Sunday, April 29, 2018

World Naked Gardening Day - May 5

Yeah, it's coming up! Time to have some silly fun. 

Planning to participate? 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Late Applied Mulch

"F" commented about my mulching the potatoes. Specifically "F" asked me "Why bother. The plants are almost full grown." 

There's a few reasons why I put the effort into mulching those potatoes. 
...weed control. With all the moisture plus not being able to repeatedly walk through the crop to scuffle hoe, the weeds have been having a party. I see certain weeds returning to the garden beds because of my heavy use of homemade compost and mulch. This is to be expected and normally isn't an issue. But this time around, the weeds haven't been smothered with mulch. Thus the weed seed has been germinating out of control. So what have I done? Did I need to pull or chop weeds prior to applying mulch? No. I simply covered the weeds with the grass clippings. And if Mother Nature allows, I'll apply another layer of mulch in 2 weeks, just about the time some weeds will be poking through this first layer of clippings. So the weeds aren't an issue for me. No need to put the effort into pulling weeds. 

Above, lots of weeds between the potato plant. 

Above, same spot right after the mulch has been applied. 

Above, same rows two days later. Photo taken from the opposite end of the row, so it looks a bit different. The mulch really looks good and does a nice job once it dries out some. 

...prevent greening of the taters. Ever wonder why the garden books recommend hilling your potatoes? Hilling refers to pulling the soil from between the rows and depositing it around the base of the potato plant. No, it doesn't mean making a mound and then planting your seed potato on the top of that mound. Potatoes aren't meant to be planted atop a mound. Hilling accomplishes a few things. It destroys the young weeds in the aisleway, smothers the weeds around the plants, plus builds a barrier against the light for the developing tubers. My mulching does essentially the same. By blocking the light, the tubers won't get green where they are exposed. Green tubers aren't good. 

Under more normal weather patterns, mulching would also help keep the soil moisture fairly constant. That's important for tuber development. Fluctuating soil moisture can result in tuber deformities....splitting, knobbing, hollow hearts. 

Friday, April 27, 2018

Back To The Rain

I just knew it would be too good to be true. Two beautiful sunny, dry gloom & rain once again. Sigh. 

For two days I mowed grass in my spare time, racking up 19,780 steps one day, 18,989 steps the second day. Yeah, I've one of those step counting apps on my phone. I don't think they're accurate for counting actual steps taken, but it gives me a good idea of my walking activity from day to day. True to number or not, close to 20,000 steps a day equates into being satisfyingly tired at the end of the the bonus of two truckloads of grass clippings.

All that mowing gives the sheep and donkey a feast. They can consume 3 full trashcans of fresh clippings a day. If the grass is exceptionally to their liking, such as guinea grass, my sheep turn into pigs....oink, oink. 4 canfuls gone! All the sheep look like they're pregnant with triplets.....including the rams (just in case you wonder what a pregnant ram might look like). 

What do I do with all the rest of the clippings? Oh, I have lots of uses. In fact, even with lots of mowing I never have enough for all the projects going on around here.
...the chickens appreciate a trashcanful or two a day. 
...the garden mulch is mostly grass clippings, so I go through a lot....LOT
...clippings are one of the layers in constructing my hugelpits.
...the compost bins are greedy guzzlers of grass clippings, when I have extra available that is. 

Above, the potatoes finally get mulched. 

But mowing is not the only thing I do on these infrequent dry days. Walking the pasture fenceline in the dry sun becomes a pleasure. Yesterday morning when I checked the fences, I came armed with a machete. All this rain is causing vegetation to grow up against the fencing, a real no-no. Cover up the fencing and it rusts out faster. A machete also comes in handy for cleaning up the thriving banana patches as I walk past, and for harvesting armloads of greens for the livestock, whacking brush back from along the driveway. It feels good getting some clean up done without getting soaked to the skin. 

Training Noodles is another dry-day activity. Since he's become a teenager, him & I have been spending more time together. Not only brushing up on those dull obedience commands, but learning to listen to me by practicing fun tricks and new commands. For two days now he's been happy as all get out, playing here on the farm and visiting doggy friends on other farms. Believe me, it's a real joy to have a dry, non-muddy puppy climbing into my truck. When he's wet he looks like a dirty spaghetti mop. Yuck, get those muddy feet off me! 

Sun not only means that I get a lot of farm maintenance done, it also lifts my spirits. Sadly I could use more sunny days at the moment. News from some friends hasn't been good lately. At my age, this happens. No surprise, but still depressing. 

So two good days, ended by 0.7 inches of rain. The only good thing is that I learned that the patch I made on the roof stopped the persistent leak I've been trying to defeat. A full can of silicone goo brushed here, there, everywhere as long as the can lasted finally plugged the leak, wherever it was. 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

My Sweet Potato Observations

In addition to what I've already answered or posted about sweet potatoes, here's some of my observations noted while experimenting with this crop...........

Things I've observed while growing sweet potatoes on my farm :

...From October 1st to March 1st the plants grow slower than the rest of the year. And the tubers tend to be smaller and less in number. This is no problem for me. If a home gardener notices this difference, it's nice to know that it's the time of year doing it, not their soil fertility or an inferior variety. 

...While I can grow sweet potatoes year around, I see the most vigorous vine growth from mid-spring to mid-summer. The plants look absolutely gorgeous.

...My best tuber production occurs during early autumn. 

...While I'm at 2400 foot elevation, I can still grow sweet potatoes. I was told I was too high. A fellow gardener at around 4000' successfully grows sweets too. Perhaps the elevation recommendation refers to commercial production. 

