Friday, July 26, 2019

Collecting The Soil Amendments

"T" wrote to ask, "How do you collect all those things?" So let's go down the list and I'll explain. 

Coral sand
     There are plenty of beaches here that are coral sand beaches. But I don't collect sand from them. I consider that to be not only rude, but I'd be degrading a beach. No-no's. So I collect from places where rough seas and winds have thrown coral sand onto paths, beach parking lots, and rocky coasts. I don't need a lot of sand. A bucketful lasts quite a while. 

Coral chunks
     Again, I don't collect from beaches. But there are places along the coastline where chunks can often be found among the rocks. As I walk along picking up trash (yeah, I clean up the shoreline whenever I do my collecting), I also pick up the coral rock I find here and there. 

Lava sand
      This comes from my own driveway. The vehicles gradually breakdown the lava gravel used to surface the driveway, creating sand. 

Ocean water
      I collect this along a section of coastline called Honuapo. I use the ocean water there to make sea salt. And I reserve a gallon or two for the compost bins. 

Burned bone
     I know ranchers who let me collect old cattle and horse bones from their pastures. 

Wood ash
     I use wood to heat my house. I also have two friends who do the same. They save their wood ashes for me, and I much appreciate it. 

     I make my own in a special set up designed to make biochar. I use tree trimmings from my farm for this purpose. It's mostly ohia, but also guava, eucalyptus, christmasberry, Norfolk pine, ironwood, and any other tree that I trim.

     I'm fortunate to have a bank of this along the dead river bed running across my farm. 

Feathers & Fur/hair 
     This comes partially from my own animals and partially from friends' livestock. Friends bringing me a bag of feathers or fur can go home with a bag of veggies from the gardens. 

     I collect fallen fruit from many properties. Some from my own, but mostly from other people. I keep a list of people who are happy to have me remove the fallen fruits from their lawns. I usually leave behind a bag of veggies or eggs in exchange. 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Soil Amendments

I've mentioned before that I incorporate soil amendments into my gardens via my compost. But just what are soil amendments? Form my point of view, they are things that improve soil tilth and fertility. My own soil is naturally lacking in many ways. It is a geologically young soil, beings that I'm on the youngest side of the youngest Hawaiian islands. So what sort of things do I add, and why. 

Coral sand
     Coral brings calcium carbonate to the soil. Calcium is needed by the microbes and plants. The most commonly known affect for garden plants when calcium is deficient is cat facing on tomatoes. But there are plenty of other problems that veggies can suffer from low calcium. 
     Calcium carbonate also has an effect upon soil pH. Since I have lived with acidic rain and air for years now, my soil tends to be too acidic for most veggies to grow well. Coral sand helps moderate pH. 
      Also, I don't wash the sand prior to using, so micro amounts of ocean minerals are clinging to the coral. 

Heated coral chunks
     The only difference between this a coral sand is the size of the pieces. I don't know if the heating has any effect upon the calcium availability. The reason I heat the coral chunks in a fire is so they are easily broken up. Sometimes I can hand crush the coral into smaller pieces. Other times I need to use a hammer or have my truck run over the chunks to break them up. 
    Why use chunky coral? It helps with drainage in heavy soils. And I suspect it allows for a longer period of availability....that is, the calcium carbonate lasts longer allowing for less frequent applications. 

Lava sand
      I use this for mineralization purposes. Some of my garden beds are mainly organic material with not enough rocks. The lava sand provides the minerals in lieu of rocks. 

Ocean water
     I don't use much ocean water, just a sprinkling. It adds some micro nutrients not otherwise readily available via the organic material I use to make compost. Keep in mind that if the micro elements are lacking in my soil, they won't magically appear in my weeds I dump into the compost bins. They have to come from off the farm. Ocean water helps with this. But it is used sparingly. 

Burned bone
     While bone contains calcium, it also contains phosphorous. My soil was low in phosphorous when I started out. And since it was also very low in calcium, bone seemed like a good choice. Around here, bones are very available. I can gather a pickup truck load in less that 30 minutes, anytime I need them. One just needs to be in the good side of the right rancher and know the right locations. 
      Why burn it? To make it easier to break up. When processed by fire, the bone readily crumbles. 

