All posts by Lucy Lee Jones

You Have the Power

With no disrespect for the pig, I sometimes wonder just why I spend so much time trying to make a “silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” In other words, why am I working so hard trying to transform this acre of hard lava into a lush paradise?

I don’t believe I’m doing it only to create something of beauty. I believe I am taking to heart our need to become more self-sustaining in an area of the world that too easily could become isolated from the rest of what we call “civilization.”

As the price of fuel increases, we will be less inclined to pay for the accompanying rise in food prices, if the shipping is able to continue at all. We don’t need the packaged goods that are advertised as a way to “bring families to the dinner table for a hearty, wholesome meal.” We don’t need to rely on food that is grown half-way around the world by people who may be exploited. A great book that helped me with that perspective is Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

When I was growing up in the Midwest, people grew their own foods and whatever they didn’t eat right away was canned for the winter months. I went with my folks to help farmers with the slaughtering and smoking so meat would be available for their families. When everyone came in for dinner, everything on the table had been freshly butchered, preserved, or grown, including the freshly picked strawberries (my favorite).

Many days I spent helping my grandmother pit cherries, peaches and apricots to be put up in glass jars. I loved the “bread and butter pickles” she made to put on sandwiches or eat as a mid-afternoon treat. Beside my great-grandmother, I picked gooseberries and served as her able assistant as she made them into such wonderful pies. This is the same ancestor that my brother, Hilton mentions in his blog .

Because I was born at the end of the Great Depression, I’m old enough to have lived through several eras. In my “hippie” era, I wanted to go “back to the earth.” I was equally concerned about the use and abuse of land, and I embarked into the world of vegetarianism in the mid 70s. The philosophy of Frances Moore Lappé, better known as “Frankie,” made an impact on me in the mid-70s when I read her Diet for a Small Planet.

For the next decade, I was fairly strict with being a vegetarian. After that, I chose to include a little meat in my diet occasionally, still preferring the simple vegetarian fare that I had begun because of her book. In a way, I forgot about Frankie, even while I was devouring her books regularly for tried and true recipes.

About a year ago, I found her again and was amazed at what she had been doing and how many books she had written while I was off doing other things. The book that caught my eye was You Have the Power: Choosing Courage in a Culture of Fear. It was written in 2004, so it isn’t a brand new book. I didn’t find it until 2007. What a treasure it is!

She speaks of the shock and fear that gripped her when told she had a rare but treatable form of breast cancer. From a comment made by a Russian cab driver in New York, she and her co-author, Jeffrey Perkins, realized how fearful we are as Americans.

We are afraid of everything, she says, and we are stopped from doing anything about the sources of our fear. Frankie and Jeffrey write that “…it is our ideas about fear that….can shut us down, or they can allow us to discover our power to create the lives and the world we want.”

Fear is inside, not outside of us, they write, and they give us seven old ways of thinking that put the brakes on our energy and power. They proceed to give us seven new thoughts to inspire us and unleash our energy. You Have the Power had the same impact on me that Diet did in the 70s.

I don’t create my garden out of a sense of fear, but with great anticipation for a better and healthier future for myself and those around me. I do have the power to create that kind of life, the one my grandmother and great-grandmother taught me.

Early Hawai`ians divided the land from the mountains to the sea into parcels called ahupua`a. This enabled them to grow various food items at different elevations as well as get fish from the ocean. Now that is self-sustaining! So much we could learn from that way of life.

An article from The Boston Globe gives us a glimpse of Frankie today. I can hardly wait to read Getting a Grip: Clarity, Creativity, and Courage in a World Gone Mad, published in October 2007.

How did I miss it?

Who Wants Worms?

I love to fish! I’ve been fishing all my life. Even as a little girl, I remember pulling in crappie and bream from lakes in the Midwest and catfish in the South. As an adult, when I lived on my sailboat, I fished on the Pacific Ocean for shark and other blue water fish. I waded out into the cold rivers of Alaska for salmon. I chopped ice off the top of a minnow bucket to go fishing with my children in Mississippi.

But I have never used a worm!

