Friday, November 23, 2018

Using My Margins

Margins are those areas along defining lines that most people don't utilize. Places like.....
.....the foundation around buildings
.....the edges along a driveway
.....the space between a fence and building or orchard
.....the strip along a pasture fence
.....the ground between two greenhouses 

I became aware of using margins because I lacked decent soil to make enough in-the-sun garden beds to satisfy myself. So any and all land with soil that was a sunny location was pressed into growing space. Since then, I've gone into making gardens in margins because they are accessible and I can add soil to the low spots. Thus the driveway margin beds. 

On the other side of the rockwall, most of the ground is low. Not all, because the rockwall was built right into the raised ground in some spots. Where the ground is low I've been filling in. Layers of coarse vegetation, cardboard, waste paper, fresh grass clippings, chicken pen litter, pasture manure, compost, and soil gradually fill in the future garden bed. After a few weeks of filing, watering, stomping, the low places get filled up. I'm aware that this fill will reduce in depth significantly, so I plan on refilling in a couple of months. It will take several months before the new beds are ready for their final planting. 

The above pictured area is still in the settling process, but I said what the heck and planted sweet potato cuttings today. When I comes time to add more fill in a couple months I'll simply harvest the vines to feed to the livestock. That way I'll get a harvest while I'm waiting for the final garden bed to develop. 

This area I'm now working on ........

It was about a 2 foot deep and 3 foot wide hole behind the rock wall. It's ready for planting and will be first planted with a banana tree, some shade tolerant taro, a few pineapple plants for the sunnier spots, and sweet potatoes as the ground cover. After the taro and sweet potatoes are harvested out, I could grow other semi shade crops such as cholesterol spinach and turmeric. Or switch gears completely and make a perennial bed with bananas and chaya.  Who knows. I can let you know next week what got planted, 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Continuing With a Rock Walls

It seems the just about every project I get involved with ends up with a pile of rocks. No problem. There's always a rockwall that can be added. 

I've been working on making new garden beds along the driveway margins. Plus I've been removing surface rock from the pasture areas I'm improving. An almost constant source of rocks. 

Here's the new stretch of wall going up along the driveway. It's far from being done, but it's on the way. 

For years I've been adding walls to line the driveway, and I'm not even close yet to running out of driveway. Yes, I've got a really long driveway. But you know, it's starting to look really nice. I find that driving up toward the house, with rockwall and gardens lining each side, is really "rich" looking. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018


Living rural, rats are always a problem. Living next to a macnut farm, rats can be an absolute nightmare. Rats are the reason why this farm maintains a dozen or so cats. We really need them to deter a rat invasion. 

Last night some bold & brazen rat got my window screens. 

Lucky for me, the windows were shut. Otherwise I'd be dealing with a rat in the house. Egads, just what I need. But what really annoyed me was the the buggah went around a chewed holes in 8 screens!!!!!!!!! Not fair. 

I showed the holes to Crookshank, my best rat catcher. He was mightily interested in the smell. Let's hope he does some rat hunting tonight, 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Problematic Gate Post

When the new rotational pasture fence was being put up, we ran into a section where the pahoehoe lava was real close to the surface. As a result the fence posts couldn't be properly pounded in. For much of the fence, it didn't really matter. Sheep don't tend to put much stress on a fence. But the gate was another matter. 

The post supporting the gate needed to be firm. I could have had a neighbor bring over his skid steer with a hydraulic hammer to bust a hole........or I could cop out the quick & dirty way by pouring some concrete. Being impatient, I dragged out the concrete. It may not look neat and pretty, but it's dang functional. It gets the job done. That fence post surely isn't moving anywhere soon. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

Transporting Sheep

"K" emailed to ask how I transported the new sheep. 

Transporting sheep, I find, is easy. I don't need to use a special trailer. I don't need to call in a livestock hauler. I don't need to cram sheep into dog crates. Nor truss them up with duct tape or rope. No. I use a "cage" that I made especially for my truck. 

After measuring the dimensions of my truck bed, I custom cut and bent cattle panels to fit the truck space. I wanted flexibility in using it, so I didn't weld the pieces together. I simply used snap hooks to attach the pieces. That way I can take the "cage" apart to store it. And using cattle panels is far lighter in weight than using lumber. I can easily toss this cage into the back of the truck all by myself. 

The sheep themselves seem to respond to this set up just fine. They aren't panicked. They aren't trying to escape. I guess because they can see in all directions, they don't feel trapped. Just guessing. 

