Archive for the ‘Hawaiian Food’ Category

PostHeaderIcon Sam Choy`s Hawaiian Beef Stew Recipe

Hawaiian celebrity chef Sam Choy has honed his skills over many years to create a feast of dishes and recipes that have provided many with delicious, not to mention inspired, cuisine. With a personable and relaxed manner, Choy has built both his reputation and client base and with many appearances on TV cookery programmes, it`s [...]
Hawaiian Food Recipe

PostHeaderIcon Earth Sheltered Pit Greenhouse

First Framing Attempt

First framing attempt.

In this area of Texas, I have two problems that I encounter when growing tropical plants. In the winter it freezes – a no-brainer – and in the summer, it gets too hot for many of the tropicals I grow. It’s a pretty unfriendly environment for a plant that is used to an 80-95F range 365 and a quarter days per year. But, the land wasn’t expensive, we have family here, and our well flows good even in the depth of drought, and most importantly, my better half doesn’t want to cart the kids off to some remote Pacific island no matter how much I beg. So, determination and innovation is what I have left – and a blank slate of a property to exercise that on.

My goal is simple – grow tropical plants without going broke doing so. That means keeping the environment above freezing, and below the hundred mark if possible. And doing so without having to depend on expensive heating, be it by fuel – which is ridiculously expensive, or by electricity that, well, is produced by burning fuel currently so is similarly expensive, and without having to buy and install massive swamp-coolers that would only work until our humidity shoots up to where it usually is in the hottest, most miserable part of summer. And that means the solution needs to be inexpensive to build too. No expensive multi-layered glazing, no super-insulated walls or fancy gizmos.

Inside the Pit

Inside the pit.

Luckily, I’m a huge fan of earth-shelters and underground homes. I may never live in one and may forever be consigned to a stick-frame with a white picket fence, but that doesn’t stop me from dreaming. It just fascinates me that the simplest way to cool down on a hot day is to go a few inches down into the ground – something I’ve seen dogs do. As such, it wasn’t a far stretch for me to consider this for a greenhouse. At one time, I even daydreamed of having the greenhouse totally buried but having light wells. A major inspiration for that idea was Forestiere Underground Gardens as seen on HGTV. I was just enthralled by that show and researched it on the Internet extensively. I also found a Mother Earth News article about another DIY earth-sheltered greenhouse inspiring too. And more so, because he too grows tropicals, I found Russ Finch’s semi-pit earth-sheltered and ground-mass heated greenhouse especially inspiring.

Shed that Donated Siding

Shed that donated siding.

My problem was that I had no idea what the structure of my soil was. Our property is not far from a creek, so it was easy to surmise that we were sitting on silt. So I spent an enormous amount of time researching retaining walls and re-enforcing, getting rather elaborate and ultimately fatally impractical. It was time to step back and take a breath. There was going to be an earth sheltered greenhouse here, but I just wasn’t sure what direction to take. Finally, I figured I’d put shovel to soil and see what I came up with.

Beginning the Enclosure Construction

Beginning the enclosure construction.

It didn’t take long, tho before the shovel idea seemed less appealing. I got down about a foot then the soil was like concrete. But I had already started – so I called a friend with a back-hoe – it was time to put some money where my ideas was and step in with both feet. I was starting off small and simple – 12′ wide and about 45′ long. I had already decided to use the cattle-panel hoops from my previous greenhouse to cover this thing – going from 9′ wide 6′ tall to 12′ wide and 4.5′ tall covering an 8′ deep pit – soil composition willing.

Three walls up - one to go.

Three walls up – one to go.

The first couple of bucket-fulls of soil told the story – the reason why I felt like I was digging in concrete after I got a few inches into the subsoil was that it really was, after a fashion. Strip away the shallow subsoil and what I have is sandstone! A rather hard sandstone too. By the time the back-hoe had finished digging, it’s teeth where short, sharp, shiny little nubs, polished to a mirror finish. And what I had was the start of my earth-sheltered dreams – a pit that had walls of solid rock – no re-enforcing needed at all! I was beside myself – it only took an hour to excavate that, and he even carved a little ramp for me to go down into the pit.

The door actually works!

The door actually works!

My next quandary was how to cover this thing. It was fairly close to straight, but not perfect. I tried stakes to anchor the cattle-panels, but that didn’t work as the ground wasn’t fully even, making the forming of a perfect hoop impossible. I then figured I’d build a frame to mount it on and support it from inside the pit. That worked well, except, there was a space between the frame and the edge of the pit that I had to contend with.

Already getting crowded.

Already getting crowded.

I spent a winter trying to figure that out and the next Spring I decided to embark on an idea that had been hounding me – build an enclosure inside the pit for at least a temporary earth-sheltered greenhouse. The other option was to scrape the soil around the perimeter, dig a footer trench, pour a few yards of concrete then build a frame on top of that. A very good and ideal idea – but more expensive than I could afford at the time and I needed to relocate my plants pronto.

Installing the Glazing

Installing the poly glazing.

I had a corrugated-steel clad shed on the property that I was in the process of disassembling, and I had all the lumber that I used in the first framing attempt, so it wasn’t long before I had walls being made. I actually built the thing in a 2-day frenzy of nailing. First the short wall at the back end of the pit, nailed together and clad with the corrugated steel while laying down, then lifted up and leaned against the end of the pit. Then the long walls, each one assembled likewise. They were heavy too – but I managed to get them up. And finally, the door-wall. I was lucky in that our house was in the process of construction when we bought it and had a spare glassed-in screen door. I made use of that for my greenhouse. I braced the top of the greenhouse. I should have braced the bottom too – one wall has moved in a few inches, but it’s stopped where it is so I’m not too worried about it.

12.5 Feet of Headroom - Nice!

12.5 Feet of Headroom – Nice!

I couldn’t afford to enclose the entire pit – not enough lumber, not enough corrugated steel – I was on a near zero budget here. So I only enclosed a little over 17′ of the pit. That required only four cattle-panels to cover. And they went on swimmingly – very easy to do. I did everything solo – no help whatsoever, so it took a bit of creativity to make this work. The ends were a little more awkward. I figured on a couple of pieces of plywood on either end and then I’d cut it to shape to the curve. Well, I never got around cutting it, but it’s worked perfectly the way it is and I figure if I’m going to eventually disassemble this for the new and improved version I’m currently designing, why bother? But the ends really helped stiffen the entire hoop.

All I had left was to glaze it. Since I used cheap poly from the hardware – basically 6mil translucent general purpose poly – that didn’t survive long in the UV rays of the sun, I decided not to cover it right away, but rather concentrated on moving all the tropicals down in the pit. It was now Fall and starting to get cool, but I still pushed it as far as I could, waiting until the last possible moment to put the poly on.

Covered with Snow and Happy

Covered with snow and happy.

Now, here’s an interesting thing with earth-mass. It radiates heat. It may not seem like it – but with the ground at a constant 65′ish, when it’s cold outside, the walls actually serve as heat sources. I saw the manifestation of that very clearly one morning. A morning that was only supposed to get to the low forties. Instead it dropped to the low 30′s to upper 20′s! And I didn’t have a lick of poly on the greenhouse. I went outside and the grass, house, trees, my pots and junk – it was all covered with ice. My water-hoses were solid with ice. It was cold. And I was terrified. I ran down into the pit and saw… perfectly happy tropical plants that had not a speck of ice on them – lotsa dew tho. Earth-mass at work, folks. Of course, it’s more potent in the Fall, following a hot summer, than the Spring – there is a certain amount of stored energy from the summer playing a part here.

