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Su Ba’s Community Farm Project - Adding Permaculture

 
pollinator
Posts: 2094
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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No-till experiment :

I started this little no-till project a couple on months ago. I’ve never had success with no-till before, but perhaps it was due to the soil type. So I was willing to try again.

Step 1 - pick the site. I didn’t have much choice in what site to use, but there were some considerations to take in. First, I wanted it to be easily accessible to myself. And it had to have water for irrigation.  I know myself, so if the site wasn’t in my face every day, I’d most likely put off working at it regularly. And I needed water. So I opted for a place on the ranch where OKK has its garden, but not at the garden site itself. Right outside the greenhouses were grassy areas not being used, so that is where I decided to place the no-till garden.
Step 2 - get rid of the grass. Not using a herbicide, I opted to cover the ground with weed block for a couple of months.  Pulling the weed block off, I saw some grass still struggling to survive, but much of it was gone. Keeping in mind that only the vegetative top growth had disappeared, I needed to stay aware that since the roots might still be alive, some of the grasses might resprout. So getting a mulch atop the soil was a priority in order to stop the regrowth.
Step 3 - mulching. Out came the lawnmower that has a bag, and importantly for me, has the self propel feature. I could have harvested grass clippings a variety of ways, but I had the lawnmower and besides, the exercise would do me good. So evey day I could (at least 3 days a week),  I mowed the "lawn" around the greenhouses to collect 5 trash a full of clippings.
Step 4- seeding and planting prior to initial mulch application. The first thing I did after removing the weed block covering was to scrape out a shallow trench and drop bean seeds into place. I then transplanted several tomato seedlings. Everything got watered in well with a weak fertilizer = compost tea.  For this initial planting I prepared the soil using a small mattock. The soil was rather hard and needed loosening. The mattock work went quickly, since it was a small area, plus the soil had stayed moist due the weed block.
Step 5- apply mulch. I put down a 6 inch thick layer of fluffy mulch. Over the course of the week, it settled down to about 1 inch thick.
Step 6- 2 weeks later reapply mulch. I walked the area, checking the plants, tying up the tomato plants as needed, pulled the few grasses that were sprouting.  Then I reapplied more mulch.  


IMG_7396.jpeg
Two rows of beans to the left, tomatoes along the trellis fence, and a trench to the right for more beans.
Two rows of beans to the left, tomatoes along the trellis fence, and a trench to the right for more beans.
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Applying the first layer of grass mulch. More was applied 2 weeks later,
Applying the first layer of grass mulch. More was applied 2 weeks later,
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Tying the tomato branch to the trellis fence.
Tying the tomato branch to the trellis fence.
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[Thumbnail for IMG_7393.jpeg]
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 2094
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
1031
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At this stage now it’s been 2 months since I started this no-till experiment. I have already applied mulch twice, and it’s ready for another light application. I am seeing a bit of weeds popping through the mulch here and there. Before applying more mulch, I’ll walk the garden and pull out anything big enough to easily grab. I’ll leave the tiny weeds, figuring that the mulch will smother them. Maybe I’m just being hopeful, but heck, I’m an optimist by nature. So I’ll just  cover those baby weeds.

I have gradually been planting more rows into the garden area. This area had been mulched twice already. Now that I’m ready to plant, I pulled the mulch aside and used my mattock to prepare a row to plant more bean seeds. I’m finding that the soil is far softer and easy to work than when I first started. The mattock is actually overkill now. A small hand hoe would probably work just as well. I’m impressed that the soil is as soft as it is. Not as soft as my garden soil at my home farm, but still much an improvement over the soil generally found on this farm.

