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Su Ba’s Community Farm Project - Adding Permaculture

 
pollinator
Posts: 1895
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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If any of you had followed my blog, you’re aware that I have a homestead farm that provided our food, plus many resources. When the covid pandemic arrived, life changed in our district. I cut way back on my homestead farm work and instead did a lot of volunteering in my community, caring for the elderly and vulnerable. I got quite involved with our local non-profit service group. Recently, I’ve been asked to work with developing a community farm to grow food for many of our community residents. This is a long story, so I’ll tell it in segments.

What should be of interest is how this small conventional “farm” will be used and how it will gradually incorporate permaculture methods.  It starts out not permie at all. I’ve been working at this new project for a month and a half, and already we have made significant progress. By we, I refer to myself, W (the president of our local non-profit service organization), and a part time paid helper.

What we started with a month and a half ago was a ready-to-harvest 1/4 acre nano farm. Today we have 2 acres,  plus 1 1/2 commercial greenhouses, and 100’ of trellis garden space.
 
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I can't wait to see what you've got going on!
 
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I have been following your threads here on the forum for several years so I am excited to hear that you have a new project that you are working on.

I am looking forward to reading about your progress.
 
gardener & hugelmaster
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Same here. Your farm sounds awesome so I think this new project will be too. Post pix if you can!
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 1895
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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W approached me about two months ago about an opportunity. A commercial farmer had created a small nano-farm……about 1/4 acre……on land that’s part of a huge 1600 acre former ranch (now being converted to coffee and orchard in addition to ranching.) Just as some of the crops were almost ready to harvest, the commercial farmer decided to return to his California farms. When W found out there was hundreds of pounds of food going to be wasted, he arranged with the landowner to take things over. I entered the picture as W was harvesting truckloads of bananas plus hundreds of pounds of various veggies, donating them to our local group that prepares free meals for Ka’u residents 3 times a week. With more food being harvested than could be used, W decided that the two of us should sell it at our town farmers market, thus making reasonably priced fresh food available to all. I agreed to man the booth, but before I knew it, I was harvesting, then watering, then weeding, then planting. Yikes! Before I knew what hit me, the landowner gave W use of a greenhouse space and 100’ of trellis system. W turned over the last two to me before I could recover from the surprise and say no.

So here I am, farming once again. It’s going to be interesting to see if I can convert what I learned on my own homestead into creating a small new community veggie farm. We won’t be creating the fruit orchard, because that’s already in place. But we will be cleaning it up, maintaining it, and harvesting fruits.

The first major decision is that this project will be done via organic (or better) methods. This will lead to some interesting problem solving, since gardening in the tropics has its own serious challenges, especially when the land is converted ranch land.
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 1895
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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Some greenhouse pics on the next post.  The smaller greenhouse is about 40 foot by 20 foot.  The walls are screened and the roof is clear greenhouse poly. There is a misting system, but I don’t know if it is functional. That’s something yet to be determined.  But there are water spigots right outside the greenhouse, so I can water everything via a hose.

The previous  hydroponic system used cattle feed troughs.  I’m using the troughs as raised container beds. Drainage, in case of over watering, is via two holes that are currently corked shut. But the corks are easy to remove if needed.

So far I have 4 troughs planted. I filled each half way with a commercial potting mix (promix box) since that was what was available at such short notice. I mixed in some good garden soil from my farm. Into this I planted tomato seedlings. Once the tomato plants were a foot tall, i interplanted romaine lettuce.

Ok, let’s discuss this. Yes, I had lots of other options to choose from.  But I have had good results using promix bx, either new or recycled, and mixing it with my own fortified garden soil. This gives a lightweight, airy growing medium for plants. So my choice was influenced by what I had already learned on my own homestead farm, plus having to choose from what was immediately available to me.

Fertilization is via weak compost teas being used for watering. I will have to carefully watch the nitrogen levels since I am growing tomatoes. I’m hoping that the lettuce will gobble up the excess nitrogen, but we shall how it works out.

In the photo you may notice that the trough is only filled halfway. That’s because I plan to add more mix as it comes available. I plan to add a mix of recycled promix (or other potting mix) and garden soil over time until the container is full. This is a method that will work with tomatoes, since they will send out roots along buried stems. I figure that the lettuce will be harvested by the time I have the extra soil available to add.

Why did I pick lettuce? It can be picked at any stage, so I am not committed to a set harvest time. It will feed off any excess nitrogen. Lettuce is popular here, so I won’t have any trouble selling it. I could have picked something else, such as radishes, bok choy, arugula, mizuna, or others. The crop just needs to either have a short harvest time (radishes) or a wide window of harvesting from young to mature, such as the greens.

I feel good about double cropping for a few things.
… it provides more food per square foot.
… it gets the soil surface covered quickly to protect it from the tropical sun
… it provides a steadier humidity, which the plants like.
… it makes me happy. I like to see things growing.
And importantly….a crop of greens or radishes will help indicate the fertilizer level in the soil mix.

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[Thumbnail for 855F93C9-7189-4E1A-B505-3F024114B231.jpeg]
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 1895
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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I’m working with a bunch of old garden seeds that have been donated to this project. Therefore I’m uncertain of the germination rates. Since most of the seed is in partially used packets, it makes no sense to conduct germination tests. So I simply sow the seeds into pots for future transplanting, if they happen to grow.

So far, about half the seeds actually germinate. Yippee! I then transplant the seedlings into individual pots so that they grow on until ready for planting out in the garden itself.

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Seeds started in 4 inch pots.
Seeds started in 4 inch pots.
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Individual seedling growing until they are big enough for outdoors.
Individual seedling growing until they are big enough for outdoors.
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 1895
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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When I entered this project, the 1/4 acre was heavily weedy. The primary weed was guinea grass…great for cattle, a disaster for a garden. Without using serious heavy duty herbicides, it’s nearly impossible to control. Removal by hand is a herculean task. Without removing it, it’s astounding regrowth quickly smothers vegetable plants. And while covering with heavy duty black tarps for a year will kill it, we didn’t have the luxury of wasting that much time.
        Non-permie solution — spray with herbicide
        Permie approach we chose — knock down the weed overgrowth by weedwacking. Then physically remove the guinea grass. Compost it.

