Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Using Compost

Compost seems to be a hot topic. I'm frequently asked to sell my stash to others, but it's a valuable product on this farm and I never have enough. So how do I utilize compost in my system? 

Compost is one of my main sources of fertilizer and soil improver. My homemade compost is comprised of a wide assortment of plants (grasses, weeds, brush and tree leaves), manures (chicken, equine, sheep, goat), and kitchen & fruit waste not eaten by the chickens. Occasionally slaughter waste and dead animals end up being composted too. Plus small amounts of garden soil, lava sand, coral sand, ocean water, fired bone, and biochar end up in the mix. 

The most common method to use my compost is to till it in to the top 3"-6" of soil when I refresh a growing bed between crops. I will fork a 2" deep layer onto a bed then very quickly and lightly till it in. By far, this my number one method. 

Another frequently used method is to use the compost as a mulch. About one or two months into growing a crop, I will spread a light layer (about an inch) of compost, like applying a mulch. Then I try to cover that with a light layer of fresh grass clippings as soon as feasible. When possible, I'll time it when I'm expecting a rain. If I'm not lucky to get rain, then I'll give the bed a watering. I don't think this is as good as tilling it in, but it does seem to give the growing crop a boost without disturbing its roots, as tilling would. 

Compost tea. I haven't developed the habit of using lots of compost tea. My neighbor is a big advocate of compost tea, using it about one month into growing a crop. Via his gentle prodding, he's gotten me to add a couple shovelfuls of compost to a trashcanful of water, give it a good stir, and let it sit in the sun for day. Then use that water at the end of the day to water the plants that need a drink. I've never experimented to see how much of a difference it makes, but I figure that it can't hurt. 

And the final use, I add it to the layers as I make the next compost pile. It acts as a starter, introducing the micro organisms into the pile. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

My Own Radish Seed

Radish and daikon seed is easy to produce here. If the plant is allowed to grow large and woody, weeks beyond its edible stage, it will eventually send up flower stalks. 


The now gigantic radish plants send out tall flower stalks which flop about and get fairly sprawly......


The flowers themselves are small and cluster at the ends of the flower stalks, though the stalks continue to grow and send out new flowers on their tips. By the way, these flowers are edible and are pretty in salads......

I'm told that radish can cross pollinate with daikon, wild mustard, and wild turnip. Luckily the only plants I need to watch for here on the farm are daikon and radishes. So I only let one variety flower at a time to limit where the bees gather pollen. Yes, daikon and radishes are pollinated by bees. Happily, my bees seem to like the flowers and visit often enough to get most of them successfully pollinated. 

Radish pods get really fat. You sure can't miss them on the plants.....

I let the pods mature to the point that they get yellow-brownish and a bit leathery. Next, I need to pick them and complete the maturation & drying in a protected airy spot. My homestead farm is pretty moist, so the pods won't dry down naturally unless it's a drought year. In the next couple of months I plan to start producing my radish and daikon seed down at my drier seed farm location, where I should be able to dry down the pods naturally while still on the stalk. But that's a future project.

When the pods have turned tannish brown, I set them outside in the sun to dry.....

Once the pods are dry, it's fairly easy to get the seeds. Put the super dry pods in a bag, pillowcase, or cardboard box and give it a whacking with a rubber mallet or a light mashing with a hammer. Yes, true radish pod abuse....violence in the garden, that sort of thing. You see, the seed is a bit challenging to get out of the pod by hand. If I only planned on harvesting a couple dozen seeds, then I could split the pods by hand, using my thumb nail. But for more seed, I needed to try something else so that I wouldn't be sitting there for six hours breaking open pods one at a time by hand. Once beaten into submission, the seeds will collect on the bottom of the bag while the dry pod pieces will be on the top. A fan helps winnow out the light debris if you wanted too (I don't bother unless I plan to sell the seed), leaving the heavy seeds behind. Because I'm not sure just how tough the seeds are, I tend to go on the gentle side with the hammer whacking. I do it just so that the pods are cracked and crushed, but not thoroughly mashed......



Crookshank is helping.......

The bowl contains the seed I harvested from this one box of pods. Considering how few seeds come in a purchased seed packet, growing my own is quite a savings. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sun Oven - Dehydrator

My homemade solar dehydrated has reached the end of it days. In fact, I've been holding it together with duct tape for months and I'm fed up fussing with it. But it served me well. It was an early experiment from years ago made out of repurposed materials (that is - junk), so it cost me nothing and taught me a lot. Time to move on. 

I've been toying with the idea of making another solar dehydrator, but recently another blogger (5acresandadream.com) held a free webinar on Sun Ovens. Hummmmm. So I attended. Conclusion -- I think the Sun Oven would work as a dehydrator although it wouldn't handle the volume that I was use to. The webinar offered a nice discount, so I took the bait and spent some money. I figured that if it turned out to be junkily made, I'd send it back. Well it turns out that I like the product. It's just a shame that I don't get reliable sun here, or I'd use it every day for cooking. That's something to look forward to during the next drought year. 

