Saturday, March 31, 2018

A Nice Day To Look Forward To

Roosters crowing in the distance brought me gradually awake this fine morning. Another morning of bright sunlight, no rain. Wonderful. Day #5 of mostly no rain. Surfaces are actually drying out. My laundry got dry yesterday. I even mowed lots of grass this week for a change. Five days of nice sun has lifted that lurking feeling of depression that's been hanging around, threatening to take me over. 

This past week I've kept busy whipping the farm back into shape. I've made a dent in the task, but there's still a lot to be done. It's been lots of weeks of weeds a'growing, grasses a'creeping, and no a'planting in the garden beds. 

Tasks accomplished thus far.....
...clean up the banana trees
...refill the compost boxes (2 jobs accomplished at the same time, I weeded all the garden beds around the house, driveway, and secret garden)
...haul compost to the beds I just weeded, then till it in
...mow grass daily to feed the livestock (they are excited to see green grass instead of haycubes)
...mow more grass to use for mulching and compost making
...mine soil to use for topping new grow boxes so that they are ready for planting
...move the rocks I dug up while mining soil to the rock wall being built along the driveway
...plant the four banana keiki I got from a friend
...plant about 3 dozen tomato cuttings that I got from another friend

Ya know, I'm tired just looking over that list. One thing I discovered working this week is that I'm out of shape!!! Weeks of not routinely working has turned me into a soft blob. I even gained weight! Sheesh, those extra pounds hafta go. Those flabby muscles are due for some boot camp. 

Getting back into the farming groove has improved my mood. I'm ready for action! Bring on those seed packets! I want to see things growing in the gardens, seedlings filling the greenhouses. 

Today (Saturday) is a partial day of rest. The sunshine has me chomping at the bit to go get dirty on the farm, but we traditionally spend time with friends on the weekends. The morning is booked. But sometime after noon don't be surprised to find me down in the fields, sneaking a bit of playing in the dirt. 

Friday, March 30, 2018

Pomelo in Bloom

Last year a planted a young pomelo tree. It's a type of citrus, like a dry sweeter grapefruit sort of thing. Some varieties are better than others, but I don't know yet if I got a good one. Time will tell. 

Today I discovered that it's in bloom. Super! I figure I'll thin the fruits to 2 or 3 since the tree is still young. There's about 3 dozen blooms on the tree already with more developing. Looks like I'll be doing quite a bit of fruit removal. Last year I simply removed all the blossoms since I didn't want the tree to fruit at all. 

It's nice to see this tree thriving. I like the idea of adding more variety to the farm inventory. 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

What Should I Grow?

I'm constantly being asked by new gardeners what they should grow. Frankly, I can't answer that except to say, "That depends." It depends upon the environment and climate, the skill and preferences of the gardener. What's good for me isn't a good choice for others. 

Besides, I've covered this topic before. But I'll relent and address it one more time, only because it's spring and many gardeners are getting antsy. 

Here's some thoughts on how I decide....,,,

1- Grow what grows in my environment. Although I love to eat blueberries, they don't grow here easily. I love hazelnuts and black walnut, but they don't grow here at all. So to insist on growing things that won't produce is a waste of effort, resources, time, and results in disappointment and frustration. 

2- Grow basics. I cook with a lot of onions, so it makes sense to grow them as opposed to buying them. Same for tomatoes and bananas. We like to eat baby potatoes, and as a result we go a lot of them, enough to satisfy our yearly consumption. We like eggs....real fresh it makes sense to keep hens, especially since I want the manure. 

3- Include those expensive to purchase items. Now that I use herbs in cooking, it makes economic sense to grow my own. Fresh herbs in the store are very pricey, at least here in Hawaii they are. Dried or frozen herbs don't compare to fresh. Therefore I grow our own parsley, basil, dill, sage, cilantro, rosemary, oregano, etc. 

4- Definitely grow hard to find foods. I seldom see pipinolas for sale, I guess because people deem it "poor people" food. But we eat them regularly, so I grow my own. Snow peas are difficult to find and are pricy. And I never find yellow or white beets in the stores. Another item we like are stuffing tomatoes, never seen in the stores. Yacon, radish greens, radish pods, pea tendrils, edible flowers = more things never seen in the stores. Growing our own makes things like these appear on our table on a regular basis. Duck eggs, rabbit, and baby lamb are more foods never seen at my local supermarket. 

5- Focus on the things we like to eat. Although I find fresh green beans and kale a cinch to grow in abundance, we don't eat them in abundance. So it makes more sense to grow things that we prefer to eat. 

6- Include those hot items for trading and selling. There are things that we seldom eat ourselves (or eat in small quantities)  but are popular nonetheless. Peppers, both sweet and hot. Squashes. Pumpkins. Sweet potatoes. 

Something I Haven't Seen in Awhile

Oh my, 3 days now of sunshine! 

This photo was sent to me by a friend who lives nearby. Incredibly clear, sunny skies. I al out forgot what I looked like. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Grow Box Update

Here's an update on the newest grow boxes. 3 are now full and planted. Boxes 1 & 2 are planted with yacon. The third box has potatoes, a variety that I'm growing for seed production. It's a new one for me called Adirondack Blue. 

The photo below shows the potatoes. The soil surface has settled down about a foot. By the time the potatoes are ready to harvest, I expect it to sink down another foot. It's to be expected as the fill material composts down. 

The fourth box is now full and I plant to plant potatoes in that one too. The fifth box is half way full. So it looks like I'm ready to build a few more boxes. 

So why am I using boxes in this spot? Because my sheep periodically graze the grass in this area. I wouldn't be able to grow any food for myself without the sheep either eating it or trampling it. The boxes are built atop lava rock where the grass sparsely grows. Thus the spot wasn't even productive for growing sheep food. But the boxes change all that. I can grow food for myself without the sheep being able to reach it. Yes, the sheep leave the boxes alone. Now the goats and donkey are a different story. They'd reach up and eat everything they could. It never dawns on the sheep to do that. Yes, I keep the goats and donkey away from the grow boxes. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Are My Bananas Ready to Harvest?

