Give ’em the axe, the axe, the axe …

Kind of a brutal University of California Berkeley cheer. I won’t go into the history of that cheer or the axe. The cheer is what came to mind when I thought of the latest activities in the coffee land. We didn’t use an axe, but a chainsaw.

The north mauka (towards the mountain) part of our property has rough terrain. It’s steep, hilly, and the big lava rocks are a bit loose. Pigs scrambling over there have made it worse. I think there used to be terraced areas, held in place by rocks, but I can’t find any old photos to corroborate that. There are a few big holes from where formerly large trees had been. For one, there used to be a huge, mature kukui tree. It’s easy to lose your footing or to stumble. I’ve tugged on weeds/weed trees, from poor positions, and fallen before. So far, so good, but I feel like I’ve been tempting fate. You need to be ever careful, and that’s hard. Many of you have probably suffered 6-8 weeks of recovery time for a sprained/twisted ankle, from an incident that takes just seconds, e.g., one careless step down into the garden or the garage.

We have a fair amount of coffee trees in that area, though. I think a good portion of them came up as volunteers over the years. I’ve always disliked this area more than others, because it’s densely planted, weeds thrive, it’s often shady, and there are lots of mosquitoes. The dead tree holes don’t help. I’ve liked it when this area has been stumped, which it was a year ago.

But a year later the trees have leaves, and the area has been growing into its usual state. Since there are so many trees, the verticals grow tall to compete for sun. And with so many trees, moisture gets trapped, and now that the Big Island lives with coffee leaf rust, the spores easily spread. I weeded in the area and my hat was full of rust spores afterward. Ugh.

We decided to thin them out. It’ll be better for the general health of the remaining trees and the farm. We’ll be able to weed easier, the trees will get more sun, when we do spray for rust or beetle, the spray will actually reach where it needs to, and the trees will be easier to care for and pick.

I think we’ve removed about 40 trees! Removing was done by cutting the tree as close to ground as possible. With the terrain, they couldn’t really be pulled out by tying something and using some kind of vehicle/machine. They might start to grow branches, i.e., responding similarly to how they do from stumping, but we’ll just have to keep trying to kill the tree.

The area looks fine, and you might not even realize we thinned. It was a good time to do it when we stumped this year’s block of trees. After dragging around branches from stumping and removing trees, after bringing in the professional chipper, we sprayed the farm for rust. Next … fertilizing.

Problems arise and we respond

Every year we stump a block of trees. We rotate through three blocks, where one block is taken out each year. That takes 1/3 of our farm out of fruit production for a year. We started doing this to control for coffee berry borer (CBB) beetle. And when coffee leaf rust (CLR) made its disastrous appearance in 2020, this style of pruning was the recommended way to handle rust, as well.

Stumping was just done last week. The photos taken below were taken the day after. Now the piles of removed branches are brown, awaiting chipping later this week. Though in the 2024 block to be stumped, the young trees planted in 2021 were not stumped. Most of them are not thriving. Many got bashed around by pigs within months of being planted, and then we had some critical dry months.

The remaining trees are flowering again, just a couple of weeks since the last round. This time it’s from rain we received in the beginning of February.

There’s a pruning workshop that the University of Hawaii, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) extension will offer next week. I’ve attended a few times. I like seeing/hearing about the experiments they do in their demonstration field. They’ve stumped various trees in February, March, April, May, November, and December of 2022. And they’ve stumped in January, February, March, and May of 2023. All of us farmers can learn from their experience. Stumping is pretty tough on the trees. What’s the effect months/years later of pruning as the days get longer, the soil warmer, and with differences in rainfall? When I look at rainfall bar charts from the past several years, it’s difficult to see much of a consistent pattern. You don’t want to stump before, e.g., a weeks-long period with little or no rain. But who can really predict whether that will likely happen or not?

Segueing to today’s other chosen topic … I once visited another small coffee farm, about the size of ours. The farmer said his short term vacation rental made way more money than his coffee (no surprise there). And he was considering changing his crop from coffee to avocados. That was before avocado lace bug.

