30 December 2018

Salt tolerant oleander

     One of the most disappointing things I learned after starting this project was that most of the blooming flowers I had associated with living at the beach don't grow anywhere near salt water, hibiscus and bougainvillea in particular.  I had envisioned cottages close by the Caribbean surrounded by brilliantly colored flowers.
     There are few bloomers that can tolerate the salt in that lovely Caribbean breeze.  Oleander turned out to be one of them.  A big problem was that I couldn't find either oleander plants or cuttings for sale on either side of Nicaragua.
     However, we finally managed to obtain and root a pale yellow which has been growing in our nursery for a couple of years now.  And also a pink, shown below, which is thriving. 

     As for the pink oleander, the buds are almost as pretty as the blossom itself.

     The oleander's color palette is limited though some gardeners are working on changing that, developing both brighter colors and double flowering plants.  We hope to eventually add some of the newer varieties.  

25 December 2018

How sweet it is

     When I'm not at False Bluff I'm most often taking care of business in Bluefields, a port city eight miles away.  On one of my walks through town I passed a table loaded with these packages.  I was half a block away when what I thought I had seen stopped me in my tracks and sent me back for another look.  When I asked the sidewalk vendor (of whom there are many in town) what the stuff was, packaged four to a plastic bag, he replied "dulce" which confirmed what I thought it was:  pure cane sugar.

     Over the next couple of days I ended up buying much of his stock, planning to bring some back to Virginia and giving some to friends in Bluefields....most of whom told me they hadn't seen this stuff sold locally in years.  In preparation for returning to the states, I wrapped the already packaged blocks of sugar again, taping up each four-block package as shown here.   Made it through customs at the Bluefields airport heading to Managua: no questions, no problem.  Made it through customs at the Managua airport heading to Miami: no questions, no problem.  Panic and supervisors at customs at the Miami airport heading to Virginia but all those concerned finally agreed that pure cane sugar wasn't going to cause a problem.

     Unwrapped, this is what the blocks of organic pure cane sugar look like.  Much of this is for sale in the states as one pound cones instead of the one pound blocks I brought back.  Here in the states we call it cane sugar...but it's got more than a dozen other names - depending on whether you're in Australia or in Laos or India or Panama.  In Nicaragua it's known as "tapa de dulce."  And dulce it is

     I brought eight pounds back to Virginia; and after unwrapping them from their street-vendor-plastic packaging, I individually re-wrapped four one pound blocks in wax paper and then in tissue paper as gifts to people who will use the stuff wisely.  Or not.

22 December 2018

This is how bananas are made

     Baby bananas are begin above the flower.  The flower slowly disappears as the bananas get bigger and closer to ripeness.

16 December 2018


     ...the previous post shows a footbridge over the river that runs beside a small village we visited recently.  Although there are a few trucks and some dirt bikes, most of those who live here travel by foot or on horseback (or muleback).  

12 December 2018

A different sort of bridge

     On a recent trip down NIC-71, we visited a small riverside village off to the side.  Out first plan was to picnic and swim but recent heavy rains made that an uncomfortable prospect.  So we wandered a bit through the section of the small community that was closest to the river and actually made it across the river...although not by swimming.
     We got to the other side by walking across this bridge - a footbridge for those with two or four feet.

07 December 2018

Coconuts are not created equal

     Some are green...

     ...and some are yellow.

     Under their colored outer coat, they are all brown and hairy.  I have been told that the different varieties of coconuts are good for different things, but not much of what I've been told has sunk in.

01 December 2018

A new roof

     Although this type of roof is supposed to last for up to fifteen years, early on we had some wind damage which shortened its lifespan.  And although we had patched from time to time, we were losing the fight.  
     So in June we just put a new one on.  From the outside there's very little visible difference.  From the inside it's more obvious and for the first few weeks after the new roof was put on the scent of the fresh leaf was like new mown hay...a treat we could smell before we pulled up at the pier.

26 November 2018

Banana du jour

     Or really, any day.  
   Hard to get much fresher than this:  off the tree just minutes ago.

21 November 2018

Cover up

     There seems to be always a cover up somewhere in the world...even on an isolated beach on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast 'tho here there's no indication nature's hiding any wrongdoing.