Above is a picture of the snaps I use to hold the pieces together. They are easy to put on and take off, and they are secure enough to hold the sheep. 

I use black rubber bungees to hold the cage down. This way the sheep can't shift it around or accidently flip it. One bungee on each corner does the job. 

I find it's easy to put sheep in and out of the cage by using the back panel as a door. I've never had a problem with loading and unloading. 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

New Lambs -- Fresh Bloodlines

I picked up ten new lambs to add to my flock. The opportunity was there and I needed two things : fresh blood in the breeding flock and more mouths to graze down my excess grass. I actually didn't care if I got ewe or wether lambs (although I would like at least a few ewe lambs in the bunch) because I primarily wanted my grass under control. I figured that if they were wethers, I could just put them into the freezer when the task was done. But the seller was interested in keeping the wethers himself to grow on for meat, so I got all ewes. That was just as fine with me. So instead of slaughtering them, I'll just add them to the breeding flock. This gives me the opportunity to phase out the older ewes. Plus now I won't need to replace my rams since these new ewes aren't closely related to my current stock. 

For now they will be isolated from my other sheep until they adjust to the change. Sheep stress out fairly easily, and when stressed can come down sick. So best to let then adjust to their new home, new grass, new schedule before they meet the resident sheep. 

For now they are in the newly fenced rotational pastures up at the front of the farm. I'll let them work their way through the grass while I visit them several times a day, getting them use to my presence and a grain bucket. I'd like them to follow a grain bucket before I move them into the back pastures. These lambs are not bottled fed babies, so they are quite skittish around people. I don't expect them to be friendly, but I'd like to be able to control them easily without a lot of to-do. 

Friday, November 16, 2018

Crusty Lost a Toe

Crusty is one of the farm dogs. We're guessing he's about 8-9 years old, but we really don't know. He wandered in as an adult dog several years ago.

Two weeks ago we noticed a growth atop one of the toes on his hind foot. I was planning on attending a spay/neuter clinic in a week, so I figured I'd take him along and nick off the little lump. But once we had him under anesthesia, closer investigation revealed a second lump deep in the pad. Rather than take a chance, I opted to have the toe removed. 

Good old Crusty is now a three-toed-dawg.........(sounds like there's a country western song in there some place).

He's doing just fine. Other than being annoyed with the stitches, he acts normal. He's even frisking with Noodles and Spotz. 

Even though he's missing one toe pad, it hasn't affected his walking and general gait. He runs up the hillside stairs, jumps up into hubby's lap, does all his normal things. I find it amazing and humbling that they simply get on with life. Gee, if it had been me I'd be limping around for sure, even if it was just to garner a bit of sympathy. 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Gardening on a Concrete Slab

I've often heard comments that it's impossible to successfully grow atop compacted soil. And I've had wannabe gardeners lament that they only had a compacted area or a concrete slab (old patio, old barn floor, old driveway) available for a garden in the sun. I'm a believer that those places can be successfully used for gardens. It just depends upon what crop you're planning to grow and how much effort you're willing to put into it. Plus you need adequate water available, because a garden atop a slab will tend to dry out. 

I have a concrete slab right beside my house. It's the top of the cesspool. Now don't panic and start sending me dire warning emails. The water level in this cesspool has never gotten closer than 9 feet below the ground surface, not even in the heavy deluge where we got 13" of rain overnight. I do indeed monitor the water level and it stays far below the surface. So there's no problem of contamination. 

My concrete slab had about 1 inch of "soil" atop it when we moved here. It was mostly crushed volcanic cinder. Some assorted weeds and grasses had managed to struggle along. Definitely not garden worthy. 

Step one -- smother the weeds with a 2" layer of compost (it was all the compost that I had at that time) and a 6" layer of grass clippings. A couple of months went by before I had the time to flip everything over. Believe it or not, I tilled it up, mixing everything together. It was pretty much impossible. With the little Mantis tiller hopping and jumping like a bucking horse, I ended up with what looked like a layer of compost. When it settled, it wasn't much deeper than the inch that I started with, but it was an improvement. Being an optimist, I sowed radishes. They did poorly. That was a flop, but also a learning experience. 

Whenever I had time, I applied more grass clippings, maintaining about a 2" layer. Into this I mixed any kitchen scraps and waste fruits I could gather. That's when I discovered that mango seeds, avocado pits, and macadamia nuts sprout very easily. But when they sprouted, I simply pulled them up and added them to the mix. 

