It’s always raining! Quantify that.

It’s the weekend and it’s raining. I counted 12 dry days in August. There were only three dry days in July. The first big day of picking a few weeks ago ended a little earlier than planned because of steady, hard rain. It’s just unpleasant for the pickers, and it was close to quitting time that day anyway.

I talked story with Bob Nelson of Lehuula Farms a few weeks ago about the the amount of rain we’ve been getting and the kilowatt hours from our solar panels. Bob had a longtime career as a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game before he and his wife moved to Hawaii in 1994 to become full time coffee farmers. They’re now retired.

We’re only a mile apart and at a similar elevation, so you’d think it’d be the same, but our experiences are still slightly different. For years now Bob has been very generous with his time and expertise and has given a number of talks and workshops via the Kona Coffee Farmers Association. He likes to fix mechanical things, too. There are plenty of opportunities for that with the coffee business.

He has had one of the National Water and Climate Center’s (NWCC, under the USDA) weather stations on his property since 2005. He shared some of his experiences ensuring the weather station would be maintained. In any case, he went through a lot of the historical rain data from the neighboring weather station at the university’s CTAHR’s extension office and the station on his property (Kainaliu). The two stations are only about 1/4-mile apart and within 50 feet of elevation. He came up with the rain chart below. He talked about how data readings were historically done and some data was missing because it used to be that the stations were read on the weekends only, and sometimes a person wasn’t available to read it/them. My takeaway was that it was tedious for him to make this chart.

It’s the type of information I had been looking for somewhere on the internet. The locals have been mildly complaining about all this rain, although acknowledging it’s good for the coffee. And people would say, “I guess it’s like the old days.” But I couldn’t find the data presented in an understandable manner. Until Bob’s chart. Thanks, Bob, for creating the chart and letting me share it!

Average monthly rainfall from 1931-2021, shown pre-, during- and post-eruption.

It backs up the talk about rain patterns before and after the decades-long volcanic eruption. The Y-axis is inches of rain, and the X-axis is months. The blue line is the average of the months’ rainfall from 1931-1982, the historic data prior to the eruption. The orange line is the historic data during the eruption, 1983-2018. And the grey line is post eruption from August 2018 to July 2021.

It’ll be interesting to see how the grey line continues, and how long we’ll remain eruption-free. We thought we could have been at the start of a possibly long eruption-free period, until it erupted back in December. That eruption officially ended in May this year.

On another note, the New York Times has a relatively new series called “It’s Never Too Late” that tells the stories of people who decide to pursue their dreams on their own terms; that it’s never too late to switch gears, change your life and pursue dreams. Being a swimmer, I liked an earlier article about an older lady finally learning to swim. The latest entry was “It’s Never Too Late to Ditch the City and Run a Farm.”

Martha Prewitt performed as an opera singer for 15 years. But passions wane. She now runs the family farm in Kentucky, singing arias to cattle and corn. Sometimes bugs fly into her mouth.

“He who plants a tree, plants a hope.”― Lucy Larcom

This is a milestone for this farm. We are in the middle of planting a little over 100 young trees. To my knowledge, no one else has planted many trees at once here since the time Grandpa stopped overseeing the farm. These trees are about 8-10 months old and will be in full fruit production in two to three years.

About the word “hope” in this post’s title … planting IS a hope. We hope it’s not wasted effort and money. Coffee leaf rust hasn’t even been in this area a year (luckily, still not seen on our farm). What will its long term presence do here?

COVID is a striking reminder how we just don’t know what the future holds for certain. There are risks, but we don’t know the future with certainty. And here and in other parts, other disasters like flash floods, dry lightning strikes in parched areas, hurricanes can happen and are happening. Like I wrote about last week, here in Kona we’re still experiencing pretty much daily rain since May. Yet north of us is dry. Just this weekend, South Kohala had a brush fire that has already scorched over 2000 acres as of mid-day Sunday. The fire temporarily closed Saddle Road, the main highway connecting the west and east sides of our island, the road you take to get to the road to Mauna Kea. Old Saddle Road (not the big highway) was still closed yesterday. To my knowledge, the fire still isn’t contained.

The brown stuff happens. Yet we humans carry on with at least hints of optimism.

“The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”
― Chinese proverb

In January I wrote about some coffee keiki (kids), volunteer seedlings, also called pulapulas (pulled from the ground) that we were going to experiment with. Grandpa would add new trees by using pulapulas which would often sprout up near rock walls, where seeds and water would tend to accumulate.

