Physalis – the Poha genus

September 15th, 2009

The poha fruit is commonly associated with Hawaii.  It grows vigorously in most parts of the state, almost as a weed.  You can buy poha jam at the farmer’s market, and kids snack on it wherever it found.  We have poha on our land, growing vigorously.  On wikipedia i found that it is a member of the Physalis genus, which contains a large number of other varieties beside poha (which is P. peruviana).  On the Local Harvest: Fruit site, i found two varieties of P. pruinosa called “Cossack Pineapple” and “Goldie”.  I figured that since poha grows so well, perhaps some of the related species will too.

I started the seeds in the greenhouse then planted them in three areas: in the garden experimental zone, along the far fence (next to some vigorous poha) and on the terrace in the tea field.  The results: unexpected.

Instead of a large bush like poha, my P. pruinosa grows creeping along the ground!  At first, i thought that perhaps some it was some conditions (too much rain, wrong soil?).  But it’s creeping in all three places, with amended soil, and it is making plenty of fruit which would imply that nutrients aren’t a big problem:

The fruits are small (1.3-1.5 cm, which is around 1/2″ to 19/32″ for masochists who like inch fractions).  That’s roughly what was advertised (1/2″ to 3/4″), but it’s a bit smaller than typical hawaiian poha.  The main problem (beside the creeping low plants) is that it seems to be dropping lots of fruit before it ripens, so the harvest is barely yellow, mostly green.  For comparison, this is how poha grows: easily to 2m (6′):

Here’s some P. pruinosa planted on the ground right next to it:

In regards to fruit, we almost never get any fruit from our poha.  I’ve suspected that the abundant wild turkeys and pheasants devour them, although i’ve never been certain.  My pruinosa tests seem to support the idea: the plants inside my garden fence are loaded with fruit, whereas those by the far fence or open tea field, where turkeys are busy every day, have almost none):

Here’s the harvested fruit:

Conclusion: pruinosa not too successful. Those mostly-unripe fruits are tart, so i’ll probably mash them into a jam with added sugar for balance.  I may as well just grow poha, and do it inside my protected garden area.

There is one other Physalis contender left to try, though: the Giant Ground Cherry from Trade Winds Fruit, which promises “large growing and large-fruiting … up to and a bit over an inch”!  I’ve ordered the seeds and will try them soon.

Aftermath of dog attack on chickens – actions you can take

August 18th, 2009

I described the dog attack on our flock of egg-laying hens in this previous post.

I am so sorry for your loss. Please accept my deepest condolences.

Here are the actions we took in the aftermath of the dog attack. This applies to Hawaii County. Your jurisdiction may be different. Now is a good time to find out about what the rules and regulations are regarding stray dogs killing livestock in your area.

I hope this helps you if you are in a similar situation. A big thank you to all our friends and family who supported us.

Thursday afternoon of the attack, Ben took photos of the dead hens. He called the Hawaii Island Humane Society, (Kamuela office 808-885-4558). A Humane Society officer came to our house on Friday morning to talk to us about the stray dog incident and actions we can take..

The takeaway: keep a digital camera on you at all times to snap photos of the stray dog off the owner’s property. If the stray dog is in your yard, on the road; take a photo. This is proof that the dog owner failed to confine or contain the animal properly.

What can I do about Loose Dogs in my Neighborhood If you are able to safely contain them with no possible injury to yourself, either on a leash, in your yard, kennel etc. We will gladly come pick them up within 24 hours or you may bring the animal in. We also rent out humane dog traps for a $75.00 deposit.If the animal is a repeat offender, take a photo of the animal and send it to or bring it in to any shelter to have an officer talk to the owner.

He went to the owner of the dangerous dog to issue a warning. In this case, we wanted to remain anonymous.

After the Humane Society Animal Officer left, I called my local police department (808-775-7533) to file a property damage report. This is a case of dangerous dog killing livestock. My livestock are egg-laying hens.

After the police officer took digital photos of the crime scene (Ben buried the hens), statements from me, Ben and my father-in-law, he gave me the report number and his contact information. Ben assessed the cost of our egg-laying hens at $50 each, or $150 for a total of three dead hens.

We decided not to press charges this time. [You will need to sign paperwork if you are not pressing charges.] Remember to request a copy of the report from the police department for your records. The report will usually take 2-3 weeks to be available for pickup.

However, the next time a dangerous dog kills one of my hens, I will pursue the matter as civil suit, demanding monetary damages.

Hawaii County Code, Chapter 4, on Animals:

Section 4-28. Dangerous dogs may be slain.
(b) Notwithstanding any provision to the contrary which may be found elsewhere in this chapter, where livestock have been killed, maimed or injured by any dangerous, fierce or vicious stray dog, the owner of such livestock or the owner’s agent, after being deputized as a special officer in accordance with the provisions of section 4-5, may take any action necessary to protect the owner’s livestock from such dangerous, fierce, or vicious dog, including, without limitation, slaying or otherwise disposing of the same.
(1980, Ord. No. 510, sec. 2.)

I read the Backyard Chickens “Predator and Pest” forum. I found it very helpful reading through chicken owner’s experiences with predator attacks and various actions they took:

Summary: Immediately after a dog attack, write down the color, breed and description of the dog(s). Note the time and date of the attack. Note the direction where the dog left your property. Do this when the incident is still fresh in your mind.

