Saturday, July 30, 2016

Early Morning at Serenity Ranch

I managed to capture several wild chickens that had been roaming our yard, waking us extra early each morning, and making a bit of a mess. They were lured into an empty chicken yard, the greedy little things, then I shut the door on them. Easy peasy. I even managed to get a rooster in there, too!

After a week or so, I could tell they were never going to settle into the domestic life, but I didn't want to just let them out to take over the yard again. Aha! How about releasing them up at the ranch? So, last night before bed, we plucked them off the roost, one by one, and stuck them into the transport cage. Then early this morning, we drove up to the ranch to set them free under the Grandmother Mango tree, well away from the flock that's already living by the Banana Shack.

Alongside the future house site, looking over the Center Field to the ocean beyond.

I didn't have a chance to get any photos of the birds because, once the transport cage was opened, they instantly popped out and ran for the cover of the jungle! As we wandered around, checking on the cattle and hunting for the free-range horse, it was fun to hear the rooster of each flock crowing to the other one across the fields. Even the cows got curious, recognising a new sound coming from higher up the hillside and they soon set off to investigate.

Meanwhile, a bit of drizzle stretched from over the rift behind us... and suddenly a bright rainbow appeared! It was a good morning.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Discovering Tide Pools

After a beach bbq picnic and swimming (or rather, lolling about in perfect temperature water) at the warm pond, we thought a nice walk along the shoreline was in order. The kids had never yet explored this stretch of the coast on foot - they had a treat in store! Come along for the stroll...

We start off at one end of Ahalanui Park, through the grove of neatly trimmed coconut palms, and then we enter the jungle...

The grassy trail ends where the lava rock begins.... a little further, and we come upon tidepools.

Acacia finds friendly little hermit crabs. She names each one, but I cannot remember which is Hermie and which is Mishella. We manage to find shells which are unoccupied that she can bring home for her collection.

We watch for whales since it is the season for the humpbacks to be in Hawaiian waters, but we see no telltale sprays or splashes. Fishing boats make their way back towards the Pohoiki ramp.

The huge waves of a couple days ago have simmered down to their more usual amount of energy (else we would not have come out to this shoreline ledge) but we maintain a close watch on them, nonetheless.

We come across a large patch of sand - a rare treat along the Puna coast. It feels so soft underfoot, warmed from the sunshine, and perfect for creating elaborate landscapes of the imagination.

We are lulled by the sunshine, the sound of the waves, the gentle breezes... time passes...
Eventually, it occurs to us that there are chickens to tend to, eggs to collect, things to be done before evening. And so our perfect day at the tidepools comes to an end.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Forest Chickens, 'Ulu, and Granddaughter

I retired one of my older flocks to the ranch. They no longer laid enough eggs to make it worth keeping them. Often, we relegate these older birds to the stew pot, but sometimes they go on bug patrol instead. Trouble is, there were way too many of them to run around loose at home.

So, one evening after dark, we plucked the birds, one by one, off the roost and set them in the travel cage. Before dawn the next morning, we drove to the ranch and set them loose in the area of one of the cattle water troughs. We rigged up their old water bucket on a nearby tree so they can easily get a drink, too. It sure didn't take long before the old gals figured out the lay of the land. I can already tell which is their favorite tree to roost in at night.

They now form the Bug and Fertilizer Patrol. Instead of costing us money in feed, they are in chicken paradise where they enjoy bananas, guava, bugs, grubs, worms, seeds, greens, and shall we say "leftovers" from the cows. In fact, they have somewhat adopted the cattle, or is it the other way around? It's win-win no matter how you look at it.
Bonus: Chicken companions on my walks through the woods!

Even though we keep getting sidetracked with various other also-urgent ranch projects, we still brought some of the 'ulu (breadfruit) treelings to the ranch in order to start our orchard. No, we didn't manage to actually get any of them into the ground yet... but it did give us a much better idea of what goes where and how much room all of it will take. The future orchard, by the way, will be right behind the future house. Until then, they are under the Grandmother Mango tree where they won't dry out too quickly between waterings (or rains).
'Ulu keiki just waiting to spread its roots

Look how tame Spirit horse is getting! Mike's been working with him and it shows. Acacia was so excited to be able to almost touch him! She LOVES spending time at the ranch. (Well, except for that one time when the cows got loose and we had to spend hours chasing them back in, on foot! Nobody enjoyed that time.)

She's a good little hiker with those long legs of hers, easily keeping up with Grampy as he checks the livestock. She's learning to recognize the wildflowers and can spot a grasshopper or lizard well before the rest of us notice its presence. Yes, we do realize how very lucky we are to have a grandchild in our lives.

Thursday, January 21, 2016


Have I not even mentioned our cows??? Oh my goodness, I am so far behind!

Well, first there was CowCow, who you can read about here. 
She was joined by another black Angus - a rescue cow who was extremely malnourished and being badly injured by her herdmates. We weren't even sure she would survive the transfer to the ranch. When we checked on her the next morning, the two had found each other and she was dubbed MooMoo.

