Doutor coffee farm, bananas, and the cat and the gecko

Last week we went to Doutor Mauka Meadows coffee farm again to show two visitors. They’re STILL closed, but you can do a tour by reservation. Because we’ve only visited them in COVID-times, I’m not sure how they really operate. It’s all a little mysterious to me since they cater to Japanese tourists. Many signs are only in Japanese.

I used official channels this time to make my reservation, and I didn’t know what to expect. Our friend of a friend opened the gate so we could park, then closed it, saying, “Oh, it’s you!” Then she opened the gate to walk into the property and closed that behind us. Then we made our unaccompanied way down the hill, at our own pace. If I were a first-time, English-speaking visitor, I don’t know what I’d think. There are a few signs to lead you down to the beautiful infinity pool, but the place begs for a guided tour. We were served coffee and could buy roasted coffee that had been roasted that morning, which we did. It just feels really strange when you have this whole place to yourselves, and two staff members waiting for you.

We were last there around this time last year. Again, we collected many varieties of citrus from the ground, and picked a few with the pickers they conveniently leave for visitors (I assume). I was envious of the rows of beautiful pineapple in the ground. I think pineapple, I think pigs. There was a large pig trap discreetly located on the side of the property, near the banana plant borderline.

As for our farm, it was pretty windy a week or two ago. We didn’t realize it at the time, but wind had blown at least ten banana stalks over. It’s such a tight grove, the other stalks still propped up the fallen ones. Some of those had bananas, so those had to be harvested a little early. Hubby had already harvested several ripe clusters, so we’re in one of those periods with lots of bananas. He hangs them in our unfinished lower level.

If they’re ripe, though, it can happen from one day to the next that all the bananas drop down, tearing their peel as they go. Those aren’t suitable to give away, so we have to dehydrate them ASAP. People ALWAYS say to make banana bread. Banana breads don’t use enough bananas to solve our problem. We don’t (yet) have an extra freezer, so we can’t just peel and freeze. I’m afraid of a chest freezer. It’s so easy to stick things in the freezer and forget about them. It has strong potential to be one more accumulation and clutter problem.

Lastly, the stumped coffee is coming back nicely. I usually take photos when they’re reached pom-pom stage (prior to vertical selection), but this is a photo earlier in the cycle. And, there’s a photo of our cat in one of our master gardener germination experiments. She had been playing with a gecko who had, of course, quickly employed tail autotomy (i.e., ditched its tail). TWICE she brought the tailless gecko over and dropped it into that box to bat it around inside there! What a weirdo. Why?!!

There’s no chocolate without cacao

Before getting to cacao, a few updates from our farm. The papaya tree (AKA, avocado or green bell pepper) is tall enough that six foot hubby now needs assistance. I bought the toilet plunger at Lowe’s. A stranger passed by me when I was in the plunger aisle and had it in my hand. He said, “I know what you’re going to do with that!” I answered, “Pick papayas?” I could almost see his head swivel a few 360’s in confusion. A few months ago we couldn’t even find this cheapo plunger. All the plungers were too fancy and designed for good toilet plunging.

This inexpensive rubber plunger, with a shallow cup and an edge around it, is better for picking papayas than other “real” fruit pickers we’ve found. The metal claw, kind of lacrosse stick shape, often pokes holes in the fruit, and might not even dislodge the papaya. With the plunger, you come up from under the fruit, and give it a little supported twisty action, and maybe you need to use that gentle rubber edge to help. Our family always seemed to have this type of cobbled together picker around.

Unfortunately, an update on the red plumeria is already needed. The pigs got to it last Friday. Argh!! We probably needed some stakes inside our pig protection. They knocked it over, and it broke the trunk. But the roots and a short stumpy piece are still in the ground. We just gave that ripped trunk a clean cut, and we’ll see if it does anything. It’s a bit low to the ground, though. And we’ll have to stick the longer branch in the ground. So, at this point, we now have three pieces of this red plumeria, pictured left to right below: (1) a Y-shaped piece from the first pig attack, (2) a stump with roots from the piece we potted and kept in the courtyard for over a year, and (3) the bigger trunk from (2). It’s just becoming its own special challenge — get this plumeria to grow into a tree!