So that we didn’t lose the harvest, we opted to weedwhack down the guinea grass each week. Plus we hand pulled the smaller plants and other weeds growing in the rows. We just targeted the major weeds, leaving the small stuff behind. Lots of time consuming work, but it meant that we harvested hundreds of pounds of tomatoes, summer squash, cucumbers, carrots, onions, greens, and more. If the grass had been allowed to stand as it was, most of the food would have been lost. Allowing low weeds to remain would not adversely affect the garden harvest. So we left them.

So how are we tackling this grass problem where the crops have been already harvested?  We brought in a backhoe. That sounds dramatic, but guinea grass is immensely difficult to hand dig out. The backhoe can gobble up huge scoopfuls, and spit them out. We follow along shaking dirt from the grass clump roots before chucking the plants into the pile for composting. Yes, we are setting up giant compost piles. The backhoe is scraping just the surface, not excavating deeply. There’s a reason for that. I will  mention it soon enough.

In order to reduce compacting issues, we had the backhoe operate moving backwards through the garden rows. So it was scooping up the soil, loosening it all, without treading back over it. The backhoe backed over one row after another, avoiding running over freshly loosened soil.

So you say that subsoil is getting mixed with topsoil, thus ruining our garden soil? Well, that’s not a problem just yet. The garden soil we are working with is already degraded. There is no visible layer of topsoil. It needs lots and lots of work to improve it. This land  most likely was sugar cane land decades ago, thus got pretty heavily depleted while producing that crop. Possibly being sugar cane land, it might have contaminants deep down. Thus the reason for not having the backhoe loosen up the top 2 foot of soil. The test we had done on the top foot of soil looks fine. No sense in stirring up anything deeper, just in case.

Once the established guinea grass is removed, weeds will be easy to control. Guinea grass seedlings are simple to pull. So are most of the other weeds we are seeing. The major weed will now be nutgrass. And while we most likely won’t be able to eradicate it, it’s a weed we can work with and live with. Eventually it will be just a minor weed.

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Tall grasses completely hide the rows of crops
Tall grasses completely hide the rows of crops
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Tall grasses weedwacked down. The crop rows are now visible.
Tall grasses weedwacked down. The crop rows are now visible.
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Looking at the garden from the other angle.
Looking at the garden from the other angle.
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 1895
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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The first greenhouse.

At this time, we now have use of 1 1/2 greenhouses. But we started out with one. About 30’ by 40’. The sides are screening. The roof is solid greenhouse poly.

Originally this greenhouse was used to produce hydroponic lettuce. When we were offered the greenhouse, some of the set up was still there.  We were given permission to use it. Several livestock troughs that had been used for the hydroponic beds. An overhead misting system that we are not sure if it still works. I haven’t had the time to troubleshoot it yet.

I rearranged the troughs into positions  better suited to our needs. The troughs along the outside walls will be used for tomatoes, since they need support of some sort. The way the greenhouse framing is made, I can build some bamboo network and suspend rope or mesh for trellising the tomato vines. The interior rows of troughs are better suited for non-supported crops, such as sweet peppers. Or maybe bush cucumbers or zucchini squash.

Next  I turned to starting seeds so that I would have transplants growing as quickly as possible. I knew that I’d have only 2 or 3 weeks before I needed those troughs ready for planting. So I had my work set out for me, considering that I didn’t have much time to work on this part of the project.

Why am I focusing on tomatoes, peppers, cukes, or squash? Here I Hawaii, we have serious pests that tend to destroy these crops out in the field. So in order to avoid commercial sprays, we are taking a more permie approach of non-toxic pest control. In this case, it is avoidance. Since we have a greenhouse available, we will go ahead and use it.

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My first view of our greenhouse.
My first view of our greenhouse.
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I rearranged the troughs for our own use.
I rearranged the troughs for our own use.
 
pollinator
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I am very impressed you managed to get those crops rescued, that must have taken hundreds of manhours
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 1895
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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Skandi, I don’t know exactly how many hours went into it. “W” spent many mornings get the grass down to soil level. After that he went through the garden twice a week and I know that took him 4 hours each time.
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 1895
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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Lettuce


The previous farmer had direct seeded two rows of leaf lettuce mix. Holy Moly, that’s a lot of lettuce! As it came large enough to harvest, we were hard pressed to sell or give it all away. As a result we lost some it, but happily we found homes for much of it.

What varieties? We don’t know the varietal names, but we see quite a variety…
…romaine, a green, a red, a speckled
…oakleaf, a green, a red blushed, and a green type
…frilly, a green and a red extreme frilly leafed
…butterhead, a blushed type, a green

The planting was intended as a cut-and-come-again harvest. I’ve never done this before, so there was a learning curve. With the first cutting we left a 1 inch stubble. The second time around we cut about the same height, but saw that we had some trouble with trash leaves. Um? We discovered that we should clean up the post harvest trash from the rows after we harvested. This became real important after the second cutting, because where we didn’t clean up afterward the next harvest had lots of trash in it that we had to hand pick out.  By the fourth harvest, we saw plants were bolting. So we got 8 harvests out of the rows over a 6 week period. We harvested part of the rows Tuesdays and Fridays. (I originally thought it was a 4 week harvest, but when I checked my notes, I saw that we had good harvests over 6 weeks before the lettuce bolted.)

We also learned that we should have thinned the rows early on. The previous farmer left before thinning had done. Not knowing what we were doing, the lettuce never got thinned. This resulted in reduced harvest, which we actually were not upset about since we had lettuce coming out of our ears. But we learned for future plantings not to let the plants be so clumped up against one another.

We weekly removed any weed seen, which was primarily nutgrass. By doing it weekly or twice a week, weeds weren’t much of a problem in the harvested lettuce. Weeding involves finger pulling, which goes quickly. I can clean up 5 rows in an hour.

