'Tropical Agriculture' Category

Food from the ‘Aina (land)

See some farm photos at this link. It takes you to an album called Food From the ‘Aina (Land):


BTW: Does anyone know how to import some of my facebook albums and posts directly into this website instead of just posting the link? I just got an iPhone (translated means that now we have Internet access that is not dial-up) and have been having a blast uploading photos. Now I realize that I should have been doing that here onto our website. Karin



Is This a Lawn or a Pasture?

Imagine owning a lawnmower that makes its own blades, moves itself around the lawn, requires no gasoline (it runs on grass), makes very little noise, replaces itself every year or so, and you can eat it as a delicious high protein food. All you need to provide is a fence around the lawn, a small shed, some water, and mineral supplements. Sound like a crazy fantasy? If you have some land with grass on it, and you can afford to put a fence around it, tropical hair sheep are a viable option.

Sheep are very hardy, and they handle most of their needs without help. The main issues are: adequate pasture, dog attacks, wet skin, minerals,  too much inbreeding.

A rule of thumb in Hawaii is land can accomodate (very roughly) 4 sheep on 3 acres. More than 2 sheep per acre is probably too much. Reduce these numbers during droughts, or on poor land. There are only two breeds that I know of on this island that are appropriate for the lowland humid tropics: Barbados Blackbelly and St. Croix White. These breeds are known as “hair sheep”, as they have hair but no wool. People often mistake them for goats. They have been specially bred for hardiness in humid tropics. They have good parasite resistance, and their lack of wool keeps them cooler and drier.

Hair sheep are common in Hawaii, and it is easy to find people willing to sell some of their flock. Just look on rural bulletin boards, at feed stores, on Craig’s list, etc. The current price of hair sheep is between $50 and $100, depending on the age and sex of the animal and the whim of the owner. All you need to start your flock is one male, and some number of females. Start with a smaller flock, and let it grow into your pasture. When you are selecting your sheep, watch the animals for a while. Look at their energy level, signs of diarrhea, sings of limping, signs of hunger, meatiness. Spend some time searching for the animals that you want on your land. If you are a person who prays for guidance, now is a good time. Otherwise, use your intuition.

Feed them every now and then to make friends with them, and especially make friends (food and petting) with the head ram. This way they will come when you need them to.

They definitely like a shelter. When it starts to rain, they will all run under any roof. If their hair stays wet, they could get the blow fly, which is disgusting, swarming all over them and eating their skin. Avoid this.
A little mineral supplement is good. I have used the red animal salt from the animal feed store, and kelp granuals for trace minerals. You could also experiment with giving them dolomite, Azomite, baking soda. The lore is that mineral deficiency will lead to bark eating. They go for the taste of minerals in the bark.

Under normal conditions, sheep will drink little or no water. It’s good to have some available, especially during a dry time. (Maybe during lactation?)

On most land, their hoofs should be self trimming. If the hoofs are smelly and have little holes, you can trim them, but this is probably a sign of zinc deficiency. If they get skin problems, like the flies, or soft hoofs, lack of zinc is a likely cause. Use zinc methionine only! Zinc oxide is not effective for hoof and skin problems.

Every person I know in Puna who has kept small livestock has suffered from dog attacks. It is a big deal. It happens randomly, and usually late at night. The fence must be touching the ground securely, and I put a strand of barbed wire 8″ above the hog wire, and sometimes a strand of barbed wire at bottom as well. I have read that a donkey will protect the herd, and I have witnessed a donkey protecting  a sheep from multiple dogs. This would be similar to having a sheep dog that eats grass. I know donkeys have a taste for many different foods, and this might be a problem, depending what’s in your pasture. I know little about donkeys, except that the males can be VERY mean, and they can kick with all four legs, front and rear. You could possibly make some cash hiring out a good donkey stud? (to make mules) In any case, I wouldn’t keep sheep without secure hog wire, and still not in a remote place without some sort of additional protection (dog, donkey, or man with gun)

Gestation is four and a half months. Don’t worry about pregnancy, birthing, and lactation. They take care of themselves. A St. Croix ewe will usually have twins, and almost twice a year. The Barbados are similar, but a bit less prolific.  With either breed the size of the herd is going to rapidly increase. Have a plan for this.