Nevertheless, I promptly glazed the greenhouse. My next challenge was attaching the poly. Did I want to nail it, or wrap it around a 2×4 then nail that, or what? I then remembered the problem I had with my last greenhouse – where the near constant wind eventually found weak spot in the plastic that caused them to rip and caused the rips to keep on ripping. The solution presented itself to me in the spare cattle-panels I now had – why not just lay the other cattle panels right on top of the poly? And it worked. The squares matched up to the ones below the poly, forming tear brakes. Additionally, the wind couldn’t grab huge swaths of the poly, but only little squares. I did have a little rip and it stopped at the edge of the squares as I surmised it would.

Yes, it floods a little when it rains hard.

Yes, it floods a little when it rains hard.

Now for supplemental heat. I already had a wire out there that I used for my well, and I spliced into that to use for my heater. I didn’t think I’d need it much but figured it would take the edge off. Even tho the enclosure was completely covered now – the walls still were exposed to the outside air – both on the entrance end and in the space between the other walls and the sandstone walls. So – earth-mass or no, it was going to get a little chilly because I was not excluding the winter air effectively. It still performed wildly beyond my expectations. My heater failed at the splice early on – and I never knew it. I had a very few plants show some curious signs, but the vast majority of the plants were so happy that I chalked the few quirks to something else. I figured that the figs go dormant naturally, the boswellia sacra has a highish dormancy temperature range, and that my chocolate trees and coffee trees – all clustered tightly together – were suffering from root-rot problems from the cool, moist soil. However, no heater, and a very cold winter for these parts and the rest of my plants acted like they didn’t even know it was winter!

The flooding never gets deep or stays long tho.

The flooding never gets deep or stays long tho.

This winter is my second winter in this enclosure. Plans are underway for a new pit greenhouse – much larger, much longer, a little bit deeper and a taller riser giving me more headroom. I have a little more funding and am working at a place where dirt-digging equipment is easy to get ahold of. With my experiences with my current pit greenhouse, this new project is sure to be a blast. My goal is to plant right into the soil of this new pit – soil that I’ll have to make by converting the sandstone into sand then mixing with organic matter and a dash of clay and whatnot. But that, folks, is another article. For my current greenhouse – built when I was at the lowest point of being broke from scavenged components – I am growing plants that would have way outgrown my topside hoophouse, and that required a fraction of the heating that I used up there. All in all, a very economical greenhouse.

To answer a commonly asked question – yes, when it rains hard I get a few inches in the bottom. But that’s it – and the water drains away rapidly. A couple days later, 5″ of standing water becomes a little bit of wet sand. That’s the advantage of having sandstone. The new pit will eventually be completely covered and won’t flood at all, but it’s never been a problem.

Another similar project that uses similar principles that mine does is a pool that’s been repurposed into an earth-sheltered aquaponics greenhouse. Check them out at http://gardenpool.org/

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PostHeaderIcon My First Bananas

Summer of 2006, young collection

Summer of 2006, young collection.

If there was a first food-producing tropical plant that I’d recommend for beginners, I think it would be the ubiquitous banana. It is a very tolerant plant, grows in a variety of soil conditions excepting perhaps boggy, is the very image of tropical with it’s large, lush, richly green leaves, and with patience and care they produce super yummies that the whole family can enjoy. No, really – 150 lbs from a Williams Hybrid is gonna require the whole family and perhaps the neighbors and their friends to eat… Realistically, most nanners don’t produce that much, especially grown in temperate regions (with winter protection), but it’s immensely satisfying bringing in something that grew from your garden and bananas are no exception.

My first experience in growing bananas here is from a keiki I harvested from a large patch my Father in Law was growing. That patch has since been removed so I’m happy I got it when I did. There’s no name for it yet, this mystery variety, and it hasn’t flowered yet, since winter has claimed its first stem, but I’ve since moved it into the greenhouse planted in a container and I look forward to the bananas it will produce. For me, currently, it’s the joy of growing these things that has me most captivated. The bananas will come in time. The rest of my bananas have yet to flower as of this writing, tho I’ve been growing banana plants for some time now. However, with them in containers and now in a greenhouse, it’s just a matter of time before they’ll be pushing out their flag-leaves and finally, their flowers. Several are close to that now.

Mysore keiki on yearling plant.

Mysore keiki on yearling plant.

Like most of my explosively expanding collection, it really didn’t take off until we got a little bit of property a few years ago that I had free reign on. Our last house had very poor lighting and few windows and a very small yard. I had stuff growing, but I ended up with most of my tropicals growing in a large display window at my computer shop. Then we got another property – not vast acreage, but big enough to stretch out and let my tropical interests take over. And bananas are certainly a big part of those interests.

November of 2006 and ready for winter

November of 2007 and ready for winter.

Banana plants to me are practically synonymous with tropical. They’re lush, succulent, always green, and grow rapidly. Their huge leaves are uniquely… banana. Even without fruit, they are a pleasure to grow. Just a few trees and a bit of imagination and you have yourself a little island setting. My Father in Law never got fruit from his bananas – he’d let them die back every winter and come back in the Spring. But by mid-summer, they’d be huge already and a large clump of banana plants is a sight to behold. I found it irresistible and the first chance I got I took a shovel over there and cut out a keiki (an offshoot) from the clump – a young sword. And thus began my journey into banana-world.

Very happy bananas in wet Spring of 2007

Very happy bananas in wet Spring of 2007.

I had it potted for a year, living in my greenhouse. After a bit, I decided to put it in the ground. The clump lived in the ground for a time, dying back every winter and returning in the Spring, until I got my first pit-greenhouse built. It survived with very little care – just kept it watered over the dry season and that was it. When I got the pit-greenhouse built – with it’s 12.5′ ceiling that was tall enough for the bananas to mature, I determined that I was going to see this banana fruit. I dug it up as soon as a new Spring shoot showed and put it in a container. That was a little over a year ago. Naturally, potted bananas will grow slower than inground bananas – so patience is required when expecting fruit. Perhaps I’ll see fruit from it this year, or next.

Mysore keiki all grown up in 2007.

Mysore keiki all grown up in 2007.

But that didn’t end my banana collecting adventure tho. From trading/sharing/purchasing, I ended up with 13 varieties, minus a couple of losses that has me down to 11. I had a bunch of TC bananas that didn’t make it over the winter – just a touch too cool for them even in the greenhouse – but it’s a good thing for I’d be out of room here pretty quickly if they all survived. Still, I have a few that will get very large that I’ll need to move outside the greenhouse. For the time being, that’s enough for me. Some will go topside as I experiment with winter protection techniques – like my Saba and Brazilian. The more tender bananas and dwarfs will remain in the greenhouse in large containers for more reliable fruiting.

A little fun with the Gimp on one of my Mysore images.

A little fun with the Gimp on one of my Mysore images.

It’s stunning to see them in full growth during the growing season. Winters see them moping, with their lower leaves drying up and growing very little if at all. Some slowed down enough that I topped them to prevent rot – cutting down until I saw a nice green core with no central dark spot (an indicator that the latest leaf was rotting back). Next winter will see a much warmer greenhouse with the catfish tank and active solar-heating and the bananas will all be in much larger containers, so it should be a better overwintering experience.

Providing their stems survive, all of these bananas will fruit. If the stems die back to the ground, then it starts the clock all over with the new shoots that emerge. So far, I’m a little over a year in with most of these bananas, over two for a couple – so I expect to be seeing flowers popping up here really soon. I’ll be sure to cover their development as they grow and produce bananas. For someone who is so good at killing plants, I’ve found bananas to be an exceptional plant to grow and very well adapted to container gardening. So long as you provide it with heat, all the light you can give it, and moisture (without water-logging, of course), you’ll have the makings of a happy nanner, and perhaps even bananas. The plant only produces so many leaves before the flower emerges, so it’s just a matter of time.