Since we are switching from commercial fertilizer to permaculture methods, we figure that in the future we will do a light feeding after each cutting in order to keep the lettuce growing quick. Quickness is important at our location, because we don’t get cool nights. Quickness helps keep bitterness down.

Watering—- drip irrigation. The row width is 30 inches. We are running two drip lines down, with plants growing on either side of each line. I’ve never had the luxury of using drip irrigation, and frankly, I love this system! The drip tape has a hole every 6 or so inches, perfect for this lettuce.

Summary—
….non-permie -
          Commercial seed, treated?
          Commercial fertilizer.
….switching to permie -
         We will set up to grow our own seed.
         Fertilization via compost and various home produced teas.

Since our irrigation comes from gravity fed mountain water, we don’t have much to change on this point. The site is quite arid, so some sort of irrigation is needed, especially since the soil currently doesn’t retain moisture.

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Two full rows of cut-and-come-again lettuce
Two full rows of cut-and-come-again lettuce
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Closer view showing the drip irrigation lines.
Closer view showing the drip irrigation lines.
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The cut lettuce ready for sale. How pretty!
The cut lettuce ready for sale. How pretty!
 
master gardener
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Su Ba,
Great project there! Thanks for the pictures.
In my ignorance I wondered why you used polytunnels, but it`s primarily for pest protection? I imagine they must get pretty hot! How long do you expect the covers to last?
Are you planning on keeping some of the bolting lettuce for a seed supply, or swap tp other crops?
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 1895
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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Good questions, Nancy!

The greenhouses are not actually poly tunnels, because the sides are screen. Only the roof is poly. As a result the air can travel right through them, eliminating the problem of high heat. The screening blocks most of the force of the wind, thus retaining some higher humidity in side the greenhouse. The humidity is naturally high here in Hawaii, but the screening helps keep it a bit higher inside the greenhouse. It’s actually quite pleasant in them.

The greenhouse helps seedlings develop because it protects them from the trade winds, provides slightly higher humidity, and blocks a bit of the tropical sun. The main and best protection is pest control.  Starting transplants in a greenhouse/screen house gives them a chance to get some decent size before they need to face the pests.

I’ll be growing certain crops in the greenhouse from seed to harvest. Certain crops cannot compete with the outdoor pests without the use of chemicals or some sort of protection measures that involves time I cannot give. Slicer tomatoes, melons, watermelon, cucumbers, non-native pumpkins and squashes, all get aggressively attacked, to name a few crops.

As for the life term of the coverings, I don’t know. Life expectancy depends upon how the material was treated/made for UV protection. Some materials last only 1 year here, others are guaranteed for 20. I am assuming that the owner used the best and longest lasting, because she is that kind of person.

Yup, I am planning of letting the plants at the end of one row go to seed. Lettuce seed is easy to produce and harvest. I will need to check to see if lettuce seed needs to be dried down or have a dormancy period before re-sowing. But I do plan to use it for this garden.  
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 1895
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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100’ trellis

This is the trellis we have been given permission to use. Presently there are two trellis rows, about 50’ in length. The end 20’ or so is needs to be repaired, and eventually I will get to that. Repairing it will give us another 40’-50’ of trellis space. But for now, 100‘ is as good start.

What to grow. I did not want to waste much time planning and designing. The goal was to get something into the ground to produce food quickly. I saw some pluses….
… the greenhouse provides decent wind protection.
… from 10 am on, it is in full sun.
… there is water for hand watering the plants via a hose or sprinkler.
… the soil was once growing something or other, so it had been loosened at one point.and was fairly weedfree.

A quick check of the soil showed me that there hadn’t been any improvements made, other than adding commercial fertilizer. A quick soil test indicated adequate N-P-K left over from the previous crop and that the pH was acceptable though slightly acidic. So I scratched in some hydrated lime, since there was some available in the greenhouse supply closet. I planned to grow tomatoes, which need calcium. Hawaiian soil in my area is notoriously low in available calcium.

Since veggies hadn’t been grown in this location in the past couple years, I felt it was a good gamble to grow just about anything that wouldn’t be affected by fruit fly (there is a fruit orchard near by, so fruit flies are most likely present). The pests didn’t know about this spot at the moment.

I opted for a couple of vining/tall crops. Indeterminate tomatoes. Cucumbers. Tall peas. I also added some lower ground crops to grow the the space beneath the vines. I opted for a few summer squashes and bush cucumber. I wanted to experiment with a bush cuke to see how it grew. And in the spaces between the plants, I planted radishes. I opted for radishes because they get harvested quickly, they stay low, they will take up excess nitrogen, and they help shade the soil.

Summary:
Non-permie — previous use of commercial fertilizer
Permie charges —
… fertilization will be via various teas and home mode foliage sprays
… both vertical and horizontal use of the area
polyculture to get a variety of plant roots growing in the soil, thus adding improvement

As the radishes are harvested, I plan to add a compost mulch layer to protect the soil and start adding microbes to the soil. Once the crops are harvested, this mulch will get turned into the soil along with more compost.

Yes, I am pressuring this soil to produce food rapidly. This soil is not healthy. Luckily I have a good amount of mature compost and aged manure at my homestead farm that I can use for this project. But this is another discussion, a decision to be explored. More to follow.

Ps- I’m having trouble uploading the photos, so will try again later)
 
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Regarding lettuce. In my limited 2 year experience in my garden, I had one out of 50 lettuce plants self-seed. That was unintentional though, and I probably culled a lot before it went to seed. So if that is representative I would estimate 5-10% self-seeding. It came up the immediate following season - originally planted in spring, came up again in late summer.

Super anecdotal, but call it one data point.

I am attempting intentional self-seeding lettuce currently. The plants are going to seed now. It will be a month or so before I can tell if they germinate this season, or springtime before I can tell if they will germinate next season.
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 1895
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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L. Johnson, that’s interesting. It seems to indicate that there is no dormant period necessary, as long as the seeds’ other needs are met. Good information!
 
Su Ba
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Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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I finally got the trellis pic posted.

On the right are radishes almost ready to start harvesting, along with young plants of cucumber and bush summer squash. In the far back are the snow peas.

