Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Picking Mangoes & Papaya... & Learning Aquaponics

There is a lot of trial-and-error when living a new lifestyle... Especially on a tropical island. The humidity here presents a challenge with laundry and food both. Mold is rampant anywhere water is stagnant and/or air isn't moving. I've learned to point a fan on my closet for at least part of the day each day, and also to hang virtually everything on hangers. It makes the difference between clean clothing and moldy clothing.

On the mainland of the United States, especially in the North Eastern states, most fruits are absolutely not ready until they're soft. Mangoes are inedible in New York unless they're just a little soft (although most all mangoes shipped to the North Eastern states are just plain bad due to being picked way too under-ripe and/or other things done to them for "practical" reasons). 

The mangoes here, however, can be ripened from green in just a few days and are often sweet and ready while still hard and green. I made the mistake of trying what "felt" like a ripe mango time and time again in the first month here, only to discover a distinct fermenting flavor time and time again with every single mango I tried. Finally, after coming to this beautiful land in July 2013 (we arrived on the island itself back in May), I discovered what fresh mangoes from the tree are supposed to taste like... They're delicious!

Today was my first time picking papaya with a papaya-picker. Jay made it out of a plunger head (new and clean) attached to a long rod of bamboo (which he cut down himself). The soft rubber of the plunger fits around the bottom of a papaya (and doesn't puncture the papaya) and allows you to put upward pressure on the fruit, separating the papaya from the tree. If you're lucky, you can bring it down slowly. If not, the papaya falls and hopefully doesn't "splat" on the ground. They usually don't splat unless they're over-ripe anyway, so that isn't a huge concern. 

I also did some mango picking today with a mango picker, but it wasn't nearly the first time at all. The mango-picker was made by someone else and was here when we arrived. It also has a bamboo shaft. At the end it has a wire basket and a wedge-shaped piece of wood. While holding the bamboo rod up in the air, you get the wire basket around a mango. Then you get the wooden wedge around the top of the mango stem and pull. If the mango is ripe it will fall into the basket fairly easily. If it isn't very ripe you have to really put your weight on the bamboo pole to get it to come down.

There are two fig trees on this land. I believe they might be "white figs" when dried. They're still green when completely ripe, but a much more yellow-green than they are before they are ready. The birds tend to eat them a day or three before they get to the ideal ripeness. I've started bagging them with mesh-produce-bags and its been working fabulously. I put the bags on figs that will be ready in 1 to 3 days, and it keeps the birds away (but still lets in sunlight). When I open the bag, I get a ripe delicious fig or two. Then I put the bag on a different set of figs that look like they will be ready soon. The tree looks a little silly with the seven or eight white mesh bags on it, but the fruit is delicious.

I've also tried bagging some pomegranates, but it will be a long time before I know if using this method with the pomegranate tree "bears fruit" (lol).

Another challenge is learning all of the foliage from scratch. Very little of the same things grow here on Kaua'i island as they do on the mainland of America. Or at least, everything that grows here generally looks different even if we call it by the same name. Oregano on this island, for example, has these huge hand-sized leaves that are dark green in the center and white around the edges. It tastes just like oregano, but its easy to harvest and add to anything. It's also great on bug bites. It grows wild here, but it isn't invasive. Its easy to keep some in the garden alive and happy without them "getting out of control."

The "melon fly" here is a big issue. It'll lay its eggs in any ripe fruit it can get its stinger-thing into and then the fruit will be full of worms. Some fruits have really strong skin and don't often get infected, such as lilikoi. Citrus aren't as susceptible as some fruits (such as guava), but citrus sometimes do get the larve in them. As far as I can tell there aren't any adverse effects to eating the larve (as long as the fruit is still good), but they sure look disgusting. I've accidentally eaten them a bunch of times now. I guess people used to eat worms all the time and still do in many countries, but for me, growing up in the city, this is quite new to me.