OK! To the cacao. We visited a friend’s who’s a neighbor who has now planted about 400 cacao trees in the past year. I’m very interested because we have to be prepared for possibilities other than coffee. Our coffee is pretty old (80-ish years), and there are problems, as you know. I asked a lot of questions about the cacao and their farm, but I’m not sure I understood or recall all the details correctly, so just consider this a general story.

When they brought their lot about only four years ago, it was full of big trees. As for size, Hubby and I already remember differently, so let’s say the parcel is 5-8 acres or so. They took the trees down, used heavy equipment to make some big terrace levels, flattened out a big section for their house, some plantings, a barn, etc. They didn’t have coffee. They had someone consult them about agroforestry, edible landscaping and planting a diversity of plants and trees. So in addition to cacao they have bananas, avocados, citrus, breadfruit, etc., the usual suspects.

They bought their cacao seedlings from Sharkey’s on the Hilo side. The seedlings are in a blue grow sleeve to protect the young trees from beetles. Supposedly, once they’re big enough they can handle the beetles. They set up irrigation. They have cut monstera leaves around the base of trees. We forgot to ask them exactly why. We figured it was to keep the growth down near the base of the trees. When you mow or weed whack, you don’t get too close to trees and typically tufts of longer grass surround trunks.

They already know a business here on the west side of the island that offered to buy any of the cacao they have, so their sense is demand is high. They’re feeling optimistic about this endeavor. I wish them lots of luck, and I’m thankful to know someone in our area who’s trying it. I’ve seen some smaller scale, but more mature cacao in South Kona, but I don’t know those farmers.

A side note, my friend is a very talented artist. We had gone to their place to oooh and aaaah at her art studio and to look more carefully at the cacao. She’s trying to keep the art of wood block printing alive. She is so generous with her time, skills (beyond the visual arts), knowledge and sharing her art. She is very inspirational and I am so glad to know her. Check out her website and her Etsy store.

By the way, there’s a fairly new shop here in Kainaliu, next to the parking lot we use for our Master Gardeners class. It’s called [Kainaliu] Hale Cocoa, part of Puna Chocolate. They’re working on getting a little cafe established at the makai (ocean) side of the shop, too. They have some interesting posters on the glass windows at the storefront, sharing that cacao can only grow within about 20° north and south of the equator, etc. The trees only flourish under specific conditions, including fairly uniform temperatures, high humidity, abundant rain, nitrogen-rich soil, and protection from wind. It seems like the market for Hawai’i chocolate is growing. We’ll have to attend one of the conferences or classes that further educate farmers about the crop.

Pig-necessitated and Master Gardener Plant experiments

Today it’s just little updates from the farm. January was a pretty dry month, even for the dry season; we didn’t even get half an inch. February 12 we received an inch of rain in just two hours, and sure enough, 11 days later we had a nice covering of Kona snow (white coffee blossoms) on all the trees (except the stumps). We just had four days of moderate rain, except Saturday we got 1.5 inches during the late morning to early afternoon. I wonder if we’re entering our wet season now. The dry season wasn’t all that dry, except January. I forgot to take a photo of this round of Kona snow. You could see that all the farms responded similarly.

I’ve mentioned before that all our pineapple crowns are in pots in our courtyard because the pigs had uprooted everything we had planted in the ground. They would do much better in the ground, but we still don’t have a pig safe area. One of the pots has a fruit starting now. It’s so pretty. We’ll probably have to weigh down the pot with rocks as the fruit starts getting heavier.

We also had a red plumeria in the courtyard due to pig harassment. It was special to me, because it was a large tree on the property before we had to remove the mature tree. I had saved a few branches to grow a new one. It had done fine in the ground and was about to flower, until the pigs pushed it out and around. I salvaged the top over a year ago and stuck it in a pot. It had finally developed four flowering branches, one actively flowering, and three branches still with buds. I was going to wait till it finished flowering before planting it in the fertile ground outside the courtyard.