"P" asked, " How can you tell when your bananas are ready for picking if you don't let them turn yellow?" 

Back in the days when I first started this homestead, I saw that there was a clump of tall banana trees down the hill in the dry river bed area. I was a complete newbie back then, knowing zero about bananas. Yes, I was so incredibly a newbie that I was puzzled when I saw my first banana bunch growing on a tree. I thought that they were growing upside down...for real! I didn't even know that banana fruits pointed up, not down. I think it's funny now, to see how ignorant I was about bananas. Boy did I have a lot to learn! 

Knowing nothing about bananas, first I got discouraged to see the bunch just sitting in that tree for weeks and weeks. Then when I finally checked on them again, they were gone! Nothing but an empty stalk. Sigh. But I assumed that the tree would grow another bunch, so I waited. Again I was surprised several weeks later to find that particular tree dead and drooping. (Bananas "trees" produce one bunch then die. But they also produce new "trees" by growing shoots from the base.) But I would notice another tree developing a bunch, so I'd start watching that one. Again after weeks and weeks, I'd miss the harvest in that one too. This went on for months before I ever caught a bunch actually in the stage of turning yellow. And guess what? I wouldn't get any of those bananas either because the birds and rats got them first, eating the tasty flesh inside the peels. I had let them ripen too much on the tree. Finally I wised up and started asking neighbors about bananas. 

(Above, a bunch ready to harvest. The individual bananas are plump looking and one is starting to yellow out.) 

Leaving bananas on the tree is not the way to go on my farm. Too many rats due to the macnut farm next door. So I have to harvest the bunch just before they ripen. But how to tell? 

1- The bananas fill out. They plump up. While immature, they are angular. The individual bananas, in cross section, are almost squarish or triangular in shape. But as they mature they plump up losing their sharp edges, going almost round. Some varieties actually do round out, but some do not, 

(Above, this green banana is roundish on cross section.)

2- The stem holding the male flower grows really long. When the bunch first starts, the male flower is up close to the baby bananas. Over the weeks, the male flower keeps growing along an elongating stem. Some people cut off this stem, but I don't bother. I haven't see it make any difference if it is there or not. 

3- One or more bananas start to change color. Sometimes this can happen if the banana has been damaged, like if I bumped into the bunch, or if a bird pecked at it. But if the banana is healthy, then it usually means that the entire bunch is getting ready to ripen. 

Once the bunch indicates that it's getting ready to ripen, I'll cut it down off the tree. Many people will hang the entire bunch somewhere where the rats can't get it, and let it ripen. I find that the bunches weigh too much for me to comfortably handle. So I cut off the individual hands and hang them from my railings beside the house. For some reason the rats don't bother them in this location. 

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Finding My Ripe Bananas

Keeping track of the ripening banana clumps is not my forte. For weeks on end I'll watch a green clump, then the next thing I know, all the bananas are over ripe, eaten by rats and birds, or have dropped onto the grown below. I'll get nary a banana for myself. Drats, did it again! After doing that for the ump-teenth time, I knew that I needed to develop a system that would get my attention. 

After trying a few things, I've finally hit upon a method that works, at least for me. Bright orange survey tape. I just wrap a piece around the truck of a tree that is blooming. Since from start to finish can take months, I usually spy all the trees that are producing, and mark them. 

Because I have numerous banana clumps, and plenty of other farm work to keep me busy, I don't get around to cleaning up the banana trees more often than every few weeks. Not often enough to remember to check on ripening clumps. But during the week I often go past most of the clumps numerous times. You'd think I'd remember to look up? Naw. I often have something else in my mind. 

For some reason the orange survey tape makes me check. Not every day, that's for sure, but often enough that I'm now catching those bananas before the rats and birds do. Bananas don't have to be yellow before picking. As long as they are plump and full, the green bunch can be cut down and hung in a protected place for ripening. But I usually leave them in the tree until as ripe as possible. As soon as I see one banana changing color or starting to split open, it's time to harvest the clump immediately. 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Gro boxes

Here's an update on the newest grow boxes. 3 are now full and planted. Boxes 1 & 2 are planted with yacon. The third box has potatoes, a variety that I'm growing for seed production. It's a new one for me called Adirondack Blue. 

The photo below shows the potatoes. The soil surface has settled down about a foot. By the time the potatoes are ready to harvest, I expect it to sink down another foot. It's to be expected as the fill material composts down. 

The fourth box is now full and I plan to plant potatoes in that one too. The fifth box is half way full. So it looks like I'm ready to build a few more boxes. 

So why am I using boxes in this spot? Because my sheep periodically graze the grass in this area. I wouldn't be able to grow any food at ground level for myself without the sheep either eating it or trampling it. The boxes are built atop lava rock where the grass sparsely grows. Thus the spot wasn't even productive for growing sheep food. But the boxes change all that. I can grow food for myself without the sheep being able to reach it. Yes, the sheep leave the boxes alone. Now the goats and donkey are a different story. They'd reach up and eat everything they could. It never dawns on the sheep to do that. Yes, I keep the goats and donkey away from the grow boxes. 

Today On The Farm

Roaring fire in the wood stove, lap blanket draped over my legs as I lay back in a comfy lounge chair, a hot cup of coffee warming my hands, a seed catalog opened on my lap. the puppy playing at my feet, rain pounding on the roof......sounds like a hard day on the farm in Hawaii, no? If this rain storm was snow, I'd think I was back in NJ. In fact, here's some photos that were sent to me today from the place we used to live on back in NJ......

Beautiful snow! But I'm glad I don't have to drive in it, work outdoors, shovel the stuff. But boy is it pretty! This picture brings back lots of nice memories, and also some painful ones. Snow is so pretty to look at and play in. 

Above, the scene around the pond is as pretty as a Christmas card. 