However, for at least two decades root-knot nematodes have been a serious problem in Kona Typica trees, seriously impacting tree health, viability, and fruit yield. In 2002 the university estimated that 85% of Kona Typica trees were impacted by nematodes. And pulapulas might be one way nematodes are spread. Nowadays, farmers prefer to plant young grafted coffee trees using nematode-resistant root stock.

In the end, we decided not to plant our own pulapulas.

“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.”
― Hermann Hesse

It’s June. How are those stumps from February doing?

Starting Saturday afternoon and through that night, we had periods of heavy downpours. At times like those, you are glad to have a roof over your head, but you can’t hear much of anything else because of all the rain pounding down. Sunday morning, hours later, if you hadn’t experienced it, you might not even know what happened. On our farm, no mud or puddles, it looked like any other day with some rain in the previous 24 hours (in other words, almost every day). The roads were mostly dry, and at least where we are and the five miles south on the highway, there were hardly even any puddles, let alone ponds, to be seen. But there were sections with rocks, debris, and mud on the side of the road, and some new potholes & rocks surrounding them, signs of flooding damage.

On Nextdoor there was an online discussion about flooding and water that overflowed and/or diverted from creeks that caused substantial property damage north of us. Those neighbors were opining on why flooding seems to be worse than previous years. More clearing and development above? Negligent owners and/or county departments who aren’t maintaining dry creeks? More extreme weather? I don’t know enough, and I am not suggesting anything. This past heavy rain episode was harder on others than us.

It’s June, and I had started a tradition of reporting on how the year’s stumps are doing. (As a reminder this was last June’s annual stump report.) We’re now far enough along in this coffee land restoration process that this was the first year a section had a second stumping. We always lose a few trees after stumping; they just don’t come back. Survival of the fittest.

Stumping was done in early February. Here’s how they look now. Click on the top left photo to expand and use the arrow to go through the gallery.

State of the Farm in Early April

We’re gradually experiencing fewer dry days as we transition to the rainy season. The dry season didn’t seem all that dry, though I do recall two 2-week periods without rain. By my count, we had 18, 15, and 12 dry days in January, February, and March, respectively. We have truly micro climates here. The farm a mile away can be different than ours.

In early March Hawaii (state) made even international news with the heavy rains, disastrous flooding, and landslides. Friends were reaching out, hoping we were OK. I remember one particular time a friend texted, and I was just hanging clothes out on the drying line. Parts of the other islands were the ones impacted, worthy of the governor issuing an emergency declaration. Kona’s dry season is when the other islands and the other side of Hawaii island have their rainy season. Our island does still have snow on its two highest volcanos, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, from the winter storms.

I’ve noticed that Bea (Mom) notes sunrise and sunset times by hand on her paper calendar. I’ve told her a few times that she can find that information online. But I’m becoming my mom. I’m not noting sunrise & sunset, but I am making imprecise rain notes. I can’t quantify the amount in inches. I just cannot find an online site that accurately reflects the situation on our farm.

I wonder if the fuzzier difference between the dry and rainy season has led to fuzzier blossom rounds. The blossoms usually come a few weeks after a good soaking rain. But lately we haven’t had a dry spell followed by a soaker because we haven’t had many consecutive dry days. Earlier I could detect some blossom peaks, and you only realize the peak after you’ve passed it. Now it’s hard for me to designate a particular day as the peak of a particular blossom round. I’ve noted blossom start, then a few days later designated a peak of light blossoms. But then a week later, there are another few days of blossoms and another peak of light blossoms. In any case, it is the time of year when you see blossoms on some coffee trees anywhere you go around the general Kona coffee area.

The trees that were stumped in February (foreground) are showing new growth. The trees at the top of the frame are the ones that were stumped last year.

The trees that were stumped in 2020 are producing nicely.

Because I have accumulated so many various links to share, I have to try and get them out there in case it catches you at a receptive time. I’ll close with a link to an article a friend recently sent. It’s about the author’s quest to home brew the best tasting cup. I’ve used all five methods at various times. Right now, I remain a pour over fan. FYI, there is a Search box at the bottom of this website/blog if you recall I wrote about something before and you want to get back to it (e.g., Aeropress). I use this search button a fair amount. Keep your Beas Knees buzzing.

Stumped coffee trees.

Three year olds meet the ax again

Last week the trees that were stumped in 2018 were stumped for their second time. We have three blocks; every year one block will be stumped in Jan/Feb. That means only 2/3 of the land is productive every year. And one third gets to concentrate on growing without producing fruit (or potential beetle homes). Every time we think it looks pretty devastating, yet it does also tidy up the land, especially once the cuttings are chipped and used to mulch around the trees.

Here’s a little photo update on the other trees recently planted.