Keep culling the young rams, for food and to prevent inbreeding. Every couple years, trade in an outside ram from another herd for fresh genes. Cull out the ewes who have more wool (dreadlocks I call them), and breed for short hair.
In terms of slaughtering, I harvest them with a .22 to the head. It doesn’t seem to make the others less trusting, oddly enough. If you don’t feel comfortable with the process of slaughtering and butchering, sell them, trade them, or someone could process them and give you some meat in exchange. My attitude toward culling the herd is like that of a watchful wolf; I am on the alert for animals that are unwell. I selectively prey upon the weak and sickly. This harvesting method also serves to maintain the health of the herd. For example, if an animal has a wound that will not heal, or is especially susceptible to parasites, I cull it. If a lamb is rejected by its mother, I don’t go out and buy milk replacer and nurse it to health, I cull it. This may sound heartless, but this heartlessness is necessary for their long term viability as a species. Arguably, one of the responsibilities of a land steward is to “play god” and select which plants and animals will predominate and which will not.

Well, there’s a start. You’ll figure the details.

What would you plant on a two acre parcel?

Ryan wrote me asking  what I would plant right now, if I were settling on a small parcel in Hawaii, and I want to grow most of my food for my family on the land, and live somewhat sustainably.

My needs for a good combination of food crops is:

1) an abundance of calories, oils, protein, greens

2) not too difficult to grow, harvest and prepare

3) delicious to eat

…and it is a big bonus if the crop has…

4) a long harvest season, or

5) is easy to preserve and store

It is very advantageous for the farmer and the land…

6) that the crops be no-till. (This means that it requires no plowing.) Plowing the land year after year is just plain not sustainable for the soil, and it is a bunch of hard work for the farmer, or his servants, animals, or machines (all potentially problematic).

If I were in various mainland climates, I might be raving about pecans, walnuts, hazel nuts, almonds, pine nuts, blueberries, apples and the other stone fruits (peaches, apricots etc.), but this article is only about the lowland tropics (below 1,000 ft):

At about 30 foot spacing, one could fit roughly 45 trees in an acre. This figure is complicated by the fact that many plants grow well as understory crops, and some (like bananas) closer together than that number. Simply put, if you mix tall and short plants, and sun loving and shade loving plants together, and so on, you can fit more than if you were to plant an orchard of one variety. That said, one needs to consider the amount of sun space and soil space that each plant needs to survive or to thrive.

The first acre would need room for at least some of the following: a house, a storage/workshop building, water tank, an array of solar electric panels, solar hot water panels, sun space for garden areas, a clothes drying area, driveway.

Of course, some areas can serve multiple purposes, and some trees can be planted above some of the infrastructure, increasing the capacity. Elevation, soil, rainfall, and wind all influence what will grow well on a property.

In order to be concise,  I am leaving out most details of why I chose this or that plant, and many details about particular needs and attributes of these trees. Perhaps I will write a series of fact sheets about key trees…

I will make one exception by mentioning that coconuts and breadfruit are less productive as you increase elevation and are less than ideal over 1,000 feet or so. That said, at 500 feet or lower, those 2 would be the first trees on my list.

I would plant at least these, in order of importance:

  • 18 coconuts palms (a mix of tall and dwarf)
  • 2 breadfruit (of different varieties to increase the length of season.)
  • 5 different grafted avocados (chosen for fruit availability year round)
  • 1 key lime tree (bears all the time)
  • 20 banana plants (key food source)
  • 1-4 grafted mac nuts
  • 2 grafted jackfruit
  • 1 breadnut
  • 1 Malabar chestnut
  • 1 Minneola tangelo
  • 5 papaya plants
  • 1 small diameter bamboo (under 2″ diameter, for poles, trellises, rails, handles)

Then for greens:

  • 1 hedge of Chaya
  • 1 hedge of Katuk
  • 1 hedge of edible hibiscus

And for alternate carbohydrates:

