22 December 2012

Landfill harmonic (la orquesta reciclada)

     For those who have not seen this small video about a truly amazing project growing in Paraguay...great hope for the future.   
   This sums up the spirit of the holiday season:

11 December 2012

The gardening challenge

     Lots of stuff at False Bluff grows like the proverbial weed:  papaya, banana, casava, lemon grass, pineapple, cashews...   
   But stuff like tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers are a struggle.   It's too hot or the sun's too bright or there's not enough rain or there's too much rain.  Seeds sprout, shoot up a few inches, and then keel over and die. 
     To help offset some of the bad while taking advantage of the good, the vegetables and herbs are being grown under what in Virginia would be a shade cloth.  We 'planted' poles and then attached smaller poles to their tops and over that laid palm fronds.  The palm fronds provide some protection from the tropical sun to offset the worst of the heat; and from heavy rains while still letting water through.  
     Also, we're laying down mulch and continually adding to it (all according to Ruth Stout and her "No-work Garden").   So when stuff gets 'chopped'...grass, weeds, papaya and banana leaves, whatever...it no longer gets burned, which was the usual but wasteful practice.  All of that green stuff that sucks the nutrients out of the soil now, instead, gets piled in the garden where it will return the nutrients to the soil. Big things like banana leaves get a few extra machete chops to knock it down to a size that will rot quicker.  
     The heavy mulch keeps plant roots cool; mitigates rain damage; keeps the soil from going dry when there isn't any rain, heavy or otherwise; helps keep the weeds down; and feeds the soil.   The results are easy to see and have been surprising to people not familiar with heavy mulch gardening.  
   The 'shade house solution' is temporary though.  The poles rot too quickly and the roofing, not regular palm thatch, doesn't last long.  Growing vegetables is a puzzle we're still working on!

27 November 2012

Coconuts everywhere

   On my first several visits to False Bluff not a single coconut tree had a coconut.   Despite the fact that until I had the creek opened, the only ways to get to or from my property (or any of the properties along this section of coast) were either a half-mile slog through the swamp or a multi-mile walk along the beach, people came out and harvested coconuts - mostly to sell in Bluefields or El Bluff.
  Coconuts, stolen by the hundred, were hacked open and piles of the outer husks abandoned at the base of nearly every tree.  Coconut husks are very slow to decompose; and so the piles grew over the years and were a huge issue to deal with during the initial clearing and clean-up phase. 
   Now we've got coconuts everywhere.  You might think they'd only be in the trees, but that's not quite how it works.   On average a dozen a day fall and can bounce and roll an incredible distance from the tree where they started.   
   The ones that fall we mostly set aside to sprout, which is giving us a steady supply of young trees to plant. We've planted several hundred coconut palms so far and with the supply now available from our own trees we're no longer having to buy 'seedlings' to plant.  
   Now, with my staff's constant presence on site and some fencing, the coconut trees are loaded, providing food and drink for them, for visitors, and for part-time workers like the guys who dug the well and opened the creek.   The coconuts even feed the chickens.   
   The stick lying on the ground in front of the palm tree pictured below is used to knock coconuts off the tree.  When you want a really fresh drink fast, that's the way to get it.

   Shown below are coconuts in two phases of development. The trees seem to produce year round.

13 November 2012

An all purpose palm tree

   This palm tree with the curved trunk is one of my favorites.  The photos show that its surroundings have changed a bit since the False Bluff project began; but the tree just keeps getting better.  
   Right in front of the house, it's lovely to look at, it drops coconuts on a regular basis, and what a great place to sit and listen to the waves roll in.



29 October 2012

Hurricane Sandy

     A hush as Sandy wears herself out.....

16 October 2012

Digesting the world

   Aside from a language barrier which hindered explanations, there was some confusion about the size and shape of the world and where False Bluff was in it.  Or where Bluefields was, or Managua, or Kukra Hill - to say nothing of Richmond, Virginia, USA, or Canada, or Germany.  And distances were a mystery. 
   So a world map from Barnes and Noble got a coat of polyurethane and was then attached to a wall in the kitchen like wallpaper.  
   It's been instructive and helpful.

02 October 2012

The (real) White House

   Pink shutters and doors show up really well against a white background.  The work of putting a first coat on the house went surprisingly fast.  Some of the flamingo pink woodwork got a second coat.

18 September 2012


   We've planted about 400 pineapples and some of the plants have begun bearing fruit.  When the plants are old enough to fruit, they're old enough to make baby pineapple plants so we'll be planting even more in the future.
   The very first pineapple plants, purchased on a trip north to Kukra Hill, were planted too close to the Caribbean to be thriving...too much salt in the air.   So bit by bit we're moving these first plants further away to a slightly sloping section just to the west of their current location, right where the newer plants are doing well.    
   All the plants, bearing and not-yet bearing, are about 50 feet behind and slightly north of the house...in the same area with bananas, yucca, citrus, and papaya...in other words, right outside the kitchen.  Nobody has to get in a car and go to a grocery store to pay...whatever you have to pay for these things now in a stateside grocery store.
At the base of a banana tree
 Both fruit and baby plants
Rows of pineapple

04 September 2012


   Some of the most memorable sights take me by surprise.  A squadron of pelicans heading somewhere.