Another "first" for today was cotton-picking. I picked and cleaned three little fluffs of cotton. It was pretty cool but I can't imagine cleaning enough cotton by hand to make clothing. Right now I'm pretty focused on learning about food production since I'd really prefer to eat as much as possible from the land I live on. The grocery store prices on the island are extremely expensive. Tourism is the main economy here, and so prices are high to bring in money from tourists I believe. Also, the big grocery stores import food, which is undoubtedly expensive... And who wants the imported food when so much grows so readily and beautifully right here?

I have not been able to make it to a farmer's market since we moved from the first farm to this land. Nobody here really goes to the inexpensive markets, and the bus stop is a three-mile walk. We could swing it, but it'd be an all-day adventure, and it would still cost quite a bit of cash... In the same amount of time (without spending any cash) we could be here working on gathering food, planting food and researching more about growing food.

The aquaponics project is coming along. I've gone from knowing just the bare-bone concept of aquaponics to knowing nearly enough to build and maintain my own system from scratch. Jay and I have repaired a number of problems with the aquaponics system we were provided with to work with. The previous aquaponic "engineers" never really got it running right. 

When we started with it, almost exactly a month ago now, it had only a couple little sprouts growing in it, the water pH was way too high (at 8.5), and the flood-and-drain system wasn't actually draining by itself like it is supposed to. Not to mention the water was filthy, full of snails, and that fish were getting out of the fish area into the plant-area and eating the plant-roots.

Now we've got the pH at 7.5, we have about 15 baby plants, the flood-and-drain system (bell funnel system) is working, the fish no longer can get into the area they're not supposed to, we've cleaned out the snails and the water is much clearer. We still need to build a filter for the system, but in general I'm quite pleased with our progress.

In the past month so many new things have happened its hard to keep track... 

I've learned (in the past 30 days alone!):

  • How to build and maintain an aquaponic system (for the most part)
  • A dozen new uses for herbs such as oregano, sage and comfrey
  • How to harvest bananas (that are thirty to forty feet above the ground level)
  • How to pick mangoes (that are twenty to thirty feet above the ground level)
  • How to pick papaya (that are ten to twenty feet above the ground level)
  • How to tend to kale to make healthy kale plants
  • That lima beans love the heat and lettuce doesn't seem to want to sprout in it
  • What lab-lab beans are, how to harvest them, how to cook them
  • How to harvest and eat figs
  • About cashew fruits and cashew trees
  • That is possible to build your own solar panels for a fraction of the cost of buying them already built
  • How to propagate the "ti" plant which is a pretty red and/or green bamboo-like plant (which Hawaiians believe is a sacred plant)
  • How to maintain and grow water kefir and how to use a second-ferment to make it delicious
  • How to tell apart different grasses: guinea grass (also known as "green panic grass" for good reason!), cane grass (sugarcane), lemon grass (for tea and aroma), and nut grass (edible nut-like root)
  • That fluid waste from humans is great fertilizer for banana trees
  • How to attract the "black solider fly" (a fly with beneficial larve) and nurture its growth
  • That homeopathy, when used correctly, actually does work
  • How to identify a crab spider, a huntsman spider and some other spiders and insects
  • What a praying mantis looks like... And what it is like to have one fall on you while you're preparing food
  • A handful of useful things about companion planting, like planting cucumbers, beans and lettuce together
  • How to use mylar bags to keep a seed bank for emergency food supply
  • How to hang clothing on a line in the sun so that it actually dries... (Trial and error indeed!)
  • To use apple cider vinegar as a hair rinse – leaves my hair so clean, soft and tangle-free!
  • And a gazillion other things besides!

Next stop: Learning to build solar panels!


  1. Woman, I love your writing, both in content and form. Thank you for sharing and inspiring. I want to one day work more closely with you on some common projects. What fun that will be!
    Yours truly,

  2. I'm so very glad. :)

    I was actually worried that this post might be overly informational, like a wiki article more than a blog, lol. :)

  3. I somehow missed this. Great post, and archive.