Today I have a storm to get through. Rain. Lightning. Wind. But thankfully no snow, except atop the two mountains. Snow up there will mean a chilly night tonight. 

Getting ready for a storm on this farm means feeding all the livestock a bit extra food, checking the rain shelters and tarps, picking up anything that might blow away. I'll bring in a couple of bags of firewood, enough to last until Monday. I'll hang the raincoat by the front door. Yup, I'm set. And while I verbally say that I'm glad it won't be snow, the child in me wishes it would.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Constantly Wet

The rain started in January. Since then there have been very few days that the farm hasn't been wet. Although a day may go by with no additional accumulation, often there was no sun or wind to dry the moisture off the surfaces of the plants. So things have been wet almost constantly for a long time now. What does that mean for this farmer? 

..... Mildew, fungus, mold, rot. While some of the crops are holding up well, others have died or are suffering. I'm seeing powdery mildew on many of the crops. The non-resistant zucchini has died, the pea crops are ruined with fungal disease, much of the kale isn't suitable to eat. The latest victim is the cauliflower. Most of the plants are rotting with some sort of disease. I'm seeing fungal rot in the onions and in order to save the crop I've treated it with a fungicide and erected a rain shield over the beds to ward off the constant wet. 
Photo - powdery mildew running rampant on zucchini plants. This is not in my garden, but another person who asked me to diagnose their garden problem. This plant is beyond saving. 

..... Mold in the house. Thankfully we built the house out of cedar. But I've spotted a little mold here and there, so I've had to be diligent in treating it. 
.... Rust. Between the vog and this moisture, the rust is running rampant. It's been difficult controlling it because the frequent rains rinse off the Os-Pho. I'm dragging tools, and anything metal and portable into the barn so that I can treat the rust. 
..... Flystrike danger. While I haven't seen any problem yet with the livestock, I'm checking them daily. I decided to use a topical preventative that will kill any emerging maggots. I don't normally do this, but one of the neighbors down the road has lost several sheep this month to flystrike. So the right flies are in the area. Why don't I always use the topical treatment? It can't be used on animals being prepared for slaughter. I have 2 sheep due to be slaughtered soon, so I have to do daily visual checks and deal with any problem in a non-toxic manner. So far I haven't seen a problem. 
.... Saturated soil. Two issues here. 1- mud in the tracks where I normally drive the truck off road. I use the truck to haul grass to the sheep. Plus to move rocks from the fields to the latest wall construction, move other construction materials around, move grass clippings and compost material, move firewood. I've had to switch to using the atv, which means that I have to make multiple trips---in the rain. Ugh. 
     2- I can't work the soil. I've spent years incorporating compost, manure, and mulch. This makes for much improved soil with a big "but" attached. It means that the soil retains moisture. So it has become super saturated. Mucky, in plain words. Such soil cannot be dug, worked, or tilled because as it dries out it would turn into dense concrete-like ground. Working such soil drives the air out and compacts it. Thus I cannot work in the gardens. This is putting a majorly big crimp in my food production. 
.... Leaching of nutrients. We've had enough rain now that I'm concerned about losing soil nutrients. Certain soil components are water soluble or readily move through the soil. I just sent off some soil samples to check and am preparing some soil additives in the meantime. I'm assuming that phosphorous might be an issue, but we shall see. I know that nitrogen will surely be an issue. The soil pH is already going down, so I'm looking at needing a quick adjustment when I'm able to get to working the soil. 
.... Deteriorating mental health. Both hubby and I are sick of the rain and lack of sun. 
.... Mosquitos. We're seeing a major increase in the mosquito population. Water is standing in plants crevices, open lava tubes, lava depressions, and of course any manmade item that can hold water. I treat what I can, but many of the plant pools can't be treated, such as those 20' tall banana trees. 
Photo - a bromeliad holding water. I drop a few bt nuggets into each plant to help control mosquitos. 

So without focusing on the details, what does this really mean on my day to day life? 

First, I can't garden in the main beds. Thus I can't produce veggies for selling and trading. This is putting a crimp in things. Not that we are in any danger of running out of food. The greenhouses and mini-greenhouses are doing fine. And there are crops that are doing ok in all this wet. But it's not giving me anything extra, nor giving me stuff we like to eat like beets, peas, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, and all those other common garden crops. 

Second, I can't get much grass mowed. The livestock now have to be supplemented with haycubes when there is not enough fresh grass for them. That cost money, as in $18 a bag per day. That hurts. Any gain I would have made selling this year's lambs will be lost to buying haycubes if this rain continues. Being that it's still winter, the pastures haven't regrown well enough to support livestock on their own. In addition, I can't get the mulch I need and the bedding for the chicken pens. Grass clippings also are used for making compost, so my compost making is on hold. And of course, that means that the grass is getting way to long and thick, which will another problem to deal with once the rains stop. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Why Grow Food?

I can't tell you just how many times I've been asked, "Why go you grow your own food?" I hear the question over and over again. People point out that there is an abundance of found in the stores, the prices are cheap or at least affordable, it takes lots of work to grow a food garden, it takes money to grow your own food....and on and on and on. Lots of reasons. I've already talked about this topic before, but I'm getting so many questions about it recently that I thought I'd explore it again from a different angle. 

I have my own personal reasons for growing food, but other growers have their own, sometimes much different reasons. I'd like to list a few of mine in order to give people thinking about this topic something to mull over. 

... Independence. There's something very satisfying to me to be food independent. I find comfort and satisfaction in self reliancy. 

... Cleaner food. I can control what, if any, chemicals my food is exposed to. Commercial foods, even those listed as organic, can be exposed to a wide assortment of chemicals. Not only chemicals concern me. Bacteria, parasites, feces, and urine at times contaminate commercial foods and I'd rather not be part of that on a regular basis. 

... Fresher food. I like picking my food right off the plants, often moments before I consume them. I like eggs and meat that are extremely fresh. 

