Monday, July 23, 2007

It lives!

Ok, I was wrong about the one banana plant dying. After taking a closer look today, and moving aside the copious amount of bean plants, I found that a pup or something like it was growing out right next to the plant that was looking bad. So I definitely can't write that one off, at least yet.

I'm a little bit nervous though, I bought some synthetic fertilizer today, a banana specific blend, like 10-5-40 or something crazy like that. I put a small amount of it around each banana. I'm pretty paranoid about synthetic fertilizers ever since I killed off a whole crop of soybeans a few years ago. It was my first experience with non-organic fertilizers, and I applied it pretty much the same way I applied the organic fertilizer. BIG mistake, everything was dead the next day, nitrogen burn. Who'd a thunk it.

Hopefully I haven't just killed off my banana plants. If they look fine, I'll probably apply a little bit every week, I figure that's better than one big blast a month.

As a side note, I gotta figure out something else to do with the compost, it just takes too long. Right now I have three piles, one of them pretty processed but still needing at least a month before its ready, another that's going to need at least two months, and a fresh one I made today from mowing the lawn and cleaning out some sunflowers. And I have more lawn to mow, so what am I gonna do? And a ton of material from chopping down the back lot. Hmmmm.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Peanut Project

At the end of June I planted some peanut seeds that were sprouting (sprouted them using raw peanut seeds in a ziploc with a wet paper towel). They look like they're going pretty good, though it's a very small patch, maybe 14 inches long, 8 inches wide, just a little sample really. I peeled some more of the peanut pods and stuck them in another ziploc with another wet papertowel.

I think peanuts are a pretty cool plant, lots of fat and protein. I think they'd be a pretty valuable food for someone who was trying to grow all of their own food. Eventually I'm going to try inter-cropping peanuts and corn.

Oh yeah, bananas

Of the four original banana plants that Alan gave me, three seem to be doing really well, but one looks like it's not going to make it. It's the third largest one (the bigger two and the smallest all seem fine), and it really didn't look any better or worse than the others when I got it, so I don't know what might be wrong. I'm thinking about using a banana specific fertilizer there, though I'm worried that'll kill or damage the beans I inter cropped. We shall see.

Moving pretty slow...

This week was just really busy at work, didn't do much. The second batch of seeds we (Eri and I) planted are doing really well. This is the first time I've used straight peat as a starting medium, and I'm impressed.

I'd also started some stuff (tomatillo, broccoli, rapini (broccoli rabe)) in a ziploc, they all germinated, and I tried transferring them over to a container with peat in it. If it works out I'll provide details, if not, I guess it's not worth knowin'.

This weekend we've been experiencing "tropical depression Cosme," which I suppose is better than meeting "tropical storm Cosme" or "hurricane Cosme," but still leaves the yard pretty wet, and it's raining a lot. So I haven't done much (yeah, rain is a weak excuse, really I'm just lazy...).

Potato experiment revised!

The sweet potato bin seems to be doing fine, I'm thinking to harvest some leaves and try one of those recipes I found.

The potato bin though, has not really done much of anything, so we rebooted that sucker. I dug up the little red potatoes, and pretty much they were the same as when I'd buried them. I'm guessing they were too young for growing new plants, though that is just a guess, wish I had a 'tater expert around to question. Anyway, I tossed the little red potatoes and replanted with a few full size yellow potatoes, and we'll see what happens. Fingers are crossed. If a guy or gal could get significant results from growing the potatoes vertically in a bin it would really be a great way to grow a lot of calories in a very small space.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Status: got rid of some chickens, planted some more stuff

I gave away eight more chickens to my friend Doug. So now I'm down to ten. Which still seems a lot, but not as bad as 18. Or the original 26. I still need to make one more chicken coop, plus a "mini-coop" for the kids bird, the type of which I have no idea.

Doug gave me some turmeric root to plant, it's very similar to ginger. I planted that in some peat. I also planted a bunch more stuff last night. I need to get on the ball with the gardening, I should/could be growing a lot more of our food. I've been pretty tired lately though.

I mowed a back section of the yard today and started a new compost pile with the clippings. I also mowed under the chicken coop, which sucked up a bunch of chicken manure, which ought to pretty much get that new compost pile burning fast. I'll turn it tomorrow and see.

I've been reviewing John Jeavons book "How to grow more..." and Dave Duhon's book "One Circle." Both indicate that you can grow a single person's food in a pretty small amount of space, assuming that person was a eating a vegan diet. Not my thing, but I like the idea for other reasons, such as it uses a minimal amount of space, and a minimal amount of effort.

