Coffee and headaches, stomach, and aging

It is a beautiful, blue sky, clear horizon, almost cloudless day this Monday, August 7. You might think that’s how Hawai’i always is. Believe it or not, that’s strange. Hubby and I were remarking how clear the day looks and how unusual it seems. We normally have clouds that develop on our Hualālai volcano slope from morning or late morning, and definitely by afternoon. If we look towards the ocean, it’s often blue-ish, and if we turn around and look up-slope, it’s grey, cloudy, and if it isn’t already raining, rain seems imminent. Not today. This post’s photo is looking up-slope at 3:30pm. Blue sky! Maybe we can actually eat dinner in the courtyard without a roof over our head and see stars.

I had mentioned in another post that we had at least some rain almost every day in July, except for four clear-sky, yet humid, days around Tropical Storm Calvin. Hurricane Dora is forecasted to remain well south of the islands. I wonder if it’s somewhat nearby presence is why we have such beautiful weather today. It’s a great day for those of us with solar panels.

I don’t always drink coffee. And, like most of you, we haven’t been drinking our coffee for months, since we only had enough for our subscribers until just today. Today we roasted the last of our 2021-2022 season green coffee. We’ve been trying a variety of other coffees in the meantime, but mostly drinking other Kona or Ka’u coffee. I’ve been drinking coffee just regularly enough that I sometimes feel mentally sluggish without. I was surprised how reinvigorated I felt after a tough workout, when it was followed by food and coffee.

Right now, I feel dopey. I abstained from coffee today, and no extra tea either. And I have a little headache developing. Sometimes I’m not sure if it’s plain old dehydration, especially since it’s such a nice day, but hotter, or lack of sufficient caffeine. Caffeine headaches were the topic in Homegrounds just recently.

Here’s another article I had saved up, “Does coffee taste different as you get older?” For me, it doesn’t necessarily taste differently. I have to qualify that. I have learned how to brew a better cup of coffee now than decades ago. I think I process coffee differently than when I was younger. Just like I process alcoholic beverages differently. And I sleep poorer. The longer we live, we have more anecdotal proof that everything changes.

This topic is reminding me of a book I read a few years ago, Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives, by Daniel Levitin. Refreshingly, he gave an optimistic slant to aging and helped me see some other perspectives. I took quite a few notes and even jotted down specific actions I would do. I actually had forgotten that I had written down actions to take, but when I reread them just now, I AM actually doing those things. I guess I internalized the take-aways for me.

One more article to share. Coffee may be good for you, but like with so many things, more isn’t always better. “Can too much coffee cause stomach problems?”

Beginning my Master Gardener volunteer hours

Farmers have been picking coffee on their farms, but it’s not yet in full swing. We’ve had our first picking a few weeks ago. The crew came and spent a few hours, and we had only one bag (about a hundred pounds of fruit). Soon it’ll be time for Round 2, which won’t be the peak yet either. The final selection of verticals for the block of trees that were stumped in February was recently done. Otherwise, it’s ground maintenance and monitoring for beetle and rust and controlling as needed. July wasn’t all that rainy. Well, it rained most days, except the four days around Tropical Storm Calvin, but it usually didn’t rain much.

Our Master Gardener class wrapped up in early May, but to be considered a Master Gardener you have to volunteer at least 40 hours doing approved plant activities, usually associated with non-profits, within a year of finishing the class work. I was hoping to find a regular activity, but haven’t yet identified what I’m going to do. I’ve done some one-off tasks, which have been interesting.

The Master Gardeners are partnering with local Sadie Seymour Botanical Gardens to update, identify, and clearly label what’s there. Bea says that Sadie Seymour was her childhood doctor’s wife. From my perspective there are many interesting places here that were probably passion projects at some point, but then if they aren’t kept up and sustainably funded and regularly maintained, they aren’t quite living up to their potential.

