Monday, September 24, 2012

Hawaii - Week four


Our host shot two pigs this week, the first he's ever killed, and the first Jasmine and I have ever butchered! For the first boar, it took the three of us about 6 hours to set up a butchering station, hoist him up, gut him, skin him, make initial rough cuts, and pack the meat into a cooler and a bucket with ice. The next day the three of us spent about 4 more hours rendering the fat (see picture below left), cutting the meat off the bones into meal-sized chunks, and packing it into a neighbor's freezer. We made stew the first night from the backbone, and fried some meat cuts the next day. Jasmine and I had felt some concern that we might not like wild pig; some people describe it as gamey or tough or otherwise inferior to domestic meat. But after tasting it, I deem it the best meat I've ever eaten!

Our host and I worked on the second pig mostly by ourselves, with Jasmine providing some support. It took the two of us 5 hours to process a larger pig, including the head (which we'd discarded from the first pig), and we did a much better job of retaining the fat with the meat instead of losing it by leaving it attached to the hide.

For the past few weeks, we've obtained all our necessary foods by foraging and work trade at the farm down the street, except for the crucial staples of cooking oil and meat. I feel really excited that we've closed that last gap and achieved semi self sufficiency in food within one month of arriving; the bounty of this land amazes me! (Reality checks: 1) much of the bounty comes from the work of folks in the past planting the perennial trees from which we forage now. 2) We're living at a very low elevation with relatively abundant sun and rainfall, perhaps an ideal microclimate for food trees. 3) We have not yet learned to use a gun, let alone something we can make ourselves such as bow & arrow; we're relying on our host right now to kill the pigs. 4) I don't know how many pigs live in the area and how often we could continue to shoot them without depleting their numbers or scaring them away.)

We had our first taste since moving here of that other Hawaiian classic - ulu, or breadfruit, a staple carb that grows on trees in convenient 1+ pound balls. Ours hadn't reached peak ripeness, so hadn't developed the sweetness of a fully ripe, soft breadfruit, but Jasmine and I both enjoyed it a lot as a blander starch. We also tried two more fruits from different trees of the related jackfruit. Though jackfruit requires a fair amount of work to process, the flavor and multiple yields of fruit and starchy seed has begun to convince me that we should grow one or two. Other new tastings: naranjilla (they remind us of kiwis, with a nice tart taste and similar texture), tree tomato (a lot like a tomato but with a thick, fruit fly proof skin), abiu (sweet & custardy but not much flavor), and yet another breadfruit & jackfruit relative: chempedak (delicious).

Our experience so far confirms my expectation that we can easily procure all the food we need for our tribe by growing perennial plants and hunting pigs. We hardly even need chickens and goats for their food products, though they have so many other uses in the systems (especially for weed and pest control, nutrient cycling, and goat walking) that it doesn't make sense to build permaculture systems without them. Once we develop our own food systems, we may quickly find ourselves with excess to share with the larger community!

After days of talking about it, Jasmine and I finally split a tub of Alden's Cookies & Cream ice cream (on sale at the local natural food store) and ate it for dinner. After eschewing sugar and grains and processed foods for weeks in favor of amazing fresh fruits and greens and taro and local beef, we both decided the ice cream wasn't all that great. I can't say that's the last time I'll succumb to processed sugar in a package, but the experience definitely decreased the temptation.


I've still been reading the Traditional Trees of Pacific Islands book, and read Sarah Vowell's Unfamiliar Fishes, an easy to read and seemingly balanced history exploring the impact of missionaries on Hawaii, the overthrow of the monarchy, and how it all tied in to the expansion of US imperialism. Jasmine and I both worked some more on our lists of plant species.

We attended an event at La'akea, a local permaculture community, where we learned new information about two fairly recent, rapidly spreading problems for humans in Hawaii: little fire ants, and rat lungworm disease (a potentially dehibilitating and/or lethal nematode when it accidentally winds up in human brains instead of its usual rat and slug/snail hosts.)


