.
... Use urine. Once I got past the ick factor, I began using urine as a routine ingredient in compost and many of the garden beds.
... Homemade sprays + soap sprays. I have a list of various combinations for using in the garden, all homemade. Only occasionally for specific problems do I feel the need to resort to commercial chemicals. 
... Use local resources. Breaking the buy-it-at-the-store habit was difficult, but once I started researching local sourcing, I felt more connected to my region. Local sourcing for me includes using local materials (wood, sand, coral, bone, manure, etc), buying/trading/foraging local foods, hiring local services, that sort of thing. While I still need to buy things from stores (or Amazon), I definitely feel better about doing things locally. 
... Grow what thrives locally. Don't fight Mother Nature. Which translates into, I don't frustrate myself by insisting upon growing summer squash, slicing tomatoes, and all those other veggies that don't do well in my area. And I've learned to grow what thrives here....and have learned to eat them. Wing beans. Pipinola. Sweet potatoes. Yard long beans. Okinawan spinach. Taro. Papaya. 
... Grow veggies in beds rather than single rows. Single rows are easier for machine use, but since I  don't use garden machinery, I tried doing the bed method. 2' to 3' wide beds with permanent walkways work well for me. 
... Multiple plantings spaced apart, as compared to planting a crop in just one spot. This idea sounded not only unnecessary to me, but more time consuming and difficult. But I'm really glad I gave it a try. Scattering my plantings has saved plenty of harvests when I've had attackts of diseases and pests. A problem will often show up in one bed but not in the others that are located in other areas. Example: I lost the peas and beans up by the house one year, but the beds down in the other garden areas gave me a bountiful harvest. So I now have crops planted helterskelter around the farm. It looks odd, but it works. And since the bottom line is to grow food, I do whatever works. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Gardening Tips -- The Loser List

I must have heard hundreds of gardening tips so far. And I've tried quite a few of them. Oh, some I've never tried because they were too outlandish to be plausible to my sensibilities. I'm sure you've run across some of these. And many others simply didn't apply to my region, so I skipped them. 

Here's a few that I've tried and rejected as not being useful on my homestead.......

... Slug deterrents: I've covered these in an earlier post. Things that I found don't work on slugs include crushed eggshells, coffee grounds, sharp sand, wood ashes. I never tried the suggestion of ground glass because who wants that in their garden? Another tip was to plant veggies in beds rather than rows, stating that slugs would eat the plants along the edges thus leaving the ones in the center alone. I tried that and the slugs apparently didn't read the memo. They attacked everything. 
... Bury a penny under a transplant, especially recommended for eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes. I guess the thought behind this was for the penny to be a source of copper, eh? But heck, pennies aren't made out of copper anymore.
... Bury rusty nails in the garden. Thought?-- a source of iron? But I don't think that iron oxide is a readily available form of iron to plants. Anyway, I've never seen rusty nails make a bit of difference when I tried them. 
... Use household vinegar to kill weeds. Regular vinegar is only 5% acetic acid. I find that it's not strong enough for anything but the most sensitive weeds, and then mostly at the seedling or newgrowth stage. In order to use vinegar for weed control the strength needs to be closer to 20%. And it does the best on a bright sunny day. I'll use 20% vinegar by spraying it for 2-3 days in a row when the sun is super bright combined with no rain. Even then, there are weeds that it doesn't affect much. And most grasses just come back even though their leaves get burned and turn brown. But at least that slows them down considerably.
... Spray diluted milk on plants to control mildew. Although this seems to help delay an outbreak of mildew, I haven't found it to be very effective in treating mildew once I see it on the plants. When I see mildew breaking out on the sunflowers or zinnias, then I can spray the cukes and squashes and somehow delay a mildew outbreak on them. At least, that what it seems. I've never tried a controlled experiment. But once I see mildew, I don't bother wasting the milk anymore. 
... Use water crystals to combat drought. I can't say that I saw any improvement in the plants where water crystals were used compared to beds where it wasn't. And hey, what are those things made of anyway? What sort of chemicals ends up in my soil forever? 
... Don't water the garden on a sunny day. I never understood this bit of advice, because Mother Nature does it all the time. I commonly get a brief shower, then the sun reappears in all it's glory. It never seems to cause any problems in the garden. 
... Don't water at night. Another one that I don't get, because Mother Nature does it all the time at my homestead site.
... Wait until seedlings have two true leaves before transplanting. I've found that most my seedlings do just fine, if not better, transplanting them far younger. In fact, the cabbage family and tomato family all indeed do better for me when transplanted well before first true leaves develop. 
... Don't put fat into the compost pile. Well folks, I've put entire animal carcasses into hot compost piles with no problem. I surely don't de-fat a dead sheep first. And I've disposed of moldy butter via a hot compost pile too. Perhaps the trick is having a hot, active pile. 
... Plant marigolds in the garden to keep bugs out. While I enjoy having marigolds in the garden, I haven't seen them have one lick of success at deterring insects. I've seen my marigolds growing right next to plants having infestations of aphids, stink bugs, mealy bug, scale, whatever. 
... Tilling is bad and destroys the soil. I'm hearing this advice being repeated more frequently lately, along with all sorts of dire warnings of the negative consequences of tilling. It seems to me that the naysayers are equating tilling with destructive conventional plowing techniques resulting in erosion, windblown soil, loss of organic matter, reduction of soil microbes, etc. In my own experience, using the technique of tilling the top few inches of soil between crops along with the practice of using composts, manures, and mulch actually results in vastly improved soil, more earthworms, healthier and more robust crops, higher yields. 
... Don't use grass clippings for mulch. In fact, my number one successful mulching material is grass clippings! Perhaps this warning came about because novices used too thick a layer of clippings or used clippings that came from lawns recently sprayed with chemicals of some sort. I'm not sure. But I'm a big user of clippings and have had great success with them. 
... Don't add wood to soil. Most of the time the advice says not to use any wood chips in a garden. Other times it includes any and all kinds of wood. While I don't have much in the way of wood chips available, I will indeed add wood chips to my compost piles when I have some. I also purposely add broken up small twigs to the compost. Since I seed my compost with fungi (from previous compost and from locally collected mushrooms), I don't see using wood to be a problem. Of course, I'm not over doing the wood either. Plus I use manure and fresh grass clippings, both of which a good sources of nitrogen. Hey, Mother Nature uses wood all the time in her soil making process. Give it a thought. 
... Plant according to the moon cycles. Honestly, I haven't seen one iota of difference. Zero. Nada. Zilch. Any differences I have seen are easily explained via weather patterns, season, plant variety, etc. 
... Speak kindly to your plants. Sing to them. Play soothing music. Again, I haven't seen the slightest bit of difference. 
... Use boiled, de-oxygenated water on seedlings. This is another tip where I haven't seen make the slightest difference. I now use my normal catchment water and the seedlings do just fine. 

