Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Problem With Bragging

I was just telling the nurse at a routine visit that, "I never get sick; kids cough and sneeze all over me and nothing...."  Funny how bragging always turns around and bites you. 

I have the worst cold at (almost) the worst time.  I am haranguing on kids to get in missing and late work, to jam through these research papers - sending emails, stopping kids in the hallway, running back to my room with my lunch plate so they can come in and work.  It seems unconscionable to miss work for stuffed sinuses and a runny nose. 

Which occasioned the mild argument on the way out the door this morning.  My husband said I was being irresponsible and rude by going to work.  My snuffly riposte was, "Who misses work for a COLD?!"  Burdened by guilt, even though it was those darn 16 year olds that passed their nasty germs on to me, I wiped desks with wipes between classes, washed my hands frequently and used hand sanitizer liberally.  I could have been the poster child for Lysol today.

Tomorrow, though, I have to go to another island for an all day work session;  I am really dreading going on the airplane with my Eustachian tubes feeling the way they do.  I look forward to these meetings a lot, though.  We're working on our own content standards and this is work I find wonderful and fulfilling.  I really don't want to miss it, so I am going to take decongestant (something I never do), buy gum, bring loads of tissues and generally fortify myself for the altitude changes.  Hopefully, no one accuses me of being rude and irresponsible.  I may even bring a tube of wipes.... wonder if it will pass TSA? 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Spicy Turkey and Black Bean Soup

Apparently tight finances are good for my creative cooking habits.  I decided to use up some of that turkey and broth I put up a few months ago.  The result was so tasty that I wish I hadn't already eaten so I could have some more! 

Spicy Turkey and Black Bean Soup

2 pints turkey and broth
1 small chopped white onion
1 large carrot chopped
4 small "lipstick" sweet pepper (about half a cup sweet pepper, finely chopped)
2 cans of black beans, drained
2 T chili powder
1 T cumin
1 T chopped garlic
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 T canola oil

Sautee onions in oil until translucent, add carrots, onion, pepper and spices and cook until all are tender and fragrant.  Add turkey and broth and heat to boiling.  Add beans and bring back to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer until broth is thickened.  You can hasten things along by mashing a few of the beans with a potato masher.

This was so good, and I was excited to find another tasty recipe that I could theoretically grow all of the ingredients (except maybe the cumin?)  I have grown black beans here, so I could do so again....I am not actually sure I can grow canola, but I am interested in trying. 

My students are doing a persuasive/research paper and I notice quite a few of them are looking at food security and sustainability in terms of living on an island.  I see my biases are showing in my students - I do talk, just a little, about what we're trying to do here - and if there is any island in Hawaii that could be more sustainable, it is this one - so it is naturally a topic that comes up often.  It is not just me, in other words!  I have kids who are ranch kids, so food production is part of their family conversation.  

I don't really talk about it that much, unless they ask, or if I am giving them an example of research techniques - I always use my own real research to show them - so it is interesting to me that so many of them are picking it up as a topic.

Part of it because there is a general discussion around school with increasing our mala and garden area.  Two of the seniors are doing their senior project on an odorless piggery they want to construct on campus, others are expanding the current growing space.  All of it makes me excited and happy.  

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Weekend List

Every weekend I make an ambitious list.  This weekend the list included hacking at more grass around more taro, doing the FAFSA for my two college kids, starting my taxes (so I could do the FAFSA), transplanting papaya seedlings, and making potting soil with leaves and compost.  I wanted to make a month worth of dinner menus based on what was already in the ground growing, in my freezer, or in my cupboard to minimize the shopping I needed to do. 

I didn't get all of it done, of course.  I did get the potting soil done - we used the chipper to grind up waiawi leaves and mixed the result with compost and cinder in the cement mixer.  It's lovely stuff, very fluffy and it was free.  I hacked at taro and got most of a row done.  Two more rows to do.  I got three more corms out, and realized that I have a whole other tank of propane, so one of these nights I will bust out that pressure cooker and cook all that taro up and run it through the grinder. 

We planted 5 papaya plants - which is a job and a half.  It entails hacking at the kikuyu grass (aka steel cable disguised as grass), digging out huge basalt rocks (dumped to make a pad to build the garage on years ago) and shoveling in compost, some of my new potting mix and coffee grounds  just because we have a lot of them.  I hope they grow.  We have had limited success with transplanting these seedlings.  Two trees are growing, and covered with papaya, but many have died. 

One of the papaya was growing closely with a coffee seedling, so I had to re-pot that little guy.  They just aren't big enough to plant out, yet.  I have some lilikoi that I want to move out of pots, too, but I am not sure where they should go. 

