Thursday, October 30, 2008

Solar Dehydrator Meets Guineos

Well it is guineo time again, just when you think it is over! Guineo ninos, manos, Monte Cristo. I don't know which ones these are, but a whole bunch were ripe all at once (as always). They are up pretty high so we can't sneak them 10 at a time - we have to wait until the banana falls or leans. But here they are sliced fairly thin.

This is the tray that slides into the solar dehydrator that Jeff made. He made it awhile ago but I think he's tired of blogging and just never got around to posting anything about it. I didn't dip the bananas in lemon juice or anything. Just sliced them and laid them out.

Here they are with the tray in position inside the device. Plexiglas from Home Depot is on top, there is some tin painted black under the tray and some space around all the sides for circulation. The pipe gets the convection going and it has a little hat to keep rain out. For these guineos it took a couple days because we are getting rainy afternoons. So far Jeff hasn't died eating any so it appears things are drying out enough. He does have some desiccant inside a zip lock for storage and he enjoys his evening TV and dried guineo snacks!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Down on the Road and Up on the Hill

Only in Puerto Rico can you see unescorted cows, horses and turkeys roaming around the roads. Seeing them tied up alongside the highway is one thing, but strolling along behind a van (like the one roped to the tow ball) or taking a wander alone is another. Another odd sight is people stopping to cut grass and stuffing it into their trunks...or stopping in the middle of the road so they can pop out for a few mangos (never mind the cars stacking up behind them). I really like seeing all this stuff.

Another thing that amazes me is how many horses look down on us from the backs of mini-pickups! When we dive up in Aguadilla we are on the road for an hour and we always see horses in the back of trucks. They are always in little trucks and their heads are high and sometimes their tails swing down to the bumper. The most we've seen in a mini pickup is 3 full grown large horses!

This gruesome photo is of the evil death log that you may recall from our previous cat stories. This is the death log after we used pruners to break it open and release a cute little guy. Later the orange guy got stuck in the same log because it had a secret entrance from the other end that we didn't know about.

And yes, it's another cute kitten photo. This is the little white guy that was stuck in that log. S/he is romping around happily in the yard now.

While He Was Gone

While Jeff was gone I had the truck and was able to get all kinds of "fun" stuff done - doctor's appointments. I also met up with our friend David for a dive - a crappy 11 minute dive in conditions similar to Puget Sound.
While he was gone I saw pigeons in the back of a truck...horses in pickups on highway 2...goats in the back of a truck. I also went to Ponce at 8:30 am and got my number -37- and then waited until 1 o'clock to have a needle stuck in my thyroid. Oh, but I had to wait for half an hour for them to try to figure out if they would take our insurance or not. Wait a minute! This has been arranged for over a month. What is it they were doing from 8:30am -1. Also we know they DO take our insurance but just don't want to call or believe us. Well finally after my being distraught they agreed to "bill" me ($450) and went ahead and did it - goody. Oh, and did I mention that they had to do a sonogram so they could locate the needle and the sonogram doctor DOESN'T TAKE ANY INSURANCE! How can that be? So at least I got it done. Horrid day. On the flip side I had a bone density scan and walked in, waited 5 minutes, no insurance problems, had it done, walked out all in under 1/2 hour. Both these scenarios wouldn't happen on the mainland! So on the drive home from work the night before Jeff left the truck overheated. Overheated to the point where he had to stop and let it cool and fill it with water to get it home. We got to the airport in Mayaguez just fine. Jeff thought he should get there an hour early for his Cape Air Flight to San Juan. We got there and nothing was open! This airport looks like an airport but no one was there except security guards. Then in half an hour a guy shows up and parks in the yellow curb area (like all Puerto Ricans do), goes behind the building and disappears. Another passenger shows up, the guy comes out and asks if they are ready to go! So off he went. While he was gone we talked every night until the phone stopped working. Well it didn't stop exactly, it just became a one way phone. I would call Jeff and he could hear me but I couldn't hear him. On the off chance he could hear me I told him to email me and were able to talk about things (like when I should pick him up and how the truck wasn't working). Sigh. So I can't hear Jeff on the phone. I assume he is on his way to the Mayaguez airport since he called. So I hop in the truck but it won't start! I have done errands a couple days a week for two weeks now without problems but now, when I need it it won't start! Lucky for me my neighbor Amparo knew I was having possible truck trouble and let me use her car to pick him up. So I am driving her little putput car to the airport and every intersection has a zillion cars along side the road with fake SIRENS, honking, salsa music blaring from gigantic speakers on top of cars, and huge amounts of flag waving. Cops are posted at every intersection but typically no sirens, just blue lights. Election crap. I get there and pick him up and he was quite surprised to see me in Amparo's car! So we are on the way home. Jeff is eating his sandwich and we make our way back past the political stuff and salsa music when highway two comes to a halt just past Ricominis bakery. We are having trouble seeing what the problem is. It looks like a couple people are pushing a van down the highway - it is dark and 8 at night. Wait, those aren't PEOPLE, someone actually has a COW tied to the tow hitch ball thing on the back of their van! A Fricking COW is walking behind a van on highway 2 going where? Who knows. Sometimes living in Puerto Rico is like living in a movie.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Is It Just Me? Or is Puerto Rico Noisy and Obsessed with Sirens?

