Monthly Archives: November 2013
There is something “magical” that happens in a garden. Eleven years ago was my very first season of gardening and I quickly became an addict. I was jumping out of bed, skipping coffee and sometime appropriate clothes or shoes, to go walk around my precious plants and see how they were doing. There was a satisfaction, joy, peacefulness and belonging I had not experienced before working the land. And time sort of disappeared. I had no idea how my quick little garden visits could have taken 2 or 3 hours- it was like the Narnia closet:) There are so many spiritual lessons to be learned while planting and encouraging life to come to full bloom. I am so pleased when I hear our students saying the same things. Yesterday during work duty we had a fun group conversation about the wonderful effect this little farm has on our spirits. We often come feeling so tired or grumpy or upset- but we all admitted that within about 15 minutes of being here all that turmoil just disappears. Before I tilled my own little plot, the Garden of Eden was just a story. Now I feel connected to it and have many of my own experiences with God and life guiding conversations with Him while tending to the land.
Truth be told, it was a small pot of flowers that led me to this wonderful hobby that has since become a way to serve and show God’s love to the hungry. My best friend, Esther, gave me a “color pot” of petunias 12 years ago as a thank you present. Until them I hadn’t considered growing anything. We lived in the Alaskan forest and I was content with birch tress surrounding me. That summer I found myself mesmerized by that pot of flowers. They were so colorful and intriguing and every time I came in and out of my door there was a spark of joy. The next year I planted a couple pots of flowers. The year after that I built a small raised garden, then another one. We bought a home with 15 acres dotted with ancient garden spots and perennial flower beds now overgrown with trees. We reclaimed them and added more and more each spring. Then a raspberry patch, rhubarb, strawberry patch, more garden plots, wildflower beds, ect.
Last year the Lord let me to staff the Natural Farm and I found myself perplexed. I was a pediatric nurse with dreams of helping children in developing nations- gardening was just a hobby. Besides, I am a beginner from the arctic and know nothing about tropical plants! As many have said and I have found to be true- Jesus is not so worried about our ability or knowledge, it’s obedience He blesses. So I came (figuring it was going to be a very short stint here until someone else who is actually qualified came to take my place) and continued to study every night in order to know what to do the next morning. Somewhere along the way I realized this was part of His grand plan for me all along. As I study the diseases so many children suffer from and read the heartbreaking mortality statistics, the glaring truth is that especially for children, malnutrition is at the core of the issue most of the time.
So I am thankful for this unexpected journey. Working this little plot of land and living alongside our farm animals has been a constant joy. We have great dreams for more and desire to multiply what we have learned in order to help hungry people feed themselves. I want to see healthy, thriving children with a future of developing their communities into what God has planned for them all along. I am thankful for my fellow missionary colleagues who have sacrificed everything and burn with passion and energy and push me forward and encourage me to hold nothing back from the Lord. We all feel the momentum growing and anticipate the future. I am thankful for the scores of young people who come and work and learn and serve all over the world. I am thankful for a loving heavenly Father who has guided me, most of the time with a blindfold on, and brought me to this place as a stopping point along a lifelong journey with Him. And I am thankful for the breeze, the birdsong, the rambunctious rooster noise, the flowers and butterflies, the blooming lilikoi and beautiful flowering vines, the baby lambs and pesty begging cat, the prolific kale and papaya and peppers and all of God’s good creation! Everything except the mosquitoes biting my ankles.
Two weeks ago our little flock of chickens celebrated their first year of life on the Natural Farm. It was a day of feasting- as every day is- of bugs and duck weed and kale and kitchen scraps. So to sum up our first year of back yard chicken raising- it has been delightful! We had no idea how much fun and learning we were in for.
A Year of Chicken History
We started with 30 Rhode Island Red/White Leghorn mix pullets and 1 rooster, all 24 hours old. They were shipped from a family business in Honolulu. The arrival was exciting and a bit stressful- having to worry about the temperature and food and water constantly- but they all survived and thrived! They received hundreds of hours of handling from the children that live on base and have never, ever pecked a person! Even when our first hen hatched 3 chicks several weeks ago, as protective and careful as she is, she still allows us to hold her babies without fussing. These 3 chicks all look different (a bit perplexing to us) and are doing well. It was so much easier with this generation as they had a great momma to take care of them and we didn’t have to think about keeping them warm or teaching them to eat.