My first sunny morning I gave the Sun Oven a test run. I'm harvesting mamaki leaves right now and need to dry them. After preparing the leaves, they were spaced on the dehydrator shelves. The oven door was closed but slightly propped open as directed.


Sun Oven was aligned to the sun.....

Here's another view....

The oven quickly heated up, and I mean QUICK. Yikes! Run and get something to hold the door open more. I ended up using a little toothpick jar. 


Before the morning sun disappeared, the leaves were dry. Rather than realigning the oven's position every 30 minutes, I let it be. This kept the temperature lower so as not to burn the leaves. 

All in all, this experiment worked out just fine. I figure I could dry 2-3 batches of leaves each morning, if I wanted. That's ok. And it turns out that the Sun Oven dries more leaves per day than my other solar dehydrator design. The only thing I need to still work out is getting the temperature control fine tuned. 

Next, I plan to try drying other things -- fruits, veggies, macnuts. If this handles the macnuts, then it will be worth every penny I spent on it. 





Saturday, June 17, 2017

"Shade Tent"

As part of my livestock plan, I want to have a shade shelter back in the main pasture. Not that the animals need the shade (there's plenty of shade trees), but it would give them a dry spot out of the rain. And rather than making it a three sided shelter, like I would have done if I were back in NJ, I figure on leaving it open for air. We're in the tropics here, so the air is more important. 

Not having done something like this before, I checked out various shed plans and garden project plans in my books and on the Internet. I then inspected a friend's pasture sunshade to see how his was built, since it's weathered many a windstorm successfully. 

This is what I settled upon.......

This is my prototype, being built outside the pastures, by the pasture gate. I plan to use it to store various livestock supplies that I want to keep handy. And when I go out of town, I can stack the bags of haycubes there so that the caretaker can easily feed the sheep. I find this to the most difficult stage in building anything, getting everything started, leveled, and braced. Yup, there's some very interesting items being used to brace the frame, but of course they're only temporary and happened to be handy. 


Before the full day of labor is over, the "shade tent' is basically done, I'm minus one sheet of metal roofing, which will have to be purchased. Oops.....miscalculated! And one fascia board still needs to be put into place, but it's raining now. 


I had originally planned to install rain gutter on the lower end of the roof in order to catch rainwater and direct it to the water troughs. But no need. It rained late afternoon and instantly self-filled the trough below. How cool is that! I'll just drag over the second water trough and let it self full too. Looks like I'll only need to use the water hose during extended dry periods. 


Friday, June 16, 2017

Fun on a Farm

Why does farming, or even gardening, have to be so serious, so dry, so dull. Ya know, if a government inspector sees a pretty, playful farm they automatically label it "hobby". Those farmers say they have a heck of a time qualifying for grants and loans. I've had several tell me this is far too often the truth. How sad. 

Farming and gardening can be fun. True, it's lots of hard work, but it can be enjoyable. I've seen other people's places where they have made crazy yard art out of farm discards -- fanciful animals, wind chimes, sun catchers and such. Others have made mazes, especially corn mazes for public enjoyment. Many gardeners, but also some serious growers, have odd shaped growing beds, herb spirals, plant towers, vertical gardens, and creative trellises. I've been in farms and spied some fun stuff in the corners -- garden trolls and little troll houses, dinosaur guardians, stick animals, colorful cartoonish signs and labels. Fun stuff. 

The Tin Man 

(Tin Man graces the yard of Bedlam Farm) 

I visited an herb farm many years ago. The farmer team, a husband and wife, had created curving beds, some with artistic designs. From the air, the beds created amazing Amish hex signs. They also arranged some of the herbs by color and foliage texture, making the place quite visually pleasing. On top of this all, they used crazy stuff for container gardens, crazy stuff that would either make you smile or shake your head -- an old claw foot bathtub, a toilet, a wheelbarrow, old kitchen cement sinks. This farm was a serious income producer, but the farmers could still have fun with it. 

I haven't gotten my own farm to the whimsical stage yet that I desire, but it's on the way. I've got some yard art here and there. And I've made some interesting fences and walls around some pastures. 

Another way to make farming fun is to sing and dance while working. Stick around long enough and you might catch me singing to the plants, or dancing in the gardens while working. Listening to music is great while I'm working, so it's not that too much of a stretch for me to suddenly break into fanciful dancing. 

