Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Refurbish Chicken Pen

No matter how well built a chicken pen is made, there comes a time that it will need a bit of maintenance. Now....my chicken pen isn't what I would call "well built". It's cobbled together re-using materials from other projects. So after a bit over a year, it's time to do some fixing. 

First of all, the roof tarps are showing wear. Time to put on new tarps. Simple. 

Next, the nest boxes. The unit I've been using was given to me by a friend and it's been well used. One day I came out to find the bottom had fallen out of the lower level of nest boxes. But since the hens only were using the upper boxes, I didn't give it much attention. But now the top boxes are getting wobbly. Time to replace it. 

This is what's left of the old nest box unit, behind one of their perches. No bottom floor. Only two useable boxes.......

Not having enough old plywood on hand, I actually sprung for a brand new sheet. How about that! Using that new sheet plus the used pieces I had in the boneyard, the hens ended up with two new nest box units....three holers to boot. 

They're plenty big, bigger than usually recommended. That's because my hens tend to cluster all in the same nest box. I've seen 3 to 5 jammed up in a tiny box, with one or two hanging their butts out. Not a good situation for eggs. So this time the boxes are a bit roomier. We'll see how they work out. 

The top of the boxes have a lip running around them ....

That's because I've had hens lay eggs on the top of the unit. The eggs roll off and break, of course. So with the lip they shouldn't roll over the edge. I'm using clean dried grass clippings in the nest boxes as needed, as well as on top of the boxes. 

Will the hens sleep in the boxes and on top? I expect that some will. They did when the boxes were regulation size, so I expect they will continue their habits. Most will sleep on the perches, while some will sleep in or atop the nest boxes. 

Speaking of perches, it as time to replace the old ones. They get dirty over time. So the girls were treated to new poles to roost upon. They now have about 70' of roosting space. Currently the flock is 60 hens, so they should have enough space. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Ka'u Farm School

Finally it looks like my region is going to get access to agricultural support for "dinner table" food farming. To date, coffee farmers have been the ones to benefit from numerous educational opportunities being presented on Ka'u soil, but us Ka'u dirt farmers have been the ag department's orphaned children. I'm pretty stoked that this past weekend was the first day of the new Ka'u Farm School project. 

This new program is open to everyone. No growing experience necessary. Both gardeners and learning farmers would benefit from these workshop style classes. Information is to be presented via on hands experiences, demonstrations, video presentations, and lectures with Q&As. Focus will be on growing foods in Ka'u. Topics will cover just about everything involved, including soils, seed saving, propagation, planting, fertilizer & nutrients, irrigation, varieties, etc. 

The first session was free and well attended. Held at Earth Matters Farm in Ka'u, people had a chance to see a small farm "in the flesh". Gabriel Howearth was the guest speaker, a man who is a walking wealth of knowledge when it comes to anything that has to do with seeds. He gave an overview on seed saving. With the prices of seed skyrocketing, seed saving is a smart move for the small farmer. From my own experience, I wholeheartedly agree. 

Currently the plan calls for once a month sessions. For more information, here's some contact info.....
...visit Facebook.com/KauFarmSchool
...call 808-721-6977
...email: kaufarmschool@gmail.com

Monday, January 16, 2017

Lemons Flowering

I never really noticed before, but I passed by one of my lemon trees today and see that it is becoming covered in blossoms.

 But.....it is also loaded with ripe lemons. I don't know if this is normal or if it has something to do with the weather. So I'm making this notation on the blog so that I can check the trees next winter to see if this is what normally happens. 

The flowers are on last year's growth, that means, on the ends of the branches. The lemons are closer to the truck on the two year old growth. So fruits and flowers don't grow side by side. 

By the way, most of my citrus is in semi shade areas, but these particular lemon trees are in full shade and still producing in spite of that. Perhaps not producing nearly as much as a tree getting lots of sun, but producing lemons none the less. So it's a food crop that I can use to utilizing my shade areas. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Growing Bottles

Ok, I'm not really growing bottles. But when I look in the community garden area, it surely looks like it. Rows of bottles. Complete beds of bottles. Oh my, what's going on? 

(The milk jugs are holding water, which can be used to give the seedlings a drink as need be.)

Certain veggie seedlings have a hard time surviving in this garden spot. There's a lot of cutworms. Occasionally an army of rats comes by and eats everything tender. Then there's those feral turkeys. Blasted birds can clean out a bed at one sitting. 

In the past I tried using plastic drinking cups with the bottoms cut off. They worked great against cutworms. But the cups had three drawbacks. 1- the quickly became brittle and cracked. Thus they were only good for one crop. 2- they were too lightweight and often blew away, 3- they didn't stop the rats and turkeys. Since I was given those cups, they didn't have the 4th drawback, cost. 

Since I love to experiment to find solutions, I looked around for something else to try. While turning in some recyclables I thought, why not use plastic bottles. They are durable in the sun, less apt to be wind blown, anti-rat, anti-turkey, and free. Actually, I could redeem them for a nickel, so in reality they "cost" me a five cent loss. But being that I didn't have to buy them or pay the deposit on them, in the first place I consider them free. 

I picked out the strongest and bigger bottles (20 ounces and above). Using a box cutter, I cut off the bottoms. Removed the label. Took off the cap. Wallah! 

I've only been trying these bottles for two weeks, but so far so good. None have blown away. Only two seedlings got hit by the cutworms, only because I unfortunately slipped the bottle atop unseen worms under the soil. No seedlings eaten by rats or turkeys. The seedlings are growing just fine. I feared that they might cook, but that hasn't been the case so far. 