28 August 2012

Edible landscaping

   Most of our heavy rains roll in from the Caribbean and so I opted to put as few openings across the sea-facing front of the house as possible.  Thus the front presents a blank expanse and to lessen that effect, after finishing the house, young hibiscus were planted across the front joining a marvelous curving old palm tree.   
   As the project at False Bluff continues, more structures will go up.   A north-south 'roadway' bisects the land we've cleared to date and it's lined on both sides with young coconut palms.  Although there will eventually be buildings on both sides of this roadway, the only house now is the one pictured in the blog so far.  The house sits just to the east, or the lagoon side, of the roadway close to both docks.
   A path leading to the house breaks off from this roadway.  Clumps of lemon grass line the path between the house and the roadway.  In a gentle curve - connecting the hibiscus planted across the front of the house and the lemon grass planted along each edge of the pathway - is planted a woody mint that has stems which twist and turn in all directions.  It doesn't have much of a bloom but it makes really interesting shapes.  
   Both the lemon grass and the mint make great tea.  I've read that parts of most hibiscus plants are good for tea as well, but haven't tried it.  Sustainability!
   The plantings are new enough to not put on much of a show yet, but it'll all come together in a couple more seasons.
Hibiscus, lemon grass, and mint
   Each hibiscus is a different color and each has a different bloom shape.  Until False Bluff I never knew there was such a variety among hibiscus.  Some of the plants withstood transplanting better than others and some didn't survive at all.  The slow growers will catch up and new hibiscus plants will fill the empty spots.
Hibiscus and mint

21 August 2012

Good fences (help) make good neighbors

   At the start of this project there were no fences...and no clearing, no papaya trees, no buildings, no newly planted coconut palms, no wells, no banana trees, no dock, no open creek.     
   Opening the creek to boat traffic has increased the number of people who travel out to this remote piece of beach and quickly made 'remote' an almost obsolete term because we're only eight miles from Bluefields and now getting to the beach is easy.  Some of the people who come out to False Bluff aren't property owners but instead remove things that belong to property owners, me included.
   The sections of fence that we've put up certainly don't keep out anybody who's determined to trespass onto private property:  it simply defines boundaries. The first section went up around the area where my staff lives and where most of the project work has been done to date; it went from the pier east to the beach and then north along part of the property line.  
   The second section went from the pier east to the beach and then south along the boundary of that section of property.  
  A wide pathway is been left for public use...a pathway cleared of scrub that goes directly to the beach from the now open creek.

15 August 2012

Fence posts

   Some posts for the new section of fence.  

07 August 2012

Getting ready for work

   A new section of fence is going up.   When any new project starts, a crew comes out and stays at False Bluff until it's finished.   While the creek was being opened for boat travel (see previous posts), months of work were involved.  There was, of course, downtime for the crew members and lots of supply runs to Bluefields eight miles away through Smokey Lane Lagoon and panga pass.  
  The stay for the current fencing job will be only a few days and so the amount of food, equipment, and camping supplies is less.  Offloading at the dock near the house behind a lockable gate, puts everybody and every thing closer to the campsite.  These guys were on the beach and in the water about twenty minutes after unloading and setting up camp.  Fencing was on hold until the next day.
Equipment and food,
fence wire,
even the boat engine.

31 July 2012

Another new stove

   The selection of propane table-top cook stoves in Bluefields is incredible, ranging from one-burner to six, and from stainless steel to porcelain in such colors as blue, green, red, white, and yellow.   This sort of stove may be readily available in Virginia, but the closest I've ever seen are Coleman-type camp stoves.
   We now have a plain-jane two-burner.   Makes that early morning coffee quick and simple! 

24 July 2012

Seaside vineyard

   Not actually a vineyard since the plant's not a vine, but the sea grape is pretty amazing and it really does produce grapes. The plant's deep, spreading root system clings to the sand, often right at the edge of high tide where it's daily washed by salty water...to no apparent ill effect.  On a windy day the big leaves drip from the salty water that coats them, blown through the air from the Caribbean...again, to no apparent ill effect.  The sea grape thrives in this coastal environment.  

   The fat grapes form in long clusters of a size between twenty-five cents U.S. and five cordoba Nicaragua.  They ripen unevenly - that is, not the entire cluster at once but one at a time - to red.   The single seed in each makes up most of the grape; but what's edible is sweet and a bit tart. 

17 July 2012

Team (is sometimes an) effort

    A rather remarkable husband and wife team live at and care for False Bluff.  And like most married couples... 
one may embarrass the other from time to time.  He posed for this picture.  He really did.  Really.

