Annual stump report, 2022

I had been doing this in June, but we’re in the middle of vertical selection, so I’m doing this a few days before June. Brief review: we stump one third of our trees (in blocks vs. rows, which is another technique) in January/February to help control beetle and now rust and to give the trees a break from bearing fruit. It also keeps our trees a bit more orderly. It’s not like the old days when the child laborers had to tote around ladders to pick fruit from tall coffee trees. These are the posts from 2021 and 2020. I suppose if you aren’t really interested in coffee plants, these posts are worse than looking at photos of your friend’s children, grandchildren or pet.

After a few months we have “lollipops” and need to choose the three to six verticals for each tree which will live on and support all the fruit for the following two years.

It rained earlier today than usual, so work got interrupted. I went out after the rain took a break in the late afternoon to get some photos. (Click on an image below to expand it and scroll through the photo gallery.)

There were some chickens running around the land and at least one Kalij pheasant. I was trying to get a photo of the pheasant when a large pig went running by. I didn’t get a photo of the pheasant, but this photo is of one we saw at Volcano National Park.

We’ve been seeing pigs much more frequently during the daytime now. Our neighbor cousins are, as well. It’s starting to get dangerous to work in the land because there’s a momma pig with five piglets. Maybe we’ll have to start lugging around a pitchfork. If hubby throws a rock, they quickly run into the weeds. I remarked that we don’t even see the weeds wiggle indicating where they are. Hubby said it’s because they have tunnels. Before I went in, I wanted to get some photos of some pig tunnels. Then not too far away in a clearing I saw a big pig and a few piglets, each about a foot long. Of course, they dashed into the weeds. I heard big snorts from momma coming from somewhere in the weeds. I started to wonder if I’d die a pig-gored death trying to get photos. I called it a day.

“You’ve got to make peace with the pigs”

Last weekend we invited a couple over for dinner. Inevitably, the conversation turned to pigs. Pigs do visit us more frequently than any other mammals. This couple has family coffee land, which they don’t actively farm, and they had a pig problem many years ago. I’m not as good a storyteller as they are, and I might not have the details 100% correct, but you’ll get the gist of it.

At first they started with the “young farmers” who wanted to trap the pigs on this couple’s property. “Young,” as in their 70’s or 80’s. Apparently they were drinking beer and talking story in the couple’s carport most of the time, when the couple was away at work. The Mr. was the first to find out, unbeknownst to the Mrs., because he had to go home mid-day for some reason. Apparently, he just joined them and had a beer with them in the carport. The Mrs. found out some time later and put an end to that. One random day, I think one of the young farmers went into their office and plopped a big pig leg onto her work desk. “Here, this is your share.” I guess at least one of the traps worked.

The turnaround point with their pigs was like a story of magic realism. The Mr. had a dream where he was commanded to make peace with the pigs, and he saw a white pig. I’m fuzzy on the details here, but it was a dream anyway. The next day in real life, he saw a pig carcass on their property, and it had a white coat of hair. From that point on, there was peace. No more ripped out pineapple or other plants.

What?!! That’s too simple! Just like that?! **HOW** did you make peace with the pigs?! Details, details. He fenced in certain areas, not even electric fencing, and he gave them their space, and the humans had theirs. I’m concluding it was essentially a mindset and presumable mutual respect. As we gave more examples of what we took as pig meanness and our frustration outlet of throwing rocks from the lānai, he sensed our combative attitudes and reactions. He gently chided, “That’s not making peace with the pigs.” He agreed that the pigs did seem to be drawn to plants/places of our interest, and they did seem to do spiteful acts. But he shrugged it off, like “they’re pigs.” I’m going to remind myself of my post from a few weeks ago: Peace in your heart, that’s where it starts.

Bea asked how much an electric fence is. We don’t even know. She asked, “Fifty thousand?” If it is, it’s not worth it for us! Somehow that large figure got me to evaluate the problem differently. Spend a lot to keep pigs out of a certain area, our area, and it just pushes the problem elsewhere. And there’d be fence maintenance and repair and maybe just another new source of frustration. We should just spend more money to buy and plant taller, more mature plants and trees that the pigs can’t destroy. Again, it’s all in the way we choose to look at and react to the situation. (I’m coaching myself here … peace, peace, peace with the pigs).

I’ll close with another photo gallery, scenes from the farm on Sunday, May 22.

