Saturday, September 27, 2008

Schedules and Salmon

On my birthday (today), I had an awakening!

I started this blog on May 29, 2008.

This will be my 28th post. I started it as a way to document the work I was putting into this acre of lava. Gradually, I started adding other topics, like books and cooking, travel and local events. Please check out the Blog Archives in the right-hand column of this page for past articles.

Somewhere in the middle of July I thought it would be fun to post twice a week. That worked well for a while, but then September came. The time I spend in my full-time faculty position in the Social Science Department of Hawai`i Community College doesn’t allow me to continue posting twice a week. Also, I need to devote any spare time I have to actually working in my yard.

You may not even notice that I have cut back to posting once a week on a Saturday night. In case you are more observant than I suspect, I wanted everyone to know what I need to do. After graduation in mid-May, I’ll probably go back to twice a week again during the summer months when I can spend the time writing and photographing.

Now that’s off my chest, I can relax a bit and let my readers know what else I’m doing.

Today I made a big pot of salmon stew. I had thawed more salmon than I needed for a meal this week, so I went to Google. There was a great sounding recipe for a Finnish Salmon Stew. I didn’t make it exactly the way the recipe suggested, of course. It’s a rare occasion when I actually use a recipe verbatim. If you ever need to use up a piece of fish, this would be one good way.

In my big soup pot, I put 2 tablespoons of yogurt spread (like soft margarine, only better tasting, I think). Into this I put half of a monster onion, chopped, and two thinly sliced carrots. As this became translucent, I minced three cloves of garlic (yes, three!) and added it to the mixture for about 30 seconds.

To this I added one can of fat-free chicken broth and ½ can water, one can stewed tomatoes (juice and all), two small red potatoes (cut into eighths), some very small sweet potatoes out of my garden (sliced), two tablespoons capers (drained), one teaspoon sweet paprika, one teaspoon sugar, and ¼ teaspoon powdered thyme.

This simmered for about half an hour, then I added one tablespoon white wine vinegar. I put the salmon fillets into the pot and turned the heat off. Before long the fish was cooked and flaky. I broke up all the salmon and tasted the stew.

It seemed extremely bland to me, but I like spicy things, so I crushed up two small dry hot peppers and added a healthy dose of chili powder. I couldn't tell you how much I added, but it gave it the “oomph” I needed. You might like it without all the “heat.”

I ate a big bowl with some hearty bread from the baker who shows up at the Na`alehu Farmer’s Market on Saturday. Finally - very tasty and healthy.

I finished preparing for my week’s classes before I settled down to write this blog. The muse might inspire me mid-week from time to time, but don’t expect it until summer vacation comes up again.

Until next week, Lava-Lily says “Aloha!”

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Magic of Seven

There is a fairly long and involved treatise written in 1956 on the magic of the number “seven” by George A. Miller, Princeton University Professor of Psychology, Emeritus. If you are of a mind, you can read it here. At the end, he refers to the seven deadly sins, the seven wonders of the world, the seven days of the week, the seven seas, and so much more.

I would not presume to improve on that, even with my own degrees in psychology! But I do know there is something magical about the number seven. So I give you my own take on it.

It is a super busy time of year for many of us, with the beginning of the school year, fall garden work (yes, even here in Hawai`i), and a balmy breeze that seduces us into staying outside and working longer.

With school lectures to prepare, blogs to write, a house to keep clean, food to cook, laundry to be done, books to read, and papers to read, I find I don’t have time to do the things I love doing, or that constantly call out my name to remind me of a task I haven’t completed.

I’ve taken the “Magical Seven” to heart and it is changing my life.

In my personal library are two books that I’ve put off reading, saying I didn’t have time. The first is The Seven Minute Difference: Small Steps to Big Changes by Allyson Lewis. The fly leaf states “You’re just seven minutes away from unlocking your purpose, knowledge and passion!” At some point, I must have been enamored with the title and the thought behind the book because I discovered that I own two copies – neither one had been opened!