On the left at young tomato plants with some recently seeded radishes in the foreground.

The soil is currently bare. The plan is to apply mulch to the surface.
58AE25C0-D616-4282-81DE-6A37B4F56A79.jpeg
View of trellis early in the morning.
View of trellis early in the morning.
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 1895
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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The site.

This surely would not be my choice of where to set up a food garden. On the plus side, it gets full sun. And this location is noted to get sun mostly all day long. There aren’t trees shading one section or another. There’s no ravine running down the center. No pile of boulders. It’s just open unobstructed pasture.
On the down side …..
…it’s on a slope. The only plus that I see is that it makes gravity fed water possible. Gravity irrigation is super important since we could not bring in a pumping system except at great expense. And gravity fed is more sustainable. Yes, there is piping and drip tape involved, but what we have installed should last a long time.

…it’s exposed to 100% of the wind. We get crazy trade winds during the winter half of the year. This land has nothing between it and the trades coming right in off the ocean. We are already learning that some crops do poorly in the trade winds. Others seem to take it ok. A new farmer intending to plant bananas on this huge farm said that he would be interested in setting banana trees adjacent to our garden. I suppose he has his eye on the irrigation. But….Great! This would help us block the main force of the winds.
 We are also considering other options which I will talk about later.

 If I had set up this garden originally and had to use this location, I would have aligned the rows with the wind, allowing much of the force to run down the aisles between to rows. The plants thus would have been able to help shelter their neighbors. As the rows are currently set perpendicular to the wind, each plant is exposed to the full blunt force of the wind. Changing the alignment of the garden is a bit late now. Major irrigation lines are already installed. So we will have to live with it and come up with solutions.

…it’s arid. Too naturally arid for vegetables. But luckily it has irrigation to it. The water comes from the natural mountain water, which is a plus. Being able to control the water will make this garden possible.

…the rows and irrigation are at the wrong angle to the wind, as I already mentioned.

…it is surrounded on three sides by rangeland, thus coneheads, aphids, and stink bugs will forever be here. Another significant disadvantage is that there will be the ever present threat of feral pigs. A pig can destroy a garden in just one night. So we have installed solar powered electric fencing around the garden.

…it’s downwind from town, so the wind will bring every pest and disease town people have in their home gardens.

… the soil is degraded volcanic ash. When dry, it is crumbly. When wet it is pasty, sticking to everything. Surprisingly, it does not hold water. The wind rapidly dries it out. It is not fertile soil. The commercial farmer who set this up used commercial fertilizer.

Some of our permaculture type ideas we plan to incorporate…
… application of heavy mulching
… lots of compost incorporated after each crop
… use of homemade teas and foliage sprays
… use of some sorts of windbreaks, either via perennials, bamboo lattice, or whatever else we can design on the cheap. I’m looking around for ideas.
…possibly row covers for blocking out destructive insects
…the use of soap sprays, dipel, ‘bug juice”, and other types of organic pest control.
…selecting varieties and veggie types that could produce at this location.

When I’m down at the farm later this morning, I’ll take some panarama photos to give you a sense of the site.
 
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Wow! This project is so awesome. Looking forward to your progress and learning with you as it grows. Thank you for sharing.
 
Su Ba
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Views from the site. I can’t help but enjoy the scenery while I work. It’s wonderful!
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The ocean is in the distance,
The ocean is in the distance,
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The Naalehu hills.
The Naalehu hills.
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More of the naalehu hills extending above the site,
More of the naalehu hills extending above the site,
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The view upslope from the garden.
The view upslope from the garden.
 
Su Ba
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Tomorrow is market day, so I harvested what I could. There’s not a lot because we ripped out much of the garden in order to get the guineagrass under control.
  About 10 pounds of carrots
  A bowl of baby kale leaves
  A bowl of arugula leaves
  A bowl of Mizuna leaves
  A couple cabbages
  6 tatsoi
  About 4 pounds of snow peas
  About 15 pounds assorted colors green beans
  3 big bok choys
  6 small bok choy , a different variety
  1 broccoli head
  A bunch of cilantro
  A small bunch of parsley
  A handful of green onions
  3 dozen radishes
  6 zucchini squash
  6 ‘lunchbox’ sweet peppers
  A dozen cherry tomatoes
From my own farm I’ll add pipinola, pineapple, and turmeric to the offerings. The market tables will look a bit bare.

I plan to bring numerous packs of seedlings in order to fill out the tables. From the greenhouse I’ll bring multiple four packs of:
  Parsley
  Golden beets
  White beets
  Dill
  Romaine lettuce
  Bok choy
  Mustard spinach
  Cosmos flowers
  Broccoli
  Cabbage
  Cauliflower

Besides harvesting, I got a few other things accomplished at the farm. Got the greenhouse watered. Irrigated the trellis area and wove the cucumber vines and tomato plants through the trellis supports. And at the garden site…..ran the irrigation (had to fix some of the tapes), weeded the veggie beds (but not the aisles, I ran low on time), gave all the plants a drink of diluted homemade fertilizer tea. I also removed the flowers from the squash (a technique to help control pickle worm), said a quick prayer over the cucumbers who look terrible, and pulled out some of the lettuce that has bolted.
 
Su Ba
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As you could see from the photos, this site is dry. It’s not in the middle of a desert, but the conditions for this particular spot make for severe dryness. Above and below the garden area  the grasses are golden from dryness or dormant brown from extreme dryness. While across the gully and at a slightly higher elevation the grasses are green and growing. Where the green grasses grow, the wind angle and duration is different, the early morning and later sun is different, the water movement below the surface is different, as it the lava “bedrock” situation below the surface. I still find it interesting that just 300 foot distance can make such a difference as to the suitability of a site.

This site is going to be very challenging.  Happily we have unlimited irrigation water. But a lot of other factors makes this site a poor choice. But this is what we have been granted, so we shall work with it. I am not sure how easy or successful we will be shifting this garden over to a more permaculture method. We won’t be going “cold turkey” with the shift for a few reasons. First, it’s only a couple of us working on this project, so we cannot devote scads of time to it. Next, we don’t have access to the equipment and machinery that would make this project move along faster. We also don’t have access to vast amounts of good quality compost. And importantly, we need to be producing as much food as we can.

