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!

Feels Like Spring!


When I returned from my trip to California mid-June, I saw how much some of my plants had grown. Of course, a few things had run their course and were regrouping for the next growth spurt.

For instance, a few little snippets of ivy geranium that I’d broken from a friend’s plant had actually grown and was covered with brilliant magenta blossoms. What richness! Above is a single bloom. Here is a view of several together.


The brugmansia that had given its first bloom a month before, now had eight trumpets hanging! After waiting several years for a blossom, I can now count on it giving me flowers regularly. Those eight have died now, and six more are waiting to open. I think I was too excited to hold the camera still, or maybe it was the wind blowing the blooms, but you can the difference between my one lonely first bloom and now.


I had planted one small piece of orchid cactus given to me by a friend. I started looking up “orchid cactus” with Google and found many sites that said it is neither a member of the orchid family, nor is it a true epiphyllum. So far I haven’t found a site that tells me exactly what it is, other than it is related to a desert cactus. I’ll keep looking. Whatever it may be (or not be), the bloom was beautiful. I found it when I went out to water mid-day on July 3.


At the beginning of May, I planted some heritage canna bulbs from Old House Gardens. One was a Florence Vaughn Canna (1893), and the other was a Canna Indica (1596). Until they bloom toward the end of summer or in the fall, the leaves are flamboyant and perky. There is something rather wholesome about having plants from bulbs that come from a line that is over 400 years old!


I want to put in a plug here for Old House Gardens. I ordered a sampler package from them online, then got a phone call from a woman there who wanted to know my elevation, what kind of soil I had, typical range of temperature, and the like. Before she put together my sampler, she wanted to know what might grow best here. Everything they sent me has grown beautifully! I can’t say the same thing for another company that sent me bare root plants. After a year, not one of them has done anything! Very disappointing!

These gladiolus bulbs were also from Old House Gardens. This picture was taken on June 27, and they were about half the size they are now. Everything is growing amazingly fast! You can see the cannas growing in several spots behind the glads.


This pikake plant was a gift at our Garden Club Christmas party. I have since planted it in the ground in one of my “lasagna” patches and it’s about twice this size. I took this picture because of the blooms, which are incredibly sweet smelling.


By the time I take pictures and get them into this blog, the plants have at least doubled in size, but I keep trying to let you know how things are growing. This small potted lime tree was covered with little limes that are now about three times as big. I picked off some of the smaller ones to allow the others to grow to a decent size.


There is a fresh crop of veggies coming up, too. Everything here is two or three times this big, also, just since I took these photos two weeks ago!











Only a few kale plants came up, but even those few were looking hearty.


Then I went out one morning and this is what I saw! Something had completely stripped the leaves. Feeling a bit like I was closing the barn door after the horses were out, I cut the bottom out of yogurt containers and stuck them around each plant. At least it will keep whatever was eating them from getting any new growth. And there are already new leaves cropping up in the middle of this disaster.


I did the same thing with the Thai hot peppers that I’d recently planted. I didn’t want the “flesh-eating” bugs to get them, too!


I should probably pick off the beautiful flowers from the Siam Basil, but the bees seem to love it, so I just leave them alone. It’s such a treat to see the bees actually working. I may even decide to keep a hive of my own.


This photo gives you a better idea of how some of these plants are laid out. At the far end you’ll see the Siam Basil, Holy Basil, and regular Sweet Mammoth Basil. You can see my three Thai hot peppers, and the pathetic stripped kale. At this end is a luxurious patch of Greek oregano. You can probably see the pieces of gutter guard I’ve placed over new seedlings of spicy mesclun and a blend of loose leaf lettuce seedlings. It’s not just bugs I need to watch for, but birds – and Kaimana (my cat) who loves to dig in what he considers his private litter box! In the bottom left-hand corner, you see the source of the squash vine.


Here is a closer view of how I’ve put the gutter guard material over the freshly planted seeds. Since I took this picture, the seeds are up about ½ inch. I also placed the same material over okra and arugula seeds.


Another good use for gutter guard is shown here. I was sent some heritage Moon ‘n’ Stars watermelon seeds from my Cuz’n Don in Mississippi. I made a circle around each hill with three seeds in each one. Several of them already have sprouts about an inch high. I may even get a watermelon out of this.


Several people have asked to see my front garden patch from a couple angles.