...Sweet potatoes don't like soggy or wet soils. Mine do better when a little on the dry side compared to other veggies, but I don't let them get overly dry. They will however survive a drought. So I don't worry about watering the vines that I grow for livestock fodder or as a living mulch. I only watch the soil moisture on my tuber producing plantings. On years that I get 50-60 inches of rain where it is spread out during the year, I do not have to water the sweet potatoes at all. In drier years or during long dry stretches, I will water as needed to keep the soil from drying out. 

... I don't use manure my sweets. Instead I use my "vegetarian style" compost. I found that by pumping the nitrogen to the plants, I ended up with some very weird looking tubers, lots of vine, and less tubers than anticipated. My standard vegetarian compost mix includes all sorts of weeds, grass clippings, waste fruits, kitchen garbage, coffee grounds, plus a tad of coral sand, lava sand, burnt crushed bone, biochar, wood ash. 

...I plant cuttings 12" apart in rows about 3' to 4' apart. The rows is just so I can get in there to apply mulch for a few months while the vines are growing. If I'm just intending to grow the plants for livestock fodder, I'll plant even 12" in all directions, making a solid mat of growing vines. I will initially apply mulch when I plant the cuttings, but that's it. The vines grow too densely to be able to reapply mulch. 

...The vines will often send out additional roots from the leaf nodes. These roots can form tubers. Thus one of the reasons some tubers are found far away from the mother plant. In order to encourage tuber production closer to the mother plant, I discourage this type of rooting. I repeatedly apply mulch, moving the vines to do that, in the process uprooting or breaking off any node roots. This helps keep the tuber production closer to the mother plant. It doesn't stop it altogether, but it helps. 

...I don't have much trouble with pests. But they are out there, just not on the farm just yet. When I first started out I ignorantly planted weevil infested tubers. Luckily I noticed the problem the first year. I destroyed everything and didn't grow sweet potatoes again for 4-5 years. Since that time I haven't had a problem. But as a precaution I'm quick to mulch my cuttings, and keep the plants well mulched as a barrier to the weevil. The other destructive pest I have occasionally is the stem borer. I see a little damage from time to time, but not much. So far I haven't had to take action. And one last pest I've seen is the Sphinx moth. It eats the leaves. But they don't eat much, and I don't have scads of them, so I just let them be. Live and let live. For some reason I like those big moths. 

...Diseases. I'm told that there are a number of serious diseases out there but I haven't had a problem so far. My preventative measures include in never bringing questionable sweet potato material onto the farm. I'm hoping to stay disease free. 

...While curing harvested roots is the norm on the mainland, I don't do that here. The temperature and humidity in my house maintains the tubers just fine. And besides, I'm harvesting new tubers on a regular basis. No need for long term storage. When I harvest fresh tubers, I feed the old ones to my livestock. 

Recipe from "S".......

For lunch I have created a very passable sweet potato dumpling, without salt and without other seasoning (a mistake).... dropped into gently simmering water for about 15-18 minutes.
      One third cup flour, dollop of olive oil, dollop of canned cow, one elderly egg, and enough mashed sweet potato to make a thick, sticky dough.  Made four.  Need some sort of spices in the dough and should be cooked in stock. They were perfect dumplings, just a tad on the very, very bland side....


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Volcano - It's Awake

The volcano burped!!!! The past couple days the lava rose in the Kilauea lava lake, spilling out onto the crater floor. 5 pulses of rising lava each flowed out of the vent. Things have been rather uneventful for a while, so this sudden activity is exciting. I'm posting some photos from the volcanoes observatory website. They conducted some flyovers and got some beautiful photos.  

For a little distance perspectives, I'd guess those lava fountains are around 70' high at least. Yes, the active vent is pretty huge, and growing! And don't let that shiny black colored rock fool you. It's actually molten lava whose surface has cooled a bit. It's so hot that you can't get near it without the hair on your arms and legs getting singed (personal experience). And you can't stand near it for more than a second. You'll fry! 

In this photo you can see that the new lava (darker color) covered about  third of the crater. 

While I find the volcano to be interesting, even exciting, I'd like to see it shut down for a while. I tired of dealing with the acid rain. But if course, I have no say in the matter. The volcano will do what it always does, with no concern for the little humanoid fleas living on its surface. 
ps- Update

The volcano hasn't stopped. Tuesday night it did it again. 

This is the statement taken from the website: 
On Tuesday night (April 24), between around 8:30 p.m. and 11:00 p.m., KÄ«lauea Volcano's summit lava lake overflowed once again. This photo, taken around 10:30 p.m., shows the large overflow as it spread west (to the right) from the lava lake onto the floor of Halema‘uma‘u. The bright (yellow-white) spot is spattering along the south margin of the lava lake. USGS photo by M. Patrick.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Growing Potatoes - a few more observations

Potatoes is one crop that I get a lot of questions about. Generally In answering, I generally refer the questioner to my posts made September 2016, the 27th and 29th. If those posts don't answer their particular questions, then they can email me again and I'll offer help. 

I grow potatoes a variety of garden beds, in containers, and in pallet grow boxes. They produce well for me regardless of which method I use. With containers, just make sure there is drainage because taters don't like to sit in mud. I find that loose soil that is well mulched produces the best potatoes. This is certainly not a no-till crop, not unless you already have light fluffy soil, something only a mindful long term gardener may have created. 

I've only had a few problems....
...mice. Initially I left the crop too long in the ground, thinking that I had to wait for the plant to die back. The field mice feasted on the mature spuds. Thankfully a barn owl moved onto the farm a couple of years ago and most of my garden rodent problem has been solved for me. Natural, non-toxic control....isn't that neat! 
...flea beetles. I've occasionally had flea beetle problems, but it's not a constant problem. They come, they go. My best solution to date is crop rotation. I move the next crop of  potatoes to an area at least 20 feet away from the flea beetle population. Trying to control the beetles in place has proven to be time consuming and overall ineffective in preventing crop loss. Keep in mind that I try not using toxic chemicals on my food crops, not even organically approved ones. Toxic is still toxic whether they're from an organic source or not. 
...scab. By improving my soil and being mindful of the nitrogen levels and pH, I have gotten this under control. 