Now I'm not saying that all these failed tips are just plain huey. But they surely didn't work for me. 





Saturday, December 26, 2015

Goodbye Piggies

Oh no, not ALL my pigs. Just the last duo of half grown ones. They are up to a good size now, so I posted a message on craigslist a couple of days ago and sold them the first day. That's a record for me. But I guess it happens to have something to do with the holiday season. People are looking for things to put in their imu.

The deal I struck on these pigs was sweet. The buyer happens to be in my town region and has agreed to give me a shoulder roast from each pig. Now that's just fine with me. I get to enjoy naturally fed, home raised pork without the work of slaughter and butchering. And as a bonus he will save the offal and skin that he doesn't want. The slaughter waste gets added to mom's slop n glop, my standard chicken & pig feed. Plus on top of that, his brother fishes from time to time, so I've made a connection for future fish waste. Plus the buyer bought two buckets of taro corms from my garden. Win-win for everyone.....except the pigs and fish I suppose. 

How can I send pigs to their deaths? I feel that if I'm going to be raising livestock on a farm, I have to accept the reality that people eat meat. Meat comes from animals, that were at one time alive. Homestead livestock rearing surely makes the circle of life concept very much a reality. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

What Time of Day to Harvest

"Dale-----" asked me, "What time of day do you pick your vegetables and fruits? Morning? Afternoon? Evening? "

Truthfully, I pick them when I have time, when I notice that they are ready, or when I need them. Thus that could be anytime during the day. But I do have a habit of working the gardens early in the morning right after tending the livestock. So it's common for me to be harvesting between 8 and 9. But if I'm in the process of making dinner at 6 pm, I surely wouldn't hesitate to go pick veggies and herbs. 

Do I notice a difference in the flavor of things picked in the early morning versus evening? No, not really. But then I'm no food connoisseur. 

I've read recommendations that harvesting for best quality should be done in the early morning. The reasoning is that overnight the plants have had the opportunity to rehydrate (absorb water) and convert the starches produced the previous day into sugars, thus the fruits and veggies would be more crisp, juicy, and tastier. I notice that most veggies are definitely crisper in the early cooler mornings. 

One thing I learned, regardless of when the veggies and fruits are picked, it's best to rinse them in cool water and keep them cool. That rule doesn't apply to everything, but most things stay fresher if kept cool and moist. Things that I don't cool down are potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and bananas. But I do get them out of the sun. 

Some veggies I'll store in the kitchen in a vase. Vase? Yes. Celery, Okinawan spinach cuttings, sprigs of various herbs, cut greens (broccoli leaves, spinach, etc), Chinese cabbage, bok choy. I'll use a vase when refrigerator space is in short supply. Sticking veggie stems in water will keep them fresh for a couple days, especially useful if I happened to pick too much or changed my mind about what to make for dinner. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Update - Walk In Closet

I haven't posted an update lately. I'm still working on the walk in closet, but I keep getting sidetracked. So I'm trying to make an effort to focus on this project more than I have. 

The interior walls are now 3/4 complete. The cedar tongue n groove is all used up so I need to go pick up more. With no more cedar to use, attention has been turned to the trim. The interior window trim is a simple mitered picture frame with no window sills. It's a closet, so window sills would get in the way of shelves and storage. So why bother. 

My mitering efforts in the past have been total failures, so David milled and mitered all the trim. 


