Category Archives: HOMESTEADING

August 2010 Update

GARDEN CLUBBERS
GARDEN CLUBBERS

(photo courtesy of Charles Tobias)

 

This particular post was published exactly one year ago! It’s a “remember when” rather than “how it is,” I’m afraid. You see, I didn’t think my garden was doing much last year, but all the beautiful things you see here are no longer in existence.

Ka’u District, the part of the Big Island of Hawai`i where I live, has been having a terrible drought. No amount of extra soil, watering or drip system is helping things to grow. Even critters (not bugs) are chewing what little bit has been growing in order to get a bit of moisture.

So I decided to post this “August 2009 Update” to get back a little hope that growing food and flowers in this lava is possible. Looking through the pictures and remembering helps me to realize how harsh this environment can be. The rains must surely come soon!

So here is the post from one year ago:

The July 2009 meeting of our Ocean View Garden Club was at my place. I told them I was definitely a work in progress and not a show place (yet)! They all wanted to see what was growing on my acre because they’d read my blog and seeing a garden that was not finished gave them hope. This post is my monthly catch-up with what’s going on here.

At my front door is this hanging fuschia.

 

Just below that is my cluster of orchid plants. Here is the latest bloom poking a head through the leaves.

 

As I stand on my front stoop and look out, this is what I see.

 

Here it is when I step down and look at these plants from another angle.

 

These are the Atom Gladiolas. The description from Old House Gardens states that it is a “brilliant red cooled by the finest edging of silver.” They are smaller than most glads and they provide a bright spot of color against my gray/black lava.

 

I cropped out the Spic and Span Glad from one of the photos above so you could see the difference in color. This is closer to the normal size of gladiola and runs from coral to pink. Both the Atom and the Spic/Span glads are heirloom bulbs dating from 1946. It’s too bad that the blooms don’t last longer.

 

Let’s walk on around to the right side of the house and look at my small beds of veggies. The sugar snap peas are full of blooms, and I’ve gotten a few pods to add to salads. You can see a piece of my patch of mustard greens.

 

I have several of these Thai hot peppers that will give me something to toss into my hot Thai cooking! If you’ve seen the little firey hot peppers in a Thai dish, that’s what I have here. It takes a mighty brave soul to bite into those with haste!

 

One of my students gave me a pot with a macadamia nut seedling. I was afraid it wouldn’t make it at first, but suddenly new leaves started to shoot out. I’ll give it a fair chance to make it before I transfer it out of the pot.

 

Walking back toward the shed, I have arugula and tomatoes, string beans and okra. I’m making salads with the arugula, but the tomatoes only have blooms so far. There are a few tiny beans that are in the process of becoming bigger beans. Here are a few pods of okra I’ve harvested. I toss a few of these in with whatever I’m cooking up in the skillet.

 

In the patio area I have beets growing, but not as many as I’d like to see. I need to buy more seeds for a fresh planting. These coffee berries will eventually turn bright red and I’ll be able to harvest them. How exciting to see these green berries. I hope I can get a pot of coffee out of my own trees.

 

Here is the Little Beeswings Dahlia that produced a few small blooms.

 

I think my favorite dahlia is the Prince Noir. I hope that eventually I’ll get a whole bush full of these gorgeous blooms.

 

Recently, a colleague gave me several bags of bromeliad and one has actually bloomed for me already!

 

Of course, I would love a whole yard of daylilies. Some of the ones I’ve planted have started to bloom.

 

The pikake plant is full of fragrant blossoms, about three times the number just since I took this photo a couple weeks ago.

 

I was given a small shoot of this plant. People have given it several names, but after looking on the internet, I’m still not sure what it is. If anyone can give me a link to what it is, I’d appreciate it. It’s been called a “stick plant,” but I’m sure that’s not it. It has also been called “zigzag plant,” but it doesn’t look exactly like the pictures on the web.

 

It seems like there’s always something waiting to be planted – like these bags of plants given by a friend.

 

And like most gardeners, I have so much more to be done. Like any addict, I keep buying more seeds than I’ll ever be able to plant!

A hui hou!

 

Lava Homestead Update

 

I’ve thought of the succulents and snapdragons that are all over this acre as really nothing more than weeds. Why? Because I didn’t plant them, they sprout up unbidden, then grow without anyone’s help, and they aren’t something I can eat. But I realized just how much they add to my landscape when I caught this shot of them. I think you’ll agree they are beautiful.

As we move into the last month of the year, I thought I would catch you up on what’s happening in my lava garden. It’s been about two months since my last update.

One of the most exciting changes lately has been my coffee berries – they are turning red! I may only get enough out of this first crop to make a small pot of coffee, of course. But I’m sure it will be the tastiest cup of coffee I’ve ever had.

 

I picked the ones that were ripe enough. Now I need to get the pulp off the beans, dry them, roast them, grind them, and drink!