It doesn’t take a lot of space to provide good food. From these little beds in front, bigger beds in the back, and even the beets growing among the daylilies in my patio, I can keep myself with a healthy supply of food. Here is a bunch of arugula, lettuce, other mixed greens, herbs, and the onion-tasting flowers from the chives – all ready for a big salad. I ate the whole thing, with a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and crumbled feta cheese!


Writing this has made me hungry! Must be time to go pick a few leaves and eat lunch!

A hui hou!

Full of Grace and Drama

click here for larger image


Some of the first cuttings I received in early 2006 were the “Angel Trumpet” from my friends in Na`alehu, or what is more properly known as Brugmansia. At first, I called it Datura, and I discovered that I’m not the only one to confuse it with Brugmansia.

“Dave’s Garden” is a website I go to often for questions I have about certain plants. This link gives a thorough description of the differences. One of the most noticeable is that the Brugmansia has long pendulous blooms, while the Datura has a more upright trumpet. Also, the Brugmansia can become tree-sized and the Datura doesn’t grow taller than about four feet.

So the beautiful trees with the cream or peach colored blooms hanging down and swaying in the breeze all over the island right now is actually a Brugmansia, as far as I can tell from my research.

At any rate, Brugmansia is what I was given over three years ago, and they rooted quickly. Here is a picture taken toward my driveway from the house and you can see several of them, easily distinguished from the palms and plumeria. This was taken when they were one year old (April, 2007).

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These two trees are nearer my front door, taken at the same time (April, 2007).



I have nursed all of these, watered regularly, put plenty of soil around them, and bestowed them with lots of TLC.

Just this week, I had my first bloom, and it wasn’t even on the biggest of the plants I have. In fact, it was in the smaller of the two trees in the above photo.

During my regular watering last Saturday (April 18), I noticed this long green bud hanging down from the center of the plant. Normally, I examine each plant carefully and talk to it as I water to check for bugs, disease, and growth, but this bud had escaped me. It seemed like it must have come out overnight.

click here for larger image


I took pictures as it unfolded. You would think it was my new baby – and in a way, I guess that’s absolutely true. Those who have several full-grown trees in their yard, must think I’m crazy, but after struggling to get even one bloom, I’m ecstatic with what I have.

Three days later (April 21) it had started to open.


The following day (April 22) it was open even more


By Thursday (April 23) it was fully open.


I hope that this means I’ll be seeing more blooms on my other Brugmansia plants soon.

There are some other features about this plant that you should know. First, please realize that all parts of both Datura and Brugmansia are highly toxic. When you work with them, I recommend that you wear garden gloves and certainly don’t put your fingers on your face if you’ve touched them. One friend ended up having a difficult time breathing after she’d been trimming them.

“The plants are sometimes ingested for recreational or shamanic intoxication as the plant contains the tropane alkaloids scopolamine and atropine; however because the potency of the toxic compounds in the plant is variable, the degree of intoxication is unpredictable and can be fatal.” (

It has been used in shamanic rituals, as well as in a drink called “ayahuasca” in South America. On the north end of the Big Island of Hawai`i, there is a group (they call themselves a “church”) that uses ayahuasca in their rituals. One of my students just gave a talk on ayahuasca this week in my class on substance abuse. I won’t go into it here, but please do the research if you are interested in finding out more.

In my research, I also found a society dedicated to Datura and Brugmansia – the American Brugmansia & Datura Society, Inc. So evidently I am not the only who seems to think of them together.

Another fascinating connection, at least for me, is that the Datura and Brugmansia belong to the perennial herbaceous family of Solanaceae – that includes Belladonna and other toxic plants. When I was a child and constantly suffering from asthma, the only remedy that seemed to work was Asthmador made of Belladonna . It came in cones of incense, powdered form, as well as cigarette form. When the first two could not be found, my father taught me how to smoke Asthmador cigarettes!

Since then, at least one medical article has come out that talks about how a toxic psychosis could be induced by Asthma-Dor. (Can Med Assoc J. 1971 February 20; 104(4): 326) I also discovered an art site that showed a “vintage box” of Dr. R. Schiffman’s Asthmador cigarettes that was on auction.

Although that drug is the only reason I am alive and breathing today, I hope I haven’t become too obsessed with learning more about the graceful and dramatic Brugmansia outside my door.

A hui hou!