The second year of adding things to this layer atop the concrete slab, I saw that I had close to 2" of "soil", so I planted beans. And to my surprise, they grew. I got a small crop of beans out of them. More importantly I learned that fertility was a problem, because the tropical warmth, sun, wind, and rain drove the nutrients out. And the little garden had severe issues with moisture retention. The first couple days after a rain were fine, but then the soil dried out even though I kept a mulch atop it. There simply wasn't enough depth to bank any moisture.

The following year I learned that you could grow potatoes in 2" of "soil". I actually got decent yields. I had also learned to watch the soil moisture level and irrigate as needed. This experiment also prompted me to start learning about how soil is created. 

After the potatoes, I focused upon making soil. Every month I tilled in about 2 inches of compost and a few inches of fresh grass clippings. In addition I spread some shovelfuls of coral sand, lava sand, and biochar. Nowadays these ingredients go right into the compost piles as they are being made, but back then I was using them as a top dressing. Sometime along the way I started adding broken up charred bone, broken up tree twigs,  a sprinkling of ocean water, and mushroom tops that I collected from the wild. I also kept digging in my kitchen waste, coffee grounds, and waste fruits that I had foraged. 

After a year of trying to create soil, I ended up with 6 inches of freshly tilled soil, which settled down to about a 3 to 4 inch layer. I was again ready to plant.....and I did. I don't recall all the crops that I grew, but they all did well. As crops grew, I continued to apply a monthly mulching of fresh grass clippings and kept digging in kitchen waste, waste fruits, coffee grounds. And between crops I tilled in a generous layer of compost. Even as the crops were growing I'd dig trenches between the rows and fill them in with organic waste. 

So here we are today. 6 inches (settled) of nice looking garden. I'm still working on this soil, adding more to it. 

If you have a compacted area or even just a concrete slab, keep in mind that with effort, time, and input it could become a productive garden spot. Mine did, mainly because I didn't know better when I started out. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Turmeric Atop a Concrete Slab

Here's some photos of my turmeric patch growing in 6 inches of garden soil atop a solid concrete slab. After I had already done it, I was told that it couldn't be done. I'll tell you tomorrow how it is done. 

This turmeric patch is doing the best of all my turmeric gardens. The spot has had very fresh additions of manure/compost, is kept constantly mulched with grass clippings that are refreshed monthly, gets dappled sun with late afternoon shade. The ground stays moist. This year we've had almost daily light rain, which might have helped. 

The patch is 324 square feet. The soil depth is no more than 6 inches, less in a few spots. Inspite of the shallow soil, the turmeric is thriving. That black vertical stick in the photo is a hoe handle that's 4 1/2 foot long. That's gives you an idea of how tall the plants are......mostly 3 1/3 to 4 foot tall. 

The plants are lush, robust, green, well leaved, and all bloomed. They are not ready yet for harvesting, but I'm eager to see how the crop turns out. It will be at least another month or two before harvest. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Veteran's Day

Our little town just had one super Veteran's Day celebration. Who'd believe it that a town so tiny could do such a grand thing! Wow. Ya know, while I thoroughly enjoyed our celebration, it couldn't help but feel that it was a dang shame that every other town in American couldn't be bothered to put on a celebration of its own. If little ol' Naalehu could do it, others surely could have had, too. 

A flag and a painted sheet tied up on the parks chain link fence.....inexpensive but effective. 

Information booths on one side of the ballpark.......nothing for sale, all the displays and info is free. Photos of many of the town's veterans. Stories about the vets. Free info phamphets and materials pertinent to our town and residents. 

Now get food! Yup. A free plate lunch, free drinks, free shave ice. It just can't get better than this. I'm so proud of my town and the group that put on this celebration for honoring our veterans! It was OKK - O Ka'u Kakou. Go look them up on the web. It's a great group. Every town should have one. Groups like this should be supported. 

While I was busy in the morning, I stopped in right at lunchtime and enjoyed the entertainment for the rest of the day. Did I mention free entertainment? Free! And not your teenage garage band and backyard wannabe musicians. No way. The Puna Taiko drummers preformed. The bands Shootz and Bottle of Blue. Mark Yamanaka (9 time Na Hoku Hanohano winner!) And 7 year old Rhyan Faith Anoi Demello gave a fantastic hula performance. This little girl is amazing. She recently won the singles completion at the E Malama Mau I Ka Hula Festival in Hilo. If you haven't seen her dance, you really should go look up the YouTube video of her winning the completion. It's amazing. And she's only 7 years old! 