I can thread a hook through the eye of a minnow and put rotten meat in a basket to lure crabs, but I can’t bear the thought of touching a worm.

Last week at our local garden club meeting, several of the members mentioned that they would love to teach the rest of us about vermiculture. I’d taken an elective course in viticulture at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, which now has grown to have its own department .

Our class prepared and planted several acres with sauvignon grapes, which are bearing beautifully now. I knew vermiclture and viticulture were not the same thing, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to know more about vermiculture.

When the question came up about red wigglers vs. earthworms, my worst fears were realized. It was clear that wine and worms were definitely not in the same category!

I listened closely to the conversation, waiting for some other brave soul to ask the question that was running through my mind.

“How do you handle them if you don’t want to handle them?” someone else finally asked.

Two responses came out of it. One is to wear rubber gloves, the other is to use chopsticks. Now that I could tolerate (maybe). I’ll wear rubber gloves and use chopsticks!

My second daughter, Inga, has the most incredible garden in Boise, Idaho. Her little magical space was on the Boise Garden Tour a couple years ago. She takes advantage of every inch in order to grow her garden, even out by the street.

I know Inga keeps several compost piles going so I asked her if she also grew worms. There are worms in her compost, but she hasn’t specifically set herself up to do vermiculture, she said.

Here is Velvet Replogle and some of her explanations of how to start and what to do with vermiculture .

Strips of damp (not dripping wet) newspaper are put into the bin as bedding for the worms. When Velvet first started, she used Styrofoam containers, but the worms burrowed a hole through the Styrofoam in search of food. She said that if they aren’t getting enough food, they leave.

Now she uses plastic bins with tiny holes so the worms can’t get through but still get air. You can see some of the holes in the far side of this bin.

With a moderate temperature and a relatively quiet atmosphere, the worms will stay alive and healthy. Like chickens, worms like a bit of grit, such as ground up egg shells or coffee grounds. After about a week, you can start adding other bits of kitchen scraps.

When you pull aside the wet newspaper, you see the dark and rich castings – by-product of your worms and the primary reason anyone would bother to raise worms.

This article states that castings have a nitrogen content five (5) times greater than regular soil. The phosphate is seven (7) times greater, potash is eleven (11) times greater, and magnesium is three (3) times greater.

Those facts are almost enough for me to reconsider my aversion to worms! When you are trying to grow something in a field of lava, you need all the help you can get. You’ll rarely get such magnificent fertilizer with so little effort.

My daughter knows how I hate the thought of touching worms, so I mentioned that Velvet uses chopsticks to move her worms. Inga’s response? “They are yummy! But a little hard to eat with chopsticks!” (big sigh) Our kids just never grow up, do they?

These redworms (Eisenia foetida) are also known as red wiggler, brandling or manure worms. They can double their populations every 90 days if given the right amount of food and a good home where they can live.

After watching Velvet and learning the value of these little wiggly things, I thought, “Maybe I can do this!”

The Gardener Within

Remember the old saying: “April showers bring May flowers?” It takes more than just showers to have beautiful flowers in May – or June or July or any month. It also takes digging and planting, nurturing and patience, faith and prayer.

My maternal grandfather was a strong typical “type A” personality, but when he worked in his garden, he was calm, happy and peaceful. His special joy was in finding many varieties of iris. He would drive all over Southern Illinois in search of new iris plants. Studies have shown that in a similar way, Alzheimer’s patients who are placed in a garden all day are no longer violent.

I don’t plan on collecting iris, but I’ve thought about the many varieties of daylily or hibiscus available. I’m trying a little of each to see which ones grow best here. It’s hard to decide – so maybe I’ll collect both!

Even when I lived on my sailboat for five years, I had hanging baskets of cherry tomatoes and pots of aloe plants for sunburn and wounds. I needed that bit of plant material to make me feel like I had a garden. Various cultures around the world have special tales about the healing power of plants on all levels.

Some of my favorite times as a small girl were spent in a special cherry tree in the back yard of a parsonage. We only lived there a couple years, but as long as we did, I would climb up onto a high limb and read. As a lonely child, it was my way to escape. Many of us have had spiritual experiences with trees, but we don’t discuss them for fear of sounding silly. We rarely talk about the spiritual aspects of gardening, until someone of like mind brings up the subject.

