30 March 2019

The making of clay building materials - part 3

     After whatever was loaded into the kiln has been fired (baked) long enough - days in the case of this wood fired kiln - the end products cool for another few days as the temperature in the kiln makes removal possible.  The resultant material is stacked, ready for sale.  There is a dramatic change from fragile greenware made of clay/dirt that was dug on site plus volcanic ash plus water.  Lovely material strong enough to build with.

     Close-up below shows the color of the fired material whether bricks or floor tiles or roof tiles.  None of what's made at this operation is glazed.  Everything that comes out of the heat is terra-cotta which, translated, simply means 'baked earth.'  

     But, as happens in firings everywhere, some material comes out damaged and thus isn't suitable for sale.  A lot of the damaged stuff is used on site such as the storage shed shown below.  The unfired material drying in the sun in front of the shed clearly shows the before and after firing colors.

     Close-up of a portion of the wall shown above:

24 March 2019

The making of clay building materials - part 2

     There are a lot of tile and brick making operations along the Pan Am Highway not too far out of Managua and most seem, like this one, to be family operated.  Everybody has a job...some mix the clay-ash-water that makes the tiles and bricks; another cuts or gathers the wood and stacks it close by for the firing; someone else loads the kiln; and on it goes.  Here are three generations who operate this kiln (with a volcano and a woman visitor showing in the background).

     After the clay, packed into molds, is partially dry the bricks or tiles are removed from the molds and placed on the ground to dry some more.  When thoroughly dry - and the people who do this for a living are good judges of 'thoroughly dry' - they're packed into an underground kiln similar to an 'anagama' kiln which is a very old sort of wood fired kiln that originated in the far east...basically a cave or hole in the ground with a door at one end and a flue at the other end.  A fire is built just inside the door and the heat from the fire is then pulled over and around the raw materials in the cave until they're fully 'cooked' or fired.  How much can be fired depends on how big the cave is.  Below is greenware awaiting firing - two different shapes of floor tile.

     Once the kiln is loaded a wood fire is started that gets hot enough to burn the wood so fast that it needs to be fed around the clock...and it burns for days.  Although there was no official temperature reading at the kiln I visited, the best guess from the resultant tiles and bricks, is about 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.
     The man who keeps the fire going at this operation is a senior and has, according to the rest of his family, built up some sort of tolerance to the heat over his decades of working with the fire and kiln.  I couldn't get very close to the ramp leading down to the kiln's front door...hard to imagine how this guy managed to feed the fire.  Much of the kiln is under roof and firewood is stacked nearby, including on the ramp leading down to the entrance.

19 March 2019

The making of clay building materials - part 1

     The process begins with locally dug clay to which ash is added from the base from a nearby volcano.  This volcano is right across the road (which happens to be the Pan Am Highway.

     In this case, the clay is dug on site and a truck delivers and dumps the ash near the pile of dried clay being readied for use.

     The clay and ash are mixed, water is added and, in this case, the mixture is shoveled into a mold where the formed tiles made with the mixture will dry for days before being put into the kiln.

     After the drying these and other styles of dried tiles and blocks will be loaded into the kiln and fired.

12 March 2019

Coconut trees, in the making

     Since the project at False Bluff began many years ago, I and others have planted literally hundreds of young palm trees, in many cases just sprouts.  At one time I did a rough count and came up with between 400 and 500 I myself had planted.         
     I've taken some criticism over time for planting the trees too close together and not in straight orderly lines.  Apparently, when you plant the trees close together they don't produce as many coconuts; and planting them in straight lines means you get the proper distance between the trees coming and going.  
     But I planted them for aesthetics:  random, close together, in clumps...any which way.  I prefer the way they look when I try to place them in a more nearly natural manner.
     And they're producing just fine!  

     We're in the process of clearing more land, removing scrub brush; and so the piles and piles and piles of coconuts that mound up are making more and more and more baby trees that we will plant in the ground - randomly.
     There are piles and and boxes and rows-among-the-pineapples of coconuts, all just waiting to go to  their "forever homes."

     If the random, aesthetically planted coconut trees produced more coconuts we'd be covered up.

06 March 2019

The heart of Chanel No. 5

     Three raw ingredients are at the heart of one of the world's most famous perfumes - flowers all.  One of the three is ylang-ylang.  We're really lucky to have a few ylang-ylang trees at False Bluff. And a few is all we have left. 
     Purchased in Catarina on the western side of Nicaragua and carefully brought back to the Caribbean side, we planted nearly a dozen before realizing the tree does not like salt.  
     Most died...but not all.  Catching the scent from the flowers when the tree is in bloom is a wonderful experience.  The bright yellow flowers, shown below on one of our trees, fit comfortably in the palm of my hand.

     Our survivors, about 400 yards downwind from the beach and behind a protective screen of coconut palms, bloom like crazy and are now producing seeds which we hope will germinate.  I'm told that where ylang-ylang still grows naturally seedlings sprout up around the base of the parent trees.
     Ylang-ylang used to grow prolifically in places along back water ways some distance from the salty air that blows off the Caribbean - particularly in Pearl Lagoon, a town north of us; but for some reason finding an ylang-ylang is a rare treat.