Then there's Worldwide Naked Gardening Day. Been there, done that. Looking forward to next time. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Germination Failures

Last Sunday I lead a workshop on vegetable seed starting. I'm not a trained teacher, but I try to share some of my knowledge with others. Not sure how successful I am, but my talk and demo did result in questions after the event. Here's a few I'd like to answer publicly because perhaps someone else has the same unanswered question. 

1- Why don't you (meaning me) direct seed everything right into the ground? 
   Easy answer......I have too many things that destroy my emerging seedlings. Veggie seedlings must be far tastier than "weed" seedlings, because things often destroy my veggie seedlings before they get a chance to sprout true leaves. They get eaten by mice, rats, assorted birds including turkeys, slugs, cutworms, and a host of bugs. Believe me, I've really tried direct seeding everything. It surely would be a whole lot easier and faster. Prodded by one of the community garden volunteers, I tried planting an entire bed (3' x 22') with tomato seed and another with broccoli seed. We sowed three seeds in each spot....2 rows in the bed with seeds planted 24" apart. A lot of the seeds germinated just fine. By the following week, almost no seedlings were left. By two weeks, only one tomato and two broccoli seedlings survived. By week number three, all were gone except the one tomato seedling which had a severely damaged stem, most likely from a slug munching on it. It soon died. 

2- Why do you direct seed beans and peas? 
   Because these don't get destroyed as readily as my other veggies. By planting excess, I end up with enough adult plants. I normally plant twice as many seeds as I hope to have as mature plants. I check the seedlings daily and watch for cutworm activity. When I spot some, I'll snuffle around the adjacent soil looking for the caterpillar and destroy it. I also look for weak or malformed seedlings, which I'll remove in order to leave more space for stronger seedlings to grow. 

3- Why did my seeds ALL fail to germinate? 
   There could be a lot of different causes. Each would need to be considered, since I can't see your garden firsthand. 
...old seed. Unless stored under ideal conditions, seeds normally have a lifespan during which they are viable, that is, will be alive and can germinate. Some veggie varieties have longer lifespans than others. Parsnips are notoriously short lived (1 year) while others may last several years. 
...seed stored under poor conditions. Some veggie seed can survive poor conditions while others are real sensitive about it. If you've been tossing that seed packet into your desk drawer or workshop shelf, after a few months the seed may not be too viable. The constant temperature changes and humidity flucuations may do them in. Personally I find my best results with refrigerating my seed in a glass jar with a tight lid. By the way, freezing fresh seed may also kill it. Seed that has not had a chance to dry down correctly, plus many tropical seeds, can be killed by freezing. 
...wrong germination conditions. Some seed requires light to germinate. Others don't. So if you planted a container with lettuce seed and placed it in a dark spot, it most likely won't sprout. Seeds also like a bit of moisture, but not too wet. I've seen gardeners who kept their sprouting pots too wet or too dry. Semi shade is good for seed sprouting. Letting them bake in the sun and dry out can kill emerging seedlings. Temperature can be important for some seeds. Bean seed requires 60° or above. Papaya wants higher temps. Sowing depth can also be a factor. Some seeds seem to sprout regardless of how deep they go (such as corn), while others are depth sensitive. Some, like tobacco, want to be in the surface.  

4- Why did my seedlings die? 
   There could be a number of reasons, 
...fungal disease called damping off. This is quite common with non-sterilized potting soil. 
...too wet or too dry. Keeping the soil evenly moist gives best results. Totally drying out, even once, is a death knell for many seedlings. 
...too much sun or not enough. Some veggies can take full sun while others want semi shade or shade. So, one needs to gear it to the veggie being grown. 
...too much wind. Emerging seedlings are fragile. I protect mine from the full force of the wind. 
...too much fertilizer too soon. Emerging seedlings don't need fertilizer right away. And they can't handle a strong dose. 

What are some of the other failures I've had sprouting seeds? 
...One of the cats deciding to sleep on the tray of emerging seedlings. Guess it must have been a soft, comfy spot. She crushed all the tender lettuce in the center of the tray. 
...Trays getting knocked over and crash to the ground. Cats? 
...A rat getting into the mini greenhouse and eating all the cabbage seedlings. Yum, full tummy! 
...Farmer getting too busy and forgetting to water the seedling trays one day. Dumb mistake. 
...Farmer being in a hurry, grabbed the first handy metal water can and watered the seedling trays. Water was scorching hot because the dark green can had been sitting in the sun all day. I cooked the seedlings. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Easier-to-Harder Scale for Veggies Here

I repeatedly get asked, "Which vegetables are easy to grow?" As with everything about growing food, the answer is, "It depends." It depends upon the conditions: soil type and fertility, amount of sunlight, temperature, growing season, rain, wind, etc. Plus how much time one wants to put into it. 