We already know that this land can produce food when commercial fertilizer and chemicals are used. And I am confident that with time it can produce as much, if not more, if permaculture techniques are used. But what about the interim? How long will the transition take? It’s going to an interesting experiment.
 
Su Ba
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Market day photos……

The market opens at 8, but my customers have learned to come early. They start showing up at 7. Wait until 8, and there is not much selection left and the tables are sparse.
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Not much left by 7:58 am.
Not much left by 7:58 am.
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I’m now bringing veggie starts and a few flowers, all grown in our greenhouse.
I’m now bringing veggie starts and a few flowers, all grown in our greenhouse.
 
Su Ba
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Plant problems…….got plenty. And I’m certain that we will develop others. The fun will be coming up with solutions.

First — Chinese Rose Beetle.
    They found us. These mostly likely came from the town below, arriving on the wind. While I’ve seen a bit of damage on a few sweet potato plants, the beetles are mainly attacking the beans. So far I haven’t found a non-toxic spray for controlling them, one that would work on the scale of this garden. So here’s our solution to date….
…. Plant quick producing varieties, ones noted for quick and vigorous growth.
…. Choose varieties that produce a concentrated set, as opposed to long drawn out harvesting.
This pretty much means growing bush beans instead of pole beans. In the future I’ll fiddle around with some pole beans and see what happens, but for now I know that I can get a crop by using bush varieties.
…. Another solution would be to grow them in an insect protected tunnel. That is a real possibility for the future. Using tunnels means that we could grow longer season bean varieties.

    So far, the first 3 varieties I’ve tried are giving us beans. It looks like we can get 2 to 3 weeks of picking before calling it quits on the plants. That’s enough to satisfy us for now.  1st picking is small, the 2nd picking is huge, and the 3rd picking is smaller but still decent.

Second- wind
    The wind has been a challenge. I’m slowly discovering what I can direct seed and what needs to be planted via transplants grown in the greenhouse. I’m also learning how to harden off the transplants a bit and how to plant them down in a bit of a trough for some wind protection. I can see that we need to explore other options to find out which works best for which crop. I’m considering tunnels for some of the crops. And planting sensitive veggies on the leeward side of taller or tougher crops.
    Another wind problem has to do with the raised beds. The garden was initially made with 30 inch wide x 100 long beds that are raised 6 to 8 inches above the aisleways. It’s very pretty to look at. And you can easily see where to walk and not walk. But  I am seeing a wind problem. The wind blows perpendicular to the beds. This causes the windward side of the bed to take the blunt of the wind. What I am observing is that only do the windward plants take the wind, the soil in the windward side of the bed dries out much, much faster than the leeward side. As a result I am seeing a general trend that the windward side plants are smaller, slower, and showing more problems with insect pests.
   I would like to eliminate the raised beds, but I need to discuss with with “W” before making a change, the raised beds may work fine for the sweet potatoes, and possibly other vining crops, but we will have to trial that.

Third - powdery mildew
    This finally found the garden. Most likely the spores blew up from the town below.
   I can see a few  options to deal with this. Look for cucumbers with some powdery mildew resistance. Explore spraying the plants weekly with some sort of anti-fungal spray. Try powdered sulfur.  Look for varieties that will produce a bit of a crop despite the mildew.
    All our watering is done via drip irrigation. It seldom rains at this site. So the plants don’t get wet much. But the air has a lot of moisture in it since it comes right off the ocean. I can’t do anything about the natural humidity.

If anybody has any ideas or suggestions, they would be welcome.

(Photos to follow. Once again my tablet is giving me problems with uploading)
 
Su Ba
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Pics….

D802673E-910D-4207-9F5A-8F3E5425DF03.jpeg
Windward side plants are struggling. Leweward side plants are doing far better.
Windward side plants are struggling. Leeward side plants are doing far better.
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Powdery mildew on the cucumbers
Powdery mildew on the cucumbers
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Chinese rose beetle damage to the bean leaves
Chinese rose beetle damage to the bean leaves
 
Su Ba
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Tomatoes in the Greenhouse

Remember those tomatoes I planted in the livestock troughs? They are growing well and it is time to get them supported. There were plenty of options to try, but I was looking for something that didn’t cost me money, was quick to erect, simple to use. Here’s what I’m trying…..

By asking around, I got enough lightweight pipe and bars donated to span the length of the greenhouse. I put them up over the greenhouse’s crossbars, using zip ties to secure them to each other and to hold them in place. Beings that this is a borrowed greenhouse, I didn’t want to screw, glue, or bolt anything on, since it may one day need to be removed.

Once the overhead pipe was in place, I tied “string” about every 2 foot down the length of the pipe. In this case, the string is actually discarded pasture electric fencing rope that I salvaged for free. I slung one end of the rope over the overhead pipe, tied a square knot around the pipe, and left enough rope so that it dangled down to the tomato plants.

Once I had everything in place, I then went down the row tying the tomato plants to the dangling rope in such a way that they were supported, but their stems were not subject to being strangled. This means using loose knots. I could have used a fancy figure eight tying system, but these plants are not going to subjected to winds, thus their stems should do fine with a simple lose knotted loop. Normally I use a cloth stripe to tie tomato plants, but I forgot to bring them with me today. So I just unwound a bit of the electric fence rope and used a strand to do the tying.

The plants are already starting to produce infant tomatoes. How exciting!

ps-       re: adding permaculture
           These tomatoes to date have not used commercial sprays or fertilizers. But they did start out with commercial promix bx mixed with good garden soil as their potting mix. I started out by mixing some hydrated lime into the potting soil, then once a week I have been using a weak compost/manure tea to fertilize them, and using a cover crop of lettuce to help indicate if I am adding too much nitrogen. So far, things are looking ok. Two weeks ago I made a tea from active compost and thoroughly sprayed the plants. I am now using a weak version to mist the plants with each week. My hopes are to avoid powdery mildew. We shall see what happens. This is a new experiment for me, so I’m not sure if it will work. Powdery mildew is a major, major problem in my area.