  • cassava patch
  • taro patch
  • sweet potato patch
  • A few yams

The rest, I would divide up amongst your favorite fruit trees: Tangerines (various), Brazilian cherry, Jaboticaba, Pomelo, Oranges, Surinam cherry, chico sapote, Mangosteen, Durian, Soursop, Rollinia, Cacao, Coffee, Mango (dry areas only), Rambutan, Lychee, Longan, Chempedak, Starfruit, Star Apple, Abiu, Lemon, Grapefruit, Marang, Passionfruit(vine), Pili nut, Wi apple, Peach palm, Acai palm, Cashew, Cinnamon, and others.

I have planted all of the above, (they all have their particular characteristics and advantages) but for sake of discussion, my personal top picks of these (all things considered) are: tangerines (various), Jaboticaba, Lychee, Star apple, Passionfruit (yellow), and Rollinia.

I would also consider adding some more bamboo plants, if you have space (bamboo plants are larger than you might think), such as: Bambusa textilis, Guadua angustifolia, gigantichloa apus, and Bambusa tuldoides.

Before planting any of these plants, get to know what conditions each require, (rainfall, elevation, full sun or shade) and check that the appropriate form of propagation was used (seedling, graft, air layer etc.)

This plan would allow some more space for a few additional larger trees (timber trees, large bamboo, Pili nut, etc.) which could double as trellis for the many useful tropical vines. (Chayote, Passionfruit, Kiwano, Yam)

As you are planning this system, there are two particularly useful livestock that shouldn’t be overlooked.

  1. It is often a good idea to have some tropical sheep in your orchard. They will eat many of the weeds, and supply meat eaters with an occasional lamb. At minimum, they need a sturdy fence to keep dogs out, and a tarp for shelter from the rain. Sheep could be included at no more than 2 animals per acre, usually less.
  2. Additionally, a 2 acre parcel could easily include 30 chickens in a free range situation. “Free range” to me means they live as feral animals and find their own food and shelter.

The inclusion of sheep and chickens would provide substantially more food, and would likely save work, since they would be doing “work” during their normal foraging activities, and they provide for almost all of their needs with scant human input.

So, there is a basic plan to get you started. I’ve left out most timber plants, fiber plants, annual garden plants, herbs, groundcovers, medicinals, aquaculture, root crops, spice trees… I’ve pretty much neglected all of the understory plants, and I’m hoping to convince my wife, Karin to write a sequel to this post soon.

Our Food Experiment


As a family owned subsistence farm in Kapoho Hawaii we are currently experimenting taking responsibility for producing our own food. Ultimately we want to meet these needs on the farm or within our neighborhood.

We have 22 acres situated in a tropical rain forest which has been overgrown with several species of invasive trees and vines. The canopy was once the slow growing Ohia trees, but now it is a species native to the dry area of Africa that has grown out of control with our 80-100 inches of yearly rainfall. We are slowly eliminating these recently introduced trees with a canopy of fruit and nut trees as well as noninvasive species of timber bamboo.

Some of our long term goals include eliminating our dependence on off-island sources for our staples: water, electricity, fuel, food, building materials, (clothing, shampoo, tools, bike parts, pens, information, communication….)

The most exciting project for me has been transitioning from the grocery store to the farm/neighborhood. We live in a unique neighborhood. There are a lot of other subsistence farms with a lot of different ideas and priorities about living sustainably. This is a place where chatting about composting toilets and bartering is easy: we have traded buck service for bamboo, loaning a plumbing torch in exchange for vanilla beans, goat milk for fig trees….

Our first step was to notice what we purchased at the grocery store and how often we shopped. Some stuff was easy, replacing apples with local fruit, eating perennial greens instead of california lettuce. Some was much harder, replacing pasta with taro and breadfruit (breadfruit again?!, experimenting with making vinegar from pineapples, sugar cane and mangoes, (what was that recurring white scum on the top?) And then there were what seemed to be impossibilities: butter, bread, oats.