I can only speak from experience. In NJ, tomatoes and summer squashes were failproof. That's not the case here in Hawaii. But since I'm always asked for a list, for beginners around here, I suggest...
...radishes and daikon
...greenbeans
...peas
...Cherry tomatoes
...green onions
...annual herbs

And if successful, try...
...potatoes
...baby bok choy
...tatsoi
...chard
...kale
...lettuce for baby leaf harvesting 
...cowpeas 
...bulb onions
...turnips
...sweet potatoes for greens

Next, graduate to....
...beets
...Chinese cabbage
...assorted Asian greens
...kohlrabi
...assorted lettuces
...tomatillos 
...rutabaga
...collards
...pipinola
...jicama

A little more challenging for here are...
...broccoli
...cabbage
...cauliflower 
...sweet potatoes for tubers 
...some of the less common herbs and medicinals

The most difficult in my area are...
...squashes, both summer and winter. This includes pumpkins.
...cucumbers
...melons
...tomatoes that aren't cherry or grape
...sweet corn
...garlic

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Anise Hyssop

I'm exploring herbs....and having a blast! So far I've "discovered" many different basils (I once thought that basil was just basil. Silly me.) Dill. Three types of oregano. 3 mints. Rosemary. Summer savoy. Bay laurel. Cilantro. Sage. Chives. Parsley. Salad burnet (I'm not excited by this one.) And just this year, chervil and catnip. At a cat spay/neuter today, "K" gifted me a packet of anise hyssop seed. What a nice gesture! 


I'm told that the bees are really attracted to this herb. Well, of course that's good. But when I crushed a leaf, the aroma that greeted my nose was very enticing. Instantly I thought of a nice cup of licorice tea. So while my bees may enjoy this herb, they've got competition. I plan to add this to my collection of soothing teas. 

I've never tried growing this herb, let alone consuming it. So, it looks like I'm in order for another new adventure. I'll be checking the Internet to see how to grow this one. The first seeds get sown tomorrow. No sense in delaying, and I'm eager to see some new baby seedlings next week. 

Just a side note - I was never much of an herb eater until I moved to Hawaii to start the next chapter in my life. Now I'm in love with herbs, fresh herbs, that is. Fresh herbs are so amazingly superior that I find myself seldom using dried ones. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Farming/Gardening Can Be Healing

Mentioning bioremediation while talking about mushrooms, got my mind a-thinking........that gardening/farming itself can be bioremediation of the gardener/farmer. You bet! In my own case, I arrived at my future homestead farm stressed, somewhat misfunctional, somewhat lost, somewhat broken, somewhat physically unhealthy. Not quite the walking dead, but surely not a prime example of a human being. Somewhere along the way of creating my homestead, of striving for self reliance, of being more mindful of myself and my life, I somehow changed......I believe for the better. I didn't have an outline to follow, but I did try things and observed. 

Homestead farming gave me fresh foods to eat. No more, for me, of that processed stuff that commercial companies tell us is food (well truthfully, I eat a little here and there). Fresh veggies that have never been cold stored, fumigated, bleached, or otherwise doctored. They're chemically free and ripened naturally on the plant. I eat eggs the day they are laid, not bleached or chemically treated, not cold stored for weeks, and they come from hens eating a natural diet. Also on my dinner table goes grass fed meats and dairy from unstressed livestock.

Growing my own gives me foods that may not be available otherwise. Purple greenbeans, yellow snow peas, purple kale, colorful potatoes and sweet potatoes, etc. I grow colorful veggies and fruits not seen in a supermarket. Things like Red Swan beans, red kales, red amaranth, pink fleshed potatoes, purple fleshed sweet potatoes. 

Besides veggies & fruits, my gardens provide healing herbs, turmeric, and other plants. I have to resources for numerous medicinal tinctures and teas right here in the farm. 

Looking beyond foods, my farm is a place for healing. It has proven to be a serene environment for inner calming and meditation. A good place for practicing TaiChi and basic yoga. A place to reconnect with nature and contemplate my place in the scheme of things. A place to grow to like myself and to give my doubting self credit for being ok. And the opportunity to connect with the inner farmer who always wanted to exist. 

The homestead farming experience has lead to connecting with a community of great people. We share our goods, trade, and barter. While doing this we also emotional support one another via compliments, encouragement, and neighborly love. It is great soul food, I mean "food" for my soul/spirit/energy/life force, to be sharing my excess. 

The final step I'm still looking for is to sell excess in order to support myself. Because I live in a society where money is mandatory (taxes, medical care, insurances, etc), I could be at ease if the farm could provide the cash needed to survive. While I've read plenty of books and USDA information to show how this can be done, my concern is to achieve my goal without taking on stress and without losing the pure enjoyment of farming. I don't wish for my farm to become complicated. I don't wish to add things that cause stress. So this is my future project and I'm even curious myself to see how it will turn out. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Before & After

About two, maybe two and a half months ago I posted this photo of a garden I created beside the house.....