... Better flavor. Until I moved to Hawaii I wasn't aware of just how superior fresh picked fruits could be. The taste of bananas and citrus that are tree ripened is amazing. Some of the heirloom bean varieties have incredible flavor. There are plenty more examples. Freshly harvested food simply tastes so much better. 

... Variety. Though not an issue for most urbanites, rural areas often don't have a good section available. I can grow a broad selection, including edible flowers. How cool is that! I can grow herbs that are difficult to near impossible to find in the stores. 

... Confidence. Personally growing my own food, I know what went into producing it. Commercial foods, you have to guess and have a lot of faith. Is that cheese really safe? Is that meat contaminated? Is that organic milk truly organic? Are those veggies really safe? I have personally heard tales of overt cheating, right from the mouths of the farmer involved. Sprays applied the day before harvesting -- a real no-no. Chemical dewormers used just prior to slaughter. Antibiotics used just prior to slaughtered. Commercial forbidden herbicides used on organic fields.  It's happening. Plus I've read news accounts of cheating -- fish and meats misrepresented, GMO evidence in labeled organics, that sort of thing. 

... Satisfaction. I like being a small farmer. It's a passion that had smoldered in my soul for decades. Plus I like being a member of a dying race, the small farmer. Sadly, the small farmer is disappearing. Perhaps I'm enough of a rebel to like bucking the trends. 

Learning to grow or otherwise obtain our food has been an experience! It is physical work, but also a major learning challenge and emotional rollercoaster ride. I'm happy to be doing it. 

Do I save money growing my own? That's a question I'm often asked, I think because everybody expects me to say yes. In my own situation, I'd say that I now do, over the long haul. But initially there were up front expenses and losses that negated any gains. Even now, there are crop losses that I have to deal with. The trick for me is to be mindful not to put too much of a financial investment into a crop, no more than I'm willing to risk and lose. For example, it makes no financial sense for me to invest in a modern hydroponic system. The cost of the pumps, piping, racks, tanks, greenhouses, etc would be an investment I could never get back in food savings, ever. 

Yes, I grow my own good for many different reasons. I works for me. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Prejudice in Hawaii?

More Questions from "J" ...........
"Is it hard not to be ethnically Hawaiian? Is there any hostility towards non Hawaiian people?" 

I gather that "J" is thinking of possibly coming to Hawaii ! 

First of all, everywhere I've been to in the past I've seen prejudice behavior towards one group or another. It's a sad statement, but as a species, we aren't very civilized yet. So, does prejudice exist in Hawaii? Sure. Let's explore that a bit. 

Is it difficult living in Hawaii when you are not ethnically Hawaiian? I don't think so. It hasn't been a problem for me. But I'm sure it could be for some people. By far the vast majority of the population here is NOT ethnic Hawaiian. Lots of Japanese. Chinese, Mexican, Portuguese, and Filipino. To a lesser extent, Polynesian, Micronesian, and lots of others. And most people are mixed. Hapa this, hapa that. Yup, we're mostly mongrels. Very few purebred anything, including pure Hawaiians. By the way, true Hawaiians make up a very small fraction of the population here. But I've met plenty of people who claim to be true Hawaiians but have very little actual ethnic Hawaiian in their bloodline. So things are quite murky. 

Is the hostility due to prejudice? Some. Sadly, Hawaiian families tend to bring up their children to be resentful and often prejudice. And "local" families pass on their prejudice feelings about ethnic minorities, especially Micronesians and caucasian mainlanders. Most of the hostility occurs with the young people, especially in the schools. But adults can be quick to display their dark side in the right situations. I've witnessed their prejudices erupt into vocal outbursts and hostile physical displays. I've seen the results of bullying and outright physical fights. But I can't say that it's real common and visible. Back in NJ I saw far more open prejudice against the Blacks and Puerto Ricans than I see going on here between ethnic groups. But any prejudice, however minor, is ugly and totally not acceptable! 

To date I've gotten along with most groups here. That includes many Hawaiian families, though I've found that breaking the ice with their community was a bit more difficult initially. But I've never been fearful being around Hawaiian families. In fact, the only time I've had any trepidation being with any group was when I've had to deal with criminal drug users. Now....those are people that can be dangerous and it doesn't matter what their ethnic make up is! 

 So "J", being anxious about being non-Hawaiian isn't necessary. But perhaps one should be aware that any newcomer to Hawaii will need time and conscious effort to adapt. It's not like moving from Oregon to Washington state. There's a somewhat different culture going on here compared to the mainland. And to make it a bit more "interesting", each island has its own tweaks. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Banana Skipper / Banana Leaf Roller

After a disappearance of many years, the banana leaf roller (aka- banana skipper) is back. I happened to have spied an affected young tree on my way up the driveway. 

It's pretty noticeable. These two baby trees, shown above, had their leaves decimated . Closer inspection revealed a classic roll......

And inside that roll I found the caterpillar....

Checking the trees, I discovered 6 caterpillars. Of course, I destroyed them all. Next step, check all the other clumps of banana trees. Zero caterpillars. So happily only one clump had obvious banana leaf rollers at this time. But I will have to keep an eye out for the next couple of months. The trick to controlling this one is to destroy the caterpillars before they can turn into adults. 

This event reminded me of the value of spreading a crop around in different locations in the farm. That is, not growing all my bananas in one spot. To date I have 8 different areas for growing bananas. Thus if one clump gets infested with some sort of pest, all my bananas aren't necessarily infested. I found the banana rollers in only one clump. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Managing House "Bugs"

"J" recently asked me, "I saw your post a while back about insects. Have you found any permanent solution for managing them, especially centipedes?" I've covered most of this info before, so I'll just update it and post it in one spot. 

What's your definition of a permanent solution for managing them? Do you mean 100% permanent eradication? That pretty much won't happen in the tropics because we don't have winter freezes. And besides,  insects can easily travel from the neighbors properties to your own year around. Since I'm not willing to soak my property with insecticides, I will see insect populations increase at times. Depending upon the insect, I may or may not take action. Why no action? Because I host several natural insect eaters on the farm. In order to keep those around, they need to eat year around. Skinks. Anoles. Chameleons. Tree frogs. Mice. Assorted birds. They all help keep things in balance. 

