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.

. . . 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!


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.

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.