Sunday, January 31, 2016

Top "Dirty" Vegs and Fruits

The Rodale Institute recently released their list of the nine dirtiest fruits and veggies in the supermarket. By dirty they mean the chemical contaminants left over inside the food after typical home washing. For the fun if it, let's see how I score. 

1- Potatoes.    My score : A+
    I grow all my own potatoes. No store bought. No ag, processing, or shipping chemicals.

2- Spinach, Kale, Collard Greens.     My score: A+
     I grow all my own greens. 

3- Apples.     My score: D
     I buy apples for hubby, but try to buy the organic ones when they are available. I have two apple trees on the farm right now, but they are young and not producing heavily yet. And of course, apples are seasonal. So I'll always have times when I'm buying apples for hubby. 

4- Peaches and nectarines.     My score: A
     I simply don't eat these anymore. 

5- Strawberries.      My score: A
     While strawberries can be grown on my farm, the turkeys beat me to them. Everytime! They even beat the slugs to them, but then again turkeys like eating slugs. So I suppose it's a two coarse meal for the birds. Entree: slugs. Dessert: strawberries. Eventually I'll get around to making a turkey & slug proof setup for growing strawberries. In the meantime, I simply don't include strawberries in my diet. Not fresh, nor processed.

6-- Grapes.    My score: F
     I'm guilty of buying grapes from the store. And year around, at that! It's one of the 3 fruits that hubby will eat. 

7-- Celery.     My score: A+
     I grow my own celery. 

8- Cucumbers.      My score: C
     Growing cukes on the farm is doable but requires a lot more work and attention than most veggies. I need to develop a better system for growing all my own cucumbers. So at this moment I grow most of my own, and buy a few for when I have company. Growing all my own cukes would be a worthy goal to work towards. 

9- Sweet bell peppers.     My score: C
     Peppers are a challenge to grow here. I can grow them somewhat, but they are small and irregular in shape. And not very productive. A future project will be to develop a system for growing them. A local farmer figured out how to do it here, but the secret stays with him. So I'll need to experiment on my own. For now, I grow some and buy some. I have drastically cut back on how often I eat bell peppers, thus I don't need to buy many. 

The way I handle the problem of residual chemicals in food is to either grow my own clean food or stop eating the commercial item. I've gradually changed our diet over the years. Many of the foods I once ate no longer find a place on my table. Thus although I might miss the taste of a fresh, fuzzy, hand picked peach, store bought peaches simply aren't part of my diet anymore. But alas, getting hubby to think the same way just isn't working. He's not willing to give up his childhood staples. 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

New Lamb - A Keeper

Went out in the early morning to care for the sheep and found this new arrival. What a pretty lamb, and a strapping big boy. Dad= Mystery Ram. Mom= Stacy. This little fella looks a lot like his dad.

Stacy is a real good mother. This is her third lamb, so she has the drill down pat now. She's got a habit that she developed with her first lamb.....she hikes one hind leg aside so that it's easier for the newborn to find the udder. Once her lamb is a week old, she stops doing that. Quite a neat trick for a ewe to come up with. Afterall they're not noted to be the brightest creatures on the farm. 

Normally I wouldn't be interested in keeping a male lamb, but I'm making an exception in this case. First, my flock is too small and I need to increase numbers. Second, this fella is pretty. So he's a keeper. 

Now I need a "ram" name for him. Any suggestions? We already used E-Ram, Mystery Ram, Rambunctious, and Rambo. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

No-Till Thoughts Again

I frequently get email advice to switch to no-till gardening with raised beds. It's all well intentioned advice, but not completely applicable to my homestead. But I'm not above taking other people's experiences and adapting them to my own situation.

There are two things that I question about  most no-till advice. First, the person handing out the advice hasn't done no-till themselves but refers me to websites and blogs that claim they are producing scads of food via no-till. When I check out these sites I see photos of beautiful neat gardens with zero weeds, often only light mulch, if any is present at all (certainly not enough for successful weed control), and things that point to soil disturbances of some sort or other. Some garden beds look to be hoed or cultivated. Second...Some beds show the use of cover crops and instructions to cut these crops down to soil level then turn into the soil. Hey, isn't that also called "digging" or "tilling"? What happened to their no-till claim? 

I'm sure that modified no-till methods work for some people in certain situations. But in my climate and with my own tropical soils, I haven't had success so far with my four experiments using no-till. Perhaps my soil isn't stable enough yet. Perhaps my climate isn't suitable to support this method. My soils are in the process of being created. They are not deep soils. Thus I'm constantly adding amendments to them, building up not only the structure but also the volume. Soil is in short supply in my area, so volume is a big issue.

