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 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 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: 

Aztec Spinach
Bok choy
Chinese cabbage
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, 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! 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sirinam Cherry

Sirinam cherry, also sometimes called Brazilian cherry here. There are two slightly different varieties growing in my area. The first has red fruits and is more resinous. In fact, I'd say that they taste like turpentine when eaten fresh off the tree. The other has dark red fruits, almost black. The fruits tend to be sweeter and less resinous. Guess which variety I have growing on the farm? Gag... gag... gag... spit... spit... yuck. You call that edible? Yup, I've got the red kind. 

My tree was growing here when I bought the place. So it's years old and produces like a fiend. The fruit is so bad that the chickens won't even eat them. But I was recently told that I'm going about it all wrong. 

I've been picking the fruits when they darken (at least that is, when I used to harvest them way back when), like what I'm holding in my hand. The one still on the tree is much lighter red. But I recently learned that I should wait until the fruit falls off into my hand when gently touched. In plain words, pick at the point where it's not going to ripen on the tree any further, and if I wait any longer it will fall off on its own. Then I should cut them open and remove the pit, sprinkle the cut flesh with sugar, and chill in the refrigerator for 3 hours before eating. I haven't tried that yet, but I'm willing to give it a go. 

The cherry season is just over for me now, so I'm going to have to wait until next time to try the suggested harvesting method, stay tuned and we'll see if I pucker and gag. For now, this fruit is on my famine food list. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Harvesting My Own Dill Seed

One of my aims is to produce as much of my own seed as feasible. If you haven't noticed, buying seed is getting more and more expensive lately. And part of my idea of being self reliant calls for growing my own seed. 

So with that in mind, I harvested six big dill seed stalks a couple of weeks ago. I left them dry thoroughly in an airy spot in the shade. Weeelll, as dry as they could get considering that it's been raining frequently. But I don't want to force them to dry using added heat. Too high a temperature can kill the seed. So simple air drying is fine. here's the stalks, ready for seed harvesting. Dill seed tends to cling to the stalk, but not overly tightly. Below is a close up so that you can see the little brown seeds. 

One of the farm cats, Crookshank, was curious and checked things out. Is it edible, Mom? He actually took a big bite! 

Next, I put the dill stalks into a paper bag. Crookshank wanted to check it out too. 

Using a big spoon, I beat the bag pretty well. The idea is to beat the seeds off the stalks. I could have used any number of things to wack the bag with, but a spoon was handy and easy. Wack. Wack. Wack.....take care not to beat a hole in the bag! 

Looking into the bag I could see that I got 90% of the seed off. A few scrapes with the spoon got just about the rest off. 

Below.......Here we are, just about done. It only took a minute. There's about 2-3 dozen seeds still clinging to the stalks. 

I could have tossed the stalks in the trash at this point, but instead I walked over to the radish bed and pulled the rest of the dill seed loose. Scattering them about, they will sprout and become the next crop in this area. In the end, those seedless stalks got tucked into the soil where they will decompose and become part of the garden life cycle. Ha, another case of zero waste! 

Back to the bag. Checking inside, I see I've got quite a few seeds. Oh my, it smells great. Shame you can't smell what I'm smelling. Love that dill aroma! 

Even Crookshank found the smell appealing. I thought cats were catnip fiends, but Shank seems to have a thing for dill. 

A bowl of dill seed, how pretty. How cool! The seed is fairly clean, so I'm not going to bother processing it any further. If I intended to sell this seed, then I would sift out any dust and remove any bits of stalks. 

I ended up with 1/2 cup of seed from the 6 flower stalks. Wow, that's a good return. It would cost me quite a bit to buy that much seed. This will be enough seed to last me a while. I am growing dill year around and supplying a local restaurant, so I need to seed a little every two weeks. So all this seed will eventually get used. I'll store it in the refrigerator in an airtight glass jar. It should keep just fine that way. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Secret Garden Wall Extension

It's been many months since I've photographed the wall running along the driveway and the Secret Garden. As I acquired suitable rocks, I kept building the wall, often as a team with David, my farm handyman. We actually got the wall completed, but........... But? Yes, we reached our goal.

(Above....the first section of the wall, on the right. It gently curves along the driveway, up to where the driveway splits in two.) 

(Above....pictured from the split, looking up to where it ends. Hard to see, but the wall runs along the right hand side all the way up to the clump of trees.) 

Got the wall built right up to where the Secret Garden ended and the driveway made a 90° turn toward the house. The end is at the double tree trunks. The crooked tree limb laying on the ground in front of the wall will be used for the next road signpost. This spot just begs for some yard art! 

