Monday, May 25, 2009

Solar Progress

Jeff has been hard at work constructing the rails for the solar panels. He is using 4 x 4 galvanized steel and a bunch of brackets. There will be 3 sets - one for 4 panels and the other two will have 3 panels on them. Ten panels in all. We had to move the satellite dish but that was easy.

They are all pointed toward magnetic south or something and will be on an angle that changes depending on whether it is summer or winter. I know the upper position is 18 degrees which lifts the north end up about 4 feet.

He placed the rails so he could use the raised beams and put as few as possible anchors into the roof. The anchors go about 2 inches into the roof and he drills, vacuums debris out, epoxy goes in and then puts in the anchor. Or he uses the scuba tank to blast crap out of the holes.

I think we may try to chainsaw prune the Maria tree - it doesn't create any shadows but it needs some reigning in. Jeff is the technical one so I may have some of the info incorrect. All I know is that the panels and batteries and stuff come next week and there are four weeks that all this needs to be completed in! The wiring should go quickly, we are looking at some kind of containment thing for the batteries, the finishing touches may take longer as we touch up the roof and maybe paint the rails again or whatever. Meanwhile I am still painting rejas!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

How the Yard is Looking

The hedge like line of green is vetiver grass that I just gave a haircut to. It has filled in nicely and seems to be doing its job although we won't know until the rain comes. The flowers are the top of the false orchid tree that we did chainsaw pruning job to.

Vetiver grass is great because the roots go deep (holds a lot of soil) but it stays very contained unlike other grasses. You can let it go or trim it. I just trimmed it so I could weed beneath it and keep the good grass from intermingling with the bad.

The garden wall is looking good. The ornamental grasses have matured (didn't I just plant them?) and the flowers reseeded and are now taking over making perfect cat resting spots.

We are up on the roof moving the satellite dish and prepping for the solar panels. From the roof the mangoes (tree on left) are looking good.

Cats cats cats. This area is their personal playground and nap-taking area.

From the roof the arboretum is taking form. It all looks well managed but in reality the grass is 4 feet tall and I trim circles around the little trees. It is a huge difference from 1 1/2 years ago though when we couldn't even see horses up there and it was all the crappy "plague" trees and vines. Glad we have photos and the blog so we can look back when it seems like we aren't making progress!

Finds in the Yard...the Good and Bad

I've been painting and taking the kitten to the vet and checking up on our CD (which is mature on Sunday) so I hadn't been touring the yard as usual. Last I checked this plant had a couple little zucchini starting and now look at them! Something has eaten ALL the leaves and there is not a nub of a zucchini in sight. Damn. Didn't eat the neighboring plants - basil, cucumber (I'm surprised) and aji dulce peppers.

I've got 2 eggplant and have to decide to pick them now or leave them until later. The risk is...they may be nibbled or be gone tomorrow morning. Thing is I don't have a meal planned for them yet so I hate to pick them.

The plants on the left are zocata. It supposedly is a long orange squash of some sort like a zucchini. Someone gave me seeds so I'm trying it out. The vine on the right shows up a couple times a year and my neighbor says you can eat the roots - maybe mameya or name or something.

Guineos - 500 or nothing!

The plant looks pretty terrible but this is a little cantaloupe. Will it make it to maturity? I hope so.

These are the seed pods on the achiote tree - the annato seeds are in the pods and are used for coloring rice so everything isn't white!

On the left is the Achiote tree. This tree grows super fast! I planted a couple seeds and now have a 6 foot tall and 4 foot wide tree in under 6 months.