Wood ashes
     Wood ash increase soil pH faster than calcium. And since I live in an acidic environment, wood ash is a good choice for me. Ash is also a really good source of potassium, another element that my soil needed when I started up. I use wood ash lightly in the compost bins. But I also use it as a dusting on specific garden beds that test lower in pH than others. 

     I initially started to experiment with biochar years ago. Personally I haven't seen the results that the hype predicted. But then, my soil isn't in as poor condition as a lot of other soils. But I have seen the useage of biochar improve my soil tilth. Where I've used biochar the soil seems lighter, a little easier to work, and drains better. Having my soil absorb water but also drain productively is important to my food growing. I feel that biochar has had a positive bearing on that. 

     I have a patch along the bank of a dead river bed on my land that is dirty volcanic cinder. Most likely brought down the mountain during heavy rain events. I like adding a bit of this cinder to the compost. It helps with drainage. But being full of holes like a sponge, it also retains soil nutrients and moisture. Plus it provides footing for plant roots. 

Feathers & Fur/Hair
     Feathers and fur provide not only nitrogen, but also many micro amounts of assorted minerals. One benefit to using them that I like is that they are slow to breakdown. So it's like using a slow release nutrient. When I use my compost, if I look carefully I still identify feathers and fur. That's fine with me. The soil microbes will use them gradually over time. 

     Why fruit specifically? Basically for the sugar content. Some people purposely apply sugar or molasses. I use waste fruit because it is so readily available here. I really don't know if the addition of sugars really improves soil microbe numbers, but I haven't found it to be a detriment. So since I have access to waste fruits often throughout the year, I use them on a regular basis. The goal is to produce a very large population of soil microbes in the compost. 

The rest of my compost ingredients I don'tclassify as amendments per se. They are a hodgepodge of plant and animal materials. They are the essence of compost. What I consider to be amendments are materials that are not routinely found in compost but have a significant bearing upon the soil. 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

What's Up Lately

I know the blog has been rather quiet and non-informative, but our life on this homestead farm is seldom idle. What has been keeping me busy? 

... Filling up compost boxes. Compost is my number one fertilizer, so I'm always making more. It's not uncommon to spend an hour every day accumulating organic debris (from mowing, pruning, hacking down overgrowth, removing weeds) and transferring it to the bins. Then going out to the pastures and spending time collecting manure, which I layer in the compost bins. Yes, it would be far easier to buy sacks of fertilizer at Home Depot, but that's not the method I choose to use. 

... Repairing and maintenance. This seems to be never ending. Patching and replacing fencing. Installing new tarps. Replacing rotted out pallets and trellises. Repairing window and door screens. Doing maintenance of the tillers, mowers, chainsaws, weedwacker, etc.  Repairing damaged mini greenhouses. I do this work myself. It's part of being a self reliant homestead. 

... Planning the next big projects. Two biggies are pending -- replacing the house roof, and building a new chicken pen. Hopefully this will be the last time we will need to do either of these. Yesterday hubby measured the roof and printed out diagrams from our architectural house plans. So I'll be off to Hilo to order the needed roofing materials. While there I'll pick up supplies for the chicken pen. Trucking off to town like that uses up a full day of time. 

... Cashing in on some of our efforts. It's time to sell some livestock. I've put out the word and already have interest in two of the goats, a few sheep, and two piglets. 

... Replanting the food gardens. It's been raining a little bit almost every day now for weeks. So working the soil is difficult without damaging it. But I've managed to plant beans, taro, beets, herbs, and potatoes. I still have a lot I want to sow. We're eating a lot of meals out of the freezer right now, so I'll need to grow more veggies if I wish to keep eating our own homegrown foods.

... Hunting frogs. Yup. We had a bunch of cane toads move into the area. Most ended taking up residence in Matt's derelict pond. Two nights of wading through the pond in the rain, we managed to capture 5 toads. We also have coqui frogs in the area and we work to keep them away from the house (they can make sleeping difficult). We found and sprayed the one down by the gate that was torturing my neighbor, but we haven't yet got the one in the banana trees closer to our house. Tracking them down can take minutes, hours, days, even weeks of effort. They're not easy to find. 

... Building the rock wall along the driveway. It's inching along, but it will be months before it's finished. One of these days I'll have to measure how many feet of rock wall has been built so far.