The other book is 7 Minutes of Magic: The Ultimate Energy Workout by Lee Holden. The fly leaf here says that Holden “shows you how you can dramatically change your energy and fitness levels by performing two simple 7-minute routines…” Wow!

Somewhere on a blog or in a forum I occasionally read, I heard about the Fly Lady so I checked it out. She talks about setting up 15 minute time slots to clear up the mess in your house (or wherever your mess is located). I tried some of her techniques and they are great. I wanted to shorten it up even more and do it in seven minute bits.

Are you beginning to understand what I’ve been seeking and why??

So now rather than try to get the entire acre weeded in one back-breaking, time-consuming whack, I pull seven clumps of weeds at a time and dump them in the chicken run for my “girls” to nibble and scratch around.

You can pinch back seven shoots on a plant. You can spend seven minutes sitting in your patio to relax. You can toss out seven pieces of clutter. You can jot down seven people you need to call. I just now refilled my recycled seven bottles of good water to keep in the fridge.

When I feel overwhelmed with magazines, I either go through seven at a time to discard or give away, or I take seven minutes and do however many I can in that time. The list goes on and on.

My time at the computer is long by necessity, but if I take seven minutes to get up and do something more physical every half hour, I seem to accomplish a lot more when I sit back down. There is a little free software program specifically designed to remind you to get up and move. It’s called “Workrave” it can be set for whatever amount of time you want.

I have always been a musician, but lately I don’t take time to sit down and play the piano or pick up the guitar. By limiting myself to seven minutes, I can get back into something that lifts my spirits, and if there’s time, I can spend another seven minutes.

If there is a book that I need to read but I’m resisting, if I tell myself to only read seven pages, it doesn’t feel so boring.

I’m sure you can think of many more ways the number seven can work its magic in your life.

By taking all these activities in seven minute intervals or biting off only seven pieces of work, we are left with more time to enjoy those things we don’t want to do in only seven minutes – like eating a delicious meal, watching a good movie, having sex with your lover. . . . . . .

Sorry, my mind drifted off there for a few minutes!

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Couple of Oddballs

I’ve recently been given a couple of plants that deserve a blog all their own. They aren’t the usual run-of-the-mill herbs that people put into their herb gardens.

The first one I’ll tell you about is Turmeric. I discovered that I’d been saying and spelling it incorrectly all these years. Not only that, but I’d never used it in cooking.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa), is also known as "Indian Saffron." It is not a true saffron, but often used in place of the more expensive real saffron. It is a perennial herbaceous spice of the ginger family and is not related to saffron at all.

The part of the plant that is used is the rhizome in a process that takes several hours or even days. This process consists of lengthy boiling, drying and grinding. It is used not only for curries and other spicy dishes, but for dyeing and coloring mustard.

I don’t think I’ll be trying to produce my own turmeric anytime soon, but I may buy some and try a recipe or two. Curry is probably one of the most popular culinary uses for turmeric. Remember that curry is not “a” spice, but a combination of spices. For a list of some of the spice mixes, look here.

For an excellent simple recipe complete with a lively video demo, go here. This looks like something I might even try! By the way, this blog by Rob Klause has some great stuff on a regular basis.

In other countries, turmeric is used as an antiseptic and antibacterial agent. Some use it as a tea to help with everything from Alzheimer’s to cancer to stomach ailments, to liver problems. The National Institutes of Health are running clinical trials to see if the claims are valid.

Turmeric is also used in some sun screens. There are other cosmetic uses and beliefs. And since it is known to deter ants, I will keep the plant (see above) in my garden.

The other plant I was given is Wild Oregano - the picture above. It smells strongly like the typical oregano on our kitchen shelf, but after reading about it, I find it’s not one I would use in my Greek or Italian cuisine.

It is a perennial herb, propagated by dividing the roots in the fall. Mine were cuttings and seem to be doing fine after I stuck them into the ground with a lot of soil. At least they haven’t died yet.

The name “oregano” (or origanum) comes from two Greek words. Oros is the Greek word for mountain and ganos means joy, thus it represents “mountain of joy.” I hope it spreads all over my yard to give me that “joy.”