There are some insects I have little tolerance for having around....
...vinegar flies. I have no objection to them outdoors, but I don't want them in the kitchen. Foremost for control is not to have any unprotected fresh food sitting around, especially fruits. Things get stored in the frig or outside. Outside they need to be protected from rodents and birds. That is all sound advice, but I don't always listen to myself.....thus the reason for the saying "do as I say, not as I do" evolved. Therefore I keep a fly strip in the kitchen near the counter where I tend to sit fruits. I've used other sorts of traps and controls, but for me the old fashion flypaper works best. 
...flies. We have very little problem with flies around the house. Outdoors I keep fly traps, especially in the pasture areas. This helps protect the sheep against flystrike. I have traps by the dog kennel, plus I pick up dog poop as soon as I notice it. This poop is buried to prevent any lain eggs from developing into more flies. The house is protected with screens, letting very few flies into the house. The occasional fly usually gets captured by the flypaper in the kitchen.  
...mosquitoes. I have dozens of mini ponds that are stocked with small fish to eat mosquito larvae. And I use bt ( mosquito dunks or granules) in the rain gutter system where I can't flush out the larvae. That also treats the catchment tank, which I keep covered but is not 100% mosquito proof. 
...ants. They are fine outdoors, though I discourage high populations of them in the garden areas. But I don't want them indoors. Whenever I see them,  I use a boric acid solution to kill them. They drink it up and take it back to their nests, killing the ants. 
...cockroaches. Living in the tropics cockroaches are a given. I use boric acid powder under the frig, freezer, and range. Plus when we closed up the house walls, we sprinkled boric acid powder between the upright 2x4s. I also have a bit of boric acid powder inside the electric receptacle boxes in the kitchen by the range and sink, two very enticing spots for roaches. So far this is controlling most of the cockroaches that get into the house. Occasionally I'll spy one in the bathroom, whereupon I'll dust some boric acid powder into crevices behind the sink and around the toilet. 
...centipedes. Happily I don't have lots of centipedes on the farm. Since we've lived here I've only come across 2 adult red ones and perhaps 6 adult blue ones. All were killed immediately. I think the red ones arrived on equipment. I don't know how the blue ones arrived. All the blue ones were found in the same area -- under items stored in an outdoor storage shed. I set up traps (nice hiding places for them) after finding the first two when I moved some lumber. The traps lured four more. Since those initial ones, I haven't seen any others but I check occasionally. 

Centipedes.......some people will routinely apply a perimeter spray around their homes. I really don't know if this makes any difference, but I don't plan to ever use it. I tend to avoid applying toxins around my house. Some people will apply the pesticide just to their doorways in hopes of deterring centipedes from entering into the house. Some other tricks include...
...(especially during dry spells) leaving a rag soaked in boric acid solution just beside the doorway. This is to entice the thirsty centipede to drink it. Since centipedes are often found in the bathroom, they seem to be attracted to moisture. Pet owners teach their pets to leave the rag alone. 
...keeping bed linens, sofa & chair material up off the floors. Centipedes will climb right up into bed if the bed has a dust ruffle close to ground level.
...storing shoes up off the floor. No fun finding a centipede when you slip you feet into your shoes. My mother had scorpions and centipedes where she lived and would find them in her shoes occasionally. So she took to hanging her shoes on a hook up off the floor. 
...keep dirty laundry and used bath towels off the floor. Centipedes will nestle inside, attracted to the moisture and darkness. 
...keeping a rubber mallet handy to whack the centipede to death. A long handled pancake turner works well too to chop them in half. 
..having a centipede finding dog. My friend had a dog that was a super great centipede hunter, alerting them to any centipede in the house. Just a couple of weeks ago my own dog, Noodles, alerted me to a centipede while I was visiting a friend. He found it in a doorway and was highly interested. I praised his actions and hope he does it again. I'd love to have him alert us to centipedes! Perhaps the next time I'll be prepared to capture the centipede to use it as a training tool for Noodles. 
While living with centipedes may sound scary, it's not a big deal. Really. Even in areas where they are common, you don't see them very often. Usually you will come across one if you are out working in your gardens moving rocks. Just don't touch it, for they will quickly bite. If bitten, a quick application of ammonia followed by ice (hold an ice cube to the bite for 10-15 minutes) will take care of most of the discomfort. I have been bitten twice now, on the finger, while working on clearing land down on my seed farm. (I now wear gloves while working there.) I keep an "afterbite" stick in my truck for such occasions. That, plus an ice cube from my cooler (I bring something cold to drink while I'm working there), takes care of the bite. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Weather - Sun

"J" asked......Does the sun shine very much in the winter there? 

Weather here in Hawaii is quite a different experience that I ever had on the mainland or in the UK. Back there, if there was sun, rain, or clouds, it extended for the entire region, at least for miles around. But here that's not the case. The weather can be one way in the farm and totally different 5-10 miles down the road. We have a running joke here that if it is raining, people will say that it's a nice day to go to the beach, because often times it will be dry and sunny along the coast. So if you ask, is it sunny during the winter, you need to specify the exact location. It may usually be sunny and dry most of the time in my town, but often rainy and cloudy 10 miles away on my farm. 

Some parts of Hawaii are mostly sunny year around, with only intermittent passing storms. Other locations are just the opposite, overcast and rain most the time with intermittent sunny days. My main farm usually has morning sun, afternoon clouds. By contrast, my seed farm location often gets mostly sun all day long. And these two farms are only 5 miles apart. But "J", unlike Washington state, Hawaii doesn't have long periods or seasons of overcast skies. 

People moving to Hawaii need to do their homework. Weather conditions can vary considerably from one location to the next. And people's individual preferences can vastly vary. What I would consider acceptable rainfall or sunshine, another might deem it too much or too little. 