Maybe I’m a little strange, but I talk to my plants. I haven’t really heard them talk back, although they do respond by growing and producing. I used to think people who talked to their animal pets were weird, too!

Today, I live on an acre of a’a in Hawai`i. A`a is lumpy, rocky lava that blew out of the depths of our volcano. The only way to plant something is to move aside the rocks and dump in a bag of soil, which filters down after a rain or watering and I need to add more soil. Still, there are nutrients in the greedy porous lava. Plants do grow, with a lot of prayer and patience.

Peter and Eileen Caddy were founders of the Findhorn Community in Scotland. They moved to a barren plot on the northernmost tip of Scotland, a place where nothing should have grown. Yet they made it work, through meditation and conversations with the nature spirits and “devas” – the angels of each plant. They claimed to receive gardening advice from those beings.

No matter what we may believe about all that, their results were incredible. I hope for the same results in my lava. Here in this little corner of the Big Island, I suppose it takes calling on Madam Pele, our volcano goddess – or maybe calling on the menehune.

I believe that if you are open to it, the process of gardening will tell you everything you need to know about life. There is a definite spirit of cooperation and communication between plants and humans. It is easy to see how we cultivate ourselves when we cultivate a garden. The idea is to relate to all living things as if they can understand, because they can! It is a living prayer.

Saint Fiacre is the patron saint of gardens and gardeners. He carries a shovel in one hand and a book in the other. He gave up his life as a prince of Ireland to live as a monk on the edge of a forest in France. Many people came to him for his healing through herbs and flowers. His reputation grew and ultimately, he built his own monastery that featured his healing plants.

Being There with Peter Sellars is a wonderful old movie. It is the story of a man who started out as sort of an idiot child who learned to garden, and could speak of nothing but gardening. Through a minor accident, he was brought into a home where he gradually worked his way up to international significance with only his gardening remarks. Everyone thought that his words were profound, and they became metaphors for everything from politics to world finance to love.

Please leave a comment and tell me what spiritual experiences have you had with plants.

The Southernmost Market in the USA

The image people seem to have of Hawai`i is one of luxurious living that is mostly out of the reach of most mainlanders – not just to buy a home, but to even visit for a short vacation.

The truth is that much of Hawai`i would be considered more like a third world state by some standards. I remember asking my brother about getting something printed. He nonchalantly said, “Just take it down to Kinko’s.” When I said we have no Kinko’s, he was in utter shock.

What?? No Kinko’s?

It may come as a surprise to many of our friends on the mainland and in other parts of the world that until recently, we had no Borders, no Costco, no Kmart (and more). I hear we will be getting a Target sometime next year! There are new stop lights where none existed ten years ago. Many dirt roads are just now getting paved

When I was a pastor in Pahala and Na`alehu, two plantation villages near my present home, I invited a work team of students from a mainland university to come during Spring Break. They had no idea what they were running into, and people in their home towns scoffed at the notion of these students doing volunteer work for needy people in Hawai`i. Most thought they were coming over here to surf and have fun. A group of changed students carried a different message back home at the end of their week.

Things are different down in our isolated district of Ka’u (two syllables – Kah-oo). The area of Ka’u is larger than the county (island) of Oahu, and much of it is lava, just like my acre. Many people live “off the grid,” and have no electricity or phone service. I have already written about the need for living on catchment, which means catching our own rain water. That’s not an economic necessity, but just the way it is in this part of the island.

As a result, “buying locally” isn’t simply a trendy thing to do here. For us here it is another of those necessities. Take a walk with me down the paths between vendors and see what you can buy.

I don’t grow corn, but others bring corn to the market – so beautiful and delicious! I am eating one right now, as I write this blog. Don’t mind the butter dripping on your screen.

Albert and Lily Ledergerber have a stand here several times a month, but not this week. He came to do their week’s groceries, however, and he showed me the fresh corn

Another friend (Lorie Obra) grows, picks, processes and roasts her own coffee from her estate. Personally, I think that Ka’u grown coffee is much richer and more consistent than Kona coffee, but don’t tell anyone I said that.