Both break things down into something like this:
30% of your space should be used to grow special root crops, such as parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, others. These are "area efficient" crops that produce a maximum amount of calories per unit area.
10% of your space should be used for vegetable crops, crops intended to provide maximum nutrients.
60% of your space should be used to grow high carbon crops, crops that, in addition to food, create organic matter for composting and hence soil building. They're really, REALLY in to soil building.

So part of what I've been doing is playing with potatoes, sweet potatoes, and now parsnips in an effort to move towards backyard sustainability. The thing is, it kind of conflicts with one of the gardenings goals, to save money. Ideally you'd use the garden to grow expensive stuff, like all your fruits and vegetables. Wasting valuable space on potatoes and sweet potatoes, which are pretty cheap by comparison to veggies and fruits, doesn't make a lot of sense. Unless you're trying to grow your own food.

I'm losing my point in there somewhere, but part of my goal is to figure out a way to grow as much of the families caloric load in addition to as much of the families vegetables and fruits as possible. Plus soil building seems to be a pretty good thing.

As a result of this dual goal thing, I'm looking at other crops to try, such as amaranth. Amaranth seems to have a lot of potential, though I don't really have an understanding of the space required to provide a significant portion of one's diet. I'm still studying it, so hope to report something later.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Closing the circle

Whenever I start thinking about "The Circle" I start hearing Elton John singing "The Circle of Life."

I think we hit a new level of recycling. Between the chickens, the worm bins, the compost pile, we're pretty much recycling all of our food stuff, yard clippings, etc. All excess food matter is now getting used for something, and eventually ending back up in the garden to grow more food. It's kind of a good feeling.

It's not a complete circle, but it's as complete as it's going to get living here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Clearing the "back 40" and updates to website.

I've spent a few days now clobbering down brush, weeds, guaivi (sp?), rose apple seedlings, dead wood, dead ferns, and trash from the back third of my lot. I'm going to try and wipe out pretty much everything back there, set it up for some hydroponics, grow some bananas, maybe some bamboo, a few other projects. It's too much space to just let go to waste, I think it's about 40 feet deep and 70 feet wide. It could be a little deeper, I should measure. I'm planning to get my whole yard fenced this Summer (better hurry, Summer is fading...).

I added a list of "things to come" to the index page. Basically I'd like to add some info regarding composting, vermicomposting, some info on hydroponics/aquaponics/worm-water hydroponics, some stuff about raising chickens. I'm thinking about asking around to different people and groups for other information that might be useful for gardening over on the Hilo side.

The garbage can potato experiment continues...

The half garbage can bottomless container holding the sweet potato plants seems to be going fine. The vines have grown and filled in the blank spaces and are now starting to grow out the sides of the container. Maybe in another week or so I'll collect some leaves and try a sweet potato leaf recipe. Or I could try using some of the sweet potato stuff I froze a while back, I'm sure that would make my wife happy too.

The other half of the garbage can, the one in which I planted the "seed potatoes" has not really done anything yet. I'd like to figure out a good type of potato that would grow well and quickly here on the Hilo side.

Chickens are mean!

Well, maybe not mean. Really it's all my fault. The chickens are pecking each other and tearing feathers out of each other. If I understand correctly, I'm lacking one or more of: space, feed, grit, grass, something.

Probably space is a big factor. The chicken coop is not big enough, and I haven't had a chance yet to build the second one. I'm thinking about letting them free range a bit during the day. My yard isn't set up for full on free ranging.

One of the birds, the "mystery exotic chick," the only one I allowed the kids to name (and they named it "Star Thomas" ....) took a real beating over the weekend and had a bloody spot, a definite wound. I've separated her (hopefully) from the others, and am planning to keep her separate. For the rest, as a short term solution I went with the recommendation of using Vick's Vapo Rub as a cure for pecking. We'll see.

Right now I have 18 birds, I need to get rid of eight more, and build the second coop. And work on some way of free ranging the birds safely, at least a couple times a week.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Thoughts on aquaponics, and the whole backyard ag thing in general.

Talking to my friend Darryl today about how well his aquaponic system is working. It's a pretty tough bet as to whether the systems provide an economical way to get fish and vegetables. Darryl is having second thoughts about it. He says he still considers himself to be in the "experimental" stage, so he's not bailing, but so far he hasn't been able to make the system economical.

