Clearing, grubbing, grading, and planting

Big things happening in our neighborhood. Sometimes a lot happens at once. Our section of the old, mauka Mamalahoa Highway, got repaved several weeks ago. It needed it. We regularly have big trash containers from the transfer station rumbling and bouncing by. Once a pothole develops, it just keeps getting bigger. I think the paving added two to three inches of height to the road, and the “shoulder” or edge of the highway has gotten steeper.

The risk of rolling a vehicle is high. There was a single vehicle accident (driven off the road and stuck down a hill) within days of the paving. I’m hoping some guardrails are going to be installed in certain areas. But things happen when they happen. They’ve filled the edges with some looser gravelly stuff to lessen the difference, but driving on this road requires careful attention. It did before, and it still does.

Now we have a nice, smooth surface, but amusingly wiggly (in places) “temporary” yellow center divider tape, and sometimes sharp road edges. I know of another road that was paved over a year ago, and they still have the temporary yellow tape. Temporary is not permanent, but it’s not defined by an absolute time.

Our neighbor had driveway work done, so heavy equipment was (still is) here. Then another neighbor commissioned the equipment operators for a job. And then another neighbor for a different, small job involving clearing out coffee trees. Work happens so quickly with a compact excavator. Two days. Huge, big, and other trees be gone! I don’t know what our cousins’ ultimate plans are, but what they’re doing reminds me of my surrender fantasy: rip out the coffee and plant grass that you mow with a rideable mower. In the photo below you can see the other grassy plot in the distance, butting into the larger trees. Those owners cleared those acres in August. There was big equipment crunching down big trees for days. I’m wondering what will go in there and when.

Yet another neighbor, across the road, up the hill, cleared acres of their land almost four years ago. There used to be a forest of weed trees (autograph trees, African tulips, schefflera, etc.), and we were used to the green jungle look above us. And then they were all cleared out. Shortly afterward grass appeared. And every few weeks, someone goes by on a very big mower for hours. We could see two houses above that we never used to see, and for a while we felt exposed. But you get used to it. Now there are some bananas planted and some other trees. All that grass in the photo below is new-ish, since they cleared out most of the big trees. It has a nice, cared-for estate appearance to it now, vs. dark, green jungle.

I guess there’s been a slow wave in the ‘hood of clearing large, invasive trees. We’re not going to let those big invasives win! Reclaim the land, allow some sun in for desirable plants. It was a little over two years ago that our other neighbor, the ‘Ulu Co-op, cleared out their big weed trees on our border. One of those brittle, weed trees had already fallen into our land during a big wind storm a few months prior. After they cleared the big guys, they put in solar panels.

Friday I watched the last state-wide Zoom class for the 2024 class of Master Gardeners. Two lectures: Weed Management and Invasive Species. I learned about the topics last year, but I figured it’d be good to see it again. It seems like we spend most of our time dealing with the undesirables than tending and enjoying the desirables. There were many interesting strategies discussed.

I learned a term new for me: grubbing, which was happening next door just this week. Hawaii’s Dept. of Transportation says: Grubbing is defined as removing and disposing of all unwanted vegetative matter from underground, such as stumps, roots, buried logs, and other debris. Debris is defined as unusable or unwanted material produced by clearing and grubbing.  Thereafter you grade (maybe do some filling, leveling or getting a specific slope), then you plant your desirable crop or plants. I’m excited to see what will happen next door!

We’re all back to thinking we need to fence to keep the pesky pigs out, though. We’ve waffled for years because it’s expensive, and it’s not so easy with the terrain, e.g., rock walls, some crumbling, weed trees on the border, and neighbors’ water lines running above ground. One person I know fenced, and it was all fine and dandy for many months, until some pigs got in and were stuck inside the property. What to do, what to do …

What is soil? Big Island soils?

There’s the Google answer, and the pie chart with the breakdown. But then the soils professor told us, “Almost every soil on the Big Island is an exception.” And thus, we launched into the gripping story of Big Island soils. Do you know what kind of soil you grow plants in?

Last week I attended a Master Gardener 3-hour lecture on “Understanding and Managing the Soils of the Big Island” by Dr. Jonathan Deenik. For some reason, he wasn’t able to give the lecture in-person last year, so I wanted to attend this year’s class. I looked at the printout of his Powerpoint slides, and wondered if that was all he’d cover in three hours. It didn’t seem like that much.

