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Starting Food Forest but... no soil, crazy winds, and little rain  RSS feed

 
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Hi. I'm posting here so I can get some feedback on this project I'm going to be working on.

I was offered 3 acre of land in Ocean View, Hawaii. The only problem is that there is no soil, the wind here is crazy, and there's like no rain. I'm going to lay out what I plan to do and hope I can get some feedback.

Take a look at my attached picture of what the "soil" looks like. There's pretty much no life. Just lava rocks. I don't even see birds, insects, animals. And I don't even think there's worms in the ground because it's just a pile of lava rocks.

Since there's no soil, I'm going to be importing massive amounts of soil. I think I'll need to be digging lava rocks out to make beds to hold the soil.

I was thinking of starting a massive bed as a worm bin. Dig out some lava rocks, fill in with dirt, worms, and throw in kitchen scraps and newspaper, etc... Cover with a tarp or wood chips (hay wouldn't be good cover here since wind probably will blow it away). I'm hoping this would generate a lot of microbial life and soil life that I can import to my other beds.

For the beds where I'll plant all my plants, I'm not sure how deep and wide I should make it to replicate a natural soil system. I believe the deeper and wider the better for more biodiversity. So I wasn't sure if I should make multiple small beds, or one or two gigantic beds to hold soil to plant all of my food forest.

I was thinking of layering the beds like hugelkulter or lasagna gardening. Since there is little rain, I need to lock in moisture. Perhaps the lava rock that are inevitably at the very bottom of the bed could help lock in moisture? Other than that, hugelkulter claims the logs and branches at the bottom of the bed helps hold in moisture. And on top of all this, I will cover with wood chips Back to Eden style. I was also hoping that the water that goes to groundwater has proper capillary channels to flow up to the surface when it gets dry. I'm not sure if groundwater can travel through lava rocks upwards like it can in normal soil with capillary channels. Any ideas?

I'm hoping I don't have to water as this place is on rain water catchment and water is very limited.

Next challenge would be the winds which is like strong enough to decapitate seedlings. I was thinking that all the trees would ultimately naturally block off the wind from the ocean. But I think short term, maybe building a bamboo wall on the south side might be a good idea?

For planting seeds, I'll do maybe 1/3 of the beds as fukuoka masanobu style. For the other 2/3, I want a bit more control. Pull back the wood chips, scatter seeds, pat the seeds into the soil, and recover with a thin layer of mulch to lock in moisture. I'll also import some bare root trees and start some trees from seeds as well.

I'm also looking for any suggestions on fruit trees or berry bushes that would thrive in this kind of condition.

I'm hoping within 3 years, I can bring a lot of biodiversity and start seeing birds, beneficial insects, microbial life, etc...

Thanks so much you guys.
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pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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What a difficult site!  If you haven't done so, I suggest you study what Geoff Lawton and others are doing with permaculture in Jordan, which is also a desolate, soil-less, windy, rainless climate.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCL_r1ELEvAuN0peKUxI0Umw/videos[/youtube]

Also, for rainwater harvesting under all conditions, I can't recommend highly enough Brad Lancaster's Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands Volume 2.  His website also has useful information: https://www.harvestingrainwater.com/

 
pollinator
Posts: 2094
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
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When will the next lava flow happen. 200yrs, 50yrs, 5yrs?
You could do aquaponic/hydroponic.
I am really liking the idea of a pond. pond liner, with fish and other water vegetables and lots of duckweed to increase fertility.

Maybe you could also import hay to feed goats/sheep/cow.
They can walk around while dropping off some fertility pellets.
Some sedum vegetation could probably handle the lack of soil and low levels of water too.
If you had more water I would recommend moss too, but even with low level of rain go ahead and add some.
Try pineapples too and any other plants that looks cactus/desert loo.
Other plants with thorns too are normally pretty hardy.

My usual thoughts on how to build soils is
1) earthworks/swales to trap what little rain you get in ditches on contour.
2) import a TON of woodchip/hay/sawdust/biochar/carbon
3) soil life, fungi/mushroom slurries, worm tea, compost, forest litter, etc
4) rockdust, lime and other minerals if needed
5) cover crop: 80% nitrogen fixing and 20% herbs/weeds/vegetables

If you could somehow visit restaurant/hotels and then get all of their foodwaste.
You could just setup a composting space that slowly build soil.
Any farmer who want to get rid of their agricultural waste or burn it as them for it.
Any forester/arborist/landscaper/sawmill that has logs/woodchip/sawdust/etc

For cover crop. I am thinking lentils, chickpea, pigeon pea and teff, cassava too.
Look for any thorny legume and get some growing too.

Don't spread your imports thin. Start at a smaller scale.
Better to have 1/4 acres with 12inches of compost/woodchip/etc vs 1acres with just 3inches

If someone is giving the title to 3acres of land I would still take it and over a couple years build up the soil. Don't expect to start harvesting Mangoes and Oranges next year.
 
gardener
Posts: 1109
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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Hello and welcome to permies!

That is a hard site - I thought my clay soils were bad...

My thought is to try to make use of the rocks assuming they are not impossible to break up and keep in fairly large chunks - say basket ball size.

You could mark out contour lines and break up the rock along those lines creating rocky swales. This would result in a lot of extra rocky material. I would fill these swales with rough organic material and let it set and slowly build soil.