I mentioned that I had left the crop too long in the ground, thus the mice found them. Here in Hawaii there is no need to wait until the plants die back. When I lived in New Jersey, that's what was done. But here, no. When the plants are around 3 months old, give or take depending upon the variety, they will lose their luster and looked "tired". This signals that it's time to harvest. Rather than dig the entire harvest immediately, I'll often snuffle around the soil with my fingers, harvesting the easy to find surface tubers. After the next two weeks or until I don't find any more easy ones, I'll then dig the soil looking for the deeper tubers. I find that the potatoes stay in better condition this way as opposed to harvesting them immediately then trying to store them. 

Monday, April 23, 2018

Potatoes vs Sweet Potatoes

Recently "D" sent me some questions about potatoes, and among them was a question of "white vs purple vs orange". I mistakenly thought she was talking about sweet potatoes because I'm not aware of any orange "Irish potatoes". In a follow up email, I became aware that "D" might have had questions about Irish potatoes. My mistake. I was totally off base babbling along about sweet potatoes. You see, sweet potatoes and potatoes are two totally different vegetables. I'm sorry "D" if I confused you! But I will go and answer your questions as if you meant Irish potatoes. 

Above, Irish potatoes. These grow bush-like, approximately 18" to 30" in height. 

Above, sweet potato vines. They creep along the ground surface, seldom attaining much height. 
Below, if you pull up a stem, you can easily see that it's a low growing vine. 

Working with many new gardeners, I find that it's not uncommon for people to confuse the two, at least until they're grown them both. The differences then are really obvious. The two plants don't look anything alike. Their growth habit is different. The tubers even look different. Their flavor is different that even the non-sweet varieties of the sweet potato won't be mistaken for an Irish potato. 

Above, potato leaves. 
Below, sweet potato leaves

So after one more rambling post about sweet potatoes, I'll move in the potatoes and hopefully lift the cloud of confusion I've caused around "D". But first, some comparisons.......

Sweet potato 
...vining growth habit
...tubers develop as an enlargement along the root, thus there is a root coming into the tuber and a root leaving the other end of the tuber
...leaves are edible
...tuber skins may be white, tan, orange, pink, red, purple 
...flesh may be white, creamy, light yellow, pale orange, bright orange, reddish orange, light violet ranging to deep dark purple. Streaks and blotches of contrasting colors is not uncommon. 
...tubers generally mature around 5 months 
...flavor is general sweet to some degree

...bush growth habit
...tubers develop at the end of a rootlike stem or along the underground stem
...leaves are not edible 
...tuber skins may be white, tan, brown, pink, red, dark purple. May be blotched. 
...flesh may be white, pale gold, medium gold, pink, light reddish, bluish, purple. Streaking of pink, red, or blue may occur on white or whitish flesh. 
...tubers generally mature around 3 months
...flavor is generally somewhat nutty, but not sweet

Above, a very young potato. It's attached to the plant via one rootlike stem. 
Below, a young sweet potato. Usually a thick stem-like root coming to the tuber on one end and a thinner one going out the other end. 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sweet Potatoes : questions 4 thru 6

Question #3- "Where do you plant-ground or grow boxes?"
Both. It depends upon the variety. All varieties can be ground in the ground, but some lend themselves well to container gardening too. What's the difference? Some varieties will develop tubers right under the mother plant. These can be grown in containers. Other varieties don't do that. Plant the wrong variety in a container and you're won't get any tubers.  I have some sweets growing in my pallet grow boxes. A gardener on the top of Oceanview has success growing them in smaller containers (half barrels and old coolers). 

From what I've read, ancient Hawaiians grew at least some varieties that produced their tubers right under the mother plant. They may have had other more far ranging types, but I've only read accounts of them making stone rimmed beds for sweet potato growing, and also making a puka (scooped out hole) in the ground and preparing it for sweet potatoes. Since they had dozens, possibly hundreds, of cultivars, I wouldn't be surprised that they had all the variations that we see today in modern cultivars. 

Question #4- "How far from the main plant are the potatoes located?"
That depends upon the variety. Some produce all their tubers right under the mother plant. On the other extreme, there are types that never produce tubers under the mother plant. Most tubers are within a few feet of the mother plant, but I tried one variety once where I would find tubers up to 15-20 feet away! The neatest growing variety I had once was a bush type with 3-5 foot long vines and which produced lots of tubers only right under the mother plant. It was an ok sweet potato for eating but it wasn't outstanding. But it was easy to grow and very productive. Sadly I lost the variety when my neighbor's cows destroyed the garden. They ate every bit of vine and tuber! I've never been able to find that variety again. 

Question #5- "How do you know when they are ready?"
That depends upon the variety. Some will be ready by 3 1/2 months from the time they were planted (for small tubers), others not until close to a year. For most varieties, check at about 5 months and see what has developed. If tubers aren't big enough, wait another 1-2 months and check again. If I know a variety's habit, then I can simply mark a date on the calendar for harvesting. But of course that date will vary a little due to the weather and time of year. They are slower to form good tubers during the winter and during drought. 

Tubers can be harvested at any size. I don't need to wait for tubers to get big. In fact, I prefer the smaller sized ones myself. I'll sell the larger ones. Some varieties tend to produce fibers in the tubers if they grow too slowly or get too mature. Thus another good reason for harvesting young tubers. 