 

The red mustards I planted several weeks ago are beginning to look like something edible.

 

I’ve had trouble keeping my cat (Kaimana) out of my raised beds, so there are large patches where nothing is coming up. He likes to scratch around and make himself comfortable.

Is that pot big enough to sleep in?Is that pot big enough to sleep in?

 

At the same time that I planted the red mustard seeds, I also put in another batch of beets. They will give me several good meals this winter.

 

With the help of one of my students, I planted some ginger cuttings she had brought. It took them a long time to root, but now they are showing good growth and soon I will transplant them to a permanent location.

 

It’s been almost a year since I planted this red scarlet chard, and it’s still going strong. I eat off of it occasionally, stir-frying it in olive oil with lots of garlic. When the leaves are still young and small, I sometimes cut it up and put it into a salad without cooking it.

 

Like the chard, my arugula plants just keep producing. I love fresh arugula salads. A friend said, “A little arugula goes a long way,” but I like the spicy bitterness more than most folks do.

 

I’m not sure if these papaya plants are going to do much at this elevation, but I keep nursing them along. They were also a gift during this past summer.

 

My garden club has a plant gift exchange at Christmas. The gift I received last year was this pikake plant, now full of buds and blooms.

 

I had a lovely gardenia bush that suffered during the worst of the sulfur dioxide fumes from the volcano. Today, it is growing back and producing a few buds.

 

I put out a bunch of cuttings of a purple-flowered bush (don’t know the name of it), and every one of them is showing great signs of growth. When it finally blooms, I’ll find out what it is and post more pictures. At this point, it’s great fun to see something grow from a bare stem stuck in the soil.

 

I have what I call a smoky bush (don’t know the real name of that, either) that is showing leaves from another piece of twig put in the ground. These two plants (red and purple) seem to take off right away with a little soil and water.

 

Still another plant that seems to root and grow profusely without much care is this magenta geranium. I’d put in just a couple of small cuttings from a friend, and now they are filling in the blank spots, giving color to an otherwise gray landscape.

 

The lilikoi plants that grow against my shed were eaten back by fuzzy black caterpillars. Now they are showing new growth. Unless someone gives me a bunch of lilikoi, I won’t be making more lilikoi butter this year!

 

The brugmansia were in need of some drastic cutting back. Once I did that, they started sprouting all sorts of new leaves and they are looking twice as healthy.

 

The poinsettias take over the island at this time of year. Soon I’ll have a chance to get more pictures of those. When they are mingled in with other colors, and especially the white flowering shrubs, they are a breathtaking sight. Some of the “Snow on the Mountain” are blooming on my property.

This plant is sometimes called Snow-on-the-Mountain, and is closely related to poinsettia, crotons, and the other members of the Euphorbia plant family. It is a native to the Pacific Islands. See the full article here.

 

We’ve had little bits of rain here and there, not enough to overflow the tank, but to keep it at a decent level. That’s a critical element in the grand scheme of life here on my little homestead. If it keeps up like that over the winter months, I’ll be in good shape. At least we are not worried about snow storms here!

A hui hou!

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.

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. http://www.abads.net/ 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. http://www.hiloweb.com/webman/ti.html 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.

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 http://www.poolbrite.net/. 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 (http://lothlorien-lucy.blogspot.com/) 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. (http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/ctahr2001/CTAHRInAction/Feb_02/TMacomber.html)

Aloha until next week!

Lucy

In beginning

I admit it! I get jealous when I read my usual gardening magazines and see people digging in rich loam, trying to decide the best landscape design to showcase their home.

I re-locate rocks!

My years of gardening in California and Arizona are proving to be useless here in Hawai`i. One would think it is similar, and that may be true for some parts of Hawai`i. It’s certainly not the case for those of us living on the south end of the Big Island of Hawai`i, and in this particular area.

I came to Hawai`i almost twelve years ago, but lived in an area where there was more decomposed lava, i.e., I had soil. When I bought this land and house two years ago, the only things blooming were ohia trees, which are one of the first things to grow after a lava flow, and wild yellow poppies that were spreading all over the area. (See photo above)

There is a beautiful legend about ohia trees and the lehua blossom that blooms on them.
http://www.americanfolklore.net/folktales/ha2.html

On the surface, it looks like you could rake aside the rocks and find the soil underneath. But when you move a rock, all you find is more rock. Under the ohia trees there is a bit of tree litter starting to decompose, but mostly it’s a matter of finding soil somewhere else

The process involves moving aside enough rocks to get a nice hole (without the rocks rolling back down into the hole), then pouring in a bucket or bag of soil for your plant. Of course, every time it rains or you water, the soil filters down into the cracks between the lava rocks, so of course, you need to pour in more fresh soil.

Still, I’m very happy to be here, so I won’t bore you with what led to the purchase of this acre. This blog will guide you through the ongoing process of converting lava into a more friendly growing place.