‘Transition Town’ Ahualoa?

March 15th, 2010

I read the Transition Handbook last year. It’s a growing movement, and it’s full of great ideas for making sustainable local communities. There are lots of issues to figure out, about how to interact with local government, and finding the people who have the time and talent for organizing. I’ve spent some months thinking about how my community could use the Transition model, and there’s one other major issue: Geography. Transition works with face-to-face meeting; that’s a fundamental pillar. Not just monthly face-to-face either, but frequent. That means a community that lives close to each other, within a small area.

The area i live in, Ahualoa, is around 3×2 miles, 6 square miles. That might be OK size-wise, but there are drawbacks:
1. A 1000-foot rise from one end to the other makes getting around more energy-intensive.
2. Few roads (no grid or spokes) and no paths, so to avoid trespassing you have to walk/drive a long way, to go a short way as an ‘io flies.
3. Many sparsely-inhabited 20-acre lots means low population density.
4. No central point or public space. 60 years ago, we had several small schools and, i believe, a store. These are long gone. There’s nowhere to meet or barter.

You can see the pattern of big lots with few roads:

Unless we can improve these issues, Ahualoa remains in danger of being a 100% car-dependent ‘bedroom community’ to other places – which is a very bad place to be when only the rich will drive cars.

“Lil’ Buff,” my Buff Orpington Hen

February 5th, 2010

Meet “Lil’ Buff,” a super-friendly hen amongst our motley crew of 9 remaining gregarious hens.

The Buff Orpington is a dual-purpose breed and lays tinted brown eggs. She has golden plumage with lots of fluff around her legs and tail. Lil’ Buff’s calm, curious temperament makes her an ideal mascot during farm tours. She is smaller in size compared to my other Buff hens. Because of her small size, I can carry her around for quite some time. She tolerates lots of human handling. I have two remaining Buff hens left: Lil’ Buff and Big Buff Too. he’s got a distinctive high-pitched chirp unlike any of my hens. Listen to her as she checks out the woodshed in this short video. (The other soft clucking you hear is a Silver Laced Wyandotte, no longer in our flock).

To me, the Buff Orps have personality very similar to a Golden Retriever: friendly, cuddly and calm. When I cuddle Lil’ Buff during the late afternoons (usually after 4:30pm, when they’re done with working the pasture), she’ll pet/peck my arms as if to mean, “I pet you, I pet you.” Unlike most other hens who sit (roost) in my lap, she prefers to be cuddled standing up.

She has taught me a lot of things about being a chicken keeper: becoming a broody hen and snapping her out of the broodiness; becoming infected with bumble foot and treating her infection with natural products (tumeric powder, comfrey leaves, tea tree oil foot dip) to heal her infection; becoming crop bound and using manual massage to break up the stuck crop. Currently, she’s not broody or bumblefooted nor cropbound.

I can immediately tell her apart physically from the other hens because she is missing a tine on her comb. She does not tolerate other hens’ bullying during meal time; she’s as headstrong as three other Australorp hens twice her size.

Her favorite treats are organic sunflower seeds with shells, coconut meat and yacon.

R.I.P Feb 14,  2006 – June 2, 2010.

Thank you for being my teacher.

Farm visit

February 5th, 2010

On the morning of January 29, we got a visit from a batch of kids from Honokaa Elementary.  I got to spend a few hours with them, showing them many parts of the farm, teaching them about the trees and plants, the fruits and the tea, the chickens and the compost.  They asked great questions and seemed to eagerly soak up knowledge and have a great time.  “Best field trip ever.

They felt the warm compost pile and learned about the billions of little microbes working hard to turn it into nutritious soil..

They got to really interact with the environment, picking fruit and carrots, smelling the cinnamon leaves, touching bugs, petting a chicken..

Funniest moment: I asked if anyone knows why there are so many wild chickens on Kauai. One girl, Pakalana, raised her hand and said, “Because there’s only one KFC?” (The common answer is “because there’s no mongoose.”)