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PostHeaderIcon Taro ICU

Aquarium Pump Lo’i

Aquarium Pump Lo’i.

Growing taro has been exciting for me, but Spring always results in a few losses. It’s a pretty big stress on these plants to go dormant when they’re used to continuous growth. My new barrelponics system will solve that by keeping the water warm thru a solar water-heater. But this Spring still needs to be dealt with.

I have been keeping my sickly taro in my aquarium water filter to recover for several weeks now. It has worked out perfectly, but that window is losing its direct light, so I grabbed a spare and took it down into the pit greenhouse to test it on my pair of test bucket-lo’i. The taro already in the bucket lo’i have been doing very well – one variety never went dormant and the other is coming back from dormancy pretty vigorously. They are also now in the sun as the shade from the southern wall is receding. The taro in the fish-filter are still growing fine, but they’re starting to reach a little harder for that light, so it’s time to find an alternative location for my Taro ICU.

Freshly placed filter with Haokea keiki in it.

Freshly placed filter with Haokea keiki in it.

I plopped the filter on there, filled it up with water and turned it on. Within moments I had a good flow. My poor skeeter-fish in there wasn’t sure what to make of this new intrusion, but it wasn’t long before they were back at the surface hunting for food. I didn’t have the taro I am keeping in the other fish filter out there yet, so I rummaged thru my pots of taro looking for weak taro keiki – ones that are having trouble getting started. I found a pair of Ula Ula Kumu and one of my Haokea that suited the task pretty well. They all had little corms on them and would probably have come out fine after some period of struggle, but I am going to dig all these up anyway and put them into a barrelponics system so it’s no harm.

Ula ula Kumu on left, Haokea on right.

Ula ula Kumu on left, Haokea on right.

They’re now propped up in the fish filter and looking pretty good. I’ll know in a week or so how they do but given my experience with some keiki that were in much worse shape, I’m confident that these guys will take off vigorously. This is the same basic idea that is behind barrelponics – using fish water pumped thru a tank to feed plants. I’m only missing the pea-gravel that barrelponics uses in this instance, and for me the water is kept much higher because the taro I have in there are wetland taro.

Pi’iali’i keiki putting out new leaf.

Pi’iali’i keiki putting out new leaf.

Incidentally, the upland grown Piialii that I grew for a couple of years and finally decided to plop in the mud of one of my bucket-lo’i is waking up just fine and putting out it’s first wetland grown leaf. The one I have in ICU is also putting out a new leaf. A very happy future awaits these Pi’iali’i – they’re one of my favorite taros.

Once I get a third filter this afternoon, I’ll move the rest of the taro down there to benefit from more direct sunlight. A pair of them could probably be planted in a pot of topsoil mud and plunged into one of my bucket-lo’i tho – they’ve gotten pretty big already thanks to the fish water. I expect this to serve as an example of the potential that the barrelponics lo’i system will perform and am looking forward to seeing a mass of taro growing in 30 containers here later this spring. I’ll keep ya’ll posted on the progress.

Taro & Ti Home

PostHeaderIcon Boo Update

Happy Henon bamboo

Happy Henon bamboo.

It’s been two weeks since I potted up the Giant Grey Henon, the Moso seedlings and the unidentified boo that I had planted at the back of the property and subsequently rescued after a total lack of progress for four years. The Henon is topside in a 25 gallon container and the other two are down in the pit greenhouse in 3 gallon containers.

In the last two weeks, we’ve had at least a couple of freezing nights plus some freezing rain. Very chilly – but not a super hard freeze as my water buckets only got a slab of surface ice but nothing very thick. Nevertheless, the Henon is a recent planting without establishing it’s root system, so I was understandably nervous.

When I potted up the Henon, I decided to plunge the pot in the ground, just in case I had more freezing weather, and as importantly to protect the roots from the summer heat as well. It turned out to be a wise move – very shortly after I had plunged it, we had a freeze. The earthmass kept the soil from freezing – under the mulch it was soft to the touch while the water in my lotus containers was frozen.

And after all this, the Henon is not only still green – but growing. I’m seeing lotsa new buds swelling, ready to pop out the new Spring leaves. I expect to see a few shoots too, tho I’ll be happy to see the new leaves. Not bad. It will have a good year this year and after getting established will certainly pop out new shoots next Spring.

Moso boo with new shoot on the right.

Moso boo with new shoot on the right.

My Moso has popped out a new shoot too and a second smaller shoot as well. Characteristic of Moso, the leaves of the young seedling is large, and the hairs at the nodes are black. In the next few weeks we’ll see just how tall the new culms get. It’s perfectly happy in its new home and I expect it to outgrow that in at least two years then it’ll be up to a 25 gallon container. Once it outgrows that, the beds will be ready to plant it inground.

Rescued boo ready to shoot out new leaves.

Rescued boo ready to shoot out new leaves.

The boo I rescued hasn’t shot up any new shoots, but it’s got serious bud-swell. I expect to see new leaves in the next couple of weeks. This boo is a pretty green boo that will give me 2″ thick culms at the least that stand over 30′ tall. Should make a very nice screening boo.

As of now, it’s mainly a waiting game – watching grass grow. However, the wait is worth it – this grass will in time produce a very beautiful stand of bamboo that will be a sight to see.

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PostHeaderIcon Taro Survivors

Kai Kea patch after a year of drought and heat and winter dormancy.

Kai Kea patch after a year of drought and heat and winter dormancy.

I started a couple of in-ground taro beds early last Spring. The idea was to see if I could keep taro alive thru our harsh environment. I’ve had other beds fail but that was during a multi-year drought. One is dug in about 9″ deep and is positioned in a way that drainage water that runs across our property when it rains hard will flood it good. The other isn’t dug in but has a berm of soil around its borders to slow the exodus of water. It too will get flooded as well.

The soil was a nice black sandy loam. Before I dug, the soil had supported dense stands of giant ragweed that stood nearly as tall as the house, and Johnsongrass that was taller than me for years so a lot of organic matter and infrequent floodings in the Fall and often early Spring has converted that soil into some very rich living soil, contrasting with the rest of our property that is a very sandy and dry soil.

Bun Long returning from a very long and harsh dormancy.

Bun Long returning from a very long and harsh dormancy.

I planted Bun Long in the bermed bed. 21 of them got planted at 12″ spacing. Normal spacing is 18″ but since the heat is so extreme here I felt that planting a little denser will shade the soil better. The Kai Kea went into the dug-in bed. Unfortunately, in digging it out, the prime soil was removed and the remaining soil was rather rocky. Nevertheless, I cleared out good planting holes for each keiki.

Happy Kai Kea taro stretching out after a long sleep.

Happy Kai Kea taro stretching out after a long sleep.

They grew gangbusters that very wet Spring. The weeds grew up around them too, but a fringe benefit was that the grass kept the soil cooler – I’ve cooked enough taro in our hot Texas summers, so I kept them only moderately controlled. Deer nibbled on the leaves but not much – apparently raw taro didn’t fit into their palate very well.

That summer the rain stopped. I kept them watered, but even with regular waterings, even the weeds wilted and the taro declined. I had backups of both varieties but it was still heart-breaking to see them suffer. Eventually they disappeared altogether and for me that was the end of that experiment. I moved on planning the next experiment for the next generations of taro.

Another Bun Long poking up thru the weeds.

Another Bun Long poking up thru the weeds.

