LAS TORTUGAS

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

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 resistant 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 resistance 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 resistant to salt spray.  
     A place close enough to the sea to test the veracity of the salt resistant 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 take 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.






27 January 2018

Footing depth

     Here are a couple of still shots showing the depth of the footings for the rental cabins that are going up.  The first picture below was taken before the actual footing was poured...in other words, the man shown is standing in the bottom of the hole into which the concrete footing will go. 


     This photo was taken after the footing was poured and cured.  It shows the skeleton of the column-to-come, the reinforcement portion of a concrete 'column.'  The bottom of the rebar skeleton is set into the now-cured footing, and will provide the reinforcement for the concrete that will be poured around it.   A wooden form will be temporarily installed around the rebar and concrete will be poured into the form.  The resultant concrete post will be just one of the columns that will help support the building.



23 January 2018

It seems so simple

     In the United States it is simple.  Buy these on eBay or Amazon;  buy them at a medical supply place;  buy them at a drug store.  Lots of choices.
     In Nicaragua, at least in Bluefields, those aren't choices.  Well, maybe you could buy things on eBay or Amazon while in Bluefields; but shipping and postage take both a really long time and a lot of money - we're talking a month or more for shipping and a starting cost for the shipping, most likely, of $40 USD.  
     And there aren't any medical supply places in Bluefields; and the drug stores there don't have cane tips.
     I've had two canes carved of rosewood by Bluefields' artisans.  You can see one at the April 2, 2017, post here.  Without a rubber tip, the end of a wooden cane is a terrible slip-and-slide hazard.  
     I provided the rubber tip for the cane pictured, as I did for the second cane I had made.  And it occurred to me that taking a dozen or so of these tips to Bluefields made sense on a lot of levels.  I don't anticipate having another cane made but Mr. Julio and his son have a lot more customers than just me...customers for both canes and walking sticks.
     It seems so simple...



     

19 January 2018

Oh, boy...Cesper's at it again

     As I've written before, Cesper is our builder of choice.  He built El Nido (see October 6, 2017 here) and now he's begun two rental cabins at False Bluff, the first step being their foundations as shown in the video below.
     When a building is going to be built eight feet above ground level, its foundation is different from the foundations that many of us are accustomed to seeing...or at least those of us who are drawn to look at foundations.  
     For most stateside construction, whether the building is block or wood, a trench is dug - a trench that follows the entire outline of the building to be constructed (few buildings or foundations are constructed these days of brick...faced with brick, yes; built with brick no).  Concrete is poured into this trench; concrete that's reinforced with rebar.  This is the footing - this is what the building sits on. 
     Block and/or wooden structural components are then attached, or "tied," to the footing directly or to a foundation, depending on the building material. Tying all these things together is supposed to keep the building (the top part) from sliding off the footing (the bottom part).  However, recent events have shown us that nature can quickly undo what we do, despite our best efforts - and despite our compliance with extensive building codes.
     But an all-around-the-outline footing doesn't work when a building sits off the ground on stilts:  there's no outline.  
     Instead there are a number of smaller, discrete footings, each of which is concrete that's reinforced with rebar.  In much of the United States, footings are dug so as to be below the freeze line - a depth that increases as one travels farther north.  At False Bluff, Cesper has put the footings really deep - obviously not because of freezing but in order for the resultant building to better withstand high winds or storm surge.  And also because the first level of 'soil' below the surface at False Bluff is sand: the individual footings for these two cabins are in solid soil.  
     Concrete, reinforced with rebar, was poured into the deep holes and allowed to cure.  Tied into, and rising up from, each of these footings is a concrete post; and then tied into each concrete post is a wooden post.  The cabin framing will be attached to the wooden posts starting eight feet above ground level.
     Eight feet is a fairly common ceiling height in lots of new stateside residential construction.  At False Bluff eight feet is the height of the outdoor "room" beneath each cabin  The cabin's floor-framing itself ends up being the ceiling of the outdoor space.
     Cesper's video does a nice job of showing all this, and of Hebert at work front and center.  If the sight of the black wooden posts waiting to be set is confusing, see the November 21, 2017 post about treating wood against termites.
 