The extra rock could then be made into large (4ft high, by 6ft wide at the base?) piles also on contour to form what is known as air wells. Due to temperature differences between the air blowing through the rocks and the rocks in the middle of the pile you get water condensing out. Essentially, letting you harvest water from the air. You can read more about air wells here: https://permies.com/t/airwell

I would also make hugel beds along contour if you can get the material for them. You will want them to be fairly tall and wide.

So this would give you 3 main structures - rocky swales, rocky berms (air wells), and hugel beds.

If you spaced these out and say went swale, hugel, air well and then repeated the pattern (moving down hill) you would add a lot of complexity to your site. The hugel beds and air wells will also create micro-climates where the winds are blocked and micro-climates fully exposed to the winds. All three features would trap whatever water you get.

In between these 3 features you could do some lasagna gardening since that space should benefit from the trapped moisture and also will be sheltered from the wind.

With these 3 features you may need to go off contour to block the winds. Perhaps have the core features on contour and then build fingers coming off them to create wind blocks.

Blocking the winds seems to be a major part of what the site needs. I would use rock piles where you can - even small piles say 3 feet wide at the base and 3 feet high at the top would create sheltered micro-climates.

I would also skip the trees at first and instead focus on getting very hardy and fast growing shrubs established. Every shrub will create sheltered micro-climates where it blocks the wind and creates a little shade. Once the shrubs are established I would plant larger shrubs and eventually trees in the sheltered micro-climates.

I would also get a ton of annual/biennial green manure plants growing and just cut them down over and over to help build soil.

Around the shrubs I would look at getting low growing / ground cover plants established - ideally ones that are edible.

If you look at windy exposed and dry shoreline habitat they tend to be dominated by shrubs and low growing plants. I would mimic this pattern and not go for a forest at first.

Once you turn the site green (even if the plants are short and wind swept), then add bigger shrubs to create even more sheltered environments, then look for very hardy trees and get those established. Eventually, you could try less hardy fruit trees once you have very sheltered areas. Overtime, all of this will deflect the winds and create more and more sheltered environments.

The physical features (swales, rocky berms, hugel beds) will get things started but planting in a way that mimics the natural ecological succession will give you the best results.

Good luck - that is a challenging project but it would be awesome to see it transform to a productive green environment.
 
pollinator
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Location: mountains of Tennessee
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Sounds like a worthy challenge. Never been to the big island but have seen it from the air many times. Especially around your south side & near the king. Not much vegetation around that side of Mauna Loa. Rather steep slope there too. The ocean view must be amazing!

I don't think a simple bamboo wall would work unless it was very sturdy. Too windy. If it were my project I would consider making raised beds out of the bamboo instead. Many of them. Another wind breaking use for the bamboo would be bean tipis. Both would start providing some immediate wind protection until trees could be started. Hedgerows &/or perimeter fencing of banyan trees seems like they would be a great choice for that purpose.

Cutting & moving lava/rocks is hard sweaty work. So is moving & building soil on the scale you will need. Certainly one of the first things I would try to do is catch some rainwater & set up a bathtub or shower with a view!!! Obviously the future plants will need water too. In addition to the hugelkultur & swales already mentioned a few large containers or collection ponds would be good. Soil & water retention are going to be critical on the steep side of a big windy rock. That doesn't look like the light porous type of lava. Wouldn't expect any significant water via capillary action. I would start by capturing every drop & asking the neighbors for their potential runoff too. I would start a small but very nice food garden on the downhill side. Then another small spot somewhere else. Etc, etc, etc. Just keep expanding them towards each other & up the slope as you accumulate soil & water. Use raised beds as semi-swales. Wouldn't worry too much about major crops or food forest until the soil was ready. That's essentially what I do here in the mountains. Use the rocks & whatever organic materials you have available & just go one step at a time as best you can.

Some sort of zai hole arrangement might prove useful. Much info online but the pic shows the basic idea.

Animals. I would try to get some animals going there. They are great soils builders. I would probably start small with chickens & rabbits to minimize the need for outside resources. A big concern with animals is you have to be there to keep an eye on them. If you're going to usually be on location & have the resources a few cows will definitely speed things up. Feed all their fresh pies to the worms & you'll ultimately have a nonstop supply of excellent soil. I would consider a few small natives trees & shrubs in (bamboo) containers to start attracting birds & insects immediately. The birds will bring native seeds to deposit & that will be a good thing.



A good source of fruits to grow is the local farmers market. And pineapples. I would do that just because you can. 365 of them. One for each day of the year. Macadamia nuts too. Yum.

Welcome to permies. Good luck on the project. Please keep us posted. It has soooo much potential. Me & my small mountain of windsurf gear are available for on site consultations:)
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gardener
Posts: 3725
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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I visited the Rainfall Atlas maintained by University of Hawai'i. I am favorably impressed that the stations around Ocean View averaged 2 to 4 inches of rain per month all year long.  I'd feel like I'd moved to an oasis if that much water were available in the desert here. With that much moisture, greening the place up amounts to adding organic matter to hold onto the moisture and feed living things. Certainly wouldn't want to be flushing waste down a toilet that could be feeding the land.