I would have willing paid to attend this celebration, but it was all free. 

All veterans were honored regardless of where they lived. I saw plenty of tourists proudly wearing their veteran's tag. It was good to see something being done to honor those who sacrificed so much while serving their country. 

Thank you, OKK. If the group does this again, I'd like to offer to participate. It felt good to just be able to attend. Next year I'd like to offer rides for people who can't get there otherwise. I'd like to help in other ways. 

Thursday, November 8, 2018

New Tires for the Utility Cart

I have a utility cart that I pull behind the atv. It's something I use every day, often multiple times a day. I recent noticed that the tires were badly worn. I think I got my money's worth out of the cart tires.......

I actually wore a hole right through the rubber. What surprised me when I discovered this is that the inner tube was still intact. That's right. The tire wasn't flat. Amazingly good luck. 

Since the other tire was worn, but not as badly, I opted to buy two new tires. They arrived yesterday, so I immediately set to getting them mounted onto the utility cart so that I'd be back in business hauling things around the farm again. 

I had greased the axels with lithium grease when I mounted the last set of tires, but even so, it took some persuasion to get the old tires off. A hammer and a block of wood came in handy. Once off, I set about cleaning up the axels. Normally I'd use sandpaper but alas, I had none. Rather than dropping everything and heading for the Ace, I improvised. A rasp and steel wool did a decent job of cleaning the axels. 

Before mounting the new tire, I applied lithium grease to the axel. A rubber mallet gently got the tire in place. 

Last step......install the cotter pins to hold the wheel in place. But the old cotter pins were corroded beyond use. Since I didn't want to leave to go buy new ones right away, I made temporary fasteners out of electric fencing wire. 

Back to work! 

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

My Artificial Knees

No, I haven't had surgery. And my artificial knees were really cheap...only $2 at the thrift store. Now that's a bargain! 

Using knee pads is a concession to aging. Kneeling on hard surfaces now hurts. Gone is my youthful natural padding. So anytime I need to work on my knees, I grab the knee pads. Ah, no pain. Wonderful! I don't care if it looks silly walking around the farm wearing knee pads. I'd rather be pain free. 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Mushrooms in the Wrong Place

I'm a big proponent of mushrooms on the farm. They improve my soil and help breakdown the woody comonents of my compost, mulch, and hugelpit contents. BUT not all locations are good. Today I discovered a tiny mushroom colony growing at the base of one of the natural posts of the bridge across the pond. 

This means that the fungus is eating my post and eventually the post will give way. I don't know if it's too late to save the post, but at least I can delay its demise. I plan to inject liquid borate into the base. This should kill any fungus it can reach. But I doubt it will reach it all. 

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Ordering Onion Plants

Every year I order onion plants from Dixondale. Oh sure, I can start onions from seed, but it takes a long time for them to grow. And I've never quite gotten the timing down as to when I should be starting those seeds so that I end up with super large onion bulbs the following summer. Truthfully, I'm lazy about that because it's so easy to just order the plants. So this is one of my secret downfalls of being self reliant-- I buy in onion plants. 

I've always had success using Dixondale. They offer a nice onion called Texas Super Sweet that does great in my area. I haven't come upon another that grows so well in my particular area and climate. So why not stick with success. 

Last year I ordered 10 bunches, which supposedly should be 50 plants per bunch times 10 bunches = 500 onions. In reality, I end up with a lot more, almost twice as much, because the bunches are generous and contain lots of small seedlings which I nurse along in the mini greenhouses. Each bunch has about 50 hearty plants that go right out into the gardens, plus 40-50 little seedlings that I'll let grow up for a few weeks in containers. When they are big enough, they'll join the others in the garden beds. 

Last year I didn't have enough onions and ended up growing lots of green onions from seed. Not enough onions, how could that be? Well, Adam and Matt also love onions, so between them and us, we go through a lot. On top of that, fresh onions are easy to sell and trade here. 

This year I'm ordering twice as many onions. I just ordered my usual 10 bunches. In another week or two I'll order another 10. The reason for the delay is that I need to get the growing beds and mini greenhouses ready for them. I'm not prepared to handle all of them at once.  So two shipments is doable. I'll also order 10 bunches of leeks once I get all the onions planted. Then as insurance, and because we like green onions, I'll sow some onion seed too. 

