Baby steps to diversify the farm, and a story

Life is going well so far this year with the coffee trees, so there isn’t a whole lot to report at this point. Weeding and managing weeds is where the most effort is going at the moment. It goes with the (rainy) season. You focus on one type of weed, regret that you weren’t more proactive, shake your head at the huge seed clusters and hope you’ve ripped them out in time. Wonder if you can still manage it purely manually without resorting to spraying, and persistently yank things out. Then you go to a different spot and wonder where all that other weed growth came from in just a couple of weeks, and how it managed to multiply so quickly. I mentally put a positive spin on it, “they’re sequestering carbon” and I rip them out and pile them on the ever-changing (growing and shrinking/decomposing) compost pile. This is located, regrettably (for aesthetics), yet practically, fairly close to the house entrance.

On the Master Gardener front … I discovered today that the third of four koai’a native tree seed germination attempts sprouted. Hurray! Two of the seeds were scarified, clipped with nail clippers; and two were just planted as is. One of my scarified seeds emerged in seven days. The second one to emerge was un-scarified at 1.5 months. Today’s is also unscarified and showed up at three months. I had given up on the last two but just left them alone in the tray, just getting natural rain and no other attention. Home Depot occasionally has native plants and trees for sale. Just last week I saw koai’a and a few other native trees for sale.

Our Criollo cacao seeds from a small-ish red pod that were planted a week ago are showing signs of emergence. We were recently at the Paleaku Peace Garden again, and I snapped a few photos of a different variety of cacao. The pod can grow right on the trunk and other major branches, not from stems, so I thought it might be interesting for you to see.

Here are a few interesting articles related to the agroforestry topic of my last post. Forecast Coffee is selling coffee grown in an agroforestry environment (not from Hawai’i, though). This other article talks about rain, coffee, and agroforestry, “To Make It Rain, Plant More Coffee Trees.”

Closing this post, I want to share that UH can now be labeled a nonagenarian. Congratulations, UH!! Nonagenarian is such a seldomly encountered word, when UH used it, we weren’t sure if that was the progression from septuagenarian and octogenarian, or if he was making it up. As in “non age” genarian.

UH loves mangos. I think again of the New York Times article, “‘Mango Man’ Is the Fruit’s Foremost Poet, Philosopher, Fan and Scientist.” An excerpt:

“We come, we eat mangoes, and we leave the world,” Mr. Khan said. “But as long as the world is there, this fruit will be there.”

Hubby used artificial intelligence tool Google Bard to come up with a special mango story on the occasion of UH’s milestone birthday. It’s pretty amusing, so I share it here:

“Uncle Harold, commonly known as UH, sat on a branch of the mango tree, looking out over the lush green countryside. He had been living in this village for many years, and he loved the peace and quiet of the place. The mango tree was his favorite spot in the village. He would often come here to sit and think, or to just enjoy the view.

Today, UH was enjoying the sight of the ripe mangoes hanging from the branches of the tree. He had been waiting for this moment for weeks, and he was finally able to pick some of the fruit. He carefully picked a mango and took a bite. The fruit was sweet and juicy, and UH savored the taste.

After he had finished eating the mango, UH sat back and closed his eyes. He took a deep breath of the fresh air and smiled. He was content with his life in this small village. He had everything he needed, and he was surrounded by people who loved him.

UH opened his eyes and looked at the mango tree again. He thought about all the years he had spent sitting under this tree, watching the seasons change. He had seen many things in his lifetime, but this tree had always been there for him. It was a symbol of his home, his family, and his community.

UH reached out and touched one of the mangoes. He smiled as he thought about all the good times he had shared with this tree. He knew that he would always cherish the memories of sitting under this tree, enjoying the peace and quiet of the countryside.”

The three keiki return, almost two years later

The keiki are nine years old now, and they visited at a different time of year. They were disappointed that there weren’t any lychee to pick. (I’m happy, however, to see how much lychee we will get in three or four months, since last year was so sparse.) I had to review my post about their last visit before I wrote this one.

This year hubby got right to it the day they arrived and started on a high note … riding in the truck bed and picking bananas. Towards the end of their last visit and this visit, I had the kids tell me their Top 5 list of trip highlights. We’ve noticed that the most recent activities often bumped earlier activities off. But bananas were the first thing mentioned by two of the three kids, and bananas stayed on the list and even appeared twice on one child’s. The brother said something to the tune of, “You’re wasting your Top 5 since you have bananas twice: bananas and throwing banana peels. I just have bananas which covers picking and throwing.” He was the one who didn’t like a Top 5 list; he wanted to have Top 10 (which they also gave me).

