Monday, October 08, 2012

Hawaii - Week Six


The food bounty started to overwhelm us this week! We didn't even take any food when we helped farmer Clive on Thursday, because we just plain have too much. We got three ulu from a broken branch from a tree on our host Dale's land, and two racks of bananas. I made a lot of meals of cooked mashed banana with ginger and lime: delicious!

Abiu - vanilla pudding from a tree
A neighbor brought over some excess abiu from her tree, and we discovered that they have way more flavor than those from the tree on this land. Had I based my judgement of the species solely on the sweet but bland tree I may not have bothered planting it; we definitely need to try fruit from multiple trees (especially selected cultivars, not just seedlings) before evaluating a given species. We should also expect to graft most of our fruit trees to superior varieties instead of growing from seed.

We ate a bunch of peanut butter cups and butterfingers because Dale bought them then decided he shouldn't eat them. Another good example of how poorly I self regulate when tempting items become available!


I've had a few health issues in the last month, with infection of a light scrape on my foot, my first cold sore (oral herpes) outbreak in years followed by swelling of (I assume) lymph nodes in my left armpit, then a cold/flu thing starting last Wednesday. I had a lot of coughing and phlegm going on for a few days, especially at night causing restless sleep, and spent a lot of time resting in bed reading and researching. By Sunday I thought I'd gotten past the worst of it, and did some very light work. Monday I came down with a fever and didn't leave our shack all day except to pee. Jasmine took excellent care of me, bringing me tea and food, but I'm still quite sick. On the mainland I used to get a cold or bug about once a year, sometimes but not usually this severely. I feel very surprised to have caught this, given our isolation and very infrequent trips into town and my general good health, but perhaps I'm vulnerable to different strains of bugs here?

Pothos vine

Meanwhile, last Wednesday I did some clearing and mulching work on the land, including cutting off some "taro vine" (also known as "pothos") where it dangled down from huge mango trees. It turns out that the sap from fresh vines can cause a severe skin reaction on some people, including myself; I formed multiple blisters and pustules on my stomach, arms, and feet where I'd handled the vines or had juice splash on me. I also scratched myself very lightly with my machete on the back of an ankle, and the scratch turned into a gnarly blistering infected mess; I'm guessing I injected some of the pothos juice directly into the wound from the machete blade. Many of the other blisters on my body became infected too, perhaps from the multitude of flies and fruit flies who descended to slurp away. Jasmine helped me disinfect and bandage all the problematic spots, getting them well on the way to healing now. Though I've walked around with many open light wounds my whole life without any problems, I clearly need to take more care in this environment to seal up cuts and scrapes (especially on my feet).


We watched Geoff Lawton's Establishing a Food Forest video. I watched this years ago but hadn't intended to move to the tropics, so didn't retain many of the details about tropical plants. I like Lawton's basic strategy of drastically overplanting a space with legumes and pioneers, then cutting them back as mulch when rainfall exceeds evapotranspiration. Gradually, over the course of a few years, the cropping species take over most of the space from the pioneer species. Unfortunately, he didn't give any specific guidelines for spacing the main trees, which experts like Dave Jacke and Martin Crawford consider crucial to forest gardening. If your canopy closes in too much, you dramatically limit what you can grow in the lower layers, so you need to plan that part very carefully from the start.

I spent some more time working up my concept of goat integration into a multistory orchard/food forest, drawing up two pretty colored sketches and pondering the necessary spacings between trees and palms to achieve that desired goal of a diverse understory. Looking through Mollison's Permaculture: A Designer's Manual, his sketches for the humid tropics show overstory palms spaced far enough away from the next layer of cropping trees to allow them a good sized window of open sky above, with only the next layers down of cacao, coffee, & herbaceous plants in really heavy shade. I need to spend a lot more time observing mature tree sizes and their interactions at different spacings, looking at photos of traditional tropical home gardens, and picking the brains of long-timers who already know this stuff.

I read a lot more of Traditional Trees of Pacific Islands; one of the things I love about being sick is spending so much down time reading!


We helped for a few hours in the kitchen garden of a nearby retreat center/education center/farm/community, giving us the opportunity to see some of their systems, listen in on conversations about different landscaping challenges, and to meet a couple more folks who seem quite knowledgeable about plants. I liked their organization around resources like the on-farm truck and a shared bicycle, washing dishes, and for rotating chores among community members. Jasmine and I disliked the formal, country club feel of the place with lots of manicured lawn and tightly controlled plantings; presumably a style needed to attract people with enough money to spend on retreats and classes to keep the whole operation going. We definitely want a different model for our own community.

1 comment:

kanndvs said...

What has happened to your weekly report? Has your health improved? Keep us posted.