The first stop I make at the market is to Lorie’s stand for a cup to sip while I do my shopping for the week’s vegetables and fruits. She always bakes some sort of pastry to accompany it.

The seasons vary but some things are available year-round.

You can buy local honey, Japanese eggplant, several varieties of lettuce, fresh vine-ripened tomatoes, homemade breads, local mac nuts (macadamia), and so much more.

One loaf of whole wheat bread was over $6.00 at one of the chain groceries in Kona this past week. Is it any wonder most of us either buy from “the breadman” or make our own?

I doubt if there are too many of these being sold in the mainland markets – Artocarpus heterophyllus. We call this “jackfruit.” They can get bigger than this, but here you can compare the fruit to the basket. Be sure to click on the link to see what it looks like inside.

There are too many good things to get pictures of them all. Eventually, I will feature more of the individual vendors. Today is just an overview

I do a lot of wishful thinking around the plants that are for sale

Artisans bring handmade garments, gourds and more

The jewelry here was all created by one woman. I plan to do a feature on her soon. She has made some of the most beautiful jewelery I’ve ever coveted. This shot is only one small end of what she displays on her table.

You can even buy locally made soaps and scents.

Marge and Dennis Elwell of Na`alehu Main Street said this market was begun with four farmers getting together in order to sell their produce. It has gradually grown to the size it is now. Marge and Dennis proudly wear their “Ka’u Farmers’ Market” t-shirts

The Na`alehu Farmer’s Market is held on the front lot of the Ace Hardware store every Wednesday from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm and on Saturdays from 8:00 am until to noon. At certain times of the year, the buying is more skimpy, but there is nearly always something to be found.

There are other farmer’s markets on the island, and bigger ones, but none has quite the hometown cozy feel of the one in Na`alehu. If there is someone you need to talk with, you can almost count on them being there

This is an area of the Big Island that most tourists know nothing about. If you are a visitor to our island and you just happen to be driving on Highway 11 through Na`alehu in the District of Ka’u, please stop and see what the excitement is about. You will be treated to some of our local fare

Here’s summer squash, fresh from our Na`alehu Farmers’ Market. I’ll have it for supper with a warm whole wheat tortilla I just made. Join me?

Fresh Eggs (Almost!)

I moved into my house in February, 2006. So far, this blog has been about those early months of owning my acre of lava. My intent was to write about everything here in chronological order, but alas, my mind doesn’t always work that way.

I feel a strong need to tell you about my “girls,” my six hens. I’m not sure what happened to all the fresh local eggs, but it seems that most (if not all) of the egg farms on our island have shut down. I refuse to buy eggs that have been shipped for who-knows-how-long all the way from who-knows-where on the mainland.

So I set out on a quest for chickens. I knew there must be chickens somewhere because I hear roosters all over the place. (That’s another story!) The first day of my search, I asked the local feed store if they knew who was selling chickens. Right there on the bulletin board was a note from someone right here in my community who was taking orders for baby chicks.

I’d already done a bit of reading and looking around to see what I might want. So I made an order for six chicks to be delivered sometime in April. I opted to let the young man raise them for the first month. I didn’t want to invest in a brooder, or worry about losing them quite yet. Maybe I’ll try that next time I get chickens.

In my past life as a mother of four and a local community 4-H leader, I’ve helped to raise everything – pigs, horses, goats, sheep, rabbits, guinea pigs, dogs and cats – but never chickens. This would be a totally new experience for me.

I started checking books out of the library and looking on the internet for ideas on chicken coops. I wasn’t sure what I wanted, but knew I needed to have something ready for them when they arrived.

My two daughters (Debbie and Inga) and my wonderful son-in-law (Harry) came to visit in March during spring break. Harry, is a general contractor in California, so I asked his advice.

And “would you please build a chicken coop for me?”

I think he knew what was coming, because he flew from California with his tool belt and his own power saw! He quickly set up shop.

