LAS TORTUGAS

We have a few building lots left. Email us at lastortugasatfalsebluff@gmail.com for information.

24 April 2018

Mother's in the nursery


      From Wikipedia:  "Mother plant is a plant grown for the purpose of taking cuttings or offsets in order to grow more quantity of the same plant."
     The first season after planting this rooted cutting of a very young oleander mother, she has adapted nicely to her spot in our nursery.  She will have a pale yellow blossom.


     The second season shows the growth of the 
plant (right side of photo).  She's tall and ungainly but....


     ...she's ready to donate cuttings.


     Taking cuttings from the our mother plants will not only give us additional plants to use and sell, but will help shape the plant for more propagation. 
     (By the way...I spent a few minutes deciding whether this post should be titled "Mother's in the nursery" or "Mothers in the nursery."  Either fits.)



19 April 2018

The working life of a coconut palm

     When a coconut tree begins to bear fruit (coconuts), it doesn't stop until it's dead.  The tree's production may differ with time, or with the weather, or with ill health.  But the tree's purpose in life is to make coconuts, whether anybody uses them or not.
     This photo sums up the work that's constantly in progress, showing the stages involved in producing coconuts throughout the life of the tree - from the top, or crown, down...always.  
     At the highest producing point of this tree are the flowers, those sprays of yellow (another spray of flowers can be seen to the right of those bright yellow ones).  
     Just below the flowers are the new, small, coconuts themselves that come from the flowers (and barely visible to the left of those babies are some infant coconuts).  
     In the bottom tier shown are coconuts that are nearing harvest time.  In fact, some of these coconuts are ready for harvest, depending on the coconut's intended use (but that's a whole 'nother story).

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14 April 2018

They're getting used to us

     Hurricane Joan in 1988 did something hurricanes rarely do: she jumped over Central America from the Caribbean to the Pacific, getting a new name when she did so. Joan-Miriam was the final hurricane of the Atlantic hurricane season and the final named storm of the Pacific hurricane season.  
     And she was a real bitch by any name.
     Part of the damage she did to Nicaragua was the destruction of almost all of what fed the monkeys and for decades most people in the area thought all the monkeys along Nicaragua's Caribbean coast had died, either as a result of Joan's killing winds or of starvation that followed the loss of their food sources.
     I'm glad to say they didn't all die and they're making a comeback.  Here are some of our locals on one of their well traveled overhead routes...this byway across the canal not too far from the house.
      It used to be that when the monkeys saw us they screamed and swung.  Not so much any more.  Now they just sort of hang out and watch what we're up to.


09 April 2018

El Nido

     Almost finished...



     The Nest, our small library and game room, will be parged and then painted.  
     Shady space below for chairs and hammocks.  
     The Nest is much closer to the beach than our first building.

04 April 2018

Leaving Bluefields

     One of La Costena's small planes rises over Bluefields and the bay on its way to Big Corn Island, then passing over False Bluff as it heads east across the Caribbean - about 20 minutes from Bluefields to Big Island.
     We can tell the approximate time of day based on the sound of La Costena's planes overhead - because they're the only planes in the sky in this part of the world.



30 March 2018

Extraordinary Jose

     I've known Jose for years.  I've watched him grow from boyhood to manhood.  He's taller, more responsible, learned, and with plans to head to medical school.  
     I will gleefully celebrate as he goes forward. 


     (And thank you for the bracelet you made me.)


25 March 2018

The False Bluff journey


    
     "Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps, down new roads, armed with nothing but their own vision."                 
                  Ayn Rand

21 March 2018

Guess what

     ...lives inside this seed.



     I never would have guessed that a sea turtle lives inside each of these seeds; but Mr. Lawrence on Big Corn Island knew there was a turtle in each and he skillfully coaxes them out, one at a time.


     Lawrence Dacosta Downs is an artisan and over the years I've purchased some of his beautiful hand made jewelry.  But when I saw one of his turtles I knew I had to have one. Thanks to Mr. Lawrence I now have a whole bale of his tiny turtles.  



     When you visit Big Island, Rowena at Sunrise Hotel in South End can help connect you with Mr. Lawrence.  'Ena and Mr. Lawrence are two more of the extraordinary people on Nicaragua's Caribbean side.




17 March 2018

The nursery expands....