I have been keeping the tomato plants trimmed, something I never bothered to do in the past. The trellis fence is rather flimsy, so it won’t support heavy plants. I’m finding that trimming the plants is keeping things under control better. I can open up the plants for better air circulation, and I can have access to the baby tomatoes. Access is important because I am bagging the tomatoes to keep out fruit fly. This area of Hawaii is infested with several varieties of fruit fly, and they destroy certain fruits and veggies….tomatoes being one of them. I’m bagging, thus eliminating the need to use chemical sprays. The bagging process is easy and goes quickly. And the bags are reusable.
IMG_7453.jpeg
Beans on the left, tomatoes on the right. This area is ready for another application of mulch.
Beans on the left, tomatoes on the right. This area is ready for another application of mulch.
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Small weeds, mostly grasses, are popping up through the mulch here and there.
Small weeds, mostly grasses, are popping up through the mulch here and there.
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These are the fine mesh bags I am using to bag the tomatoes.
These are the fine mesh bags I am using to bag the tomatoes.
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Bagged.
Bagged.
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Using a light mattock to open up a new row.
Using a light mattock to open up a new row.
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 2094
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
1031
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Kilauea Volcano erupts —- once again

Awoke this morning to news that our resident volcano is once again erupting. It’s in a safe area and won’t result in any danger. So it’s pretty cool, without the fear and worry  !!!

Volcanos are actually part of permaculture. I use the lava rock to make protective rock walls. Old Hawaiian farmers knew that moisture was banked under rock walls, thus built walls and grew crops adjacent to them. I also use this technique for some of my own crops.

Volcanos provide a fresh source of minerals. Knowing this, I have added lava dust and lava cinder to my growing areas.

This volcano initially brought me to Hawaii, so I thank it every time it erupts.
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Erupting in the distance. Photo taken at 5 am today.
Erupting in the distance. Photo taken at 5 am today.
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 2094
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
1031
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..
65B60434-498F-4943-AA4F-98273FFEB5B3.jpeg
Homerun Bean
Homerun Bean
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Doubke cropping. Wing beans climbing a tomato plant.
Double cropping. Wing beans climbing a tomato plant.
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Young tomatillo plants. The older is full of blooms.
Young tomatillo plants. The older is full of blooms.
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A second néw area beside the greenhouses
A second néw area beside the greenhouses
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Right, two rows of beans. Left- peas and cowpeas.
Right, two rows of beans. Left- peas and cowpeas.
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What’s under to pot? The label for the row. If just stuck into the dirt, the farms puppies would steal it. So I hide it under a heavy pot.
What’s under to pot? The label for the row. If just stuck into the dirt, the farms puppies would steal it. So I hide it under a heavy pot.
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 2094
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
1031
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The Unusual or Less Common

Besides the common veggies, which by the way are the most popular for sales, I’m growing less common ones. There are always a few folks who are looking for something unusual or new. Let me think what is on this list…….

…..Tri-color amaranth, great for salads and sandwiches.
…..Pink, striped, purple, and red snap beans. Not so rare but many people haven’t seen them before. I’m currently growing Purpiat, Dragon’s Tongue, Tanya’s Pink Pod, Red Swan, Purple Teepee.
….. Purple bok choy. I like Purple Lady and Purple Gem.
…. White and golden beets. Avalanche is a good white. Touchstone Gold. I’m going to try Burpee Golden later this year.
….. Purple Broccoli. I just got some Purple Magic seeds and looking forward to trying it. I used to grow one called Violet Queen, which grew like a broccoli although it was listed as a cauliflower. Fantastic variety. But it disappeared and I still mourn its loss.

Since the beginning of this project we have been growing some oddball stuff, so it’s no longer unusual around here. Things like white, yellow, and purple carrots.  Soybean.  Tomatillo. Yard long beans. Different colored and striped eggplants.  Different colored sweet potatoes. Different colored potatoes. When I don’t have these on my tables, customers actually complain, since they are so use to seeing them.

