Monday, December 3, 2012

Reading the Past

As I was leaning on the fence, looking into the pasture, I noticed that a big patch of ground that tends to stay soggy during rainy periods was covered with a leafy, low profile weed with a pretty blue and white flower.  I got a little worried that this patch had been damaged by the extensive rain of the last year and the fact that this area is high traffic and perpetually grazed on the way in and out of the barn.  I headed inside to do some internet searching. 

I am shocked, in some ways, that it only took about an hour of searching "small blue and white flower weed Hawaii wet" and extensive clicking and checking from the College of Tropical Agriculture site to find out what that weed was!  What a powerful tool the internet is. 

Turns out this weed is high protein and quite valuable, and exactly what I would plant, had I any clue that I was supposed to, on that wet, almost marshy high-traffic area!  Amazing. 

I found some wonderful old articles on forage and found out that basically everything anyone modern has told me about lots of different things that grow out here are WRONG!  Honohono grass is high protein and not water-filled garbage!  Those horrible red-stemmed persistant weeds are purslane, and you guessed, high protein forage - and apparently, the seeds do very well coming through a digestive tract, because they grow like monsters in my manured garden.  I am finding that every weed I am diligently turfing out in the veggies is a high quality forage plant for either horses or sheep or chickens.  I still don't want them in my veggies, but it is so reassuring to hear that the people of the past weren't so dependent on imported feed and that it is possible to raise grazing animals in my area.  (Horses included, provided they have good hooves - which Ohia, poor boy, never did). 

There is a wealth of information - although it takes a certain level of knowledge (which I don't necessarily have) to navigate - on the CTAHR site and I am just beyond myself with glee on having dipped just a spoonful into the forage possibilities. 

I am also very disappointed that this knowledge feels lost (or at least buried) - these articles are old and there aren't field trials with different forages anymore, it seems.  People just rely on shipping to provide alfalfa and continent grown grains.  And although the local food market is burgeoning here, it is more about restaurants or selling to a specialty market than a serious effort to feed our state.  Eighty-five percent of our food is brought in from elsewhere!  That's a serious problem if there is a natural disaster, or even a longshoreman strike. 

In the back of my mind, basically because many experienced cattlemen and horsemen have told me (all of them, like me, from other islands), I have had the idea that my area was a wasteland for raising anything but rubbish without heroic efforts.  Reading these articles from the past have given me a different view - and looking at those "weeds" in a different light. 


Renee's Reality said...

You really got my wheels turing about researching the native plants and weeds we have growing here on our property. We are talking about re-working our field and replanting so we can get better grass for hay. Right now the tussock (sp?) grass is taking over. But I often wondered, what did they do back in the pioneer days?

Julie said...

Beyond cool! I hope you will write more about what you discover. I'm hoping to get some pigeon pea/haole koa windrows started in the pasture for browse but with so many other projects who knows when i'll get to it. Have you seen the new small ruminant publication? Focus is on parasite management but talks a little bit about forage in relationship to that.

NancyDe said...

Hi Julie,

I just don't like that haole koa - it can cause mane and tail loss in horses if they eat the pods. Piegeon peas sound interesting. I haven't seen that new ruminant publication. Is it on CTAHR site? I will go look!

NancyDe said...

Renee, it was eye-opening for me, although most of the good forage plants are not actually indigenous here, but they've certainly been around for awhile. Cattle were introduced in the early 1800s to Hawaii and I think people have been looking for ways to feed them ever since.