Thursday, August 30, 2012

Snorkeling at Crashboat After the "Tropical" Depression

They call Tropical Depressions depressions for a reason. The last few days have been kind of depressing due to a lack of sun! The clouds have been pretty spectacular but there has been a lot of Sahara Dust in the air and just a gloomy grey sort of look to things. Today was a different story! Sun at last...a nice sunrise out my window, a ball of fire rising in the sky and not a cloud in sight (yeah, it was just after 6 am). I decided to head to the beach around 9:30 while there was sun. I wanted to try out my new Pentax WG-II camera. This is one of the rough and tough ones you can take an atmosphere underwater and into wet, muddy, and rugged (caves) situations. These cameras don't do a spectacular job but are compact and work fairly well considering where you can take them. My last one got ruined on the last caving trip and this is the replacement. Of course they change the designs and such but oh, well. I headed to Crashboat hoping for dry sand and clear water. I sat out for 10 minutes before I got hot and headed for the pilings. I snorkeled out in the 80 something degree water. It felt really nice.
This time of year is always off and on. There are always lots of juvenile fish but visibility changes day to day depending on rain (erosion sends mud onto the reefs), dust (gets suspended in the water), and swell (can make currents and churn things up). It was pretty clear today. I could see the bottom at Crashboat and make out eels and fish on the bottom wreckage. There was a nice school of little blue juvenile fish in a mob near the surface...sunlight was streaming through the pilings...I spent a couple hours in and out of the water enjoying the beauty. I stopped and took in the gorgeous view and had great feelings of enjoyment...this is why I love Puerto Rico!

Then I looked down over the railing...this is why I hate Puerto Rico. I guess you just can't look down? So the Tropical Depression may be gone but...

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Focus on Fruit - Dragon Fruit and Madrono

First off I have to mention that we have been without internet for over 2 weeks. No reading of newspapers or blogs, no researching interesting things, no Mars photos to see. Nothing but a not working white box staring at me on the desk getting me pissed off as Claro continues to charge us as if it worked! On one of my almost weekly trips to the San Sebastian pulgero I found a guy with dragon fruit!!! Most of the vendors have all the same things I have in my yard at this time of year - guineos (bananas), carambola (star fruit), coconuts, calabaza, avocados, culantro (different than cilantro but more alike than different), quenepas. Once and a while though there is something different! One week it was lychees, another week I found a zocato seedling for a buck (kind of a giant cucumber sort of? One of these last weeks there was a basket of beautiful Dragon Fruit! I knew immediately what they were and that I wanted some! Most shoppers had no idea what they were missing. Then I rambled to see what the fruit tree guy had and he had what he called a "Mahone" tree start and fruits in a baggie. I took some fruits and need to go back for the tree!
Dragon Fruit  or Pitaya hylocereus is a succulent/cactus type plant with super cool flowers and fruit! Being a plant person I had read about Pitaya long before I had gotten to PR. When I got here I found a little start at Enaidas Jardineria in Cabo Rojo. I snatched up the ugly plant and planted it at the other house. It bloomed prolifically for a couple years and never got fruit so I went back to Enaidas for a second one figuring it needed to cross pollinate with another of its kind or something. Still no fruit.
I got loads of huge flowers. The flowers bloom maybe from 9 or 10 at night until around 8 in the morning. Bats are the main pollinators. They smell magnificent and it is really cool to see them unfurl from bud stage to an open flower over the course of hours! Kind of like Little Shop of Horrors! Even Tuca the cat was amazed!
The beautiful flowers were on a really ugly plant. Look at that fruit though...totally cool looking with a really good flavor! The seeds are a lot like kiwi seeds - crunchy but soft...the fruit works on a normal salad or a fruit salad...I could see it in some kind of salsa with mango and avocado and onion or simply with star fruit and a little honey (not needed but would look really pretty).  I wanted fruit from my plants and after thinking about it figured if Enaidas was a smart nursery they would simply be propagating from one pitaya. This could explain my lack of fruit. While driving I noticed a huge pitaya plant in the trees on the side of the road. I picked up a piece and planted that. We moved before I got to see if the thing was gonna fruit but...I took a piece of each with me to the Moca house and we will see what it does here! If the guy has the fruit again I will certainly buy some more - he sold them for $1.25 each and they were apple-sized.
So what is the other fruit, the yellow ball? The guy called it a "mahone" but I couldn't find information on it by that name. What I did find calls it a Madrono (tilde over the n ) and another possibility is Rheeda madruno. I may never know the real name, but I have tasted the fruit and will go back for a tree start (hopefully he still has the baggies of fruit - 3 for a $1- and small trees). The fruit is kind of like a longan, or lychee, or quenepa inside (big seed with small amount of pulpy meat over it) and the taste is nice...kind of a sweet/sour refreshing taste. It is like many Puerto Rico fruits - kind of interesting and kind of pointless and kind of yummy all at once. You can't harvest enough to do anything with them, the seed is most of it, they require sucking and spitting out of seeds, and these things would maybe put them on my "pass up" but I like the taste and rank them up there with longans as being better than lychees. I like to wander the yard and graze. So I give a thumbs up to the spiky yellow golf ball and the awesome Dragon Fruit! Plant some today!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Some Then and Nows...Progress Being Made