He was as confused about what I wanted as I was, but anything to please a mother-in-law, right? He took an old metal futon couch frame that I’d left sitting behind my shed and converted it into a beautiful coop.

I showed the finished coop to a friend (his wife raised chickens). He took one look and said, “It will never be this clean again.” He was right!

When I got the call, I was ecstatic, but as nervous as when I was having babies. He brought the “girls” over at one month of age – three Rhode Island Reds (who will lay brown eggs for me) and three Araucana (who will lay blue or blue-green eggs). The Araucana girl in the top photo is a color called Wheaten.

Here they are on April 13, 2008. Just below the log perch, is the Wheaten Araucana. At the bottom right is a Rhode Island Red and there are two mottled black/tan/gold Araucana. I haven’t been able to figure out the exact name for that coloration.

Here they are, six weeks later – and they are growing like weeds! One of the Reds is in front and an Araucana behind her. Not sure why they find that bare piece of wood so fascinating!

By early June, I knew they needed to get out and scratch around. So I enlisted the help of a friend to build a “chicken run.” We opened up a square at one end of the coop, added a removable door, and built a run for them to use. They get down through the door and a little ladder-type arrangement. Here you can see the beginning of the framework.


It was finally finished and the “girls” got their first taste of relative freedom.

You can see the entire run better in this next picture. Sometimes I toss a bit of corn scratch in through the top and let them search for it.
They are now four months old – big and plump! I expect them to start laying in about another six weeks or so. Stay tuned!

E Komo Mai – Welcome!

Kaimana, my wonderful friend, loves the outdoors. He’s gotten out by accident only a few times, but he always found his way back home. His paws were always scraped raw when he returned, not being accustomed to the harshness of the lava. Now he mostly sits to watch the world go by and fantasize about a life of freedom.

When I first moved in, the lonely monstera you can see through the screen was gracing my entryway, compliments of the previous owner. I added a turtle pot at the bottom of the steps. Now Mr. Turtle lives over on the other side. I’m not sure what’s growing in it here. A friend gave me a few cuttings of a ground cover that didn’t make it. He is empty as I write this, waiting for divine inspiration.

The monstera was eventually shifted down to the ground and I began searching for a way to add my own touch to the entry. On this next photo, you can see where I put the monstera.

You can also see the small Angel’s Trumpet trees growing from cuttings I put in. This name is shared with the closely related genus Datura. The Brugmansia genus is perennial and woody, the Datura species is herbaceous. Also, the Brugmansia has pendulous blooms while the Datura has more erect blooms. I’ve been calling what I have “Datura,” but seems I’m incorrect in that. Can anyone straighten me out? There are many beautiful trees of the Angel’s Trumpet here on the Big Island.

I was given cuttings of ti plants (Cordyline Terminalis), or ki in Hawai`ian. Ti or ki is grown in profusion around any Hawai`ian home to provide good luck and protection. It has bushed out and grown even taller since I took this shot. I was amazed at how quickly they grew from simple eighteen-inch pieces of stalk. I put them into water with a rooting compound and within a very short time, I was able to put them into the ground.

I was given a large full basket of a variety of orchids, so I stuck that in the corner where the monstera had been on the front stoop. They are difficult to see here. Isn’t that a nice path going around the house?

This has definitely been a “work in progress.” As you can see, there was a lot of work to be done to make the entry more inviting.

The dark green lattice work I’ve started putting in around the lower portion of the house is a great improvement, don’t you think?

Little by little this acre of lava is being transformed, but I’m an impatient woman.

New Life!

As I came out of the house this morning, my eye caught this growth. A branch of ohia that touches the ground, and looks totally dead, is shooting up a lehua blossom. Even if our temperature doesn’t vary more than a few degrees year round, there still is a definite feel of spring this time of year.

Perhaps the struggle for growth in a field of lava creates a shift in perspective. The tiniest bit of green that pokes its head through the black stone is cause for praise and excitement.

While I watered my plants this morning, I took pictures of a few precious keiki (Hawai`ian for babies – and a term we use for new and/or young plants).