We met a few new people at the La'akea event, and Jasmine chatted a little bit with a pig hunter visiting at Clive's farm. The hunter loves talking about pigs, and we love learning about pigs, so I'm hoping to get a chance to talk with him too!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Hawaii - Week three

We foraged some new food this week, saw some new wildlife, checked out a bunch of library books with our new library cards, and started doing work trade with our land host "Dale" who returned to town. We spent a lot of time working on our spreadsheet of plants, to help us learn and organize0 potential species we might want to grow: fruits, nuts, roots, vegetables, and so on.


We started eating plantains from farmer Clive, cooking one green (starchy and bland like a potato) but mostly eating them yellow and ripe (delicious dessert, especially cooked). I ate a mango from a grafted tree at Clive's; the fruit had an orange rather than yellow or green skin, and very low stringiness to the flesh. We foraged with Dale in a couple of places he knows well, finding pili nuts (Canarium ovatum; we haven't eaten them yet), a large patch of water spinach (Ipomoea aquatica) growing adjacent to a pond, edible hibiscus, mountain apples (crisp and refreshingly juicy, but only mild sweetness and flavor), avocados, guavas, papayas, one starfruit, yellow lilikoi, and chayote (Sechium edule, a squash-like fruit.)

Dale brought home a huge cassava root from another site, which Jasmine and I both enjoyed a lot; it has a nice flavor and texture and we can readily envision growing this as a staple. (I'd especially like to experiment with it as a cyanide-laced, pig-proof crop to plant out in forest areas.) He also gathered some different greens from another site, including sissoo spinach, vietnamese coriander, basil, katuk, and curry tree leaf. We ate all the greens mixed together so didn't really taste the individual species, but it all turned out nicely. We helped Dale harvest coconuts from two trees; he climbed up using special equipment, cut off fronds as needed to access the racks of coconuts, and tied each rack to a rope run up and over a remaining frond, with me and Jasmine on the ground holding the rope and slowly allowing each rack to drop down to the ground. We got dozens of drinking coconuts, with nice sweet water and "spoon meat" - jelly-like coconut meat.

We ate ice cream beans (probably Inga edulis) from two different trees;. The first tree didn't impress me (apparently we harvested a little too late, mostly shaking over-ripe beans from the tree), but we found low-hanging, perfectly ripe beans on the second tree, which tasted very sweet with a nice flavor, and plenty of yield per pod and plenty of pods on the tree. I definitely want to plant a couple of these nitrogen fixing treats on our future land. We harvested a small amount of sugar cane (very nice to chew on; the woody fibers should help clean my teeth while I enjoy the sugary goodness) and naranjillas (haven't tasted them yet.)


I got a big stack of exciting books from the library, all on tropical plants. I finished reading Introduction to Permaculture, read a short book on growing fruits, nuts, herbs, and spices in Hawaii, and started reading Traditional Trees of Pacific Islands: Their Culture, Environment, and Uses, a lovely book edited by Craig Elevitch with detailed chapters on 80+ multipurpose trees.

We helped Dale maintain a young orchard area by clearing weeds, sheet mulching, and planting comfrey and perennial peanut starts. We also worked with him to clear an area on the land for a temporary structure for us. It amazes me how quickly a chainsaw can totally alter an area by taking down small and big trees fast. I learned a bit about clearing brush and weeds with hand tools - machete, sickle, and scythe. I can see that much of the work involved in tropical systems is keeping unwanted growth at bay; the permaculture principle of immediately planting any cleared areas with desired species applies doubly here, where everything grows so much more quickly than in temperate areas! I want to use chickens and goats very intelligently in our future clearing and weeding work; with good animal integration we can save a lot of human labor.