I also got the month of dinners menu done and figured out what I need to buy for the next month, but I didn't do the cooking ahead that I wanted to do, so that will have to happen after work and next weekend - which makes me tired to think about.  There is a lot of flu and sickness around, and the kids at school keep hacking on me - and I think I am just running a low-level fight against all the germs.  Just enough to make me tired and not enough to (thankfully) make me really sick. 

Back to work tomorrow - it feels like a break! 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sustainable Gardening

This is kind of a corollary to my last post.  If I bought in things that are not grown or found here, learning to garden in my climate might be a lot easier.  If I had access to locally grown straw, for example, mulching and composting would be easier.  Sometimes I do buy straw, but it's something like $20 a bale and it gets shipped from an ocean away - it makes great compost when I move it from the stalls and pens to the pile.  It really does. 

But, beyond the cost of it, it isn't feasible here.  The amount of rain we get, even though the stalls and pens are well covered with roof - the rain can be so overwhelming that the only suitable flooring for animal housing here is volcanic cinder.  We've tried sand, wood pellets or shavings, straw - all of it becomes disastrously damp and bad for hooves. Not only that, but the grains that make the best straw don't grow well here - it is too wet to stook the grain to make the straw and the hay. This is something I have been working on more consistently than the gardening over the last decade and a half - having a laminitic horse makes it an important and all consuming goal.  Even though the horse is gone (still miss him), there are sheep and another horse to care for. 

So much of what's even in the organic gardening books relies on things that have to be imported - except coconut fiber and seaweed - those are nice things that I can get here, if I find someone who lives near the ocean who'd like to trade - or if I find a place to harvest for myself.  On our experiential learning day at school, I learned how to make a fertilizer tea from eggshells, brown sugar, and vinegar.   I could, with some work, make all those things myself, but in reality brown sugar and vinegar are relatively available and inexpensive - and (finally) my hens are coming out of moult, so I have some eggs. 

Part of it is stubbornness, part of it practicality, part of it a drive for real self-sufficiency, but I don't want to buy things to help me garden (beyond the greenhouse!) - I want to make my own potting soil from what I have here, I want to make my own fertilizers and compost.  I want to learn to save seed, so I won't have to buy so many in the future. 

Some of learning to do this means experimenting and measuring and observing and keep records, some of it might be learning to eat things that I haven't tried before or giving up things that just don't grow well here, and a lot of it means thinking beyond the box - if I can't get spaghnum moss (although I think it grows on this island), what else is like enough to it that grows here and is available to me? 

I am always happiest if I have something absorbing to think about and research - this particular problem at least will (hopefully) result in more food for my table and for storage and for sharing. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Learning to Garden

It seems sad that after all these years, I am still learning to garden.  I feel like I barely know square one, in spite of poring over many gardening books, website, forums, and trying things out on my own. 

One reason is that I have a really weird climate - not really Zone 11 and not really Zone 10.  Most of the gardening books out there are for more temperate climes, and those few specifically written for Hawaii are fairly thin and uninformative - and more for the more typical lowland, firmly in zone 11, Hawaii. 

To some extent the weird climate I live in is kind of cool - I can sort of grow things that don't generally grow in Hawaii at all - like, maybe, apples, and possibly low-chill varieties of blueberries, peaches, things like that - not that I have done so, but the neighbor has a little apple tree that sometimes has fruit.  Cabbages grow like gangbusters here, that's for sure - and collards are basically perennial.  The one accidental brussels sprout that I grew (somehow the seed got mixed in with some head cabbage, I guess) grew to 6 feet tall and produced sprouts for over a year. 

But, that's the thing - most of what I grow is semi-accidental.  I put seeds in at what I guess is the right time and have varying success and the next year, it doesn't quite work the same, mostly because our rain seems to vary from about 180 inches in a year to 220.  Lots of times my seeds drown, or wash away to pop up in a different area and months after I planted them - long after their stated germination. 

It gets frustrating, sometimes, in my quest for self-sufficiency.  That's why the greenhouse is so tempting - a huge greenhouse - maybe two! - because I can control the water.  However, I am stubborn and determined to learn to "really garden".  I know I can't grow tomatoes or peppers outside - it is simply too wet, but everything else seems up for grabs. 

Some of the other questions I have are about how much to plant, how much to plan for in this quest for vegetable self-sufficiency.  I figured out, looking at canning cookbooks, that based our current use of paste and sauce and my husband's love for tomato juice we need about 500 lbs of tomatoes every year to eat fresh and to process and preserve.  I don't need all 500 lbs at once, I can grow tomatoes about three times a year if I am on it, but how many plants is that - in my climate?  I have never tried determinate tomatoes, that's probably what I need for the saucy end of things. 