Our plan: one meal at a time. We started with breakfast- our smoothie and eliminated the non-local ingredients (brown cow yogurt, frozen berries, almonds, oats) and replaced them with local (our own goat yogurt, mac nuts, our eggs, local honey, our bananas, any other local fruit, our neighbor?s vanilla, our cardamom, coconut). That was almost painless, a good start.

Eventually I made a list of our staples and began to search for local replacements. Our goal was not to get obsessive about it: we’ll still buy some specialty stuff until we can’t anymore but we will know our basics are taken care of. For example we stopped buying olive oil and started purchasing coconut oil since we will one day be pressing our own.

Staple number one: starch. Goodbye pasta, goodbye potatoes (except on thanksgiving), goodbye flour (not yet), hello breadfruit, taro and some dabbling in air potato, cassava, sweet potato, malabar chestnut, jakfruit seeds, plantain, dasheen. First we tried to replace all our familiar recipes for pasta and potatoes with breadfruit (breadfruit alfredo, breadfruit parmesan, breadfruit pesto, we never did find a way to have taro besides mashed with butter). Eventually we didn?t need to entertain ourselves with breadfruit dress ups. We started enjoying it steamed and mashed with butter, home fries or as a potato pancake.

Staple number 2: protein. Our strategy: Rooster eating, pig hunting (which involved butchering and brining), eggs, eggs and more eggs, goat milk cheese. Longer term we are putting in a pond for talapia and maybe mullet. Not so painful. There is talk of eating male goats but we are not quite there yet. Maybe if we had a pasture devoted to meat goats far from zone 1 so we never name them or learn their personalities.

Then we went after the stuff you don?t think about and people skip mentioning when they say they grow their food: vinegar, salt, sugar, spices, oil, flour, condiments, beverages, nut butters, jelly… We started with vinegar and eventually got some batches of mango vinegar (but they still don’t compare with balsamic vinegar) so we use lemon juice instead mostly.

Salt we got from ocean water that we boiled down over a pallet fire until we had crystals. Now we just boil it and pretend its clear soy sauce.

Sugar we tried harvesting and crushing sugar cane, then cooking it down. We did this in three batches. The first batch hardened like a salt block, the second stayed like a syrup and the third turned into a solid lump of glass. We decided to focus on honey and not try to preserve sugar cane (use it fresh only).

Spices: we decided to focus on cuisines that use spices we can grow here (thai, indian, hawaiian). We also gathered recipes for spice combinations (curries, garam masala, herb and spice salts etc.).

Oil: we bought a stainless steel wheat grass juicer and are waiting for some of the 500 coconut palms we planted to be mature enough to harvest and process. I tried rendering down a pig hide in a huge pot over a pallet fire for the fat but that was just a mess. I did have success making broth from local beef bones and skimming off the fat and using that for cooking. I would love to be able to butcher some bacon and save the grease from that for cooking, yum. For now we buy coconut oil.

Flour: the jury is still out on this one. We currently still purchase from north america organic wheat berries for our milking goats and our chickens as supplements and we have taken to grinding them up in the vitamix into flour and making hearty baked goods from that. I also purchased 25 lbs of dent corn (dried cork kernels) to experiment with grinding that into flour and it has been successful (polenta, cornbread, grits) so I purchased several varieties of dent corn for crops.

Condiments: we just stopped purchasing them. No more ketchup, we won?t replace the mayonnaise when ever it runs out (we did make some from scratch but we used olive oil and cider vinegar when we still had some), I broadcast a bunch of mustard seeds and are hoping that one day they will go to seed so I can harvest them, basically we just stopped relying on condiments since they aren’t around.

For beverages we make our own lemonade, Scott’s tonic water (handful of perennial greens like katuk, handful of herbs like perennial cilantro, basil, some lemon or lemon grass, honey, ginger etc. with water in the vitamix, then strained), kombucha (I started growing tea plants and have been using the remnants from the sugar cane experiment. When those run out I will take a stalk of sugar cane and split it into quarters and crush it with a mallet and just put stalks and all into the jar with the ‘mushroom’), we warm goat’s milk, add honey and cardamom and (shhh, butter) for an evening drink, I have been hand picking, peeling, drying, peeling again and roasting coffee from the land. It is such a laborious I can?t bear to grind up the beans in the vitamix so I hand crush them with mortar and pestle and make a ceremony of it. I also add cacao beans and grind them. We want to make some honey mead, maybe some fruit wines one day. I have been harvesting those mushrooms they call turkey something or other for tea but I feel too scared yet to brew any.

