All posts by Big Island Lava Pioneers

We gave up everything to follow our dream of an off grid lava life on the Big Island of Hawaii. Having put everything we had into a piece of land and basic solar, we're starting our new lives at *lava* rock bottom. At this point, it's sink or swim! Can we do this??

Escaping The Rain – A Big Island Road Trip

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE the rain forest! Let’s be realistic, though… Days on end, trapped inside without the faintest ray of sunshine can really dampen the spirits. Fortunately, we live in a very unique place where a difference of only a few miles can completely change your climate and surroundings.

Our side of the mountain had been under days of torrential rain, so we decided to drive up and over the volcano and dry out for a spell.

First stop: Pahala & The Kau Coffee Mill

Not only is the Pahala countryside breathtaking, but it’s also home to several farms, including macadamia nuts and my life blood – coffee. The winding road to the coffee mill is lined with dense, vine tangled forests and beautiful flowers.

Next stop: Punalu’u Beach

Punalu’u is a gorgeous, black sand beach, perhaps best know for the Honu [Green Sea Turtles] that frequently climb out of the ocean and rest upon the warm sand.

Opposite the ocean lies a lily filled pond and the ruins of an old restaurant that have been swallowed by the jungle.

Naturally, we needed some “us” pictures, too:

After our visit to Punalu’u, we headed up the coast, stopping in the little town of Na’alehu to hit the Punalu’u Bakery for their super delicious malasada sweet rolls. Sadly, it was a busy day and they were sold out. Learn from our mistake and be sure to get there early! You really don’t want to miss out on these. We decided to grab a loaf of their taro sweet bread, anyway, an hit the road again.

We then proceeded to visit our other “lavastead” in HOVE [Hawaiian Ocean View Estates]. Most people would find the vicious a’a wasteland to be ugly and daunting, but we get excited about it, knowing its true potential.

On the way back, we stopped briefly at Whittington Beach Park then hit Punalu’u once more so Izzy could play in the water for a little bit. Then, it was back over the mountain to the rain and drizzle, but feeling happy and recharged.

Thank you for joining us on our adventures!



Our Weekly Haul From The Local Farmers Market

What a blessing it is to be able to eat, not just plenty, but well. In rural Montana, the availability of truly good produce was extremely limited.

Garden fresh produce was even more scarce, as the growing season was very short and competition with wildlife made it extremely challenging. Because of this, it was very easy to fall into steady diet of processed foods and readily available animal products.

Even as a meat eater, I knew my diet was sorely lacking in nutritive variety. Sherry, on the other hand, needed a whole foods plant based diet, which was pretty much unsustainable.

The fruits available at the store were often gross and devoid of flavor, having been picked green and shipped thousands of miles to reach us. To top it off, selection was horrible, unless you liked lots and lots of apples.

Now, it seems, every week we get to add some new, exotic fruit to the menu. Sherry is pleased as peaches and my need for meats has greatly diminished.



Fresh Squeezed Lemonade & ELTs

“ELT?! What is this culinary abomination?!” You may ask.

Well, it’s an eggplant, lettuce, & tomato sandwich. Sounds revolting, right? It’s not bad! Bear with me and I’ll let you in on how we “baconize” the eggplant.

Sherry is really shooting for a “Whole Foods Plant Based” diet and I’m trying my best to be supportive. I’m not completely on board with veganism, but it’s really doing good things for us both.

During our routine trip to the local farmers market, we were gifted with some free Japanese eggplant. Great… I hate eggplant. We politely accepted and Sherry promptly went bout finding ways to make it palatable to the haters [that’d be me].

And then she found it – ELTs! By skinning the eggplant, slicing it into thin strips, and marinating it in a mixture of liquid smoke and our favorite savory spices, then cooking it on low heat until it reaches a slightly crunchy, slightly chewy state, we had successfully made a bacon substitute.

Granted, it’s really nothing like real bacon but the important textures and flavors were all there and once the brain had grasped the fact that this was both tasty and healthy and I could eat a ton without fearing the reaper, well, I was overjoyed.

From there it’s all standard, unless you want to keep with the vegan theme [we did], you can use mustard and Best Foods Vegan mayonnaise, which is a great substitute for Miracle Whip – if that’s your jam.

To ice the cake, we had a pile of lemons that were gifted to us, as they’re quite plentiful here on the Big Island. We made some fresh squeezed lemonade with stevia to replace the sugar, poured it over ice. Whew… Dirt poor in paradise really isn’t so bad. 😉


Lava Farm: First Fruit Trees On The Homestead

After two months of starting seeds, clearing brush and trash from the homestead, and some waiting, we finally get to try sticking some seedlings in the dir-… errr… lava.

We hauled down a rambutan seedling, a papaya, a pineapple, and an old ice cream bean stump that was destined for the dump but decided that it wanted to live and took root in my dad’s driveway, exploding into green foliage.

After scraping together some debris and forming nests on the lava, we decided it was time to transplant and turn our babies over to nature, for better or for worse.

Fortunately, the evening brought a good rain. Hopefully, all is well on the homestead. Hopefully, we’ll have updates within the next week or two.


Big Island Hawaii: A Stroll Through The Volcano

Sure, strolling around an active volcano sounds pretty daring, but Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is largely benign and full of intriguing flora and fauna.

When we arrived at Devastation Trail, we were met by this friendly little Nene – Hawaii’s state bird, endemic to the Hawaiian islands. Over the past couple of centuries the population of the rare Nene had been decimated by hunting and the introduction of predatory animals. Through conservation efforts, the nearly extinct bird has been making a comeback.