The outside siding is all in place now, and the windows are trimmed out, plus everything is caulked. Next step was staining, something I'm quite good at. The grey stain is my own mix of 3/4 harbor grey and 1/4 antique bronze, Behr solid exterior stain (I'm noting it here so that if perchance I forget the formula in the future, I can come back here and find it. At my stage of life, accurate recall has become an uncertainty.) coming out a color I call Ohia. The window trim is a 100% antique bronze. 


The battens are going up but we're still in the process of finishing up a few on the long wall, plus each end wall still needs the batten trim. 


The end wall by the banana trees is complete except for the batten trim. 


Same for the far end. 


It's getting there. Just a bit more exterior work. But a lot more interior work to get done. 

Next up......
...run the electrical for the ceiling lights
...get more cedar tongue n groove and finish the last interior wall
...trim out the closet doorways (no doors)
...put up foam insulation in the ceiling
...cedar the ceiling and sheath the rafters
...install the flooring
...build shelving and hanger space 
...move in all our junk in order to decluttering the rest of the house while still saving room for our clothing in the closet

Next house project---- finish the bedroom. 







Sunday, December 20, 2015

Don'tcha Just Hate It When.......

I seem to be having an on going battle with my gate entrance. It's all one sided of course, with me myself being the primary dancer. You see, I have to get out and open the gate each time. "Efficient laziness" dictates that I pull just far enough inside so that I can open and close the gate behind me, plus not have to walk too much extra in order to do that. Thus the game...or dance.

Here the scenario.....
...pull up to gate
...get out of truck, unlock and open gate
...get back into truck and pull through
...get out of truck to close and lock gate
...drive on

Sounds simple, right? But this is how it actually happens far too often....
...pull up to gate
...get put of truck, fight with lock (Gawd, I got to remember the bring that spray grease down here), open gate
...get back into truck and pull through
...get out of truck to close gate. Discover that I once AGAIN failed to pull forward enough, for the umphteenth time. Blast, dang, gawdangit, bugger. Climb back into truck and pull forward another foot. 
...get out of truck to close and lock gate. Try to remember to put the spray grease into the truck for the next time.
...drive on. Promptly forget about the spray grease. 


No, I didn't stage this!!!!!! By far this is the worse, or closest, miss I've had. I even tried rocking the gate so that I could get it past the truck. I couldn't close the truck's tail gate without unloading numerous long t-posts. I had considered it, but concluded it was less effort to climb in and move the truck than remove all the t-posts.  

Now I gonna try to remember to bring down a post, rock, marker, whatever to designate how far I need to pull up the truck for the future. Ooooo, I'll just bring it down with the spray grease on my next trip out. 

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Beet Growing Notes

Beets is another crop that I grow year around on my homestead. And they really grow well here. But beets are more difficult to grow at my seed farm location where it is drier, hotter, and windy. Rather than trying to overcome the obstacles at the seed farm, I only grow beets on the homestead. Besides, I've never gotten the beets to bolt to flowering, so I can't save my own seed. 

Germination
I don't have any problems getting beets to germinate. 

Types of Beets
    Because of the supermarket influence, I thought all beets were round and red. Even my grandmother only grew round red ones, so it was quite a surprise to see that beets came in other variations. Now, these variations came with an advantage. You see, hubby doesn't like the idea of eating purple veggies and he lumps beets into that group. But he will eat white and yellow beets. Ta-da! 
    Besides coming in different colors, they also come in different shapes. I've become a big fan of the elongated beets, but alas they only come in red. 

Harvesting
When to harvest a beet is easy. I pick them when they get the size I want, anywhere from ping pong ball size to large golf ball size. Many varieties can grow a lot bigger without becoming woody or pithy, but I like them smaller for tenderness, sweetness, and ease of processing. If beets are left to grow too long, they tend to become too fibrous to eat. 

Growing Tips 
Beets don't require deep soil, so I take advantage of that and plant them in my shallow beds. These beds have 3-4 inches of soil atop the lava. That's just enough to get good shaped beets. Before seeding, I will till in a modest amount of compost but not extra manure. Plus I use my standard soil amendment mix (coral sand wood ash, etc). The beets seem to grow better when I've tilled those 3-4 inches of soil to make a light, aerated bed. I sow the seeds about 1 1/2" apart in rows 6"-8" apart. This is with the intention of eventually thinning the plants to 6" apart. The neat thing about beets is that the thinnings are edible. Good for using in stirfry and soup. 

Problems 
The only problems I've had with beets are:
...overcrowding, thus no beets. I've learn to correct this by thinning the plants to 6" when they are young. 
...stunted and fibrous due to too warm soil and/or dry soil. I've corrected this by mulching the beets and watering regularly during a drought. Especially when growing in such shallow beds, I have to keep a close eye on the soil moisture. 
...flea beetles. These little pests have defeated me thus far. When the population is low, I seem to control them well enough by using a soap spray. But every once in awhile I get a monstrous ourptbreak of flea beetles. My only recourse thus far has been to tear all the beets out (feed them to the livestock) and don't grow beets in that same spot until the flea beetles are gone. Luckily I have plenty of space so I can reseed beets in a different location. 