This Spring and summer were also very dry too. We got spatterings of rain here and there during the Spring and then that stopped altogether when it went from an unusually cool Spring to an extremely hot Summer with zero precipitation. The beds had become overgrown with weeds but I had all but given up on them anyway and no taro had sprouted anyway. I occupied myself with pit-greenhouse renovation plans and that in turn got put on the back-burner with the opportunity to get started in beekeeping – something that I had been waiting for for a long time.

But, this late summer we eventually did have some significant rains with a little bit of flooding even. For a couple of weeks it would rain every few days and in some cases every day. The good soaking was refreshing – the drought and heat had killed half of my remaining collection of taro, even with irrigation. That’s another issue I’ll be addressing this winter to prepare for next Spring.

Diminutive little Bun Long survivor.

Diminutive little Bun Long survivor.

Nevertheless, I mowed the tall grass down to get some good green material for mulch to prepare one of the beds to plant bananas, and after mowing that bed down and mulching it, I see a taro leaf. A few days later I go back out there and there’s another taro leaf. Two or three of the Kia Kea had sprouted! That was thrilling. I inspected the Bun Long bed and found a sole sprout out there too.

I took a scythe out to the Bun Long bed and cleared out the vegetation there to let more sun get to the soil and watered it some more. Now there are a few plants sprouting up. And, in the Kai Kea bed, nearly every plant that I put in there has come back! After more than a year of sitting in there dormant and dry, these taro have returned with vigor!

I have plans for assembling some lo’i and the taro in these two beds will be relocated to friendlier locations. All of my aquatic containers did spectacular this year so the Kai Kea and Bun Long will receive similar treatment. Having them come back is great – but I want them to grow enough to pull in a harvest and it’s apparent that the summers here are just too extreme to put them in the ground and have a harvest from them without some significant soil modification. For the upland beds I’ll use infrequently flooded raised beds – flooded and allowed to dry down to mud and repeated. That way both the wetland and upland taro will never dry out.

But, it’s still exiting that these taros have survived this extreme environment. Not only did they overwinter in dormancy, they also survived the extreme Texas heat and drought too. Kudos for those taro – they’ll get a special place in my new beds for certain.

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PostHeaderIcon Aquaponics Vanilla

Newly rooted vanilla in 11" buckets out in the greenhouse.

Newly rooted vanilla in 11" buckets out in the greenhouse.

I have been growing vanilla for the better part of a decade. And I’ve killed my share of the orchids as I learned the ins and outs of this mysterious vine. It has been an education that I paid for, but one that was worth every penny – as today I have vanilla that is just going bonkers and growing like a weed. It all revolved around a chance observation…

Vanilla is a terrestrial orchid, but it quickly abandons terrestrial dependence as it climbs up into the canopy. Most of its nutrients comes from absorption from its leaves and from the advantageous roots that grip the bark of the trees the vine likes to climb. In it’s native habitat, that means frequent rains, mossy bark, and compost in the nooks of trees. The roots of the vanilla will seek these out and when they find them will exploit them for all they got, with their clinging roots converting quickly to collecting roots. A well situated vanilla can even lose dependence on its terrestrial roots altogether and become completely epiphytic.

Tangle of vines - note roots going into jar of water.

Tangle of vines – note roots going into jar of water.

I have had opportunity to witness this tendency personally in my own vanilla vines. When the vines get long, their terrestrial roots are quickly out-grown – unable to support the vine. Roots grow from the leaf nodes and stretch down, seeking more water. On a lark, I provided a jar for one of the extending roots and it took to it like chickens to a moth – quickly branching out and forming the distinctive fuzz of feeder-roots. This inspired me so whenever I saw a long root in my tangle of vanilla, I’d find a cup or jar and put fish water or rainwater in it and plop the root into it.

More of the tangle of vanilla.

More of the tangle of vanilla.

It wasn’t long that I discovered that in some of the vines, the base had died altogether and the entire vines was living on what the cups and jars of water were providing, and they were flourishing wildly! For an orchid that’s supposed to be slow growing, these guys were shooting out like rockets! It got to the point where I even stopped watering their pots and just kept their cups and jars topped off with water. They didn’t even notice.

Will the tangle ever end???

Will the tangle ever end???

Problems occurred however. First – these guys had no trellis so they were growing across my grow-room with little or no guidance. They were indeed becoming a weed – taking over the office. Secondly, it was hard to keep track of what vine was what and making sure each had cups of water. These vines were easy to neglect because they simply require so little care so often they’d slip my mind until I just happen to notice that their cups and jars needed topping off. A few even withered a bit and I had to give them TLC to bring them back. These were no longer small cuttings of  a few inches anymore – but were several feet long and starting to become unwieldy. It was time to give thought to organizing them, especially if I was interested in getting any kind of production from them.

New growth, climbing up my walls even!

New growth, climbing up my walls even!

From my reading, I’ve learned that many farmers will grow these vines up trees and loop them back down to the ground where they’d bury their nodes to form more roots then train them back up the tree and continue looping. That way every 16′ of vine or so there were roots in the growing media. I decided to emulate that, but keeping the aquaponics motif that these vines had performed so well on. I have them in my growing room because even tho my pit-greenhouse keeps most of my tropicals happy without additional heat over the winter, these were super-tropicals – much more tender. As such, they are consigned to my grow-room pending an planned renovation of the pit-greenhouse intended to allow their growth down there. My grow-room has a single window that faces south but only gets direct sunlight during the winter – the eves overhangs enough to leave the window in bright shadow the rest of the year. I decided that the winter sun wasn’t too much for the vanilla – after watching some of the exposed vines not behaving badly – so I decided that their new home would be in front of the window.

Organized finally and still growing wildly! The bucket is below the window.

Organized finally and still growing wildly! The bucket is below the window.

Hanging the vines in front of the window was actually a rather simple affair. I made a string and PVC-pipe “ladder” trellis that I hung in front of the window. I tied loops in the string at pre-measured spots and just stuck the PVC-pipe into these loops. It’s not tight – I can easily slide the PVC out if I need to – which I will to loop up another tangle of vines, so it’s a handy design. The vines would drape from this trellis and form a living curtain for me. On the floor below this trellis I placed a 25-gallon bucket and filled it full of water. Then, I started dragging my vanilla orchids out of where they’d tangled themselves up in and organizing them. What a discombobulated mess! It took a while to get them untangled. Some I just cut out and made new vines. Once I got them untangled and stretched out, I cut off any dead parts and got ready to hang them up in front of the window.

Now they are a living window curtain and are loving it!

Now they are a living window curtain and are loving it!

The bucket that they would be deriving their water and part of their nutrients from was a molasses bucket used by ranchers here that often ends up in the burn-pile. Massively useful buckets – 25 gallons are perfect for a lot of my projects so I collect them whenever I can. I had picked a nice clean one and filled that puppy up with water. Into the bottom I placed some large limestone rocks that we have scattered about here. This would help buffer the water and mineralize it. Then I took my favorite DIY aerator – a loop of 1/4″ soaker hose and weighted it down with the rocks and plugged it into my aquarium pump. The bucket was ready. Fish would go in later as soon as the water’s chlorine fully gassed off, but after a night of bubbling I figured I could start the vine-work.

Here's detail of the top-bar of the trellis, that the vanilla is draped over.

Here's detail of the top-bar of the trellis, that the vanilla is draped over.

Each vine was an individual. Most were rather long – 15′ or so, even 20′ already! They didn’t look that long in the tangle but once straightened out they just kept getting longer and longer and longer. Wow. I cut some of them to key nodes – the ones that either already had roots or looked fairly fresh – and stuffed those down into the bucket of water. I took the rest and draped them up over the top rung of my trellis and looped them back down to the water. The shorter ones I either tied to the first or second rung or used the longer vines as guides. And… that was it. Very anti-climatic.