Teams of three went out in certain sections and placed a flagged stake by a plant, assigned it a number, and wrote down the number and identified plant name on our notepad. Our team members happened to each have a different plant ID application on our phones. We’d take a photo, use our respective app, cross-check it with the old written documentation, consult with each other, then write the plant name down. If we weren’t sure, we’d put a question mark near it. We’d also note other maintenance issues down (e.g., if something invasive had taken root nearby and had to be removed). I used the PictureThis app (which has a small cost) which was one of the apps recommended in our Master Gardener class. But after doing this plant ID task, I downloaded PlantNet again based on what one of my team members was seeing each time. It was a fun, social educational task.

The other volunteer task I did was air-layering ‘ulu (breadfruit) at the Amy Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden. I’ve never air layered anything, though I’ve peripherally watched my mom over the years and also her observing/helping UH. The air-layering was taught and done on one of the regular Saturday morning work periods at the Greenwell garden. The Garden Manager and volunteers were so friendly, and it’s a great opportunity to work amongst, not just learn from, experienced and knowledgable people. I really enjoy getting to know people by working with them, especially volunteer work, and everyone I met was friendly. I appreciated that mid-way we were told to take a break, and snacks were provided. It’s so useful to have someone ensuring you take a break. Once I’ve set my mind and suited up for yard work at home, I almost always overdo it. There’s always just a little more you want to get done.

It should take two to three months before these stems develop roots and can be cut and put in pots. We saw some failed attempts from earlier air-layering. The stems weakened and folded over at the stem wounds, i.e., the cuts we make and cover to encourage root growth. It looked like the earlier air-layering had been done slightly differently than the instructions we were given. I shared my concern/thought with the Garden Manager that we volunteers did all the air-layering, but we didn’t have the feedback whether what we each did worked. We learn by trying something, observing and learning the effects, and adapting accordingly. When I showed Bea this photo, she wasn’t worried about the stems developing roots, but was wondering how the remaining “tree” would fare afterward.

En route to the area where we worked on the ‘ulu, I found these purple sweet potatoes being grown. These makeshift contraptions were to keep wild pigs out. We all have to keep pigs in mind. This allows the potato slips to start growing without getting immediately uprooted. More soil gets added in later so they can grow in mounds. I’ll have to ask more details in a future visit.

I found this website addressing pigs and potatoes. I found this quote interesting, in the vein of making peace with the pigs:

Ala has employed the natural relationship between the pig and the potato. “I was taught from my Dad, his Dad and my great grandfather that we use the pigs to till the ground so it’s easier for me, so I don’t have to do all the hard work.  The pigs will till the ground—I will come behind, mound the ground, plant the sweetpotato cuttings and wait until the potatoes are ready, a good 3-4 months from planting. After harvesting, we will put the pigs back where the sweetpotato were. They will clean up whatever I missed, fertilize the ground and then I can plant more cuttings.”

It’s pretty clear from this photo where the pigs have tilled our land. Maybe we should mound the ground and plant potato slips …

A bonus to my morning at the Greenwell Garden was that I happened to be there on a day when a couple who volunteer planned to invite everyone for lunch at their nearby house afterward. They even came up to me to inform and invite me along. It was a fascinating group of people, including a few of their board members and kupuna (honored elders). So I lucked out! I’m so thankful for the hosts’ warm, generous hospitality. Such aloha spirit.

Do you know what an herbarium is?

A few months ago, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as an herbarium. And what I guessed was nothing like what it actually is. We went to the San Francisco Bay Area at the end of May for a few weeks. During that stay we had an opportunity to visit Stanford University’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve. I thought I knew where it was, and thought I had been there before, until I went. Turns out we used to regularly cycle (and sometimes drive) right around there, and I never had any idea what was there.

Our friend, Diane Renshaw, has been a docent there since 2008 and offered to take four of us on a little hike. She was a consulting ecologist with a lifelong interest (some might say obsession) with all aspects of the natural world.  I can’t wait till she someday visits us here. I’m positive my eyes would open more to what’s all around me.