"D" says that she's growing a purple variety and wanted to know when to harvest them. Not knowing which variety it is, I can only suggest that she do a little gentle digging and take a look-see. If it is an Okinawan type, I wouldn't expect harvestable tubers until 9-12 months. It's a very slow variety. But there are numerous purple types, some of which are ready at 5 months. 

She also asked if there was visual clue for when the tubers are ready. While there might be for some particular varieties, I haven't noticed them yet. Some varieties will flower, most do not. Some grow long vines which slow down in growth, others don't. Some start producing smaller leaves, some don't. I haven't seen anything consistent as an indicator. If there is one, I'd like to know about it myself. 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Sweet Potatoes : questions 1 thru 3

(Note: I didn't have time to gather some photos for today, but if you're interested in pictures, I will upload some to this post tomorrow. Just check back sometime later. Thanks.)

"D" sent me a list of questions about sweet potatoes. Luckily, she also lives in Hawaii, which makes answering a whole lot simpler for me. While I'm no expert on growing this crop, I do indeed grow a lot of sweets. Basically I use the greens for livestock feed, but I also harvest the tubers. Plus over half the sweets I grow serve as a cover crop or living mulch. 

Above, a living mulch to shade the soil around the taro. This one us a bush variety so it won't aggressively spread. 

Above, sweets used as an aggressive ground cover. This one produces 15' to 20' vines, grows quickly, produces lots of side shoots, making it ideal for a quick ground cover. 

Question #1- "Any specific time to plant?" 
I've planted cuttings in every month with success. They always root. Their growth may be slower during early winter, or when things are dry and windy, but they don't die. They just wait for better conditions. My latest cuttings were planted in January and they're actually looking pretty good. Not at all stunted. If I had to name a month or two that are the least desirable for planting, I'd say November and December. Growth is slow those two months even if all other factors are even. But I don't hold off planting cuttings if I have them in Nov/Dec. Nope, they go into the ground anyway. Now for the best months to plant? For me I'd say Mar-May. 

Question #2- " Where you get starts?"
99% of the time I use tip cuttings from other plants. When I harvest or thin my sweets, I'll choose the healthiest tips to make cuttings, about 12"-14" long. I'm looking to plant at 3 or so leaf nodes into the soil while having 2 leaf nodes (plus the small tip) out of the soil. Usually I make the cutting and place it into fresh rainwater for 3-5 days until I see roots starting. Then I plant the cutting. You don't really have to wait for roots to develop. The cutting can immediately go right into the ground as long as you give it a good drink of water. 

Occasionally I'll make slips. Making slips means planting the tuber and havesting the shoots that come up. Those shoots are what is meant by slips. I'll snap them off the tuber when they are at least 6" long and plant then. I'll do this when I'm given a new tuber variety to try. On the mainland where it is cold, gardeners don't have vines to take cuttings from. Thus they plant the tubers in a warm area and create slips for transplanting out in their gardeners. 

I remember as a kid suspending a sweet potato in a glass of water, using toothpicks as props. Then over the next couple of weeks watching the sprouts grow. I guess we kids lost interest after a couple of weeks, because I never recall planting any of those slips. 

Question #3- "white versus purple versus orange"
All.  I like to experiment, so I grow all sorts. Sweet potatoes are highly variable. The skin can be white, creamy, gold, orange, red, pink, purple, even blotchy. The flesh can be white, cream, orange, purple...ranging from pale to intense, and adding streaks and blotches. Not only the color is variable, but all sorts of other traits too. I have tubers that range from smooth to lumpy, round to snakelike, big to small. Some tubers are oh so pretty, others are downright ugly. Some varieties are good for baking, others are better for mashing, and other yet better for frying. Some are dry fleshed when cooked, other very moist. And anyone who has grown several varieties of sweets will tell you that some varieties are incredibly sweet, others mid-way, and yet others not so sweet at all. Some varieties produce lots of tubers, while others produce very few. Some have blocky roundish leaves, others handshaped leaves, others thin lacy leaves. Some plants are thick and robust, while others have thin somewhat wispy vines. Plus there are bushy varieties, and aggressive running types with incredibly long vines, and dozens of intermediate length vines. Some sweet potatoes mature early, others very late, plus lots of varieties maturing somewhere in between the two extremes. Boy, there sure is variety in sweet potatoes! 

So back to the question, white vs purple vs orange. It comes down to personal preference. With me, it depends upon what I'm doing with the tater. Hubby prefers the non-sweet ones. I like them all. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Growing Bananas Organically

Ok, one more post about bananas, then I want to give it a least for a few days. But you can still send me questions, which I'll eventually get to. 

Many oriole asked, can bananas be grown organically? Simple answer, yes. But to expand on that answer, can they be commercially grown organically? That's a different story because according to what I've read, it can be real difficult if not impossible in some areas. Yes, some farms can do it. Others cannot. The reason basically is fungal diseases and certain insects. Plus the higher cost and more difficult availability of organic fertilizers. To make it more confusing and difficult, some fruit wholesalers and shippers require fungicide treatments or apply and/or fumigate during transit. 

Commercial farms use quite frequent fungicide applications. Some farms also spray insecticides. Without these treatments, getting enough marketable bananas harvested in order to afford to keep the farm financially afloat might be difficult or close to impossible. The few commercial growers in Hawaii that I've talked to say that they can't go organic with their crop. 