But, I moved the pot and disturbed the roots that had wandered outside. I’m kicking myself. The flowering branch drooped after a day, and I kept chiding myself for moving it. So, we planted it in the ground outside the courtyard, with pig protection. It’s hanging in there, and the droopy flowering branch perked back up after a few days. I didn’t expect that would be possible. I thought that branch was heading one, wrong direction, even if it got planted in a better situation. It’s not even that great a plumeria since it loses its leaves and the flowers aren’t too fragrant, but I like the flower color. And I just wanted to keep it in the family. Do you have a special relationship with some of your plants, too?

I took a closer look at a pig solution that’s working for one friend. They’ve had a year free of pig problems, in any case.

On a completely other note, we had some hands-on time at Master Gardeners class last week. We planted seeds and have four little experiments going on. One of our experiments involves a native tree, ho’awa. It’s supposed to take approximately NINE MONTHS to germinate! Even Bea, who loves planting things from seed, said she wouldn’t have the patience for this. Luckily, one of our other experiments already germinated in three days, so we have some quick gratification.

For the ho’awa experiment, we planted nine seeds that were rinsed in a diluted bleach solution then soaked overnight, and we planted nine seeds that were only soaked overnight (no bleach involved). Taking care of these to germination and observing them is going to be like caring for a pet. If I go on vacation, I’m going to have to find someone to care for my pot. Will I remember to observe it and keep it moist, but not waterlogged, for *nine months*? Stay tuned. (Will YOU remember this experiment for nine months?)

What are the tricks to manage vigorously growing edibles?

Master Gardener class has been more enjoyable than I expected, and I expected to get a lot out of it. After two three-hour in-person classes and one three-hour Zoom presentation, we have been fire-hosed with information. We had a Hawai’i Natives A-Z in half of an in-person class, and then Tropical Plants A-Z on Zoom. I don’t even mind, strangely. Bring it on!

The last in-class session had some little trivia tidbits about Hawai’i (the state) that grabbed my attention. I’m sharing a couple without citing the references, but please trust they’re legitimate since this program is run by University of Hawaii at Manoa, and there were citations in our handouts. I don’t want to bog down this post.

So, an endemic species is found nowhere else in the world.

89% of Hawaii’s flora is endemic.

And another factoid, which comes from 2015, so the numbers have probably changed:

Hawai’i has the highest number of listed threatened and endangered species in the nation. There are 479 threatened and endangered species in the state (54 animals and 425 plants). Of the plants, 416 are endangered and nine are threatened.

Approximately 45% of all endangered and threatened plants in the U.S. are found in the Hawaiian islands.

Hawai’i is special.

With all this attention on plants and the last bonus topic being on Edible Landscaping, our courtyard was just screaming for attention. Unfortunately, so many plants have to take refuge from pigs here. This photo is just of ornamentals, not the edibles, but it exemplifies how overgrown and unkempt the space has gotten. It doesn’t take long here. The red button ginger was getting so tall and leaning all over the others, fighting for its space.

Last year I had some purple sweet potatoes, which I love, in a paper bag in the pantry, and I had forgotten about them for a while. Then they had roots, so I delayed eating them even further. Finally, the roots were so established, I decided to plant them instead of eating them. Boy, were they happy to be planted. They took off!

One Thanksgiving in Southern California, Bea harvested her purple sweet potatoes. They were huge!! We tried a bit of it, and it was not as bad as you’d think, but they were a bit woodier and starchier than a normal sized one. My brother took it home intent on eating the whole thing, but even he, with his stubborn determination, just couldn’t do it.

Did you know you can eat the potato greens? They’re good. I’ve used them in soups, curries, or boiled, served with a miso sauce on them. They have a little bit of a savory flavor to them. This is another way to help you eat green and purple in the rainbow. One negative is that they’re a little milky at the stem when you cut them. Bea says to cut about five leaves at the end of the vine, the younger, more tender leaves.