It took a while to get them established. Some of the vines were wrinkly from being too dry and they were the slowest to recover. But recover they did, and more. Since I set those up I’ve again largely ignored them. They seem to do best that way. Just keep the bucket filled. I put some skeeter-fish in there – some of the toughest fish I’ve ever kept. And then I just keep the water topped off pretty much. And it’s paid off. Lately I’ve been having to re-drape new growth and the vines are once again growing like weeds. At least now they are organized. When they get long enough I train them back down to the water and loop them in the water and start them growing back up, and repeat. Finally, I’m getting the good thick growth of mature vanilla. Here before long I’ll cut out the thinner growth to make more room for the thick growth. This mature growth is where the flowers will come from and that is what I am eagerly waiting for now – to enter into the next stage of my vanilla project. Making vanilla!!!

Taro & Ti Home

PostHeaderIcon Time to Plant

New Henon shoot emerging about this time in 2008.

New Henon shoot emerging about this time in 2008.

The hardest part of planting boo is thinking years ahead. After all, bamboo is a long term commitment. Once planted and established, it’ll take a bulldozer to get rid of it, so one has to be absolutely certain that it’s planted exactly where one wants it to be planted, and planted in an area where it can be perpetually maintained. It’s bed will have to be tended forever once it’s planted to keep it from spreading out of control. Or planted where it doesn’t matter about spreading. It’s actually not a hard thing to keep boo under control, but it takes a little effort.

However, there are circumstances where the boo takes less or no effort. For instance, if it’s planted in an area that’s normally very dry. The boo will grow where it’s irrigated but won’t spread much at all where it’s not. But… it will require a bit of TLC at least until the grove gets established. On the other hand, if the area is moist and green, the boo will grow quickly and tall. And that’s the conundrum I face. I have a nice area where stuffs grows well and where the boo would flourish. A place where I’d have to expend a bit of effort to keep the boo in it’s own bed. And I have an area where the boo would survive if tended at least until it becomes established, but it may never achieve it’s full potential. It won’t spread much except where I irrigate, but that’s a plus if I want a maintenance-free bed. But then why have giant boo if it never becomes giant?

Rich soil location choice for my boo

Rich soil location choice for my boo

So I’m going back and forth. I want this boo to really kick into full growing gear and to not need much care to grow. On the other hand, I want the boo to not need much future maintenance. If we leave this property, I want it to pretty much keep to itself so future land-owners won’t have the burden of work (which may motivate potential removal which would be a bummer for this fine boo).

Big, heavy 25-gallon molasses tub full of wet soil and bamboo. No fun moving that!

Big, heavy 25-gallon molasses tub full of wet soil and bamboo. No fun moving that!

I have a couple of boos I want to plant tho, and I want to keep them in separate beds. One is unidentified but I”ve seen mature culms from this boo and it’s a pretty impressive boo. Green culms, two inches in diameter, over 30′ tall. Not a bad boo. The Henon will get taller, of course – if it’s in an ideal growing environment that is. If it’s not, it may remain fairly stunted. This is boo that’s supposed to get to 65′ tall and form 4.5″ diameter culms. I want that boo to get that big! A stand of that giant boo would look outstanding! Especially as the culms take on a grayish hue – looking like a blue stand of boo. So, stunted is out.

The hole in which the plunged tub once sat. I'm happy it wasn't hard to dig out.

The hole in which the plunged tub once sat. I'm happy it wasn't hard to dig out.

And stunted it is currently. Oh, every year the new shoots are a little bigger. It has actually come a long way from when I got it a couple of years ago. But being planted in a 25-gallon tub does tend to constrain the boo a bit and… stunt it. I expect it should be a bit taller by now and with more culms and perhaps even thicker – tho they’re coming in at about a quarter to 5/8′s inch in diameter now. Perhaps even thicker this year – new shoots are a bit late this year. I hadn’t planted it out yet because the layout of this property is in quite a ruckus. There are so many projects needing a place to call their own, and where to put them all has been a bit of a conundrum for me and still is.

Gray Henon boo ready to be dragged to it's new location, depotted and planted in a new hole.

Gray Henon boo ready to be dragged to it's new location, depotted and planted in a new hole.

But it’s starting to come together finally. I’ve finally settled on my bee-yard location. A quarter acre square on my property finally dedicated to something and it ain’t gonna change. It’s perfect for the bees – nothing grows well there so the wildflowers and grasses remains short, and it’s flat, out in the open and up high where it doesn’t flood. I plan on getting a blanket of bluebonnets growing there next year even. And the area where water flows across our property I’ve finally dedicated to my vineyard/orchard. The soil is rich and black there and deep enough to retain moisture even in the middle of drought, keeping a green swath of plants in the middle of brown. If the weeds like it in the middle of drought, so will fruit trees and vines. The water doesn’t flow but a few times a year and for just a few hours at a time so there’s no danger of drowning the trees and vines. Free irrigation and rich soil.

But, that’s a problem for the boo – because where it could be growing where it would grow to its maximum potential is in part of this moister and richer part of the property that could as easily grow fruiting trees or grapes or something. I could plant cherry trees where the boo might go, for instance. But the boo will provide some food – bamboo shoots are delish. And my wife sure likes bamboo shoots, so it’s yet another thing I can produce that will make her happy. Happy wife, happy hubby. I must not be too stingy with my richer soil.

Kids helped dig hole for the boo. Kenan is so happy. No really, he is.

Kids helped dig hole for the boo. Kenan is so happy. No really, he is.

Oh what to do, where to plant? I want both of the boo beds to be next to each other, and perhaps room for a third so I can get some Vivax growing. I’ll have trenches dug around each bed so that I can keep the rhizomes trimmed. But if I leave this property for some reason, I don’t want the future owners to come into lotsa extra work and self-education and I want them to want to keep the boo because of how beautiful it is. If it becomes too much work, they may just bulldoze it and years, even decades, of hard work and growing will be for naught.

Planted finally. It's got a nice little clearing there to fill in with a new grove of lovely boo.

Planted finally. It's got a nice little clearing there to fill in with a new grove of lovely boo.

Besides that, there is an interesting property about boo. Where ever it gets established, it seems to make better. It helps the soil retain moisture, trapping and holding rain-water better and adding organic matter onto and into the soil – it’s a great rehabilitation plant. Perhaps then I should take advantage of it’s capabilities and plant it in the less ideal location where each bed will make the soil where it grows better, while still not spreading as aggressively into the neighboring soil. Is that it, then? Have I made up my mind? Hard to say. I feel like Brett Favre. I may walk around with the shovel and just dig the hole where it seems natural.

A regal looking clump of Giant Gray Henon boo. Not so giant now, but it will become so soon enough.

A regal looking clump of Giant Gray Henon boo. Not so giant now, but it will become so soon enough.

I plunged the tub of Henon in the ground a couple of years ago to protect its roots from cold and heat. Earth-mass works great. Pots sitting on top of the ground would tend to get cold – perhaps even freeze if it gets really cold. It got really cold this last winter. And they also tend to cook in the heat of summer. But the boo is happy. New leaves are starting to pop out. New shoots haven’t kicked in yet – I expect that in a couple of weeks or so – perhaps even next week. But, that’s a 25-gallon tub that’s sitting in the ground. 25 gallons of moist topsoil. A good 400lbs or more. But, can’t hurt to try if I’m careful. I’m not going to lift it straight up, of course. But, perhaps I could wiggle it out sideways? So I excavated one side of the tub and found that I could wiggle the tub. Good news! I wiggled it out of the hole and it’s now sitting on the ground, waiting to be dragged to it’s new home. It was a monumental effort, but it worked. Well, I’m committed now – tubs out of the hole and ready.