16 November 2018


     The best and freshest fish.  We stop in Smokey Lane Lagoon on the way to False Bluff to negotiate for dinner.  You can't get fish any fresher than this unless you catch 'em yourself

11 November 2018

This is how it starts

     When I began the project here we cleared brush, leaving healthy existing coconut palms and sea grapes - and then planted hundreds of additional coconut palms.  
     And, of course, the empty spaces in between the palms and sea grapes filled up with a brush/weed combination that had to be cut - like any yard.  But here in Nicaragua it gets chopped with a machete;  and like any yard the stuff comes right back again after it's chopped, perpetuating a labor intensive cycle.
     To break that cycle, one of the first outside plants I introduced was a local zoysia grass.  Although not found specifically at False Bluff, it is native to the area growing all over Big Corn Island and in isolated patches in Bluefields which is where my starter plants came from.  I rescued approximately two basketball-sized clumps from sidewalk cracks in Bluefields and carefully divided and planted it here at False Bluff.
     Once established enough to divide, we began taking small clumps from our own stock and expanding its hold.  The grass forms a thick almost impenetrable mat that makes it a hell of an erosion control device, it never needs to be chopped, it is seemingly impervious to drought, and snakes and ants hate it. 
     Faintly outlined in red are shown several clumps getting a start.

     In a surprisingly quick time the clumps will join together to form a thick emerald green mat.  Shown here are a few pictures of it both establishing itself -and established.  This hasn't happened overnight but it's been worth the wait...

06 November 2018

Life with Hennessy

     ...the hammock, not the booze.

01 November 2018

Lobster traps

     Stacked and ready to be put into use these wood traps are shown before being loaded onto trucks.  They sit on a road in Loma Fresca, a Bluefields neighborhood, where they were made. 

27 October 2018

Mangoes to eat...

     ..."real" mangoes and the "hillbilly mangoes."

     The mangoes shown on one of our mango trees at False Bluff in the October 2, post have ripened and it was worth the wait.  We eat them as is

...or, juiced, we drink them.

     In Virginia we pick the hillbilly mangoes - which are really pawpaws - directly off the tree (or off the ground if they've just fallen) and eat them as is.

          Wherever and whichever, they are a treat.

22 October 2018

Hiding in plain sight

          Can you find her?  The males are larger and quite dark - and so are much easier to spot.

17 October 2018


     For most of its long history Bluefields has been accessible by water or air - although early on people traveled by horseback and then in cars and trucks on not-so-good roads that didn't actually go all the way to Bluefields.  Almost everything that entered the town...people or sofas or mustard or clothes or tractors or boat engines or taxis...came by boats or airplanes (most by water, obviously, because boats, particularly big boats, can certainly carry more than airplanes can).
     Then there was talk of a "real" road that would run from the western part of the country all the way to Bluefields.  And for years there was only talk.  And then for years there was work.  The July 11 post here shows part of the space between the Pacific side and the Caribbean side before and after the road.
     Once the road was completed to the point that people and stuff could come and go, I heard lots about it and saw big trucks carrying all sorts of things into town.  I once was in a taxi in Bluefields, stuck behind a pick-up truck, listening to my driver's complaints about all the people from the other side coming into Bluefields and messing up the traffic because they didn't know their way around town (he used a word other than 'messing' but I got the point).  
     But I'd never been on the road.  Recently, friends made sure I got to travel on part of it.  
     We picked a time when its westernmost section was not blockaded, because we traveled during the summer of 2018 when blockades were a thing.  And we traveled cautiously and didn't go more than an hour west - although we weren't really very worried about trouble and a couple of weeks later I traveled NIC-71 much farther away from town.  
     The road wasn't then fully finished.  But it's far more easily traveled than many of the 'old' ways into town, and it accommodates vehicles bringing all sorts of needful things to town - as opposed to carrying the things to Rama and then taking the things off whatever vehicle they were on that took them to Rama and then putting them on a boat for the rest of the trip to Bluefields.
     And sure enough, there it was just a couple of blocks past my carpenter's shop and right around the corner from BICU.  
     I took these pictures from the front seat of the truck so the coverage is limited.  But it's easy to see the road and how beautiful Nicaragua is.

12 October 2018

Gardening at False Bluff

     Is this a raised bed or a container garden?  
     The sugar cane growing in the ground behind the boat make it difficult to see the pepper and herb plants that are actually growing in the boat...where they're thriving.

Note:  Jacinta's genius on display.

07 October 2018

Small bird of paradise

     The bird of paradise plants most of us are familiar with...from pictures and visits to local greenhouses or botanical gardens...are large and dramatic.  But when I arrived in Bluefields I was introduced to others, among them a small plant which quickly became one of my favorites. 
     Although this little one is represented in our nursery, it's not salt-tolerant and we'll never be able to use it close to the beach which is a shame.  However, planted near our piers it gives a visual punch and is the first color other than green that a visitor sees on arrival.
     There are no nurseries in Bluefields.  In fact the only nurseries I've found in all of Nicaragua are at Catarina, a town on the country's west side which in itself is one huge nursery because almost everybody there grows plants to sell.  It's a stunning place to visit, sitting on a slope above a lake, with blooming plants everywhere.  A big problem for me is that, despite its wide array, almost none of the plants is tolerant of salt-spray - I could find none for coastal planting.
     So when I tried to add this small bird of paradise to our growing collection of plants, I had to beg a few plants from someone in Bluefields who had it growing in a yard.  Actually I ended up being able to buy five or six plants.  And then after planting it at False Bluff I learned that it doesn't thrive in the Caribbean's salty breeze.
     But in a spot just away from that breeze it does thrive and in a few years we have this and a few other colonies that bloom year 'round.


