Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Hurricane Madeline is Here

So here I sit, listening to the rain and intermittent wind. Things are fairly ho-hum. I've gotten less than 1/2" of rain so far, but according to the weather radar, the big rain is yet to come. In anticipation of heavy rain and wind, I emptied the catchment tanks by 2 feet and made sure that the covers were on tight.. Just a safety precaution. Other than that, there wasn't much to do in preparation. I already have plenty of drinking water, food, gasoline, and propane stored up. The livestock are always secured. I've already removed any suspect trees. So I'll just have to sleep tonight and hope for the best. 

Radar at 5 showed the center of the storm to be passing south of the island with a lot of rain heading our way. It's now almost 8 pm, so I'm assuming the eye is due south of me. Looks like it gonna rain all night. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Hurricanes Coming

Been getting ready for two more hurricanes heading right for my area, once again. So I might not be blogging for a day or two or three. All depends upon how much wind and flooding we get. 

The one on the left is Madeline, the other is Lester. Madeline looks be be hitting the island dead on, so I won't know what things will be like around here tomorrow (Wednesday). Lester should be arriving on the weekend. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Filling a Pallet Grow Box

By far the most time consuming part of pallet grow boxes is the filling process. It takes a heck of a lot of biomass to fill one. A box holds one cubic yard of material, which will translate into 27-30 trashcanfuls when tromped down and decomposing. 

As I work around the farm, I always save whatever biomass I gather, be it clearing leaves and twigs out of a spot, pulling weeds, or removing an old crop. I store this debris in recycled plastic bags, or feed bags, leaky trashcans, whatever. Sometimes I'll just pile it up, like in the case of the coarse ferns that I'm removing. 

I'm not too fussy in what I use. Hacked stems from ginger, coarse ferns, tree leaves, weeds. The only things I avoid are those that I've found to be aggressive spreaders and difficult to kill -- honohono grass, Mexican elderberry, and Bermuda grass. Most everything else dies during the decomposing period. 

I don't bother to chop the stuff up. I leave it coarse......except for the fresh grass clippings (which by their very nature are finely chopped) that I add for nitrogen. I'll even use chunks of banana trunks. They eventually decompose just fine. 

All the stuff in these photos went into the new box. I layered the various ingredients, adding 1"-2" fresh grass clippings or a little horse manure every foot or so for a nitrogen boast due to high amount of carbonous material I'm using, plus a shovelful of either garden soil or compost atop the grass or manure layer. (If the weeds I used had been pulled up with their roots and a bit of soil with them, I can skip this last step.) Since all the material was already wet due to the rain, I didn't need to wet the layers as I added them. If this were a dry spell, then I would wet down the layers. I'd fill the box a few feet deep then climb inside and tromp it down real good. I find that the sides and the corners often need extra fill. 

Today I packed the box full to the top. Packed it down as good as I could. Next I watered it with a bit of extra water (a 5 gallon bucket). 

Once a week or so I will go back and tromp the material down again. I'll also check to see if it's getting warm deep down inside. The goal is to not let the pile dry out if it gets real hot because the decomposition process will stop. To combat that problem I will add water as needed. And I'll cover the top of the pile with either an old tarp or some sheets of cardboard that I have wetted down. That helps keep the moisture in. 

Now for the next few weeks there will be a cycle.....
.....tromp down the pile, top off the box with more biomass, water as needed. 

Exactly what I put into these pallet boxes is highly viable. It all depends upon what's around. Lots of outdoor biomass from the farm. Kitchen waste. Livestock manure (not pig, dog, or cat, which is reserved for the hot compost piles.) Slaughter waste. Roadkill. Foraged waste fruits. Coffee grounds. By far the majority of the material is weeds, plant trimmings, grass clippings, and tree leaves. 

Yes, it's like a hot compost pile. It differs from my hot compost piles in that the hot compost :
1- processes the pig, dog, and cat manures
2- gets urine inoculated biochar added to the layers 
3- is temperature monitored
4- is turned in order to maintain high composting temperature for a total of 30 days

The pallet box material is never turned. It is layered as it is filled. At the end of a long season crop, or after two consecutive short season crops, the box is then opened and emptied. Then we start all over again. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Food Waste

The topic of food waste has been hitting the news quite a bit. And I recently read in the National Geographic Magazine that 21% of food at the consumer level gets wasted. I've read other reports that claim percentages closer to 50%. Egads. That means, for most people, lots of food gets thrown away in the trash. Wow. I would have thought that restaurants were a bigger waster, but it turns out that people in their own homes are the major throw-away'ers. 