CowCow and MooMoo
We figured MooMoo could at least help with clearing the brush, even if she never regained enough health and strength to bear another calf. She has since managed to get a little muscle on her bones and most of her sores and injuries are healed. But is still extremely shy and wary, both of us and of the newest cows. She likes hanging out with CowCow, though, her first friend in probably forever.

The two Angus cows doing what cows do, graze and explore.

Then in December, we added six Dexters, a smaller breed. They were being sold off from a much larger herd, maybe because they have horns. To us, horns seem an asset as they will be better able to defend themselves against marauding hunting dogs that misguided and unthinking people inexcusably allow to run loose in the forests around here. (If I sound a little angry, it's because I am: such a pack killed my sweet Blackie-cat. I am furious and horrified about it still.)

It took two trips to get all the Dexters to their new home at the ranch, three in each load. Below, Unicorn - so named because someone removed one of her horns years ago so she has only one remaining - takes her first tentative steps from the livestock trailer. Unicorn is a pregnant mama, due any time now.

Besides Unicorn, there is
  • Princess Buttercup, who may or may not be pregnant (the previous records were a little sketchy); 
  •  T-Bone, Sir Loin, and Porterhouse, who are all steers; 
  • and Ferdinand, a cute curly-headed young bull calf, who, so far, lives up to his namesake in temperament.

The herd had a happy bellowing reunion in the woods.

Most of the trees in the picture above are melochia. Considered a weed tree, melochia is fast growing and actually is very good cattle feed, high in proteins. After the cows eat the easy-to-reach lower leaves, they'll push the brittle little tree right over and get to work on the upper leaves. You can also see the remains of a couple banana starts in the foreground - a juicy treat for the herd. We will have to figure out a way to run fencing around the lower banana patch before too long. The upper patch is already fenced off from the livestock. Even the horse like banana leaves!

Speaking of the horse, he tends to mostly ignore the cattle now that there are so many of them. But he does seem to appreciate the many new trails to follow, all the better to reach those greener pastures I'm sure he's heard about.

The cattle have now formed one large herd, all eight of them. They wander through forest and field, trampling the brush and weeds, mowing and fertilizing the grasses, and creating trails for easier exploring. We provide several water troughs and a mineral block. It's so fun to be hiking around up there and realize you are being watched by a forest cow, or have Unicorn come up for a nuzzle and maybe a treat if you remembered to fill your pockets with hay cubes or liliko'i.

We'll be moving to more intensive rotational grazing eventually, but right now the livestock pretty much have run of the lower half of the ranch and it's working out just fine.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Harvesting Honey

I told y'all about our bees, right? We got them back in February and they have mostly been just doing their thing all summer. We are quite happy to have these hard-working insects on our ranch. They are certainly earning their keep by pollinating the rainforest, wildflowers, and tree crops out that way.

Recently, we were able to pull our first honey from the hive. You might be surprised at how many steps there are to harvesting honey. I wasn't able to get the first parts photographed since I don't have a bee suit (and am not willing to be stung for documentation purposes). Mike, however, does have a bee suit, and actually, he is the one who works with the hives. So, what you don't see here is the smoking to calm the bees during check-ups and harvest, the lifting of the lid, prying out the frames to find those that are ready to harvest, and transporting them back to our house where the extraction process happens. We'll begin the photo essay from there...

Each frame is heavy with liquid gold, hiding inside beeswax. Don't worry, we leave plenty for the bees to survive on. Plus there's the bonus of something or other blooming year-round in the tropics.

Before we can get to the honey, we have to open up the caps that seal each cell of the comb. The first time we did this, we used a homemade scraping tool. We have since moved on to a pin roller which makes the job much easier and also leaves fewer of the cappings in the honey, and a lifting fork for the bits where it might be too uneven for the roller.

Next, the frames, three at a time, go into the hand-crank extractor. After you're done spinning the honey out of one side, you turn each around to get the other side extracted. The extractor has just enough room on the bottom to hold the honey from these three frames (about 2-1/2 gallons) before it needs emptying, so we'll drain it out the spout before doing the next three frames.

We'll have to lift the whole thing up high enough to get a five-gallon bucket underneath. The honey pours out of the valve near the bottom and runs through a strainer to catch the cappings and other bits of wax that got loose. This wax, along with the wax scraped from the spent frames, will be melted before being used to create candles, salves, etc. We'll need a sunny day to do this - but it's the rainy season, so we are storing the unrefined beeswax in the freezer for now.

Once the pure honey is in the big bucket, we can fill our honey jars...

... and since it's been such a good harvest, we have extra to sell!

Kaimu Rainforest Honey - like our label? These one pound jars sell for $5. If you are on-island, you can bring your own jars for a discount. Local, raw, pure, unfiltered honey from deep in the wilds of Puna. Mmmmm... or should I say Bzzzzzzz...