He is a self-described former hippie, had shoulder-length hair, and had his Locals-brand slippers on. He was a force of nature! I never for a moment imagined I’d enjoy a lecture on soils so much! I almost felt hypnotized, like I need to study more of this stuff. Dr. Deenik was so passionate and entertaining, and add that to his knowledge of soils, and what he wanted to convey to us … it was really a delight! He made it understandable and could focus us on what was important for us. He asked a lot of questions and kept us engaged. We didn’t even get through all the slides he had, and my copy is just chock-full of notes. I so wish we could learn every subject by someone who’s passionate about the subject, and can tailor what’s taught to what level of learning is appropriate for the particular audience.

We’ve had a soils and tissue sample done recently for our coffee land. We try to do it at least annually. I’m looking forward to getting the report. Maybe it’ll mean a little more to me now than just numbers/levels of various macronutrients. I’d love to hear Dr. Deenik interpret the results, but I won’t be so fortunate.

Friday and Saturday were gorgeous here on the farm, the peak of this heavy round of blossoming. Our trees were covered in Kona snow, and a pleasant, light fragrance, similar to citrus flowers, wafted on the breeze. Early mornings, the wind comes down the volcano; afternoons, the breeze goes from the ocean direction, up the hill. When you drive around the area, all the coffee trees have blossoms. Some others’ trees are a bit more anemic looking than ours. Long verticals without too many leaves, but they’re blossoming, too.

On another note, during my last week’s volunteer stint at Amy Greenwell Garden, we were offered sweet potatoes for eating or planting. Another volunteer crew had harvested them. The varieties weren’t kept track of. After I age them to sweeten, I guess I’ll cut off a piece of each potato before roasting and eating. But I’m not sure I’ll be able to track which ones taste good with the piece I want to make a slip sprout from. We’ll have to think more about how to do this. It fits right in with UH’s EOGO (eat one grow one) strategy for pineapples. This could actually be EOGS (eat one, grow several).

Strategy success will also depend on the pigs. This is how they start growing sweet potatoes at Greenwell Garden.

The pigs have actually not been too pesky lately (since December) and are rarely showing up on our home cameras. We suspect someone hunted more for holiday feasts. I’ve also seen at least three dead piglets on the side of the highway in the past weeks. I always wonder if it got hit by a car, or if someone killed it elsewhere and dumped it on the side of the road thinking that a County worker will deal with the problem.

Some people like to experiment

After several days throughout February with dribbles of rain, mostly 1/8-inch or less each event, Feb. 28 measured in at 1-1/8 inch. So we have flowers less than a week later. They still have to open. And then the first day of March, the start of the rainy season, we got 1-3/4 inch.

On another note, Big Joe decided to do a pour-over experiment. I don’t know what possessed him. I just randomly received a text one day with the below image and the accompanying explanation and conclusion. He said I could share.

“One pour over. Moved it to the right every 20 seconds for a total of 3 minutes. Added more water to the filter on cup number four and cup number seven. I wanted to check the color so I put exactly one tablespoon into the square dishes. The color stayed remarkably the same throughout.

The first 20 seconds was very tart and fruity. The very last one was rather boring, woody, and slightly bitter. We can also think of this as under extracted to over-extracted, but that terminology is not quite right because usually you drink a whole cup.

Cup number one and cup number two were probably my favorites, but they were all drinkable.

But if you measure your coffee appropriately for the cup you are filling then it’s not necessarily that big of a deal to just pour water until you fill your cup. You might be only over extracting if you selected a too large cup and then kept putting too much water in to fill it up. But grind size could be important.

So you could play with grind size and occasionally test your last 20 seconds of brewing to see how bitter it is.

end of transmission”

There you go! Some people get into their experiments. Thanks for sharing, Big Joe!

I guess it was a little over a year ago that I mentioned UH (Uncle Harold) and his pineapples. We can be trendy and call it regenerative farming. The airlines and wireless carriers sometimes have their “buy one get one” free (BOGO) offers. For UH, it could be “eat one grow one” (EOGO). Eat a pineapple, plant its crown.

We were dropping something off at UH’s, and we were immediately struck by his mango flowers. His mango trees are prolific!! When I looked more carefully, one prolific tree was quite an oddity. My recollection is that UH told me his style of pruning is that nothing grows higher than the house roof. UH had pruned the heck out of this one mango tree, and most of that tree’s energy was in one lateral branch that grew towards a nearby old plumeria tree. The plumeria had very little growth on it, but I did see some growth, so I know it’s alive. It’s sturdy support for the mango lateral.