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The overhead pipe and the trellis strings hanging down, ready to use.
The overhead pipe and the trellis strings hanging down, ready to use.
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The tomatoes tied to the support strings.
The tomatoes tied to the support strings.
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I weave the tomato stems around the support strings, using a tie where needed. .
I weave the tomato stems around the support strings, using a tie where needed. .
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Violet Jasper tomato
Violet Jasper tomato
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Blue Beauty tomato
Blue Beauty tomato
 
Su Ba
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Market day is Wednesday……

I surveyed the garden to see what I would have for this Wednesday’s market. I’ll do the picking tomorrow and Tuesday.

A dozen Radishes
Several Bok choy, two types
A gallon of dill
Lots of cilantro
A pint Greek oregano
3 Daikon
A dozen or so carrots
A gallon Arugula
A gallon of mizuna
A gallon of kale leaves’
A gallon of red mustard leaves
Several gallons of assorted leaf lettuce
2 cucumbers
About 7 pounds of snap beans
About 3 pounds of snow peas
5 cabbages’
A pint of cherry tomatoes
6 good sized tatsoi plants
2 ball zucchini  
A dozen lemons - I have more but they don’t sell all that well

From my own farm I will add:
5 pounds of freshly dug turmeric
About a dozen pipinola
A pineapple
A bunch of green bananas
About a dozen large leeks
About a dozen large green onions
A dozen limes

Next week it looks like the garden will have beets to add to the table.
 
Su Ba
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Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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Dealing With A Minor Setback….…



While some of this project is going along happily, sometimes things don’t go as hoped for. Gardening and farming has its problems and challenges. I’ve come to accept that, so I roll with the punches so to speak.

The latest “disaster” - goat attack !  

This farm is huge. 1600 acres. Instead of just one person farming or ranching the whole 1600 acres, there are dozens of individuals using pieces. One person has a small goat herd of around a dozen goats. As we all know, goats can be difficult to contain. And this group is no different. But up until this past week, the mischievous critters have stayed within their pastures. For some reason things changed last week. They’ve been out and running amuck 3 times recently.

I once had my own goat break into my main garden area and destroy just about everything in one night. These goats seem to be trying to do that too. They are now where near the garden site, but they do end up at the greenhouses. The first time loose, they got into the big greenhouse and destroyed all the starts. Trays and trays of lettuce, tomatoes, beets, Asian greens, parsley, etc.  these starts were destined to be planted in the garden this week, but that’s not going to happen. So I just cleaned up the mess, repaired the greenhouse doors, and started more seeds. What potting soil I was able to salvage went into the tomato troughs to help fill them up.

Second attack—- the outdoor trellises. Yup, I pulled into the farm parking area and saw the goats loose again. But they were hanging around the outside of their pasture fence, so I had hopes that nothing got destroyed. Wrong, of course….after all they are goats!  They went down the length of the trellis gardens nibbling and pulling out radishes, cucumber plants, summer squash plants, and pruning the tomatoes. For some reason they didn’t touch the pea vines. Luckily they didn’t ruin everything. Instead it was a hit and miss event.

Third time, out again. But they didn’t head my way. I saw them in the fruit orchard.

It’s been almost a week and they seem adequately confined again. But they will keep me on my toes, staying aware that they could get loose again. I’ll be very careful to keep all the greenhouse doors closed and the protective fencing panels blocking access to the trellises.
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It doesn’t look all that bad after the goats. But it’s missing the climbing cucumbers.
It doesn’t look all that bad after the goats. But it’s missing the climbing cucumbers.
 
Su Ba
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Lettuce n tomatoes…..

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that I interplanted lettuce in the troughs with the tomatoes. It’s been an interesting experiment.

Reasons for trying this….
… to shade the soil surface.
… to act as an indicator that I am applying too much nitrogen. While high nitrogen is fine for lettuce and results in lush growth, tomatoes don’t produce well when nitrogen are too high. Tomatoes are the main crop I am aiming to produce.
… to produce more food per square foot of space, since producing some quick food for our community is one of the goals of this project.

Romaine lettuce and leaf lettuce was interplanted with the tomatoes. And since I had leaf lettuce seedlings left over, I planted them in with the sweet peppers in one small trough. With the rest of the sweet peppers in two long troughs, I planted tatsoi.

Both lettuce and tatsoi can be harvested early, or can be left to grow on by harvesting them via individual leaves. This gives me flexibility. Neither crop will overshadow the tomatoes or peppers. But I’m not sure how the fertilizer and root competition will work out. As I said, it’s an experiment.

So far things seem to be going along fine. Some plants of the romaine are smaller than others, but that’s because the smaller plants have been getting less sun due to shading out by the tomato plants. Now that the tomato plants are growing taller, some of their older lower leaves will be removed, thus giving more sunlight to the smaller romaine seedlings around them. The romaine that hasn’t been shaded is growing strongly, but not overly robustly. That’s good……I think.

The leaf lettuce amid the tomatoes is growing fine, as I would have expected. But the leaf lettuce in the sweet peppers is growing lushly. I did a quick nitrogen test (which by the way, is not real accurate) and came out with high nitrogen level. Conclusion — the leaf lettuce is being an adequate indicator of high nitrogen, while at the same time it is utilizing that nitrogen and helping to bring the soil level down. I’m guessing that the slower growing sweet peppers can’t use the nitrogen as quickly as the tomatoes. I need to be mindful of that and make the compost tea a bit weaker for starting up sweet peppers.

ps-  the leaf veins on the pepper plants really are not yellowed. In real life, they are normal. For some reason the digital camera eye translated the light wave length into far more yellow than it actually is.
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Romaine in with the tomatoes
Romaine in with the tomatoes
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Leaf lettuce in with sweet peppers
Leaf lettuce in with sweet peppers
 
Su Ba
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Avalanche Snow Pea

With so much land at our disposal, I am going a bit wild trying varieties I’ve never grown before. What the heck, I’ve got lots of space at the moment. One of the new varieties I’m trialing is Avalanche snow peas.