At first, the meandering trail did not seem to live up to its name. It was a lovely, paved pathway through green forests of hapu’u fern and ohia trees adorned with red lehua.

Rather abruptly, however, the trail ahead opened to reveal the true desolation beyond.

In spite of the harsh conditions, numerous interesting plants had made a home of the dry, foreboding cinderscape.

As we continued along, the trail once again dipped into green forests, which ultimately deposited us at the Byron Ledge trail head. Proceeding onward, the paved pathway gave way to trails of crunchy, glassy cinder. As we continued along the pocked cinder terrain, the trail suddenly turned steep, dipping over the crater rim into another unexpectedly green forest some ways below, standing in contrast against the barren floor of the distant caldera.

Approaching the base of the hill, the trail once again entered the forest canopy. We continued walking trail for some time until we reached the Kilauea Iki trail head which would take us deep down into the bottom of the crater. Unfortunately, that hike would have to wait for another day, as we were running out of daylight and had a long walk back.

Even so, the journey continued to yield beautiful vistas and very interesting flora.

I’d best wrap this up until our next journey! I hope you enjoyed following along.

Thank you and Aloha! 🙂

Garden Progress: Fun In The Sun!

Ahhh… What a lovely day to check up on the “garden” progress.

As I mentioned before, I love trying to grow just about anything I can get my hands on. In the past couple of months, I’ve collected seeds from a variety of fruits and vegetables, both from stores and from the local farmers markets.

I’ve mixed local *poor* jungle soil with organic fertilizer, potting mix, crushed dolomite, and worm castings in pots and added seedlings from local produce that I’ve germinated in my worm castings.

Among my first germination experiments were rambutan (left) and papaya (right). Both were very quick to sprout, but growth has been slow. Still they seem pretty happy, and I love the butterfly shape of the baby rambutan.

Shortly after our arrival we visited the wonderful “Uncle Robert’s”, where I sampled golden dragon fruit for the first time. I was stunned by its sweet deliciousness and absolutely had to try my hand at cultivating them. Nearly an entire month had passed without germination and I’d just about given up hope, when suddenly six of my homemade seed tabs popped open revealing these thick little shoots.Golden_dragon2

They’re growing very slowly, likely due likely to the high elevation. Still, they seem healthy and happy and have just recently developed their first cactus-like spines.

After a day trip into Hilo town and a visit to Abundant Life, a lovely little health food store by the bay front, I prepped a pot to begin an herb garden.


At Abundant Life, I had purchased a few packets of seeds including kale, chives, stevia, purple basil, and lemon basil.

The kale and basils sprouted very quickly, but I’ve just about given up on the chives and stevia, although I have every intention of trying them again using different parameters. I do hate to be defeated in the garden. Heheh

To salvage some confidence, I decided to grow something I knew I couldn’t fail at and had been desiring to try for some time – purple sweet potatoes!


We grabbed a pack from the farmers market and ate all but one of these yummy little guys. After sitting around the kitchen for several days, it looked like it might have some little, sprouting protrusions.

I went out and tossed some grow mix in a pot, stuffed the sweet potato halfway in the dirt and stuck it under the stairs to the porch, in the shade. Easy peasy! It was a little shy for a couple of weeks, but once the first leaf decided that photosynthesis sounded pretty cool, it started going crazy.

And then there’s tomatoes… How can you possibly go wrong with a plant that is so eager to grow? We decided to try ELT [Eggplant, Lettuce, & Tomato] sandwiches, one night after bringing home some tomatoes and Japanese eggplant from the farmer’s market. They’re really yummy, just for the record. You soak the eggplant strips in a liquid smoke to make it bacon-esque and-… Oh yeah – tomatoes. Sorry. tomato

While cleaning up after dinner, I looked at the cutting board, which was covered in tomato juice and seeds, so I drained off the juice and plopped down a paper towel to wipe them up and make seed tabs. Needless to say, they’re happy little guys and growing absurdly fast. This is just a few days of growth.

This is just a pineapple top that I wanted to grow that was left over from breakfast. I didn’t have a pot prepared for it so I stuffed it in a random mound of dirt and grass in the yard, where I promptly forgot about it and went about doing other things.


Fast forward a couple of weeks – we have a big wind storm that blows the poor thing right out of the ground. I saw it laying in the driveway and picked it up to stuff it back in the dirt when I noticed brand new root nodes protruding from the side. That was exciting. It seems perfectly happy, even though it’s not in a proper growing medium from pineapples. Yay!

As you can see, things are progressing nicely around here. How are things where you are? Are you saving those seeds? It doesn’t matter where you live. I had lemons, tamarinds, and date palms growing happily in a window in Montana. If you have a passion for growing or even just a passing curiosity then run with it.

Aloha, everyone!


Our Basic Off Grid Solar Setup

Let’s face it – living without electricity sucks! As a teen, I lived for five years in the mountains of Montana without any form of electricity beyond the batteries in my small AM/FM radio. After a couple of months without power, you get acclimated and realize that it’s totally doable… It still sucks, however, and much more so now that our lives and livelihoods are so intertwined with technology.

I knew that electricity was going to be crucial on the Hawaii homestead, so I invested heavily in our solar setup. Problem is that my knowledge of solar, and electrical in general, is elementary at best. Fortunately, my father is somewhat of a solar buff and I am an eager student, thirsty for knowledge.

I’m still fairly inept at electrical, but this small solar project has really taught me a lot! Thanks, Dad!