14 January 2018

Guava, guayaba...

     ...or in the part of Nicaragua where False Bluff is, guayava.     
     I was in a local Virginia store recently and found packages of guava/guayaba/guayava at $2.48 per...a package containing twelve pisidium guayava. 
     The trees that produce this fruit grow really well at our place despite all the salt that constantly blows in with the Caribbean breezes and all the salt that's been deposited in the soil from eons of those breezes.  
     The trees don't get very big, maybe up to 20', with rough sandpapery feeling leaves; and again, at least where we are, once a tree begins to bear fruit it doesn't seem to stop.  And, of course, there doesn't seem to be a season...the tree produces and produces and produces, just like a coconut tree.  
     We can't keep up with the fruit production and lots of our guayava ends up on the ground from where we scoop and deposit them on the compost heap. 
     We have two varieties at False Bluff.  I can't tell the trees apart and there seems to me very little difference in the fruit produced by each except the flesh of one is slightly pink.  But Jacinta knows as she knows almost everything about plants in the area.  And Jacinta's in the process of propagating lots of the variety she says produces the better fruit.
     Because the guayava (staying with the local name) grows so well in our environment, we plan to put in lots more trees, in rows, using the rows as wind breaks behind which we can plant more salt-sensitive plants.  We tried this with banana trees (see previous post) but it didn't work:  banana trees do not like salty air.  
     Hopefully we can also figure out what to do with all the fruit.


10 January 2018

Extraordinary people

     I've found the southern autonomous region of Nicaragua to be filled with extraordinary people.  Perhaps all of Nicaragua is filled with extraordinary people.  I know little about the rest of Nicaragua, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it is. 
     In 'my' part of Nicaragua though there's Digna, a lawyer, a mother, and with one of the quickest minds I've come across.  And Socorro who travels from one of Nicaragua's autonomous regions to speak at the United Nations about autonomy itself.  And Mr. Julio and his son Julio who release beauty from pieces of wood.  And Ms. Freda, calm and kind and willing to share a world of knowledge.  And Jacinta and Jose Louis who keep False Bluff growing and beautiful and safe...and their two children who add joy to the place.  And Mr. Allen and Dolly and Ms. Gladys and Don Presida and Jaunita and Emita...
     My list goes on; and my list continues to grow.  Anyone who spends time in the area will most likely build a list of her or his own.
     But without a doubt some of the most extraordinary people in my part of Nicaragua are Sylvia and her son Cesper.  
     One of my favorite Sylvia stories arose from an incident that happened when bunch of us were leaving Pelican Bay after dinner.  A woman (in a group of professional women like Sylvia herself) at a nearby table, stopped Sylvia to ask why she was with "...those white people."  Without pause, Sylvia answered that we were members of her family.  The women then asked how that could be - since Sylvia is so dark and we are so light.  
     Again without pause, Sylvia responded that since her parents were dead, she couldn't ask them.  And of course Sylvia is right: we are members of her family.
     Here are Sylvia and Cesper.  Sylvia, a lawyer, had two cases in court in Pearl Lagoon one morning and no car taxi available to get her to the wharf in time to catch the boat taxi.  (Another son who lives in Pearl Lagoon, a community north of Bluefields, had promised her a cooler full of fresh shrimp....if she brought the cooler.)  And so, with a deadline to meet, Cesper makes sure his mom (with her cooler) gets to the wharf in time to catch her boat.





   
   

05 January 2018

Batshit crazy?

      Today is really cold in the Virginia city where I am right now.  It's not as cold as in some places, like Boston where a 'bomb cyclone' is currently underway; but it's colder than in other places, like False Bluff. 
     All that said, it's really nasty cold for the city where I am right now.
     I spent a few minutes - a very few - this morning checking different local sources for the temperature.  My city's not a big one...population or square-mile wise...and so the taking of temperature doesn't happen over a huge area.
     One source quoted 11 degrees which didn't suit me at all.  I found two other sources that claimed 12; and one that measured 14.
     I settled on the source that gave me 15 degrees.  This didn't suit me either but it turned out to be the best I was going to get at that time of the morning.  That high temperature brightened my outlook considerably, eased my mind, let me get on with plans...yada yada yada.