Here's a better photo showing the 90° turn. With a bunch of suitable rocks on hand, it almost seemed a shame not to continue the wall. We've been at this task for months, so it seemed natural to continue. 

So we ran a stringline, dumped a pile of rocks, and began our way toward the house. There's no hurry to finish the wall. We'll just keep adding rocks as I gather them. When either of us has a few minutes between other jobs, we'll just go puzzle in a few more rocks. 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Final Lamb of the Season

Our final lamb of this lambing season has been born. A nice size black ram with a white cap. Not that I need another ram, but he's cute and healthy. 

While I would prefer ewe lambs so that I would have the option to add more ewes to the flock, ram lambs are also valuable. This is, after all, a homestead farm. Some of the lambs will go to provide food for people. Personally I find it easier to see young rams serve that purpose. 

I know that this topic makes many people uncomfortable. But it's a part of life here. I accept the fact that humans are designed to be omnivores. And if I'm putting meat on the dinner table, I'd prefer it to home raised. I prefer knowing that the animal had a comfortable life and a quick humane death. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

World Naked Gardening Day

The first Saturday in May! Yup, it's here once again. Are you planning to participate? 😉

PS- Yes, I did it! But then again, I don't need all that much encouragment to shed the clothes. And living privately in the woods, I'm often au naturale outdoors anyway. 

Here's the most extreme photo you're gonna get to glimpse. 

So am I truly naked? Ha, you'll never know. Only hubby knows the truth! 

Answering a Question -- Crabgrass

"F" asked me -- what do I do to control crabgrass in my lawn. 

Sorry to chuckle on this one, but my aim is to grow food in any space that I can find. So if I was at F's house, I'd be ditching the lawn and replacing it with a garden of some sort. Get rid of the crabgrass? Wow, I'd get rid of ALL the grass!

Now let it be known that I do indeed have grass on my farm. I use it for two purposes...
1- mow it to feed the livestock
2- mow it for grass clippings to use as mulch.

The only weeds I remove from the pasture grasses are those that the livestock don't like. Otherwise anything goes. I don't know if I have crabgrass here in Hawaii, but I do know that I have far worse grasses to control in my gardens. Back in NJ crabgrass was my friend. It made a green lawn that never needed watering or fertilizing. I wasn't into lawns, so if it was green, it was ok by me. Yes, I had lawns. Everybody did. People expected lawns and never gave it much thought. But at this point in my life, growing food is more important than growing an ornamental lawn. 

For a short period of time I had a bit of a lawn up by the current house. But I came to my senses and dug it under. The spot is now growing seed potatoes, bean seed, radishes and beets. 

Back to "F".... I don't control crabgrass at all, nor wish to do so. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Cucumber Success

After trying a multitude of different ways, I've finally hit upon the right combination to give me cukes. 

1- a screenhouse or greenhouse. This prevents the pickleworm moth from destroying the cucumbers. Plus I suspect the plants respond to the extra heat and wind protection. While I've gotten a few cucumbers in the past, mostly hit & miss, I've never before had reliable cuke harvests. 

2- variety. Since I'm growing them in a greenhouse, which not only excludes the pickleworm moth but also honeybees, I'm growing a parthenocarpic variety. This is a variety that produces cucumbers without needing pollination. The one I choose to try first is called Socrates. It's a winner for me. I plan to try other parthenocarpic varieties, but it looks like Socrates will be a regular resident here. I'm also trying a standard pickling type that I am hand pollinating, but frankly it's too much bother. 

I opted to go for a full blown greenhouse for a couple of reasons. I wanted to grow a lot of cucumbers. So I needed the space. Could a home gardener have success with something smaller, say a small screen cage? Probably. It would be worth a try. 

I'm still working out the kinks of growing cukes in a greenhouse. I've got the trellising down ok, but I'm still working out the watering/fertilizing thing. And wondering when powdery mildew will show its ugly head. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Cabbage to Sauerkraut

The community garden area is producing lots of cabbage at the moment. The plants are loving all the recent excess rain. One of the gardeners took some home and did some kitchen magic......wallah! 

"P" wrote.....
The one on the left is the cabbage I’m holding in the picture, the one on the right was more open, less head, so more green leaves. It will be 
garlic dill flavored in 3 weeks. That’s all liquid from the cabbage, no brine added. I’ve done this in jars and crocks, and I much prefer 
jars, they’re just so PRETTY. 

Aloha, P

This is one of the things I love about eating local. Veggies can be harvested in one's garden and turned into delicious foods that can be stored for eating later. Personally, I love fermented foods. It is said that this sort of food is healthy for us, but I'd eat it anyway just because I enjoy it.