We saw Java sparrows, Red-crested cardinals, and a yellow bird Jasmine thinks may have been Yellow-fronted canary. We finally saw the Island Blind Snake, the only snake in Hawaii; an earthworm-sized, shiny metallic snake that lives in soil and thrashes around in a slithering sort of way when disturbed.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Hawaii - Week two

We had another good week, with similar times spent on actvities as during the previous week, except with less figuring out electronics & internet, and more actual use of our computers to research things and make plant lists. We received the "crate of stuff" we shipped from the mainland, and unpacked and organized it. We went on a couple of mini exploration expeditions, but all in all didn't get out much.


Orange lilikoi
Besides most of the same foods as the first week, we ate taro root, many ripe papayas, jackfruit fruit and seed, a brownish lilikoi, some delicious orange lilikoi (much better than the yellow ones from last week), and turmeric. Much of the new stuff came from taro farmer Clive, who has work parties twice a week and sends us home with lots of food at the end!
We find taro super starchy and bland, with a lot of potential to soak up flavors of other foods and fill us up fast. Jasmine made a delicious curry with the taro, green papaya, coconut, and honohono. We find jackfruit seed similarly bland and starchy, with a mealy texture and the ability to absorb other flavors. Jackfruit seed takes some fiddling to peel a tough waxy layer off the nuts, but takes less work to grow than taro, and probably we'll figure out some tricks to make the seed extraction go more quickly and smoothly.
Practice climbing vine
I tried climbing a strong vine to get up a coconut tree, and found it very enjoyable and practical. I need to build more arm strength though! I made it 2/3 up and got a little confused as to how to get past a weird loop in the vine; then felt a little too tired to go all the way up. Later, back in the forest where we're staying, I found two vines wrapped around each other providing a wonderful practice climbing rope!


Clive's taro field
We've learned a lot from just two sessions with farmer Clive, mostly about planting taro. He plants 18" apart in rows 4' apart and keeps everything well mulched, never exposing the soil. He manages all the unplanted portions of his 20 acre lot in cane grass (Pennisetum purpureum), a common weedy vigorous biomass producer. He basically mows and chips the grass, applies weed mat to kill the roots and keep it from resprouting, then peels back the mat to plant taro into the stubble, mulching as needed with more chipped grass from the edges of his cleared area. He's built about 2-3" of soil over bare rock in the last 15 years, while producing a lot of crop to sell at local markets in the last 4 years. I don't think we'll mimic exactly what he's doing, since we want to produce for ourselves in more polycultural, low maintenance ways, but we can definitely learn useful lessons from what he's figured out over the years.
Clive's ginger patch
I haven't made it to any ultimate frisbee games yet, but have found an enjoyable semi-similar pursuit: catching papayas as someone else knocks them off the tree with a special mini-plunger-on-a-tall-stick. It challenges my reflexes and eyesight, as the fruit gets pushed off at some angle or other from its perch on the tree trunk, and falls down through leaves and between or bouncing off branches, hopefully into my soft hands instead of the hard ground.
I'm still reading Mollison's Introduction to Permaculture, which has already given me some useful new ideas and plant pointers; I've never before read permaculture books with the tropics in mind, so now I get more meaning from many concepts I only skimmed before. I read a draft report on sustainable farming in Hawaii, but didn't find it very useful. Much of the book covered marketing and selling products, and the parts about actually growing food didn't go into enough detail (especially about Hawaii specific concepts) to add much to what I already know.


We enjoyed the fascinating sight of an 'Io (Hawaiian hawk) eating prey (most likely a bird) on a branch, ripping off feathers to discard in between tearing off chunks of flesh. We saw a few cool new insects, including a funny little bug who seems to live inside a flat brown dead-leaf-looking mobile home, from which the bug pokes his or her head from at least two openings (one in each end) while dragging the whole structure to and fro. We'd never seen anything like it before.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Hawaii - Week One

Our kitchen
First full week! Jasmine and I learned a lot, foraged a lot, relaxed a bit, explored a bit, and spent a lot of time figuring out how to charge electronics and get online.