Giambelluca, T.W., Q. Chen, A.G. Frazier, J.P. Price, Y.-L. Chen, P.-S. Chu, J.K. Eischeid, and D.M. Delparte, 2013: Online Rainfall Atlas of Hawai‘i. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc. 94, 313-316, doi: 10.1175/BAMS-D-11-00228.1.
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Hawai'i rainfall near Ocean View
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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When I use GoogleEarth and StreetView to look at the low rainfall areas on Hawai'i, there are trees, shrubs, grasses, etc that are growing there. I'd recommend visiting those areas and getting propagules to put on your land. They are already well adapted to the general area. Add them to the site with a bit of soil, and a bit of water, and I bet that they would thrive. Doesn't matter if they are weeds, the site needs a good dose of life. At this point, any life is better than none.
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An area full of life, right next to a relatively recent lava flow. Near Ocean View Hawai'i
 
pollinator
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Nice challenge! Also, very great replies so far.

When I first saw the image in your original post, another image immediately came to mind... one of the most beautiful pioneer and long-term, "climax", endemic Hawaiian forest tree species: ʻōhiʻa lehua

"It produces a brilliant display of flowers, made up of a mass of stamens, which can range from fiery red to yellow. Many native Hawaiian traditions refer to the tree and the forests it forms as sacred to Pele, the volcano goddess, and to Laka, the goddess of hula. ʻŌhiʻa trees grow easily on lava, and are usually the very first plants to grow on new lava flows.

Uses:
The reddish brown heartwood of Metrosideros polymorpha is very hard, fine textured, and has a specific gravity of 0.7. In native Hawaiian society, it was used in house and heiau construction, as well as to make papa kuʻi ʻai (poi boards), weapons, tool handles, hohoa (round kapa beaters), and kiʻi (statues and idols). Although the trunk of ʻōhiʻa was not used to make the kaʻele (hull) of waʻa (outrigger canoes), it was used for their nohona waʻa (seats), pale (gunwales), and pola (decking). Wae (spreaders) were made from the curved stilt roots of ʻōhiʻa. (fencing) was made from the wood due to its availability; kauila (Colubrina oppositifolia or Alphitonia ponderosa), more durable woods when in contact with soil, was rarer. As the wood burned hot and cleanly, it was excellent wahie (firewood). The lehua (flowers) and liko lehua (leaf buds) were used in making lei. The flowers were used medicinally to treat pain experienced during childbirth.
ʻŌhiʻa lehua is one of the few honey plants that is native to the Hawaiian Islands." - Wikipedia

Since it's endemic, & facing many challenges as of late, it may be possible to get grant funding to plant lots of it.
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ʻōhiʻa lehua by Brocken Inaglory, WikiMedia.org
 
Posts: 1988
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One of the principles of permaculture is that we observe what we have and work with the natural processes. From your use of the term "food forest" it sounds like you have a preconceived idea of what you want to do, and are trying to force your will on the land. Simply looking at that landscape it doesn't really strike me as the kind of territory conducive to any kind of "forest". You probably need to put in a good decade of soil building and water holding structures before you will be able to do as you hope.

On the plus side, volcanic soils are supposed to be highly fertile with all the trace minerals that our soft chalk soils here are short on.

I would be looking to see what plantings you can get in that will help hold moisture, and build soil. Have you looked at vetiver grass? I believe it is used extensively in Hawaii already. Planted on contour it drastically slows surface water flows, and on sloping land helps to "grow" natural terraces as the detritus, leaf litter and soil collect on the upslope side. It is also a prodigious producer of cut leaves to use as mulch for other planting. It can also act as a windbreak sheltering other crops.
 
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Samuel Kuo wrote:Hi. I'm posting here so I can get some feedback on this project I'm going to be working on.

I was offered 3 acre of land in Ocean View, Hawaii. The only problem is that there is no soil, the wind here is crazy, and there's like no rain. I'm going to lay out what I plan to do and hope I can get some feedback.

Take a look at my attached picture of what the "soil" looks like. There's pretty much no life. Just lava rocks. I don't even see birds, insects, animals. And I don't even think there's worms in the ground because it's just a pile of lava rocks.

Since there's no soil, I'm going to be importing massive amounts of soil. I think I'll need to be digging lava rocks out to make beds to hold the soil.

I was thinking of starting a massive bed as a worm bin. Dig out some lava rocks, fill in with dirt, worms, and throw in kitchen scraps and newspaper, etc... Cover with a tarp or wood chips (hay wouldn't be good cover here since wind probably will blow it away). I'm hoping this would generate a lot of microbial life and soil life that I can import to my other beds.

For the beds where I'll plant all my plants, I'm not sure how deep and wide I should make it to replicate a natural soil system. I believe the deeper and wider the better for more biodiversity. So I wasn't sure if I should make multiple small beds, or one or two gigantic beds to hold soil to plant all of my food forest.

I was thinking of layering the beds like hugelkulter or lasagna gardening. Since there is little rain, I need to lock in moisture. Perhaps the lava rock that are inevitably at the very bottom of the bed could help lock in moisture? Other than that, hugelkulter claims the logs and branches at the bottom of the bed helps hold in moisture. And on top of all this, I will cover with wood chips Back to Eden style. I was also hoping that the water that goes to groundwater has proper capillary channels to flow up to the surface when it gets dry. I'm not sure if groundwater can travel through lava rocks upwards like it can in normal soil with capillary channels. Any ideas?

I'm hoping I don't have to water as this place is on rain water catchment and water is very limited.

Next challenge would be the winds which is like strong enough to decapitate seedlings. I was thinking that all the trees would ultimately naturally block off the wind from the ocean. But I think short term, maybe building a bamboo wall on the south side might be a good idea?