If not for food, then what good is Wild Oregano, other than as decoration in your yard? It is made into an oil that can be used both internally and externally, and is known for curing all manner of ills.

The Consumer Health Organization of Canada has a very interesting article about the studies that are being conducted, and the uses for which oil of oregano has value. It sounds like a “cure-all.”

Some vitamin supply houses sell it as “Colon Essentials” in capsule form. Other sources sell it mixed with a solvent. I’m not giving you the links for this because I wouldn’t know which one is most trustworthy. You can Google “oil of oregano” and decide for yourself. One-ounce bottles seem to be selling for around $27-30. Capsules are much lower in price.

This is another of those items I’ll NOT try to produce out of my own garden, but it’s always fascinating to me what uses can be made of these off-beat herbs and spices. I have always suspected that our ancestors knew far more about health than we do. On the other hand, if they did know so much more, why was their life expectancy so much shorter than ours today?

I’m a bit of a skeptic on these issues, although I do know many people have had amazing health results. What I do love is how pretty they look growing in my lava. I’ll buy turmeric at the store, pick from my own Greek oregano plant, and continue to see my local physician for medical help.

Until next time, "Lava Lily" says Aloha!

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Self-Proclaimed Neophyte!

For someone who claims he doesn’t know what he’s doing, Steve Sampson certainly is creating a garden that belies his statement. In just a year, he and Cindy have put in plenty of muscle power to move lava, haul soil, put in plants. One of Cindy’s creations is the welcome shown above. It greets visitors as they pull into the Sampson’s driveway.

Their two acre piece of lava has taken more work than they would have you believe. As I pulled into their driveway, I was amazed at the long stretch of lava wall they built. It seemed to go on for miles.

These walls were one of the main features throughout their property. I was inspired to start piling up lava rocks at my own place.

By the front door, they have brought color to the gray walls and trees with red cinder and flowers blooming in this circular bed.

Here you get a good perspective of the entry to their lovely home.

I asked Steve if he had a compost. He is just starting one at home, and has been going to the Waiohinu Transfer Station to get what he needs. This is a view of his soil-making area. All of us in Ocean View have had to make our own soil in order for anything to grow in lava.

Here is a closer look at his project. He uses a combination of peat, cinder and bags of garden soil with what he brings home from Waiohinu. It is mixed up here in this plastic-lined bed, then screened to get out large particles. The result is a fine, rich planting medium.

There are so many beautiful little pockets of color here. One of my favorite is the dry stream bed they formed to go under a little bridge.

Here is where the “stream” originates. If you look closely, you will see bits of bright blue scattered throughout the bed.

Every yard should offer the local birds a lovely place to bathe.

I am more than a little envious of this gorgeous patch of color flowing over the edge of the gray wall. Steve said it grew out of a small pot he picked up at WalMart.

More color brightens up the surroundings in these hanging planters. Like many of us, the names of plants remains elusive. I usually give my plants their own unique name that has no connection to reality.

This is one of my favorite touches. I’m sorry I didn’t get a shot of it against a background that would let it show up more. This regal peacock stands guard on the patio.

More color against the gray – this time it’s green.

My one small pot of monstera needs to be put into the ground. Here is what happens when you let it grow outside the pot.

Cindy adds her own colorful creativity with this floral painting – a nice touch to the garden area.

You can see where it is located in their yard, on the path going up toward their water tank.

Here is a good view of their patio. What a lush view over their forest as they dine. The first time I had a glimpse of their outdoors project was when they had invited me up for dinner. The plan to eat outside on this patio was scrapped because of a non-stop downpour of a much needed rain. I knew I wanted to come back and see it again.

Brilliant petunias bring more color to brighten up the patio.

Here is another area of “work in progress,” although I doubt if any gardener is ever totally satisfied with their work. We would never say, “There! It’s done!”

You can see why I was impressed with all their wall work! It goes on and on and on.

The biggest surprise of all is this charming out-building designed to match their home. At first I thought it was an ohana, the Hawai`ian version of a “mother-in-law’s” cottage.