About six months into the adventure we sold 6 hens to a local farmer friend who needed more layers, one hen mysteriously died ( appeared to be a broken neck- maybe flying and landed wrong) and during the year 3 have had to been put down due to the bubble eye infection. They never developed any other symptoms and only had 1 eye infected, but they would scratch and get so miserable we had to have mercy and put them down. According to our internet research this is a respiratory infection that is common in chickens, but ours never developed any other symptoms. This has been a demoralizing situation. We tried all natural remedies- borax solution, tea tree and oregano and garlic and black tea washes; nothing ever remedied the situation. And yesterday we found yet another hen and had to separate her. This fourth hen takes us over a 10% loss to the mysterious eye disease.
Our original rooster became chicken soup after getting aggressive and attacking me one too many times. We received a young rooster from a friend but the hens did not accept him and we let him loose. Another friend was using our old hen house to hold a rooster given to him for butchering, but he was too busy to get around to doing it. In kindness we let the rooster free but he came back into the fenced area to join the hens and he has been a perfect gentleman!! He has never been defensive toward a human but people have witnessed him warding off mongoose. And to top it off- he is very beautiful!
We have experimented with feed. They do receive store bought layer pellets (and the donations we receive for the eggs is about twice the cost of feeding them) and we have also grown some grains such as amaranth, sorghum, sudan grass and sunflowers, along with comfrey and kale leaves from the garden. They also free range and eat bugs (love cockroaches but not too excited about sowbugs) Recently we have put a large barrel of water with duckweed and azola growing in it- the chickens love eating these water plants and actually clean it out so thoroughly we are have to reseed it every day! They get daily bits of greens from the kitchen and any other treats random people bring them. I have come to find out that many of us keep a bucket of scraps in our fridge at home to bring to the spoiled chickens.
Over the summer we accumulated several batches of random chickens but decided to give them all away, except for the 3 silkies. They were very young when they arrived and now it is apparent that we have 2 roosters and one hen- but they are such good bug eaters and so interesting to look at that we kept all three. One rooster was getting “aggressive” (he would do a little sideways dance and then peck at our shoestrings) so we put them in the “back 40” and they are perfectly content. The young hen started laying 2 weeks ago. The eggs are super small but we are hoping she will decide to brood someday soon cause we are all super curious what silky chicks would look like.
This year some old familiar terms suddenly make sense. I now know what the pecking order is all about. And being cocky has a whole new meaning now that I have seen roosters in action (and even had to eliminate one for his attitude!) Birds of a feather, bird brains, the drama of laying an egg, nesting; I have a vivid picture in my mind when I hear these phrases. Yes- there have been some escapades and minor damage from chickens scratching where they don’t belong. But they always come back home and when they bust out running to come and greet me I find instant forgiveness! There is a special sort of love that hits your heart when you get greeted by twenty-some excited to see you again bird brains.
Permaculture in the Back 40
According to the Urban Dictionary the “back forty” is a beloved American idiom. In the US, 1 township is 36 square miles (6 miles by 6 miles). Each square mile (a section of land) is divided into 16 subdivisions of 40 acres (1/4 mile by 1/4 mile)– so a quarter section is 160 acres, a common unit of ownership in the early days of farming. The quarter-section farmer would own two ‘front 40s’ and two ‘back 40s
We are far from 160 acres in our “Back 40”, but that is what we affectionately call our area of agricultural experimentation. Our hope, faith and dreams would be to one day be able to farm 160 acres on this island, but first we must be faithful in the little before He makes us lord over much.
Why do we do what we do here on the Kona campus? It is for experimentation, understanding and training. If we can grow things here…we can grow things anywhere, and we can teach others to as well.
In the summer of 2013 we reclaimed an area in the back of the Farm. To begin it was rock, weeds and bramble, but now we are seeing the fruits of out labors. Diligently we are moving ever toward the facilitation of fruit. Permaculture = consistent and sustained growth of food in a permanent agriculture setting. It is a way of farming that utilizes perennial polyculture to maintain the health and integrity of the land.