It makes me revisit my goals for ag. It's more than just a hobby, though it's that too. So what am I doing and why?
  • To promote backyard sustainability, to decrease my overall load on the Earth's resources. I'm a firm believer that people, especially Westerners, Americans in particular live an ecologically expensive lifestyle that is likely to make our lives, our children's lives, and the lives of the generations of people that come after, more difficult than ever before. I believe that backyard sustainability provides a permanent solution to a lot of the problems that are coming.
  • To improve my health and lifestyle by motivating myself to eat healthier. I have heard the advice of many wise gardeners that you should focus on growing what you eat. Well, as far as I know, they haven't found a steak bush or prime rib tree yet. I need to change my eating habits, I need to eat more fruits and vegetables. Growing them forces me to do that, and opens up new food alternatives that I don't think I'd be willing to try under other circumstances.
  • To save money by growing/raising as much of my own food as I can in an economical manner. Food is freaking expensive, good quality fruits and vegetables particularly so. $4.50 per pound for green beans? $2 for a bag of three tomatoes? $2 for a small head of lettuce. The stuff is expensive, and the variety available often leaves a person wanting.
  • To teach my kids something about self-reliance. To teach myself something about self-reliance.
  • To create a "survival garden." It's a crazy world, we have terrorists, global warming, peak oil, avian flu, all sorts of stuff. It makes sense to have an ongoing supply of food in case "troubled times" should appear on the door step.
So there's the question of what fits? In terms of livestock, I think my chickens fit. A few backyard modifications, and I could "free range" the birds, making feeding, if not optional, at least not as much of a burden. Not only does each chicken represent an egg supply, but under real hardship conditions, each one represents dinner ;o) Plus, they supply a significant amount of fertilizer, which I've used to "jumpstart" a couple of slow compost piles I've had going.

To fish fit? That's a tough one. If they're expensive and tricky, then maybe not. Feeding them is expensive, running and maintaining pumps and airstones is expensive, overall start up costs are expensive. If they aren't economical and aren't sustainable, then they don't fit in.

But, like Darryl, I'm still in the experimental stage as well, though way behind him. Hopefully we can figure out some way to make backyard aquaponics economical, sustainable, and productive.

In the mean time, I may find myself following Darryl's lead, he's considering standard chemical based hydroponics. The fertilizers are cheap, and you can buy practically a "lifetime supply" pretty cheaply. The economics are there, though the sustainability may be lacking.

One thing I would really like to try is worm water hydroponics, and possibly chicken manure tea aquaponics. Both seem pretty sustainable.

Starting a new batch of seedlings

Tonight I started a new batch of seeds. I've decided to intercrop corn and different kinds of beans in two of my raised beds, then plant vegetables in the other two beds. Of course, as soon as I decided to do that, every place in town that sells seeds is out of corn, go figure.

I've ordered some more seed from Victory Seeds ( I ordered corn, arugula, beans, cilantro, and some pumpkin.

Tonight I planted parsnips, onions, parsley, kale, broccoli raab, radish, thyme, basil, scallions, leeks, a few other things. It's summer, so I need to get things going.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Sweet Potato and Potato experiments

Today I bought a 32 gallon rubbermaid garbage can from Home Depot, cut it into two parts. Took the top half, set it in the yard, filled it full of a mix of compost, peat moss, and cinder-soil. Planted that with a bunch of sweet potato plants I tore out of the banana bin (the banana bin used to be the sweet potato bin, and every piece of root I missed in converting it grew into a new sweet potato plant, so I'm trying to clean those out) today.

The idea is to give it 4-6 months, track how much I get out in terms of leaves (which are edible, I have some recipes (untested) on my webpae), and see how much I get in terms of potatoes. I'd like to know how area efficient calorie wise that sweet potatoes can be grown here.

I used the bottom part of the garbage can as a container for some seed potatoes I had from some potato plants I'd grown a while back. I filled the gb container just a few inches, as the potato plant grows I'll add more material, attempting to "hill" the potato plants.

NOTE: these seed potatoes are from the plants I harvested from a long while back. I'd pulled the plants out, harvested potatoes, put them back in to see what would happen. The plants never really did well after that, so I think that's a failed experiment. I did have success doing the same thing with sweet potato plants, but obviously that doesn't extend to potatoes

Fish switch over, status

Well, I bought my own 100 gallon rubbermaid stock tank on Friday, and this morning I switched over to using it. I also separated out the guppies. It was kind of a bummer, the fish I thought actually might be baby tilapia turned out to actually be female guppies. Apparently the female guppy doesn't look much like the male. Who knew? Probably lots of people, but not me.

So, I no longer know if I have a male-female pair among the tilapia I now have. They could be a real dead end, which is a bummer.

The guppies are in my old fish tank. I tossed in an extra airstone (attached to pump), so they should be fine.

I had some taro growing kind of like weeds in the raised bed where I used to keep a lot of my taro, so I washed a few off and stuck them in the guppy tank. So now I have some taro keikis growing in the guppy tank, and a five full size hulis growing in the tilapia tank. I'll add some picture tomorrow.