     Much of the decision to open a plant nursery was self-serving: I need salt tolerant landscape plants and was pretty sure there are other people who want the same thing.  
     Setting space aside for growing plants was no problem and so the nursery was laid out in a space south of our existing buildings near where visitors step off the main pier.  
     The immediate challenge was to locate and establish 'mother' plants, the either highly or moderately salt tolerant plants from which we could propagate plants for use at False Bluff or for sale.  Locating such plant stock continues to be a problem although our inventory is growing.  Even in the United States very few nurseries specialize in salt tolerant plants.  In Nicaragua, so far we're it; and we're not up and running yet.  
     Even in the nursery oriented town of Catarina in Nicaragua's west side I couldn't find any salt tolerant plants...hibiscus colored like I've only seen in catalogues - yes; roses - yes, although not rugosa which is sometimes called the beach rose.  I couldn't even find oleander, a very salt tolerant and a very showy shrub.  Most people who shop in Catarina don't need - probably haven't even thought about - salt tolerant plants, so it make sense the people there don't waste their time and money growing things people aren't going to buy.  
     But over time we have gathered some highly and some moderately salt tolerant landscape plants.  Not all of the plants we've added have showy blooms - some of them have showy foliage instead.  And a few of our plants were added simply because of their root systems, things like like sea oats and vetiver. 
     And, of course, as the inventory of plants has increased, the size of nursery has increased.



     Our mother plants are thriving and growing in our coastal environment; and some of them are even supplying us with cuttings to root;  and the sea grape seedlings (that came from seeds harvested from plants at False Bluff) are more than ready to plant or sell.



 

13 March 2018

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

     The picture of Winsome shown in the December 25, post was taken when she was five months old.  She's now nine months and weighed in at the vet's office last week at 90 pounds.  She's good company.  

        The short video below was probably filmed in Europe and has most likely outlived its featured Dogue de Bordeaux; but the grace and playfulness of the breed show clearly.
  

09 March 2018

Maybe blooming next month?

     Ha! Probably not - but at the rate these things are putting out new growth, who knows.
     Last month I described propagating an oleander by tip cutting and included a picture of the new plants I had just potted.
     Just weeks later the amount of new growth is pretty astonishing...am only showing one of them but they've all grown at the same rate.  This is fun.



05 March 2018

A typical hardware store in RACS

     I've never shopped at a hardware store in Bluefields where the staff was anything but genial and anxious to help.  This store is near the Santa Rosa bridge on the way to the airport.



     RACCS, or RACS in its shortened form, stands for Region Autonoma de la Costa Caribe Sur.  
     Up until a few years ago it was RAAS, which stood for Región Autónoma del Atlántico Sur.  I think someone somewhere simply made a correction: Nicaragua's east coast is on the Caribbean not the Atlantic.  Been that way for a very very long time.     
     All of this RACS stuff just refers to the southernmost of Nicaragua's two autonomous regions.

27 February 2018

Propagation by seed....making more and more plants

     Though with a most innocuous bloom, the sea grape plant itself is beautiful...in an earlier post I described it as sculptural, which it is.
      It's also an excellent plant for conservation purposes with a huge root system.  In most places along the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua and on both of the Corn Islands, there are laws against its removal.  We have several large plants which add interest and beauty to our landscape - and the seeds from our plants have provided young plants for us to use and eventually to sell.
     Initially we sowed the seeds in a minimally protected area - a 'tent' made of a discarded shrimp net - and the germination rate was high, producing hundreds of seedlings. 


     After nearly two seasons in their tent, the seedlings were dug and planted, three to a bag.  In most of Nicaragua plastic bags are used instead of plastic pots.
     The young plants spent a season in their bags in a protected space as shown below and then the bags of plants were placed in the nursery, fully exposed to the weather in which they'll spend the rest of their hopefully very long lives.


     The picture above shows only a small number of the baby plants we bagged.  