I knew the potatoes would take over, so I had put them in pots, thinking that would help limit them. It didn’t take long at all, and the greens were all over. I’m hoping the potato greens will shade out other weeds. It buried my pot of edible ginger, another vigorous grower, thus planted in a pot. I got distracted a bit as I dug out the ginger roots, and then I replanted some little nubs to continue the ginger growth cycle.

And to add to my vigorously growing edibles, my aunty dropped off some chayote starters. She says I can’t kill it. Hmmmm. My brain is on cautious alert. One has to be very careful about what one introduces into the garden. I like chayote squash, but I don’t love chayote. I do feel like some chayote on the farm would be useful, though. Apparently, you have to keep an eye on the fruit so you don’t accidentally grow huge amounts of chayote. She suggested we plant it on a dead tree or somewhere where it can climb, so you can more easily distinguish the fruit from its leaves. For now, it’s still sitting in the box while we figure out where to put it.

I learned about a flower sale at Old Airport on Saturday morning. I bought some cut obake anthuriums. I love their shapes and colorings. In Japanese, the word obake means “a thing that changes” and it can also be translated as “ghost.” Rather than being just one color, usually red, the flower has color changes. I bought two little obake plants, as well. I already have a few obake anthuriums growing in the courtyard, but I thought I should get a few when the specialists were selling them, so I’ll know what varieties I’m growing. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Don’t waste what is valuable

We have had a very dry January. I know California has been a different story. I feel for the state, with all that devastation wreaked by nine atmospheric rivers within three weeks. You want precipitation at manageable amounts in appropriate timing. Even in our dry season, we should get some rain. Ideally we’d get a soaker every once in a while.

We got a few sprinkles a couple of days just before the one day with a thunderstorm directly over us. We only received 3/8-inch of rain, though, which was something, but less than hoped for. This post’s feature photo was taken on that day. Many of the tree’s leaves had been hanging down due to lack of water, and they had been starting to turn yellow.

We’ve been waiting for rain and forecasts for more rain so that we can stump. Stumping is tough on the trees. We don’t want to stump when they’re already stressed from lack of water. And we don’t want to stump if they won’t soon receive water. With dry farming you’re at the mercy of the weather. This business isn’t profitable enough, or rather, it isn’t yet breaking even, to justify the costs of irrigating. As I mentioned in the last post, anytime after the winter solstice, i.e., as the days begin to lengthen, would be a good time to stump and give the trees more time to recover from the treatment and grow. Hopefully, conditions will be good for stumping in February.

On another note, I’ve noticed that the pocket garden in Kailua-Kona that I wrote about in July 2021 has been going the wrong direction for a while. Pocket gardens utilize open spaces of dirt that might otherwise remain bare. Now it seems like the pocket garden has been destroyed or maybe vandalized. I don’t know the story. It is 1-1/2 years from the time I took the last photo, lush and green, in this 3-photo gallery. In the first two photos, taken recently, the tall, light brown trunks are papaya trees. You can see how much shorter they were in the July 2021 photo. Some of the now tall papaya trees are still standing, with fruit, but other papayas have been knocked down and trunks cut into smaller pieces. The dirt looks dry and there’s no taro, turmeric, ti plants, or citrus. Anyone reading this know what happened?

I will close on a more positive note, inspired by UH. [Side note: I introduced my uncle as my uncle Harold to a friend yesterday, and he corrected me and said, “I’m UH.”] I dropped off some bananas and took a quick photo of just one of his pineapple stands. If he eats a pineapple, he does not let the crown go to waste.

The Japanese have a word for the sense of regret they feel when something valuable is wasted: mottainai (もったいない). It can be translated as “don’t waste anything worthy” or “what a waste,” and has come to represent the island nation’s environmental awareness.

Rooted in the Buddhist philosophy of frugality and being mindful of our actions, mottainai came to prominence in the post-war days of scarcity and is now handed down from grandparents to grandchildren.

Excerpted from the World Economic forum