Sorry, no photos this time. I am just wondering if I am the only person who just doesn't understand cranked up speakers, fake sirens, and really bad karaoke? In our little part of Puerto Rico there are parties...or maybe they aren't parties...just really loud music emitting from unknown locations wafting around the hills. We think it may be from the little community churches - kind of an "all call" to draw people in and when they are there it gets quieter (but not much). Sometimes it is parties. We have gone to a couple of these parties and partaken in Velveeta and empanadas and even moonshine. Always REALLY loud music and dominoes.
Another thing I don't understand is how people enjoy singing and listening to bad karaoke? I mean really off key to the point of being humorous! Didn't karaoke go out in the 70's or something? Not in Puerto Rico apparently. Even the bugs are noisy. They sit there on their little leaf couches and the leader gives the "let's start" wave of the conductor stick and everyone starts up. My god, it is like they have maraccas, and violins and those tambourine things. When they get out of sync the conductor pulls it all together and it restarts. And the chickens. Chickens from about 1 or 2 in the morning like the stadium "wave" with the ururursss going round the hills and back. Even the roosters get tired of it and do little half hearted crowing. Gives me dreams of the Wizard of Oz monkey scene where they snatch things up...

But the most bizarre of all the noisiness is the Puerto Rican obsession with SIRENS! Is it because the police and ambulances don't use them? There are people who either honk (beep beep) or drive around with sirens as they cruise the blind curves of the hillsides. Am an insane or does anyone else understand this? Every weekend we see hoards of people on motorcycles all using SIRENS to supposedly fake people out? We all know no one real uses sirens! I was in the doctor's office and someone had a siren ring tone! That is what prompted this blog. A siren! What is the obsession with this kind of noise? How many cars do you pass that have gigantic speakers on them that bleat out political stuff, advertisements etc? Even the ice cream truck is a crack up...noisy of course. But SIRENS? I just don't get it.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Leaf Patterns in the Yard

This is an image of agave. I like the radiating design of this plant. The tips of each leaf have a thorn like a nail on it. I won't be moving it ever and I made sure I weeded a big circle around it so I never have to reach under it! When I first got it I used fingernail clippers to snip off the nails so I wouldn't get poked much planting it.
Another plant...Zamia.

Croton is one of the nicest plants around. There are many different colors and leaf structures. It makes a nice hedge around 6 feet tall (some varieties are taller).

Another version of Zamia.

This is the underside of Black Taro. There are many different textures and patterns in the yard. Leaves, tree bark, flowers. Spider webs and insects.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Plants Around the Yard - Jakfruit, Ylang Ylang, Papayas

A friend gave me a small Jakfruit. Jakfruit is in the same family as the breadfruit and when it gets to be a big tree can bear fruit weighing 100 pounds!!!! This is on the steep slope on the downside of the driveway in papaya/banana land. When it gets large I want to see it as I drive up to the house! One problem I have had with planting small trees (4-6 inches) is that the rain washes the soil away, chickens expose the roots or Jeff weed whacks them! My solution is to grow things in pots, cut the bottom out of the pot and plant it. This helps keep soil around the roots, keeps chickens from scratching soil away and makes it easier for Jeff (and me when the grass gets tall) to find.

I planted 20 something papaya SEEDS and expected half to die or be male. Ha! We've got massive amounts of fruit hanging on the trees already!

