26 May 2023

From here to there...

The last few weeks have been interesting and busy in a curious way.  I ordered three 55-gallon plastic barrels from the person I deal with who ships mostly houseware from places along the east coast of the United States to the east coast of Nicaragua. 

The area for which he provides this service is a bit more limited than the description above and so to be a more specific his business route includes from Miami to somewhere in New York state in the US to the southern autonomous region on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast.  A lot of territory for a single person.

I placed an order with him for the barrels, two of which I would fill in the short amount of time his schedule provides for turnaround.  I had accumulated a big pile of stuff both new and old.  And so in anticipation of the arrival of the empties, I began to divide my collection into two smaller piles - anticipating by guesstimate what would fit in barrel one and what would fit in barrel two.  Or at least what i thought would fit in each of these barrels before they even got delivered to my house based on my recollection of previous barrel fills.

Then each item had to be secured if not already secured - for instance wrapping and taping if loose and just taping if boxed or otherwise packaged...and labeled per barrel.  

Then each item for each barrel was photographed and fit into a two column list which contained the item's description and use in one column with the photo in the other.  A separate list for each barrel.

I made two of copies of each list.  One copy goes in the barrel, right on top of what's packed...for customs; and I keep the second copy.  This is a system that's worked well for me in the past and I wasn't about to change that.  If it ain't broke etc...

The man I deal with travels most of the way up the east coast dropping off empty barrels along the way.  Then he turns around and picks up full barrels on his return to Florida.  

I've never gotten the details about how it all works because his schedule is so tight there's never been time to discuss the process; but everything he collects on his south bound trip (mostly, but not all, barrels) is loaded on a ship for the trip to Nicaragua's east coast city of Bluefields which is on a bay.  

He's got a lot of experience at this and adds careful scheduling and a huge amount of hard work to make the process seem easy to his customers.

This time in anticipation of his usual quick return to pick up the empties, I asked for family help to actually pack the barrels.  There was a lot of stuff waiting to go and some of it was heavy and awkward.  Actually I knew there was more stuff than two barrels would accomodate but probably not enough for three.  And so the curating was not only which items went into which of the two barrels I was sending...but which items would go into a barrel at all.  

The help I had solicited - and I - got the packing done quicker than I thought we'd manage to do; but we didn't seal the barrels.  Actually we couldn't seal the barrels.  I decided to count on the expert for that; and when he arrived to pick them up he sealed them quickly and easily without having to remove anything.  Surprised the hell out of me but that's why he's an expert.  

Any empty spaces in the barrels are filled with used paperback books.  One of the buildings under construction at False Bluff is simply a small reading and game room for those who tire of the beach or the sea.  Three walls of the building will be lined with shelves full of books.  There will also be reading chairs and one or two small tables for board games.  One of the things that I managed to get into one of these recently departed barrels is an old chinese checkers game, with marbles.  A set of checkers went down a couple of years ago.

The barrels left here a week or so ago at about 10pm, heading for Florida, a boat, and then Bluefields.  They - and I - should get there at about the same time.

Note:  When emptied, some of the barrels will have another life which I will describe another time.


19 May 2023

How to grow coconut trees

Learning how to grow coconut trees was a very important lesson for us because of our commitment to replacing the scrub brush we were removing with something as good as or better.  The very hardy brush we took out is nearly inpenetrable without a machete to clear a path; and it blocked much of the breezes off, and the view of, the sea.

Our main landscape ingredients at False Bluff continue to be palm trees, sea grapes, swamp lilies, and zoysia grass.  We've written about all of these things a lot here.  Breeze, view, a comfortable walk, and flowers everywhere are now a part of the experience.  Besides, the salt in those lovely breezes off the Caribbean kills most everything else.

So far we've planted hundreds - if not thousands - of coconut palms and the planting continues.  When we began planting baby coconut trees we bought them in Bluefields and boated them to False Bluff.  Little did we know how simple it would turn out to be to grow our own.  Waiting for the seed to sprout is the hardest part.  

Here's what's involved in the process:  

  • Wait until a ripe coconut falls to the ground - but be sure you're not under the tree when that happens.
  • Pick the coconut up off the ground and carry it to another piece of ground of your choice.
  • Put the coconut down in this spot you've selected.  Place it either at random or in a line as shown below.  Over the years we've gone all out in the effort to grow lots of baby coconut trees and "orderly" has proven to be our best solution.
  • Wait until the coconut sprouts.  It's just a seed after all.  Waiting is the hard part.  You can tell when the coconut has sprouted when it looks like what's shown in the second photo.  Truthfully you can tell as soon as the leaf appears but we've found that waiting until the sprout is about four feet tall is a better indication the young plant will survive.
  • Pick the sprouted coconut up off the ground.  Just kidding.  Actually you can't just pick it up because at this point it's put down roots - so you have to dig  to get the baby tree to release its hold on the earth.
  • Using the sprouted part as a handle, carry the now-a-tree coconut to another piece of ground...again, a place of your choice.  This time choose a spot where you want it to continue growing for a long long time so it can make more coconuts and so it can keep this process going.  Plant it either by itself or as part of a clump...in which you'll need more than one baby tree.  I'm partial to clumps of coconut trees myself.  They're lovely to look at and create really nice hammock homes.
Since the coconut has stiff roots sticking out of the bottom you can't just drop it like you did before it had roots.  So dig a hole deep enough to bury the roots and a bit more so that most of the seed is also buried.  

