Coffee and pigs — ready fo’ pick off

We had a nice, big coffee picking last week, with many pickers working over two days. We use an Estrada wet mill from Colombia to wet mill the coffee the same day it’s picked. Water and machinery free the seeds from the skins and fruit. The seeds (coffee) sit in a fermentation tank overnight, then the next morning they’re raked out to dry on a covered deck before being mechanically finish-dried later that day or the next day. The end result is parchment. The parchment is put in burlap bags and the scant moisture is allowed to even out for weeks/months before it eventually gets dry milled into green (unroasted) beans.

In case you didn’t realize, we post a variety of photos about coffee and scenes from our farm on Instagram and Facebook. The bottom of each page of our website has a little camera icon (Instagram) & F icon (Facebook) which you can select if you want to follow us. Recently I’ve been sharing photos of the pigs on our land, which we’ve finally been seeing at night and around sunset.

It has been a real parade of pigs lately. One night it was like a movie. Pig noises woke me up, so I peered out the window. I saw a bright flashlight beam (my neighbor cousin’s) wildly moving about, then I heard and saw a spotlighted pig run down the coffee road next to our bedroom. Then I saw the beam quickly move back up the hill, dart about, then repeat. I heard and saw in the flashlight beam another pig run down the road. Then another. I got up and went to our lanai with our bright flashlight and shined it on the road and in the coffee land. Pigs trying to hide throughout the land.

There was a pause in the action, and I went back to bed. When I heard more pig noises, I went out again to look. There was a gang of eight pigs defiantly holding their ground on the coffee road. Then I saw two separate spotlights (my cousins) coming down the road. I heard something land nearby — my cousins had thrown something at them. Finally, the pig gang scattered.

Hubby slept through it all and had no idea. The next day I suggested we collect a bucket of rocks to keep on our lanai so we’d have something to scare them with. We also researched hunting rules and licenses, air guns, slingshots, rock chuckers, crossbows, bows and arrows, electric fences, etc. We personally don’t want to kill them, but they are destructive and a nuisance, and they are most definitely not welcome here. And there are too many!

The next day at sunset, we wanted to take pictures of the rain over the ocean. We immediately saw pigs! Within 15 minutes we saw about 14 pigs, in four different groupings, traversing and lingering on our land. The next evening, we went out looking for pigs, but we caught the sunset. It’s like life, you’re searching for A, then B shows up. Look for B, you see A. Moral: keep your eyes and ears open and be prepared for anything. OINK! Or rather … loud, sharp groinking bark!

Finally! The excuse you needed to eat fewer fresh, raw veggies

There’s a disease that got a lot of media attention a few years ago. When I was researching a bit more, I was surprised to learn it is endemic in Hawaii, but has only been a reportable disease since 2007. And it has been documented as a parasitic disease of humans in Hawaiʻi and other Pacific islands since the early 1960’s. I had been under the impression it was a fairly new problem.

It involves rats, primarily Rattus rattus and Rattus norvegicus. Those Norwegians!

In those first 10 years of reporting, 2007-2017, Hawaii health officials identified 82 cases of rat lungworm disease, two of which were fatal. In both 2020 and 2021, each year there have been two reported cases on Hawaii island. In other words, it’s a very small risk, but it captured our imaginations once the media shined its spotlight. I know people who avoided salads or couldn’t stop the mental chatter, hesitating, if they ate one. “Hope I don’t get rat lungworm.”

[Aside: I’ve read a few non-fiction books that elaborate on many scenarios which illustrate how poor we humans are at understanding true risk. I highly recommend Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow for examples. I recall the motorcyclist I saw riding with his COVID cloth mask on and no helmet.]

Rat lungworm disease, or angiostrongyliasis, is caused by Angiostrongylus cantonensis, a parasitic nematode passed by infected rats in their feces. Snails, slugs, and other intermediate hosts might eat the larvae, and humans might inadvertently eat the parasite by eating a raw or undercooked intermediate host.

In any case, all this buildup to my personal story. We started to get a lot of slugs in our courtyard garden, which includes some edibles. The University of Hawaii’s CTAHR (College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources) is my go-to credible resource for all things agricultural. They have a four-page document about how to manage slugs, snails, etc.

I decided to hand-harvest the slugs, which is supposed to be a surprisingly effective technique. They say not to touch them with your hands. So I was out using disposable wooden chopsticks and putting them in my salt solution to kill both the slugs and any rat lungworm larvae.

It was astounding to see how many we had! Once you get into it, you begin to see where they eat, hang out, hide, etc. And you can’t see one without adding it to your disgusting slug soup. I’d puff out an exasperated sigh and go after the one, and then, of course, I’d see others. There were a few times I was tardy to meals because I was picking slugs. One friend said I should compose a photo with this lovely dish, with a nice place setting and salt & pepper on the side. Another friend said I could dry them and sell them to certain cooks.