This is one of two ylang ylang trees we've got. This is the bigger one - it is 6 feet tall. The other is in the vegetable garden area and is 2 feet. Here's a branch with one big flower and a bunch of buds on it.
The flowers smell wonderful but aren't as strong as I thought they would be. If you get one and like the smell put it closer to your windows. When it is still and humid it smells more.

Vegetable Gardening Frustration and Improvements(?)

So here is my main garden site. Doesn't look like much right now because I got frustrated and pulled everything out! Cherry tomatoes grow great. Tomatoes grow great. Green beans grow great. Peppers grow great and pumpkin grows great. Just not now (except pumpkin). All my tomatoes were cracking. I had great big nice tomatoes for a long time and then when the climate got a little wetter all the problems started. Too dry of weather and things were getting buggy - tomato worms, white fly on the gandules and green beans, and then it got wetter and peppers and tomatoes started to crack. I had nice rows made and then the hard rains washed them flat. I'd go out and make the beds again. They'd wash down again and on and on. I got sick of it and decided I needed a solution. So here is the test bed. I decided to make a raised bed of sorts (not raised much, just one cinder block high) so I can control the moisture better (won't get saturated in big rain and won't crack and get rock hard in dry weather) and keep the beds from washing out. Since there is a little slope I ended up sitting cinder blocks on the down side and digging them in on the upper area so it is all square and level. My hope is that the cinder blocks hold the compost and soil inside. When things get buggy I can make a tent-pole type rig to cover it so it keeps things out! I can also put shade cloth over it for certain crops.

So it kind of looks like a grave right now but in a month it will look very different! I have amended the soil in half of it and double dug the whole thing. I am filling the holes with dirt and planting culantro and other small things in them. A friend has a good composting method - she puts onion skins, banana peels etc in a big zip lock in the freezer and when it is full she dumps it on the pile. I am using mainly weed whacked grass and small twigs with some kitchen waste. I rake after weed whacking to make long rows where I want trails and then I steal the compost from below and move it. I may just make a three-sided bin in my little area if I decide to actively toss it. But right now I just make it and move it on the upper part of the hill! And when the work is done I look out at the odd clouds in the south-east. I dream about getting lettuce to grow and about having tomatoes again. Why did I pull things out? Ah well - I have room for a couple more raised beds in that area and as I work the soil and amend it more I think it will be less frustrating than constantly rebuilding the rows. And luckily it is now the time to grow things - I had nicer vegetables in the winter than summer. Here's to the little seedlings and their new home!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

It's Been Almost a Year ...Then and Now Photos

On the left is a Tamarind tree and the next biggest stick is an avocado. There were a couple mini-waterfalls and lots of sediment collecting in the grass.

This is what the area looks like now - a little cleaner with much larger trees! You can see the clumps of ornamental grass I've planted and the little wall that does a decent job collecting dirt. The wall only took a couple days to build...these blocks are great!

This area was even more overgrown - this shows it post weeding and dividing.

Here it is cleaned up. I've relocated the pots and used them for different things. I've re-stacked the rock wall and brought in rocks from up top and divided and moved and pruned things! Not much soil here though so it is hard to grow much until I build the soil up (which isn't on my list).

Here's the driveway when we first bought the house - In Puerto Rico they weed whack to the ground. We understand why - the way things grow it buys you some time. We don't do that though because we don't want to watch the soil run into the road, down to the river and out to the sea where it will smother the reef system.

In an effort to keep soil where it is we built a wall and I am still planting things to help hold soil. The "Trinitaria" (aka bougainvillea) is growing slowly since it is a little wet and you can barely see little grey sticks just past the gate that will grow up to about 6 or 8 feet and hide the waterlines. On the right just after the gate I am slowly putting in croton cuttings as I get them to root. So those are some of the things we've done around the house.