By the way, I think I've already mentioned about how to double harvest leeks by cutting the stalk off at ground level and allowing the base to regrow. It works with green onions too, though they are more apt to bolt to flowering. This way I can dramatically increase my leeks and green onions without having to be growing extra beds of plants. I've learned that this method only works well in fertile soil. 

Friday, November 2, 2018

Using The Garden's Tidbits

I wrote this little piece a couple of months ago as lecture notes for a gardening presentation. I thought it was good enough to include on my blog.......

Often times the garden doesn't produce in abundance. So sometimes there's just little tidbits of something, not enough to make a meal out of by itself. I see this happening to small gardeners around me, but it also happens frequently enough to me too. Even though I'm sure that I'm planting enough, the curse of  bad weather, disease, pests, the sheep getting out of ther pasture, a neighbor's cow wandering through, all take their toll. So sometimes I don't get much return on a particular planting. 

The learning process to grow a new crop also can lead to a sparse harvest. I can't count the number of times I was happy just to get a few carrots, or perhaps two sweet peppers, while trying to master a crop. I've seen other gardeners having the same challenge, so I'm not alone on this. 

One other reason I might bring only a small handful of something to the kitchen is that it's the beginning or end of a normal harvest. There's always some plant that produces a few days earlier than its bed mates. And of course, some plant straggle behind at the end. 

So, do I toss those 3 cherry tomatoes into the pig food bucket? Only one carrot I bother with it? Only one mini broccoli ready to pick a week ahead of the others.....feed it to the chickens? No, not usually. Having tidbits is common. The first....or last, sole cucumber, summer squash, cucumber. It happens all the time. Since I don't tend to preserve my excess (freeze, can, dehydrate, pickle, etc), I have to use those tidbits creatively. Here's some of the things I do......

... Have a meal of "finger foods". Each plate might end up with half a carrot cut into strips, a few slices of sweet pepper, a few slices of cold boiled sweet potato or Irish potato, all for dipping into a sauce. A hard boiled egg.  Half a cup of yogurt with a handful ground cherries (or that last piece of pineapple, cut up) mixed in. A few cherry tomatoes. We've come to like a finger food dinner. You never know what it will contain. 
... Stir fry. Just about anything can go into a stir fry or a sweet & sour dish. It's a great way to utilize tidbits. 
... Soup. Start out with a basic stock soup then add the tidbits. Top it off with some seasonings and you've got a meal that used all those stray veggies. I've added lettuce, radishes, even cucumbers to a mixed soup. 
... Mixed salad. This is another meal that we are very flexible about. Most veggies, fresh or steamed, go fine with a mixed up salad. I've been known to chop up that sole last banana into the salad, or slice up those two strawberries rather than toss them to the chickens. 
... Omelets, quiches, fritattas are great ways to use those solo veggies. Only harvest three spinach leaves? Into the omelet they go. 
... Sandwiches. Our sandwiches can sometimes look a bit weird to outsiders, but heck, I don't force people to eat them. If you look closely at the egg salad you will sometimes see shreds of carrot, green pepper, green onion, leftover cheese, minced tatsoi leaves, diced tomato. You never know what may be in there. 
... Spaghetti sauce. I believe that spaghetti sauce is a fair place to dump garden tidbits. Just about anything could end up in the pot, including chopped fruits and macnuts! 
.... Smoothies. Like spaghetti sauce, a smoothie is a dumping ground. Start out with yogurt and go from there. Anything goes! 
... Grilled kebabs. Marinate, skewer, throw it onto the grill. Yum! I can use even that one snow pea or cherry tomato, as long as hubby and I don't fight over it. 
... Glop for stuffing potato skins, peppers, scooped out pumpkin, etc. I'll usually mix the tidbits with rice or pasta to make the stuffing or topping. 

I've been known to blenderize leftover mixed veggies and stir then into gravy for topping baked potatoes, rice, and making hot hot gravy sandwiches. Mixing those chopped tidbits, along with herbs, with cream sauce makes for interesting toppings over pasta, rice, bread, etc. 

One of the many suggestions I make to new gardeners is to be flexible and creative with their harvest.......or keep a couple chickens. I feel it's a shame to waste all those tidbits by just turning them back into the garden. Worse yet would be to toss them into the trash can. Just about everything that's been cooked can be blenderized and stirred into the chickens' mash or pellets. The hens will clean it up and turn it into eggs, meat, fertilizer. (ps- chickens may not eat certain things raw, nor if presented whole, but cooked and blenderized my hens eat it all. I mix the garbage glop with chicken pellets to absorb the excess liquid.)