Every other day I water each seedling. I give them about 1/2" to 1" of water. That seems to be enough. I'm not sure how long to keep the seedlings bottled up, but I'll wait for them to grow larger and stronger. This is an experiment still in progress. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Tree Branch Railings

I liked the woodsy effect that the crooked tree branches made at the back entrance of the house, so it wasn't  long before my mind started thinking of other spots to use the idea. Well, I think I've gone overboard, but I can always remove some if that proves to be the case. 

This is the back steps......

The stairs going down the hillside seemed the perfect spot to add tree branches.....

And more.....

And more.....

And why not jazz up the bridge going over the fish pond? I need to get two more tiki torches to finish it off. I bet it's going to look really nice when we go down to eat dinner in the screenhouse. 

Finding crooked tree branches is easy on my place. There are lots of overcrowded ohia saplings in the pastures. Taking out the misshapened little trees to use for these railings will actually help the pastures and give more room for the other trees to grow. A win-win situation. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Concrete Pathways Finished!

It's been a long haul, but the concrete pathway project is complete! The path now circumnavigates the house, has a branch off going to the driveway, one to the solar system shed, and one to the hillside stairs. Pretty cool, if I do say so myself. 

This is the final section. 

So no more slippery spots when walking around the house. By the way, Crusty and the cats really like the new path. They prefer it over walking on the dirt. Ha-ha, so do I! 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Second Corn Harvest

Things didn't go well for my recent corn crop. Oh, it started out well enough. The soil had been slightly improved, and the seed germination was good. I got the plants thinned on time. No diseases or pests showed up. The feral turkeys didn't discover them. Nor did the goat get loose and eat them. The weather was just fine up until tassel time, then things went downhill. Waaaay downhill. 

A bout of twisty winds knocked the plants around and flattened some. I managed to straighten up most of the plants just in time for pollen release. Then it started raining and the sun disappeared. Day after day, no sun. Day after day, light rain. I never actually saw any pollen, but somehow, some time, the plants managed to release some. 

Time went by. The weather never picked up to be "corn weather". It stayed wet and chilly. Two weeks ago the tassels went all brown, though they never dried. With the daily light rain, they became rotting, mushy brown blobs growing black mold. I carefully opened a few ears to see what was going on, and was sad to see that the end of the ears were all moldy. I could feel with my fingers that some ears were filling out here and there, so as soon as the leaves started browning on the outside of the ears, I pulled the plant. Why? They were rotting away! 

I kept the ears attached to the stalk, removing the upper stalk that was already rotting. I brought these to the house, setting them up under the roof where they would be protected from the drizzle and wet. I hoped to let the ears complete their maturation phase, metabolizing the nutrients from the stalk and cobs In order to mature the seeds. That was the plan, at least. 

The plan apparently worked. While the parts of the cobs that did get pollinated and produced seed were small and erratic, I did get seed for the next generation. Surly not the crop that I had been anticipating. But such is the life of a farmer. Nothing is guaranteed. 

(I'm holding my best ear of corn.)

This corn seed is my second generation. I started with 12 seeds planted in unimproved soil. From there I replanted what corn seeds I had gotten into slightly improved soil. Yes, the plants grew better though not great. Yes, they produced more and better cobs in spite of the lousy weather. But all is not lost because I now have even more corn seed for replanting and I will once again have another cycle of soil improvement before replanting. One of these days I will get to see my first great crop of corn! 

I ended up with two quarts of corn seed of varying quality. I'm surprised I got that much. I'll sort out the best looking seed for replanting my next crop, but hold onto the rest in case I have vacant land where I can plant the extra. This seed has come from the plants that were hardscrabble enough to survive poor soil and challenging growing conditions. About 10% of the plants failed, thus those that did produce are better suited for my conditions. Looks like I'm selecting for pretty tough plants. 

So the plan of having some corn crop to feed to the chickens this year did not come to fruition. But in a couple of weeks I will be ready to try again. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

End of Year = 52.96

52.96 inches........of rain during 2016. This is the total for the homestead farm, not the seed farm. The seed farm sees far less. Currently I don't record the amount of rain at the seed farm. 

Much of the rain arrived in dribs & drabs, a few hundreds of an inch at night, sometimes a few tenths of an inch. There was only one extended period of dry weather where the soil dried out enough that I needed to water the garden beds. Other than that, the soil stayed moist or wet all the time. 

124 days had no rain.
8 days it rained more than an inch, thus the vast majority of the rain came in small rainfalls. 
The greatest rain in a 24 hour period was 3.81" on Dec 3rd. 

Taking actual daily readings of the rain is the only way for me to accurately determine how much water I get. Working by gut feeling just isn't good enough..........I could have sworn there weren't that many dry days last year. So without actually recordings, I can easily fool myself. 

I also use a rain gauge that records down to 100ths. The cheap gauges only record at 10ths, and they're often inaccurate. Up until this past year I used the cheap rain gauges, but I'm glad I upgraded to the better gauge. Thus I learned that 128 days the rain amounts never even reached 1/10th of an inch. When using mulches, like I rely upon, that's important to know. 

(Rain gauge sits out in the open, away from the house and trees. Some day I'll get it mounted on a post, but for now it does just fine as long as the cats don't plan on sitting in the same spot.) 

I've also believe in using a rain gauge. Looking into a bucket and guessing the amount of rain is highly inaccurate. On the day my gauge read 3.81", I had a friend look into one of my five gallon buckets an announce that I had gotten 5-6 inches. Buckets are really deceiving. And besides, if they're sitting under the drip line of a tree, they will capture more rain that the rain gauge that is properly positioned. Yup, I use a gauge.