23 February 2018

Propagation by tip cutting...another way to increase our plant nursery stock

     At False Bluff we're working with several methods of propagating plants, one of which involves what's known as 'tip cuttings.'  Here's the result of an experiment with tip cuttings in Virginia.  
     A tip cutting can be a piece of a plant's stem or of its root.  My experiment was done using the tips of stems on an oleander plant.  Most cuttings are stem pieces; and after the stem is cut to the desired length, all but a few of the leaves are removed and often the very tip of the stem piece as well (routine removal of the tip encourages early branching of a new plant). 
     Tip cuttings are mere 'pinchings' from the ends of stems so that, ideally, when cuttings are taken, the tips of each cutting can provide an additional opportunity for a new plant.  In other words, you cut a piece of stem  say 7" long.  You remove all but a few of the leaves from the piece of stem closest to where the stem was attached to the plant; and then you pinch out the very tip of the stem.  
     The bared end of that piece of stem, the piece with no leaves, is then stuck into soil, kept sheltered, and watered; and eventually should form its own roots, thus becoming a new plant (often before sticking the cutting into soil the bare end is treated with a rooting hormone).  
     In the past we've discarded both the leaves we strip from the stem and the tip of the stem we've pinched out.  Often that tip has flower buds and those are removed because a rootless piece of stem will spend its energy on getting the flowers open rather than on forming roots.  
     If I wanted stem cuttings for their flowers, I'd cut the damned things and stick them in vases in the living room.  What I'm doing here, on the other hand, is all about facilitating the making of new plants.  
     Using both the longer stem cutting and the formerly-trash tip of that stem as a second cutting gives us twice as many opportunities at propagation: the piece I cut on purpose and the piece I used to throw away.
     In this example I never actually cut anything but literally pinched off the final 2" or 3" of tender growth from ends of some branches of an oleander plant with a deep pink double blossom.    
     After removing a flower-bud sprout from each of them (another pinch), I rinsed and then stuck the pinchings, plant end down, in a small clear glass jar with just enough water to cover the ends...and put the jar in a north facing windowsill and waited.
     And waited.
     And waited.
     And then I waited some more.
     Every few days I would empty the water, rinse the ends of the pinchings, and put enough fresh water into the jar to cover the ends again.  There's a reason, related to oxygen's beneficial effect on root formation, for changing the water rather than simply replacing what evaporation takes.  
     I hadn't made a note of when these went into water but after what seemed like a long time I noticed the beginnings of roots, small enough to not to even be visible in the first picture.



     And then one day there were enough roots to remove these babies from their water world and plant them in very friable soil.  All five pinchings had rooted; the two that had the least root system shared a pot.



     

    



     The cutting with the least root system didn't survive and a second plant succumbed to cat intrusion.  The remaining three cuttings aren't cuttings anymore but tiny plants with a measurable amount of new growth.






18 February 2018

I'm stuck with a bucket of water....

     ...and a pile of sand while everybody else is swimming. 
     The Caribbean's behind me with really high waves today and nobody'll give me a surf board.



16 February 2018

14 February 2018

Slow but sure - our plant nursery

     I was really surprised that despite the lush greenness of False Bluff the things I wanted to grow....wouldn't.
     When I first began my project here I envisioned just which blooming plants would go where and how their flowers would enhance the landscape.  After all this is the tropics; and the greenery that surrounded us was overwhelming even though almost none of it was pretty.  
     At the start, we removed most of the scrub brush, leaving sea grapes and coconut palms; and then immediately added hundreds more coconut trees.  Some of these young trees were planted in as random and natural a manner as possible; but a lot of the others were planted in locations that would outline or accent future uses, or in places that would direct foot traffic.
     And after the coconut trees I began to plant things that would bloom, things like ylang ylang trees with their showy and sweet smelling blossoms (from which, it is said, Chanel #5 was born); bougainvillea; hibiscus; a local bright-yellow-flowered shrub that bloomed apparently non-stop....at least until I planted it close to the beach.  
     None of these things I planted survived where I wanted them, where I had envisioned them blooming.  WTF!  The tropics are known for colorful hibiscus and clouds of bright bougainvillea.  So why wouldn't these things grow where I put them?  
     What I hadn't taken into consideration - what I was too stupid to even think about - was the salt in the air, blown in on that lovely and constant sea breeze.  Most of you who have spent a day at the beach remember feeling a bit sticky at the end of the day?  That stickiness is a coating of salt that's blown your way on a breeze.  
     And at False Bluff there is a constant sea breeze bringing salt to coat everybody and everything and depositing eons of salt in the soil.  
     Result?  Not a nurturing environment for plants.  
     What followed almost immediately was the decision to open a plant nursery that specializes in landscape ornamentals that would thrive in our environment. It turned out there are lists of plants that grow in places like ours, rated from "highly" to "moderate" on the salt tolerance scale.  
     So the plant nursery was born as I familiarized myself with what was available, choosing plants I'd never dealt with, selecting not only for salt tolerance but for good looks: optics ruled the decision making.  Turns out there are some stunning things available and some old familiar faces I'd not known were tolerant of salt spray.  
     A place close enough to the sea to test the veracity of the salt tolerant plant lists was cleared in anticipation of making space for the mother plants, plants that would provide offspring for us to use in our own landscaping and also for sale to other frustrated coastal gardeners.  