For planting seeds, I'll do maybe 1/3 of the beds as fukuoka masanobu style. For the other 2/3, I want a bit more control. Pull back the wood chips, scatter seeds, pat the seeds into the soil, and recover with a thin layer of mulch to lock in moisture. I'll also import some bare root trees and start some trees from seeds as well.

I'm also looking for any suggestions on fruit trees or berry bushes that would thrive in this kind of condition.

I'm hoping within 3 years, I can bring a lot of biodiversity and start seeing birds, beneficial insects, microbial life, etc...

Thanks so much you guys.


hau Samuel, Nothing like a challenge to get the idea wheels turning.

First off, what you have is virgin Hawaiian land, awesome, that is what the earth mother started with and look at the land around all the islands now. I bring that up just to put perspective on your challenge.
Plants do not require soil in order to grow, many places with no soil have quite a diversity of plants and trees growing in bare rock, lava has quite a few minerals in it so all the bacteria that use enzymes to dissolve those minerals are going to be your very good friends.
The lava appears to be pretty old since it is what I would term smaller lump lava, this means that odds are some breakdown is already at work.

So; How fast do you want food plants to be growing here? How much money do you have to sink into supplying soil or at least dirt that you can turn into soil? What do you see as your short term goals? Long term goals?
These are the pressing questions from which all actions should spring forth.  
In your above post, "within 3 years bring a lot of biodiversity and start seeing birds, beneficial insects, microbial life, etc.".
From that statement goal, you want to get things growing immediately, so that is how I will set out the list of what I would do with this land, that way you can use or ignore any part you so wish.

First thing to do in a broken surface lava field would be to get lichen growing in as many places as you possibly can.

Lichen are natures dirt makers, they will break down the rock through enzymatic action thus deriving their food and creating micro sand along with dead lichen cells.
With lots of lichen growing, you are creating soil from rock, just like nature does.
Getting organic matter into small enough particles to filter down into the cracks between the lava rocks will give bacteria and fungi something to live in, the more the better.
Since this is a high wind area, you might need to devise some sort of "mat" to hold those organic materials in place while they decompose.
With the objective of getting a soil microbiome established, compost teas will be one of the best methods of dispersing lots of microbes over the areas you want to develop and you want to develop these areas in stages so you don't over extend yourself or your resources.
I would lay out garden beds no wider than two feet with a three foot space between so you can maneuver things like wheelbarrows, those pathways can be sprinkled with lichen bits so they aren't just sitting there as rocks.
For trees I'd just create holes that are larger than the root ball then tease out the outermost root tips and gently fill back in with the rocks that were removed. If you can devise a way to crush those lava rocks, that would be outstanding but not essential.

To get an idea of how nature does all of this work just take some hikes into the low hills where vegetation has established itself and observe closely.

Redhawk

edit addendum; many grape species love "poor soil that is mostly rocks".
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1988
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Bryant’s advice re lichen is good, but I can’t imagine lichen will be quick to establish. As he says though, soil is not needed to grow.

Look for plants you can establish that will will make lots of biomatter as mulch, as quickly as possible. I mentioned vet over above, but a good walk through your local area might give you other ideas for good pioneer species in your area.

When I visited Tenerife a few years back there were large areas of pine forest. The local farmers were collecting whole lorry loads of pine needles to use as mulch. I don’t think this would be a sustainable idea in the long term, but in the short term could give you a big head start on adding organic matter.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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I intentionally plant and grow lichens in the desert. They are as easy to grow as mushrooms. When I travel, I collect small stones with lichens growing on them, and set them in the lichen conservatory. I figure that I might as well give them a chance at genetic diversity, and to grow in a new location. There are lichens that grow on the ground, on trees, and on rocks. I am only collecting the rock lichens, cause that is the primary ecosystem where I am planting them.

My typical strategy is to grind up some lichens and nutrient solution in a blender, and paint it on rocks. The north side of rocks (northern hemisphere) stays moist longer than the south side, so I concentrate the planting on the north side of rocks. The east side of rocks is the next best location.

---

Lichen Growth Formulas -- How to Grow Lichens

The lichen lovers have tried a lot of lichen growth formulas. The most successful and easy to implement are listed on this page. We recommend one application a year near the beginning of a rainy or snowy time, but if you've missed damp weather go ahead and apply the growth formula anyway.

If locally collected powdered lichens from a similar micro-environment are put on the surface before the formula dries, the proteins in the formula act as a (somewhat waterproof) glue to hold the lichens in place, especially on pourous rocks. While lichens often seed themselves you'll get much better results is you plant some too.

Formula 1 (Traditional)

Cultivating lichens with milk

The first method we tried, and the most commonly practiced lichen growth formula, is to spray or paint milk, yogurt, or rice water onto the surface where lichens are desired. This will usually darken the surface in a matter of weeks or months, and within a few years many lichens often appear. We prefer fresh milk in a spray bottle for the ultimate ease of application.

Formula 29 (Magnificent Lichen Growth Formula)

Mix the following together and bring to a boil stirring frequently:

       1 pint milk
       1 teaspoon flour
       1 teaspoon yeast
       1/2 teaspoon gelatin
       1 tablespoon green algae powder (Spirulina or chlorella may be obtained from the vitamin department at some grocery stores. Pet stores may carry fish food that is mostly algae.)
       1/16 teaspoon water soluble fertilizer with micronutrients (bloom boosting formula preferred, such as 15-30-15 or similar, NOT acid loving formula.)