After much walking across the property and doing the eeny meeny miny mo thing, I finally decided where to put the boo. I chose a richer soil option this time. The poor soil my other boo was in was too hard to keep up with and the boo nearly died and is still set back. Later on, perhaps. So, I settled on a little clearing by the mulberry trees and blackberry brambles. It’s in a clearing next to where the water flows over the 4′ drop, so there’s plenty of moisture. No neighbors to worry about either since it’s centered on our property – this boo can spread at will. Of course, I could have put fruit trees there, but then so could I have in any other location I’d put this boo. If I want my boo, I’m going to have to make sacrifices.

I decided to put the smaller, more pathetic boo near where the wild asparagus is growing – if the asparagus is happy there without any care at all, so will the boo. It’s extremely yellow now – I will feed it later on and provide a bit of iron to help bring some color back and then let nature do the rest. That hole was easy to dig – that boo was just in a 3-gallon pot. Dug hole, plopped in root-ball, backfilled and tamped and walked away. It’s so moist there I didn’t even water it in – the root-ball wasn’t disturbed and everything is pretty we. It’s sprinkling on and off during the day so that’ll suffice. This boo will be a lovely boo when it starts growing and producing 30′ tall culms. Especially if I cull out the thinner culms.

Boo I rescued from a bulldozer. Pathetic looking now - but it's in the ground again and will flourish soon and look lovely.

Boo I rescued from a bulldozer. Pathetic looking now – but it's in the ground again and will flourish soon and look lovely.

The Henon was a bit more difficult. Dragging the 25-gallon tub of wet soil over there was the first challenge. Heavy. But apparently I was heavy enough to move it. I had no idea how to get the dirt-ball out of the pot tho. But, digging the hole became the next job. I got the kids involved. I knew they were good for something. Between the three of us we got a fairly decent hold dug. Then I tipped the tub on it’s side and started putting my weight on it to compress the soil a bit then rolled it a bit and repeated. I figured if I could get the soil separated from the side of the tub I could get the root-ball to work itself out of the tub. And that’s exactly what it did – as I rolled it, the root-ball started to come out. When it was out far enough I tipped it over further and wrested the tub away from it. And there it was – my root-ball. It looked to be in pretty good shape – not root-bound yet. Healthy rhizomes too. Since I had a pile of gravel over the drain-hole it came out and left a little indentation in the bottom of the root-ball so I built a loose mound of soil in the bottom of the hole to fill it up when the root-ball was placed in there. Or rather, when the root-ball was dropped in there. There was no way I was picking that monster up.

With it still on its side, I wiggled the root-ball some more – happy it was staying together so well – until the bottom was well over the edge of the hole. Then I let gravity do the rest – pulling the bottom down and letting the root-ball plop in the hole right-side up. And the hole was the perfect depth – it fit perfectly. Good kids. Now we just backfilled, tamped, backfilled some more and there it was – the last of my boo planted in the ground finally. Now to neglect it and let it do its thing… In a couple of years I should have many new culms and much taller. Finally, my first boo forest.

Taro & Ti Home

PostHeaderIcon Making a Poi Pounder

This is the lava stone from which a poi pounder will be carved.

This is the lava stone from which a poi pounder will be carved.

A poi pounder is a stone shaped somewhat like a half an hour-glass with a rounded bottom. It’s usually carved out of a gray lava with tight pores. In those days, these stones were pecked at with a hammer stone to shape it – a process that took many many patient hours. Once the shape was finished then another stone would be used to polish the pounder. I opted to use a diamond-bladed grinder instead.

The poi pounder is used to break up then pound pieces of cooked and peeled taro corm into a dough-like consistency called pa’i ‘ai. This is then mixed or folded with water to thin to the desired consistency to make poi which is either eaten right away or is left to ferment for a bit to produce a sour poi. Today, most poi is made using a mechanical grinder, however there is still some who pound their poi. Pounding works the carbohydrates and protein in a way that simple grinding does not – almost like kneading bread to develop the gluten.

Diamond cutting-blade on angle-grinder, gloves, eye and ear protection and stone.

Diamond cutting-blade on angle-grinder, gloves, eye and ear protection and stone.

I’ve been growing taro for a while now, but have yet to make my own freshly pounded poi. Why? Because here in the middle of Texas, poi pounders aren’t exactly on any grocery-store shelves. In fact, there seems to be an absence of any online except for expensive ancient artifacts. I’m not interested in expensive artifacts meant to sit on a shelf. I’m interested in pounding poi. Sure, I can rice taro or grind it thru a meat-grinder, but something happens to taro when it is pounded that imparts to it just a little bit extra. Anyway, when I look at images of taro festivals, I see an abundance of pounders. Where are they getting them??? I am left with one option then – acquire a piece of lava and make my own. Inspired by Ray Grogan, his recommendations and images, I embark into unknown territory.

Much dustier after first round of cutting.

Much dustier after first round of cutting.

I decide, thanks to abundant consultation from Ray, that carving the stone with an angle-grinder with a 4.5″ diamond cutting blade would be the best way to go. The diamond blade cuts thru this stuff like butter, so I’m told. I’ve never used one before so it’s time to fine out. I hit up Pates Hardware for a Makita and a Grip-Rite diamond cutting blade and a pair of goggles and I’m in business. I break out my old leather gloves. It may not stop an errant blade, but it may give me just that little bit of an edge to get out of the way. Besides – the flying chips are sharp. And I grab my large headphones which work pretty well to dampen the sound. Safety first – looking like a complete goober is nothing compared to high velocity chips finding an eye or ending up with a persistent ring in the ears…

Detail of stone after first round of cutting - poi pounder shape more apparent.

Detail of stone after first round of cutting – poi pounder shape more apparent.

The plan is to go slowly. No massively big cuts. But rather, small cuts going around the stone, then more small cuts going around, and over and over again. As the shape gets closer, the cuts get smaller. It’s easier to take stone off than to put it back on. Since I had one hand to handle the grinder while I held the stone with the other, I rested the grinder on the bench and stabilized my hand with my knee then used small slow movements with the cutter and stone to facilitate the cuts. When my hand got tired, I took a break. Nothing makes an accident that can part fingers from the body like an exhausted and shaky hand holding a tool spinning at 10,000rpms. That morning I roughed the stone in pretty well – exposing more of the final shape. I took a break until the evening then hit it up for some more work. Confidence is higher. Hefting a spinning tool in one hand did make me nervous at first but once I got used to it things went smoother. Still – you always got to be mindful of where your fingers are and what might happen if you slip and be prepared.

After second round of cutting, poi pounder shape is much more obvious.

After second round of cutting, poi pounder shape is much more obvious.

Each evening I’d keep the stone nearby and pick it up and get a picture of where I’ll cut next in my mind. It may be a simple shape, but the stone was small and the shape barely fit within the stone so every cut had to be precise and purposeful. Also, great care and determination had to be fostered as it was far easier to remove stone than it was to put it back on. An errant cut and this project is toast. So I had to have a definite idea of what I wanted before I put the goggles on and started cutting. Hopefully my next pounder comes from a bigger stone and gives me more freedom to make the bell perfectly round – this one is a bit less round but to make it perfectly round would result in too small of a pounder. But, imperfections are just part of the character of a hand-made project and this taro pounder will pound taro as good as any. Still, the amount of precision one can get with a steady hand from one of those angle-grinders is just amazing. I’d find myself nibbling a few grains at a time to smooth this or that bump, or working the side of the grinding blade over parts to smooth the stone just a little at a time.