When we first moved into the house I knew I had to attack the front full force - it was just too boring! This turned out to be a multi-month process as I formulated what I wanted to do, figured out (after it rained a few times) what I needed to do, and then started doing it. It was two grass squares with a shooting star shrub/tree on one end and a Manjack on the other. This shrub is nice when it blooms and ugly when it doesn't. I wanted it out.The Manjack is a treasure that birds love. It was a must to keep this one. When the sun blazes (this is the west) it is hot in the front rooms and I wanted to put something in that will keep the views but filter the sun by giving lacy shade. When it really rains the water comes out drain holes and splashes mud all over the walkway. The area isn't graded correctly so the grass was higher than the walkway and water pooled.
I fixed these things by slowly digging out the grass (still have some to go), relocating some soil to grade it, better, and adding some rock to kind of extend the walkway and give the rain somewhere better to go - no more mud! I wanted some symmetry in basic design. I planted a fishtail palm on each side and a bottle palm on each. I wanted different heights, widths, textures etc. The goal is to not see dirt anywhere.

It is growing up nicely! I had a lot of starts from the other house and also added new plants. I still have grass to dig, compost to put down and plants to select but the cats have a safe, cool place to snooze and it seems cooler with all the nice flowers and foliage! Another area I wanted to change was the old dog run area. When we bought the house I knew this was going to be a "greenhouse" "shade house" vegetable garden. This has taken a lot of work since it is sloped, there are roots to work around, it is full of weeds and not level. I got tired of weeding and reseeding so I finally tackled the area (or at least started to). I made planters with cinder blocks. The ground was eroding under the fence so I solved that problem and when I fill them will have areas for exposed veggie growing.
We figured out how to use the existing fence and poles so we could build up and cover it. We slipped smaller diameter tubes into the existing ones and then Jeff attached the cross poles. I got some great material for the cover that is strong and stretchy. Rain can get through but is broken up. Light gets through and so does wind. The problem with growing veggies here is that hard rain compacts the soil, saturates it, and/or floats your seeds away! Humidity is also a problem. I think this will solve most of my problems. Rain won't batter stuff, air still gets through, and there is enough shade that lettuce can grow and hopefully enough sun for tomatoes and peppers. Jury is still out.
Jeff built some frames to set my cement-mixing trays on. These trays are perfect! They are cheap ($6 - 10), the big ones are deep enough for tomatoes and the shallow ones are perfect for lettuce and greens. I've started some seeds even though it is the worst time to start stuff. The goal is all food all the time. There are two levels on the frame so I can rotate or put things that need more shade on the lower level. The deeper trays are up and I can train stuff up by suspending net or something. The cement block areas use the chain link for beans and cucumbers and other climbers. I am pretty happy with things and now want to expand the area. So far 20x12 is covered. I may do part in a shade cloth for total shade and rain protection and some more of what I have got...have to see how it works first.
The other thing I am working on is to make the yard a park. The grown trees give the place a framework, but there wasn't a single flower or shrub anywhere. Just trees sticking up out of lawn! Boring! I am removing lawn and planting heliconias, gingers, coleus, groundcovers, calatheas, etc etc. I am making a border and start by planting under trees. Eventually the under tree planting will connect into a series of islands and I can move on to benches and doodads! The circle of dirt is around my first planting - and Ylang-ylang (which has really grown - photo later).
You can kind of see the border. Some of the plants were starts I took with me from the other house. They have started to send up new shoots. I purchased a She-Kong and Black Magic Heliconia and am excited to see them flower some time in the next year or so! Busy have to front load the work if you want to enjoy fruit and flowers. Poco y poco doesn't work for me!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Watching the Storms Develop

Our house sits on a ridge and we can see the Adjuntas mountain area, San Sebastian valley, Aguadilla, Desecheo Island and a sliver of the Atlantic and basically all around. We can see and hear storms develop no matter where they are coming from. The last couple weeks has been kind of dramatic. Since it is just the beginning of the hurricane season I am sure there is more magic to come! Sometimes the sunsets aren't the spectacular thing - it is the clouds in the South while the sun is setting. I can watch the early evening "smoke" clouds rise up vertically as if the other clouds didn't exist. I'm just sitting here on m swingy bench on the porch watching it unfold! Dramatic color to the south. The sun is somewhere in the clouds making the pink sky beams in the west. We had some really big suns for a week or so.

This cloud just piled up and up and up (looking west to the left of Desecheo Island). There are a lot of layers to the clouds and different layers look as if someone is pulling them on strings. A couple days ago this black mass barreled in and then out. Desecheo Island is the little mound in the middle. Then you could hear and see the rain coming.

Then it was gone and a window of blue opened up. (little light blue ball is part of our gate). To drive to this view is 19 minutes - you can't really understand how giant an area these clouds are forming in unless you are at our house. The black just blankets everything for 30 miles or so and then disappears as if it were never here! Sometimes the fog will make it a white-out at the house...but then there are sunsets...This is a lovely place to live! We will never again have views like this. Paradise in all directions!