Varieties I Grow
Albino (this white beet goes by several other names), Golden, Detroit Dark Red, Cylindra. I also grow some of the hybrids and other standards off and on, including Boro, Merlin, and Red Ace plus others. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Pea Growing Notes

Growing peas can be done year around on my homestead, but they don't do as well during the summer months. More disease problems from June to October. 

Germination
I don't have any problems getting peas to germinate. 

Bush vs Pole
I tend to grow the short vines varieties only because I don't have enough trellis space available yet. The longer vines, when grown up a trellis, I find are easier to care for and pick. Even getting the shorter vines up on a pea fence will make picking easier. As I age, those long vines running up trellises are looking more and more appealing. 

Pea Type
I grow shell, snow, snap and dry peas. I love them all. Surprise, even hubby likes them. Finally a veggie that I can grow that hubby likes to eat! 

Harvesting
   When to harvest depends upon the type of pea. Shell peas are best when the peas are developing but not too big. The bigger they get, the less sweet they are. It takes a little experience to get it right. 
   Snow peas get picked when the pods are getting to a decent size but before the peas themselves start barely to plump up. If they get too developed, I find that their flavor isn't as good, sometimes they get bitter, and they surely get more fibrous. 
   Snap peas are sweetest when the pods are plumping out. They'll edible before that but not sweet. 
   Dry peas get harvested here just as the pods are mature and filled out. I can't wait for them to dry in the vine because it's too moist on the homestead. The peas will simply germinate right in the pods. So I pick them when they are mature and just starting to dry. I then shell them and allow the peas to complete drying on trays in the house. Or if it is breezy, I will pull the vines and hang them from the rafters of the lanai so they can dry. Down on my seed farm I can allow the peas to naturally dry in the vine. 

Growing Tips 
My pea plants grow best when I till the top 3-6 inches of soil prior to seeding. I normally till in some compost, the old mulch, and a light sprinkling of coral sand, wood ash, bone dust, and lava sand. For varieties that I'm not trellising or growing on a pea fence, I will plant the seed in a 2 inch grid to fill the bed. Under a trellis or pea fence I will sow three rows about two inches apart, with the in-row spacing being two inches. I poke the seeds down about an inch and cover them with soil. Then I water the bed. 

Problems 
I don't see problems with every pea crop, but problems are common enough here. Summertime sees more disease problems. I find that I get one or two good pickings before things go badly, so I plan on getting that early harvest then removing the vines. Trying to capture every last pea isn't worth it to me. I'd rather get another crop going. 
...slugs will eat the pods.
...turkeys will pluck the peas right out of the pods. 
...cutworms will shear off emerging seedlings.
...turkeys will eat emerging seedlings. 
...leaf miners tunnel in the leaves. 
...stink bugs damage the pods.
...Ascochyta blight ruins the crop. 
...mildew damages the plants. 
...and some sort of disease that misshapens the pods. The early pods are fine, but later pods are warped. 

Varieties I Grow
Regularly I grow Green Arrow, Alaska, Cascadia, Oregon Giant, Sugar Sprint, Super Snappy, Sugar Lace. But I also like to grow others off and in, such as Sugar Ann, Mammoth Melting, Yellow Snow Pea. This year I'm going to try a new one, Royal Snow. And of course there will be others here and there in the gardens, because as hubby says, my ears perk up when I see peas on a seed rack. I just gotta try a new variety. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Multiplier Onions

Potato onions. Multiplier onions. Perennial onions. 

Last year one of the community garden volunteers donated a pot of what she was told was a walking onion. That one plant divided into several, then those replicated, and the next generation once again. Now there is a fairly good sized bed of these onions. 

I'm guessing that what these onions really are is a multiplier onion, rather than a walking onion. Ours have never produced a floret, although that may be because I am located in the tropics. But the plant habit seems far more like that of a multiplier than an walking. 


These have never formed root bulbs either, but the larger ones get thick bases. But that's because of being in the tropics. Many onion types require longer days of sunlight in order to initiate bulbing. 


But they surely make multiple root divisions. I'm seeing anywhere from two to a dozen new plants per one original plant. 4 seems to be the norm. 

I've decided to make a separate propagation bed for the multiplier onions, so that there won't be confusion when it comes down to harvesting onions for eating. So I took a pile of the plants and separated out the individual plantlets, cleaned the old leaves off, trimmed the roots back, trimmed the tops. 


I then planted them about six inches apart in the row, with the rows about twelve inches apart. This gives me room to apply mulch. 


All of these should transplant just fine. In a few days the outer, older leaves will yellow and die, but that's normal. Just the young emerging leaves in the center will stay green. So I'll trim the dying leaves off with a scissors in a week or so, just so I don't get mold and rot. It's been wet here recently  and everything rots quickly if I don't watch it. 





Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Bean Varieties That I Grow

"DJC" asked me to list the varieties of beans that I grow. Well, I've grown quite a few. Over the years I've found some that do especially well at my locations, and others that I personally like for one reason or another. Every year I try new ones for the fun of it, sometimes discovering another one to add to my "grow it again and again" list. 

Here it goes, my grow-it-again list......