One thing about most homestead farms is that there is no such thing as food waste. Uneaten and spoiled food doesn't go into a trash can. There's always something else on a farm to do with it. 

First of all, homesteaders tend to eat food that I've seen city friends discard -- kale leaves with holes in them, green beans that some bug ate the tip off of, an ear of corn with a corn worm in it, that sort of thing. Homesteaders just cut off the damage and eat the rest, while I've seen my city friends ditch the whole item into their trashcan.

Homesteaders tend to make their own broths and stock, so they use the bits of veggie scraps in the stock pot that many city cooks deem to be garbage. Things like celery leaves, onion ends, broccoli stems, radish leaves, etc. (I thought about making myself a t-shirt that says "I Eat Garbage & Drink Out Of Gutters" but most people wouldn't get the joke.) 

On a homestead, items not eaten by humans usually goes some place other than the trash. Depending upon the item it gets fed to the dogs, cats, worms, soldier flies, rabbits, pigeons, ducks, geese, chickens, sheep, goats, pigs, cows, or horses. What the livestock won't eat heads to the garden either via compost, nutrient teas, or dug directly into the soil. On my farm there is a LOT of competition for the "garbage". 

Where wastage goes on my homestead.....
Sour milk -- dogs, chickens, pigs
Molded bread -- chickens, pig
Molded cheese -- chickens, pigs
Wilted, spoiled veggies/fruits -- chickens, pigs
Stale bread and crackers -- sheep, goat, horse, dogs
Unwanted leftovers -- dogs, chickens, pigs
"Off" meat -- chickens
Uneaten seafood -- cats, dogs, chickens (in reality it usually doesn't get past the cats) 
Excess and trimmings from the garden -- rabbits, dogs, chickens, pigs
Certain non-edible items -- compost (onion skins, eggplant caps, grapefruit rinds, and such)

Zero goes into my trashcan! And I do indeed mean zero

Making a Pallet Grow Box

Recently I've been running into more and more people who are trying to use old pallets for making compost bins and container gardens. I've been using them quite successfully for years now and over time have worked out a fairly simple way of making them, a method that works for me. 

I take four pallets that are in fair to good condition. If they are free, I'm not too fussy. 99% of my pallets have been free if I haul them away myself. Perfect price! 

The above pallets are in fair condition in need of bit of repair. A few well placed nails fixed most of the problems, but one had a bit of a hole. 

Holes like this one I can patch. A piece of something stiff, nailed into place, makes an adequate patch. In this case, I used an old political campaign sign........thanks Brad, for donating your old signs. I've found plenty of uses for them, 

Next step......apply a liner. Experience has shown me that the boxes need to be lined in order to hold the moisture in. Otherwise they dry out regardless of how much rain I get. I initially tried using cardboard, but it didn't work good enough. I've since switched to using something more moisture impervious, like old feed bags, old tarps, or recycled black trash bags.  

I fasten the liner, in this case black trash bags, with nails through a milk jug top. The top acts to keep the plastic from pulling through the nail. 

Once all four pallets are lined, then it's time to put them together into a four sided box. In the beginning, I nailed the boxes together. Before long I realized that it wasn't the best idea. They were sturdy, but they could not be opened easily or taken apart simply. So I tried other methods. I finally settled upon using wire or sturdy twine nailed to the corners. In the photo above, I'm using some old electric fence tape. At each end I made a knot and nailed through the knot into the wood pallet. Then I used other nails to stretch the tape as needed to make it a tightly fitting corner. 

At the end of a growing season, I often open the box to collect the compost/soil to use elsewhere. Sometimes I need to move the entire box to a new location. Other times I need to replace one of the rotting pallets with a better one. Being able to quickly dismantle a box and put it back together is important to me, thus the odd way I put the pallets together. It's simple, quick, cheap, and effective. 

Above is the new box put together and ready for filling. It only took a few minutes.

 Now comes the more time consuming task of filling it with organic debris. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

2016 Hawaii Cultural Festival

As an introduction to "its & bits" of earlier Hawaiian culture, festivals are popular with tourists and residents alike. Today's festival was hosted by Volcanoes National Park, up by the main park entrance. Even though I've attended many in the past years, I still find them not only enjoyable, but also informative. Every year they are different enough to hold my interest.

As I wandered through the exhibits and on-hand workshops, I snapped a smattering of pics here and there so that you can get a taste of the activities. Mercifully, I skipped the numerous info booths, food booths, and several actually interesting Hawaiian craft booth so that you're not overloaded with "here's my vacation photos". 

A young man trying his hand at pounding poi. 

A local artist drawing endemic species.

Working at weaving a lauhala basket. 