One item that is quite unusual around here are large slicing tomatoes. They are difficult to grow without a protective screenhouse, and even then various diseases spread crazily in a screenhouse or greenhouse. Without using chemicals, you’re lucky to get a few tomatoes before the plant succumbs. Therefore I am tickled pink with my tomato bagging experiment. I’m actually getting tomatoes!
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Burpee Globe. I’m so proud of these babies!
Burpee Globe. I’m so proud of these babies!
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Tricolored amaranth
Tricolored amaranth
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The growing tips of the pipinola (chayote) vines.
The growing tips of the pipinola (chayote) vines.
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Winged Beans
Winged Beans
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Dill. While not rare, I’ve never seen it being sold at the farmers markets here.
Dill. While not rare, I’ve never seen it being sold at the farmers markets here.
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 2094
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
1031
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No-till Garden Size:

Keeping in mind that our main gardening area is 3 acres, plus we use two commercial greenhouses, we are already producing quite a lot of food for our community. It’s not like we are struggling to grow more food. But I was getting a bit antsy to get another experiment of some sort started again….something to add some permaculture aspects to this overall project. I do quite a lot of little experiments. They are fun. And sometimes they work out so well that I incorporate them into our food project. Thus my new experiment is no-till, something that I have failed at a couple of times already…..but not at this particular location. The soil and conditions are different here than on my own farm, which is about 10 miles away. Yes, 10 miles can make a big, big difference. As one gets more and more permaculture knowledge and experience, one can notice the subtle differences that location can make.

So……
I’m starting small for primarily 3 reasons. 1- I’m doing this by myself. No helpers. 2- I don’t have lots of extra time, so I cannot devote scads of time to this. 3- I’ve learned that I do better taking little baby steps when I start something new.

I chose a small plot to start with. It’s 20’ by 35’. I chose this size for 3 reasons. 1- it was a piece of land close to the greenhouse. 2- It had once been used as a veggie garden several years ago.  I could have made it larger (20’ by 50’) but I was hesitant that I could handle the larger area.

20’ by 35’ turned out to be a good starting size. I have been able to produce enough mulch to keep the ground covered. The area was small enough that I had the time to make the rows, plant, and tend them. Surprisingly, it is the harvesting that I find difficult to get enough time to do.

I’m doing ok tending this new garden area. Keeping it mulched has saved me a lot of time normally devoted to weeding and watering. And since I have to do the mowing anyway, I just add a grass catching bag to the mower rather than blowing the clippings out the discharge. Gathering grass clippings takes a little more time, but not much.

Being an optimist, I decided to try expanding this no-till garden project since I was handling the first 20’ by 35’ plot just fine. So I tarped another area (to kill most of the weeds) that is 25’ by 35’.  That plot was lightly mulched and partially seeded 2 weeks ago. And right now it is ready for its second mulch application.

By essentially doubling the size of this experiment, I am finding that it is a bit more of a strain on my time. Planting isn’t the problem. I simply plant a 10 foot long row at the end of a day. It only takes a little bit more time, hardly noticeable. But the mulching is taking more time. Not that I can’t do it for now, but I am seeing the signs that mowing is now becoming a task rather than something I would do whenever I had the day for it. For example, the new area needs mulching. I’ve put it off for several days now. Putting off just mowing the grounds isn’t a problem, but delaying the mulch could be. So I will need to think about how to make harvesting mulch an easy, time effective task.  The bottom line is that my no-till garden may be approaching its size limit. We shall see.
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 2094
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
1031
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How Much Mulch Do I Need?

A lot!!!    That having been said, let’s delve deeper.

First of all, I’m using freshly mown grass clippings. They are fluffy, more air than substance. And they are full of moisture so they have a lot of volume until they dry out. Therefore, there is not a lot of actual bulk to them. They are mostly air and water.

Next, one cannot , or should I say, should not spread a thick layer of fresh clippings as mulch. The thickness will result in the grass fermenting, thus resulting in a wet, gooey, slimy, sticky mass that is slick as heck to walk upon. Plus it will prevent a light rain from reaching the soil.

What I do is apply a moderate layer of fresh clippings, about 3’ to 4’ deep. If the clipping contain a lot of dead grass in them, then I could go with 6".