Rocdor
Black Valentine 
Maxibel
Savannah
Soleil
Velour
Purple Teepee
Red Swan
Jumbo
Rio Zappe
Painted Pony
Spanish Tolosna
Christmas Lima
Black Turtle

This year I plant to grow all of the above, but also a bit of these-----

Blue Lake FM1
Amerhyst
Carson
Tongue of Fire
Amarillo
Tavera
Nickel
Royal Burgundy
Good Mother Stallard
And most likely a few others that I haven't bought yet. 

I'm a sucker for a pretty bean. If it's got nice color, splashes, dots, or swirls, then it's caught my attention. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Growing Beets Notes

Beets is another crop that I grow year around on my homestead. And they really grow well here. But beets are more difficult to grow at my seed farm location where it is drier, hotter, and windy. Rather than trying to overcome the obstacles at the seed farm, I only grow beets on the homestead. Besides, I've never gotten the beets to bolt to flowering, so I can't save my own seed. 

Germination
I don't have any problems getting beets to germinate. 

Types of Beets
    Because of the supermarket influence, I thought all beets were round and red. Even my grandmother only grew round red ones, so it was quite a surprise to see that beets came in other variations. Now, these variations came with an advantage. You see, hubby doesn't like the idea of eating purple veggies and he lumps beets into that group. But he will eat white and yellow beets. Ta-da! 
    Besides coming in different colors, they also come in different shapes. I've become a big fan of the elongated beets, but alas they only come in red. 

Harvesting
When to harvest a beet is easy. I pick them when they get the size I want, anywhere from ping pong ball size to large golf ball size. Many varieties can grow a lot bigger without becoming woody or pithy, but I like them smaller for tenderness, sweetness, and ease of processing. If beets are left to grow too long, they tend to become too fibrous to eat. 

Growing Tips 
     Beets don't require deep soil, so I take advantage of that and plant them in my shallow beds. These beds have 3-4 inches of soil atop the lava. That's just enough to get good shaped beets. Before seeding, I will till in a modest amount of compost but not extra manure. Plus I use my standard soil amendment mix (coral sand wood ash, etc). The beets seem to grow better when I've tilled those 3-4 inches of soil to make a light, aerated bed. I sow the seeds about 1 1/2" apart in rows 6"-8" apart. This is with the intention of eventually thinning the plants to 6" apart. The neat thing about beets is that the thinnings are edible. Good for using in stirfry and soup. 
     While I haven't had problems producing beets, I've heard of people who have. Beets require certain nutrients in the soil, and I guess I meet all their requirements via my soil building techniques. Thus I don't need to add boron, magnesium, calcium, or other adjustments. Guess I'm a dumb luck gardener! Or perhaps incorporating my wild, throw everything into the compost pile technique works for beets, 

Problems 
The only problems I've had with beets are:
...overcrowding, thus no beets. I've learn to correct this by thinning the plants to 6" when they are young. 
...stunted and fibrous due to too warm soil and/or dry soil. I've corrected this by mulching the beets and watering regularly during a drought. Especially when growing in such shallow beds, I have to keep a close eye on the soil moisture. 
...flea beetles. These little pests have defeated me thus far. When the population is low, I seem to control them well enough by using a soap spray. But every once in awhile I get a monstrous ourptbreak of flea beetles. My only recourse thus far has been to tear all the beets out (feed them to the livestock) and don't grow beets in that same spot until the flea beetles are gone. Luckily I have plenty of space so I can reseed beets in a different location. 

Varieties I Grow
Albino (this white beet goes by several other names), Golden, Detroit Dark Red, Cylindra. I also grow some of the hybrids and other standards off and on, including Boro, Merlin, and Red Ace plus others. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

"Disneyland" Blogs

Just recently I've been snuffling around the web, checking out other folks' blogs. When I've done this in the past, I often discover a new blog that I like to follow, at least for awhile. I'm up to six blogs that I check routinely, though two recently moved to Facebook, a platform that I decidedly dislike. Oh well, that's just me. Apparently other people prefer FB. 

I've read many other homesteading/small farming/back-to-earth type blogs (which I don't follow) where farm life is rosy, wonderful, easy, paradise, and everybody on the farm is happy and making a decent living. In my homesteading experience thus far, real life is very different. Homesteading life is actually hard work, dirty, long hours, often frustrating and at other times depressing due to failures and losses. Homesteading pisses me off at times, like when things don't turn out right, diseases wipe out crops, or I wake up to dead livestock. In addition, getting stymied by government regulations which don't seem to make much sense for a small farm can be super annoying. Making a living via a homestead farm is quite difficult in my opinion. Doable, but difficult. And the larger the family needing to be supported, the more difficult it will become. I think that a single person or a couple can do it, but add a couple of children to the equation and the task can get incredibly more difficult. 

Sugary blogs make neat, colorful, abundant gardens appear to be the norm. On my farm, I don't have enough hours in the day to achieve weed free neatness, cutsy gardens, color coordinated flower beds lining neat brick walkways. In real life, garden abundance seems to come in waves, interspaced with crop failure. I've noticed that sugary blogs don't seem to have weather, disease, and pest problems. And somebody on them seems to have plenty of spare time for creative landscaping architecture. I bet that I could do that too if I only had a small suburban lot in a housing development, but then I couldn't be self-sustaining on such a small plot, let alone try to make a living. 