... Cleaning and refurbishing the wwoofer cabin area. Yes, Adam has moved. It was time for him to take his next steps to becoming an independent adult. I'll still be seeing him once a week since we agreed that he would work on the farm on Thursdays. 

Living a homestead style farm life is what I like to do. But it surely isn't the life of ease. I really have to laugh when I hear social media types claiming that they are living the "back to earth" life on only 2 hours labor a day. Ha......sure......tell me another one. Maybe they really mean that they spend two hours a day playing in their garden and watching their chickens. But how about set up, maintenance, repairs? How about harvesting and preserving their garden bounty? Or cleaning up after their chickens? And exactly how much do they really grow versus buy from a store? Oh yeah, they claim they are totally living out of their garden, plus their chicken eggs, but I somehow doubt that considering they are putting so little time into it. And by the way, what do they do about the winter months where the garden doesn't grow and the hens don't lay? Breatharianism? Oops, none of my business! 

I'm still enjoying this lifestyle. My body is starting to wear out, but I figure I'll be doing this for a while still......and loving it. 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Gifts of Friendship

I'd like to take the time to acknowledge some good friends who have sent me friendship gifts. Yeah, I'm an old sentimental fuddy-duddy. Probably has to do with being old. 

Gifting for me has to do with bonding, be it with one's friends, community, or whatever. Gifting doesn't have to be physical items. It can be a helping hand, an ear for listening, a chat over coffee, keeping someone company, a friendly hug or touch. Hubby and I are believers in gifting. But sadly it makes it harder for me to understand the hatred, selfishness, and aggression I see the world suffering from. Perhaps if we taught children to gift, as adults their lives might be better. Sigh. .......... I'm getting off track. I'm not a preacher, and anyway, the people who should be listening, won't. Sigh again. 

So to acknowledge my friends and say thank you from my heart........

From Missouri, 2 local tshirts. Yup, I'm the t-shirt wearing type.....just a carryover from my teenage years. Hubby claimed the black one as his, and I eagerly laid claim to the yellow. So far I've managed not to ruin it, so I can still wear it for "good".

From New Jersey, a tropical plant to add to my landscaping. This happens to be something I could keep bonsai'd, but I don't know if I'm up to it. I'd rather plant it in my secret garden and feature it in a "friendship garden". That way I can remember my friend every time I walk by.

From down the road. I actually received this quite a while ago, but it's so cool that I wanted to document it in my blog. The broken piece is from my own garden area. For real! It most likely came from the McComber or Lorenzo family who lived on this property years and years ago. Their house is long since gone, but my friend found this bit of broken plate while digging in the garden here. She tracked down the original type plate and framed it. It now has a place of honor in my living room. The pattern is amazingly appropriate. 

Mounted in a shadow box, it hangs in my living room. 

From Alaska.... one neat baseball cap. Since moving to Hawaii, I've become a baseball cap wearer. Never wore one before coming here. But the tropical sun is too strong for my unprotected eyes. Sunglasses and I don't get along too well, but baseball caps do fine. This particular cap is really nice. Actually it's the best one I've ever had. Can a baseball cap be considered "dress up"? 

From up the mountain, dinosaurs!!! Yeah! I'm a dino-kid from way back. As a child I wished I could have had a miniature stegosaurus as a pet. I never lost my fascination of dinosaurs, though it took retirement to ditch my "mature grown-up" image and start indulging myself with dinosaur toys. I now have over 30 dino toys and love having everyone of them. It's not uncommon to have a store 
checkout person ask if I am buying it for my grandchild. Grandchild?? Hell no, it's for me! 

This fella resides on my truck dashboard. 

Friday, July 19, 2019

Zucchini Successful So Far

This is my first time at growing zucchini squash in a greenhouse. So far, so good. The plants are growing robustly. They are flowering. And best yet, I'm getting baby squashes. 

The plants seem to love the greenhouse environment. 

The varieties I'm growing are not listed as being parthenocarpic. But they are ones that tend to have a strong tendency to set fruits without pollination. I don't know if the little squashes would continue to grow into large fruits, but as long as I'm getting baby gourmet squash I'm very happy. 

This is the size I harvest for baby zucchini...4" to 5". 