09 July 2012

A thatched roof (grow your own)

   I opted to thatch the roof for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that I really like the way it looks.   Also, thatching is ecologically sound, using vegetation which grows in the area.   What we're using at False Bluff are the fronds from a type of palm tree.  We have since planted some of this palm so now we'll be growing our own roofs for future use.   
   Thatching material is harvested by removing selected branches, or fronds, from a tree, leaving the tree and other fronds to grow.....not by cutting down and thus killing the tree (although I have heard there are some who harvest thatching in just such an incredibly short-viewed manner).
   The longevity and low maintenance of this type of roofing surpasses 'zinc' roofing, particularly close to the sea (which we most definitely are) where salt in the constant breeze takes an immediate toll on everything. Maintaining a metal roof can be a full time job. In fact, watching 'zinc' rust is a time-honored pastime in the Caribbean.  
   And I've been told that when a falling coconut hits a metal roof, at the very least you've got a dent in your roof.   Those heavy suckers bounce and roll when they hit thatching.
Inside, from an upstairs breezeway and...

from a bedroom (for air circulation, bedroom walls don't reach the roof)
A bunch of thatch-palm babies to plant

03 July 2012

False Bluff Views

     In any direction, at any time, beautiful False Bluff...

26 June 2012


     The storage room gets an extra door, an added measure of security. 

19 June 2012

Ho, hum.....

     Yeah, right!  A typical and utterly splendid sunrise at False Bluff.

03 June 2012


     Pogo, a 'stumpy' manx, was my companion for more than twenty years.  She died at home beside me on May 31, 2012.   Pogo grew so weak, so quickly, that it was clear her death was close and right.  Independent even for a cat, Pogo enjoyed affection on her own terms, but always wanted to be nearby.  She shared the dog door with her chum, Emma, and came and went as suited her fancy.  
    No more.  
    Pogo is buried in the wildflower garden where she used to nap near a clump of coral bells.  Dr. Nan Jack of Church Hill Animal Hospital attended Pogo at her end.

29 May 2012

Two of the bedrooms

     Two of the three upstairs bedrooms.  These open onto the east-west breezeway, each with a window that opens to the south.  Painting's not finished but that'll come in time.

22 May 2012

Furnishing the house

      There are four bedrooms and a kitchen in the new house that had to be stocked with usable stuff.  Thrift stores in Bluefields provided most of the what was needed to stock the bedrooms and some of kitchen supplies: sheets, towels, pillowcases, bedspreads, blankets (yes, it gets cold at night), knives, a colander. The thrift store finds were washed and, in the case of the linens, dried in the tropical sunshine.   
     No, none of it matches but I've got a tent I don't need anymore for anybody who cares about matching sheets.   
     New stuff -  mosquito nets, mattresses, pillows, and the beds to put them on; and the rest of what I wanted for the kitchen - I purchased at other stores in Bluefields or directly from the craftsmen who made them.  
     The list of what went into the house seemed endless and at one time I felt as though I'd bought at least one of everything in town and carried it out to False Bluff.
Clean linens, waiting to go
Supplies for the kitchen

15 May 2012


   Throughout much of RAAS (the southern autonomous region on Nicaragua's east coast) laundry is done in concrete 'sinks' that have both a built-in washboard and one or two reservoirs for water.   In many houses where there is also a washer and dryer, laundry is still done in a sink like this.   
   All the laundry at my favorite hotel in downtown Bluefields is done using this type of sink: towels, sheets, tablecloths, etc.  In fact someone at that hotel taught my sister, years ago, how to do laundry in the hotel sink after laughing at her first efforts - and she taught me.  We've gotten pretty good at it.  
   When the original small house was built at False Bluff, the northernmost open end of the structure was intended for laundry.  With the new house up, it was time to make good on that intention and get rid of the wooden washboard, nailed to a couple of 2 x 4's under a tree, that had been used for laundry for more than a year.
     So we went shopping in Bluefields.  One of my sons bought the sink as a gift to the project.  We'd like to have gotten a sink with two water reservoirs in addition to the washboard, but considering how much of a job we knew it was going to be to get this heavy sucker out of the hardware store, into a truck, onto and then off of a boat, and then from the dock to its final resting place...I cannot imagine how we'd have managed with the extra weight of that second reservoir.  We didn't buy one of the fancy tiled sinks either like the one shown in the second picture below.
   Though right now water is hauled to the 'laundry room' in buckets, pipes are in place for the next phase of the project which will bring water right to the sink.  Then we won't need our 'second reservoir' which is a bright blue plastic barrel, cut down so nobody falls in and drowns.  Greywater plumbing recycles the laundry wastewater and irrigates landscape plants that will eventually screen the laundry area...in this case hibiscus and hydrangea.
The hardware store where the sink was purchased
Tiled or plain?
The 'to-be' laundry room
The green bar is excellent laundry soap
Sink, in place and in use