And to make things more difficult to predict, Hawaii weather is cyclic. We see years of drought interspersed with wet years. That means that some years get lots of full sun days, while wet years see strings of cloudy days in a row. And to top that off, we are an island out in the ocean, thus brief isolated squalls can pass through just about any time. 

Where I live, we see enough sun year around to be living on solar off grid. BUT, for years like this one, I need a generator because we just went through a month of rain. But generally, I get enough sun year around. Now......if I lived in Volcano or Mountainview I would want to be on the grid because of the lack of daily sunshine there. 

So "J", I'd say that yes, the sun shines well during the winter in Hawaii. In fact, the nice tropical weather lures plenty of tourists here from November to April. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Perennial Food Plants

I was sitting down sowing seeds yesterday and I got to thinking about perennial food plants. These are things that I don't have to sow over and over again. Looking over the farm, these are the perennials here. Many are grown as annuals in colder climates, but can be managed as perennials here. 

The obvious ones are trees:
Avocado, guava, banana, orange, tangelo, tangerine, lemon, lime, allspice, clove, cinnamon, Surinam cherry, tree tomato, chaya, apple, peach, sapote, mulberry, eggfruit, papaya (short lived), coffee, moringa, mamaki

Stick Oregano.......
Various mints
Sweet potato (for greens) 
New Zealand spinach
Okinawan spinach 
Cholesterol spinach 
Mexican oregano......
Taro - I have a Caribbean variety that can be managed as a long term perennial
Celery, kale, and some collards can be managed as perennials. Peppers are often perennials here. 

There might be a few more growing on the farm, but I can't think of more at this moment. Down on the seed farm I also have mango and breadfruit. 

There are several more that I could be growing but haven't added them to the inventory yet. Every year I try to make a point of expanding what I'm growing. I'm not sure what will be my next additions, but I'm open to suggestions. You can post your suggestions here on the blog, or you can email me at

ps- I forgot sugar cane, fig, loquat, macadamia nuts, persimmon, and mountain apple. Plus roselle and strawberry, though these both need to be managed and actually repropagated. 

Friday, March 9, 2018


Here's a new one for you......egg fruit. I've also heard it called Yellow Sapote around here. I never saw or heard of this one until I came to Hawaii. The trees do well in my region, and I fact, I have one young tree on the farm. I plan to add a few more. 

How do I describe an eggfruit? Gee, it's nothing like I had on the mainland. The flesh is yellow-orange, firm under the skin and softer toward the center. The flavor is sort of like pumpkin pie, but it's not. Just sort-of-like. It can be eater fresh or cooked. I've had it added to smoothies. That's basically how I eat it. I also had it offered to me as an eggnog type drink. It was good, but when you add sugar and heavy cream to anything, it's good. Right? It can be eaten right from the sliced open fruit with a spoon, with a spray of lime juice. I saw one person eating an eggfruit/mayonnaise sandwich once. Not sure how that was because I haven't been brave enough to try it. 

Eggfruits aren't real common here simply because most people don't grow a tree in their backyard. But they aren't what you'd call rare. I will sometimes see them for sale at the local farmers markets. It's not a wildly appealing fruit, I guess because of its unusual flavor. 

Right now they are in season. Trees are loaded with fruits. A good friend gave me a few, which I shared with two others who have never tried them before. So it looks like I need to go back to the first friend and beg a few more off her. By the way thanks "S" for the fruits! 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Great Trick - Why Didn't I Think of It?

One of my friends soundly beat me to the punch with this one, a trick that is so simple and makes a task easier. Let me explain. 

I save wood ashes from my woodburning stove. While I burn mostly tree wood, I also burn the worn out wood pallets I use for various projects here on the farm. I also use waste pieces I get from several local woodworkers. Some of this has nails, screws, or staples in it. These metal bits end up in the ash and I prefer to get them out mainly so that I don't end up being poked by them. I also don't like the idea of adding nails and screws to the soil which can be potential tire puncturing hazards for wheelbarrows, the atv, etc. 

Above, the magnet has captured the wayward metal in the wood ash. 

Up until now I used a large shop magnet to get out the metal bits. I'd have the cold ashes in a bucket and swish the magnet through them, snagging up all those screws, nails, metal flakes. Of course, I'd end up having to try to remove all the metal bits from the magnet afterward, plus wash my hands and arms. Getting the metal flakes off the magnet is a pain in the neck. Kind of like dealing with etch-a-sketch guts. A bit messy. A difficult task. The magnet looks like it has a 3 day stable beard and you just keep pushing the hairs around. Hard to get off. 

Photo, the magnet and my hand inside a plastic bag. After swishing through the ashes, the captured metal is on the outside of the bag. 

Guess what a friend told me? Put the magnet inside a plastic baggie, then sweep the wood ashes for metal. Once the magnet has them all, simply turn the baggie inside out over the magnet. Wallah! All the screws, nails, whatever are inside the baggie and the magnet and hand is clean. Wow. Why didn't I think of that! 

Photo, the inside out plastic baggie holds the metal bits. The magnet (and my hand) stay clean. 

So I've added this trick to my daily way of doing things. Every time I do it I will remember the friends who told me about it. Thank you "M" & "S" ! 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Last Lamb of this Season

The last lamb has arrived. And guess's a girl! Thank heaven, I got at least two new little ewes to add to the flock. It was quite disheartening to end up with a string of males. 

So it's another single birth, which is perfectly fine with me. The lamb is large, strong, and active. 

She was born in the rain, and it rained solid for the next 24 hours. Mom birthed in the dry field shelter but it wasn't long before this little lamb had to tottle after mom in the rain. But it didn't seem to bother her. I kept an eye on her just in case, but this girl is a robust one and a persistent, aggressive nurser. She is doing just fine. 

Monday, March 5, 2018

More Questions Answered

Here's some more questions coming from "J", "E", and "C".......

>>>>>"Why can't you grow Breadfruit, mango, rambutan, and lychee? I would have thought they would thrive there."