     After thinking about this exercise it occurred to me that I might be batshit crazy.  But after a little more thinking it occurred to me that most people get their news this way...whether the news is the local temperature within a two or three minute time period or whether it's the most recent advances in cancer treatment or whether it's politics.
     This realization didn't necessarily make me feel better, either because there must be a lot of us who are batshit crazy or because I was just one in a huge crowd.  At least I checked multiple sources, which seems to be more than many people do.
     Tomorrow I might again end up checking for the most comforting temperature, going from one alternative fact to another.

The beach at False Bluff

Just a bunch of beach clips from 2017.


30 December 2017

Sculptural beauty of the coccoloba uvifera

     Hardy, salt spray resistant, and a hell of a conservation plant, the sea grape has the truly unlovely botanical name of coccoloba uvifera.
     The plant can grow close to or at the very edge of the beach; and it's prone to wander from its original site, forming what appears to be a colony but is usually just one plant.  It does this by layering whenever one of its branches touches ground for any length of time thus forming the sculpture that each plant becomes.
     The sea grape is one of the plants we don't remove at False Bluff, regardless of its size; and there are some really large clumps throughout the landscape.  

     Here's a fairly young plant showing the tendency for droopy branches, many of which will root because of their contact with the ground...some of the rooted branches will head south or north east or any other direction.  But all will be part of the parent plant...kind of like millennials who can't leave home.



     The Caribbean as seen through another young clump.


     This is a much older and established plant, capable of holding a swing or a hammock.  Several patches of our favorite zoysia grass have been planted under the clump and in a fairly short time the ground will be covered with a cushioned mat of emerald green.


     Another mature sea grape plant (partially visible just behind a young coconut palm) is close to one of our buildings.  This clump is host to a swing and for years has held a hammock or two as well.




25 December 2017

Joy to the world

 
Merry Christmas everybody!

Winsome at four months...
joy personified.

24 December 2017

Forbes Christmas movie list.....

     According to a Forbes' list some years ago of the ten top Christmas movies of all time, number one is Die Hard.  Quality and fun endure.  
     I used to think I was part of a very small group for thinking that Die Hard was the best Christmas movie ever, but I've learned that there are a whole bunch of us who agree on the point.


     'Welcome to the party, pal...."



18 December 2017

Grass and lilies, doing their things

     As a follow up to several posts, recent and otherwise, about two of our favorite landscape plants at False Bluff, here's a picture of the local (from Bluefields) zoysia grass and our much loved swamp (spider) lilies doing their thing in a location that suits them.  
     Worthy of note is that most all beach side locations suit them, something that can't be said of very many landscape plants.


12 December 2017

Jacinta's orchids

     This beauty is just about ready to bloom.





07 December 2017

Not just the swamp lily

     I wrote here not too long ago that if you were to drop a bulb of the swamp lily, our beloved and much used spider lily - that "...if you were to just throw one of the bulbs on the ground during friendly weather it will take hold where it lands."
     A bulb of the swamp lily is not the only thing that will take hold where it lands.  Here's a coconut growing where it landed at the foot of a nearby parent tree.


02 December 2017

Wood for The Nest

     As plans for El Nido began to come together (see recent October 6 post on this site), one of my decisions was what to use for flooring.  I had the option of using mahogany but chose, instead of mahogany's handsome look but dark color, as light-colored a wood as I could find.
     So I settled on a wood which grows locally and which was cut to order with a chain saw and then planed - edges and one side only: it's called aceituno.  It's not as nearly-white as holly which doesn't grow in Nicaragua anyway; and it has a more interesting grain than poplar which also doesn't grow in Nicaragua anyway.  But it's a nice addition.
     The botanical name of aceituno is Simarouba glauca and it has lots of common names in addition to aceituno.  The wood's used for things like furniture components and musical instruments.
     It's lovely and cool looking. Here's a close up of a piece before the first coat of marine varnish.


      And here are the floor boards themselves shown leaning upstairs in our first house after their first coat of varnish.  The varnish darkens it a bit...but not too much.