The best mix for me would be both a big greenhouse and the current small and a couple of different outside growing spots.  I would like to learn - really internalize - how long various vegetables take until harvest, space needs, what I can layer and what grows together well, and when, for my weird individual climate grows best when.  I'd like to know how much of a plant is too much for my family - four eggplants was too much eggplant, for example. 

And I want to learn it before I die. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sunday Doings

This blog helps me remember when I planted things and when lambs were born, so bear with me as I recount the doings of the day. 

I had the kids tackle the Christmas tree dismembering.  We'd sort of just thrown it off the deck onto the ground next to the trampoline where it would be under the roof a bit to finish drying out.  It made the area near the laundry line smell nice for awhile.  My son used a pruner to cut the branches from the main trunk and my daughter separated the needle-bearing branches from the support branches - so we have mulch, kindling, and a trunk to cut into firewood. 

Since they were outside and willing, I had them help me prep a small-ish garden bed for vegetable seeds.  This is the area we dumped a bunch of compost in and covered with a black sheet of plastic quite some time ago.  Since the sheep stall is floored with big cinder chunks, we needed to loosen the dirt, break up the clumps, and rake out the rocks.  We each grabbed a tool and it didn't take long to get it done. 

I was in an experimenting mood, so I went through all my seeds to see what I had - some of them were very old, but they'd been stored well, so I planted a mix of old and right on time seeds - collards, corn, kabocha pumpkin, amaranth, turnip, beet, parsley, carrot, onion (don't have a lot of hope there), and bok choy.  I guess in a couple of weeks, I will see what comes up and what doesn't and I can fill in the gaps. 

I made cookies - baked some and froze the dough for "convenience food", hamburger buns, and muffins.  Briefly thought about pulling out some soup bones to make beef broth - but not sure how much propane we have for the stove, and broth after being made needs to be canned.  I don't have the money this week to fill a propane tank - so canning and long-drawn out cooking like stock will have to wait until next weekend after pay day.  I might make some English muffins in a bit for the freezer.  A fried egg and a bit of bacon on an English muffin might tempt my sleepy-head teens into eating breakfast at home - the school breakfast is more like a snack than an actual breakfast.  It would be something they could eat on the way, anyway. 

Yesterday,  I hacked the grass back around another half a row of the taro and found some huge corms which I pulled out.  This is another thing that needs to be cooked up at length that will have to wait!  Taro has oxalic acid crystals which have to be cooked thoroughly to be edible.  The pressure cooker is good for that, but it takes a lot of propane to heat that puppy up - when directions say pressure cook for 20 minutes, you are looking at over an hour of heating. 

It's so windy and a bit chilly (it was 47 this morning), so I might just pull out one of my quilting projects and fold the laundry that's on the line.  I feel antsy, though, so maybe I will just brave the possible rain and hit the pavement or climb into the taro patch, after all.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Woman Closest to the Soil

Hmm....that's the way I was introduced to a potential job candidate today.  I couldn't help myself;  I glanced at my fingernails, just to check there wasn't a pound of garden under there.  (They were clean, thank you.) 

In a similar ah-ha moment about me and my life, I checked my Diigo profile and found that I have bookmarked an eclectic mix of articles as evidenced by my tags: sustainability, reading, local, food, bias, Hawaii, transcendentalism, technology, education, pearltree, canning, agricultural, broody, hen, poetry, writing, research.  I wondered what the thousands of people enrolled in the same MOOC I am starting next week would think of my profile should they stumble across it.  The MOOC is taking place on Google +, Facebook, Twitter, Diigo, Pearltree, and various other platforms and, as I said, there are thousands of other participants, so I doubt many will stumble across me, but I am sure I rank up there with the most mixed-up life. 

It's an odd thing to be so immersed in technology at school, so involved with the kids and their learning and the amazing products being produced from that learning, and then to come home to a place where I am trying to learn how to do things in the most basic way possible - to learn how to garden without chemicals, to be involved in the raising of animals, birth, death, and all the in between, to produce my own food from as close to scratch as I can.  To learn things I think that maybe my grandmothers were pretty happy to leave behind, in a lot of ways. 

