Kauai Trip Post #3 4-18-13 – Community Explorations

My fifth week on Kauai, and I finally sold biochar at my first Farmers’ Market.

Chuck at market

First day at the Kapaa Farmer's Market

The delay was due to business paperwork, and waiting for the biochar kiln to perform as it was intended – 6 months ago when it was first set up. The continuous feed production oven was supposed to be a “turn-key” operation, but had to be modified and re-configured multiple times.


Josiah and his assistant Brett operate the biochar kiln.

Finally I received a text from Josiah, the owner of Hawaii Biochar Products, two weeks ago. He said they finally had the kiln working well, and were short of labor and asked if I would work on the production, bagging and delivering processes.

Biochar production

Filling cubic foot bags with biochar at production site on Southshore.

Three days later I had delivered several finished pallets to retail stores on Kauai and to the dock for shipping Big Island – and had 50 bags (42 bags, of one cubic foot each per pallet) plus ½ yard of loose biochar in garbage cans for my own use and sale. While waiting for my paperwork to be ready, I gave six bags as gifts. That brought me into the Kauai  gift economy, and will help get the word out among farmers and home gardeners. My cost is $12.50/ bag – and I sell it for $25/bag. I also bag up my bulk biochar in one gallon bags, which I sell for $5/bag (my cost = $1.60). My first day at the market I had $100 in total sales, but “talked story” with many people who will likely be purchasing it next week from me. I expect my biggest sales will be as the farmers start purchasing bulk quantities. I traded a “nickel bag” today to one vendor/farmer who came by with some produce who wanted to try my wares. Next time I’ll just wander through the market with nickel bags to trade for the fruit I normally pay cash for. They’ll have biochar samples to try and will hopefully want bulk quantities over time. The market was great fun (except for hauling bags of biochar into and out of my truck)  – I already knew many in the community, and my laminated poster of explanatory pictures is stimulated interesting conversations. I’ve got my two minute elevator speech down to 30 seconds now, with the aid of my easel with the poster.

My gardens and the previous gardens of  my friends Paul and Opal  are producing bounteous harvests for our little community at Ahupuaa Village. We’re putting together an order of  trees, to plant in the new large food forest area that we’re clearing. My good friend Paul came up with a brilliant proposal to our landowner, Hedda, that he use his April rent for tree purchases. Hedda loved the idea – Paul is a self-volunteering “work-trade” resident who also pays rent. He’s been returning for the winter seasons for many years now. My wife Judy and I met Paul  at the Northern Italian ecovillage of Damanhur last summer.

Paul in garden

Paul next to the "heart" garden he planted before I came. I added the additional beds with the smaller plants.

When I came to live here five weeks ago, Paul told me he wanted to build more of a sense of community, by encouraging special meals together on a weekly basis. Since I’ve been here, however, there is usually a group of us who share meals on a daily basis. It’s become a spontaneous process – I return from working with the bobcat or planting gardens, and get invited to a great meal of fresh ahi. I grab some humus from my fridgerator shelf to contribute, along with some of the greens from my gardens. There are four large apartments which are rented out now, but the latest renters are a family with 3 older kids who seem interested in helping and learning about the gardens. The youngest boy (Cory, age 10) is going to help me with Farmers’ Market next week, since he gets out early from school.

There are also a few “work-trade” folks living in the cabins (there are actually 8 cabins plus a treehouse, but some cabins are best suited for storage or for bees). I might turn one into a mushroom cultivation lab. The work-trade residents are also part of the self-organizing community that includes the original owner (Hedda) and her partner (Gary). Hedda created Ahapuaa Village to be an intentional community, but financially ended up having to sell of lots from the original tract, and renting out the main apartments (and one neighboring small house still on the original tract). So it seems we’re creating an “accidental community”, rather than the original “intentional community”. Apprentices joining us to live in the cabins and help out with my various projects will create more of a sense of community. Perhaps the rental apartment residents may also join in the community meals and share in the garden work and produce over time. For me, it’s an interesting experiment in creating community without making it as overt as when a group of people get together to create their intentional community.

I’ve also been developing connections with the larger community on Kauai, as I mentioned previously. I’m training at the Princeville Botanical Gardens to become a tour guide. I’m learning much more about the local plants through this training. The owners also own 3 organic farms, (a veggie and two fruit farms) and are interested in using my biochar for all of their plants.