Here's the days harvest. I discovered a couple platano trees bent over with clusters of plump plantanos. The wind dropped a couple coconuts. The achiote tree is covered with pods and I shook some out and put them in the bowl above the tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes are a little tough right now but they are better than store bought. I dug a couple yucca. I'll leave the rest in the ground since I only got 2 from the plant (should get 5 or 6). When I first got here I thought yucca was wild poinsettia. Little did I know there was food underground! Our first full size carambola - pick it today or tomorrow it may have dropped and the bugs 'll get it. And a couple calabazas discovered in the tall (4 foot) grass. Now the trouble is what to do with all this?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


I could hear the bees in the morning and discovered the Quenepa was starting to bloom. One day nothing, and the next all new leaves and flowers! Crazy what a little rain can do.

Finally I've got some swiss chard. Nice healthy leaves without insect damage...yet.

Guineos. It is hundreds or nothing. Looks like it'll be another 3 bunches or so in the next month.

I haven't had much luck with zucchini - they flower, make one fruit and are done. These 3 plants don't even have fruit yet. Even if I only get one I still want it. I'll plant a couple seeds a week until I get the timing right - hard to find in the supermarket and hard to cough up $1.50 a fruit for what you couldn't give away in the states!

Hmmm. My favorite - parcha!

Lots of blossoms and a few fruit already.

This year the fiberless big mangoes are plentiful. Many are way to high, but they only hit on one side when they fall so we eat the other side.

Lots of fiberless mangoes - email recipes! There are too many to just eat plain!

More Edibles or Almost Edibles

We have been eating lechosa (papayas) every morning on cereal or in oatmeal or in yogurt for months now and are down to the final handful. Some are kind of bitter, some are watery and others are musky or really sweet. We planted around 30 from several different papayas (some store bought and others given to us) and we hack the tree down when it is finished and start over from seed. The plant behind was a 4 inch cutting a year ago - Shooting Star which is shooting suckers all over the place now! It is over 5 feet tall and wide!

These are my first coffee beans!

This is a coffee bean flower - looks like a citrus flower.

The Chinoja and Chinas are flowering 4 or 5 clusters at a time. There is a strong and lovely (nothing like it) perfume all day and night wafting around. It smells strongest when it is humid and still. I think I like the China smell better than Ylang ylang or the male papaya, but that opinion changes depending on what is blooming at the time!

I've got some cantaloupe flowers but no fruit so far. I've also got quite a few weeds!

Little Carombolas everywhere - around 50 I'd say. The tree is pretty, but not a pretty shape (lopsided). It is tucked in between the Quenepa and an Aguacate.

The only BIG Carambola - never saw that blossom. If I am busy with other things and don't take the 2 times a day tour I don't notice blooming things. I can hear what is blooming in the morning when the bees wake me up. Peanut M and M sized bees!

Little Aguacates. We just pruned this tree severely (it was really tall and the wood isn't that strong). Last year it was so heavy a branch with around 80 fruit on it broke. Time to get out the chainsaw! We have 3 huge Aguacate trees that give fruit at slightly different times, and another 4 that have started to produce ( only a handful per tree). I also planted a couple different ones - Avila and another type. Why more? They fruit at different times, it gives you liberty to prune to keep fruit low and rejuvenate the trees and not be without fruit, there are a jillion different types to try!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Photovoltaic Progress... Climbing the Crack

With less than 6 weeks left and 3 of those weeks eaten up for shipping that doesn't leave room for procrastinating. I am doing everything I can to be ready when the solar equipment arrives.In theory how hard can this be? All I am doing is connecting two sets of five panels together then running them to a charge controller, the output of that to the batteries, then to the inverter, then to the house wiring. That's it, basically connecting 4 pieces of equipment. The mounting system is the hard part. Commercial mounting systems are expensive and in my opinion not very sturdy. The system I built you could drive on. It took me two days to make the frame below. I cut the galvanized steel with a 10000rpm hand held grinder and I drilled all the holes with a cordless drill with very old weak batteries. It actually was a lot of physical work. I can hardly stand up. Way to many squats.

The plywood is a representation of the size of each panel. Three panels will fit on this frame. Its adjustable for summer and winter sun angles but only so far. The height of the rack concerned Katrina so I kept it short. Ideally we would want around 30 degrees in the winter and -10 in the summer. I have it set up for 18 degrees and 5 degrees.