We harvested and gathered lots of food: coconuts, avocados, bananas, mangos, strawberry guavas, limes, surinam cherry, lilikoi (passionfruit), koster's curse, green papaya (cooked like a squash), honohono, chaya, ginger flowers, and edible hibiscus. I feel very impressed by how easily we've found major staple foods, though most of the coconuts and all the surinam cherries, bananas, limes, and greens have come from the land on which we're staying, not from roadsides or other semi-wild public places. (If needed we could probably find enough coconuts out and about, and honohono grows as a weed all over the place; but I have yet to see any harvestable bananas or other greens I recognize in public places.) We've gotten nearly four eggs a day from the four chickens on the land.

Sprouting coconut with sweet fatty "King's meat"
On average, between the two of us, we seem to naturally eat on a daily basis something like: 1.5 small sprouting coconuts, 3/4 of a coconut for water, 3 bananas, 2 medium to large avocados, 8 mangos, 2-3 ounces of other fruits, 3.5 eggs, 8-12 ounces of greens, four tablespoons of butter, and a small handful of other nuts.

We brought from the mainland two pounds of butter, half a pound of cheese, some dried meat, nuts, and dried fruit , and still have 3/4 pound of butter and most of the nuts and dried fruit left. We're using the butter quickly and haven't figured out locally sourced cooking oils yet , but definitely haven't needed the nuts and dried fruit! We've experimented a little with extracting coconut oil, but still need to learn more to make it work.

We tried eating hala keys, but found them barely edible - consistent with reports of Hawaiians using them only as famine food. We'll try to get varieties grown on other Pacific islands with flesh larger, less fibrous, and free of oxalate crystals.

We've seen pigs several times, once as close as 40' away. With a gun and a little bit of skill, it should be very easy to shoot one and get a lot of meat. Since we haven't acquired that tool or those skills yet, we're starting to buy some island raised grass fed ground beef at the local natural food store, for less money than similar meat cost us back in Portland.


Passion vine butterfly
Besides food plants, we've learned a lot of the common trees such as gunpowder tree, octopus tree, melochia, autograph tree, noni, and bingabing. We've seen/identified a few birds, like the Hawaiian hawk, Japanese white-eye, Northern cardinal, Myna, house sparrow, and spotted & zebra doves (and probably mourning dove). We identified the Passion Vine Butterfly. We've seen plenty of the common gold dust day geckos, and a couple of smaller gecko looking reptiles.

I read through a book on organic gardening in Hawaii and added to my species list, and started reading Bill Mollison's classic Introduction to Permaculture.

Lifestyle adjustments

View from our hut -
ti, banana, mango, jackfruit, coconut, & albizia
We're going to bed shortly after dark and waking up at dawn, with much less computer use than usual. I'm experimenting with a eucalyptus toothstick instead of toothbrush. We've hardly gotten online at all, which I haven't really missed but Jasmine has.

Ironically, on our initial push of going primitive, we've probably spent as much time trying to get online and trying to charge electronics as we have foraging food. I've learned a lot about solar systems, DC power, adapters and tips - some of it the hard way - and hopefully have gotten past the worst of the learning curve! This probably merits its own write-up, as I'm sure sharing some of the mistakes I've made and learning I've done could save some other people some trouble.


We haven't talked much with people yet, but did chat a little with two locals involved in growing food and running a weekly market. We will probably talk with them more about the possibility of using some land in something akin to a community garden. We don't yet know where we'll settle long-term, but the location seems reasonably central to our most likely options. So if we start planting things now, we can harvest them in the future as food crops, and/or for propagation material for our actual land. And if our purchased land doesn't suit itself to teaching and showing permaculture food systems to others (because of our community wanting to keep its privacy, or too isolated for the public to access easily) then perhaps the community garden area could serve as a demonstration site.

We've talked on the phone with two other folks in the area, one of whom gave us permission to harvest his excess avocados but whom we haven't met. The other fellow has biweekly work parties where we can probably learn a lot about lowland tropical farming (and maybe take home some food or starts?) so we look forward to joining him in that later this week.