Interesting things

January 5th, 2010

Some recent items of interest:

Farm update, tea, biochar sweet potatoes

January 2nd, 2010

Tea: We did our third tea harvest on November 30, processed as a green tea.  We have actual packaging now with a logo and label.  Several people bought it to give as a holiday gift.  As our first green, it was delicate and floral and nice, and it sold out quickly.

Biochar: the first solid results are in.  Test 1 (green beans) didn’t work well as plants varied widely within each plot.  Test 2 (popcorn) showed promise with the char plots growing better, but heavy rains this fall prevented any of the plots from maturing to compare yield.  Test 4 (taro) is still in progress as taro grows slowly at our elevation.  Test 3 (sweet potatoes) was harvested yesterday:

8 plants, control: 13.8 lbs
8 plants, with char and IMO: 21.2 lbs

That’s around 50% more tuber, and here’s the picture, control on the left:

This corresponds what Jay in Puna has reported on his use of biochar with hawaiian food sustainability (see biochar on the Sensible Simplicity forum)

Tea, rain, and recent farm tours

November 29th, 2009

As those of you following on facebook or twitter may know, we sold out of our second harvest of tea in early November.  I can see from the happy growing tea plants that it’s time to harvest again, but the weather has been very rainy for a couple weeks now.  The tea loves the rain, but we’re waiting for a sunny day which is important to the harvest process of picking and sun-withering.

Meanwhile, there have been several recent farm tours, including neighbors, a large group of mothers with their toddlers and babies from Waikoloa, and a couple guys with Kanu Hawaii from Oahu:

really loved the organic farm tour ben and jacoby gave today ... on Twitpic

On October 31, there was the big tour from the Hamakua Sustainable Agriculture Classes, pictures from that event (some by Nicole):

Origami Inflatable Hen

November 21st, 2009

Origami Inflatable Hen – Gallina de origami

Leyla Torres combines two of my passions in this video diagram: origami and chickens.

She demonstrates her inflatable hen from duo-colored origami paper and folds a waterbomb base, with the hen color on the outside.

I first learned the inflatable hen from Leyla at Origami USA convention June 2008.

If you are following along, may I recommend using at least 10″ square paper. You’ll need to know inside reverse folds and squash folds.

Have fun!

“Chicken…always sunny and useful, will endure”

October 22nd, 2009

Today’s title comes from a very timely article published in The New Yorker (Sept. 28, 2009) by Susan Orlean, “The It Bird – The return of the back-yard chicken.”

Tuesday evening, Ben & I presented “Hawaii Backyard Poultry Management” as part of “Practical Agriculture for Hamakua 2009″. In case you missed the class, here’s the PDF (2 MB) as maintained on our Ahualoa Chicken Notes. The file covers a source of local stock of baby chicks, feeding organically and challenges of feeding locally. We had a lot of fun talking chicken with 15 chicken enthusiasts. (bok, bok!)

Ben and I got started into farming by the first class of its kind in 2006. Back then, Jim Cain was the program manager. Now, Donna Mitts is the lead organizer. Take a look at the classes offered http://www.hamakuadev.org/ many which are geared towards specifically farming in Hawaii.

There’s plenty of venues to talk chicken story with us:

Saturday, October 24 (9 am to 2pm) Ben and I will host an educational table at Hamakua Alive! (Pau’auilo Elementary and Middle School 43-1497 Old Main Road Paauilo, HI 96776) We’ll be happy to talk story about backyard chickens and tea (camellia sinensis).  By the way, we have a limited quantity of black tea available for purchase.

Tuesday, October 27 from 6pm, Vicky Dunaway will discuss “A Pastured Poultry Model That Works” for about 20 mins. Her talk is followed by a public screening of “Mad City Chickens,” a feature length documentary about the return of urban backyard chickens. We hope you’ll join us for the 1 hr 18 minute movie.