Sometimes it feels like a good thing to be able to switch roles like that - when I am at work, I am really at work.  I focus very hard on what I need to get done and, especially, on the kids.  I work through lunch, lots of times, because I know that papers, even if they should come home with me, aren't going to be looked at unless it is an emergency.  When I am at home, I am really at home.  I focus on the things that need to get done there - baking for the week, the animal care, the greenhouse and the garden and, definitely not least though last, my family.  Since I spend more waking hours at school, I feel less behind there, more accomplished, but I love being home, too.  I just wish I could get that lovely accomplished feeling around the farm, too, instead of always feeling like there is so much more I could do. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Local Soup

I made a soup that, although for this batch I bought everything, I could potentially grow or raise everything.  It was simple and really good. 

I chopped a Maui onion and caramelized it, added diced chicken,  a chopped up kabocha pumpkin and 3 chopped Okinawan sweet potatoes, added some of that turkey broth I canned a few months ago and water and cooked it down.  It was really good - and healthy, too.  Everything in it was produced locally, although not by me (unfortunately).  Definitely adding this to the regular rotation! 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Dreaming Big but Living in the Middle

My dreams are bigger than the time I have to put into them - and bigger than my financial capability (although that just means more time, doesn't it?)    I once told my father-in-law that I wanted to produce 60% of our food. He grew up on a sugar plantation on this island, and he just looked at me with a little bit of pity and said, "Good luck." 

I do think my goal is doable to produce that 60% or even more - if I change some of the eating habits of my family, learn some new skills, build the structures, and put the time into it.  However, I do admit that it is fairly overwhelming to think about with work and keeping the house and managing the bills and activities.  Sometimes I feel like I am trying to balance suburban expectations (kids' sports, work outside the home, etc) with farm expectations and it gets tough.  Teaching is also a very intensive proposition when it is ongoing - you never leave it in the classroom and, at least, I never stop thinking about the kids and where they are and where I want them to be, and how I can tweak it. That's not an excuse, just points out that I need to find my own balance.  

My husband works on big projects around the house and barn and that has been frustrating me - how is dry-walling and painting the garage helping us produce food?! - until he explained that he can't finish his work room in the barn which would allow him to make things we need on the farm until the garage is painted and organized.  I have this urgent feeling of plant now, organize our grazing now, get a few dairy goats now, and he has a feeling of get everything in order, one step, next step, following in order.  I am sure my impatience is frustrating to him - we've OFTEN gotten animals we weren't ready for because of my enthusiasm - and I know the fact that we're barely one step closer to the big garden I planned a YEAR ago (we put quite a lot of aged manure in the area and covered it with plastic AGES ago) drives me wild.  We do have half of a lovely garage and my tack room is amazing - but no garden is going in, yet.  Half of my free labor force has moved out (one kid the day after he turned 18 - didn't let the barn door hit him on the hind end he was out of there so fast) and the other half is so busy with those suburban expectations - homework, sports, "regular chores, like our friends".  

I imagine that we'll need to meet in the middle.  Right now, meeting in the middle means him doing his thing and me attempting to keep up with what's already there - the kalo, the sweet potato, a few citrus, guava, and bananas.  I don't think that's middle enough, but it's a start.  I think our first middle will be a larger venture in chickens.  Although my middle-aged hens are picking up in laying, I want to buy a number of chicks and retire the ladies to the freezer when the putative new chicks start laying - so looking at about 5-6 months down the line.  That means, having a place to put feathered out and ready to go out chicks in about 3 months.  With the glacial pace of new farm ventures around the Hapless Stead - that's a blazing fast, indeed.  

Monday, January 14, 2013


I have been musing on what it would mean to be self-sustainable on our property.  I think, compared to our old suburban lifestyle, that we've made great strides in providing for ourselves.  We still hook up to the utility, but our bills are a fraction of what others use on our island (we have the highest utility costs in the nation here on the Big Island) because we have a heat pump, photovoltaics, and solar water heating.  We could do more by turning off everything all the time, but we do okay there.  We are by no means able to chuck the electric company altogether - and the people we do know who have done so still buy gas to run generators, so that's not a solution.  More solar might work, but we don't get much sun, frank, in a rainforest. 

I could grow more, but with the exception of apples which don't grow prolifically here (although they do grow at higher altitudes) and which my kids adore, I could grow everything I buy in the way of produce (I shop the Farmer's Market pretty exclusively for veggies and fruits).  This is an an area I could be more self-sustainable. Dry beans would need to be under some kind of rain cover - a very large greenhouse, but definitely doable.  Black beans do well outside here, but soybeans and garbanzos would need some shelter. 

Meat wouldn't be a problem, although I am not to that point. 