Remove from heat as soon as boiling commences, and cool to room temperature. The formula may be stored a few days in the refrigerator.

Immediately prior to application, add:

       2 teaspoons of lichen flakes collected from common lichens growing in a similar micro-environment to where the new lichens are wanted.
       2 teaspoons of healthy soil collected from an area near where lichens are currently growing.

Shake or stir well.

Use a paintbrush to apply this solution to the areas where you would like new lichens to grow. Apply as soon as practical after making the formula since this is a living, very bio-active mixture. For best results do not apply during a rain storm, or when rain is expected within a day.

Purpose of Ingredients

The proteins in milk interact with Calcium in the environment, in the soil, and in the rock to form a somewhat waterproof glue to hold the mix in place.

The flour, yeast, green algae powder, and fertilizer act as nutrients to either the algae or fungi component or both. (Ever notice how fast mold fungi grow on moist bread?) Our interest in these ingredients is to extract the nutrients from them, not in having them grow on the rock. Any form of yeast, flour, or algae is acceptable. Substitutions are appropriate and the lichens won't die a horrible painful death if you leave something out. (No nerves = No pain)

The soil acts as a nutrient, and helps to set the proteins in the milk, and may contribute algae, fungi, or lichen spores.

The gelatin helps to waterproof the formula and keep the nutrients and young lichens from washing away. Gelatin may also be somewhat detrimental because it sheds rainwater that might otherwise be absorbed by the stone. A splotchy application can help minimize this issue.

In 2008 we started an investigation dealing with the addition of mushroom powder and specific sugars into the magnificent formula. It is showing great promise. Only trouble is, what do we call a formula that is better than magnificent?

Choosing a location

In addition to nutrients lichens require light and moisture for growth. Lichens tend to grow best on rough porous surfaces that retain moisture. In northern latitudes the north facing sides of objects tend to support lichen growth much better than south facing sides because they remain damp longer after dew or rain. Cracks and crevices are also favored places for lichen growth because of the increased dampness.
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Lichen grown forumula applied to porous cinderblock. A pourous surface is a great surface for growing lichens.
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Three years after treating porous blocks with Magnificent Formula.
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I love, love, love to grow lichens.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Another idea for collecting nutrients is to recruit the local bird/wildlife population to bring in nutrients from the surrounding areas.

That can be as simple as putting up a few poles upon which birds can perch, or keeping a bird-bath filled with water. The birds will use them, and deposit manure which will enrich your local ecosystem. Perhaps there are species that would be attracted to nesting boxes, or a pile of brush. Perhaps set up a bird feeding station near the bird-bath. Water, food, and a brush pile to hide/nest in? What's not to like about that?

 
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Aloha Samuel, welcome to the forum. Have you lived on-island for a long time? There are some unique things to consider in Hawaiʻi and many great natural and man-made examples of the kind of thing you are trying to do. You will face challenges, but rest assured there are many others facing similar challenges on Hawaiʻi Island, especially where land is somewhat affordable. I think your idea of a food forest is not off-base from designing with what nature is trying to do at all, the land you are on has already started the process of converting a fresh lava flow into a forest, and that will eventually be what it turns into, just nature will take longer than you might want it to. All of the above suggestions are great, I think there are a few more things to consider that I can add. Lots of trees can grow and thrive in the "soil" that you have in Ocean View, in fact, in the Permaculture Design Manual by Bill Mollison, there are pictures of an old project on the Kona side of Hawaiʻi Island that was able to grow mango and avocado on a straight aʻa (the crumbly type of lava you have) by adding mulch to holes in the lava. I believe the text goes into more detail on how they did it, but I do not have the manual in front of me now. Lots of good ideas in that book as well for your site, I think the "Drylands" chapter will have more application for you than the tropical sections, not everyone realizes that the tropics are not homogenous tropical rainforest, but Hawaiʻi has nearly all of the possible climate types. One of the traditional ways of growing kalo (taro) in the well-watered Hawaiʻian valleys was used as an example of permanent agriculture in the Design Manual, but there were many other ways that Hawaiʻians developed to grow food in all different situations in the Islands.

In my experience, with the wind and well-drained aspect of the lava flow, raised beds would be hard to keep moist, even with the addition of lots of organic matter. There is not much likelihood of having much wicking of water up from below with the aʻa, most of the water is going to want to go down. The native Hawaiʻians made a very productive living on seemingly barren aʻa fields in many areas, by planting in pits below ground level and filling them with organic matter. Traditional agriculture here made great use of mulches and intentionally grown organic matter. All of the traditional Hawaiʻian food plants should thrive in a situation like that, I have seen full-size trees growing out of larger natural pits in barren lava flows that were barely visible above the surface. Hawaiʻians made use of any available pit like that, and you can still find the plants they planted there years ago. What about an underground hugel?

The rocks are an obvious resource, over time you can build up wall around pits and raise the planting level to add growing space. Rock walls are also probably your best bet for a good, quick windbreak.

You did not say what your elevation is in Ocean View, as you know there is quite a bit of elevational gain from top to bottom, and that can determine how much moisture you get. The UH rainfall atlas that Joseph pointed out is a great resource that I use a lot in my work, but one thing it does not show is fog-drip and moisture from dew, which can be significant (doubling or tripling available precipitation in some mountain areas) many places in Hawaiʻi. Planting in pits can maximize how much moisture you gain from both, and reduce how much is lost to evaporation and wind. The cold night wind that comes down from 13,000ʻ on Mauna Loa can bring moisture just from the temperature difference between the warm rocks and the wind.