Look at what Steve has on the inside! I’m not envious of this – I’m downright JEALOUS!

He told me that putting the lawn chairs here was an experiment that he wasn’t happy with, but I think it would make a great place to hide out and relax with a cup of tea after all the hard work is done for the day. It is also a sweet view of their driveway.

Thank you, Cindy and Steve, for letting me intrude on your Saturday!

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

My Philosophy of Compost

As we move closer to the need for self-sufficiency with food, more people are making their own soil, i.e., keeping a compost pile. Those of us who live on lava can’t afford to avoid it. I have several small areas that I devote to composting so I can keep them going for my land.

The problem comes with deciding what will go into the compost pile and what I’ll save to feed my hens. My decision is based somewhat on food quality. For example, coffee grounds and onions go into the compost; fruit rinds and weeds go to the hens.

I had a tiny little compost pile near the back door and eventually decided to start another one. When I took the wooden frame away, I ended up with a nice planting area close to the back door. This will be spread around a bit and I’ll put in seeds.

I’ve been reading about “lasagna gardening,” so I wanted to play around with that idea.

What I ended up with in this spot is similar to the lasagna gardening, and I’ve decided to try doing the same thing in other places. Using the same wooden frame from the original pile, I will place a small compost in various places to create growing spots. You can see that this is just barely started. But soon I’ll have another planting area.

Lasagna gardening has been called a “no-till, no dig” type of gardening. It’s also called “sheet composting.” You simply layer the same things you use in any compost pile. The one ingredient I haven’t used yet, but plan to, is wet newspaper or cardboard as one or more of the layers. That also helps to feed the worms you put into the pile.

Another article is written by the woman who originally came up with the idea of lasagna gardening, and is worth the time to read it. There are many great articles on this topic online. Just google “lasagna gardening.”

Because of the chickens, I have a lot of good chicken manure. So I created a place near their coop to put all the shoveled manure and leaf litter. A friend suggested that I put a bag of regular garden soil in the coop. As the girls scratch around in it, it would filter out through the floor of the coop and mix with the manure underneath. I suspect I can have a lot of good soil in a short period of time with this method.

Other friends have created compost piles. Here is one my daughter, Inga keeps in Boise, Idaho.

She keeps hers in the alley behind her house. Sometimes she has several going.

You’ve already seen Albert’s garden, but I didn’t show you his several compost bins.

Gordon, a friend on Maui, sent pictures of his compost, a great deal more sophisticated than mine. The picture at the top of this post is one view of his compost. He bought the two bins in California from the County in 1990 for $35 each.

He was very specific about how he handles his compost. His layers consist of thin layers of grass, redwood compost, chicken manure, coffee grounds from Starbucks and water. A thermometer shows that heat usually is generated up to about 140 F, with a covering that is necessary to avoid drying of the heap. His watering can holds two gallons.

These bins of compost are thirty inches on each side and break down into three layers that are ten inches wide. He makes each layer of material about an inch deep, and uses half-a-gallon of water for each layer. Grass is his primary material – something I don’t have here.

My friend Velvet who raises worms for her compost, guided me around so I could take pictures of her “self-made soil.” She created a progression system. One of these containers holds the kitchen scraps and weeds. Another holds mac nut husks that she adds to the green stuff. The third is the combination. As the break-down occurs, she moves it to the next bin.

She did have this tumbler on a wooden mount, but it didn’t last. She will build a new stand for it that is welded together.

When all has matured, she sifts it to get out any mac nut husks left and other larger pieces that didn’t break down.

So how do you start a compost pile? Other people might have a different idea, but sometimes when we think we need to do it in a specific way (and we think it must surely be complicated), it’s easy to put it off. As you can see, everyone has a different way of building one – all very effective.

I’m a lot more casual about it, and if you need soil in a place where you want to plant, you might try doing what I’m doing. Put a wooden frame or wall of rocks in a place where you might want to do planting eventually. In the past, I have used all sorts of things, like old wooden pallets and old wood-framed window screens. These are great because they let in air.