02 October 2018

Mangoes, here and there

     We have mangoes at False Bluff and in Virginia.  The ones at False Bluff are "real" mangoes.  The ones in Virginia are known as "hillbilly mangoes."  
     By either name they're a treat. 
     The mangoes in the first picture, mangifera indica, are not yet ripe and are on a young tree right outside our kitchen at False Bluff.  
     This is the first year this particular mango tree has borne fruit and it's got a pretty good crop - enough of a crop to warrant propping up some of the branches.

     Below are asimina triloba, better known in the United States as Pawpaw but also known as the hillbilly mango.  This tree is just one in a pawpaw patch near the James River and these pawpas, tho' green, are ripe.  
      Some sources claim not only that the flavor of the pawpaw is tropical; but that the tree itself is a tropical tree that has somehow adapted to non-tropical climates: they extend all the way into Canada, a place not known for its tropical climate.

      Whereas the pawpaw thrives and sets fruit as an understory tree, our mangoes at False Bluff thrive under the hot Caribbean sun.  It would be interesting to see how a pawpaw does in full sun.

27 September 2018

Mandarin oranges

     Just like not all of the trees at False Bluff are palm trees, not all of the citrus trees at False Bluff are limes and lemons.  
     And not all of the citrus trees we have are mature enough to bear fruit.  Some of the trees are on the cusp...that is, they're bearing a small amount of fruit now on their way to bearing a lot of fruit in the future.  This year's crop is kind of like a dress rehearsal.
     One variety had a single orange, not yet ripe; but I was told that next year the tree would be loaded.  
     Another variety had a small amount of fruit with the same prediction for what it would produce next year.  That particular tree bears mandarin oranges, and part of its "dress rehearsal" is shown below, not yet ripe but on the way to getting more size and a much different color.

23 September 2018

El Nido, in color

     After the caulk and primer come the colors.

Note: The concrete portion of the support posts have since been smooth coated, polished, primed, and painted.  The ridge caps had not been installed when I took these pictures.

19 September 2018

"Freshness you deserve"

     ....but rarely get in your local grocery store, where that phrase was recently on display.     
     Here is a mid-morning snack of limeade and pineapple.  The limeade? Maybe not so fresh since I had snatched the limes from a tree the evening before instead of that morning.  The pineapple, however, had just been picked a few minutes before ending up in a bowl.

14 September 2018


      In September, 1821, Nicaragua became independent from the Spanish "Captaincy General of Guatemala," a territory that went from Costa Rica up to a part of  Mexico's Yucatan peninsula...and Nicaraguans have celebrated independence every September since.

     Students all across the country join in the celebration of independence by marching, school by school; class level by class level.  They are joined by representatives of the military, the men and women charged with protecting this independence.  Regardless of recent troubles, Nicaraguans join together to celebrate who they are.

     And the best students - the brightest students -  lead their classmates in the parade.  Hard work and superlative achievement is rewarded...and Jose, whom I've known since he was seven years old, was at the head of his class, at the head of his school's part of the parade that fills many of the streets in Bluefields.

     Congratulations Jose!  You earned your place in the lead.   We are so very proud of you.

JOSE, 2018

     Jose sent this message with the pictures:
     "As every year, Nicaragua (has) its patriotic celebrations ...
     And then I always marching, but this time, God gave me a lot of...intelligence and I...go with the best students. Here are these photos ... the truth that all this I owe to God, and...this was my last year that goes."

13 September 2018

Our nursery continues to grow

     We recently increased the size of the nursery by about a third.  The expansion was needed but sad nonetheless because we had to remove three mature-but-young palm trees to get the additional space.  
     Shown here are two of the trees that we removed.  The third tree, already on the ground, is visible in the rear left of the picture.

     Because the trees were just at the edge of the existing nursery space - and in one instance actually in the nursery - taking them down without doing damage to our mother plants was a problem.  The fronds of a mature coconut are very long and very heavy...to say nothing of the actual trunk.  But the people I know can solve problems - each problem in probably four or five different ways.
     The solution here was to remove the fronds one at a time with a machete.  Use of a machete assured that the frond removal was controlled enough so that someone could grab the tip as the frond was nearly ready to fall and control to some extent just where it would land.

     There was an audience for much of the frond-removal part of the expansion process.

     A chain saw took care of what was left of each tree and then everything was hauled to a burn pile.