Bea’s Backyard in the Fall of 2023

It’s Thanksgiving week. I’m sure you’ve thought that gratitude doesn’t have to be tied to turkey, November, or solicitations to donate to too many worthy causes. I personally struggle with allowing myself to get, or at least feel, too busy, often in the November to January timeframe. This year many things, many one-time events, all seemed to fall around the same time. My friends often hear me complain that I get busy in bursts.

I took time out for a one-day silent retreat, and I was very present for that dedicated time. Interestingly, almost as soon as I returned home, I got mentally caught up in all I had to do, things pushed around by blocking off the time for the retreat, and I felt grouchy. I noticed and felt something in the direction of personal failure, but I reasoned with myself that it was yet another lesson. Next time I need to plan in advance for some gentle transition time.

It reminds me of when I regularly meditated at a center that had trees in the parking lot. They were each protected by sturdy, encircling protective metal cages. There were signs at every nearby parking spot to be mindful of the trees. I had been going for many months. One day after several hours of meditation starting at 5:30am, I pulled out of the parking lot and heard a surprising, jarring, loud thunk and scrape. I had hit a metal tree cage and left a scrape and dent in the car door. Whenever I’d later see that damage, it was a visual reminder to strive to be ever mindful, and it takes constant effort.

We are off island to celebrate Thanksgiving with Bea and bro. We spent about 2.5 hours at LAX (Los Angeles airport) last night, a Sunday, waiting to get to Mom’s. An accident happened after bro was on I-105 coming to get us. They completely closed a section of freeway, and traffic was crawling inch by inch. When my brother finally got near the airport, he was stuck in a tunnel for 20 minutes. He was afraid it was going to be like when he & Bea returned to LAX and had to wait for Bea’s neighbor to reach them. It had taken over two hours from that same under-runway tunnel to where they were waiting curbside. We strategized on the fly, resulting in Hubby and I walking, wheeling luggage, about 15-20 minutes, to get off the airport property and on to a neighboring street where we finally got into the car. Welcome to LA!

I compensated by touring the Garden of Bea this morning, marveling at a fraction of what I can notice and identify that she has growing. I’m always amazed that with all she has, she still knows what pots she has which seedlings in. She doesn’t lose track of her plant babies.

I’ll end with a little clarification about subscribing to our coffee. In the marketing email I recently sent I said, “If you’d like to subscribe at $40/pound, please let me know before January 1, 2024.  Minimal commitment is one pound every three months.” I also reminded you that for shipments over five pounds to one U.S. address, shipping is free. Thank you to the leaders and organizers amongst you who’ve organized a quarterly group subscription shipment to one address, saving you all shipping fees.

We’d prefer a subscription be (a) for a minimum of a one pound bag and (b) a shipment every three months or sooner. We have surprisingly high packaging costs, which is why our half-pound bag costs more than half a one-pound bag. If you choose a subscription that involves half-pound units, it would be $22/half-pound bag.

I want to make a subscription something that works for both of us, so if you’re looking for some other frequency, just ask. What works for you?

Enjoy your Thanksgiving week, reflecting on what you’re personally thankful for, and may you be with, or hold in your hearts, those you love.

Photos from August 28 (& 27)

It’s 12:30pm Monday, August 28, a beautiful day, but evolving. Most of this month, we’ve been getting a little bit of rain each day, sometimes nothing measurable, a lot of 1/16-1/4-inch days, and not even half an inch in any one August day. This is low for August. But it’s enough to keep the plants satisfied, and not so much that weeds completely take over.

When we look at the land, towards the ocean, we see a lot of yellow now. It looks like the coffee tree leaves are yellowing. But it’s actually a lot of coffee berries in the yellow stage, going from green to red. There’s a lot of fruit. Yay!

The pigs have been around nightly. They’re very busy rototilling. Before, it was just below the house. Lately it has been by the road, just above the house. They’re not ripping many plantings out, but a few. They’ve rototilled so well that there’s lots of loose, rich soil, so we just reposition/replant the toppled plants and add the soil we often have difficulty getting to.

On an ornamental, impractical note: orchids. Each of the Hawaiian islands has a nickname, and the Big Island is known as the “Orchid Isle.” Many years ago in California, I used to feed the orchids I had with the pink or the blue food, according to the growing or flowering season, and I’d rarely get blossoms. I consulted Bea who said I was probably giving them too much attention. She said to ignore them. And maybe they just needed more bright, indirect light. From that point on, I stopped feeding altogether and experimented with getting them more appropriate light. And it worked! Lesson learned: fuss less. Get the plants that can thrive, or at least live, with my care.