The day before they left, during lunch hubby ate a banana and threw the peel from our lānai into the coffee land. There’s gravel below the lānai and a rough rock ledge that separates the house area from the coffee land. The goal is to throw the peel beyond the gravel and ledge so we don’t have to see yellow peels all around. If your peel doesn’t make it, you have to go down and throw it over the ledge. This “activity” was a hit. The kids kept eating more bananas so they could throw the peels. Who would’ve thunk this would be a top activity in Hawai’i?

This one had a long conversation on her banana flip phone, concluding with, “OK, bye. I’m about to peel my phone.” Then threw her peel over the railing.

We had a little break in the middle of their visit when they went to see Volcano National Park and the east side of the island. I, too, saw the east side of the island. It was Merrie Monarch week in Hilo! It was the 60th anniversary of this week-long cultural festival centered around hula. I had always wanted to go, but somehow hadn’t managed it. Tickets aren’t easy to come by, crowds, the COVID-19 disruption, etc. Luckily, Reiko wanted company to drive to Hilo and back, so she scored a ticket to the ho’ike portion of the festival for me, the only non-competitive night of dancing, the night before the competitions start. Ho’ike tickets used to be free, but now they are a whopping $5. Tickets were available on a day in February starting at 9am, first-come, first-serve, limit of two per person. Reiko had driven 1.5 hours, lined up at 5am and waited for four hours. Merrie Monarch is a BIG DEAL.

In any case, for the ho’ike day, I just put my life in her hands. I drove, but whatever she wanted to do, I just went along. She was familiar with the whole scene. I was completely new, so any experience would be my learning experience. I had very few expectations and had a great time. This was contemporary Hawaiian culture and fashion. Inside and outside the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium were many vendor stands selling crafts, clothing, shell leis, fresh flower/greenery leis, hula equipment, food, books, books completely in Hawaiian, etc. And there was a constant line-up of live performances.

It was great to be there with Reiko. She knows what’s what and who’s who. Without her, I would have only picked up a fraction of what was going on. She kept pointing out or introducing people to me (famous, older kumu; her former hula brother; son of the fashion founder who’s a swimmer, etc.), hugging/kissing, talking story with people in English or Japanese, and singing! She loves to sing along, loudly, gesticulating. She warned me. She said I might not want to sit with her. She’s such a character! She’s the one who clued me in that Melveen Leed had just sung during the day at the Civic Auditorium. “She’s REALLY FAMOUS!!” she said. I just looked confused and ignorant. She told me to tell my mom. THEN I finally realized who Melveen was. My mom would play her songs and talk about her when I was young.

Reiko felt I was wearing too much black, and I really needed a lei. She kept asking if she could buy me a lei. She’s so generous. The majority of my lei po’o (head lei) was comprised of ‘a’ali’i, dodonaea viscosa, in the soapberry family. My lei was definitely the best part of my outfit.

A little Master Gardener public service aside: ‘A’ali’i is one of many native flowers that are increasingly being used instead of lehua, the red blossoms of the ʻōhiʻa tree. Lehua is highly culturally significant, associated with Pele, the volcano goddess, among other gods. There were many public service announcements on the radio during Merrie Monarch week about NOT transporting any plant matter associated with ʻōhiʻa. Rapid ʻōhiʻa death, ROD, is a fungal disease which is rapidly killing this most ecologically and culturally significant native tree. This 2016 article from Hawaii Magazine talks about the issue.

We lined up at the Edith Kanaka’ole Multi-Purpose Stadium for the ho’ike one and a half hours ahead of time. By then the line was already wrapped around most of the stadium and on the opposite side of the entrance. The people watching was great. I didn’t notice any tourist aloha shirts or patterns. People were wearing Wahine Toa, Livinghula, Kaulua’e and such designer lines. I find them to be bold, graphic, contemporary designs expressing indigenous values of Hawaiian culture.

I found this 2019 article, a few years old at this point, which touches on the next generation of Hawaiian designers. I hardly know anything about fashion or Hawaiian fashion, but I know I just saw the largest group of people modeling it than I’ve seen before. We live in the country. Hawai’i island is not O’ahu. Sorry, I didn’t take pictures in line. I’m a person that snaps a few photos at once at some point, then I’m done. Usually someone else takes more photos than me, and I’d rather just experience things.

I grew up in California, but even I have danced hula. So far I’ve danced hula in three periods: for a few years from age 5 with Nonosina’s Polynesian Dance Studio in Southern California; at UC Berkeley for the Hawaii Club’s annual  lūʻau; and in the late 90’s with two different hālaus in the San Francisco Bay Area. Check out this crazy long list of hālaus in just the San Francisco Bay Area. If you’re not familiar with an activity, you may find it shocking how many people/organizations might do it and practice/train to a surprising extent.

Fast forward. This post and these stories are getting long. After we were reunited with our visitors, we enjoyed a few evenings of watching the Merrie Monarch group competitions on TV. After it was all over, we had a morning when we made ti leaf leis. It was fun and relevant after having seen so many different type of lei and adornments on the dancers. While we were busy making leis, one of the adults were looking up which groups had won what categories.