Home production is a different story. Around here, just about all homegrown bananas are either fully organic, or are sprayless but using commercial fertilizer. I haven't heard of anyone in my area bothering to use sprays. I guess we are lucky and don't have bad banana insect problems in my particular region. I see leaf fungal problems but they don't seem to severely impact the production for the home grower. The home grower isn't worried about getting the highest production impossible. Another thing, home growers aren't trying to get blemish free, pretty bananas. They don't care about marks on the banana peel. But commercial growers have to stay very aware of the cosmetic condition of their bananas. Disease and insects can cause visual damage, making the bananas not suitable for supermarket sale. Face it, we consumers are snobs about our fresh veggies and fruits. We want them looking perfect. As a result, farmers often turn to chemical treatments to assure a sellable crop at a good price. 

Using commercial fertilizers is another thing that can keep bananas from being sold as organic. On this farm, I don't use commercial fertilizer on bananas. Instead I use two different approaches. A couple clumps of trees grow atop a hugelpit. The pit is filled very deeply with a wide variety of organic debris that slowly decomposes over the years, providing nutrients to the trees. My second method is used on non-hugelpit clumps. I top dress around the base of the trees with a shredded manure compost (about 3 inches), then cover that with grass clippings just enough to cover. This mulching is reapplied as needed to keep the soil covered and weeds controlled. This seems to do ok. Perhaps not as good as closely monitored commercial fertilizer mixes, but my trees produce a good supply of bananas for me. 

Since producing bananas is relatively easy using my methods, I don't opt to use organically approved sprays and fertilizers. So I guess that means that my bananas are "better than organic". 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Banana Tree Waste

"M" asked me what I do with the discarded banana tree. Can it be used for anything? Do I just cart it off to the dump? 

First of all, I try to find a use for everything on this farm. Second, there's very little that I cart off to the dump. So yes, I will use this harvested banana tree. 

This particular tree was growing in a hugelpit. Therefore the leaves and trunk will be incorporated back into the hugelpit itself. The leaves and leaf stems go around the bases of the other trees. The truck gets cut up into manageable pieces, which are also placed around the bases where needed. The material in a hugelpit is constantly and slowly decomposing. Thus new material needs to be added. Recycling the spent banana tree helps maintain the hugelpit. 

Trees from non-hugelpit locations I often use to help fill pallet grow boxes. I'll cut off the leaves and put them into the box. The trunk is cut to appropriate lengths, which are then put in atop the leaves. 

One tree usually adds a single 6"-8" layer to one of the pallet grow boxes. But the tall bananas can make two layers. (I add a thin addition of compost or soil between the two layers to help with the composting process.) So those really tall trees actually do have value over the dwarf trees at times. I know of a lot of people who won't grow the tall varieties. 

While I've never used them in cooking, the trunks can be used in imus (an underground cooking pit) to provide steam for the cooking food. I have several people I know who use the trunks for this. They also use the leaves to wrap food in for cooking. 

My donkey and sheep will eat the leaves, though not the coarse stems. I understand that the zoos feed the entire young trees to the elephants in order to enrich their lives. It gives them something interesting and enjoyable to do. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Harvesting Bananas

The first time I harvested a clump of bananas, I carefully avoided damaging the tree. I was totally ignorant about banana production and assumed that the tree would recover and bloom again. I was surprised to see the tree die instead. And puzzled. Eventually I asked a neighbor about it, but so as not to reveal my ignorance (I was fairly new to Hawaii and still hung up on the idea retaining a good public image), I offered to help him harvest his bananas. Geez, yikes, oh my god......I was aghast to see him whip out a machete, give the trunk a couple of strong good whacks, dropping the entire trunk to the ground. I thought, egads man, you killed the tree! 

I've since learned a lot more about bananas. Things like -- each stem (trunk) produces just one bunch of bananas, then dies back. The stem, before fruiting and dying, grows a daughter shoot from its base, thus growing its own replacement. It's not uncommon for multiple daughter shoots to grow. Another tidbit -- a bunch of bananas is heavy. Heavier yet is the banana trunk. The trunk is engorged with water, thus seems far heavier than you'd guess. I give you this knowledge based upon personal experience! One more bit of knowledge -- banana sap flows readily from cut off leaves and cut off banana bunch. The sap looks like clear water but don't be fooled. It can be quite sticky, and can stain some fabrics a dark charcoal brown .... primary your best pair of shorts and the new t-shirt that you forgot to change out of. Of course it won't stain your work clothes. Zip. Nada. Not a mark on the work clothes. 

Harvesting the bunch of bananas takes some finesse, otherwise the heavy tree comes crashing down, breaking and crushing most of the ripe bananas. The first bunch I tried to harvest, I cut the tree down with a chainsaw, like it was a normal tree. Crash! Smash. I quickly learned that this wasn't the way to do it. Over time I tried other approaches, once having the trunk land in my shoulder and smash me to the ground. BUT the bananas were saved! Finally a friend showed me how to cut the trunk and slowly lower the tree to the ground. 

My preferred method nowadays is to make two diagonal cuts on the trunk about shoulder height. I use a box cutter with a new three inch blade. For the sake of the photo, I made notches instead of simple slices. That's just so the cuts could be seen in a photo. But in real life, I just make a simple very deep slice, one on the right of the trunk and the other on the left. 

Above, cut number one. 

Above, cut number two. That orange stick is the handle of the box cutter I'm using. I left the blade partially imbedded in the trunk so you could see what's going on. 

I then walk down to the drooping banana leaves, grab one and use it to gently pull the tree down. I can control the fall by pulling or pushing in the leaf stem. 

The tree will slowly come down so that the bananas don't get destroyed.  Pretty nifty way to harvest them intact. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Raining Worms

Last week it was both rainy and windy. What a combination. Sheesh. Not being able to work on the farm, I went to spend a bit of time visiting a friend down by South Point. I was puzzled by all the small, dried up worms on her roofed over lanai. When I asked, she said that it had rained worms. Egads! 

(Looking down onto the stone floor. The black thing on the left is the toe of my shoe.) 