You can add your kitchen scraps, any weeds you gather, leaf litter, shredded paper, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea leaves and so much more. For more information, click here or google “compost” for other ideas.

By having several small spots going, I don’t worry about how long it will take, or if I’m doing it “right.” I simply shovel on whatever I think will break down and the chickens won’t eat. A cover of plastic held down by lava rocks keeps it warm and lets it perk.

If I can ever get my head around growing worms I can add their casings to my compost for even richer and faster soil.

I had just finished writing this post when I found an article called “Composting Life” in my email. It is an excerpt from Present Moment, Wonderful Moment by Thich Nhat Hanh. He explains the spiritual aspect of composting, how everything is in transition, and that we need rich compost from our life in order to grow a more beautiful life. I cannot say it nearly as eloquently as he does.

In Hawai`i we say “No rain, no rainbow.” That is what he’s saying, too. We can go through some hard times, but it is like fertilizer for our life, and we can use that to create something richer and fuller. Out of the stinky manure of our lives, exceptional things can take root and grow.

A leaf falls and is put into the compost and ends up helping the soil in which we grow our plants. In the same way, I believe that when we fall, we rise again in another place.

Get started with your composting, and have fun! I’m on my way out to play around with mine!

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Living On the Earth

I can’t remember a time when I was not in love with books. Even before I could read well, my parents made regular trips to the little libraries in whichever town we lived in at the time. I spent many hours looking through the books in my grandfather’s library. They were on a huge revolving stand, and although they were much too deep for me at the time, I would take them out and thumb through the pages.

Kaimana thinks he can read some of my books, too, but I think he just likes the smell of paper.

The first books I actually remember being able to read myself were the Raggedy Ann and Andy books. Then came the Bobbsey Twins, Elsie Dinsmore, Heidi, Nancy Drew - and I was hooked. Whether for personal pleasure or academic reading, my library grew from there. I still have books for math, French, Spanish and literature from my high school years!

But books travel to places unknown, and over the years I’ve lost books because of floods, being stomped on by horses, through two divorces, loaning them to people I’ve forgotten, and numerous moves from state to state.

When I moved from Ali`i Drive o Ocean View, I gave over a thousand books to the Friends Of The Libraries, Kona, plus four grocery bags full of books on gardening to Kona Outdoor Circle. I still have over a thousand books here in my home, plus at least that many in a storage unit in California. This next shot shows part of my attempt to sort out which ones to keep and which to give away.

It was in the early 70s when I read a book that changed the way I lived my life. I was re-structuring my life as a single woman, and although I didn’t embrace everything in the book, it did start me moving toward a more “natural” way of living. It’s one book I’ve kept over the years, and my copy is a bit tattered. I was surprised to find it can still be purchased.

I had three years of Ornamental Horticulture classes at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo under my belt, and I’d always had an interest in gardening. From that point on, I couldn’t get my fill of reading about ways to garden and provide sustenance for myself. If you’ve been reading these posts on a regular basis, you know that I also lived on a 37’ sailboat for 5 years. My gardening slowed considerably during that time, but my interest in gardening never waned.

When I lived in Tucson on the edge of the Sonoran Desert, I found a wonderful book that provided me with ways to use the “Fruits of the Desert.” Many of the author’s recipes and information on those fruits can be extended to some of our own produce. The cover is beautiful, and I’m sorry that Amazon doesn’t have an image of it to show you.

One book I forgot I had until just recently, is Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscape Naturally, by Robert Kourik. It’s a large and rather detailed book, but full of good information for the gardener who is serious about planning an edible garden.

If you are interested in an adult version of a picture book and dream book, pick up a copy of In a Mexican Garden. I drool over the photos in that book! I would label this book and others like it as “garden porn.”

This should keep you busy for a while, and I will be telling you about more off-the-beaten-track garden books in the future.

In the sidebar of this blog, I have listed books I use on a regular basis for my gardening ideas. If you are interested in buying one of them, please order through this site. It will help support my purchase of more gardening books.

Is this an addiction that I want to cure? I think it’s too late!

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