The kids made leis for their grandparents, for three kids they were going to visit afterward, and just followed their creative impulses. To the tune of two long leis, the longest was 14 feet. I thought we had gathered way too many leaves, but they used them all and wanted even more.

I have since learned (from Reiko, of course) that a group is trying to set the Guinness record for longest lei. The standing record is 3.11 miles long, and they’re aiming for 5 miles. Too bad the kids have left.

In any case, back to the kids’ Top 5 lists. Here were this trip’s common items:

  • Bananas (picking; throwing peels)
  • Volcano (hikes, climbing lava rocks)
  • Spending time with a different local family, with kids

Two mentions of: Keiki museum

One mention each of: swimming; our cat’s tricks; relaxing/hanging out with everyone

I’ll close with a photo of our last evening when we watched the kids so mom and dad could enjoy a romantic dinner alone. Sunset pizza picnic at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Park. The kids didn’t seem to suffer.

Field trip to Pōhakuloa Training Area

It has been a whirlwind two weeks. Sometimes a lot happens in many areas of our lives’ activities, all in a short timeframe. I use the adjective “bursty.” For this post, I’m just going to focus on our Master Gardener field trip and a little photo montage of the burst of coffee flowering we got right before Easter, thanks to some decent rain at the end of a mostly dry March.

We have almost completed our Master Gardener training. It has been tremendously interesting. Though we haven’t graduated, our class has already been invited to join the monthly meetings of the “real” Master Gardeners. April was special since we had an invitation to visit the Pōhakuloa Training Area, commonly referred to as PTA, on the Daniel K. Inouye Highway (Saddle Rd.), between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. From the army’s website, “PTA provides a quality joint/combined arms facility that provides logistics, public works, airfield support, and environmental and cultural stewardship in support of the U.S. Army Pacific training strategy while maintaining an enduring partnership with the local Hawaiian community.”

Apparently there is a Natural Resource Program at PTA that manages threatened and endangered species. I found this old article from 2010 about PTA in particular. To get on the Master Gardener visitor list, we had to provide our full names as they appear on our government-issued ID. And if we came by car, the driver had to have all the various paperwork (vehicle registration, safety check paperwork, and proof of insurance).

It was raining pretty steadily, so we only got to see the greenhouse. Still, I found what the PTA Botanic Program Manager talked about fascinating. I didn’t take notes, so I can’t remember it all. We were provided with a book about the plants at the end. I was hoping it would’ve explained more about the program. The book is from 1997, but most of the information still applies. The species count have probably changed.

There were a few plants that had official signs listing their status as Threatened or Endangered. I was imagining the signs were for when high level military, state or federal government visitors came to look at the work being done. The Botanic Program Manager is actually an employee of Colorado State University. The “Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands (CEMML) has supported military readiness and resource conservation on federal lands.”

The plants themselves didn’t look all that impressive. Many looked weedy. In the photo gallery below, there’s a photo of schiedea hawaiienesis. I found this description on a governmental site, “Schiedea hawaiiensis (ma ̄ ‘oli’oli), a short-lived perennial herb in the pink family (Caryophyllaceae), is known only from the island of Hawai’i (Wagner et al. 2005c, pp. 92-96). Historically, S. hawaiiensis was known from a single site between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea mountains in the montane dry ecosystem (Hillebrand 1888, p. 33; Wagner et al. 2005c, pp. 92-96).”

There is a LOT of red tape for the plants. They have to get permission for what they plant out on the PTA grounds and when. None of the plant matter is allowed off the grounds. They don’t want any of the plants to cross breed, dilute their genetic material, or develop outside of their native habitat. One of our fellow Master Gardeners shared with me that she had worked in a commercial greenhouse, so it was really interesting for her to be in a greenhouse with a completely different purpose and important mission.

The manager had to very carefully observe these plants. What makes them thrive or fail to thrive? When do they flower and produce seed? How long can they be in the greenhouse environment? What do they need when they’re planted out? What are the dangers out in the big world? They sometimes have to clear some areas to plant their greenhouse babies. And they have to go back out in the field to check on them on some periodic basis. He also talked a bit about the extensive fencing they have that keeps out the ungulates. Well, it’s a military training site, so they have to keep all kinds of things out, like civilians.

I’ll close with some coffee photos from April 7. This year’s fruit looks so much more bountiful than last year’s, and the blossoming season isn’t yet over. Yay!

Two tropical forests, six miles apart: a cloud forest and a dry forest

I’ll start with the bad news … you might already know if you’re on our mailing list. We are already out of coffee. Somehow that point snuck up on us. Orders are bursty — sometimes we get onesie-twosie orders, then we get a lot of orders. That, and the small amount we got during the second dry milling, caught us a bit off guard. We have enough to fulfill our subscriptions, but that is about it. We won’t have coffee until late October/November. That’s our predicament (and most Kona coffee farmers) this year. We have to just roll with it.