No-till websites claim that all amendments are added strictly to the soil surface. Again, that may work very well for some regions and soil types. To date, it hasn't worked for me. Perhaps me soil is simply too new, too immature. Or simply too little of it yet. 

Raised beds, another issue. I use a variety of raised beds already. On wet years, they work wonderfully. On drought or windy years, they dry out and heat up too much. I use a form of raised bed made from four wood pallets and filled with organic debris. It's like a cubic yard of cold compost that gradually decomposes over six months. It works for me, but during drought, I need to water them more frequently than my ground level, traditional garden beds. Even lining to pallet boxes with plastic has not stopped them from drying out quickly. 

My main gripe about all the raised bed advice is the expense. One 4'x8' bed easily costs $100 in lumber materials, and that's not counting the cost of filling it with soil. Soil is quite difficult to come by and thus expensive in my area. I am sitting in a new volcano afterall. New volcano = rock hard lava. 

I plan to continue experimenting with no-till techniques and adapting my current minimum till methods. I also plan to keep trying various raised bed methods. As I get older, I like the raised bed idea more and more. But I want a design that can work in both wet years and drought years, plus not cost a ton of money to construct. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Bamboo Garden Stakes

A new blog reader has asked me what I use bamboo for. Previously I had mentioned bamboo but didn't talk about its uses here upon my farms. is one use:

Garden Stakes

(Above, temporary stakes outline some newly seeded beds until the peas and beans germinate.) 

While everyone automatically thinks of the thicker sturdy canes for using as stakes, I'm thinking more on the line of thin stakes for marking garden beds, marking newly planted items, holding up orchid flowers, etc. Just about everyone I know who is growing and using their bamboo throws away the thin stems. But I find them really useful for lightweight stakes. 

Rot resistant
Easy to use
Didn't cost me a penny
Very handy since they grow right here on the farm

1- Propping up orchids.
2- Marking the corners of a newly created garden bed.
3- Marking a plant or a pumpkin so that I can see it and find it again. 
4- Holding a temporary garden label.
5- Marking that need special attention, such as pumpkin blossoms that need to be kept treated with dipel. 
I often color code the top of the stakes for one reason or another. Leftover paint makes a good marking system. Green= save seed from this variety. Red = don't save seed. Yellow = evaluate for possible seed saving. 

A bit of bright cloth or tape makes the stake highly visible so that I can relocate the pumpkin, young transplant, whatever. Rather than buying tape, I usually use a bit from discarded clothing that I make into rags. 

I'm sure there will be plenty of more ways to use thin bamboo pieces as I create this homestead. But this is what I'm doing so far. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Ag Taking Some Hits In Hawaii

This past week there has been doom & gloom talk-story among the local ag folks over the recent ag announcements.....
....The giant (and the last) sugar plantation in Hawaii is shutting down its sugar cane production and processing by the end of this year. So if you like the idea of using local sugar, you had better stock up.
....Richard Ha is shutting down his big banana producing farm on Big Island citing anticipated future energy related increased costs. 
....The Ka'u coffee farmers have been offered new leases but at an incredible increase in expense. 
....A number of Ka'u ag farms have had to cutback production for various reasons. 
.....A number of ag businesses through out the state have shut down due to escalating fertilizer & feed expenses, increased rents and government related costs, and introduced disease and pest issues. 
....The major taro lands of a Waipio Valley have been put on the market for sale. Dozens of taro farms are in jeopardy. 
....the most significant botanical garden on my island has also been put up for sale. No one knows what the future holds for the gardens, the home of a vast array of Hawaiian plants, the source for plant keikis for gardeners around here, and the venue of multiple Hawaiian culture and growing events through out the year.

It seems that 2016 is not starting out to be very ag friendly. 

So I must be crazy to think that this year I'm going to develop a farm income. Egads. I guess I'm just bucking the traffic once again. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Update...and New Kitten

The past two weeks have been consumed with routine chores, catching up on overdue tasks, and setting the stage for new projects. Boring stuff not worthy of news updates. And I've been too occupied (and tired out at the end of the day) to put much mental effort into discussing thoughtful topics. Not that I don't have a list to choose from to discuss., my readers, have been sending me plenty of suggestions. I thank you for all of the topic ideas. 

But there has been something new. We did add a new member to the farm....another kitten. As with so many other kittens in the past, we took this one in to save its life, with intentions of finding it a suitable home. But we didn't seem to be the ones in charge of that decision this time around. Three of our adult cats adopted this kitten and decided that it was family. Ha, sometime things just happen that way. The cats made the decision, not us. 

So here's Spot, coal black little girl with a shortened, kinky tail, snuggling up with her foster big sister......
I told you she was coal black. She completely disappears into the fur of Toy. 