Avocado lace bug was another pest to arrive in 2020, the same year as COVID, the same year that coffee leaf rust arrived. When a tree is heavily infested, it’ll drop its leaves. It is heartbreaking to see large, mature avocado trees without any leaves and avocados hanging like ornaments. You might see something like that with persimmons. Pretty orange fruit hanging from a tree with few or no leaves. This is not so for avocados, though. The fruit, which would normally develop under leaf cover, often get sunburned, which affects quality.

One of the techniques to deal with lace bug is pruning, but we don’t want to prune until we hopefully get our first avocados. Last year we pruned too early and never got fruit. We have done some treatment by spraying the trunk, branches, and under the leaves with insecticidal soap and oil. And it has to be done 2-3x, a week apart, to be sure to get the eggs.

We planted just two avocado trees in February 2021, Yamagata and Kahalu’u. We have other avocados or access to our neighbor’s avocados, but they are of unknown variety. Different areas on our farm have different depths of soil and blue rock (dense and hard). Avocado varieties can be vigorous, moderate, or slow growers. And then individual specimens of a given variety might thrive better than others. The Yamagata tree is still quite small and has dropped its leaves two times due to lace bug already, but the tree is still alive.

The Kahalu’u tree is a vigorous grower. Sometimes it seems like it outgrows lace bug. It’ll drop leaves, but then new leaves grow back. In the photo of the whole Kahalu’u tree below, the lighter colored branch in the foreground had dropped all its leaves, but it grew flowers and new leaves. The taller, darker green branches are much healthier and are farther behind in flower development.

Drumming out 2023

Are you reflecting back on the year? There’s certainly strong societal momentum to do so.

[Aside: We had to do an extra roasting of dark peaberry and have a few pounds available. If you’re interested, please contact me. It’s $55/pound or $30/half pound.]

I took photos of some trees today. I was expecting Kona snow almost a week ago. We had a big rain on Dec. 11, almost two inches, and I thought we’d have beautiful snow. The buds are there, but they’re slow to open, and there aren’t as many buds as I hoped for. Last season’s two producing blocks look tired. A lot of leaves are missing from the center branches. I’m glad they’ll be stumped soon and get a break. I thank them for producing so well this year.

We’re starting to see humpback whales from various spots. I really enjoy seeing them from the lānai. Most recently I saw about eight boats clustered in a certain area. I took out the binoculars and it didn’t take long to see the whales diving, breaching, fin slapping, etc. I saw at least seven in a pod on the move, heading south. I feel joy seeing them. And gratitude. Some years we see more than others. I’ll be interested in the whale count for 2024. This is the info from 2023; they count January, February, and March.

On a personal note, here’s a crazy story. I had spent an afternoon with a recently made friend who lives here. During our time together I learned she used to play taiko … serious taiko. And a couple were visiting her from the mainland whom she knew from their taiko days. They used to play with Seattle Kokon Taiko in the early 90’s, and played for different lengths of time. By the time my friend left, they used to perform a gig almost every weekend March through November, and a few more sprinkled from December through February. 

The month prior I had won an hour taiko lesson for up to eight people in an online auction fundraiser for the performing youth taiko group at Daifukuji. I had been thinking we don’t need such an experienced teacher for newbies. I didn’t really have a plan for how/when I was going to redeem my lesson. Then I thought the Seattle group would benefit the most, especially since all three hadn’t played in double-digit years, and it would let them do what initially drew them together. We had a couple visiting us from California at the time. I had a fuzzy notion of it’d be great to somehow accommodate all seven of us, but we were on opposite ends of the experience spectrum.

Well, I thought I’d at least ask what possibilities might be. Sensei Akemi Iwamoto was incredibly accommodating. So many stars aligned — many people’s schedules, the Daifukuji dojo, and the can-do-whatever-you-want attitude. By some miracle, the NEXT EVENING we had a class with us seven students and Sensei Akemi and several recruited youth to help teach.

We seven students didn’t know each other, just my friend and I knew each other, so we met up for an hour of socializing before our class. I thought they were from Seattle, but they actually grew up and lived in Sacramento. I took a wild chance and asked them if they knew the only two people I know who grew up in Sacramento. No… But wait… More questions. Turns out one was a high school classmate of my good friend’s sister! Such a small world!! And my good friend had just visited a little over a month prior.