It’s a good idea to chat with your friendly neighbors and find out if they have seen stray dogs on their property. Let them know you are documenting the stray dog incidents by taking digital photos of the stray dog.

Take lots of high-quality photos of the crime scene with your digital camera. Take close-up photos also. If you find dog prints in the mud, document those.

Call your local Humane Society to complain about the stray dog. File a property damage with the local police, especially if the stray dog killed your livestock.

Dangerous dog kills three hens

August 14th, 2009

[WARNING: this blog has graphic photos.]

August 13, 2009 — a brown dog killed three of my egg-laying hens, including my pet hen, Big Buff.

Jim and Ben chased off the stray dog from our property around 1:30pm. The attack occurred about an hour after Ben let out the hens to free range on grass and bugs. Our family have seen this dog off the owner’s property multiple times. The dog belongs to our neighbor whose property borders our fence line.

I do not fault the dog for being a dog; I fault the owner for being irresponsible.

I expected to hear a vocal squawking alarm call from the flock when the attack happened. Did I hear a very short burst of call when I was on the computer? Did I miss the alarm call for “I’m being attacked by a dog, help!” call? Or was it “Quick, hide, my fellow hens, I’m being eaten by a predator!” call.

Dangerous dog kills three hens

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Small-Scale Broiler Processing in Hawaii

August 9th, 2009

Late June, Slow Food Hawaii sent out an announcement that Shane and Christie Fox of Fox Farms (in Papaaloa, near Laupahoehoe) are raising meat birds again. Christie ordered the Cornish Cross broiler chicks from Asagi Hatchery on Oahu. It’s a shorter travel time therefore less stress on the chicks compared to ordering from a mainland hatchery.

I contacted Shane if I can help eviscerate the 7-week old meat birds. (I’m not squeamish about gutting poultry.) He’s happy that I can help his farm process 80 broilers. This would be my third time processing poultry. The first was in 2006 with Jan Dean (her Delaware heritage breed and my 3 roosters), the second time was January of this year (16 stewing hens).

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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.”

Potato productivity

July 7th, 2009

This spring i did a test of potato varieties:

  1. Red: a variety we’ve grown for years, probably the common “red bliss”, which has been a reliable producer
  2. White: seeds of change “German Butterball”
  3. Blue: seeds of change “All Blue”

I planted three beds in different areas of the upper garden, with the varieties in equal areas of each bed.  Here are the results in pounds of potato per plant: Red 0.84, White 1.64, Blue 0.33.  The German Butterball was amazing!  In our soil and climate, it’s a clear winner.  We’ll be carefully keeping and replanting that variety.

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.

Biochar update

June 29th, 2009

Biochar 2009

While i was in California, our first batch of biochar arrived, from Biochar Engineering thanks to the nice folks at EcoTechnologies Group. Yesterday i launched my very first field test, using peanuts. I have enough char to do many more tests, in the newly expanded upper field area, with other crops like sorghum, corn and potatoes. There are so many different combinations to test – varying amounts of char, different crops, use of microbial inoculants such as Natural Farming IMOs and Bobby Grime’s Aerobically Activated Compost Tea (AACT).

I have launched a mailing list, biochar-hawaii for the growing community of biochar-interested people here in Hawai’i.  If you are interested in making Hawaii agriculture sustainable and reducing climate change, come join us!

Tea update

June 29th, 2009

I’ve returned from six weeks in California. It was a big deal to leave the farm for so long. As expected, there is a ton of work to do with pulling back weeds, restarting the compost cycle, and so forth. One pleasant surprise is that in my absence, the tea field exploded with growth:

From Tea

It’s so big and thick now that in some place i can barely walk down the rows! High time to do another round of pruning, and perhaps our very first harvest as well!

Train your baby chicks to devour a variety of leafy greens

June 4th, 2009

It’s been more than two weeks since I’ve been fostering the baby chicks for Hillery Gunther. The weather has been thankfully, overcast and cooler than last week.

They are slowly losing their fuzzy down feathers and growing taller and longer. The cochins’ feathers on their shanks are starting to become more pronounced. There are couple of bold australorps leaping onto my forearms. I’m concerned that the cardboard brooder pen won’t keep the stronger australorps in much longer. I’ve even got a footage of them dust bathing in the pine shavings.

I’m slowly introducing them to eat a variety of leafy greens:

I’m sprouting a small tray of wheatgrass for the chicks. I want to supplement their diet in addition to the dry chick starter crumbles. Some baby cochins look at me in judgment, “What?! Another day, another trough of this dry crumbles? Bah! FEED ME GREENS!”

When I offer the chicks something new, I rip off teeny, beak sized pieces. The australorps are usually the first to investigate, to taste, to trample over the more shy cochins for the leafy greens. Go figure.

The chicks create this high-pitched frenzied chatter when I show them the bunch of chayote leaves “Ohh, guys, get some greens. The human’s got this green stuff in her hands. We goota have some fresh enzymes! Hey, get the girls here! Greeeens!”

I’m going to incorporate a variety of different greens around my homestead: broccoli leaves, cabbage greens, chard, spinach, plaintain leaf, tender dandelion leaves, etc. My goal is to make sure they develop different gut bacteria for a variety of plant matter.

Next time, when Hillery brings avocado, I am going to offer a small taste to the babies. I’m sure they’ll go bananas over avocado!