From past visits to some of the other Hawaiian Islands, I have noticed a difference in Kauai and how its geography affects its sense of community. Kauai is small enough that it’s fairly quick to drive from towns on the Northshore (Hanalei, Princeville and Kilauea) to Moloaa on the NE, and Anahola and Kapaa on the Eastshore. The farming community and social gatherings include residents from that entire quadrant of the Island. The perimeter highway that connects that region can have considerable traffic which becomes congested when passing through the busiest town – Kapaa.  But it feels different to have that sense of regional connection, than when I was on the Big Island, where the driving distances are greater.

I have developed a growing network of permaculture and social connections throughout that region. When Judy and I were here in January, we met a young man  with considerable experience with permaculture, Alex. Alex learned permaculture in Florida and has been here for around a year. He found a great living situation caretaking an 18 acre place near Anahola for a couple originally from California, John and Wendy. Alex invited me to the landowners’ house on a couple different occasions for dinner parties. From conversations with John, I developed an agreement to create a whole-farm design (quick-and-dirty) and a phase-one proposal for beginning to develop the land. Alex and I will have this opportunity to prove our worth as permaculture designers and landscapers. Alex and I have agreed that he is now my first permaculture apprentice.

Alex on 18-acre farm

Alex at 18-acre farm near well-house.

Another young man who has lived here for five years, Zack, is also working with me. Zack lives next to the Kauai Food Forest in a simple Costco tent as part of a small yurt community. He recently moved from a non-organic fruit orchard job, and is now creating  his own food forest on the leased land adjacent to the Kauai Food Forest. Zack is a great resource for teaching me about tropical permaculture plants. Alex, Zack and I  work together well as a design team. The 18-acre site is a real challenge, with serious erosion from the commercial pineapple production that occurred in the past. Our Phase One plan is to enhance the house garden with a larger food forest, and to begin remediating the eroded hillsides.


Erosion and pieces of black plastic are remnants of the pineapple growing industry that occurred here in the recent past.

Another community which has come into my life here is a bee colony.  I love working with bees at home – I get into a trance-like state when I work with bees. I’m fascinated with how they function as a community, from simple “rules of engagement” with one another through their pheromones and wiggle communication dances. I realized that my “spirit animal” must be a bee colony. I recently noticed a bee colony flying into the weeds near one of the older cabins. When I inspected more closely, I found where they were entering underneath the floor of the cabin that Hedda and her daughter first lived in 20 years ago. I borrowed a bee suit to seek out the source of the bees. I discovered the false floor inside the cabin was a series of plywood panels that lift up to reveal a huge hive in between the bottom floor and the false floor. I constructed a simple hive for the do-it-yourself-er – a Kenya Top Bar Hive. I’ve captured swarms from trees before, but a “hive extraction”, as its called, is a horse of another color. I watched hours of u-tube videos of hive extractions, and went to bed the night before I was supposed to return the borrowed bee suit. I was feeling quite concerned after learning more about what I was getting into, but was still confident in my ability to work with bees. That night I had a horrible dream that I was trying to capture a bee hive, and that I kept on messing up (smoked them too much, couldn’t find my gloves, etc.). By the end of the dream I had killed all the bees. I woke up from that dream/nightmare, and remembered that bee dreams are one of my common dream themes. Needless to say, I returned the beesuit without attempting my first extraction. Hedda said it’s fine with her if the bees keep living in the floor underneath that cabin – which I’m using as a garden storage shed anyway. Maybe I’ll ask for a friend I know who has extraction experience,  to help me with the process.  It might be possible to make more than one hive from the extracted combs, even if there is only one queen. As long as there is comb with new brood in it, the worker bees can feed some of the eggs with Royal Jelly, which will create a new queen for that swarm of bees. The honey is taken away from the bees that are extracted, so they will be encouraged to work building comb and making more honey.  Otherwise “robbing” might occur from stronger hives around. There might be as much as 100 lbs of honey in a bee extraction.  Kauai’s climate enables year-round honey production, unlike the Pacific NW, with its cold, humid winters and low-nectar flow times throughout the summer. I tried “baiting” my new hive with lemon grass oil extract, which mimics a bee pheromone that attracts bees. Perhaps my “cabin bees” will swarm and populate my new Kenya Top Bar hive and I won’t have to extract them. I also located another bee hive high up in a tree in our 3-acre jungle ravine. The ravine is adjacent to the house and string of cabins where I’m currently creating gardens and food forests. It seems like we have something to learn from these animal friends of ours who have learned how to live so well in communities.

Kenya Top Bar Hive

Kenya Top Bar bee hive - 4 hrs total labor, all "found" lumber. Baited with lemon grass oil.

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