At class, after circling together, introductions, and warm-up exercises, we all learned a number together. Sensei was warmly encouraging. We beginners taxed our brains much more than the others. The former pros got to beat drums again and were role models. The kids each took turns teaching and demonstrating, basically practicing their leadership skills. It was SO MUCH FUN!! Total flow. Totally immersed in what we were doing and drumming (mostly) altogether.

The special treat was when the three pros performed one of their standard numbers from their past. And a Daifukuji Taiko alum, who goes to the University of Washington, home for the holidays, played the background beat for them on the shimedaiko. They hadn’t played individually or altogether in almost 30 years. You could see the old moves come back and where they’d sometimes fumble a bit. But they were pros, so they always gracefully carried on. It was an awesome moment. It felt so very special because so many forces and people came together for that special time.

For those of you that are local and might see this post in time … there’s a mini concert by Daifukuji Taiko tomorrow, December 30 at noon at Daifukuji.

Coffee (rain, flowers, fruit); late season mangoes; dragon fruit

Happy Halloween! To the theme, and following on my earlier pig story, here’s a good one: sneaky swine strolls into drug store in search of Halloween treats.

We just had a little bit of coffee flowering a few days ago. Flowers only last a few days. I didn’t take the picture when a few nice branches popped for me, and today I had a hard time finding some, especially mid-day (the flowers are easier to see in morning light).

I can trace back why we had flowers, to the day. August through October we’ve had a reasonable number of days of rain, but usually a small amount, under half an inch, and often barely measurable. The dry season started early, probably due to El Niño. And then October 19 we received almost an inch, when we hadn’t received that much in a day since August 1. About a week after a good rain after a dry period, we get flowers.

My friend was feeling mildly overwhelmed. She’s barely able to keep up with picking the coffee cherry, and then it’s already flowering again, reminding you they’re coming back. At least it’ll be about seven months later.

Normally we’d get flowers, maybe in December, likely January, but the big flowering usually happens February and March. It’s 210-220 days later that we’ll get cherry. So October 19 means we’ll have a small amount of cherry in May. It’ll probably just be a little bit of fruit. Since coffee berry borer (CBB) beetle lays eggs in the berry, for that small amount, it’d be best if we just do a sanitation pick. Pick the fruit and dispose of it. Remove potential beetle nursery homes.

Three weeks after the last picking, we need to pick again. This harvest can be traced back to the big flowering we had around April 7, the flowering that happened 210-220 days ago.

This less than usual amount of rain, and sometimes dry periods, have stressed the trees. We’re starting to see a little bit of coffee leaf rust again. I’m hoping we’ll have rain in November. In 2021 when we had very little rain in both October and November AND the new coffee leaf rust, the trees suffered badly, resulting in our low yield in the 2021-2022 season. That’s why we had nothing to offer by March this year.

On another note, a friend and I visited Susie and Terry Weaver’s farm to pick up some fruit. My friend had been there once, but hadn’t been doing the driving, and she wasn’t super confident she’d remember exactly where to go. We were prepared for it to be a bit of an adventure, a truck being useful to get down the long bumpy farm road to their packing plant. If you have a subscription to West Hawaii Today, you can read an old article from 2017 about the Weavers’ farm.

They still had some mangoes, which is the end of the usual fruiting period. But they had some last year in December, too. We seem to increasingly have outliers from normal. Someday I will have to take UH over to look at their beautifully pruned mango trees. Their mangoes are just the best!! And their dragonfruit, too. They sell their fruit wholesale to ChoiceMART in Captain Cook and Nestor at the farmers market across from Hale Halawai. We were going to buy some off-grade mangoes and pick up some dried fruit that they occasionally sell to friends. There were several boxes of dragon fruit headed to Ola Brew. I know they have an IPA and a hard cider that use dragon fruit. They spoke highly of Ola Brew being a great supporter, wholesale customer of local farmers.