Nut butter we still purchase (almond) but we have also been purchasing mac nuts for snacks and smoothies from a neighbor (until ours are mature) and plan to make some batches of nut butter. The resistance here is how much waste there is in making it in the vitamix when you try to get it all out. Jelly we have replaced with honey and cinnamon. But actually we only use it on toast which we are (one day) going to give up.

I am so excited about legumes. I would say that embracing breadfruit in a serious way (most dinners, ask our friends) and growing beans was the biggest shift from 10% local food to closer to 80%. We have grown long beans, wing beans, lima beans with great success. I just added several other varieties of beans (scarlet runner, florida bean, a more shade tolerant bean, some bush beans and a pulse bean). Of the 30 pigeon peas we planted last year about 20 are still upright (the others are horizontal but still flowering) and we hope to harvest a crop of pulse from them. I want to build a solar dehydrator so I can put up beans, dried fruit, spices. Currently they tend to get moldy before they are dry and I loose a lot of cardamom, lima beans, seeds for seed saving. I dream of mason jars filled with dried beans, spices, herb/spice mixes, coffee, tea, dried fruit, vinegar, chutney, kimchee, preserved lemon, etc. on our shelves. Maybe some smoked jerky or pemmican.

At this point we could probably squeak by if the ships stopped coming in. Once our coconuts and fruit trees are producing more than we can possibly eat the goats and chickens will be weaned from wheat berries. We have (2) three acre pastures for the goats to browse 24/7 and our chickens are totally free range, including hanging our on our door step and keeping the earwig and centipede populations down. They also love tomatillos and every bit of compost we give them.

I didn’t address butter because we are still in denial about having to give up that. We have about 10 more acres slated for pasture but we are hoping that a neighbor will decide to raise jersey cows and we can barter for milk each week to churn in to butter.

Long term I would love to expand our kitchen to operate more like a commercial kitchen. Have equipment for hard cheese making, solar dehydrating, an expeller press for oils, crocks for fermenting and brining, a non-propane cooking source that is easier to regulate than a pallet fire….. We have lots of internet stuff on methane digestors.

We have nubian does and one buck, about 35 hens and 3 roosters, 2 horses which only enter into food production with their contribution of manure, about 170 fruit and nut trees, close to 500 coconut palms, some crops (peanut, ginger, taro, pigeon peas, beans, pineapple, ), a reliable garden- once my daughter reminded me that gardens are mostly annuals and need to be replanted (eggplant, okra, some brassicas, green onions, tomatillos) an experimental garden (beets, carrots, leeks, onions, lettuces, sunflowers, cabbage) a screen house (fruit fly free) which we are currently starting seeds for tomatoes, summer and winter squash, cucumbers, muskmelon, peppers, some dry climate herbs and figs. We have perennial greens (moringa, katuk, edible hibiscus, plus several other local pot greens).

We are expanding our vision for the farm: we want others to be able to experience what it feels like to live 3rd world. We are in the process of creating a second homestead for work trade/ interns. We noticed that many of the people working here in exchange for a cabin relied on a vehicle and a job in town to pay for their food. We wanted to offer the opportunity for people to provide for their own food needs and eliminate the need to be tied into working a job to pay for the car to get to the job so you can make money to pay for the food you can’t grow because you have this job.

A Day in the Life

Woke up in our small sleeping space looking much like a chicken coop with screens. It is big enough for a queen sized bed. Looking around (360 degrees) I can see jungle, papayas, coconuts and some 100 ft “weed” trees someone brought in from africa that make a spectacular canopy. The birds are loud every morning. There is a breeze and it rained for about 10 minutes as the sun was coming up.