The beans and radishes had recently popped up, and only a few potatoes had sprouted. Today, this is how it looks.........

Those beans have set plenty of pods......

I've already harvested the bean seed from the Black Valentine beans that were right along the house. And the seed from the purple podded variety will start drying down in two weeks. The early potatoes may start maturing by then too. 

Needless to say, I'm pleased how this garden area turned out. Once things are harvested, I plan to lightly till in some homemade compost & livestock manure, then replant. I still have a couple varieties of potatoes that I need to grow out for seed spuds and a waiting in paper bags to be planted, so I'll plant them where the beans had been. Those radishes in the middle of the bed will stay for awhile. They are for seed production, which takes a longer time in radishes. Back where the potatoes are right now, I plan to sow Rio Zape beans. 

So far I haven't seen any diseases or pests here. If they start up, then I will need to switch to some other unrelated crops. 

Just last year this area had been used to park vehicles, plus it was gravel with grass. So this is quite the transformation. The trick was to derock it, loosen up the compacted areas, and add organic material. As long as the crops I plant here do well, I won't send out a soil sample for testing. But I have added some lava sand, beach coral, and burnt bones for minerals. The moment things don't look right, I'll break down and get that comprehensive soil test. I've gotten to the point where I'm getting to know my soil well enough to get by without regular testing, other than home pH tests. 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

SeedPod

"S" just sent me a link to a Kickstarter post promoting the "SeedPod", a cutesy, plastic, individual seed  drying/saving container. Colorful and modern....looks to me to be targeting the urban and suburban housewife with "Martha Stewart" lifestyles ( I'm not against this sort of lifestyle, but it's just not my thing.) Cute. But I can foresee that a lot of them will sell and eventually end up in some bulging, overstuffed landfill somewhere. Just more disposable material waste.
 
As a homesteader, I save seeds. But I've become an avid "low cash input" sort of farmer. So I save my seeds in recycled glass jars, or in folded homemade paper packets stored in glass jars. Doesn't cost me a penny. 

Now I can appreciate someone's problem with seed drying. I live in a frequently damping location. On good weeks I can dry seeds in the shade under a protected porch roof. On damp months I have another method. I place a inch of powdered dry milk in the bottom of a quart mason jar. Place the seeds to be dried the rest of the way into the toe of an old stocking (some ancient pantyhose from my previous life). Place seeds into jar and close it. Leave it for a month (replace the milk powder with fresh if it is no longer powdery). Then remove the seeds, label, and store in the bottom of the frig in a glass jar. 

My only expense is the powdered milk, which I then feed to the animals.......pick one : lamb, chicken, cat, or dog. One box of powdered milk lasts me a year or more since I seldom need to resort to its use. 

Zero waste. Nothing goes to the landfill. Old paper packets go into the compost. Glass jars go to a massive garage sale once I've died. 

Before someone points it out to me, yes, I could use a commercial desiccant instead of powdered milk. One can buy the type with color indicators in it so that you'd know when it was time to recharge it (that is, bake it dry). But since powdered milk is biodegradable and minusculally (not a real word) helps dairy farmers,  I opt for the powdered milk......just a personal choice. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Why Mushrooms?

"D" asked, "Why did you spread mushrooms around your farm? I remember my mother always trying to get rid of them." 

Fungus and bacteria are important elements for creating a healthy soil and for decomposing compost into plant available nutrients. Various fungal organisms are closely associated with plant roots, essentially extending the plants root system into the surrounding soil. Thus more nutrients are available to the plant. This relationship greatly benefits my vegetable gardens and orchards, allowing me to avoid using commercial fertilizers. 

There are plenty of other benefits to having a healthy population of fungi in the gardens...
...fungal filaments bind soil particles, creating better porosity 
...plant roots grow better in the presence of beneficial soil fungi
...soil fungus helps suppress soil pathogens (the bad guys), thus keeping plants healthier
...healthy fungal colonies help plants deal with drought and root diseases
...fungus breaks down woody material, a much appreciated activity in my growing areas. 

Research says that fungi can also be used to treat contaminated soils.....a process called bioremediation. I'm seeing a number of professional research papers available on the Internet concerning various types of fungi vs contamination. Very interesting. 

Perhaps D's mother removed mushrooms because she feared that her children might eat them. Many garden mushrooms can be toxic to humans. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Mushrooms Poppin'

With the string of 30 days of light rain, it's no surprise that I'm seeing mushrooms all through the gardens. For many years I intentionally seeded many areas on the homestead with mushroom spore. Not that I purchased spore, but I collected mushrooms when I spied them, bringing them home with me to use in the various growing areas. Any and all mushrooms were fine, as far as I was concerned. So now, from time to time, I see lots of different types of mushroom pop up. Today, I found these.....,,,










Friday, May 26, 2017

Potato Flowers

On this beautiful sunny morning (yeah, no rain!), several of my potato plants busted out with flowers galore. Were they also happy to see a bright sun? 