There are several native plants know for being good in a windy situation, aʻaliʻi (Dodonea viscosa) is one remembered in ʻolelo noʻeau (Hawaiʻian proverbs) for resisting the wind. There is lots of seed available of aʻaliʻi along roadsides in drier natural areas.

There are maps that show the ages of lava flows, have you checked out what the age of your flow is? I will point out that just because it is crumbly and broken-looking, does not mean that it is very old, in fact it looks like a fairly recent aʻa flow to me. That is pretty much how aʻa looks when it comes out of the volcano, and I know that Ocean View was the site of fairly recent lava flows.

Maybe Su Ba will chime in on this one, I think she is nearby to Ocean View and may have more to add. There is a thriving ecologically-responsible agriculture community here on Island, but many people do not use the word Permaculture, but just do good things because it makes sense. Not a lot of people from Island are on Permies- I am new to the forum myself, but there are plenty of events and gathering and lots of people to meet that will probably not be on the forum here that can help with what you are trying to do.

Just remember-He aʻaliʻi ku makani mai au; ʻaʻohe ku makani nana e kulaʻi. (I am a wind-resisting aʻaliʻi; no gale can push me over)!
 
Samuel Kuo
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I was inspired by the perfect design in nature to garden. Therefore I try to work with nature as closely as possible and accelerate the process of succession. Recently  I had realized another perfect design on nature. Ocean view is windy because nature wants to erode the rocks to soil. Hilo on the other hand has like no wind because it doesn't require wind erosion like ocean view does. Coincidence or perfect design by a genius creator?                

Lichens sound interesting. How long will it take for lichen and wind erosion to erode rock to soil? I realize that this works with natural succession but can't we simply speed up succession by importing soil which is what the land wants? What are the  negative consequences of doing this?
Or what if we just have a machine that manually breaks the rocks into sand and add organic matter to it to create soil?

So I was considering the idea of swales but according to the owner of the site, the lava rock ground is over the top high drainage. Water just falls through the crevices of the rocks to under ground caves and runs off downhill underground.  I think This would defeat the purpose of swales since runoff occurs underground, not on the surface . Decreasing water drainage is a challenge I hadn't considered at first. The owner currently puts a plastic sheet underneath with small holes to mitigate water and soil and nutrients draining to the underground caverns.
I like the idea of zai holes and rocky berm. I think I can combine the two technique and do maybe underground hugelkultrt mini craters. It will be zai hole pit surrounded by rocky berm air well in the direction of where the wind comes. It will be filled and layered like hugelkulter. Branches and wood material at the bottom would hold moisture and slow drainage and soil nutrient loss. Does anybody have thoughts on this? I wanted something organic rather than plastic sheets to decrease drainage. What is optimal for this job? Or maybe it might be possible to create an artificial underground vessel system to collect rainwater mimicking the concept of ground water?

For the mini underground hugelkulter crater, I might layer the hugelkulter layer like compost layer and let it compost down before I plant anything. Does anyone know if red wiggles can survive in a hugelkulter layer to help it compost faster? Unlike normal ground that has worms which usually find their way to compost piles, there will be no worms attracted to my compost mini craters since there are no worms in the ground. Will the worms survive if I inoculate it with worms from my vermiculite bin? I'm trying to introduce all elements found in natural soil: micro organisms, worms, mulch on top, etc... I'm wondering if I'm missing any other elements? Would I need to introduce mycorizal fungi? Or will it appear naturally? Are there any more elements I need to import for soil life?    

I was also thinking I will do a massive crater garden to trap moisture , mitigate wind damage, and create microclimates for plants that normally cannot grow in ocean view. The crater garden will have a pond in the bottom and plants growing near it will have aquaponic benefits. The trapped humidity at the bottom the crater counters the dry air of ocean view . The different terraced layers will all have different microclimates to grow everything that the textbook tells me I can't grow.. I'm concerned however that the pond will become stagnant and breed mosquitos, which is a problem in Hawaii. Is there a natural way to make it so that the pond is flowing and living and breathing and does not breed an anaerobic environment? Maybe there is a certain type of water plant that breathes oxygen into the water?

For plants not growing in the crater, I plan to find plant varieties that can survive extreme wind climates, such as loquat. I will have the wind resistant fruit trees on the outer end of the garden to serve as wind barrier and normal fruit trees in the center and back of the garden. Anyone know any fruit trees that does well in windy condition besides loquat? I was also thinking of only doing dwarf tree as I read to they do better than Non dwarf in windy conditions . How deep and wide should I dig the crater pits to contain  the entire root system of the tree and not having the roots hit into hard lava rocks?

Thanks guys.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Samuel Kuo wrote:How long will it take for lichen and wind erosion to erode rock to soil?



Takes a very long time to erode rock... However, even without erosion, lichen is a living thing. It dies and creates soil.

Samuel Kuo wrote:I realize that this works with natural succession but can't we simply speed up succession by importing soil which is what the land wants? What are the  negative consequences of doing this? Or what if we just have a machine that manually breaks the rocks into sand and add organic matter to it to create soil?