Apparently it happened the night it was both raining and blowing. As the rain blew in under the roofed lanai, it brought with it tiny worms.....which later dried up and died when the sun came up. How odd! Sounds like one of those biblical plagues. 

I took a closer look, and they are indeed dead worms. 

The only thing I can figure is that these worms had crawled up the stems of the various plants growing near the porch. When the winds kicked in, the worms were literally carried away on the wind and deposited several feet away from their bushy perches. I'm sure the vast majority safely landed on the lawn, to crawl away and live another day. The luckless ones landed on the stone porch. 

Yes, the winds down around South Point can really be strong. And the constant wet we've been having has caused the worms to be quite active at night. I notice when I've  harvested bananas lately that there are dozens of worms way up at the top of the trees, hiding down in the notch of the leaf stem. Yup, worms have been crawling 15'-20' up the tall banana trees. Amazing little critters. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Failed Gardeners of the World, Take Heart

Hold onto your hats!'s a confession --- Let it be known that I'm not a well organized person. I've been that way my whole life. I'm well meaning enough, but being neat, clean, and on schedule seems as difficult to me as climbing Mt Everest. In my professional life I hired employees to keep things in line and on time. Now that I'm running a homestead farm, I'm left to myself. I admit that I'm not good at some of this job. 

I say this because I've heard from folks who have the same problem and see themselves as total failures, or worse yet, they don't even bother to try to live their dream in the first place. They've failed before they've even started. I get readers who say things like, I wish I could live your life but I'd just fail at it. How sad. 

"R" wrote me that a third of his garden failed because he didn't get to it. Everything got choked out by weeds. "T" said she was discouraged because she let her zucchini get as big as baseball bats and most of her bok choy and spinach bolted before she got around to harvesting it. "L" asked about quicker maturing tomatoes because for the past two years her (I'm guessing it's a her, sorry if I got it wrong) tomato plants didn't get into the ground in time  to be able to produce tomatoes before frost. These people want to successfully garden and are looking for solutions. I suspect that there are plenty more like them out there that simply see themselves as failures and don't even try to seek out a solution. Let it be known that I, too, never quite get the weeds under control in all the pineapple beds, I have bok choy that I don't get harvested and bolt to flower, some veggies that don't get harvested in their prime, and some seedlings that don't get out into the garden on schedule. If 90% of the garden makes it, I'm still in the "A" range. Hurrah! I'm on the dean's list! (Old college analogy.)

I'm not a therapist, so I can't offer a "right answer". But I can say that I've done the same things myself but I persevere. I slog on. I look for solutions. I concluded that there are plenty of different solutions out there, I just have to tailor one to fit me. Being a rather independent cuss wanting to be fairly self reliant. I turn to myself rather than go out and hire employees to do it for me. Here's a list of things I do that help to one degree or another. But keep in mind, I often slip back to my old behavior. But I don't label myself a failure........I just say to myself that I need an adjustment. Adjustment - what a nice sounding word. That's far more positive than beating myself up. And it gives me the incentive to try again and improve. I don't ever expect in my lifetime to successfully become a neat freak, but I have waves of doing better interspersed with "falling off the wagon". That's as good as it's going to get and I'll accept that. Life is not about earning all A's and gold stars. 

Tricks I play on myself .....
...make a list, keep it short. When I used to list every little job I wanted to get done that day, I soon realized that I was setting myself up for failure. I couldn't get all that done, so some part in my brain simply gave up. I failed before I started. But I discovered that I do much better listing the top dozen jobs. When I'm done those, I feel great and eagerly dive into others not in my list. Ah-ha, simple trickery at work! How simple it is to trick my little mind. 
...break a big job down into small daily segments. I do this for a planting schedule. For example this Monday I need to sow a small flat of a dozen different varieties. I can do that in a short time. Then the next day's job list will have the next dozen listed for sowing.  For some reason, breaking it up and designating a specific day to do that task seems to work for better me. 
...having a very visual designated spot for something. I leave crap all over the place, with good intentions of putting it away properly later on. That never happens. Yes, I feel guilty. Same thing when I organized my kitchen but I did something different. I actually labeled the shelves as to what got stored I that space. It may look silly to an outsider, but hey, this is my kitchen and it works for me. Without the labels, the place is a wreck. I've seen other people draw the outline of their tools on the walls and shelves of their tool sheds. It's a great trick to help keep organized because it prods you to put the tool back into place. It's a trick that works for some people. 
...I have a routine morning job list that I do before I go onto anything else. It's called my farm S.O.P. - standard operating procedure. Things like feed sheep, check their water trough. Feed chickens, check water, add grit, collect eggs, rake bedding. I have 10 "first thing" items on my SOP and I don't even have to think about it. They have already been thought out and I just go down the list. Bingo...done. Just another successful trick in tricking myself. 
...I have a time budget. This is just so that I can get things done, otherwise I fixate on some particular task, get distracted, putz around, and feel like I didn't get anything accomplished at the end of the day. So I designate set times from whence to whence for working on personal stuff, farm work, house building, etc. I do allow myself to deviate from the program without calling myself a failure, but the schedule surely helps me feel good at the end of the day.  
...I try not to call myself a failure. And I never, never say it outloud. For some reason, if I say it outloud my brain tends to believe it. I'll just say things like....I was a bit distracted today, I was slow, I bit off too big a chunk for today. That sort of thing. 