In preparing these new no-till garden areas, after removing the weedblock tarp (remember, I had sprayed with 47% vinegar before applying the tarp) , I apply a generous amount of grass clippings immediately. I don’t want to give any surviving weed roots a chance to respond to the bright sunlight. While I could start seeding immediately, I am putting off seeding for 3 weeks. Therefore when I start seeding, it’s time for the second mulch application.

So at 3 weeks, I pull back the light covering of mulch to expose a row for seed planting. And I pull any weeds I see that are sprouting. To date, there have not been many,  After planting the seeds, I then apply a second application of mulch, but I do not cover up the freshly seeded row. Some grass clippings will blow over the seed row, but not enough to interfere with the sprouting seeds.

I am finding that the ideal schedule to apply more mulch is once every 3 weeks.  At least in the beginning so far. That hopefully will change in the future as the mulch layer builds up and the soil improves. Applying mulch every 3 weeks calls for a lot of grass clippings.

How much clippings is needed for a 20’ by 35’ garden?  The first application took twenty 35 gallon trash cans filled to within 6’ from the top (filling them completely up makes them too heavy for me to hoist into the bed of my pick up truck). I applied it over a period of 3 days because I wasn’t capable of mowing it all on the same day. The second application took 10. The third application on the first garden bed took only 8 trash cans.  As the mulch layer builds up, I may be able to get away with applying less grass clippings as time goes on.
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 2094
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
1031
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Expanding the Experiment Because It’s Working So Well So Far:


Call me crazy, but I covered another section to add to the no-till garden. It’s a 25’ by 30’ piece. This ground has not been tilled for 4-5 years. It once hosted a conventional veggie garden. I saw this garden once, and it was rather poor looking. So perhaps the garden was not well tended, or the soil non-fertile, or both. Keeping this in mind, I opted to apply compost and manure tea early.

Before covering it, I mowed the grass and weeds down as short as I could. Next I poured on a generous amount of manure tea, emptying 2 trashcanfuls. Then I let it sit for a bit over a week so that whatever was going to regrow had the time to push new little  shoots. The area was fairly dense in assorted weeds and grass. Next, on a sunny morning with the promise of all day sun, I sprayed everything with 47% vinegar. Our local hardware store can get this for me. By the next morning a lot of the greenery was burnt. Having a second sunny day, I resprayed anything that looked green. The next day I covered the area with weedblock tarps.

I got back to looking at this site about 4 weeks later. Pulling off the tarps, I was pleased to see that most of the weeds were gone. There was just some blanched out grasses here and there. But don’t be fooled. Experience has taught me that there are dormant grass roots just waiting for the sun so that they can resprout.

Before proceeding, I dumped a trashcanful of fish emolsion onto this future garden. And then applied some finely crushed burnt bones. Immediately I set to harvesting grass clippings. I ended up using 12 trashcanfuls of clippings to cover the area. I was planning on using a few more, but rain set in and I had to quit. I admit that I’m too old now to be out working in the rain. It chills me and it takes 2 days to recover. No sense of beating up my body like that anymore. So the next time it was dry enough, I mowed a bit more until I was satisfied with the mulch covering.

Time to figure out what I’ll plant. Common sense says to put in a crop that takes less of my time. Something on the order of pumpkins or gourds. The ground may not be fertile enough for taro, which is another super easy crop. But I’ll test the soil first before deciding. My inner child wants to plant peas, cowpeas, long beans, and broccoli. Maybe my adult inner soul will be sensible, or maybe the child in me will win out.
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 2094
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
1031
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No-till Experiment Timeline - Up to Date

I started this experiment a few months ago, but I didn’t start posting immediately. So these past posts have been playing catch-up on the timeline. But by now we have caught up with the real time, the present. For now on, what you read will be current, the story as it happens in real life.