I took the photo below because it showed a lot of mango flowers. But I just noticed that this different mango tree has some trademark UH training props. He weighs down some chosen branches so that they can grow laterally. Sometimes it’s a recycled bucket/can hanging from wires with heavy rocks inside. In this case it looks like he used some sort of scrap metal. I can’t imagine that too many nonagenarians would do this kind of experimenting. Maybe it’s what gets you to be a centenarian …. You go, UH!

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.

What’s called an alligator strawberry in the South?

Hello, again! I gave myself a month off of weekly blogging. I read my last post to remind myself where I had left off. So, updates: 1) Our cacao seeds seem to have stagnated and we’re tossing them and will try again. Hubby thinks it was too much rain; I think it didn’t have regular enough water. (We could both be right). 2) All our kabocha seedlings planted outside the pig-protected courtyard are alive, some with powdery mildew (to be expected). We seem to be in a phase where pigs are going to and fro on a nightly basis, but their destruction isn’t as obvious. We did lose a longan seedling, but we don’t love longan anyway. Hint: longan is similar to the alligator strawberry.

Otherwise, same old rainy season story: weeds, weeds, weeds. We received 13.6 and 11.8 inches of rain in April and May, respectively. The stumped coffee trees recently had verticals selected. In other words, they no longer exhibit puffy lollipop green growth, but have been thinned to 3-5 verticals. Unfortunately, in the photo below from today (2nd of 3 photos), the weeds haven’t yet been managed (tomorrow, I’ve been told), so it is difficult to make out the more svelte greenery shape. That’s almost six weeks since last ground cover maintenance; things got delayed for various reasons. One learns to not get too worked up about many things involving time here on the Big Island. At a mom&pop store I’ve experienced a customer who had moved here from O’ahu who got all worked up about the inefficiency in the way the owner dealt with customers. He started making polite suggestions, which I agreed with, but I’ve learned to take a lot more in stride.

This month’s excitement, though, is lychee! I just learned today that lychee are called alligator strawberries in the South. Aunty says her lychee trees produced mature fruit two months earlier than previous years. Last year we had a dismal crop, and it was ready early July. This year we have plenty, and there’s even plenty that we can reach. AND we finally bought a telescopic pruner with the cut-and-hold feature. We used to have one that we used for many years, but we left it out in the coffee land one time and it got lost. I don’t think it will miraculously reappear like Hubby’s reading glasses did one year after apparently getting buried. We always looked at stores for a replacement extension pruner (critically, with the cut-and-hold feature), but no place ever had them. We recently got it at our local shop, Farm & Garden, and they said that every time they get them, they fly out of the shop.

Now I don’t have to run around and catch the falling fruit cut from our other inferior extension pruner. The new pruner can hold the cut branch and the fruit gets gently lowered. No fruit falling from high above and splitting and splatting.

Our first harvest was motivated by our friend who wanted to bring frozen lychee home to California. Yes, you’re allowed to, as long as the fruit is frozen solid when it goes through the agricultural check at the airport. The fruit defrosts nicely, too. I might slightly prefer almost-completely thawed fruit to fresh fruit. It’s like a frozen treat. It’s similar to how thawing frozen grapes sometimes satisfy better than fresh grapes.

Post-picking tasks are to trim the stem as close to the fruit as possible, or stems might puncture other fruit when they’re altogether. Sort any fruit with cracked skin into a separate box. We soak the fruit in a bucket with a little bit of dish detergent, rinse them, drain them in our largest colander, then lay them out in shallow boxes to dry. The cracked fruit get immediately peeled, de-seeded and eaten or frozen. The rest are good to eat, share with others, or freeze.

And you can’t really judge our fruit from its external appearance. With our tree, some of the fruit have large seeds and some have small. So a small fruit might actually have more flesh to eat than a big one. Hubby and I have different philosophies on freezing lychee. I like to freeze the whole fruit with the peel. He likes to peel and remove the seeds. My way takes up a lot more room in the freezer, but it’s easy to take out just a few to thaw. Hubby’s way is more space efficient, but you have to defrost the entire package, and then you just have days to eat a lot of defrosted lychee, which don’t have a nice shape. His way is a good way to deal with a lot of fruit whose skin crack during the harvest. We shouldn’t have that problem as much with our cut-and-hold pruner.

Photos below are from our friends, except the ones showing seeds:

I’ll close with a link for six summer coffee cocktails since summer solstice is this week. Note to those who recently deposited an empty bottle of Aperol in our recycling bin, there’s an Aperol coffee cocktail recipe. To me, the recipe and the photo of the cocktail don’t seem that appealing (other than the recipe being simple), but report back if you make it. If any of you have a good lychee cocktail recipe, please share. Happy summer!