Scott and I walk to another building we call the kite house (because if the wind really got under it, it would probably fly like a kite). Here we do our yoga. This morning an ethno-botanist in the neighborhood came by to talk about harvesting some of a vine called ayahuasca to prepare as a brew in the shamanistic way. It contains the same chemical that your body releases as you die which makes your life flash before your eyes.

I stopped by the barn before coming up to our “hearth” house to gather an armful of bananas and some eggs. We make a smoothie every morning with ingredients from our farm (with a few exceptions): goat’s milk yogurt, mac nuts, fresh vanilla pods, cardamom, ginger, eggs, bananas, papaya, some other fruit that is ripe at the time (this morning it was mame sapote), honey, coconut meat (sometimes the water if it is a young coconut), and a handful of oats (these are not local).

I got a call from a woman who is coming by today to look at a nubian doe (goat) we are selling. Lauren is being homeschooled with 2 other 13 yr olds by a good friend and teacher named Tracy.

Today we will plant a few grafted mango trees along the 1/4 mile driveway, probably chop some cane grass with machetes, I would like to harvest some papayas, plant some greens and herbs for salads near the kitchen and do some weeding of the perennial peanut (a ground cover lawn that looks like clover). There will be a handful of weed trees and bushels full of vines that will be hacked down today from the ever encroaching jungle.

It will most likely be 77 degrees with 60 something percent humidity with a breeze, puffy clouds and sun. Tonight after the sun sets it will most likely rain 1/4 to 1/2 an inch.

Scott and I will do a couples council today for about 2 hours. Then Scott will putter around in his nursery of mostly bamboo varieties and fruit trees. We have quite a few malabar chestnut trees, cacao (chocolate) and coffee trees waiting to be planted as an understory.

the farm is 22 acres with almost half untouched. Here is a list of the trees planted here (not including the trees in the nursery or that were here):

over 240 bamboo plants of 20 species
over 100 banana mats of 12 varieties
over 400 coconuts (not select)
10 breadfruit trees (4 grafted varieties, plus samoan and hawaiian)
7 grafted mangos of 5 varieties
11 grafted avocados of 9 varieties
15-20 seedling avocados
9 grafted tangerines and tangelos of 5 varieties
1 longan
1star apple
2 abiu
3 allspice
1 wee apple
4 rose apples
1 mountain apple
1 jacote
2 grafted jakfruit
1 grafted chempedak
7 seedling jakfruit
30 peach palms
1 grafted white sapote
3 paradise nuts
1 jacaranda
6 mac nuts
2 kapok
1 grafted lemon
1 seedling lemon
3 grafted limes
1grafted pomelo
2 grafted durians
1 seedling durian
4 seedling mangosteens
2 grafted mamey americana
10 noni
32 coffee
28 cacao
2 breadnut
1 black sapote
2 ice cream beans
5 kikui nut
3 rollinia seedlings
3 brazilian cherry seedlings
1 marang
3 monkeypods
5 rainbow eucalyptus

We have 8 nubian goats, about 35 hens and 3 roosters, 2 horses.

We will take an outdoor shower under the setting sun with solar hot water. And on rainy days we will fight over who gets to go first and get the hottest water!

Lauren will have milked in the morning and evening, fed the chickens and the horses. The goats have all the food they need in their pastures.

For dinner tonight we will build a fire in the outdoor oven using old pallets and palm fronds. We will cook up some of the feral pig we hunted a few days ago along with some bread fruit (the size of a cannon ball, grows on trees and tastes like bread when you cook it) and some chayote (a cross between a melon and a zucchini) and some lime chutney our friend ann made.

Scott will play the electric guitar and sing beatles songs into the evening while Lauren does homework and I finish cutting up a futon to make pillows for the ironwood couch we made.

We have 2,000 watts of solar panels with an inverter so we can run just about anything we need. We have a 30,000 gallon cistern catching rainwater and a pressurized system to distribute the water to 5 cottages and the barn and the laundry area. We have an old speed queen washer with a wringer, no dryer. We have 3 cottages available for rent or work trade. and we have no need to work for money any more. We are as close to financially independent as you can get. We don’t have money for extravagant traveling or purchases, but we also don’t need an alarm clock.