I currently have 3 no-till garden sites…..
… #1 is fully planted and has been producing beans, soybeans, and tomatoes. I have done 2 weeks of picking the "Homerun" green beans, 1 week of the "Tohya" soybeans, and 2 weeks of some "Burpee Globe" tomatoes. To date I have harvested 9 pounds of green beans, 1/2 pound of soybeans, and 6 pounds of tomatoes. This has generated $77.
… #2 is planted except for the last 2 rows. This coming week the final two rows will be seeded. Nothing is ready for harvesting.
… #3 is in the preparation stage. This coming week I will seed two rows and apply the second layer of mulch.

My impressions …
… the present location appears to be well suited for this experiment.
… the soil has taken well to the use of homemade liquid fertilizers.
… the mulch has been effective in keeping the soil soft enough to work by hand, and the soil type has kept it from becoming mucky.
… having unlimited mulch material has helped tremendously
… most importantly !!!—- the type of weeds I’m finding here have been far easier to control than those on my own home farm.

At this time I cannot say if the mulch and liquid fertilizers will be enough to keep the soil fertile. We will simply have to watch the experiment unfold. And will the mulch be sufficient to control the weeds? Maybe, but again, time will tell.

My previous attempts at no-till failed. Things about the site were difficult. The soil tended to pack hard after a heavy rain. Mulch tended to keep the dense soil saturated, turning it in sticky, dense muck. The weeds were creeping grasses including kikuyu, Bermuda, Augustine, and others. Mulch didn’t stop them. I learned that soil and site are very important for successful no-till being done permie style. Aaahhhh—— that old saying comes to mind :  location, location, location.
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 2094
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
1031
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Adding Permaculture Aspects, a Brief Summary—

The whole driving force behind my writing here is to document inserting permaculture aspects into a small commercial farm project. Focusing upon my latest endeavor, the no-till experiment, I’d like to comment on how I kept permaculture part of it.

… no-till.
… the site chosen for full sun. Fairly level. Well drained. Close to irrigation water. Away from the worse of the vog. Protected from direct wind. Protected from most pollutants. Also chosen for human ease.
… mulch to assist in weed control , soil moisture retention, and to improve soil health.
… mulch is locally sourced, biodegradable, sustainable, and will contribute toward soil nutrition and condition.
… some start up seeds are locally produced, and in the future, almost all the seed will be locally produced.
… fertilizers are homemade : compost, compost teas, manures, manure teas, fish emulsion and local sourced.
… local landrace varieties will be soon introduced (kombucha pumpkin type)
… irrigation water is sourced locally right from the hills above this garden. Yes, poly pipes transport the water to the garden, but the water is "a natural", no treatment. It is clean, non-polluted, naturally filtered through lava.
… no pesticides have been used to date, with the intention of not using chemical sprays in the future.
… the only tools being used (excluding a lawnmower) are hand tools. To date. Just a mattock and a pruning snipper. In the future I foresee a hammer, saw, post driver, pliers, screwdriver, screws, wire.

Non-permie aspects have help start and maintain this no-till experiment.
…  weedblock tarps were used to help eliminate the initial overlaying grasses and weeds.  And commercial vinegar was also used.
… a gasoline powered lawnmower is used to harvest the grass clippings used for mulch.
… fine mesh, reuasable bags are used to protect tomatoes from fruit flies.
… possibly some future crops may require the purchase of outside seed, such as chard, beets, parsley, parsnips.
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 2094
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
1031
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Today…..

1… harvested a dozen tomatillos, my first picking.
2… harvested 5 pounds of Homerun green beans
3… harvested 10 tomatoes - 9 Burpee Globe and 1 (my first) Burpee Jubilee
4… harvested 1 pound of soybeans (in the pods)

I’m still amazed that this experiment is working and I’m getting a harvest. Wow.  Two rows of younger beans are just starting to bloom. So there will be more beans in a couple of weeks.

Also today, I sowed another row. Half the row is Cascadia pea, the other half is Henderson Lima.  Both were seeds that I grew myself. I ran out of time to get the second row sown. That will have to wait until tomorrow. And I need to add mulch to this garden tomorrow too. I don’t mind not getting to these jobs today.  This garden experiment is an add-on to all my other tasks, so I just aim to do a little bit each day. No stress adhering to a schedule.