So far it looks like I'm getting around 80% of the female blossoms successfully producing fruits. Yes, I'm seeing some aborts. I'm not attempting to pollinate the flowers myself. If I even just get two thirds of the flowers producing squash, I'll be very satisfied....especially if that means no additional work for me. If the percentage falls below 50%, then I'll make the effort to hand pollinate. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Watching Food Grow is Exciting

Call me crazy, but I really get a kick out of seeing food grow. It's truly satisfying.....and almost a miracle at the same time. I love it.

I'm picking zucchini squash already. 3 yesterday. 3 tonight for dinner. Yeah, I pick them super tiny. Hubby hates squash, but for some reason baby gourmet-size is ok. So I pick them either while the blossom is still on or is just falling off. If that what it takes to get him to eat veggies, I don't object. 

The succotash limas are producing pods already. Let's hope that there are little limas inside them. Right now they are too small to tell. 

The greenhouse tomatoes aren't flowering yet. Those tomatoes pictured above came from a wild volunteer growing in one of my driveway gardens. 

So dinner tonight was a one pot pork stew, using our own onions, tomatoes, squash, potatoes, plus some carrots and green beans from Matt's garden. Yum. Homegrown food! 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Local Lima Bean

Another lima I'm trying in the greenhouse is a local black & white, large beaned lima. I have no idea if this a landrace or if it is an imported lima. I've been given a couple of local names for it, but I can't verify any of them yet. But I'm still looking for a lead on identifying this variety. For now I just refer to it an Hawaian Landrace.

I have been able to get this variety to grow on my farm but not produce well. It's a pole type and grows vigorously. But the temperature tends to be too cool on my farm for most hot weather crops. So in the past I've only gotten a handful of seed off a dozen or so plants. Surely not enough for eating. 

I'm trying one more time, but in the greenhouse this time. I'm curious to see if this variety can produce decently or not. 

Oh by the way, if you have suggestions on what this bean might be, it's not Christmas or Calico lima. I've already checked those out and they don't compare. 

Monday, July 8, 2019

Succotash Pole Bean

I'm trying a new lima bean this year. Succotash. It's a pole bean that I bought from Baker Creek. Other than knowing it's a black or dark purple bean, I know virtually nothing about it. So this will be a fun learning experience.

I've sown the seeds in one of the greenhouses in order to provide added warmth. In the past I haven't had much success harvesting lima beans although the plants grew well enough. Possibly the problem is not enough heat units....thus the greenhouse. We shall see if the heat makes a difference. 

I got good germination from the seeds (only 2 failed) and the seedlings grew well, what I'd term "as expected". 31 days after sowing the seeds I saw the first blossoms.

Photo is a bit bleary but the flower is still a lovely color. 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Growing in Greenhouses

Why use greenhouses? For me it's mainly for pest control. Secondarily, to control soil moisture. And thirdly, to provide more heat to certain crops. 

Unlike much of the world, Hawaii is a difficult place to produce certain crops. Most squashes and cucumbers get routinely destroyed by pickleworm. Slicing tomatoes get stung by fruit flies. Sweet peppers, okra, and lima beans seem to require more heat than I get at my farm. Cowpeas do better with drier soil. 

Lima beans. Bush type in the front row. Climbing varieties in the back. 

I'm trying this year to grow food in three 10' by 20' greenhouses. One now has summer squash and cucumbers, all parenocarpic or with parnenocarpic tendencies. Since it's a night time moth that inflicts most of the damage to these veggies, I plan to leave the greenhouse ends open during the day to airflow, and closed at night to block the moths. That's the plan, so we'll see if it works. 

Zucchini squash up front. Cucumbers starting along the wall behind the squash plants. 

Greenhouse #2 has tomatoes and sweet peppers. Fruit fly is the main pest, which is active during the daylight hours. So this greenhouse will have screened end walls. 

The third greenhouse is planted in lima beans right now. I haven't had much luck harvesting lima beans although the plants grow well enough. General opinion is that they needs more heat units, thus the reason I'm trying a greenhouse. It gets much warmer inside a greenhouse compared to out in the gardens. 

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Recent plantings

Since the last time I listed the planting statistics, I've added.......