Not all my potato varieties blossom. But this time around I have three different ones that are maturing at the same time, and each has beautiful flowers rising above their foliage. And each one has a different colored bloom. 

A white flower lightly streaked with purple.

A dark, all purple flower. 

Pure white. 

On a whim I picked a fistful of flowers, brought them into the house and put them in a small vase. Lovely! Hubby had no idea that they were from common potato plants. It was fun to surprise him. 

In a few days the flowers will drop and I expect many will produce fruits. The fruits will be green, hard, and the size of a common marble. One could harvest those seeds and plant them, if looking for a fun experiment. The seeds would not produce true to its mother, but would produce a range of variations. While many would not be worth keeping, some very well might be. Who knows, one of those seedlings could be the next great potato variety! Most likely not, but one can never tell. 

I've never tried growing potatoes from seed. I might be something fun to do some day. 



Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Where's the Sun?

29 days in a row we've had rain here. Not all day rain, like I lived with in NJ and the UK, but a couple hours of rain on some days, and others of a shower during the night. The rain is generally welcomed, but the problem that comes with this weather pattern is that I get very little sun. In the past 28 days I've only had 3 nice full sunny days. The rest of the days see the sun disappearing by noon, or before. This calls for some adaptation in my lifestyle. 

We are on independent solar electric on the farm. We prefer it and have no intentions of hooking into the grid. But for the past 26 days, our back up generator has seen a lot of work. I've avoided projects that require electric power, such as using power tools, the vacuum cleaner, the washer and dryer. So instead of working on house projects, I'm focusing on farm work and other non-power jobs. So with lots of wet and little sun, I've come to realize that I've had to change how I go about living. I've gotten use to this over time, to the point that I don't even notice it. But my routine changes.....how so? 

1- Gasoline. I'm careful to maintain a back up supply of gasoline at all times for the generator.

2- Electric power tools. I time their use for late morning in hopes that there will be sun long enough to recharge the batteries. That's when I'll use the vacuum cleaner, washer & dryer, saws, and recharge handtool batteries. But if it looks grey by 11 or noon, I skip using anything that eats electricity. 

Speaking of the washer & dryer. These past two weeks have seen us switch into another mode.....clothes conservation. While I have lots of water (the catchment tank is overflowing), I don't want to run the generator constantly just to do laundry. And the dryer is a big no-no right now. Without the sun or the dryer, the washed clothes won't dry. Oooo, that's a problem. I'm adverse to running into town to use the laundromat. That uses up a full morning of my time, precious money, and besides, it's not a pleasant way to spend time. So how do I handle it? 

... Hang up clean, worn clothing out on the rain protected lanai to air out. That way I can wear them again. Thus I can get 3-4 days use out of my going-to-town clothes if I'm careful. I'm seeing other people wearing the same go-to-town clothes day after day too, so I'm not the only one who has come up with this idea during cloudy spells. 
... Maintain a large supply of farm work clothes. I have taken advantage of the local rummage sales where t-shirts and shirts go for under a dollar each. I now have great stores of suitable farm clothes, enough to easily outlast 40 straight days of rain (yes, that happened once already). Wearing a set of work clothes 2 days in arow is pretty much impossible (besides smelling like a feral critter, they're usually caked with dirt and damp with sweat). Gosh, I've never owned so many changes of clothes in my life before. I feel that I must be rich! 

With the lack of good sun, I light up the wood stove each morning in order to drive the dampness out of the house. A half hour fire usually does the trick.....plus it heats up the water for our morning coffee at the same time. 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Saving Time & Money

"F" posed the question....what do you do to save time and money in the garden? How do I limit the amount of time spent each week? How do I reduce cash outlays? (I've seen discussions similar to this on other forums. It seems a rather popular endeavor among novice growers to aim for low inputs of both time and money while expecting high returns....but that's another discussion.)

First, I've pretty much accepted that in order to get a job done or attain my goals, I need to invest either time or money, or lots of both. Spending more time generally means saving money. Spending more money often means saving on time. I seldom find that I can save lots of time while avoiding spending money to do something. 

1- I use mulch to reduce watering, thus saving both time and money, but only up to a point. It takes time for me to haul water to the farm, although I have an ag catchment tank. But relying upon the ag tank alone wouldn't last me an extended dry spell. Hauling water not only takes time, but it costs money for gas and wear & tear on the truck. So thick mulches only reduce the amount of needed irrigation. Mulch doesn't totally eliminate the need to water. 