Keiki experimenting with bamboo printing. 

Feather craft. No one here is attempting such intricate and skillful feather creations, but they were a beautiful display. In the background there are piles of feathers being prepared for a feather class. 

To "combatants" trying their hand at Hawaiian wrestling. 

"Hawaiian checkers".

Too tired to keep walking, she happily settled down on the soft lauhala mats. 

Talk story and demonstration of Hawaiian traditional medicines. 

And my favorite of the day.......the making of Hawaiian nose flutes. 
Using a hot poker to burn in the holes. 

A close up look........really smoking! This one is my own personal flute being made. 

Instruction time. After sanding, cleaning, and rough finishing, it was time to learn to play the thing. I never managed a note until the car ride home. I actually got two somewhat musical tones from mine. Playing the nose flute is going to take a bit of practice. 

Friday, August 26, 2016


Every once in a while I have the urge to show off our sunsets. Because of our erupting volcano, my area is blessed with some absolutely beautiful skies at dusk. No Photoshopping needed! 

Not that I'm a big fan of the vog the causes these great sunset displays, but at least we get some sort of compensation for having to breathe in all that rank stuff. 

I never tire of marveling at such pretty skies. Everyone is different. Some are more magnificent than others. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Adding to the Secret Garden

The secret garden area will ultimately be a beautified pasture, and I see no reason why not to make it pretty. It was a poor pasture before I started.....just ferns and molasses grass. Now it's a variety of livestock edibles (okinawan spinach, sweet potato, ti, banana, sugar cane, pipinola, pumpkin, and soon to be added : grains) plus non-edibles mixed in. 

Orchids, why not? 

Caladiums, sure. 

Coleus, nice color. But will the sheep eat them too? I don't know yet. 

Colorful flowers. Perhaps edible. But for now they add color. 

An interesting fern. To date the animals have ignored all ferns. 

Crotons are so colorful. 

This bromeliad surprised me with a brilliant flower. 

To help define paths to walk on, I laid down some christmasberry wood chips. Within six months they will disappear but for now they help me envision where to plant things. 

I keep adding patches of both edible and ornamental plants. But I keep it in the back of my mind that this area will be used for pasturing purposes in addition to being pleasant to look at. Funny thing though, even though it doesn't look like a traditional pasture, it will be providing tons more feed for the sheep than it did back in the ferns & grass days. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Hairy Rocks Everywhere

How wet has it been these past two years? Almost constant! I have moss, mold, and lichen growing on things and in places that it never did before. I have to take care not to sit still too long myself! The rocks around this place are hosting quite an assortment of "lowlife". 

Above, this was a shiny black lava toe. Well it was for the past 10 years that it's been gracing my rock wall. Now it's fuzzy and green. 

Speaking of that rock wall, it's got parches of moss plus plenty of baby ferns sprouting from the crevasses. 

Along the rocks lining the driveway, rocks host multiple kinds of molds, mosses, and lichens. It's a patchwork of color. 

Only two years ago, the rocks here were bare. Nary a green speck. 

But not just green things. This lichen is orange. Why these rocks have orange lichen and zero green moss I don't know. But for about a 10 foot stretch, all the rocks are covered in orange. 

Further down the driveway, there's a section where the rocks are frosted in white, like some bizarre warm weather rime. I'm guessing it's a lichen that's willing to share the rocks with the mosses. 

I suppose all this color will disappear with the next drought, but for now it's kind of pretty. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Yard Art Strikes Again

Sometimes a spot just begs for a sign, like the bifurcation in my driveway. Which way to turn? Left? Right? Guess it depends whether you want to go to Whoville or Far Far Away. Never-Neverland or Solla Sollew. 

After looking at this spot for years, I just had to do it......put up a road sign. 

The problem was that I thought of more fantasy land signs than I had room for on the sign post. No matter. Just put up another post where the driveway makes a 90° turn to the left, while the right hand path goes to the pastures. Ah-ha, another perfect spot. 

Yard art - how fun! 

Monday, August 22, 2016

My Turmeric is Flowering!

Just a couple of days ago "S" posted on Big Island Self Sufficency Facebook page a picture of turmeric blooming. Quite honestly, I've never seen mine bloom. But lo and behold, there in the garden today was a strange bloom I had never seen before on the farm. But I instantly recognized it for what it was.....a turmeric flower. 

While I have perhaps 200 turmeric plants, only this one was in bloom. I wonder why this one but not the others? 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Fungus in the Compost

I'm an oddball around town because of some of my particular adventures. ( need to be aware that most folks around here are a bit odd, so I fit in just fine!) One of those odd things that I do is collecting the  mushrooms that pop up in the county park and the church lawns. People often ask me if I eat them. Heavens no! They're poisonous. But I find them to be good additions to my compost piles, pallet grow boxes, and hugelpits. Fungus is what breaks down the woody aspects of biomass, thus my piled up organic material decomposes faster. 