Potatoes - 15 grow boxes = 328 plants 
Tomatoes -20 plants 
Cucumbers - 18 plants
Summer squash - 8 plants
Lima beans - 40' row (6" plant spacing), plus 5 seeds of a local variety that I've never discovered the name for. 
Taro - 14 plants
Beans for seed production - 10 foot row
Winged beans - 15 plants (a Japanese variety) 
So year to date planting totals.......

Banana trees - 4
Beans for seed production - 10 foot row
Chaya - 32 cuttings
Cholesterol spinach - 400 square feet
Cucumbers - 18 plants
Lima beans - 40' row plus 5 individual seeds
Pineapples - 18
Pipinolas - 19
Potatoes - 328 plants
Summer squash - 8 plants
Taro - 30 plants
Tomatoes - 20 plants 
Winged beans - 15 plants

Just a note...... Keep in mind that not everything that gets planted actually becomes productive. Some plants die or grow stunted. Some get damaged by pests or disease. Some suffer from environmental damage, such as wind. Some get destroyed by a lose goat, a person stepping on them, etc. And some simply don't produce up to their potential. Thus I tend to plant excess and hope for the best. 

Friday, July 5, 2019

4th of July

Took a break from the home hubbub to enjoy the holiday. Parade. Fireworks. Rodeo. And food----lots, actually too much.

My small town's not can lead our parade with a cool banner. Hey, I love my little town, have you noticed? 

Naalehu - pa'u riders representing the island of Oahu. There's one of my friends on the right! 

Naalehu parade pa'u riders representing the island of Kauai. 

Naalehu parade flag bearer. 

Our parade this year was traditional......traditional by our standards. The town tow truck, the fire engine, the forest fire truck, the local kids' clubs, the civic club, the local church group, motorcycles, muscle cars, politicians, seniors' organization, Ka'u coffee queen & her court, and the pa'u riders representing each populated island. 

Maui festival...stilt walkers, game shows, food.......and ice cream! 

Boom! Fireworks show over Lahaina bay. Actually a good show worth seeing.  

Yes, we hopped over to Maui for the fireworks. One day was devoted to touring farms to acquire more local farming know-how and buying new taro varieties for our own farm. This trip had been scheduled for the weekend of the 20th, but we were able to move it up to the 4th in order to squeeze in some much appreciated R&R.  

Monday, July 1, 2019

Harvested Pumpkins

I know that the blog has been quiet, but I've been appointments  (just checkups, nothing special wrong with us), hearing test, spay/neuter clinics, picking up building supplies, etc. It takes up an entire day just to get one of these things accomplished. Such is one of the downsides of living rural where it takes 1 1/2 to 2 hours to get to "civilization".  But there's no way I want to move to make those trips shorter. I like it where I am right now.

Now for those pumpkins....... I didn't intentionally plant these this year. I had thrown a number of ruined pumpkins from my landrace varieties into the chicken pens. I guess the birds either didn't eat some of the seeds, or the seeds passed through some of the hens unharmed. So some seeds ended up in the pen litter, which I often use as a top dressing for certain crops. In this case, it was the lilikoi vines. Several pumpkin plants volunteered in the lilikoi area. The past couple in months I've been harvesting a number of pumpkins off them. 

As is typical of my landrace pumpkins, the come in various sizes and shapes. All are generally small, and generally roundish. They all mature out to an orange rind if I let sit long enough. By the time they have become orange on the outside, they are strong orange colored on the inside and quite sweet & flavorful. 

Freshly harvested ones on the left. Ready to eat ones on the right. 

I tend to harvest them fairly green, but I wait until the lighter areas on the rind turn from green to light cream. If I let them stay on the vine any longer the mice and rats eat them. It only takes 1 or 2 nights for the little critters to hollow them out.  Learned the hard way to get those pumpkins picked on time, otherwise I harvest nothing but rind. 

I just cut open one of the pumpkins and plan to make a pumpkin/coconut soup. And of course I'll be saving the seeds in order to replant more pumpkins. 

Nicely orange interior. And not too seedy. 

By the way, the reason I grow these landrace pumpkins rather than varieties from the seed catalogs is that this landrace has resistance to the pickleworm moth, squash stem borer, and powdery mildew. For me, that's great news! I've not yet found a seed catalog variety that can do that.