This variety produces vines a tad long for no trellising or support. But I thought to myself, what if they were planted closely, could they be self supporting? Would we still be able to harvest easily enough? Would they hold the pods above the soil?

So I seeded them in 4 rows to the growing bed. Rows were 6 inches apart. Seeds were sown 2 to 3 inches apart in each row. As the vines grew, I would fold them back onto themselves if the winds happened to blow them away from the other vines. Once the tendrils developed, the vines nicely supported one another. Here and there I stuck a bamboo stick amid the vines to give a bit more support against the wind, if needed.

I was pleased with the result. The peas have been easy to harvest. The vines are not overly tangled. All the pods are held well above the soil. The variety itself has been a winner for us because we are getting lots of nice looking snow peas. Of course this is the first time growing peas in this location, so the bugs and diseases still have plenty of time to find us. This time next year we at not be able to grow peas at all….who knows. We shall see.

So I’m seeding another section of Avalanche, and will reseed every 3 weeks. Let’s see what happens.
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This is our bed of peas.
This is our bed of peas.
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This shows the tendrils that are holding everything together.
This shows the tendrils that are holding everything together.
 
Su Ba
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Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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Dead Cucumbers

A few days ago I posted a photo of the cucumbers in the garden that were showing signs of powdery mildew. Well, this is how they look today. The fungus took over very rapidly, just like most diseases do in the tropics. Plant diseases can quickly overtake a garden. It doesn’t take long.

This cucumber variety is Spacemaster 80. A bush type, so we were hopeful it would survive the conditions here. Alas, no. But I also planted some down beside the greenhouse, in a fairly protected spot. So far, it is looking very healthy and has given us 5 sellable cucumbers to date, with more coming.

Conclusions….
…plant the variety based upon the conditions of the site
…the garden area needs powdery mildew resistant varieties. Perhaps the wind has something to do with it.
…continue spraying the cuke plants beside the greenhouse with active compost tea, because it seems to be working.

So….
Non-permie solution would be to spray a fungicide on a regular schedule.
Permie oriented solutions….
         … use powdery mildew resistant varieties
         … grow a cucumber substitute of some sort
         … provide wind protection
         … develop a microbial spray and spray regularly
         … choose a different site for the cucumbers
Can you think of any other possible solutions that would still give us cucumbers?

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Dieback due to powdery mildew
Dieback due to powdery mildew
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How the cucumbers looked one week ago.
How the cucumbers looked one week ago.
 
Su Ba
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Compost Bins

I am making a number of quick and easy compost bins along side the garden area. I plan to have one every 40-50 feet around the perimeter for easy access. Personally I have found that putting the bins off to the side or into a corner is not convenient. If they are not right next to the garden, they are a real pain to get material to them and the ready to use compost out and into the garden.

My compost bins cost me very little to make. I get the old pallets for free from a local store only to glad to dispose of them. I tie the pallets together with old wire, in this case, salvaged electric fence wire. I line the sides with some sort of water resistant material, in this case, old ag plastic film that was heading to the dump. The bottom is not lined so that any excess moisture can drain out in case we get a drenching rain. I am using the ag film because this garden site is very dry and windy. Without some protection to keep moisture in, the material would not compost down.

One only takes a few minutes to assemble. It’s immediately ready to start filling. We are dumping in weeds and old plants, plus soil that is attached to their roots. Adding soil, I have found, is important. Things compost faster and the end product looks better. Besides waste from the garden we will be adding grass clippings that come from mowing the perimeter grass.
0BFB2B2F-4348-4A8A-B9A2-C556016833E7.jpeg
First compost bin set up and ready for use.
First compost bin set up and ready for use.
81FE710D-FE60-4EF0-9746-F01742DEE2ED.jpeg
A view inside
A view inside
 
L. Johnson
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I think I remember reading that you don't turn your compost. Is that right? So the bins are just 4 closed sides with no access except from the top?

I guess if you have so many bins you can just use the most convenient or well matured compost and shift bins as they process.
 
Su Ba
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Posts: 1895
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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That’s right. I don’t turn the compost. The material will sit there for at least 6 months before I go to do anything with it, other than add water if the material is too dry.

When filling, access is only from the top. For emptying, I will cut the wire or rope on one side, removing one of the pallets, thus making it a 3 sided box. For ease of emptying, I will make another pallet compost box right next to the full one. As I fork out the compost into a wheelbarrow for distributing, I will fork any non-ready compost material into the new box. Unless I’ve ground everything up with the lawnmower before composting, there will always be big chunky or stemmy stuff that needs more time to break down.

Having multiple bins is for convenience and time savings. So we won’t focus upon filling one particular box before moving on to another. No, we will be chucking the material into the closest box. This means that the most mature compost will be on the bottom of each box, necessitating emptying the box the get to it. But by having a new box adjacent to the old one being emptied, and using a fork to transfer the coarse material, it isn’t much of a problem. Plus we won’t be micro-managing the compost material. That means that some of the coarse stuff might get into the wheelbarrow and some of the fine stuff might get back into the compost bin. No big deal.

Another plus with multiple bins spread throughout the site…..we won’t have to wheelbarrow the compost hundreds of feet to where we want to use it. Each bin will service the area it is closest to.

By making compost from onsite material and then using it, you couldn’t get more permaculture than that! This farm has never made compost. Discarded organic material has simply been bulldozed into a ravine.
 