You haven't commented about the budget for this project. Most of the suggestions you received were low cost activities that you can do with minimal labor and finances. Things which will allow the local ecosystem to create conditions to support a richer local ecosystem. Last time I calculated the cost of adding 4 inches of compost to my 2 acre field, it was more than the cost of the land: Enough to have built a decent house. And was approximately the total inventory of my county's compost manufacturing capabilities. If I am importing compost onto a piece of land, I am desertifying the areas where the compost came from.
 
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I'm curious,  do you have access to the ocean from this land,or otherwise?
Is there an opportunity to collect seaweed or seafood?
I'm thinking piles of seaweed, shellfish, etc, drawing life to the area.
Mushrooms could be a nice addition, to the lichen mix.
Simple  solar stills could produce irrigation water and sea salt.
In addition to composting worms,  I wonder if native insects should be purposefully introduced.
 
Samuel Kuo
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:

Samuel Kuo wrote:How long will it take for lichen and wind erosion to erode rock to soil?



Takes a very long time to erode rock... However, even without erosion, lichen is a living thing. It dies and creates soil.

Samuel Kuo wrote:I realize that this works with natural succession but can't we simply speed up succession by importing soil which is what the land wants? What are the  negative consequences of doing this? Or what if we just have a machine that manually breaks the rocks into sand and add organic matter to it to create soil?



You haven't commented about the budget for this project. Most of the suggestions you received were low cost activities that you can do with minimal labor and finances. Things which will allow the local ecosystem to create conditions to support a richer local ecosystem. Last time I calculated the cost of adding 4 inches of compost to my 2 acre field, it was more than the cost of the land: Enough to have built a decent house. And was approximately the total inventory of my county's compost manufacturing capabilities. If I am importing compost onto a piece of land, I am desertifying the areas where the compost came from.



I am on a tight budget. Maybe around 3000 to 5000. I’d like the bulk of the cost to be going into buying fruit trees and fruiting shrubs and bush.

What about inter bay mulching 18 inches over the lava rocks with free wood chips from the dump mixed with clean organic material I have access to, such as  kitchen scraps from organic vegan restaurants? Let it compost down over 6 months = hopefully 10 inches of forest floor soil over the lava rocks. Meanwhile it’s composting I plant a hedge of wind break.

Can lichen grow under mulch? Maybe I can grow lichen underneath the inter bay mulch?

I was also wondering if covering with burlap is really necessary for inter bay mulching. Isn’t it just possible to cover with about 2 more inches of wood chips to deprive light to the organic matter underneath?

I also spoke with Paul gautschi over the phone (back to Eden gardener). He said he would just set bare root fruit trees over the lava rocks (no tilling) and cover with wood chips to hold the tree in place and hold in moisture without tilling.He said bringing in soil is unnecessary and that trees grow on rocks in nature all the time.For the wind break he’d use something that’s edible like blueberry. Sounds crazy to me but what do you guys think? I know some trees can grow on lava rocks live kiawe and Ohia, but do all trees have this capability?

As I drive around Hawaii, I start to notice that Hawaii soil is usually very shallow with a lava bedrock right underneath yet there is lush green plants growing all over . I’m wondering if th3 root system of the plants just grow horizontally to avoid the bedrock or are they growing into the bedrocks? Which reminds me of how shallow papaya tree roots grow when I one time lifted a papaya tree out of the ground with one hand making me look like hulk. Maybe tropical Hawaiian plants all have shallow root system or they just grow into the lava rocks? Some gardeners here told me their coffee trees just grow on top of lava rock.

I do have access to the ocean. Makes going to the beach more purposeful. Gardening + swimming fun
 
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Are you living on site? If not, I would suggest starting by just piling up all free sources of biomass.

Before adding trees as windbreaks, I would trial a few (keeping them in bags) for a week or two in the place you want to plant, to acclimate them and see how they do. Piles of biomass can also act as a windbreak for the windbreak, if you're not living on site? I.e. pile biomass high, planting in behind it. You can always move the biomass once the windbreak is established. If there's anything that you can free seeds/cuttings for (e.g. pineapple heads from restaurants), I would consider trying those in bags to start, then transplanting out.

If there's nothing really growing, I wouldn't worry too much about whether something is edible to start with-- If you find you're getting plants (cheap, hardy plants!) growing it'll be easy to chop and drop (and make more piles of biomass). For year one biomass and any types of cheap/free plants at all would seem a good experiment.
 
Samuel Kuo
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Jo Hunter-Adams wrote:Are you living on site? If not, I would suggest starting by just piling up all free sources of biomass.

Before adding trees as windbreaks, I would trial a few (keeping them in bags) for a week or two in the place you want to plant, to acclimate them and see how they do. Piles of biomass can also act as a windbreak for the windbreak, if you're not living on site? I.e. pile biomass high, planting in behind it. You can always move the biomass once the windbreak is established. If there's anything that you can free seeds/cuttings for (e.g. pineapple heads from restaurants), I would consider trying those in bags to start, then transplanting out.

If there's nothing really growing, I wouldn't worry too much about whether something is edible to start with-- If you find you're getting plants (cheap, hardy plants!) growing it'll be easy to chop and drop (and make more piles of biomass). For year one biomass and any types of cheap/free plants at all would seem a good experiment.