Ok. You've got the message by now, I hope. Some blogs out there are more an exercise in creative writing and smart photography than a journal about real life. The reason that I'm having this conversation is that  I receive many emails from people (especially small families with often two young children) dreaming of living the sugary-blog-life homesteading life, and ask me how to do that. Well, I can't help them. I don't see how it's possible to live that perfect farm life, at least not without having employees or perhaps a handful of willing slaves.....or a lot of money. One person or two simply cannot have a self-sufficient homestead that looks like something ready for a Hobby Farms photographer. Self-sufficient is the keyword. It requires more land than a house lot, thus requires more hours in the day to maintain. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not whining about farm life. I love this lifestyle so far. I'm just glad that I didn't have sugar plum expectations when I started this project. I'm so glad that I didn't read those fairy land blogs before I started. And I'm lucky that I don't have young children to raise at the same time. And a biggie......I glad I didn't assume that I'd be able to maintain that middle class lifestyle of three bedroom modern ranch home, new clothing, late model pick up truck, new farm tools, pretty plastic fencing, and all those other high priced items one sees in those fancy farm blogs. No, us newcomers just starting out won't have all that, although we could aspire to them if we wanted. Frankly, I don't want to. 

By the way, I've attained the point where I could be self-sufficient when it comes to our food plus several of our other needs (electricity, water, fertilizer, livestock feed, firewood, etc). But we haven't reached the point where we are earning our living. 2016 will see me gear up for some real income production. Wish me luck. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Papaya Experiment Update

Things aren't looking up with my papaya rooting experiment. Today I checked the two young branches and both are starting to show signs of failure. 


Dark areas are appearing at the leaf scars along the stems. And one has a leaf dying off. So I guessing that both are dying. 

Next time I plan to try using a rooting hormone and see if that makes a difference. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Harvesting Coffee

It's time! Cherries are starting to turn red. Ah, this is such a satisfying time. Harvesting is my reward for all the other work that went into the crop. 

I hand pick my coffee. Hand picking is the way that most farms harvest their coffee crops around here. I pick the individual dark red cherries, one by one. If an entire cluster is ready, then I might be able to get away with striping that cluster off the branch in one quick scoop, but usually it's just one or two cherries at a time. The cherries don't ripen at the same time. They don't easily fall off the branch, thus requiring a conscious effort to pluck or twist them off. Yes, coffee picking takes a tic of time. Thankfully I can do it standing up most of the time rather than bending over the entire way down a row, as with bush beans. 

(Above, coffee cherries on the tree ready for picking.) 

My trees stand 6 to 7 feet tall. And the coffee is produced on branches just about all the way up. So in order to reach the top branches, I need to bend the trees down a bit. The trucks are flexible enough to do that without snapping them off most of the time. I use a hook on the end of a rope, that is hooked to a makeshift pelvic harness. Flick the hook around the truck, step back to bend the trunk towards me, then use my free hands to pluck cherries. I drop the cherries Into a basket that hangs in front of my chest, again freeing my hands.

(Above, fresh coffee cherries.) 

Once I've harvested the cherries, I need to separate the beans from the skins/pulp. There is machinery to process large volumes of cherry, but my small amount can be hand done. I don't even get enough to justify the purchase of a modified cherry pitter. I simply squeeze the cherry between thumb and fingers until the beans pop out. A few require me to use my thumb nail to score the skin, but not too many to be annoying enough to purchase a cherry pitter. 

(Above left, the cherry husks. Right, the fresh coffee beans. In the smaller white bowl are the damaged beans that contain coffee borers. I will destroy those by dropping into boiling water.) 

Once the beans are collected, I rinse them in water a few times to remove bits of pulp. And I'll also discard any beans that float. When I'm satisfied, the beans are then put into a mason jar and covered with water. They are then allowed to sit overnight so that slime covering the beans will ferment a little, thus slip off easier. In the morning I'll repeatedly vigorously shake and rinse the beans until the water runs clear. I'll add a half a cup of coral sand to the jar so that it will act as an abrasive when I shake it, with the sand quickly scrubbing the beans clean. When I rinse the beans in a colinder, the sand washes right through the holes, leaving just clean coffee beans behind. 

Now it's time to spread the washed beans out onto a flat tray to dry someplace warm and airy. I don't want them to mold. The first 24 hours I usually put the trays onto the dashboard of my truck, parked in the sun with the windows mostly up. If there is no sun or if I'm firing up the woodstove in the house, I'll put the trays above the woodstove where the rising heat will quickly dry the beans. After that I'll usually move the trays to some place more convenient where it's airy and warm. It takes about a week for the beans to dry down adequately. Once dried, the beans can be stored for a long period of time until I wish to roast them. Since I have burlap bags, I store my beans in such a bag down in my barn, where it stays reasonably dry. 

Coffee beans can be processed further and roasted at anytime once they are dried. I normally allow my beans to be stored for a year or more before roasting because it smooths out the taste. For the holiday season I keep special beans that have been aged two years. They make a really nice roast for special Christmas gifts. But beans do not need aging. They can simply be roasted once dried. 