Su Ba
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Posts: 1895
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
822
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Market Day this Coming  Wednesday

Here’s what will be heading to the market this Wednesday:

From the garden:
Snow peas- about 10 lbs
Bush beans- yellow, green, purple - about 15 lbs
Beets - red, gold, white, about a dozen of each color
Radishes, about 3 gallons
Leaf lettuce, about 4 gallons
Mizuna, about 1 gallon
Arugula, about 3 gallons
Kale, leaves, about 2 gallons
Cabbage, 3 small heads
Red mustard, leaves, not much
Potatoes, about 10 lbs
Green onions, several dozen
Ball zucchini, 3-4
Bok choy, about 8-10
Tatsoi, enough to fill a 5 gallon bucket
Dill, a quart
Cilantro, a couple gallons
Oregano, a pint of leafy tips
Bananas, 4 big bunches
Lemons, a 5 gallon bucket

From my own farm I will add:
Turmeric, about 10 lbs
Pineapple, 1
Sweet potatoes, about 5 lbs
Allspice leaves, a handful
Bay leaves, a handful
Clove leaves, a handful
Limes, a 5 gallon bucket
Pipinolas, 2-3 dozen
Landrace pumpkin, 1

This past week I sold a smattering of items to one of our local restaurants. Well, today I had lunch there and recognized some of our veggies on the plate. A tasty salad of bok choy leaves and arugula with a to-die-for dill dressing. I hesitated at first, assuming it would taste terrible and be chewy as hell. But I was wrong. It was delicious. The main dish was a shrimp Alfredo/linguine with snow peas. Yup, our snow peas. It was really satisfying knowing that we grew those veggies.
 
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Location: SE Indiana
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Su Ba, where do you take your stuff to market? I remember the market in Hilo and how amazing it was. We bought these little bitty white pineapples that tasted like candy, ate the whole thing even the cores and skins.

Is your place near Hilo? Do you ever go up on the saddle road at night to watch the sky? Very spiritual and eerie place up there between the mountains even in the day time. Strange I thought, that very few people ever go there, I drove all the way across more than once and never saw another person.

I don't know how it's possible to feel homesick for a place I spent a grand total of three weeks but whenever I read your posts I do. I swore then and sill am adamant that I will never, ever buy another round trip ticket to Hawaii.
 
Su Ba
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Posts: 1895
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
822
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Mark, I can understand your feelings. For about 10 years hubby and I used Hawaii as a stepping stone to Taiwan, since he worked there off and on. Every time we stopped in Hawaii, I had the strong feeling that I had come home. Every time it was with remorse that I left, just like leaving home and knowing you won’t be back for a while. The feeling can be strong. We only visited Big Island, so it wasn’t the attraction of the Hawaiian tropical paradise image that drew us. Big Island, while it does have tourist stuff, is more blue collar.

The night skies are incredible. Our home is in a cloudy area, but it’s only a short 5 mile drive to the most amazing skyscrape at night. We view it weekly for that “grounding” experience. The sky is both awe inspiring and humbling at the same time.

Sections of Saddle Road have been improved, so it gets a bit more traffic. But still, it’s a lightly travelled road compared to the regular highway. .

I am a two hour drive to Hilo.  I’m down in South Point area. Half way between Hilo and Kona.

If you ever make it back to Big Island, put off buying that return ticket. People often waste their money on one. And hey, you could always buy a one way ticket back to the mainland if you need it.

We sell our stuff at the Naalehu Farmers Market.  It is put on by our local non-profit service group called O’ Ka’u Kakou. It’s not a big market like Hilo, but it’s a true town market that happens to also get drive by tourists stopping in. People tend to get their weekly town news there while shopping and listening to local musicians. Nice place.

Aloha
 
Su Ba
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Posts: 1895
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
822
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What we are planting this week:

Each week we are trying to get lots of stuff planted, though only small amounts of each. There isn’t enough time to get everything in that we want to, of course, but we are making an effort. This garden is a monumental task for us, so we do what we can. Getting veggies started takes priority over mowing the grass around the garden, making tunnels and trellises, and other non-planting tasks.

Seed starting in the greenhouse:
Tatsoi
Leaf lettuce
Romaine
Cilantro
Basil
Marjoram
Bok choy, mini
Tomato, pear types
Cabbage
Cauliflower
Broccoli
Mustard greens
Chinese cabbage
Arugula
Beets
Hot peppers

Started seeds(now seedlings) transplant into flats for starts:
Cauliflower
Carrot
Tomatoes

Seed directly into the garden:
Bush beans
Snow peas
Snap peas
Soy beans

We also are putting in 200 foot of a large cherry type landrace tomato that does well in this area. That’s a lot of tomatoes, but this one also dries nicely, so we could make tomato powder or simply dried slices if need be with any excess.

And if perchance I get the first tunnel built, I will sow Swiss chard and Tokyo bekana, and experiment with a small section of beets. But I think that won’t get done until next week.
 
Su Ba
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Posts: 1895
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
822
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What is Selling Good

We are now selling regularly at 4 different outlets….
… The local Hub, which makes free meals for people, usually 60 meals three days a week. We don’t actually sell them the veggies. We give them for free.
… A local restaurant.
… A local B&B
… Our town farmers market.

Top in demand are:
Lettuce
Tomatoes
Cucumbers
Snow peas
Bush beans (aka- string beans)

Next comes:
Arugula
Cilantro
Tatsoi
Tokyo bekana
Carrots
Radishes
Beets
Green onions
Broccoli

Medium demand:
Zucchini
Mizuna
Cabbage
Oregano
Parsley
Dill
Bok choy
Basil
Hawaiian pumpkin
Pipinola

Low demand:
Kale
Eggplant
Mustard greens
Summer squash other than zucchini

We haven’t been selling the following yet, but plan try growing and selling them:
sweet and hot peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas (shelling and snap), cowpeas, soybeans, cauliflower, swiss chard, chinese cabbage and other Asian greens, turnips, kohlrabi, leeks, taro, ground cherry, spinach, okra, winged bean.

Something strange that we noticed was that previous veggie vendors at out town market also sold lettuce, but it was a mediocre seller for them, at best. They almost always ended up taking some home with them at the end of the day. For some reason our lettuce sells like hot cakes. If buyers don’t come early, it is all sold out. The previous sellers sold their lettuce as individual heads, be it leaf, butterhead, iceberg, or romaine.  We are selling ours as individual leaves, as a spring mix. So some reason a bag of spring mix sells better than a head. I guess it’s all about marketing.
 
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