Once the coconut is secure in the hole, its new home, fill the hole around the seed with the sandy dirt which is prevalent where most coconuts grow...and simply walk away.  

Nature will take care of the rest of the process almost every time.

PS...The sprouted coconut shown immediately above is not planted deep enough; but most of the coconuts in the first photo are now trees that are producing their own coconuts.

12 May 2023

Not quite rotisserie chicken

You might think relaxing on a Caribbean beach...or in Bluefields...wouldn't work up an appetite.  Not so.  If you're in Bluefields there are several places where chicken is grilled if that might be your choice for taking care of the hunger.  

As far as I can tell, all of these place are open air - as though you were grilling outdoors at home.  These places and this type of cooking are pretty new to Bluefields and but several of the outdoor grills look like they'll last.   

The one shown below happens to be in the center of the business district.  It's right across the street from city hall and next to another street that abuts the city's central park....all in all a busy intersection with a lot of foot traffic.  

The street beside the grill is the usual venue of street fairs so there are frequent crowds even when the government work week is over.

If you like grilled chicken, this is good stuff.  It's all take away and there are no sides offered when I was last in Bluefields - but that might have changed.  However, there are plenty of nearby places to at least find a drink; and, with the park next door, lots of places to sit.

05 May 2023

Well it's sugar...but I've got no idea how it identifies. Life is so tricky these days.....

Most of the world's sugar is made from sugar cane...specifically from the juices that are in the cane itself.  We don't grow a lot of sugar cane but we have clumps here and there at False Bluff for casual use...for instance, as a snack.  Also a clump of sugar cane makes for an interesting landscape accent.

A piece of cane is cut and then peeled and chewed. The stuff is very fibrous so the cut piece of cane is chewed to release the juice...and it is its own handle.

Some years ago we built a rudimentary press for extracting the juice.  Reducing small quantities provides a really nice syrup.  (A photo of our press is below.)

Reducing large quantities of sugar cane gives the world sugar.  All kinds of sugar including:  turbinado, muscovado, panela, jaggery, and that white stuff you buy at places like Walmart or even Whole Foods (unless you're in San Francisco).  

Regardless of the name of the sugar and regardless of the processing method it's all sucrose - some types more pure than others.  Although it all comes from some degree of reduction, the processing involved in whatever reduction technique is used will determine the name of the type of sugar you end up with.  (Reduction is all about removing the liquid from the juice.)

There's a spectrum - like making white bread in which the flour is bleached, then processed to remove all the good things that nature gave it...and after all this some vitamin and minerals are added to the bread to give it 'natural goodness.'  It's still bread.  Sort of.

During the harvest season I buy molded 'bricks' of locally made sugar to take back to Virginia.  I'm pretty careful about wrapping it before I pack it, usually using a waxy paper and lots of tape.  The stuff makes wonderful gifts...partly because it's unusual but mostly because it's delicious.  Some of the gifts have been used in baking, mostly cookies; but some have simply disappeared a pinch-sized bite at a time.  The stuff seems to last until it's used or consumed - as long as it's kept dry.  

Planting sugar cane could hardly be easier the way we do it.  I'm sure the planting is much more complicated when hundreds of acres is involved.  Canes are cut...removed from the roots by slicing near or at the ground.  The leaves are stripped off and then the canes are cut again...into pieces about 18 inches long.  A shallow trench is dug, the cane pieces are dropped into the trench and then covered.  New canes, looking like stalks of grass, appear in a couple of weeks...and then it grows until it's harvested and the process begins again.

This is our very simple - almost primitive - but very efficient cane press in action. 

In Bluefields some local farmers use all or some of their sugar cane harvest to...make sugar...in bricks or lumps the same size and general shape as bricks as I mentioned above. But I still don't know the official name of the kind of sugar they make, only that it's very good.  People with much more sugar cane than we have press their harvest in some manner probably more sophisticated than ours.  

The juice is then boiled until it has become a thick syrup which will solidify after it's removed from the fire.  This syrup is poured into molds of some sort...the molds in my area producing brick-shaped blocks of pure raw organic cane sugar.  The color of the sugar bricks varies depending on who's making them.  I've brought home both dark and light colored sugar and can't taste much difference:

People who can't buy this sugar in Bluefields can buy something like it online.  In fact an eight ounce cone-shaped product, described as panela (one of the types listed here), can be purchased for just a bit more than $9.  

The bricks I buy at sidewalk markets in Bluefields weigh about a pound each and sell for $2.

What's left of the sugar canes themselves after harvest is called bagasse and can be used for all sorts of other things including fuel for power production - like running a generator; or for making paper and cardboard.  But the part of sugar cane most people are familiar with is the juice that's processed in lots of ways to produce many types of sugar.