For all of you who have written to me seeking help when you feel that you have failed, take heart. I have those shortcomings too! And I've been called a failure at times, but after the initial depression I just get pissed. I'm just too obstinate to accept that I'm a total failure. (But if pushed about it, I've been known to purposely fail, then walk away.) I look for solutions to my not-so-perfect effort. I tell myself that I'm learning, I'm practicing, I'm acquiring experience. My solutions aren't perfect, but then I don't expect them to be. Expecting perfection, expecting constant success just sets one up for a big fall. So I try to adjust my goals and visions to fit reality, the real me, not the false me that somebody else thinks I should be. And ya know, if they don't like it, they can go do it themselves....or go eat worms! 

So if you ever get lucky and see my farm, you won't find the picture perfect farm one sees in the magazines. You'll see a functioning, albeit not well organized, homestead that is on the verge of successfully supporting this family with extra income to boot. It's got it's problems, but as Stitch says...... It is small, it is broken, but it is good. (yeah, I paraphrased that from Lilo and Stitch movie)

Keep in mind, you're not a failure, you're just in the learning stage. Things will get better as you acquire more experience. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

Hens Not Laying -- Some Reasons

"P" just asked me why her chickens aren't laying eggs. This is the time of year that they should be producing lots of eggs, here in Hawaii. Without looking at her flock, I gave her a list of possible causes. Here's what we discussed (based upon my own observations).....

...too young. This turned out to be  "P's" problem. Her hens might look big and ready, but they are only five months old. Most of her hens are breeds that don't lay until 6-9 months old. 
..too old. Hens slow down after 2 years of age. I have some 8 year olds that are still laying, but it's only a few per week and they stop early in the laying season. If they lay for 2-3 months, that's pretty good for their age. I also have two banties that are most likely 10 to 12 years old and still laying a few eggs. Amazing little birds. 
...broody. When a hen gets broody and sits on eggs, she stops laying more eggs. 
...not enough food. Letting the hens run out of food can lead to less eggs. If they are out of food for a couple days, they usually quit laying altogether for the season. Less food = less eggs. 
...inadequate diet. What they are being fed is important. If they are penned and fed a diet lacking in nutrients, their egg laying will be severely affected. Poor diets often means no eggs. 
...significant change in diet. A seen change room commercial pellets to all pasture, or changing from crumbles to seed based can significantly change egg laying habits. enough water. Egg laying takes water. When hens run out of water or don't get enough each day, egg production decreases or ceases. 
...adverse weather. Too hot or too cold. No rain protection in areas of high rainfall. 
...lack of available nest space. Most hens will keep laying eggs even if no nest boxes are provided. But some will shutdown if they can't have a private spot for egg laying. It depends upon the individual hen. 
...molting. Hens stop laying eggs from when they get ready to molt up to the time that they've grown fresh feathers. 
...illness. Sick hens stop laying. 
...parasites. Both internal and external parasites can affect egg laying. 
...physical injury. It's not uncommon for an injured bird to stop laying. 
...emotional stress. Drama in the flock (new birds), fighting, commotion outside the pen (construction, dogs, helicopters overhead, etc) 
...being the low man in a crowded pen without hiding places. The low status bird may not lay. 
...wintertime. Daily light is shorter during the winter. Egg laying is tied to the length of day. If lights are provided during short days, hens will continue to lay. But if no additional light is provided, hens will follow Mother Nature's guidelines and stop laying. 

I haven't made all these "mistakes", but admit I've done a few while I was learning about chickens and egg production. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Living Mulches

I'm a big believer is using mulch. Mulch helps keep my soil moist, cool, protected from the drying winds, and promotes microbial & worm (plus other beneficial insects) life in the soil. The last item, the microbes and good insects, are ultra important in my soil health and fertilizer program. As I've mentioned many times before, grass clippings are my number one mulching material. I'm forever in need of more. I sometimes get our county mulch (which is mostly coconut tree shreddings mixed with other shredded plants), but it's no longer available locally, thus is costly to bring in. 

There are other mulching techniques besides using grass clippings. Many gardeners on the mainland use wood chips, but they aren't available here too often. Locally I've seen gardeners using cardboard, newspaper, shredded paper, weed cloth, black plastic, and carpeting. But there's one more thing that most people overlook --- living mulch. 

Living mulch is just what it sounds like. It's plants. The idea is to have mulch plants growing as a ground cover. I've heard of some people trying white clover, strawberries, and creeping thyme as a living mulch, but I haven't heard how their results turned out. What I've tried myself is sweet potatoes. 

Sweet potatoes are easy for me. They grow year around. They stay fairly low so that other crops can grow through them. They cost me nothing to propagate. I can pull out the excess and feed them to my livestock. I can harvest greens for our own table, plus harvest a few tubers too. 

I've only just begun to experiment using sweet potatoes as a living mulch. The first crop I matched to them is taro. Taro is a long season crop, taking 9 to 12 months till harvest, and while taro can't compete with grass and most weeds, my taro seems to do fine with sweet potato vines growing among them. The taro towers above the sweet potato vibes, and the vines do fine in their shade. 

My only issue so far is that I'm not brutal enough with the sweet potatoes. I tend to try to avoid stepping on them. But there are times when I need to clean up the taro and remove excess sweet potato greens. I still inwardly cringe when I step on the vines. Eventually I'll get over it, I hope. 

While the sweet potatoes don't keep the soil as moist as the grass clippings, nor do they block out other weeds as well, the vibes seem to do pretty good as a living mulch. They definitely shade the soil and protect it from the sun and wind. They let the rain through. And if the soil is already fairly weed free, few new weeds survive to grow up through it. I don't know yet if the sweet potato vibes help the microbes, soil insects, and worms. 

I'm fairly optimistic so far with this experiment. I think it's worth repeating, expanding, and trying with some other crops, possibly turmeric, sugar cane, pineapples, and bananas to name a few. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Only Two Hours a Day ... Really?