My main farm is located at 2400' elevation. The nights are cool or chilly. So the location is not suitable for all tropical plants. While all these four trees will grow on my farm, they won't fruit. They need lower elevation to produce fruits. 

There are plenty of places on the island where these fruit trees thrive. Thank heavens because I wouldn't want to live without mangos! Love the things. It's just that it's important to try to grow things thrives at your own location, rather than fighting with Mother Nature. I can always trade my win excess for things that I can't grow for myself. 

>>>>>"What sort of livestock do well in Hawaii? I know you have pigs, ducks, chickens, and sheep."

Again, elevation has a bearing. Plus climate factors. On my farm, most livestock found on the mainland will do ok. Exceptions include buffalo, wooly sheep, and ostrich. It's either too wet and/or cold for them where I am. Yes, these exist on Big Island, but in drier or warmer locations. I've successfully had hair sheep, horse, donkey, goats, chickens, ducks, geese, pigs, rabbits, and guinea pigs. A neighbor has alpaca and guinea hens. I don't know how some of the other exotics, like Scottish Highland cattle or water buffalo would fare at my farm. I don't know of any of the former on the island, and I think the last water buffalo here has died. 

Big Island has ranches that have large herds of horses, cattle, sheep, and goats. Plus small herds of donkey. They all thrive here. Most piggeries tend to be small or moderate in size, basically because the cost of feed is expensive and there is not a huge demand right now for local pork. We had a couple of large chicken farms on this island, but for economic reasons they have shut down. So commercial flocks now are small to medium sized. A couple of alpaca farms have 20+ animals. Most alpaca farms are smaller. All of these sorts of animals do well here at just about any location. 

>>>>>"What kind of hardwoods do you have for firewood?"

First of all, where I'm located I don't often need wood that burns for a long period of time. Most of my fires are short duration. Having said that, this past month I've been having much longer fires in the wood stove to heat the house, so the wood I'm using is chosen for that task. 

The best hardwood on the farm is ohia. That's what I've been primarily burning this past month. Hawaii can't grow the hardwoods that most mainlanders are familiar with -- oak, ash, black cherry, maple, etc. Those trees need a chill during winter. But ohia is a good hardwood for here. 

Other than ohia, I burn just about everything that will grow here-- avocado, citrus, guava, and a multitude of others. And I don't restrict myself to just big wood. Depending upon the need, I'll burn stuff down to 1/2" diameter. 

>>>>>"Can you get permits to cut wood in the state forests?" 

I don't know. I haven't heard of people saying that they do that. I have 20 acres that had been basically unattended for decades, so I have plenty of deadwood, dead trees, and trash trees to harvest for firewood. Other people who aren't so fortunate get permission to take out deadwood from other people's properties. There's plenty of it to go around. 

>>>>>"I'm surprised to hear that you need a woodburning stove in Hawaii. Why is that?" 

On Big Island, there are residential locations that can get quite chilly at night. Some areas routinely see temps in the 40s and 50s on winter nights, 50s during the summer. Since most tropical houses are designed for airflow, it gets cold in the houses at night. Thus the desire for heat. 

Not everywhere needs heat. Most locations in Hawaii have warm nights. But the higher one goes in elevation, the colder it gets. Once you get over 2000' elevation, you better have some way to deal with the chill......warm clothing, warm throws or blankets (bed quilts are big sellers here), or a heat source. 

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Acclimating to Hawaii

"J" asked a few more questions. 

"Why do people have such a hard time acclimating to Hawaii, do you think? I've heard of "island fever" and the high cost of living."

Island fever doesn't really apply to Big Island. It's called "big" for a reason. In fact, all the other Hawaiian island combined are less total square miles than the Big Island alone. So yes, it's big. It's big enough that it's not uncommon for people on one side of the island to say that they've never been to the other side. And very few people regularly travel out of their quadrant, unless it's to go to a distant job. 

Island fever might be an issue on the other islands. I can't say, but they are a lot smaller. But travel between the islands is easy, so it wouldn't be a big deal to live on one and take day or weekend trips to the others in order to break any monotany. But I say this as one who has already done their world traveling and is content to be at home. The concept of island fever hasn't affected me.

The high cost of living is another thing. Some things in Hawaii are indeed much higher in cost. But others are much lower or non-existent. We researched the cost of living before moving to Big Island and discovered that our lifestyle would cost just about the same as it did in NJ. Of course, the cost of living in NJ is high, so people living in the middle of the US would see Hawaii cost of living to be much higher by comparison to their own.

Another issue when trying to relocate here is that people didn't fully analyze their move. They fall in love with the laid back island lifestyle, but then bring their high stress mainland habits with them. To be successful, you need to ditch those mainland ideas before you leave the airport. You need to stop competing for a parking space, start letting other people into line in traffic, stop rushing here and there, stop trying to out do the other guy, etc. Hawaii isn't the mainland. 

New people all too often didn't seem to notice before they moved to their new location that all the stores and services they wanted were a long drive away. I've overheard people complaining that they only have an Ace Hardware to buy from, not a Home Depot, Sears, Lowes, WalMart, whatever. They are unhappy that our little town doesn't have multiple gas stations, hairdressers, dentists, whatever. What? No Starbucks? Somehow they missed the fact that it's a small, small town. I hear others complain about too much rain, too dry, too hot, too cold, too windy. They failed to determine in advance what their chosen location was really like. 

Another regret that they can't adjust to is that they've left all their family and friends behind. I'm not sure how they missed this point before moving out into the middle of the Pacific Ocean. 

Next question................
"Have you been able to avoid/mitigate the high cost of living there by growing your own food and doing things yourself? "

The best thing we did to mitigate the high cost of living was to sit down and analyze where we spent money. From there we could make a budget and determine where we could cut out spending our precious dollars. Health insurance was our greatest expense, but at our age we choose not to eliminate it from the budget. So we targeted other expenses to eliminate. 