. I'm not living there at the moment. I'll start this project in January so I'm just brainstorming at the moment.                                           step 1 make a gigantic rock berm for instant windbreak.                
   Step 2 plant windbreak plants into the pit from where I dug lava rocks out from for making rock berm windbreak.                                                                            Step 3   pile lots of organic berms layered like a compost pile and let it compost for a season. In between the berms plant some annuals so I have something to eat. The berm will also be a wind break and redirect water towards the plants.                                        
 Step 4 after I harvest annuals, the compost berms should be perfect soil. Just will have to rake evenly and ill have a couple inches of soil above the lava rocks.   Living windbreak should be somewhat established by now.  
 Step 5 From here focus on fibrous rooted plants that can send roots horizontally so it doesn't hit the bedrock below: banana tree, cacao tree, papaya etc.. I want banana since they generate a butt load of organic mulch. Focusing on big plants since I want the microclimate that they make to counter dry air, create more organic matter, and to attract clouds for rain
I'm still at the moment researching some edible plants that can grow on bedrock. I know coffee tree can grow on boulders. Looking into rock figs, desert figs, and lava figs. I think they can probably grow on rocks. Strangler fig sounds awesome but maybe it might be too invasive. Kiawe too I hear is indestructible, grow on rocks, resistant to wind, and makes flour for baking goods. Wondering if moringa can grow well here. Anyone know about plants that grow well on bedrock, lava, Rocky outcrop, etc...?
 
Jo Hunter-Adams
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Your plans sound good-- again only if you're living on site while implementing them (which I think from your last message that you are?). I.e. bananas are a great idea but very water hungry and not keen on wind-- ours do best on our greywater system where they get continuous water.  Moringa also grows very fast in my experience if there's good wind protection and lots of water-- plus you have year-round growth in hawaii! I might not transplant young moringa trees into rocks-- it may be better to grow in place with seeds/lots of seeds (surrounded by windbreak), as their root is easily damaged during transplant.

Keep us posted!
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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I have been feeling uneasy about the crazy winds mentioned in the title of this thread, and the ongoing comments about mitigating winds. When I closely examine photos of the trees in Ocean View, I don't see much evidence that wind is particularly troubling to them. They tend to be growing approximately vertical.  

A recent comment about "dry air" was particularly jarring to me... This is Hawaii that we are talking about, where it is humid to muggy more than 85% of the time... Seems to me, like the winds should be welcomed into the garden in celebration of the humidity and mugginess that they bring with them, not excluded by fears of drying stuff out. I have never built an air-well, they won't work here, but it seems like they would thrive on being exposed to wind.

Manually moving bedrock is back-breakingly slow work. A person might work all week, and only have moved enough rock set a kitchen chair into the pit. Moving bedrock with equipment isn't much quicker...

My experience is that it is the small things that are the most effective at terraforming:

Going out during a rainstorm, to watch where the water runs, and putting a pebble or twig into a rivulet to slow the flow a little bit...
Doing that during 1000 rainstorms could accomplish a tremendous amount of terraforming.  
Visiting on a foggy day to pay attention to which species of plants collect the most mist, and planting more of them.
Going out first thing in the morning to measure which rock configurations are collecting the most dew.

There have been a few posts in this thread by those who are living/working in Hawaii. They strike me as the most valuable: Local advice for local problems.

 
Samuel Kuo
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:I have been feeling uneasy about the crazy winds mentioned in the title of this thread, and the ongoing comments about mitigating winds. When I closely examine photos of the trees in Ocean View, I don't see much evidence that wind is particularly troubling to them. They tend to be growing approximately vertical.  

A recent comment about "dry air" was particularly jarring to me... This is Hawaii that we are talking about, where it is humid to muggy more than 85% of the time... Seems to me, like the winds should be welcomed into the garden in celebration of the humidity and mugginess that they bring with them, not excluded by fears of drying stuff out. I have never built an air-well, they won't work here, but it seems like they would thrive on being exposed to wind.

Manually moving bedrock is back-breakingly slow work. A person might work all week, and only have moved enough rock set a kitchen chair into the pit. Moving bedrock with equipment isn't much quicker...

My experience is that it is the small things that are the most effective at terraforming:

Going out during a rainstorm, to watch where the water runs, and putting a pebble or twig into a rivulet to slow the flow a little bit...
Doing that during 1000 rainstorms could accomplish a tremendous amount of terraforming.  
Visiting on a foggy day to pay attention to which species of plants collect the most mist, and planting more of them.
Going out first thing in the morning to measure which rock configurations are collecting the most dew.

There have been a few posts in this thread by those who are living/working in Hawaii. They strike me as the most valuable: Local advice for local problems.

ocean view is generally windy. Hawaii is the island of extremes.  We have 10 of the 14 climate zones. North you have lush green, rainy and humid. South you have barren land, dry air, little rain compared to downtown. People don't like ocean view since there is local superstition of the land being cursed. It's right next to the largest volcano after all. Lots of underground acitivity. If you go way over to South point, the trees are all bent. People living there report 90 mph wind. Seems dependent on the elevation though my site doesn't seem to be that bad. Rainwater here just sinks as there is no soil to hold moisture. Not sure if rivulets even form here. I don't think I've ever seen a river or traces of river here. Land is otherworldly here. It's like Mars, maybe even hell.  Yeah I've been working on observing the natural vegetation here. Lots of dead ohia rainforests here. Small stunted weed like plant and shrubs growing here and there in crevices of rocks. I wish I had a convenient app that could identify these wild plants for me.
Macadamia nut seem  to thrive here so I'll probably plant 1. And I know lava rocks must be the most mineral dense gardening material  out there. But there is not much info on Google on how to garden on lava flow.. yeah local advice is prob best for me as gardening here will be very different.
 
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