Today I read someone else's blog where they were touting that they produce all their own food, working only two hours a day at it. They live in an area with snowy winters, though I don't know which actual state they are in. I had to think about this. Is it really possible? Perhaps it depends upon what is included in those two hours. 

I look at my own experience. If my gardens were already set up and growing, and I only need to tend it and harvest, yes I could do that within the two hours allotted. (But not included would be my livestock, trading network, and foraging, thus it wouldn't be ALL our food.) But if I had to include prepping the garden and planting it, creating compost and mulch material plus spreading them, growing seedlings for transplanting. building trellises and container gardens, fencing the garden in from predators, preparing the harvest for storage....I don't think the two hours per day is enough time. Having only two hours a day allotted to growing a year's worth of food, I think I'd need to buy chemical fertilizers, seedlings for transplanting into the garden, compost/mulch materials, and possibly herbicides and pesticides. There wouldn't be time enough to produce my own. So if I didn't mind spending quite a bit of money, perhaps I could do it if I only counted the veggies and fruits growing on my own land. 

What about storing my harvest? Did the author include that in the two hours? Could one not just harvest, but actually get stored a year's worth of food in those two hours a day? Perhaps the author had very large freezers. They didn't say. But canning and drying takes time for that much food.  

Another thought? All their food for the year? Just how varied or monotonous is their diet? In my experience, the more variety I have growing in the gardens, the more time it takes. A 20' by 20' plot of potatoes is far quicker to deal with than the same sized plot planted in 30-50 different vegetables and herbs. And what about the protein aspects? Perhaps they are vegans, I don't know. But most people have eggs, milk, cheese, meat, and fish in their diet, too. Were these purchased....or included in the two hours of labor? Uuummm, things are getting complicated. Maybe the author was talking only about the vegetable part of their annual food supply. Just what is included in the definition of "our year's worth of food"? Is the author buying herbs and spices? Fruits? I'm curious what veggies are included, but the author didn't say. 

The article was promoting the idea that if a person simply worked at it two hours a day, they could have all their food for the year. Personally I think there's a little more to it. The person would have to be willing to eat a limited diet restricted to what would grow in their region. Plus they would have to have the experience and knowledge to pull it off. Plus luck that some disease, pest, or quirk of nature didn't wipe out their garden. 

My objection to these sort of articles is that they target the novice gardener who is already at a disadvantage with lack of experience, knowledge, a fully functioning garden. They can easily be set up for failure. Setting a two hour per day target is an awfully high goal to achieve, and in my opinion is an unrealistic goal. I'd be hard pressed to do it myself. I could easily see a novice gardener becoming thoroughly discouraged when they couldn't produce all their own food on that time schedule. Personally I don't like to see articles that set people up for failure. I'd rather see ones that encourage people to try without setting such lofty goals. 

ps- Still mulling this over, the author lives in an area with snowy winters. This means that they can not grow food for several months during the winter. Thus they have less days available than me to get in their 2 hours of food production. I can grow food year around. Even so, I don't think I'd be able to produce all our own food in just two hours a day. My livestock takes at least a hour a day, leaving only an hour a day to the fruits and veggies (not including trading and foraging). 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

More Rain Once Again

All my good intentions of mowing several trashcanfuls of grass clippings and mulching the taro and potato patches have flown the coop. It was on my morning job list, along with tilling in the rabbit manure into the greenhouse beds and numerous garden beds. Along with mulching the onions, getting the seedlings out of the mini greenhouses and into the garden. Yup, I woke up today to pounding rain. Rain. Rain. Rain. Yuck. Double yuck. My morning schedule is blown to smithereens. Looks like I'll be cleaning the refrigerator, defrosting the freezer, working on the taxes. Barf. Heaven forbid I might even have to resort to housecleaning. 

(Above, rain on a taro leaf. I took the opportunity of a break in the rain to run out and get a few photos.) 

Weather has a big bearing on the ability to farm. Not that farmers can simply take the time off during inclement weather, but it changes things. Working is more difficult and not as fun. In my case, I can't make mulch or till the soil today. I could work in the rain to do other tasks, but quite frankly, I'm not going to do that today. When rains are light, I've been known to be out there weeding, sowing seeds into trays, harvesting, clearing brush, gathering firewood. But some days I can't can't stomach the idea of getting soaking wet, having wet clothes clinging to my body, getting chilled to the bone. Not today.

 (Above, a potato patch that will have to wait for another day to be mulched.) 

I'm listening to the pounding rain (already got a half inch this early morning) and about doing a little blogging. I normally write my entries in the evening after dinner. It sounded good to me. 

(Above, puddles in the garden. This garden sits atop a concrete slab, thus the slow drainage in a heavy downpour.)

There are still farm tasks that I cannot brush aside regardless of how unpleasant the weather is. The livestock need attention. This morning I've already tended the dogs and cats, although no one got played with or brushed. The sheep and donkey got hay today instead of fresh grass. I emptied out their water trough, brushed it clean. With this rain, it will quickly refill. The chickens won't get the opportunity to free forage in this rain today, so I gave them an extra bucket of mom's famous slop & glop. I'll check them later this afternoon to see if they need a refill. 

Most of my farming friends aren't in as good a situation as I am. They live in areas experiencing difficult weather at the moment. There are delays in getting out into the fields, which are still too wet or still too frozen. Other friends are tending livestock in the cold, and still experiencing regular snows. Yes, it's a late spring in many places. Being a farmer can be difficult and unpleasant. Listening to what my friends are putting up with makes me appreciate living where I do. It turned out to be a good choice for us. 

Above, a closeup of the water collecting in a bromeliad. The bromeliads are beautify the landscape, but they are water collectors, thus mosquito havens. I have to treat the bromeliads monthly to control mosquitoes.