I hadn’t even realized they were completely munching away one of our ornamentals. I hadn’t been closely watching, but it was dying off. Perennials sometimes do that, so I thought it was just part of the cycle. After I picked tens of slugs off it, after two weeks the greenery has been returning. The slugs weren’t fond of the ornamental with the blue flowers behind the rescued plant in the foreground.

To touch on another pet topic of mine … wild pigs. I think they’ve taken up residence here and/or at my neighbor cousins’. We hear their dogs barking and we see their spotlights on at weird times of night. We hear the pigs, too. Recently we’ve been hearing them when we’re still awake, so now we’ve seen them. Big, black. And last night the cat alerted us by her rapt attention to something outside. We went out to investigate, and she promptly scampered under the bed. Scary monsters! A family of five were on the coffee road right next to our bedroom. Not fond of the bright flashlight, they scampered into the high weeds.

On the coffee front, real picking is happening right now. Real, as in a nice, sizable amount of coffee. The earlier two pickings were 100-ish and 200-ish pounds, respectively. That’s fresh fruit, mind you. We just had to get that little bit of ripe fruit off the trees. That’d end up as about 30 pounds roasted, probably less, because the quality of the first fruit isn’t as good. But now it’s that time of year when the coffee farms will all be getting busy.

Yet one last different topic … this pandemic. School’s back in session for a few weeks now, and our end-of-summer holiday, Labor Day, is coming up. It was around our mid-summer holiday, July 4, when I wrote a blog post about emerging from the pandemic. I was feeling optimistic then. Life felt like it was expanding, and now it feels like it’s contracting.

How quickly things changed. Hawaii is experiencing its worst number of COVID cases of this entire pandemic and the ICU bed availability situation is, or is becoming, critical. Mayor Roth has requested approval from Governor Ige for stricter COVID-19 restrictions. Our allowed indoor and outdoor gathering sizes have shrunk. Some activities have been shutting down again. Ironman Kona is postponed for a third time. We won’t be returning to the stricter restrictions of early 2020, but a different flavor of them. Our in-laws canceled their plans to visit us; the US still isn’t allowing Norwegians in. It’s feeling more difficult to keep on keeping on, to do our collective kuleana (loose translation, responsibility) in safely getting through this situation, physically, mentally, and economically.

One day at a time — this is enough. Do not look back and grieve over the past for it is gone; and do not be troubled about the future, for it has not yet come. Live in the present, and make it so beautiful it will be worth remembering.

Ida Scott Taylor

What’s going on now, and where are we heading?

Hawaii state’s climate and sustainability. Here on the farm, August started with three days in a row without rain. That hasn’t happened since mid-April. We only had three days without rain in all of July, so those dry days were very welcome. We’ve since had some more sun and a few more days without rain.

We had some young visitors from California, however, who thoroughly enjoyed the days with late afternoon, warm rain. I looked out to see one with her face to the sky, arms outstretched, appearing as if she was reveling in the miracle of rain. This post’s photo is the 14 gallons of water they collected in a spontaneous hour of creative water play, gathering it from our rain chains and downspouts. I did a little disgusting slug collection in our courtyard garden with wooden chopsticks and ended up wet, too, but not drenched like them. We said they should take all that water home with them to California.

I had recently written about fires in areas experiencing drought here on the island, while we’re having some record rainfall. At the time I wrote about one in early July, and there had been one in early June. Then July 30 another one started, which is the largest fire ever on the Big Island, covering the Hāmākua and South Kohala Districts, that scorched over 40,000 acres. It ended up burning for over a week, and evacuations were ordered July 31 and August 1, including Waikoloa Village, because of dangerous winds. In the end, I believe property/home damage was fairly minimal, especially given the amount burned. It didn’t impact us much here. We could smell smoke on a few days, and at least one day looked like the old voggy days of past and created an unusual sunset. But in general, the winds weren’t carrying the smoke this way.

Over a month ago Governor Ige passed bills that are attempting to meet some of the goals of the state’s 2050 Sustainability Plan. Three of the measures were agricultural related, e.g., mandating incremental increases in locally produced food products purchased by state agencies, a state program, and schools.

Lastly, also related to the delicate ecosystem topic, here’s an article reporting on research that bees might be even more important to coffee than previously suspected.

Because arabica coffee plants are self-pollinating, the effects of bees and other pollinating insects on crop yield has historically been undervalued. 

To end this post on the status with our coffee, we’ve already had our first harvests for the season, two small ones. The majority of the trees still have green beans. We aren’t yet looking out and seeing lots of bright red cherry.

He keiki aloha nā mea kanu.

Beloved children are the plants.

It is said of farmers that their plants are like beloved children, receiving much attention and care.