Born in a feral litter, taken in at four weeks of age, and mothered by three house cats. Spot now shows zero feral tendencies. In fact she is a little hyperdrive, outgoing streaker that gallops around the house, often crash landing on our laps for a quick purr session, body rub, and five minute nap before bounding off again to bounce off the walls once again. She's also taken to the dog, Crusty, frequently riding his back and attacking his ears. What a character! 

(Pictured above, she is now 9 weeks old.) 

Luckily we have plenty of elbow room here and can easily accommodate another cat. But some day we may have to change the name of the place to "The Cat House". 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Structured Water

Recently I've been bombarded with supposedly scientic information about the benefits of "structured water". The first couple of emails started of with asking for my experiences with watering seedlings, but quickly shifted to a sales pitch about the magical qualities of structured water, the fantastic health benefits, the scientific "proof" supporting the amazing properties of structured water.......and not surprisingly, the pitch to sell me a machine to make structured water at a "very good price". 


The structured water gimmick was debunked a while ago, but it is rearing it's head again. I have a friend here who wholeheartedly believes the hype although he's never used the stuff or tried any experiments with it. All his "proof" comes from parroting second hand information of supposed scientific  documentation. The alleged proof behind structured water is peppered with just enough real info to make the uninitiated accept the whole spiel as truth. My friend has fallen for it. 

So this is just a note to beware. It is very easy to fall victim to those snake oil dealers. When I hear something that sounds too good to be true, too fantastic, involves magicical energy, AND very importantly, is something that Big Business hasn't grabbed yet to make their annual profit with....then it's time for me to be skeptical. 

Yes, structured water hype looks to be making its rounds once again. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016


Ha, got your attention...did I? Well, don't dismay. Nothing serious. Just a little practical example of high school science class. 

Today at our community garden event, during the end of day lunch break, one of the gardeners asked if that was smoke she saw at the end of the tables. Of course we all poo poo'd her. Heck, what could be on fire? It's only a jug of water, and at the time, a few assorted pots of lunch fixins. But sure enough, it was indeed smoke! A tendril of smoke was swirling up from the surface of the card table.

Closer inspection revealed that the glass jug of water was acting as a lens, focusing the sun's rays. Just like in science glass, concentrating the sun's energy on a combustible focal point resulted in ignition. 

A good sized hole was melted right through the surface of the table and the plastic was on the verge of erupting into flame. Impressive! 

Note to self ---  put water jug in the shade for now on. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Garden Projects I'd Like To Try

I've dabbled in some of these listed below but haven't seriously incorporated them into my food production methods........

Drip irrigation. I think that drip irrigation is a great way to go for large garden beds. But I've got a number of problems with it. There would be a lot of equipment to purchase...hoses, pipe, emitters (if used), connectors, pressure valves, water tanks, pumps. And I'd need a filtration system for my rainwater before sending it through a drip system. And the labor would be a factor because I would need to remove the water lines between harvested and next seeded crops so that the soil could be prepped for the next planting. On top of it, my growing beds are not located in one huge central garden plot. They are scattered about the homestead in small garden locations. Some day I plan to toy with some sort of drip irrigation set-up for at least part of the gardens. Something hopefully simple and not expensive.

Foliar feeding. I've been impressed with the results a nearby commercial farmer has had with foliar applications. It's something I've been considering experimenting with. Some day. 

Vertical gardening. During visits to other gardens, I've seen some examples of vertical gardening. I really don't need to worry about running out of growing space on my farm, but vertical gardening still looks like something fun to toy with. 

Greenhouses for wind protection and rain exclusion. Certain veggies here do far better in a greenhouse. Slicing tomatoes. Summer squash. Peppers. So I'd like to make a small greenhouse some day. 

Screen house gardening for controlling insect problems. Some veggies are nearly impossible to grow because of pests. I plan to try cucumbers and some squash in a screen house and see if that helps. Maybe il try a slicing tomato too. 

Hand pollinating. This is something I already know how to do, but I haven't put much time into it thus far. But I'm interested in saving my own seed, so I'm going to set up little projects to hand pollinate certain crops so that I can save the seed. 

Creating my own hybrids and varieties. Now this could be pure fun! 

Selecting for landrace. I'm just starting to do this already with pumpkins. Eventually I'll end up with pumpkins that grow exceptionally well on my farm because they are the survivors of the local bugs and diseases. 

Aquaponics. Right now my ag catchment tanks and ponds host mosquito eating fish and tilapia. So I do already have a source of water for a small aquaponics system. Currently the only thing plant-wise growing in the ponds is water hyacinth. It might be cool to be growing lettuce instead. 

Circulating hydroponics. The only hydroponics that I've done to date has been non-circulating systems. These systems work great for quick growing lettuce. But I'd like to design a simple circulating system and expand into growing other greens and strawberries.