Above, I've opened a makeshift compost pile, to show you, one that is made of tree & brush twigs and tree leaves sucked up with a lawnmower, layered with fresh grass clippings. As I piled on the layers, I moistened the twig/leaf layer with my "kwik compost tea" made from my IMO (indigenous micro organisms) compost pile. 

My IMO compost is designed to grow bacteria and fungus that likes to feed upon the soft and woody biomass that occurs in my area. (Sort of like keeping a sourdough starter for bread making, but in this case the "friendly bugs" are for fermenting biomass instead of flour.) I then use it to mix with water, making a "tea" to use to moisten other biomass piles......such as the one pictured here. I see it is a rapid and surefire way to get things moving quickly along. Within a week, this particular pile showed heavy growth of micro organisms, especially fungus......the fluffy white stuff in the photos. 

To make the kwik compost tea, I simply put a shovelful of compost in a five gallon bucket, add water, stir, then use immediately. I use it to moisten the dry material added to a compost pile or hugelpit. 

By the way, if added moisture is not called for, then I simply lightly sprinkle the IMO compost on the layers as I build the pile, fill the pallet grow box, or fill in the hugelpit. No need to make a tea. 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Changes to the Big Pond

I've never quite finished up my big pond project, and last week I decided to tackle it again. Up until now, the pond essentially has been in the shade almost all day. That encouraged lots of moss and fungus to grow on the bridge, weakening the two long logs that supported the bridge walkway. Those logs were two eucalyptus trees, a wood I have since learned was not a good choice for the job. But they are free and handy, since they were growing right at the pond site. 

Every time it rained, the bridge was way too slippery to walk across safely. It was constantly covered in a thin film of moss and algae. Plus, the 2x6 boards I used for the walkway had been recycled, so they were close to 20 years old now. Many were showing signs of rot here and there. Time to replace them for safety sake. 

The first job was too remove the weedy and misshapened trees. That opened up the pond to some sun, which should help control the moss and fungus. 

(Above.....looking down on the pond from the hillside steps. Trees removed.)

Next, the steps that has been made out of tree trucks had to go. They were rotting into soil from being constantly wet for the past two years. I'm not exaggerating. They never dried out. I saw dozens and dozens of mushrooms sprouting from each one! Shame they weren't the edible kind. So they were replaced by concrete steps with imbedded rocks. Below, Crusty approves of the new steps. While the log steps were woodsy, cheap, and farm sourced, these cement steps will be attractive, give safe footing, and last a lifetime. At least the rocks were farm sourced. 

I recently acquired some 24' long 4x6's from a friend at a very good price. Plus numerous 2x6's from another friend who had bought them years ago but never built the deck he had planned. The lumber came in handy for making the bridge supports and treads. I used three of the beams to support the 4' wide 2x6 planks. Ah, this bridge is now strong and should last a good 20 years or more. The cutesy handrail is just for show. It's too flimsy. Eventually I'll find the right tree to make a sturdier handrail. The railing posts are made from ohia trees this time, a much better choice. 

The pond hosts hundreds of mosquito fish and a few dozen guppies, and 9 young koi. To offer the fish shelter, over half the pond is shaded via plants or the bridge. For the next week I'll be keeping an eye on the water temperature and watch the fish's behavior. If the water gets too warm, I'll be adding more plants to shade it more. 

Here's 8 of the koi fish. No matter how long I tried, I couldn't get all 9 in one photo. But 8 is pretty good considering I'm working with a bunch of fish. The largest one is 7" long. The smallest is 3 1/2". When they were purchased they were only 1 1/2" to 2". Their job in this farm is to eat the cane toad eggs and young tadpoles. Last year they were too small to get the job done, but this year they have been 100% successful so far. 

Those pond plants are pennywort and azolla. I've been confining the plants to 1/2 of the pond, harvesting the excess growth. But I might encourage it to cover 3/4 or more of the pond if more sun protection is needed. Both are useable as fodder for the livestock, though often I simply dig it into the garden to add  nutrients to the soil. Now that the pond is getting sunlight, I might add a few water hyacinths for color and foliage variety.

I have two more tasks to get completed.1- Put up the wood edging around the outer sides of the pond. Purely for asthetics. 2- Scrub down the hillside stairs and reapply a coat of stain. It's time for maintenance. At the same time I will apply grit to the treads to address the slippery factor.