Friday, October 10, 2008

More Faces in the Yard...a Long Story That Ends Well

Here is a long saga of trying to do the right thing by spaying and neutering stray cats. I'll try to make it short. As you know we have spayed/neutered 5 animals so far and thought that was the end of it! We had a cat, Bepo, whose daughter and son (Princess and Junior) hang out and have been taken care of. Well awhile back before we spayed her Bepo was pregnant and then she wasn't. We tried to find kittens and figured they were stillborn or something because she was in the yard always and was not lactating. We waited and waited. Then my sister visited and took special interest in her. Cats get pregnant immediately after giving birth and we didn't want her to go through that again (she is little). So we spayed her. She was in the shower for 5 nights and like all the others ran out and stayed away for a day when we released her. Then she was down here like always. A week later I hear something way up on the hill that doesn't sound right. Jeff doesn't hear it, but I go and investigate. I hear crying in a log pile and you guessed it...a little kitten face appears. This guy (only smaller at the time).

This isn't the source of the noise though - I can hear things but it sounds like it is underground. I get Jeff and he can't tell where it is coming from either. We go down to the house but I am still disturbed. I can still hear it. It is now dark. Jeff knows I can't sleep worrying about it so we go up one more time with a dental mirror and flashlight. We put the mirror in this really narrow hollow branch and stick it as far in as we can and look with a flashlight and we see this little white face!

We use pruners to prune the branch and wedge it open further and further and a white ear pops out! We keep doing it and then an arm pops out! Finally it is free and disappears into the tangle of brush. Meanwhile we see an orange flash squirt out of a brush pile. We can't catch any of them. Talk about guilt. Are these Bepo's babies? Yes - we follow her up there. The next day the orange one is stuck - you guessed it, same log. Turns out it had another entrance so we got this one out and then dismantled the death trap. It was an odd shaped log that made getting in possible but not out. The next day we bring food up and the babies have been moved! For more than a month she has moved them around and we have only seen one at a time, never all three at once. Finally we hear meows in the yard. The kitties have come down, but now there are 4. The original orange kitty is short haired and tiny like Princess. This one was with them. It appeared first and I thought it was Bepos until the other 3 showed up. All cats have stunt doubles! Then I am in the yard and there are 6 kittens and I know they are not all Bepo's. Bepo had the Junior look-alike (Strippedy), the Princess sort-of-look-alike (Angel), and the short haired orange one (Mars). Meanwhile, Bepo's look-alike/stunt double/sister? shows up in the yard with the hairy orange one (Puffball). Then we see all of them together with the addition of a black and white one and another striped one. We think Puffball is Bepo's sister's kitten. We think the sister nursed all of them while Bepo was in the shower or they were big enough already to find food. We know that they trade off babysitting all of them which is kind of cool - Bepo's sister isn't as good a mom and kind of abandoned Puffball who roams around crying. But now they are all in the yard and have friends to cuddle with. They eat avocados (and ample servings of cat food) together and the story ends well. Very traumatic though. We tried to be careful and do the right thing. We now feel responsible for her kittens and how can we ignore Puffball, the outsider? The other two have gone off somewhere else thankfully but now we have 4 little ones cuddling up together near the front door. We really aren't cat people.

When I took an evening stroll around the yard I saw 3 of the kitties mobbing this toad! They were fascinated and not much bigger than it. They would inch closer and just watch it.
The toads are weird because they don't move. You can lift them by the chin and they are stiff and then ooze a white ooze out of their back. Here's a view from up top. Weirder still...

So the story ends until the next round of spaying, neutering or finding homes for the new faces around the farm...

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Orchids and a Pitahaya

We've got orchids hanging in baskets under the Maria Tree and a couple of them are blooming! This one had a couple sprays like this one (they are at the end but nice anyway).

This is the first time I have seen this large one bloom. For an orchid this is a pretty large flower!

A friend just gave us this orchid this weekend - believe it or not it is vanilla bean - the kind you cook with! I don't know what I thought the plant would look like, but I didn't realize that vanilla is an orchid! I haven't decided where to train it - probably just on the Maria Tree branch (one that isn't covered in Philodendron).

What is this thing a photo of? When we got here there was barbed wire along the driveway fencing off what is now guineo/papaya land . We didn't like all the fencing and wanted to put the bottom area to use so we took it down. There were however a couple of these super heavy and immovable cement posts. Hmmm, what can I do with those? They look weird. So I have planted a Pitahaya (dragon fruit) and am training it up the post and then will connect the two posts with some sort of structure for it. The dragon fruit is a cactus that produces flowers over 2 feet across!!! The fruit is kind of cool as well. I have only had it dried but this plant has cool factor! Do a web search on it and take a look at the fruit and flowers - way way cool!