I’ll end my writing with a divergence, because I find it interesting. Kona Brewing Company isn’t the company you might imagine it to be. You probably suspected when you could find cases of bottled Kona Brewing beers at Costcos on the mainland. There was a class-action false labeling lawsuit in 2017 about whether its beer was actually brewed in Hawai’i or not. If you’re interested, research Kona Brewing Company. I thought I found an article that was going to compare Kona Brewing to Ola Brew, but I found an interesting article from February 2023 about two Kona Brewing companies instead. Once again, I started with coffee and veered quite a ways away …

Photos from August 28 (& 27)

It’s 12:30pm Monday, August 28, a beautiful day, but evolving. Most of this month, we’ve been getting a little bit of rain each day, sometimes nothing measurable, a lot of 1/16-1/4-inch days, and not even half an inch in any one August day. This is low for August. But it’s enough to keep the plants satisfied, and not so much that weeds completely take over.

When we look at the land, towards the ocean, we see a lot of yellow now. It looks like the coffee tree leaves are yellowing. But it’s actually a lot of coffee berries in the yellow stage, going from green to red. There’s a lot of fruit. Yay!

The pigs have been around nightly. They’re very busy rototilling. Before, it was just below the house. Lately it has been by the road, just above the house. They’re not ripping many plantings out, but a few. They’ve rototilled so well that there’s lots of loose, rich soil, so we just reposition/replant the toppled plants and add the soil we often have difficulty getting to.

On an ornamental, impractical note: orchids. Each of the Hawaiian islands has a nickname, and the Big Island is known as the “Orchid Isle.” Many years ago in California, I used to feed the orchids I had with the pink or the blue food, according to the growing or flowering season, and I’d rarely get blossoms. I consulted Bea who said I was probably giving them too much attention. She said to ignore them. And maybe they just needed more bright, indirect light. From that point on, I stopped feeding altogether and experimented with getting them more appropriate light. And it worked! Lesson learned: fuss less. Get the plants that can thrive, or at least live, with my care.

Here in Hawai’i I had my orchids where I really did ignore them and many blossomed. But I moved them to the courtyard about two years ago when we had a long dry spell. I can better notice them if they’re in our courtyard. I’m so happy that many, and many different varieties, have been blossoming. There were a few sad casualties of special orchid plants given to me by the kupuna man who often displays his spectacular blossoming plants at the Daifukuji altar.

Yesterday the Daifukuji Orchid Club had their first sale since pre-COVID. Doors opened at 8am. I was planning to be there at least 15 minutes early but didn’t manage it. When we arrived, parking was already pretty full. At 8:04 we got in line, and estimated there were 40-50 ahead of us. It made me so happy to visit a small club’s show and sale. You can get varieties you can’t easily find, and you get good value.

We picked up a box and collected various plants we wanted to buy. I didn’t expect really inexpensive (most were $5/piece) handmade pottery, too (plates to set a pot on, pots, etc.). We just quickly filled our box, taking pictures of the image/info on the plants we bought (many didn’t have blossoms), paid, and put them in the car. Then we went back to see the showcased orchids. Here are a few photos from the event to get a visual taste.

The club has nice t-shirts, too. I love the orchid drawing on the back so much, years ago I bought one for Bea. And then a few years later, I had forgotten about it, and bought her another one. Ha ha!!

Lastly, some updates and a few photos of some non-coffee plants. Between the two of us, we have at least one plant from each of the many Master Gardener seed germination trials we did back in February. Even one of my ho’awa seeds is still surviving. We were told the ho’awa seeds would take approximately nine months to germinate. We each planted 18. Hubby’s came up a few months before mine, and he got and still has five. I got two after six months, and now one disappeared (I think something ate it). We harvested two little pineapples grown in pots in our courtyard (pigs dig them out of the ground outside). They were tiny but delicious. The purple sweet potato (started from one store-bought potato that got ignored in the pantry and sprouted) had been doing very well. It has been a great ground cover in two spots in the courtyard. We had occasionally eaten the greens from the plant tips. And it kept away another pesty ground cover weed that tended to take over. Like I’ve mentioned before, I think of it all as a learning process.

2:15pm … now there are gray skies and light rain.