Prior to roasting, the skin surrounding the actual bean (the skin is called the parchment) needs to be removed. Commercially there are machines to do that. But for home processing, rubbing the beans on a piece of hardware cloth does the trick. The parchment pieces mostly fall through the hardware cloth, leaving fairly clean beans behind. 

Now the beans are ready for roasting. At this stage, it is called green coffee. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Using Manure

Manure = animal digestive waste. Poo. Poop. Crap. Do-do.  Fecal material. Excrement. Droppings. Muck. Dung. Scat. Turds. Sh*t. Then there's species specific: horse apples, cow pies, buffalo chips. Hubbies favorite term for it all.....toxic waste.

Most farming peoples around the world know that manure improves garden yields. Various animal manures are used, including human. Yes, there can be a danger when using manure, especially human, but much of the danger (pathogens) can be eliminated via hot composting or via isolation for an extended period of time (one example : storing moist manure/sawdust mix in a drum for two years). 

What benefit is there in manure? The first that comes to mind is nitrogen. But most manures also contain an assortment of minerals and other nutrients that are beneficial, and often fiber that serves as a soil conditioner. 

What are the cons associated with manure? Foremost would be pathogens that carry disease and parasites that could be transmitted to humans. (The main danger is with commercial farms where raw manure is applied to the land, manure that comes from already contaminated commercial livestock farms.) Excessive amounts of manure could result in too much nitrogen for the plants being grown, or too much water holding capabilities in poorly drained soils. Over application or improper application could result in noxious odors and pests (especially flies), and could lead to run off or water pollution. And some manures could contain unacceptable levels of questionable chemicals, such as deworming agents, antibiotics, medications, etc. And lastly, it isn't vegan. 

Pros on using manure...
...a significant source of nitrogen
...a source of other plant nutrients
...beneficial soil minerals
...beneficial microbes
...a soil conditioner
...to improve soil moisture capacity
...to support worms and soldier fly colonies

Cons on using manure...
...psychological ick factor
...possible disease pathogens
...possible parasite vectors
...potential for odor 
...potential to draw flies and other vermin
...possible noxious chemicals unnaturally found in the manure (antibiotics, medications, deworming agents, chemicals consumed via food and water) 
...potential for water contamination

What manures do I use on my own homestead? Depending upon the situation, any except human. I don't have a set up yet to deal with human manure safely for use in a food garden. Am I repulsed by human manure? No. Would I be willing to use it? Perhaps someday but not yet. I would want to set up a hot composting system capable of rendering pathogens null before I'd be willing to incorporate it into my system. Having said that, I admit that I do have a field latrine set up down in the orchard in spots where I plan to plant a tree in the future. The latrine hole is filled in via Iayers of horse manure, grass clippings, soil, and human waste. When it is filled to one foot of the surface, it then gets completed with soil and a young tree is planted. I have already done this multiple times and have planted several trees. Since the hole is filled via hot composting (though not monitored nor controlled) and is not subject to being dug up for many years, plus is not in a flood area, I feel that it is a safe way to utilize human waste this way. 

Basically I handle all manures this way.....
...Hot composting for manures that are used in food gardens, except tree foods. 
...No composting for manures used on trees or placed below the surface where they will not be subjected to digging up or flooding for two years. Often non-composted manure, especially horse manure, has sat in a pile and been aged for several months before I use it. 
...Hot composting for areas that have been known to flood, such as some of the taro beds. 

Horse manure. Experience has shown this to be a good soil conditioner and source of nitrogen. In general, I find it to be an overall great fertilizer and soil conditioner. I use it as a major component in my hot compost piles because it gives good heat while not compacting. Once aged or composted, it does not seem to burn plants. 

Rabbit manure. This is my favorite for the food gardens. It is easy to incorporate and doesn't burn the crops. Nor does it need to be hot composted. The worms seem to like areas where I've incorporated rabbit manure. Rabbit manure is considered a safe manure to use around food gardens. 

Chicken manure. A little goes a long way when it comes to chicken manure. It is considered to be a "hot" manure, so I apply it sparingly. Leafy crops respond favorably to chicken manure. I always hot compost it for a minimum of 3 weeks (I will compost it far longer if I have the time) before using because of it's tendency to cause burning. Once composted it seems safer to use, but I still apply it sparingly. 

Other:
   Cow. I don't have a cow and don't bother to go out and collect it. But I believe cow manure, handled as I would horse manure, would be good for gardens. 
   Sheep and goat. I leave these manures out in the field to benefit the pastures. 
   Pig. The pigs root up their pen, thus burying their manure in the process. I never see it unless I happen to be there when the event happens. If perchance my pig confinement pens in the future were set up for manure collection, then I would indeed use pig manure. I'd handle it as I would chicken manure. 
   Cat and dog. I add these to my biotrash pits (a.k.a.- hugel pits). These pits will not be dug up in my lifetime, thus posing no danger. 
    Fish mulm. Mulm is the sludge from the bottom of my ponds.  It consists of fish poo and decaying vegetation. I occasionally scoop some out and till it into the garden soil. My ponds don't generate very much. 