     
       Almost immediately we learned we were going to have to propagate most of our own mother plants because very little of what we wanted in the nursery is available commercially anywhere in Nicaragua.  So things are going a bit slower than they might have gone in the USA where all I would have had to do was order 100 of this or 200 of that.  
        In our case, we beg or buy a small plant or a cutting to root; and wait until it's big and healthy enough to provide cuttings or seeds for further propagation...
     Once the initial space was cleared, weed-free rows, with planned walkways between them, were marked using short pieces of 1" PVC pipe.  As mentioned in a couple of earlier posts here, we don't use wood to mark the rows anymore because termites eat the damned things almost as fast as we put them in the ground.  



     The space and number of plant rows have doubled from this beginning as our inventory has increased.

09 February 2018

Jacinta, a treasure...

     A woman for all seasons, Jacinta is many things.  Among her most obvious qualities, she is ...   
  
a loving and supportive wife,


a nurturing and patient mother,


and a truly gifted gardener


05 February 2018

Keeping track of the changing scenery

     I've taken this shot each year from pretty much the same location.  Here are a few of the pictures showing some pretty dramatic changes:


2010




2011


2013


2014


Nearly current...


31 January 2018

Jose Louis and his stroke of genius...

     Over the years - in the beginning - at the start of our False Bluff project - whatever!  Outlining our boundaries was going to be important.  We had begun something large and different for the part of the world we were in.  We were going to make some huge changes; and it was necessary to set a pattern, to establish an outline.  A fence was like our foundation.
     So we planted wooden posts at a fairly standard wooden post height and spacing; and then strung three (or four - I can't remember) strands of galvanized barbed wire.  We didn't choose barbed wire for its barbs but because it was, and still is,  about the only wire fencing locally available except for chicken wire. 


     Houses in Bluefields often put up elaborate and usually lovely hand-crafted wrought metal fences. That sort of thing wasn't going to do it for us because we've got a pretty extensive "lot" to outline.  And so, barbed wire by default was the only game in town.



      As I've written before, there's salt in the sea breezes that roll in off the Caribbean and those breezes are good for some things.  But they're not good for plants and they're really not good for metal...even galvanized metal...and that's an understatement.  The barbed wire literally disintegrated in about three years:  it just turned to powder.  
     Our next approach was to cut the fence posts in half before we planted them in the ground and then between each fence post to tie a narrow wooden pole at about waist height.  Shorter posts drastically cut the number of posts we needed and the narrow poles we tied between the posts were about twelve feet each, a farther distance than we had used when we strung the barbed wire...and so another reduction in material for the fence, especially since the narrow poles were tied between the posts rather than nailed to them. 
     The long narrow poles between the short fence posts gave us a fence height that was awkward for potential trespassers to navigate...a little too high to comfortably step over, a little too low to comfortably bend beneath.  Nothing we did in the way of fencing would stop a determined trespasser.  Mostly what we were doing was providing outlines of spaces never before outlined.


     This fence made for a nice, somewhat natural and inoffensive look; and it was pretty effective.  But termites, the enemy we love to hate, gobbled up the narrow wooden poles between the fence posts faster than the salty air had eaten the barbed wire.  For some reason, although the posts were also wood, they were of a type of wood the termites didn't find as tasty; and so the posts lasted longer than the waist high poles that had taken the place of barbed wire.  
      The latest iteration of our fence is the best yet, thanks to Jose Louis's stroke of genius and of his bargaining powers.  We're using wire again, but we're using scrap aluminum that's strung between the posts at the same height as the narrow poles had been tied.  Aluminum will stand up to the salty air much much better than barbed wire. 




     All the credit for this goes to Jose Louis.