2- I use mulch to reduce weeds. Weeding takes up a lot of time. By using mulches, my weeding time is greatly reduced. While making mulch costs a bit of money and time, overall it saves me hours and hours of labor. 

3- I don't try to eliminate 100% of the weeds. This saves a bundle of time. The mulch takes care of the bulk of the weeds, so I just basically have to deal with the tropical grass. And rather than trying to dig or pull it out while a crop is growing, I'll either just cut the grass off just below the surface or cover it with a layer of mulch. It's much faster. When I redig the soil between crops, then I'll remove the grass roots at that time. 

3- I make my own mulching material. This saves money compared to buying it, but takes up time. And costs money when it comes to buying a lawnmower and the gas. But in my opinion, making my own is a far better deal for me than buying it. 

4- I produce quite a bit of my own seed and starts. Because I have a homestead farm, I'd say that I save hundreds of dollars every year this way. If you haven't noticed, seeds are getting expensive to buy. And shipping bulky orders to Hawaii is expensive. 

5- I produce my own fertilizer. While this saves me money compared to buying it, it does take up time. And of course, there is that cost involved with the lawnmower & gas thing. But commercial fertilizer is extremely expensive in Hawaii, thus I feel that making my own is a good deal for me. 

6- I rely upon hand tools for part of my work rather than gasoline guzzling tools. This also saves on maintenance costs of the gas tools. My soil has improved to the point that it's actually faster to use a shovel on a bed than to bring out the rototiller. The tiller still gets used when it's advantageous, but I often reach for the old shovel. Farming with a tractor can't be done on my land, so that by itself is actually is a major cash savings. No expensive tractor to buy, run, and maintain. But on the down side, it means that I spend more time physically working. 

7- I aim to use "better than organic" methods, thus saving on herbacides and chemicals, though they are not totally eliminated. 

8- I gather my own local resources, such as lava sand, coral sand, bones, sea minerals. I don't buy my soil amendments. Plus I'm usually in the locale already when I gather inputs, so it's not an extra trip to make in the truck. This may not work for other people, but I've got quite a workable system going that does just fine for my small farm. 

9- I repurpose materials. I don't buy much in the way of pots, plant labels, trellis material. I use donated materials, yard sale buys, and cheap stuff to make container gardens, work tables, mini greenhouses, etc. There are certain things that I buy, but I tend to repurpose when feasible. 

10- I do much of the labor myself. This is a big cash savings, but uses lots of time. But I see a huge reward in doing things myself. I like doing it. I get a sense of accomplishment......gee, I did that MYSELF!!!!  

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Baby & Micro Greens

"C" asked me to clarify what types of veggies I could grow for micro and baby greens. Well, there's lots, but some I wouldn't grow simply because we don't like the flavor. But the ones I don't particularly like are indeed edible, and in a severe crisis I'd surely grow and eat them. Hubby might choose the go hungry, but not I. 

Here's a partial list. I'm taking them out of my head as I think of them. But I put them into alphabetical order for ease of perusing: 

Alfalfa
Amaranth
Anise
Arugula
Aztec Spinach
Basil
Beans
Beet
Bok choy
Borage
Broccoli
Buckwheat
Cabbage
Carrot
Cauliflower
Chervil
Chinese cabbage
Cilantro
Collard
Corn
Cowpeas
Cress
Daikon
Dandelion
Dill
Fennel
Kale
Kohlrabi
Mint
Mustard
Lentils
Nasturtium
Radish
Okra
Onion
Orach
Parsley
Peas
Purslane
Radish
Rutabaga
Sorrel
Soybean
Sunflower
Tatsoi
Turnip
Wheat
Other assorted Asian greens

I've never tried them but I assume that squash and pumpkin sprouts would be edible. There are other veggies that could be added to this list for micro and baby greens, but they don't come to mind right now. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Growing Food In A Crisis

I recently brought up the topic over the lunch table of growing food during a shipping shutdown in Hawaii. Our island stock piles about a week or two's worth of food in the warehouses, but after that things start getting sketchy. Fresh foods would be the first to disappear. So I posed the question to the community gardeners....what would you grow? 

The assumption has to be that one already has seeds. I maintain a nice collection of various seeds in my refrigerator, plus I'm already capable of producing my own seeds or starts for certain veggie crops -- beans, peas, radishes, lettuce, potatoes, sweet potatoes, taro, chives, dill, basil, cilantro, pipinola, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, tomatillo, amaranth. So the very first thing I'd do is run to the Ace Hardware and buy more seeds of chard, beets, spinach, cabbage, cucumber, watermelon, pumpkin, squashes, broccoli, bok choy, onions, carrots, turnips, and rutabaga. Other people would be running to the supermarket to stock up on spam, rice, milk, and toilet paper, so I'd have little competition if I got a headstart. (Yes, I still need to get in the habit of producing my own seed for these other crops.) Plus I'd most likely pick up packets of some hybrids that I like, since I wouldn't be able to produce their seeds for myself. But importantly I'd buy bulk seed packets for sprouting. 