Coffee leaf rust, small farms, and innovative research initiatives

That was the description of this year’s first educational in-person event sponsored by the Kona Coffee Farmers Association. It sounded like just what we needed. We’ve just returned, and I feel mildly disappointed.

The longer description was: Dr. Jennifer (Vern) Long will join us to talk about the research World Coffee Research is currently doing and how building a shared research agenda that includes Hawaii’s interests with those of global growers and U.S. coffee businesses can unlock increased federal support to address Hawaii’s newest challenge.

Most of the talk seemed to be an infomercial of this organization and the advocacy it does. Very few concrete take-aways. Still, it was worthwhile and interesting to have attended. The key players were there, and it’s always interesting to hear the questions asked. And to hear/feel the angst, “What do we do if Coffee Leaf Rust kills our trees?”

World Coffee Research (WCR) is only a ten year old organization, mostly funded by coffee roasters. They’re trying to get more research money to be used for coffee. In the presentation, she stated that there are 6,640 varieties of strawberries and 111 varieties of coffee (including both Arabica and Robusta within that). They spun that as strawberries have 59x more innovation than coffee. The speaker said that other commodities like soy beans, corn, sorghum, etc. have longstanding investments in R&D, and a pipeline of research. The relative R&D investment in coffee is very small.

My impression was this organization was putting most of their research efforts, pertaining to rust, into evaluating rust-resistant varieties. They say that worldwide, it seems that research into integrated pest management, fungicide, and nutrition are done at a national level; so they don’t research that. One resource WCR offers is their catalog of coffee varieties:

An audience member asked when some of these varieties will be available for us. It seems like it’s at least three years away just to get seeds. And then if we start planting other rust-resistant varieties, will the flavor profile match what our customers expect out of Kona coffee?

It seems like most of us small farm folk just want to know what our options are for dealing with rust and keeping our trees alive and producing. There are more options coming, but will it be timely?

Mid-April photo update

We happily received over six inches of rain in March and almost three so far in April, and the trees have responded. (Of course, so have the weeds.) It has been enough rain for the trees to come out with fresh, new growth. I see hardly any signs of rust, which makes me hopeful the trees will survive. There haven’t been any decisive blossoming rounds, and it’s getting late to hope for another one, let alone a good one. I’m very curious just how much lower the yield will be.

The next tasks are to fertilize and to weed more regularly. Spanish needles are sprouting up and sticking to us when we walk the land, and the vines are back, ready to seize their moment and spread all over and spiral up when possible.

The stumps are leafing out, but not as vigorously as three years ago, the last cycle this block was stumped.

Below are some other scenes from the farm today.

Why the compulsion to write our names on things?

Today’s themes are autograph trees and pigs. Hubby and I spent several hours this weekend working in the stumped block trying to clear away autograph plants and schefflera. We had sprayed a systemic on the trees before they were stumped to help with the coffee leaf rust problem. After the trees were stumped and the cuttings chipped, and with no rain, the area looks pretty brown … the undesired autograph and schefflera plants pop out in their healthy green, so they’re easy to see and remove. We’ll be done soon. Then we can enjoy one moment in time when they were under control in one area. The ‘ulu co-op is almost done with their weed tree removal, so that should also help with the problem (fewer autograph tree and African tulip tree seeds).

Autograph plants are everywhere! In the rocks, the ground, within pockets of the coffee trees, entwined around trees. Our coffee trees are so old, we think some of them might only be standing because of the autograph tree growing from its center or encircling it. J.R., I have not forgotten your request to explain why the autograph tree has its name. The leaves are tough enough — thick, fleshy, dark green, and smooth — that you can carve your autograph into them, and that will last for years. You let these plants take hold and grow, and it won’t be long before you have a monster.

The other undesired greenery that can quickly become a tree are schefflera. Luckily, they are brittle and easy to remove while still relatively small.

The pigs … they’re around pretty much nightly. Lately we’ve been seeing three, either seeing them in real life or caught on camera at night. Three is better than seven (January), which is better than 14 (August). Until we do our electric fence, as the dry season continues and they get more destructive, hubby feels compelled to at least try something to protect what we can. Since the pigs have been re-munching on the coffee seedlings, hubby has gotten rather creative as to how he protects them. Maybe we should call it Bea’s Knees Sculpture Garden.