Have we succeeded? No, not yet. Have we moved forward? Yes, very much so. Each quarter we look to take one more foot of ground and maintain it, never to allow it to return to the wild unyielding land again. God has designed us for a garden, and a garden we will once again endeavor to perpetuate for the benefit of the rising world.
Utilizing concepts such as bunds, swales, and zone designs we are aiming to show others a new way of agricultural development. The idea is certainly surrounding the concept of perennial plants in an edible landscape and using bio-intensive designs, but more than that it is seeing the landscape for what it is. In the West we often fight against the land, taking what it gives us and relegating it to the whims of conventional agriculture. This is not only unsustainable but it is expensive and does nothing to increase the amount of arable land available to the poor farmer. Our aim is to instead take what the land gives us and then use it. Instead of railing against nature we embrace it and use it to our advantage. This means incorporating water retention and erosion mitigation strategies, the development of strong biological profiles in our soil, and bringing about greater biodiversity in plants flora and fauna to give us pest eradication strategies and high yields with minimal outside inputs. We aim to ultimately show ways to grow more than we need so as to sell the surplus and bring a hope and future to the communities we serve.
I just have to share this picture! The fern was transplanted from campus and the white impatience was a old, tiny, anemic plant in an overcrowded spot with no sunshine. I resisted the urge to just pitch the sick little stem and instead added it to the potted fern. Wow! Yet another lesson in the beauty of second chances. I love the green and white combination. Makes me feel like a Mother Earth rendition of Martha Stewart:) But it was not skill or intention that created this beautiful pot of flowers. It was plain old mercy. Every time I look at this beautiful combination I am reminded of the potential packed into the people around me. Some of them appear very anemic and pitiful in spirit and character- but look what happens with a bit of love, SONshine and space to grow! I am so greatful the Master Gardner has been merciful and kind to me.
Last year at this time we planted a few hundred pepper seedlings, the majority were immediately munched down by sowbugs. We learned to circumvent that demise by cutting the tops and bottoms off of water bottles and encircle the new transplants. This technique, downloaded to Amy during a prayer time, has worked like a charm. This year we transplanted several dozen of the same types of peppers ( jalapeno, cayenne, Hawaiian chili, green bell) plus a new red bell pepper from our garden friend, Sandra. The results are exciting! We are amazed at the difference in size and productivity from last year to now. The only difference in the soil is weekly aquaponic fish water application. There are still some pests (not sowbugs) attacking the stems and we are spraying Neem oil 2-3 times a week. This seems to be holding the damage at bay. Looking at the production and health of the garden this fall has convinced us that fish water is a wonderful fertilizer and soil conditioner. It is not so lovely to spill on oneself though:)
Just when we had given up hope on the failed brooding sessions of our silly chickens- one managed to hatch 2 chicks Oct 18th and 1 more Oct 19th. She had 6 other eggs that were almost developed but she was too preoccupied taking care of her hatched threesome to keep sitting. I completely understand her dilemma; after my 3rd baby “hatched” I never sat down again! Babies 4 and 5 just had to hold on for dear life and live with constant motion.
These three chicks look completely different. The striped chick is Rex, the black is Radar (named affectionately after Grace’s black lab we had to leave when we moved here) and the white/light yellow is Cloud. Momma is very diligent in caring for them. She won’t eat any treats we give her- she just calls her babies over and makes sure they eat. She sings a song I had never heard before when there is food and I find her flipping it in their direction. Little Radar is smaller than the other two and tends to be trailing behind most of the time. We will try to sex them this week- just learned how to do that by looking at the pattern of feathers on their wings.
We made our own chick food by softening the layer pellets with yogurt and adding a bit of cottage cheese or boiled eggs or other protein sources. They are growing quickly! Momma took them out of the henhouse 5 days ago and is teaching them to scratch around and hunt for bugs. I was nervous about them being out so young, but they keep up with her and seem to be happily cheeping all day long. All of the young farm visitors are thrilled to have baby chicks around- babies of all kinds are entertaining and heart warming. Except maybe spiders:)