One that I am especially excited about is the beautiful Barbados lily I was given by my daughters. I’m still trying to find out more about this beautiful plant. What I’ve read so far indicates that it is actually a Hippeastrum Striatum, a variation of the amaryllis. The nurseryman told us that when it dies, a new plant will pop up wherever the flower falls. This seems to be coming true. If you look closely, you’ll see it sprouting up new growth. How many can you count?

In one of my small raised beds mentioned last week, I have a kabocha vine starting to grow and bloom. I really love the flavor of this vegetable. If you check out this website, you’ll see the many ways it can be prepared. I haven’t tried them all yet, but intend to. It’s called “Japanese pumpkin” here by my local friends.

My pink plumeria is starting to bloom. The yellow ones started about a month earlier.

This gardenia is in a container in my patio area, rather than in the ground. But it’s still exciting to see it start to do something. If you look closely (maybe with a magnifying glass?) you can see a tiny bud starting to develop.

The same thing is true of this pepper plant. Somehow the label got lost on this plant after I bought it, but I think I remember that it’s supposed to be hot. I guess the only way I’ll find out is to taste it! (laughing)

I planted peanuts in a little pocket of soil my daughters created for me. They used ohia leaf litter, mixed with compost and some of my “pig dirt” (see last week’s post). You can see the ohia leaves still dropping off. But the peanuts are looking healthy. I remember eating fresh raw peanuts out of my Grandpa Jones’ front yard in Mississippi. Yummy!

There is new growth on my coconut palm. Some of the older leaves have burned edges from the sulfur dioxide in the air (from our volcano), and you can see some spots from the acid rain.

My red banana had a few burned leaves, but it looks like it just might make it.

New growth is very rewarding! Watching my plants sprout and grow is like giving birth to my children again!


Comfortable Beds for Veggies

Some plants seem to do well by moving the lava rocks, dumping in soil, and putting in a rooted cutting. For regular garden vegetables, however, this method doesn’t work.

The only way to have veggies is to build raised beds. There are many advantages to raised beds, and especially when you are dealing with a yard of lava. With the help of a friend, I built several small beds.

Local friends have a piggery nearby, and they have been helping me out with their dump truck full of cured “pig dirt.” Their real soil, added to the natural by-product of pigs, mixed in with my compost material, creates rich soil. I wish I could cover my whole acre with it! It doesn’t look as big in the picture as it really is (next picture). I’d already used a lot of it before I took this shot.

Gradually, I shoveled buckets of it into the beds with visions of fresh veggies floating through my brain. I’d been hungry for beets, so that was the first thing I planted. They looked so pretty growing in their rows.

The first picture above shows my first harvest of little beets (the other produce there is not from my garden). I cooked up the greens first, because they don’t last very long once they’re picked. I’ve eaten all the beets now, so it’s time to plant more.

I also picked a mess of collards and mustards from the small beds. For just one person, the small beds are ample.

This past week, the same friend helped me build a larger bed out by the shed. We bought 4X4 lumber on sale at Lowe’s and created this 8’X4′ bed. I put cedar mulch in the bottom to keep the soil from dropping down into the lava too quickly, and now I’ve started to shovel in more “pig dirt.” As soon as it’s full of soil, I’ll plant more veggies.

I’ll build a few more of these larger beds. As you can see, it will take a lot of buckets before I fill this bed! This represents only three buckets of “pig dirt.”

I can hardly wait to show you pictures of the new veggies that will be growing here. So far, the wild local mouflin sheep haven’t decided to eat my produce before I do.

What in the world is lilikoi?

If you read this blog and you are not a resident of Hawai`i, that’s probably what you’ve been wondering. Lilikoi is the Hawai`ian name for Passion Fruit. It has a very distinctive flavor and not everyone likes it the first time they taste it. I think it’s definitely an acquired taste, although it was love at first bite for me.

You can cut it in half, and spoon out the insides with a spoon and eat it, seeds and all. Sometimes I cut up a whole bag of them, scoop out the flesh into a colander and let them drain into a bowl overnight. The juice that results is perfect for making salad dressings, ice cream, jams, or anything else you can think of.