I didn’t realize there’s a very nice Field Station on-site, which we quickly went through, including a large meeting room, office space, a kitchen (be aware that the fridge can be used for both food and for specimens, clearly indicate appropriately), and an herbarium. It also had a lot of picnic tables outside. I could imagine both meals for the students on field trips as well as outdoor parties for wealthy Stanford donors.

This granary tree just outside the field station caught my attention. Acorn woodpeckers busily bury their winter’s food supply, acorns, in the tree. Apparently there was so much rain earlier this year, some of those acorns sprouted in the trunk.

Below are scenes from the hike in gallery form before getting to the herbarium.

In answer to my question, a herbarium is a room or building that houses a systematically arranged collection of dried plants. According to Diane, “Herbaria are some of the oldest research tools that exist, dating back to the 16th century.  There are specimens collected personally by Darwin and other famous botanists still in herbaria around the world, and as you can imagine, herbarium specimens tell us a lot about plant distribution over time.  Unlike digital records, the physical specimens in herbaria can provide DNA samples, something you can’t get from a digital record.  Our collection at Stanford is quite modest compared to Harvard or Kew, e.g., but it’s a great local resource.”  

Here are just a few quick snapshots I took inside the herbarium. There were many more interesting things there, and we could have spent MUCH more time just exploring. It was fun to see it after having finished our Master Gardener class. I had more knowledge than before taking the class to better appreciate the herbarium.

When I told Diane that I wanted to write a short blog post mentioning the herbarium, she, unasked, went on a little plant nerd detour to find the type specimen of coffee for me. And, very kindly, described things for a lay person.

“Simplified explanation:  When a plant (or animal, or fossil, anything that ends up with a formal defined binomial scientific name) is first described in the literature, the collected specimen on which that description is based is designated the type specimen. Taxonomists and researchers can go look at that specimen for comparative purposes and decide if they have the same thing or perhaps they have a new, different species.

I thought it would be fun to look for the type specimen of Coffea arabica to see who collected it and where it came from.

With herbarium records widely digitized these days it was much easier to do this than it would have been 50 years, or even 10 years, ago.

I started at the GBIF (Global Biodiversity Information Facility) portal.  GBIF is an organization that is making scientific data of many sorts compatible and available on the internet.  

Starting at their search page I entered: “Coffea arabica L.”   The “L.” stands for Linnaeus, who first described the species, based on a specimen collected by someone else.

The results were interesting and confusing, not surprising given the long history and economic interest in this plant.  The GBIF search came up with two designated isotypes of coffee (isotype = collected at the same time and place as the type specimen) collected in 1884; both of those herbarium sheets are at the Natural History of London.  There is also a designated type specimen, collected later in 1927; that specimen is in the herbarium at the Missouri Botanical Garden.  

If I were a taxonomist I would now spend the rest of the day trying to figure out exactly what all this means, but I am most definitely not going to do that!  Instead, here are links so you can take a look at these venerable specimens — pretty amazing to be able to do this, I think — and perhaps compare your coffee plants with them.”

Thank you, Diane!

Coffee and climate change

Recently there has been a lot of media coverage about excessive heat in the US West and Southwest and also in Europe. That interrupted all the coverage about unhealthy air quality from the hundreds of Canadian wildfires, stories of which are returning now. And there were monsoon rains and lethal flooding in India. I feel we’re living in the doom and gloom from fictional and science fiction movies.

So, to that theme, today I’ll be sharing various links I’ve saved up relating to coffee and climate change.

From Daily Coffee News in April, “How Coffee is Both a Hero and a Villain in the Climate Change Story.” It discusses the different land uses of agroforestry vs. monoculture plantations.

In April 2021 there was a little flurry of coverage about a different coffee species, stenophylla, that has greater heat tolerance (on the order of 10 degrees) than Arabica and has better flavor than Robusta. This article was in Reuters, and this one was in the Daily Coffee news. When I tried to find more info on stenophylla in 2023, I found this post from Sucafina Specialty, who backed a pilot project in Sierra Leone.