A little more work on the handle and it's getting closer to it's model.

A little more work on the handle and it's getting closer to it's model.

I opted to making cuts parallel to the length of the stone rather than perpendicular to its length. Ray Grogan recommended this and it’s a solid recommendation. I could just imagine making a cut around the diameter of the stone only to have it serve as a cracking point and having the stone break in half. Plus, the curve of the blade worked for me going the long way – it allowed me to rough in the shape of the bell and handle quite easily, making long cuts and nibbling between the cuts as I went around and around the stone. Ray mentioned stopping periodically to chisel the ridges off as he cut, but I opted to let the grinder do all the work and I’d let the side of the blade nibble gently – not pressing hard but just letting it cut as it could. Then I’d cut straight in some more to start the next layer to come off and then another cut next to it and nibble off the media between and repeat until I worked my way around the stone again.

Here is the business end of the poi pounder, carved and smoothed with the diamond blade.

Here is the business end of the poi pounder, carved and smoothed with the diamond blade.

After roughing the basic shape out of the stone, I sawed the end that was to be the pounding end off. It was a little tricky as I didn’t want to go too deep all at once. It’s easy to misjudge and come off at an angle. And it’s also easy to have the blade bind and my fingers were rather close to the cutting. I worked the stone around in circles as I cut rather than making one deep cut. Going deep with this blade, especially one-handed, is dangerous as the blade can catch and hank itself out of your grip – so I went slowly, cutting in a quarter inch then rotating the stone and so-forth until I was finding myself deep enough to catch a little. Then, I just pounded the end of the stone on the table to break off the over-hanging piece, rotating the stone and banging until all the over-hang was broken off. That left me a nub in the very center than I cut into and nibbled away until there was no sign of it. Then I started cutting the curve of the pounding end, going around and around in circles until I got to the edge where the pounding end met the handle end.

The profile is now very much representative of a proper poi pounder. The knob needs more work tho.

The profile is now very much representative of a proper poi pounder. The knob needs more work tho.

A lot of pounders out there today are very rounded all over. From the nob to the pounding end there’s little definition. I’m not sure why people make them like this when the historical pounders have a clear definition to their shape. The ones I like best are specimens in Hawaiian museums that exhibit a marked edge between the pounding side and the handle and a definite demarcation between the handle and the knob. I emulated this, working both sides to make a straight edge all the way around. It looks so clean this way. That required a very precise eye – it’s easy to take off too much stone so it got down to a ridiculous amount of minute nibbling. Nearly all the pounders I’ve seen have a definite knob on the end of the handle. Once I had the handle cut around with the grinder that I could wrap my fingers around comfortably, I started straightening it and developing the knob – this time cutting in perpendicular to the length of the stone, taking off a little and turning the stone until I’d gone all the way around then repeating. I’d cut in then gently move the blade sideways to abrade off the stone and rotate the stone a little and repeat until the part of the handle that terminated into the knob was straight.

The pounder is as finished as it'll get, save for some smoothing perhaps.

The pounder is as finished as it'll get, save for some smoothing perhaps.

Most knobs are angled a bit too – with the reason being apparent when I hefted the stone. The straight lower edge of the knob tended to dig into my hand when I hefted the pounder. I can imagine blisters after a poi pounding session. Not fun. So I repeated the same cut used to create the knob but this time at an angle, cutting in then rotating and repeating until the knob had a comfortable angel that didn’t dig into my hand. I used the side of the blade to smooth the tooling marks and make things more even, and worked the same on the pounding end to reduce the curvature – to flatten the curve until it matched what I saw in many of the images that I was using as models for this project. It was a lot of work taking off just a little stone at a time – little puffs of dust as I worked the side of the diamond blade against the stone over and over again, rotating the stone as I did to keep things even. I’d flatten then work around to smooth the shoulder a bit and then repeat. I also payed close attention to the edge of the pounding end to make sure I kept it straight as I flattened the curvature. Once I was satisfied, I took it inside and took a file to it to smooth the tooling marks further and work on the edge more – final touches. I could spend hours filing the tooling marks on the handle off, and may do so if I get bored, but I now have a functional and finished poi pounder.

The knob got some attention - angling the edge a bit to fit my hand better.

The knob got some attention – angling the edge a bit to fit my hand better.

Up until know, the only poi pounders I have seen are those in pictures on the web and in various books I have. I have spend years studying the pictures carefully and imagining what the stone would be like to hold and use. But after a bit of creative work and careful comparison, I now get to heft one of these tools in my own hands. It’s not perfect – the stone did not have much wiggle-room and cutting it perfect would have reduced the size below what I wanted. And yet, to look at it with a non-critical eye, it’s finished and ready for work. This was the first stone I carved since my teen years when I carved marble and limestone with professor Jack Campbell, my art mentor. Life has passed so fast and I’ve always missed carving and now am pleased to be carving again. I may have to get more basalt and make more stones and for grins and giggles grab some marble and a chisel and get creative again. Stone carving was a hobby I always took great pleasure in, but never got to do enough of thanks to complications of life. It has been on a long list of to-dos that has thankfully been brought to the fore-front with this particular project. Of course, this item is not meant to be a work of art to sit on a shelf – but a tool meant to be used – but it’s art to me nonetheless. Functional art.

It's a bit of a tight fit for my big hands, but will do the job perfectly well.

It's a bit of a tight fit for my big hands, but will do the job perfectly well.

My next project is a pounding board. It needs to be big enough to pound several pounds of taro, with a lip around the sides to keep the pa’i ‘ia contained and needs to be sturdy enough to withstand pounding. Oak would be ideal, as would maple. Maple samples I’ve seen seem to come close to my target size of about two to three feet long by about 16″ wide or so. It will have to be large enough that I’m not crowded as I’m pounding, but as a single-person board it doesn’t have to be all that big. Mango wood seems to be a popular wood in Hawaii so now I am seeking a plank that is big enough to carve out a pounding board. It won’t be cheap regardless of the plank of wood I find, but ultimately will be well worth it when it’s got chunks of taro corm being pounded into poi. Then on to a larger pounder and perhaps a two man board. I ‘ve seen large two-man boards that have seats carved into each end so that the pounder sits on the board, stabilizing it further as they work to pound the chunks of cooked taro corm into poi. These large boards are often carved out of a thick trunk of a tree, split in half to make two boards. I’ll need to get a bit better at the chain-saw before I attempt such a project but it is tempting with some of the large oaks here – perhaps if one dies I’ll get an opportunity to carve it, provided it’s not hollowed out from inside. The dream continues for certain. I’ll know better once I start pounding poi and start to develop my preferences. Better then to start off simple then work up from that.

 

Even tho the mole is not perfectly round, the curvature is still as close to the models as I can make it.

Even tho the mole is not perfectly round, the curvature is still as close to the models as I can make it.

UPDATE: Okay, the artist’s eye is never satisfied. However, the curvature of the pounding end – called mole and pronounced moley – just seemed to be more than the pictures I’ve seen. I’ve never pounded poi before and if the tools aren’t as exact as possible then I cannot gauge my experience accurately, so precision is crucial. I have no mentor here after all. The curvature of the mole determines how much surface area is in contact with the taro that’s being pounded. Too much curvature means a smaller contact-patch. Too little means too much. The Hawaiians perfected this over the centuries – so their tools are the perfect model to go by. I used this model extensively, for instance: http://www.hawaiiancollectibles.com/images/stones/poipounders/Mvc-002f.jpg If you’re going to emulate something, go to the source, right? I have a library of other links I used too in order to balance things out. I know my knob could be a little more carved but I’ve seen a variation of that and it would seem to be a personal preference and I like the way mine is now. But the mole end seems to be fairly consistent across the board among a large collection of pounders, so that is the end I focused on to make sure mine was accurate. When I start pounding poi and leaving lumps and making mistakes, I don’t want the tool to be at fault – but myself. I can improve myself and my technique with an accurate tool far easier than try to accommodate an inaccurate tool.