A friend gave me an already established purple lilikoi vine along with some of the yellow lilikoi fruits. I planted the purple vine, ate a few of the yellow ones, and kept the seeds from the rest to plant. The picture above shows the seedlings. I gave some to a friend in Kailua-Kona (where they have a little real soil) and hers are growing like crazy!

I put these seedlings out, poured soil in around them, but some still are not much larger than they are in the picture above. Some of the others are about 8″ tall. It will be a long time before I get enough lilikoi juice to make ice cream.

Another of my other early attempts at trying to grow something at 2300′ elevation in lava was this banana. I’m not quite sure it will make it. But you can see a few leaves trying to push through.

My greatest success has been with the plumeria or frangipani, as it is called in some areas. The smell is delicious and visitors to the island love the scent from their welcoming leis. I have white, pink and yellow right now, and I’m looking for some of the deep reds. They are the simplest to grow. I just move enough rocks to put in some soil, stick in the cuttings, and they take off. This picture shows one of my early plants, flowering in the first season.

I was given several protea plants. The picture below shows them before I put them in the ground. Unfortunately, the sulfur dioxide got to them and they probably aren’t going to make it.

In each pot of protea was a very tiny bit of green growth. The nurseryman who sold them to my friend said that I could plant them. They were from jacaranda seeds that had fallen into the soil around the protea. I carefully put them into little pots and you can see the results here. Again, I gave some away, and I have two in my yard that seem to be growing nicely. It’s hard to imagine these tiny seedlings becoming one of the huge beautiful jacaranda trees.

I won’t bore you this time with more of my early attempts at getting things to grow. I plan on doing mostly raised beds for veggies, and a lot of container gardening. (See Janice Crowl’s Container Gardening in Hawaii in the Amazon link on the right.)


But will it grow in lava?

Janice Crowl did such a beautiful job of covering the 6th Annual Seed Exchange at the Amy B.H. Greenwell Gardens that I won’t try to top it!

I did bring home seeds that will probably go into big containers, rather than into my lava yard! Please do read her post on this wonderful event. She covers it professionally and with good close-ups of some of the seeds and plants available.

I do want to comment on it, however, and show a few of the pictures I took while there. The Theme of “Ignite the Fire Within” was illustrated by two fire bowls.

The gathered fruit offerings brought by the community of gardeners.

So many of us lost plants to the sulfur dioxide. A friend brought blooms from her two protea that survived, saying that it was Pele’s way of weeding out and that the survivors were to be blessed.

Signs from a couple tables with seeds and plants for the taking

Care for a refreshing drink of coconut water?

Next year I plan to wear boots and carry a bigger bag for seeds and plants.



Protea Heaven

One of the plants that seems to grow well here is protea. Some of the local folks call it pro-TAY-ah, but the official pronunciation is PRO-tee-ah. However you want to say it, protea is one of the magnificent tropical blooms that mainland people spend a lot of money to have. You’ll see huge tropical arrangements in the big hotels with the many colors and shapes of protea. Often tourists think they are plastic because they look fake. explains the name, which comes from the Greek god, Proteus, who could change shape. The protea blossoms take on many shapes and varieties, as you can see from the links in this post.

Protea is native to South Africa and Australia, but grows extremely well here in Hawai`i. It doesn’t do well in wet areas, and we are in a dry part. A little peat moss mixed with perlite makes a good planting medium. You make a hole, put the rooted cutting in, and let it grow!

I had big dreams of converting the back half-acre of my property into a protea farm. The a`a lava around here provides the perfect conditions for successfully growing protea. The problem is that some of the a`a hides what we call “blue rock,” which roots cannot penetrate. I’ve planted many different kinds of protea, but so far none have done well at all.

It’s not only the blue rock that keeps protea from growing. Our friendly Madam Pele sends out her sulfur dioxide from the Kilauea volcano, which gets into our lungs as well as burns the tops of the protea. Those levels have been extremely high in the past several weeks and the protea farmers fear a loss of income. There is a black chemical burn at the top of each of my plants.