My manure use is self-sustaining in that I do not go out and bring manure back to the farm. I only use manures generated on the homestead. There are two main reasons I do this.
1) It takes too much time to go out a gather manure from other people's pastures. 
2) I won't accidently introduce unwanted pathogens that other people's animals may harbor. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

New Piglets

Three little piglets lost their mama. Perhaps only three/four weeks old, they're too young to survive on their own out in the wild. In fact, some of their littermates died before being rescued. But a kind hearted person managed to trap these three frightened and terribly skinny starving babies and passed them off to me. 

So here I go again. 

 
The white/black spotted one is the biggest and strongest of the group. He's a boy. 

The middle sized one is a girl. She's all grizzly haired and looks like a miniature old pig. A funny color. And her hair sticks out straight all over making her even more funny looking. 

The tiniest one, the black with the white belt, is extremely shy and frightened. I haven't been able to touch it yet, or even get a good look at it. Boy? Girl? I'm guessing it's a girl. 

Right now they are either eating or sleeping. They don't seem to have much energy for anything else. They need a few days to recover. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Dengue Fever Update

To date there have been 136 confirmed cases of dengue fever. Of course that doesn't include the people who have no medical insurance and thus didn't go to a doctor. Since there is no treatment for dengue, people who can't spare the cash simply skip being tested. Although this is mostly based upon hearsay, there are supposedly dozens of people who have had classic dengue symptoms and are untested. Truth? I don't know. And according to what I've read in a few medical research reports, only 25% of infected people may show classic dengue fever symptoms, meaning that there could be plenty of people around with subclinical dengue. Subclinical infections produce little or no symptoms, but the person is still capable of infecting mosquitos without knowing it. Thus this outbreak is far from being over. 

The public has been increasingly critical of the Department of Health, Civil Defense, and State governor's response in dealing with this problem. As is so typically Hawaiian, there has been less action compared to the amount of talk story. With public pressure mounting, plus the story being featured on CNN's website news, the State DOH has finally brought CDC officials to the Big Island for an review and analysis. 

There has been a lot of complaints about untreated standing water on county lands and lands with absentee owners. The public wants Vector Control to seek out these mosquito breeding grounds and treat them. Officials appear to be finally addressing this issue. 

Being of the school of "if you want something done, do it yourself", I've been going around my own neighborhood checking for mosquito breeding areas and treating them. I've given mosquito control granules to neighbors in order to treat catchment tanks. I've removed dozens of old tires, which are favored mosquito breeding grounds. I've dumped and removed old buckets, pots, and other water holding containers that I've come upon. I've treated abandoned catchment tanks. I've treated areas where water has collected. I've fogged dense vegetation where there are hefty mosquito populations. This time, effort, and expense is designed to protect ME. Surely the neighborhood benefits too, but I admit I'm quite selfish in my goals. And my efforts seem to be paying off because I see considerably less mosquitos around. 

While I believe that the reduction of aedes mosquitos is a public health responsibility, I haven't seen the official response to date being serious enough. That's just my opinion. But now that the CDC oversight is here, the mosquito war will hopefully step up. Of course the public needs to be convinced of the seriousness of the situation and get them rallied to both eliminate mosquito breeding grounds and protect their own bodies from mosquito bites. But at least the county and state are now doing more property surveys (because there have been more cases) and more mosquito spraying of parks & schools located near the homes of victims. 

Mosquito repellent has been a big, big issue. There has been virtually none around. What little arrives in a store in the morning is usually all sold by lunchtime. In my area, up until the week the CDC was scheduled to arrive, there was almost none available anywhere at any price. That means 3 months where people wanting mosquito protection were not able to get it. With the CDC arrival, stores suddenly have sprays, lotions, pumps, wipes, bracelets, tags, fogs, bombs, and coils. Thank heaven, finally! But I ask myself, why has it taken so long to get this stuff into the stores? My observations yesterday showed that this stuff is flying off the shelves. Most is already bought up in my area, leaving little still for sale. Let's hope more arrives with the next barge. 

Why didn't people just mail order it in? Believe me, I tried. While I could get plenty of dunks, BT granules, and mosquito coils, no one would ship anything with DEET in it. Thus the island was cut off from the mosquito repellent that they so desperately needed. Mosquito netting and clothing is in such high demand that I know people who have been waiting 8 weeks for it to be delivered. 

One aspect that the State of Hawaii seems, to me, to be intentionally avoiding is adequately warning tourists. There are no informational materials being presented to tourists arriving onto Big Island. In my area, a number of businesses are being proactive in educating tourists passing through about dengue. But then of course, there is no mosquito repellent for tourists to buy here. Eh.....have a nice vacation. I have personally talked with dozens and dozens of tourists who have heard zero about the mosquito danger. So the State surely isn't getting the word out. 

While the dengue fever problem isn't a raging epidemic yet.......the CDC calls it a trickle........one really doesn't want to become a statistic for some DOH statistician  In my opinion, even one person getting it is one too many. And until this situation gets aggressively tackled, dengue is in danger of becoming endemic in Hawaii. Now that's something the State had better seriously think about. Endemic dengue? Kiss tourism goodbye!