Soil observation…….. sowing the seeds today meant opening up the soil. Not tilling, just opening it up. 8 weeks ago this soil was hard. You could have driven a car across it and not left a dent. For the past 2 months the soil has been covered, either by a weedblock tarp or by mulch. And generous amounts of manure & compost teas plus fish emulsion were poured into the plot a month ago. Today the soil is quite firm but moist, not wet. I found that I could readily slice though it with a hand tool. No mattock was necessary. This soil is old volcanic ash which tends to compact to a dense hardness when dried out. But today the soil was fairly easy to work with. I’m impressed. Keeping this soil moist by using a mulch seems to be the secret of working with this soil type, at least for growing veggies.
IMG_7530.jpeg
I marked the row with tape, pulled off the grass mulch, and starting working.
I marked the row with tape, pulled off the grass mulch, and starting working.
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My favorite tool of the day.
My favorite tool of the day.
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Angling the blade so that one of the points does the work, I pull it through the soil to loosen up the row a bit at a time.
Angling the blade so that one of the points does the work, I pull it through the soil to loosen up the row a bit at a time.
IMG_7533.jpeg
Lima beans ready to poke into the soil. Afterward I will water the row.
Lima beans ready to poke into the soil. Afterward I will water the row.
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 2094
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
1031
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Expanding the Garden

Since my last post, I’ve added some more crops.
... 10’ of cascadia pea
... 30’ of Tohya soybean
... 30’ of Henderson limas
... 10’ dragon tongue beans
... 10’ soybean, I can’t recall the name right now

And this week I need to add at least 2 more 30’ rows of something, most likely green beans. I have pumpkin seeds that I need to find a spot to plant.

Edible soybeans (edamane) are real popular here. So I am experimenting with some varieties to see which I like.
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Soybeans almost ready to pick. The pods should be plump.
Soybeans almost ready to pick. The beans should be plump.
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Evidence that I had a visit from a rat.
Evidence that I had a visit from a rat.
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 2094
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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This past week I haven’t done a lot on this new experiment. Simply no spare time. But I did get some work on it today.

First thing I noticed was that where there was grass clipping mulch, the ground  beneath it still had some moisture. That’s great because the soil was quite dry the top 6 inches everywhere else. Since I don’t know when the farm will get rain again, I opted to get everything well watered today.

I also scuffed up two more rows and seeded a green snap bean called Affirmed and more Henderson limas. I now have only room for 2 more rows in this garden plot. Once seeded, I’ll have the first 3 plots in production. Ah-ha—-time to expand!!! I have tarps down on two other areas, so perhaps I’ll be able to start planting those next week, if time permits. Yes, time is my limiting factor.

A person who came to view this experiment asked me where I get my mulch from. Ha! My own little lawnmower and a goodly amount of effort on my part. She looked somewhat shocked. I guess the thought of actually working hadn’t crossed her mind. Guess she thought I got delivered. Anyway, today I was glad to have time to harvest 9 trashcanfuls of clippings. The effort gave me enough clippings to finish up mulching what I’ve planted so far, and also gave me a nice workout. I’m trying to increase my exercise, so I logged in a goodly number of steps today, along with pushing, bending, lifting, and dragging trash cans around.

Today I harvested about 5 pounds of green snap beans, 2 pounds of radishes (an incidental crop because I just used them as markers in the rows), a few tomatillos, 10 tomatoes, and a pound of purple Romano beans—my first picking. Getting to harvest things from this experiment is tickling me to death. I’m thrilled!

Yesterday I finished processing a bunch of macnuts from my farm. I thought I’d just take a picture of them to show you.
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Macnuts
Macnuts
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Mowing the grass beside the greenhouse
Mowing the grass beside the greenhouse
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Purple Romano beans, my first picking.
Purple Romano beans, my first picking.
 
I did NOT cry! It was this tiny ad that cried. The tiny ad is a crier, not me.
Learn Permaculture through a little hard work
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