This article is about the Leucospermum, more commonly called “pincushion.” Dr. Leonhardt, one of the authors of the article, came to talk with a group of us who either are protea farmers, or who hoped to become protea farmers (that included me). He was interested in getting us to help him in a research project. The group was too loosely organized to get that project going.

In this link from another Big Island grower, you’ll see several pincushions, then the minks, and the bottom row shows my favorite, the banksia. This interesting article from the Honolulu Star Bulletin tells how one woman got started growing protea.

Here is a picture of a pink mink protea from a farm in Kula, Maui

I managed to get one pincushion bloom before the volcano got them. It’s a sad looking specimen – nothing like the beauties in the links above, but it was my bloom (see above photo).

Next week, I’ll tell you about some of my other “disasters” in trying to start plants here.


Shades of Gray

There is dramatic starkness in an acre of lava. The huge ancient swooping ohia trees provide more shades of black and gray against the stony landscape. Another early growth out of new lava is the bit of green fern that gives a spot of color amidst the somber monotone.

The legend told to every newcomer to Hawaii is that Madam Pele will turn you upside down and give you a good shaking. If you can survive that, she allows you to stay, but on her terms. Learning how to handle her and accommodate her moodiness is part of gardening here.

Walking across the a`a lava can be tricky, and I developed a better sense of balance in the process, along with nicks and bruises. Picking up the lava rocks can do some real damage to your skin. I tried using gloves at first, but found it was faster to simply pick them up to move them. My skin toughened up at last.

But skin wasn’t the only thing that suffered. The tires on my car were getting shredded from driving over the rough stones. I needed to cover up the driveway to protect my tires. I bought the cinder, and a friend called in a favor from a dump truck owner. Once the cinder was on the driveway, he used his little Bobcat and smoothed it out. What a difference it made!

I also wanted a place to park near the house, so a base was put down and cinder dumped on that, as well. Here are pictures of that process. Never would I have thought I could be that excited over a load of cinder!

. . . and not a drop to drink!

The first item to be addressed on our acre of lava was a 15,000 gallon water catchment tank full of algae. The water in the tank was full to the brim, but the color of the green on the sides of this blog! In the toilets, it was almost black.

I found a young man in the area who worked on water tanks He took one look inside and vowed he’d never seen a tank so green, and definitely didn’t encourage me to use it! Over the next few weeks, he “shocked” the water several times, killed off all the algae, then vacuumed it out. He went through this process several times, before he felt it was useable.

Notice, I didn’t say “drinkable!” Even after a couple of years, I still buy my drinking water, although I’m sure it is fine now. I plan to put in an ultra violet filter that will make it safe for drinking.

The cover on the tank was old, covered in bird sh*t, and a dead bird was in the bottom of the tank. As soon as the water started to look clear, I bought a new cover (see photo above). This keeps the sun off the water and protects it from any outside debris.

The gutters are designed to catch all our rain and pipe it to the tank. We added a gutter on the shed in order to maximize the water we caught. Every drop counts around here! There is a net bag at the end of each pipe to catch leaves and trash before the water enters the tank.

There is a pump under the house that then pumps the tank water back to the house for use. We installed two filters – one to take out the chlorine and the other to catch anything else that might have gotten through. These are replaced about every six weeks, or you end up with the pump clogged and not working.

While suburbanites make an effort to be “green” by buying 50-gallon rain barrels, that wouldn’t go far here on the south end of the Big Island of Hawai`i. We live off catchment water. We love the rainy season, and a drought can hit us hard. By late summer, I may have to buy 4,000 gallons ($150) from a water truck that gets it from the county. They will pump it in, getting us through until the first rain, but it messes up the chemical balance in the tank.

There is a delicate balance to maintain the water. The pH and chlorine levels need to be just right, so I’m constantly checking, then adding whatever is necessary to keep it right. I rigged a “Mark Twain” kind of rope so I can measure the depth. “Conservation” is the constant word of the day. But I lived on my 37′ sailboat ( so I already knew about conserving water.

There were so many things I wanted to do – plant a garden, make curtains, buy a stove – but our basic need for water came first. I’m pleased with what has been accomplished.

For more “official” information about all this, see the UH Cooperative Extension Service. (

Aloha until next week!