The first thing I'd do is grow sprouts. Within a few days I'd have fresh, crunchy sprouts to add to sandwiches, stir fry, omelettes, etc. These could hold me over until other fresh crops came in and help extend my pantry of stored foods.

I'd also start a few trays of my sprouting seeds with the idea of harvesting micro greens in 10-20 days. This would carry me after the initial sprouts and until the first baby greens are ready. 

The next crop to arrive, assuming I started them when I first started the sprouts and micro greens, would be young baby greens. Lettuces, beet & chard greens, assorted Asian greens, broccoli greens, radish greens, onion greens, etc. These could be harvested 20-30 days after starting, with repeated harvests for 3-4 weeks. Plus right about this time frame I'd be harvesting radishes. These young greens could carry me until the early crops are ready. And they could be used as salads and in all sorts of cooked meals. 

The next crops would be those that are ready in the 50-60 day range. I could be making small first cuttings of a variety of young herbs, such as cilantro, dill, parsley, basil. Plus light harvests of beet greens, chard, kale, broccoli and cauliflower leaves, collards, cabbage, spinach, amaranth, tatsoi, bok choys. Baby bok choy types would be ready for harvesting. In another week or so the harvests could be more serious, plus greenbeans and peas would be available for their first pickings. I could gently harvest some potatoes from the early varieties. Plus I'd have the tender tips to harvest from the sweet potato and pipinola vines. 

Within a couple more weeks I'd have a bonanza to choose from. Cucumbers. Young baby squashes, pumpkins, and edible gourds. Chinese broccoli. Plenty of leaves of bok choy and Chinese cabbage although they would not be heading up yet. Same for regular cabbages. Beets. Potatoes. Turnips. Daikon. Young peppers. Cherry tomatoes. Baby eggplant. Amaranth. The first tomatillos. 

In another month I could be looking at young carrots, parsnips, and baby sweet potatoes. But since I'd be well supplied with other garden foods, I'd most likely leave these to grow to maturity for bulkier harvests. I'd also have plenty of green onions at this stage. 

In actuality, I already have a producing garden. So I wouldn't need to grow sprouts, micro greens, and baby greens. But if I wasn't already growing my own food, this is the route I'd be going. 

Currently I forage for some of my foods. I assume that this would be a no-go, since I'd be in competition with lots of people searching for food after their rice and spam began running out. But I'd be in a fine position for trading. Of course I'd have to watch out for garden raiders sneaking in the night. So I'd simply grow easy abundant crops out by the street for the raiders. Things like lots of greenbeans and radishes. 

Hopefully I'll never see such a food crisis. But one never knows. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Purple Greenbeans

I've fielded plenty of questions about green beans....green, yellow, purple, and striped ones. Just about everybody knows about the green ones. I guess that's why people call them greenbeans, right? And most people who grow them are familiar with their white flowers. But if you're growing purple ones, the flowers won't be white. Guess what color...... purple, of course! 


The above photo is from a variety called Royal Burgundy. I also grow Purple Teepee, Velour, plus others. Actually I like growing colors other than green simply because they are easier to see for harvesting. The green ones tend to blend in and often get missed. But the purples, yellows, and striped ones are fairly obvious. And besides, they are pretty. Perhaps they are more nutritious because they are colorful, who knows. 

I grow beans year around. And I often have an abundance of fresh beans available. We prefer the French filet types, the ones with the thin pods. Picked young, they're really good. But I've found some standard types that are really more flavorful, like Black Valentine. I guess I consistently grow about 30 different varieties. I do that because some will do well under different conditions -- dry, wet, cool, hot. Since island weather can be really variable, I cover all the bases. That way I get to eat snap beans year around. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Turmeric is Sprouting

The turmeric has been planted for some time now and I've been anticipating it sprouting, seemingly forever. Every year I question whether or not I did something wrong because the turmeric doesn't seem to sprout. But each year the tubers wait for whatever signal they need, then go about growing at their own pace. They don't care the least that I'm dying to dig them up to see what's going on there under the soil surface. 


I've started checking all the turmeric beds, looking for signs of awakening. Ah-ha! At last! A shoot here, another there. At the end of the orange box cutter is a vertical shoot that I swear wasn't there yesterday morning. 


Further along this bed I find a shoot that's already unfurling its first leaf. For some reason I'm overjoyed. 

A quick check of other beds reveals a few new shoots just popping up. So I'll give the turmeric a week or two to get going, then I'll go in and weed the beds, then apply mulch. 

This the season to be jolly, tra-la-la-la-la the turmeric is here!