Here in Hawai’i I had my orchids where I really did ignore them and many blossomed. But I moved them to the courtyard about two years ago when we had a long dry spell. I can better notice them if they’re in our courtyard. I’m so happy that many, and many different varieties, have been blossoming. There were a few sad casualties of special orchid plants given to me by the kupuna man who often displays his spectacular blossoming plants at the Daifukuji altar.

Yesterday the Daifukuji Orchid Club had their first sale since pre-COVID. Doors opened at 8am. I was planning to be there at least 15 minutes early but didn’t manage it. When we arrived, parking was already pretty full. At 8:04 we got in line, and estimated there were 40-50 ahead of us. It made me so happy to visit a small club’s show and sale. You can get varieties you can’t easily find, and you get good value.

We picked up a box and collected various plants we wanted to buy. I didn’t expect really inexpensive (most were $5/piece) handmade pottery, too (plates to set a pot on, pots, etc.). We just quickly filled our box, taking pictures of the image/info on the plants we bought (many didn’t have blossoms), paid, and put them in the car. Then we went back to see the showcased orchids. Here are a few photos from the event to get a visual taste.

The club has nice t-shirts, too. I love the orchid drawing on the back so much, years ago I bought one for Bea. And then a few years later, I had forgotten about it, and bought her another one. Ha ha!!

Lastly, some updates and a few photos of some non-coffee plants. Between the two of us, we have at least one plant from each of the many Master Gardener seed germination trials we did back in February. Even one of my ho’awa seeds is still surviving. We were told the ho’awa seeds would take approximately nine months to germinate. We each planted 18. Hubby’s came up a few months before mine, and he got and still has five. I got two after six months, and now one disappeared (I think something ate it). We harvested two little pineapples grown in pots in our courtyard (pigs dig them out of the ground outside). They were tiny but delicious. The purple sweet potato (started from one store-bought potato that got ignored in the pantry and sprouted) had been doing very well. It has been a great ground cover in two spots in the courtyard. We had occasionally eaten the greens from the plant tips. And it kept away another pesty ground cover weed that tended to take over. Like I’ve mentioned before, I think of it all as a learning process.

2:15pm … now there are gray skies and light rain.

Beginning my Master Gardener volunteer hours

Farmers have been picking coffee on their farms, but it’s not yet in full swing. We’ve had our first picking a few weeks ago. The crew came and spent a few hours, and we had only one bag (about a hundred pounds of fruit). Soon it’ll be time for Round 2, which won’t be the peak yet either. The final selection of verticals for the block of trees that were stumped in February was recently done. Otherwise, it’s ground maintenance and monitoring for beetle and rust and controlling as needed. July wasn’t all that rainy. Well, it rained most days, except the four days around Tropical Storm Calvin, but it usually didn’t rain much.

Our Master Gardener class wrapped up in early May, but to be considered a Master Gardener you have to volunteer at least 40 hours doing approved plant activities, usually associated with non-profits, within a year of finishing the class work. I was hoping to find a regular activity, but haven’t yet identified what I’m going to do. I’ve done some one-off tasks, which have been interesting.

The Master Gardeners are partnering with local Sadie Seymour Botanical Gardens to update, identify, and clearly label what’s there. Bea says that Sadie Seymour was her childhood doctor’s wife. From my perspective there are many interesting places here that were probably passion projects at some point, but then if they aren’t kept up and sustainably funded and regularly maintained, they aren’t quite living up to their potential.

Teams of three went out in certain sections and placed a flagged stake by a plant, assigned it a number, and wrote down the number and identified plant name on our notepad. Our team members happened to each have a different plant ID application on our phones. We’d take a photo, use our respective app, cross-check it with the old written documentation, consult with each other, then write the plant name down. If we weren’t sure, we’d put a question mark near it. We’d also note other maintenance issues down (e.g., if something invasive had taken root nearby and had to be removed). I used the PictureThis app (which has a small cost) which was one of the apps recommended in our Master Gardener class. But after doing this plant ID task, I downloaded PlantNet again based on what one of my team members was seeing each time. It was a fun, social educational task.

The other volunteer task I did was air-layering ‘ulu (breadfruit) at the Amy Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden. I’ve never air layered anything, though I’ve peripherally watched my mom over the years and also her observing/helping UH. The air-layering was taught and done on one of the regular Saturday morning work periods at the Greenwell garden. The Garden Manager and volunteers were so friendly, and it’s a great opportunity to work amongst, not just learn from, experienced and knowledgable people. I really enjoy getting to know people by working with them, especially volunteer work, and everyone I met was friendly. I appreciated that mid-way we were told to take a break, and snacks were provided. It’s so useful to have someone ensuring you take a break. Once I’ve set my mind and suited up for yard work at home, I almost always overdo it. There’s always just a little more you want to get done.