Providing for our own food helped, but there were costs upfront the prevented instant savings. Tools, seeds, and supplies had to be purchased. We had to invest in water catching and storage systems. I bought a farm pick up truck, which made things possible like hauling in manure and green waste, going out for foraging, taking excess produce to market, hauling in resources. In the long run, providing for our own food via growing it, foraging, and trade saves us money because of the high cost of store bought food here. But the savings aren't as significant as people assume. 

Learning to do things ourselves surely helped big time. We built much of our house. We cleared our own land. Built fencing. Built small farm buildings. We learned to do solar electric. We installed our wood stove and gather our own firewood for it. All these sorts of things translate into cash not being spent. 

A major step to mitigate the high cost of living was to change our lifestyle. This made a far greater impact than anything else. We stopped buying new clothes, stopped going out to dinner all the time, stopped going to movies and entertainment events, stopped hairdresser trips, had cellphones that were prepaid minutes and not monthly plans-- then didn't use the phone unless necessary. We shopped at local thrift stores or rummage sales. We stopped making weekly trips to Kona and stretched out those trips to every 3-4 months, or greater when possible. We ditched the TV and movie rentals. We looked at each item and service that we were spending money on and tried to figure out if we could live without it or reduce the expense. Because of this step we ended up reducing our propane use to 1/4 of what we had been buying. A great reduction. We store rain water rather than buying truckloads for irrigation. We make our own fertilizer rather than buy pallets of commercial fertilizer. We have literally saved hundreds each year by producing much of our own garden seed. These are just some of the things we did, and do, to reduce our cost of living. 

Now this may sound really "hillbilly" but I've willingly become known as a local scrounger. Thus I have become the recipient of many a useable castoff. Fencing. Lumber. Trash cans. Various containers. Rope. Tools. Hardware. Clothing. Linens. Animal feed. Paint. Furniture. Kitchen utensils. Gardening supplies. You name it, I've most likely received some. This is just another small means of making living here affordable. As I've said, it's a big lifestyle change for us, but we're doing it. 

In the midst of our change over, hubby decided that retirement wasn't rewarding for him. So he picked up some temporary contracts in his field (he can work from home via the Internet). So life suddenly became easier for us for a stretch there. But he's about to fully retire again, so all those things that we've learned and practiced along the way will become our permanent lifestyle. I think we will be prepared and ready, at least as best we can. 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

A Wet February

Rain for February --  9.39 inches

This past month has been wet, real wet. There were only 6 days when the farm didn't see rain of some amount, and only 3 of those days had any sunshine. Needless to say, living off grid we were running the generator practically every evening. That's one of the downsides of being off grid. 

We're now into March and guess's still raining! 

How does all these rain days effect the farm? 
...I can't work the soil. Tilling or digging soil this wet will significantly damage it.'s impossible to walk among the plants without spreading any diseases or pests that might exist.
...the plants are barely growing and veggies not maturing. Potatoes and sweet potatoes are rotting. 
...the sheep and donkey are starting to show some skin problems. It's impossible to convince them to stay dry. The goats come into shelter on a regular basis to dry out, so they are doing fine. 
...mold is trying to grow in places I don't want it, like inside the house. 
...I can't get the laundry dry, even the stuff I hung up in the greenhouses. The air humidity is too high, plus there is no sun. 

Boy, I am so looking forward to falling asleep at night listening to the dang coqui frogs rather than the rain falling on our metal roof!!!! Please, give me a few dry days. 

Friday, March 2, 2018


"J" is considering moving to a tropical region, so asked, "What have been some of the challenges of living and farming there?"

My, where do I begin? My blog covers most of the challenges we've had. But some I haven't covered so far, such as compromised medical care availability, lack of availability of certain goods and services, lack of selection of stores and services, lack of a variety of restaurants and good dining, lack of museums and "culture". Generally, it's a lack of selection that's the issue. Of course, that sense of lack is based upon my experience of growing up around Philadelphia, where everything is incredibly abundant. Gee, back there, within a 20 minute drive from home there were 4 giant shopping malls! But here on Big Island, the closest mall is 1 1/2 hours away (in a good traffic day) and is quite a bit smaller than any of the malls I had back in NJ. But lack of selection of goods can be solved via the modern Internet. has been a major relief for remote places like Hawaii and Alaska. Of course, larger goods have to be freighted in. Not much one can do about the poor selection of restaurants, other than learning to cook one's own. And we're worse off when it comes to lack of cultural venues. You just suck it up and live with it. Lack of services is a headache. Sometimes one has to wait for weeks or months for specialized services....especially in medical specialties. I hear that getting medical service is getting difficult in many parts of the US mainland too, so perhaps Hawaii isn't all that different, except we are made up of islands. Sometimes one has to fly to another island for a specialist. 

Our first challenge, while getting through the shock of moving, was adjusting to a new culture. Yes, Hawaii is part of the United States, but things work differently here. Adapting to a new way of thinking wasn't something I had anticipated. I should have, but I hadn't. 

Creating our house and farm was a major hurdle, but we knew that challenge was part of our new life. But what I hadn't really given enough thought to was the fact that our lifestyle would need to change so radically. It was difficult shedding our lifetime of habits and creating a new lifestyle. 

Learning to live as part of a community was something new for us. I love my community, but the whole concept was strange in the beginning. I learned that having friends is totally different from being part of a community. 

As for farming, there were lots of challenges, some of which are ongoing. Taking raw land and creating a farm and building a house involves passion, labor, and time. Learning to grow food and raise livestock in the tropics has been a challenge. It's quite different than on the mainland. Staying interested, willing to learn, and flexible are important. I've been at this for ever a decade and I'm still learning new stuff, seeing new pests & diseases I haven't had before, dealing with new problems. 

Changing our diet was another big adjustment. We went from being primarily commercial food eaters and daily customers at restaurant/prepared food primarily homegrown and local foods. 

There are challenges with every relocation one makes, but Hawaii added the factors of physical isolation, tropical climate, and cultural differences into the equation. We met those challenges and made the move. No regrets!