I don't think we can grow wheat or, really, any grain. Sweet corn grows well in some areas, but not here - and the lack of sun would hinder corn for flour.  I am going to give oats a try, but I have my doubts.  Some wheat grew from undigested chicken scratch, but it didn't make it to maturity - much, much too wet, I suppose.  I would be very sad without flour, so not self-sustaining there.  I have thought about trying potato flour - potatoes grow here - but bread with only potato flour isn't so good.  Or at least, I haven't found a recipe, yet. 

Dairy is another thing that ends up in my basket when I do head for a store - I could fix that, if I had a dairy animal or two - but that's going to take some planning for fencing and housing and such.  Not to mention time to milk and make the cheese/yogurt/butter. 

I can't sew at all, and given my lack of fine motor skills, I doubt I could weave or spin, so clothing is NEVER going to be something I am self-sustainable with. 

Ethanol fuel might be possible on a limited scale - engineer husband.  

It's interesting to think about, but sometimes I feel like I am banging my head against the wall.  For a variety of reasons, we're trying to produce more for ourselves, but it just seems to be so overwhelming, sometimes. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Puttering Around

Today, after my favorite six mile walk, I puttered on the internet, looking for the most broody hen breeds.  I know Buff Orpington's are up there on the maternal meter, but my gals must have missed the boat on broodiness.  I want to build a large flock of chickens that will perpetuate themselves - and lay a lot of eggs.  I was considering mixing it up some - buying a few hens that go broody easily and buying a larger number of hens who lay like gangbusters - plus a few roosters. 

Once I was done with my internet ramblings, I baked a batch of experiment muffins - boosted with protein powder and fiber one cereal (there was this big sale on Fiber One... and there's a large tub of cookies and cream flavored protein powder in the pantry - which my protein powder drinking son does not like).  They taste okay, actually, even if they're oddly shiny and I forget to turn on the timer and they are a little overdone (maybe a minute or two overdone - not burnt, but a bit crispy). 

Then I tried to save taro plants from grass suffocation - turns out they aren't actually doing that bad under there, even if they are pint sized rather than large - and it turns out that an hour of hacking at steel hawser grass is my upper limit.  It's a mix of delicate operation - separating the ha from the surrounding grass - and brute force- hacking at grass with a sickle.  That hour only got me through half a row, but at least I did something. 

I pulled some old lettuce, planted new.  Planted broccoli seeds, pinched some tomato suckers and replanted those, and planted a few cucumber seeds.  Weeded around the sweet potato vines to give the patch room to expand.  Picked a papaya which looked ready, picked a few poha berries, and inspected the new fruits that are setting.  Briefly considered the work it would take to make beds for the lilikoi around the lava rock wall near the greenhouse and put it off for another day when my husband feels like using the tractor.  Played with the horse for 10 minutes.  Looked for eggs (no luck). 

I guess the puttering was fairly productive - not as much as some days, but something, at least. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Makahiki Celebrations

Today at school we are celebrating the new year.  In the Hawaiian culture, there was a three month moratorium on work and the people took part in games and celebrations (and women were prohibited from cooking all the time - something that on some days sounds good to me).  Today, we're taking a day to follow that tradition. 

There will be classes and games all day, and I hear that the food was at least partially made by the community around us and not just our already hardworking food service.  I am looking forward to some kalua pig without cabbage - as bad for me as it is!  And haupia! And poi! 

Since we have had some strange weather - alternating sun and pounding, pouring rain - well, let's hope for sun.  Huki huki (tug of war) won't be fun in pouring rain. 

I am sitting at my desk feeling weird as I am in work out clothes - my shorts and the 10th grade class t-shirt - instead of work clothes.  It will make sense later, but right now it feels odd. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

Volcano Hike

 These aren't actually in order, but here goes.  This is from the Crater Rim trail at Kilauea Iki - in the distance, you can see the eruption in Halemaumau Crater.  It just looks like steam. 

This is the view into the crater - that lighter path is the trail across Kilaue Iki Crater.  You can just barely see people the size of ants to the right of picture.  When I took this picture, we'd just come up the crater wall.  
 This is a picture of Thurston Lava Tube with my family walking away - I wanted to test the camera in low light. 
 My sister's younger daughter at the beginning of our trek across the crater floor. 
 This is my youngest in front of a cinder slide. 

The kids and my sister walking in the forest near the Lava Tube.  

My favorite flower - the Lehua blossom on an Ohia tree.  

These kids aren't hearing, speaking, or seeing Evil.  

Ohelo Berry bush.  

Teeny tiny people on the crater floor - and this is with zoom!  

A zoomed picture of the eruption in the next crater over.