Finally, here’s a feature about an organic coffee farm here in Kona and what they’re doing for sustainability, “Kona Rainforest Coffee Case Study.” They’re using Blue Planet Energy systems for their commercial power, for storing their solar energy. It was interesting for us since we have a Blue Planet battery for our residential solar system.

Stay cool and may you breathe healthy, fresh air.

Another old structure bites the dust

Several weeks ago a college friend of my dad’s shared this article about the Kona Coffee Living History Farm, saying that some of the photos reminded him of photos I’ve posted about our farm. The history related in that article is the general setting of my great-grandparents’ and grandparents’ lives in Hawai’i. And it reminded me about their kuriba, the mill.

One day we drove down the road a few months ago and noticed the old Murata kuriba was finally smashed down. I don’t know why. I also don’t know why it wasn’t done decades ago. I wrote a little about the kuriba in “The Old Days on the Murata farm” and “More on the Old Days.” When I see these two photos, taken about four years apart, what strikes me is how much more lush the recent photo is. The 2019 photo was taken in January, the dry season.

Normally we’re always driving by, and there’s no good place to pull over so I could take a photo. The recent photo (above, on the right) was taken a few days ago, when we walked along our road to attend the bon dance at Daifukuji temple. It was the first bon dance at Daifukuji since the pandemic, and the first one in the afternoon, not evening/night. (This is just a random photo of mine and not necessarily a good, representative one. See Reiko’s blog for more coverage, but she was busy dancing so probably didn’t take as many photos as she’d have liked. If you use Google Chrome, it’ll offer to translate the Japanese.) I loved seeing people all over the temple grounds. Youngsters, oldsters, locals, visitors, people dressed in kimono, yukata, happi coats, etc. Dancing, sitting on benches, on the ground, observing from higher up at the temple entrance. My friend and I took a wild guess, “300 attendees?” A true community event.

The temple is just 0.6 miles away, but it’s a curvy road, mostly with no shoulder. It’s pretty dangerous to walk just half a mile. Usually when we walk on any road, we walk facing traffic. With this road, we cross the road several times depending on the shoulder or lack thereof, and keeping in mind how visible we’d be to drivers. We have a section of guardrail on the road curve bordering our farm. It is not infrequent, every so many months, that accidents still happen where a vehicle meets that guardrail or the rock wall on the opposite side of the road.

It’s almost 3.5 miles to Konawaena school. One year in her school age years, Mom had to walk home from school each day; it took an hour. Back then the road didn’t have anything close to the vehicle traffic it now has. You hardly ever see children walking to school here anymore; it’s too dangerous.

When Mom and I were just chatting on the phone, she mentioned that when she was growing up, she and most of her peers didn’t celebrate birthdays, or maybe they did with just their families. Everyone was too busy with their family coffee farms. It’s interesting that the progeny of most of those families are now enjoying relative prosperity. Most no longer do manual labor. Few kids, if any, do manual work most of the day to help support the entire family. It’s a time of plenty, at least one car in every household (maybe one or more for each driver), fast food, mobile phones, the internet, social media, and inexpensive, frequent flights to and from the mainland.

Hawai’i has the highest life expectancy of all the states, at 80-81 years (different sources report slightly different numbers). It’s not uncommon to hear about centenarians or people in their 90’s. I think of Mrs. Teshima. In just the past week or two, several unrelated groups of visitors from California, all planned to eat at Teshima restaurant, a local institution, just south of Daifukuji. In the past few years, I’ve been eating there once or twice a week, usually for breakfast. From West Hawaii Today on 10/24/2013, “Mrs. Teshima, a well-known fixture in the Kona community who exemplified altruism, hard work and entrepreneurship, died Tuesday [10/22/13]. She was 106.” I found an article from this year, also from Images of Old Hawai’i, about Teshima’s.

For those of you who live here or who’ve been here, or been to Teshima restaurant, you might be able to follow my train of reflections. For the rest of you, maybe you’re reflecting on your own “old days.”