It should take two to three months before these stems develop roots and can be cut and put in pots. We saw some failed attempts from earlier air-layering. The stems weakened and folded over at the stem wounds, i.e., the cuts we make and cover to encourage root growth. It looked like the earlier air-layering had been done slightly differently than the instructions we were given. I shared my concern/thought with the Garden Manager that we volunteers did all the air-layering, but we didn’t have the feedback whether what we each did worked. We learn by trying something, observing and learning the effects, and adapting accordingly. When I showed Bea this photo, she wasn’t worried about the stems developing roots, but was wondering how the remaining “tree” would fare afterward.

En route to the area where we worked on the ‘ulu, I found these purple sweet potatoes being grown. These makeshift contraptions were to keep wild pigs out. We all have to keep pigs in mind. This allows the potato slips to start growing without getting immediately uprooted. More soil gets added in later so they can grow in mounds. I’ll have to ask more details in a future visit.

I found this website addressing pigs and potatoes. I found this quote interesting, in the vein of making peace with the pigs:

Ala has employed the natural relationship between the pig and the potato. “I was taught from my Dad, his Dad and my great grandfather that we use the pigs to till the ground so it’s easier for me, so I don’t have to do all the hard work.  The pigs will till the ground—I will come behind, mound the ground, plant the sweetpotato cuttings and wait until the potatoes are ready, a good 3-4 months from planting. After harvesting, we will put the pigs back where the sweetpotato were. They will clean up whatever I missed, fertilize the ground and then I can plant more cuttings.”

It’s pretty clear from this photo where the pigs have tilled our land. Maybe we should mound the ground and plant potato slips …

A bonus to my morning at the Greenwell Garden was that I happened to be there on a day when a couple who volunteer planned to invite everyone for lunch at their nearby house afterward. They even came up to me to inform and invite me along. It was a fascinating group of people, including a few of their board members and kupuna (honored elders). So I lucked out! I’m so thankful for the hosts’ warm, generous hospitality. Such aloha spirit.

Do you know what an herbarium is?

A few months ago, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as an herbarium. And what I guessed was nothing like what it actually is. We went to the San Francisco Bay Area at the end of May for a few weeks. During that stay we had an opportunity to visit Stanford University’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve. I thought I knew where it was, and thought I had been there before, until I went. Turns out we used to regularly cycle (and sometimes drive) right around there, and I never had any idea what was there.

Our friend, Diane Renshaw, has been a docent there since 2008 and offered to take four of us on a little hike. She was a consulting ecologist with a lifelong interest (some might say obsession) with all aspects of the natural world.  I can’t wait till she someday visits us here. I’m positive my eyes would open more to what’s all around me.

I didn’t realize there’s a very nice Field Station on-site, which we quickly went through, including a large meeting room, office space, a kitchen (be aware that the fridge can be used for both food and for specimens, clearly indicate appropriately), and an herbarium. It also had a lot of picnic tables outside. I could imagine both meals for the students on field trips as well as outdoor parties for wealthy Stanford donors.

This granary tree just outside the field station caught my attention. Acorn woodpeckers busily bury their winter’s food supply, acorns, in the tree. Apparently there was so much rain earlier this year, some of those acorns sprouted in the trunk.

Below are scenes from the hike in gallery form before getting to the herbarium.

In answer to my question, a herbarium is a room or building that houses a systematically arranged collection of dried plants. According to Diane, “Herbaria are some of the oldest research tools that exist, dating back to the 16th century.  There are specimens collected personally by Darwin and other famous botanists still in herbaria around the world, and as you can imagine, herbarium specimens tell us a lot about plant distribution over time.  Unlike digital records, the physical specimens in herbaria can provide DNA samples, something you can’t get from a digital record.  Our collection at Stanford is quite modest compared to Harvard or Kew, e.g., but it’s a great local resource.”  

Here are just a few quick snapshots I took inside the herbarium. There were many more interesting things there, and we could have spent MUCH more time just exploring. It was fun to see it after having finished our Master Gardener class. I had more knowledge than before taking the class to better appreciate the herbarium.

When I told Diane that I wanted to write a short blog post mentioning the herbarium, she, unasked, went on a little plant nerd detour to find the type specimen of coffee for me. And, very kindly, described things for a lay person.

“Simplified explanation:  When a plant (or animal, or fossil, anything that ends up with a formal defined binomial scientific name) is first described in the literature, the collected specimen on which that description is based is designated the type specimen. Taxonomists and researchers can go look at that specimen for comparative purposes and decide if they have the same thing or perhaps they have a new, different species.

I thought it would be fun to look for the type specimen of Coffea arabica to see who collected it and where it came from.

With herbarium records widely digitized these days it was much easier to do this than it would have been 50 years, or even 10 years, ago.