Still a good fit in my hands - a little on the small side but almost perfect.

Still a good fit in my hands – a little on the small side but almost perfect.

It is always helpful to watch someone else pound poi to get an idea of just what is involved. I don’t live on the islands and no one around here pounds poi, so I’m consigned to watching videos. One of these days I’ll make it back to the Islands and will bring my pounder with me. I’d be tickled to hit up the East Maui Taro Festival, for instance. April is a bad month for me since the kids are still in school – late May or early June would have been better. That may be a solo-trip then. However, to have an expert judge me and give me correction one-on-one would be great! Of course, if I’m producing smooth pa’i ‘ai – that’s what counts, right?

Naturally, poi is not all that taro is about. There are many different ways taro can be prepared. The corm – called kalo – can be pounded and dried and ground into flour which can then be used to make pastries and even pancakes. Yum. Taro pancakes with freshly harvested honey – that’ll be a must-do here before long. It can be cubed and eaten like baked potatoes in a variety of dishes. Riced too. Different taros have different suitabilities – only a few are suitable for making poi. A Chinese taro called Bun Long is ideal for making taro chips – kinda like potato chips. You can either salt them for a savory snack, or sugar them for a desert. The list goes on. I’d like to see taro become a regular addition to the average garden here stateside, as much as for it to experience a resurgence of interest on the Islands. Perhaps in time…

One of my favorite poi pounding videos that I have watched over and over and over again is “Pounding Taro with Danny” at Youtube:



www.youtube.com/watch?v=bryvmMonphM

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PostHeaderIcon Bucket Lo’i

Pi'iali'i growing in a bucket-lo'i.

Pi'iali'i growing in a bucket-lo'i.

For the last couple of years I’ve kept taro in the greenhouse in large molasses tubs filled with water. The taro themselves grew in smaller buckets of topsoil submerged in these tubs, which I have dubbed bucket-lo’i. Of all my taro, these taro grew the best and produced the largest corms and healthiest leaves. The upland beds just didn’t have good enough soil to keep the taro healthy, and the containers of taro just never flourished. Containers have been too variable to grow happy taro. The soil is either too dry or too wet, too rich or too devoid of nutrients, too hot or too cold – all in the same pot over the course of a season. But the bucket-lo’i – they were steady as a rock. The water has an excellent moderating effect, changing temperature slowly and also keeping the taro hydrated.

Pi'iali'i corms big enough to fill my fists. There are bigger, but I'm happy with this size.

Pi'iali'i corms big enough to fill my fists. There are bigger, but I'm happy with this size.

I had tried using water to grow taro before but failed. Problem is, I used the same media I was using to grow containerized taro. Not soil. In the end, that proved unsuitable and rotted out the taro. In researching growing lotus in a bucket, it came to light that topsoil was the ideal media. I used this topsoil to grow my lotus and Chinese Water Chestnuts and they grew richly and without troubles so I decided to give it a go for the taro too. At that time I had a number of varieties of taro that really would have benefited from wetland cultivation. Even under the best of conditions, they simply did not thrive with upland cultivation. Sadly, many of them are lost and I’ll have to take a collection trip to Hawaii and/or get contacts there to send me starts to rebuild my collection and get this conservation thing happening again. Fortunately, some of my favorites have survived, so it’s not all bad news. In time, once I work out these details, I hope to have the entire collection of taro listed here growing happily in my collection. We’ll see.

This may look a little redundant, but the water on the greenhouse floor goes away. Honest.

This may look a little redundant, but the water on the greenhouse floor goes away. Honest.

Rather than fill up a full tub, I decided to experiment with 3-gallon buckets first and plunge that into the 25-gallon tub of water. So I filled up a couple of 3-gallon buckets with topsoil as I was digging an inground taro bed. I watered that into a good mud and stuffed a couple of offshoots into each. I grabbed a couple of 25-gallon molasses tubs and filled them up with water then plunged the buckets of taro into this. The plain ol’ topsoil worked perfectly. Here my topsoil is silty with a bit of sand and clay – not a bad loam at all. Not nearly too rich for the immersed taro either. They just kept growing and growing and growing. It worked so well that all I had to do was top off the tub every once and a while. Nearly maintenance free. With all the projects I have, I like that a lot. I kept gambusia fish in the buckets too – they keep the mosquitoes under control and give off just a bit of nitrates for the taro. When the rest of my taro was suffering for one reason or anther, the taro in the bucket-lo’i were thriving. That was convincing enough for me. I lost a lot of varieties of taro before this and it is time to stop losing taro.

Bun Long taro waking up from dormancy and ready to go into their new home.

Bun Long taro waking up from dormancy and ready to go into their new home.

So, I’ve decided to take the tubs to the next level. Instead of smaller buckets nested within big tubs, I’m planting straight into the tubs themselves, filling them with topsoil leaving room for a few inches of water. Into this I planted the taro. First varieties to go into the tubs are Bun Long, Pi’iali’i and a variety I call Porter’s Kai Kea. All three are robust taros that have performed well for me in the past. The Bun Long and Porter’s Kai Kea had actually spent the last year in a couple of flooded 3-gallon buckets that got stuck in a corner of my greenhouse. They survived an unusually frigid winter that killed many of my other tropicals down there. So they’re being promoted. The Pi’iali’i starts came from the bucket-lo’i experiment down in the pit-greenhouse. All three are also proven delicious taros too.

Freshly planted bucket lo'i. From left to right, Bun Long, Pi'iali'i and Porter's Kai Kea.

Freshly planted bucket lo'i. From left to right, Bun Long, Pi'iali'i and Porter's Kai Kea.

With the additional room the taro will be able to get a little bigger than those sitting in the three-gallon buckets and hopefully produce a lot more keiki – offshoots. Of course, the Pi’iali’i in the 3-gallon bucket has put out ten keiki again – so I expect even more when they become established in the larger buckets. The primary goal for the buckets is to multiply my crop. Even these buckets are just a stepping stone for me on the path of building true lo’i – inground flooded beds in which I’ll grow taro in much greater numbers than these buckets. But for now, these tubs are sufficient.

Same three buckets a couple of chilly weeks later. When it warms up, the taro's growth will accelerate significantly.

Same three buckets a couple of chilly weeks later. When it warms up, the taro's growth will accelerate significantly. The plants in the foreground are Butia capitata seedlings.

Eventually I’ll have a little collection of buckets growing taro. I’ve already got six down in the pit-greenhouse plumbed and ready to go and a few more up topside I can scrounge up and re-purpose for this project. From that I’ll have enough taro to have a handsome little harvest, make some lau  lau, and produce keiki for the larger beds. Even with the larger beds up and running I’ll probably keep these bucket-lo’i going as backups.

To keep the mosquitoes under control I’ll use mosquito fish in each bucket, which will also provide a small amount of nitrates that will feed the taro. I may experiment with azolla too. Azolla is an aquatic fern that’s also a nitrogen fixer. It will also serve to help keep the water cooler too – it will cover the water similar to how duckweed does. I certainly cannot wait to see these in full growth – mature taro is a lovely plant to behold.

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