Several weeks ago I happened to meet the man I believe is the individual responsible for turning a small plot of land, perhaps 10 square feet, into a little edible oasis. A pocket garden. I have watched this little lot on the corner of the public parking lot off of Kuakini, near Kalikala Cuisine and the Fish Hopper, undergo an amazing transformation. It used to be hard, barren dirt, with trash tossed into it, old clothes, an occasional errant slipper, you name it. I don’t even recall when this transformation began. There are now a lot of edibles packed into that pocket garden. There are papaya trees bearing fruit, taro, turmeric, a citrus tree, and probably more edibles, and ornamentals.

I happened to catch the man when he had dug up all his taro, which were piled to the side, and he was replanting them to the center of the lot, as shown in the photo. I still haven’t figured out when the taro produce a sizable root to eat. I asked him what he knew about it. He answered, “Google told me it’s about 200 days.”

We chatted a while with him about how impressed I was with what he had done to that little lot, a little Garden of Eden. If I recall correctly, he brought 20 bags of planting soil from Home Depot. He was very humble and seemed to have a “do what I can” attitude.

I told my friend about meeting him. She seems to know the people and back story on many things here. She said, “That must be Kawika.” I should have asked him his name and asked to take his picture. He might be homeless and living on Niumalu Beach or at that corner. He, his spirit, and his actions inspire me. He’s making the world a better place, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential the gesture. He brings beauty and food where there was barren, disrespected land, and his care and love is so visible.

How do you farm with climate change and drought?

First of all, no drought here in Kona. June, as with May, broke monthly rain records, and we’re well above average for year-to-date rainfall. We had about 10 inches of rain in June. Compare that with Waikoloa, a 45 minute drive north, “… 141% of average rainfall during June with 0.89 inches falling during the month” as reported in West Hawaii Today‘s “June Juxtaposition” article. And elsewhere north of our coffee belt, it’s drying out. The Kohala districts are pretty arid, and that’s where the big, fancy resorts are. When people come from the mainland, they usually want reliably nice, sunny weather.

Even the New York Times has reported on Hawaii island’s drought and wildfires in its “How Bad Are U.S. Wildfires? Even Hawaii Is Battling a Surge.

Heavy rains encourage unfettered growth of invasive species, like guinea grass, and dry, hot summers make them highly flammable.

… the authorities in Hawaii also cite other factors that make Hawaii unique. Those include big shifts in rainfall patterns over the archipelago and tourism’s eclipse of large-scale farming in Hawaii’s economy, allowing nonnative plants to overtake idled sugar cane and pineapple plantations.

Not to mention idled coffee farms. I’ll remind you of some of our farm’s before and after photos, which wasn’t even an idled farm, it was just unkempt; someone was still picking coffee. Just imagine if all that growth didn’t get rain for months and baked in 80+ degree temperatures.

Here in the coffee belt, we ARE getting good rain now. But during the last years of the decades-long eruption cycle, there were some drought periods, many associated with El Niño and La Niña weather phases.

I am back to this post, having been lost in the (figurative) weeds trying to gain some type of general understanding about our weather. I got especially confused because the Hawaii weather experts essentially said La Niña weather phases brought MORE rain. Then they said the relationship between La Niña and rainfall changed, now La Niña is associated with LESS than average rainfall. And then things changed after 2018, perhaps because of the end of the eruption. AND, the Kona Coffee Belt is different than the rest of the island and state. So, I don’t really know. We in Kona are experiencing a lot of rain now, though.

This article, on the other hand, is an understandable, big picture description of Big Island weather. Maybe you don’t think you’re all that interested in our weather. But I do recommend the useful section in the article answering “What is the best time to visit the Big Island?”

Drought is the big news, though nothing new, for California. I’ve been completely baffled by the recent movement to plant coffee trees in California. Here’s a link to my February post. And here’s a link to the recent New York Times article, “It’s Some of America’s Richest Farmland. But What Is It Without Water?”

“Each time we have a drought you’re seeing a little glimpse into what will happen more frequently in our climate future,” said Morgan Levy, a professor specializing in water science and policy at the University of California, San Diego.

The last story was about a man who took over his father’s farm, switched from cotton to tomatoes, bought a factory to process tomatoes into tomato paste for ketchup, ripped out his highest value crop, almonds, and is now thinking of replacing most of his crops with a solar farm to harvest energy to sell back to the grid. Wow!

We have residential solar panels, but they’re not reaching their potential because we’re under rain and cloud cover so much of the time lately. Electricity is really expensive here, higher than any other US state, about $0.34/kwh. This article addresses just that Hawaii land-use conflict: agriculture vs. renewable energy.

And another loose connection to all of these topics, what about planting coffee in Florida? Makes more sense than in California.