Halloween, Saturday, October 31, join the Practical Ag class for a farm tour on our homestead, “Ahualoa Egg & Tea Farm” from 9 am to 11 am. I hope to introduce you to Ophelia, my favorite Barred Rock hen and Lil’ Buff, my favorite Buff Orpington. Register with Donna Mitts (call 936-2117 or email ohanadonna@yahoo.com).

In this short video Susan Orlean introduces Tookey, a Gingernut Ranger, one of her original hen who is currently at the top of the pecking order. (In our flock of ten remaining hens, I picked out the top hen: it’s Alpha-hen, an Australian Orpington, commonly shortened to Australorp.) Watching chickens, online or in real life, makes me happy. It’s nice to know the chickens are making a comeback in backyard all across America.

New tea farm site

October 20th, 2009

Now that we finally have some processed tea to share, it was time to make a site for the tea side of our farm. It’s still very simple, just a beginning, but here it is: Ahualoa Tea Farm

Our second harvest, as an orthodox black tea, turned out great. Slightly sweet, no harsh tannins, and keeps giving flavor over 4-5 steepings. Experienced tea tasters tell me that it’s unique, somewhat like other Hawaiian black tea but unlike tea from anywhere else in the world.

We brewed it a couple different ways, and just for fun, did a side-by-side comparison with a “normal” commodity black tea in a bag:

There’s no comparison – they are completely different things. I almost hesitate to call what we’ve made “black tea”, as it brings up entirely different associations for most people.

I visited San Francisco a week ago, and visited the nice people at Samovar Tea Lounge. They have a little Hawaiian tea to sell (not ours, yet) and really nice ambiance and food to complement it. I met the owners and we brewed up 10g of our tea for them and their staff to try.

From their positive reaction, it seems likely that connoisseurs of hand-processed teas will ‘get’ our tea right away.

Second tea harvest

September 16th, 2009

The tea has been growing powerfully this wet summer, since the last pruning on July 5.  The field was covered with fresh harvestable tips in an astonishing 1 month after the last harvest, but at this stage, we’re still building up the fullness of the hedges, which means letting the branches grow and fill in.  So, i waited 2.5 months from last pruning.  In retrospect, 2 months would have been just fine.

The pictures tell part of the story, which starts at the 13th picture in the 2009 tea album, read the captions and click forward:

Day 1: at 7:30am, finally a sunny day, down to the field to harvest.  Surprisingly thick wet dew on the plants.  Over 3 hours to harvest all the tips.  Thankfully the sun stays out, so it gets a chance to wither all day.  Brought it in and weighed it, just under a kilo at 958g.  That’s around twice as much at our first harvest!

Day 2: The goal is a black tea.  No heating this time!  I heated a little on our first harvest, aiming for an oolong, but ended up making it a green tea.  The heat changes the enzymes which darken the leaves, so this time no heating until the very end.  It took all day, three periods of rolling then resting.  Here’s a video of the rolling process:

As an experiment, i pan-toasted half the resulting tea in the wok, on low heat for 10 minutes, tossing it by hand. Drying was in the dehydrator that we usually use for drying fruit, around 2 hours at 130F. Result: a total 305g of finished tea, very black in appearance, around 32% of the weight of the wilted primary leaf.

Processing tea is not easy to learn about!  There is no information online, almost no books, on actual tea production.  You could learn first-hand from visiting tea farms, but those parts of the world are very far way.  There are a bewildering variety of ways to process tea, with many steps that take a lot of practice to do well.

The only known book in the English language that actual details production is Tea: Cultivation to Consumption (see tea media notes). Unfortunately it’s rare and expensive. Today Deb pointed me to the popular affordable The Story of Tea which also has a chapter on making tea. I’ve been putting that together with everything we’ve learned from other Hawaii growers, and a few HTS events and visiting experts.

We’ll find out tomorrow how it turned out – the moment of tasting!