Farm update

July 16th, 2009

Many bits of unrelated news this week:

  1. To deal with the pig attacks, we added a strand of barbed wire at ground level running all the way around the garden fences.  We also got a trap from neighbors, and the first night we caught a big mama pig:

    She managed to escape, but since then we’ve caught three smaller pigs.  They go to a neighbor who, i believe, fattens them up for eating.
  2. Two more biochar tests area in the ground, this time using IMOs as well as char.  Crops: popcorn and sweet potatoes.  Posted to the hawaii-biochar group.
  3. The HFU Potluck-Seed Exchange in Honoka’a last Friday was excellent, great turnout, tons of food, interesting seeds.

    If you missed it, the next one is August 14.
  4. I had a horrible fever that raged for 2 days, nausea, delirium, then a strange red patch on my leg. At the ER on Sunday, they said it’s a staph infection, put me on antibiotics and bed rest.  Sad to say, this mean little to no farm work for a week or more.
  5. In case you don’t already have Scott of Evening Rain Farm in your blog reader, be sure to read his posts Second Update on Our Food Experiment and Maintaining Food Security in Hawaii. Key insights into what food sustainability means here.
  6. The barrel tax was defeated today.  It’s a little depressing, a sign that the top-down powers that be can’t make even a little step in the right direction.  As it says, “A bill to fund food and renewable energy projects is left to die.”

First tea, pruning, pig attack

July 7th, 2009

It has been a very busy time on the farm recently. Last week, we had a friend visit with serious tree skills, who helped us take down several eucalyptus trees that shade the upper area. With the trees removed, we get more afternoon sunlight which means we can grow more crops!

The next day, i spent two hours plucking the tender tips from the entire tea field, our first real harvest. We did some processing steps, working with the leaves throughout the day. By midnight, we had some nice green tea to brew. Although there is so much to learn, it’s encouraging that on our first try we made good-tasting tea:

After the harvest, i set about doing a full pruning and mulching of the entire field:

Really overdue, that’s the problem with leaving the farm for six weeks! The plants look really strong and healthy, growing very vigorously.

A feral pig came in the night and destroyed our bed of white sweet potatoes. That wasn’t entirely unexpected, as we’d been seeing pig damage around and the bed was outside the protection of the garden fence. But, the same night, the pig got under the fence and destroyed our bed of orange sweet potatoes as well!

We reinforced the fence with stakes and a strand of barbed wire, and set a pig trap out to catch it. So far, no luck, but at least it hasn’t gotten back into the garden.

Farm update, and the state of the world

March 2nd, 2009

We’ve had nine days of very wet and cold weather.  Can’t do much gardening, using the wood stove a lot to drive out the cold and damp.  The tea plants are the only one who appear to be very happy with our wet winter so far.  It seems they love all the rain, with fast and strong growth.  I made another 200 cuttings from the growth (oasis cubes, dip-n-grow); with the success rate i’ve been having, that might become 20 new plants.

Meanwhile, the new house has been moving forward (photos).

Last week we had a mainland visitor, my old friend Aix, who now lives in Arcata, CA.  Incredibly, we hadn’t seen each other since i visited him in Kyoto in 1997.  It was great to catch up, and he briefly got to experience working in the tea field, running to shredder to make compost, and digging on the new house pad.

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time recently studying the big changes going on in the wider world – peak oil, peak everything, climate change, collapse of the banking system, instability in global agriculture.  Will the future look more like Mad Max or the Amish?  While it’s all super complex, one clear conclusion is that in the future, those of us that survive will be growing more of our own food.  I give tours of our farm often, and when i tell people that we grow around 1/3 of our food, they are very impressed and say we are better prepared for the coming troubles.  But i’m not so sure.  Where will the other 2/3 of our food come from?  What about all our hungry neighbors?

There is more to survival than food.  The staple carbohydrates that we can grow here are tubers – potato, sweet potatoes, taro.  We buy/import our other staples, so our food is based on tubers, bread, pasta, and rice.  I realized recently that if ‘the boats stop’, then our food will be based on tubers, tubers, tubers, and tubers.

Down at Evening Rain Farm in Puna is another family, who are growing perhaps >80% of their food, more than anyone else i know of (starting with their Food Experiment).  I haven’t met them personally, but their blog is fascinating.  It is a jungle where they live, so they have fewer tubers, but a ton of breadfruit.  Breadfruit and pig, every meal, every day, “breadfruit alfredo, breadfruit parmesan, breadfruit pesto”…

One major challenge on our land, for food sustainability, is garden space.  We have so many giant eucalypts around, on a L-shaped skinny lot, that shade is a big issue.  We’ve been cutting them back (endless firewood!) but it’s a lot of work, and they are also serve as beneficial windbreak – a complex trade-off.

Tea fence completed!

October 4th, 2007

Over the past three days, a fence was built around the tea plantation area. The area is probably around .35 acres (.14 hectares). Local fence expert Ben Laurence did the work, he came recommended by many other people around here who all had fences built, including Connie down the road who fenced out the pigs that were wrecking havoc with her native plants.

20 pressure-treated posts, lots of smaller metal poles, 325′ of hogwire and a barbed wire strand at the bottom. That’s $900 in supplies and $600 in labor… we better sell a lot of tea someday! At least now i can sleep in peace without fearing that pigs are gleefully destroying everything.

Wild Pig Attack!

July 1st, 2007

All over the island, feral pig activity has been on the rise. They come at night, slipping under fences and evading dogs, marauding through crops, tearing up the ground. They can destroy a garden overnight. In a few visits, a whole farm can be ruined. Pigs are all over Hawai’i, in many places where they were never seen before. There are lots of theories why, but nobody knows for sure. After the first few sightings of pigs here in Ahualoa, on top of the existing threat of loose chickens and flocks of wild turkeys, we built chicken-wire fences around both gardens. I thought my tea was safe.

I was wrong.

On the morning of June 3, 6AM, Ruthie was driving Deb and i to the airport. I glanced at the tea along the driveway… total destruction. The pigs aren’t interested in the plants – just the rich, moist soil, worms and grubs. Like a swarm of angry tractors, the entire tea bed was torn up, the plants ripped out the ground and flung all about, bare rooted. We were running late, there was no time to do anything but quickly put the tea plants back in the ground, desperately packing the soil around them and hoping for the best.

The next night, the pigs came back and uprooted a couple more plants. Jim built a small emergency fence around them. It held them off, but just barely enclosed the area.

A week later, a few plants had died – the shock of uprooting was too much. The orderly rows with 2′ spacing are now haphazard, and our best hope for a tea plantation – the few plants that made it to adulthood after hundreds of dead plants in the greenhouse – had been dealt a major setback.

The pigs came and uprooted the neighbor’s garden, then the pumpkin patch, then more. Now, all of us normally calm peaceful folks are talking about guns, traps, attack dogs, big steel fences. I got a fence guy to visit and give me an estimate: $1000 to fence a small quarter acre for tea, several times as much money to try to shore up the whole parcel, plus the hassle of gates on the driveways.