Here it is at 18 degrees.

Katrina loves to paint. She just cant get enough of it.

This is The Crack. We practiced climbing and rappelling here last month.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

New Finds

Just south of Home Depot there is a little nursery that sometimes has some unusual stuff in it. After diving we stopped and it said they were liquidating and were only open during the week for a little while longer. They weren't open so I decided to go back since I eyed a bottle brush tree while I was peering in at the place. So I found treasures and am very excited to plant things out this week! This one is a Roble Amarillo which is blooming right now all over - huge puffs of bright yellow flowers and twisty bark. Very exciting. Even more exciting? $6 for a 5 foot tree!

This is a cashew (they eat the fruit here) and I bought my tree here and it has little fruits on it (not this one - this is from their planted full-grown one). They call it Paquil - not sure of the spelling. Cashews - yum.

This was about 3 feet tall and not potted up so the guy pulled a couple and gave them to me. I liked the stripes and thought it would be nice under trees.

This is a money tree ( not lunaria the money plant - perennial). All the info I can dig up points to it being a French Peanut that has edible seeds. The guy told me it didn't give fruit but I believe it does.

Even if it doesn't, I liked the cool shape of the trunk. I want my little arboretum to have a mix of fruit, flowers, indigenous species etc. A mix of stuff.

Here is the Bottle Brush. I couldn't resist!

$6 bucks for a 6 foot tall Almendra (almond). This will be a substantially large tree so it goes way up top in front of a really big rock that we don't want making its way down the hillside. Hopefully the tree shoots up, the trunk gets big and we can sit under the tree on that rock!

Here's the little assortment - Roble Amarillo, Bottle Brush, Almendra, Money Tree, Nispero (which I am not sure about - it could be spanish for Loquat, I found a site that has it listed as being some other edible thing as well so it is a surprise)! Besides the trees I got an orchid, some odd succulent thing, something that makes a nice big flower and then disappears for the season and some assorted little ferns. All this for $53!!! I just love gardening here! Sorry they are going out of business, but I was happy to get some large trees - most of what I've bought have been a foot at most.

Here's the succulent thing and the big pink flower thing. I never liked pink much, but here the neon pink leaves and flowers of things are just wonderful! So that was part of my exciting day.
I was on my way to the Secret Gallery in Rincon (they are now carrying some of my photography products - note cards, magnets, bookmarks ) when I took the little diversion. They still have some trees so head in if you are out that way!


I have been watching our tamarind pods swell for months now and whenever I asked Amparo (my neighbor) if they were ready I heard "verde." So I have been giving them a little squeeze now and then and then forgot about them and got fascinated with the carambolas. Suddenly everyone along the highway has got bags of these little peanut looking things - ahhh tamarind, mine must be ready. Sure enough, there are many ripe pods waiting for harvest!

As fruit goes they are not the most attractive of fruits - they are kind of disgusting looking. When you get the shell off they are REALLY disturbing looking. If they are soft you can harvest, if they are cracked they might have residents (worms) or be dried out (seco). They, like everything here have to be just right (not verde, maduro, viejo, nuevo, amarillo, blandito etc etc)

So this is a pile of the goo I smooshed off the seeds. Why would a person do this? Yummy in Thai cooking is why - I made a nice sauce with tamarind, fish sauce, hot pepper, soy sauce, shallots and then dumped it over sauted shrimp! Yum yum yum!

The other thing you can do is make a very nice beverage. You take the husks off so they look lovely like this (barf) and then cover with water, swish around a few times, swish some more the next day, run it through a seive and if you have the sour "pais" tamarind (wild ones) add sugar - ours is a sweet one and didn't need a thing!  I wonder who the first person was who decided this was something to eat? I am lucky to have a neighbor who can show me how to process stuff - tamarind, breadfuit (still unsure of when they are ripe), yucca...who would know what to do?