I started at the GBIF (Global Biodiversity Information Facility) portal.  GBIF is an organization that is making scientific data of many sorts compatible and available on the internet.  

Starting at their search page I entered: “Coffea arabica L.”   The “L.” stands for Linnaeus, who first described the species, based on a specimen collected by someone else.

The results were interesting and confusing, not surprising given the long history and economic interest in this plant.  The GBIF search came up with two designated isotypes of coffee (isotype = collected at the same time and place as the type specimen) collected in 1884; both of those herbarium sheets are at the Natural History of London.  There is also a designated type specimen, collected later in 1927; that specimen is in the herbarium at the Missouri Botanical Garden.  

If I were a taxonomist I would now spend the rest of the day trying to figure out exactly what all this means, but I am most definitely not going to do that!  Instead, here are links so you can take a look at these venerable specimens — pretty amazing to be able to do this, I think — and perhaps compare your coffee plants with them.”

Thank you, Diane!

Weed whacker drafters; Seed updates

Weed whacking started last week and is just finishing up. Yay! We had some days when it started persistently raining pretty early in the day. Antonio is a conscientious, hard worker. Use the horizontal slider over the two photos below to compare before and after. They aren’t perfectly lined up, but you’ll get the idea.

Before (left) and after (right) weed whacking.

I saw a cattle egret drafting the weed whacker every time I glanced out over a period of hours. I’m not sure if it was the same egret. At the end of the day I saw around five egrets flying around, so I quickly snapped a photo. There were also an assortment of mynah birds nearby, drafting. I see one occasionally riding a pig, waiting for whatever it roots up. I saw a nature documentary with African cape buffalo and what I thought were mynah birds sitting on their backs. From looking on the internet, maybe those birds were oxpeckers, which are in the mynah family.

On the cacao front, we inherited a red cacao pod, of unknown variety, from our friends’ visit to Puna Chocolate Company. It was good timing for Take 2 of planting cacao by seed. Hubby removed the mucilage (the white pulp) from a few, but to plant by seed, simply gently agitating and rinsing off some of the mucilage is sufficient.

We’ve had an interesting development with our Master Gardener germination trials. Hubby has plant babies! This is the native tree, ho’awa, we were told would take NINE months to germinate! Now that Hubby has seedlings, I looked up more details in our Native Hawaiian Plants book, and it says the seeds can germinate between 3-9 months. I guess Master Gardeners gave us the worst case scenario. I had continued to keep mine covered with saran wrap to keep them moist. Hubby had abandoned the saran wrap cover well over a month ago, and was just letting them fend for themselves. I had a brief time when I removed the saran wrap, but then I started developing mossy green things on the soil surface (lots of spores or whatnot in our air), so I re-covered it.

For the ho’awa experiment, we planted nine seeds that were rinsed about 30 minutes in a diluted bleach solution then soaked overnight, and we planted nine seeds that were only soaked overnight, no bleach involved.  It has been four months already, and during that time we’ve both lost the line in permanent marker that separated the bleached from the not-bleached. We’re assuming the seedlings that came up were from the bleached seeds, though.

The germination trials were really interesting since we had two sets. We did slightly different things, and our results differed. Both our lettuce seeds germinated in moist paper towels in days, no problem. After they had two sets of leaves, Hubby planted his directly in the ground. I put most in seed starter pots and two directly in the ground in a different spot than Hubby’s. Most of Hubby’s lettuce grew and we could actually eat them. They’re now bolting. Mine all withered early on.

Three of four of my koai’a native tree seeds germinated; none of Hubby’s did. We think he overheated them by having them covered in saran wrap and in morning sun. Probably the same thing happened with his papaya seeds. I kept all my saran-wrap-covered pots in the shade.

My strawberry papaya are all doing well. The seeds that were soaked before planting are ahead of the unsoaked seeds. I need to plant them in the ground out in the land, though I think the biggest ones are kind of in the ground (went below the pot). The leftmost green pot is Hubby’s papaya seedling(s), next on the right is my dry seeds, and rightmost is the soaked seeds. Also pictured is our papaya picker. It just so happens I used it for small papayas (unfortunately with anthracnose spots). The picker works just fine with bigger papaya, too.

Since you might not be enthralled by plant minutiae or even the (new, never used) toilet plunger papaya picker, I’ll sign off with a photo of pretty latte art made for us by our Italian friend who mastered his skill at home during COVID. We didn’t really want cappuccini after noon (gasp! for Italians, cappuccino is typically enjoyed before or during breakfast), but we wanted him to make us a design. All this time I had assumed he was using a toothpick, but it’s all in the pour direction, angle, amount, speed, etc. Here’s an article I found about how to make latte art at home. I love fleeting, daily art. Grazie mille!