On another note, we had a field trip with our Master Gardener class last week. We went to the Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary. I think the passion project sanctuary has been reinventing itself as they transition from management by the visionary/founder, Norm Bezona, to his children and grandchildren. Now a 70-acre forest sanctuary, it started with the first purchase of 20 acres, 15 of which was deforested pasture land at the time. They do a nice job explaining why this narrow cloud forest band, approximately 8 miles x 50 miles, is so special, all thanks to the volcano we live on, Hualālai. (The Kona Coffee Belt is a similar size, but lower in elevation).

Apparently Norm says there’s a four letter word that starts with a W. He has an issue with it. It’s not a bad word in my mind, and I use it all the time: weed!! He challenged others in the past to come up with a better (euphemistic) description. It was long and started with “pioneer species” [blah blah]. I asked, “What about autograph trees and African tulips?” He had an answer, but what I recall is he said that autograph trees withstand fire better than other trees and both trees help reduce carbon. And he did briefly mention plants have to be planted in appropriate places and they can be invasive in some environments (i.e., here).

We did about a mile stroll through part of their sanctuary. We started by spraying the soles of our shoes with diluted alcohol to help against the dreaded Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death. We were lucky the weather was nice. It can often be foggy or rainy up there. It was lovely to be amongst a variety of plants and tall trees and to hear all the birdsong, including the racket of their resident, caged rescued macaws.

Coincidentally, Hubby and I had a tour of Joseph Rock Arboretum lined up for a few days later. It’s only about six miles downhill from the Cloud Forest Sanctuary. This is a 48-acre native Hawaiian dry forest gem tucked away in the heart of Kona, at about 650 feet elevation. Very different than the Cloud Forest. This passion project is at its early stages as opposed to the Cloud Forest Sanctuary at about 40 years. This story map of the Joseph Rock Arboretum is very informative and well done.

A little blurb from the website about Jill Wagner, who has taken on a Herculean task in my mind:

As the founder of Future Forests Nursery on Hawaiʻi Island, and the founding director of the Hawaiʻi Island Seed Bank; reforestation and seed banking are my life’s work, which involves a deep commitment to supporting the health of our planet. I believe that communities should lead their forestry projects and receive the support they need to nurture new forests and keep existing forests standing for future generations. I have been doing native forest restoration in various ecosystems for 28 years.

Jill has only had this land parcel for a few years, and she didn’t even know exactly what she had since most of it was covered in invasive haole koa, like so much of our undeveloped land. She is restoring the dry forest. I didn’t take notes while we were there, and I just snapped a few photos at the end of our visit. There was a LOT to take in, so I just assumed I wouldn’t absorb it all. I wanted to listen, not take photos and notes, and get my overall impression, and it’s a place I’d like to return to many times. Please keep in mind that these notes here might not be completely accurate. I’m trying to recall the story and verifying what I can online.

She has a grant to plant 1000 plants and trees in a certain portion of her land. She took us on a tour in the golf cart and pointed out many of the different trees. She doesn’t subscribe to the 1-5 tree types to reforest land. Her approach has evolved with decades of work and study, attending international conferences, and learning from others. She believes in biodiversity.

In a different dry forest section, plants have formal labels. It’s part of the arboretum accreditation requirements, things like a minimum number of species, labels, a map, and a database. I very much appreciated the labels. It brought to life various lectures we’ve had in Master Gardeners. I recognized names and traits. It’s nice to observe them in real life and to see their growth habits. All plants get kind of normalized when they’re fit in a photo if they don’t have something else in the photo to give it size perspective.

Also on site is the Hawaiʻi Island Seed Bank, containing millions of seeds from across the island. It’s an off-grid, solar-powered, climate- and humidity-controlled container. She’s working on being able to completely specify how to replicate a seed bank, also thinking of challenges in developing countries. This helps her plant her own property and saves material for the future. Standard refrigerator/freezer units are used to help simplify establishing a seed bank.

I’ll repeat the factoids I learned in our first Master Gardener class, illustrating the need for a seed bank:

Definition: 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.

I hadn’t thought about it, but if people want to do large-scale reforestation, where do you get the trees and plants to be planted? Many might want to have their own seed bank and nursery. Adjacent to the Hawaiʻi Island Seed Bank is another non-profit endeavor, Future Forests, the plant nursery. The germinating seeds and seedlings are in the greenhouses. In this quickly taken photo, at the very back you can only see a portion of the entrance to the seed bank trailer. Not visible are the hardening (getting used to fresh air and sun) seedlings between that second greenhouse and the seed bank.

This is important work. If you or someone you know might be interested, they do offer four-week internships that can be paid or work trade.