Monday, September 11, 2017

Plant Rescue

In the previous post, you saw how we junked up the fallen fig tree.  We did that to make room for the new plants that we rescued  - a vanilla orchid and a tiny little coral tree seedling.

I had been keeping an eye on the vanilla orchids for a few years now.  They grow in a palmetto stand along a path that I walk or run almost every day.  I showed a shot of a vanilla bean (seed pod) on one of them a couple of months ago in this post.  In preparation for transplanting the vanilla orchid, I got advice from the head gardener at The Spice Farm not too far from us.  Turns out there are quite a few individual plants in the palmetto stand, so I selected one close to the path.  Following instructions from the Spice Farm, we cut the vanilla vine that was growing up a palmetto, leaving the part rooted in the soil behind.  Then we chopped down the palmetto with the clinging vanilla vine to take back to our place.
Pascal clearing out undergrowth to get to the vanilla vine.
The vine is cut and now the palmetto is ready to chop down.

Carefully extracting the palmetto with attached vanilla vine from the undergrowth.

Tiger chopped off the palmetto fronds, we will only use it as a support for the vine. 
More trimming, taking care not to cut the vanilla vine.
Once the palmetto stick (as they are called here) was trimmed, we could safely take the attached vanilla vine back to our place.  We leaned the palmetto stick against a horizontal branch of an ancient cashew tree and piled up some mulch around the cut end of the vanilla vine.  The rest of the vine still had its roots attached the palmetto stick.  It will probably take the vanilla vine a couple of months to recover and it will undoubtedly suffer some die back as a result of the transplant trauma, but I am expecting it to make a full recovery.  If it does well in this location, we will bring in more transplants.  If it doesn't thrive here, we will try another location.  I would love to be able to harvest the occasional vanilla bean.

Next on the list to rescue were some coral tree (Erythrina sp.) seedlings.  Coral trees grow to a large size and are well-suited to our location with its high water table and sea salt spray.  Plus they have the most gorgeous flowers.
Here is the trunk of a large coral tree harboring sprouted coconuts nestled in amongst the buttress roots at its base.
Another view of the same tree showing its lumpy bark and buttress roots. 
Growing around this big old tree are lots of seedlings.  We selected 2 to dig up and transplant at our place.
Little seedling.
Little seedling in its new home near the location of the old fig tree.  I have great expectations for it.
We will be doing lots more rescuing and transplanting as the rainy season kicks in and the days get a little cooler.  

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Goodbye Old Fig Tree

It was a good tree.  Although you couldn't call it pretty, you could call it pretty awesome; it provided shade for the generator shed and the garden beds below it, fruit for many species of birds and bats, and home to the most massive Myrmecophila orchid I have ever seen.  Below is the homely fig tree 13 months and 1 week ago as seen from the sunset balcony.
The fig tree, still suffering from a bad trim job that we gave it when it was interfering with our satellite internet reception.  It needed to have dead branches cut out too.
Then, on 4 August, 2016, Hurricane Earl hit northern Belize.  We felt some of it - high winds and lots of rain on the order of a tropical storm rather than a hurricane for us here in southern Belize.  The fig tree weathered the winds of Earl, but not the rain - the day after Earl came through the fig slowly tipped over in the dead calm.  Its shallow roots just pulled free from our sandy soil.
Fallen fig tree behind the gen shed.  It considerately slowly rolled off the roof, leaving some slight bends in the metal. 
Such a shallow root system just couldn't hold it up in the water saturated sand.

Over the next week, we started trimming the tree into smaller pieces.  I learned just last week that locally this process is called "junking up".  There are people who make a living "junking up" trees.  
Richard, junking up the tree.  But saving as much of the big orchid as possible.
Orington, AKA Tiger, standing next to the large orchid in the partially junked tree.

After we cut off the limbs with the orchids, we put those limbs under the cashew tree next to the old fig tree.  They are doing well, and even bloomed this year after a substantial post-Earl die-back.  The main trunk and the roots were too big and too hard for our chainsaw to make a dent.  So we let the remain portion rest in place, hoping that with time rot would set in and make it easier to finish junking up the tree.  Last week, we tried again.
Orington and Pascal attacking the roots with a machete. 

In the meantime - look at that Agave flower stalk soaring to the left of Orington.  The guys had never seen an agave bloom before.  I had to break it to them that after it bloomed, the main plant would die, but that the young agaves around it would take its place.

Slow going with a machete.
 Time to get the chainsaw out once the little stuff is dealt with by the machete.
Roots trimmed of with the chainsaw.
But our chainsaw still could not make a dent in the big trunk and main roots, even after a year.  We had to call in a professional to junk up the tree. Enter Godwin and his big chainsaw.
Godwin going at the tree.
 No one touches Godwin's chainsaw except Godwin.
He made several girdlings of the trunk with moral support from Orington, Clinton, and Pascal.

Clinton giving it the machete test to see how much more needs to be cut with the saw.
First section gone, working on the second.

Clinton trying to help push apart the sections while Godwin wields the saw.

The last section.
Trimming through the roots.

Flipped back with the roots down to get a better angle for cutting.

We can finish this part with our smaller chainsaw.
The fig tree was a good one and we have some fig seedlings to set out in places that aren't so close to our various buildings and structures.  Near this spot, we will plant a Coral Tree, which is much better suited to the high water table.  More on it next time.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Dawn and a Fat Boa

We had a very much appreciated night of rainfall last night that cooled things off, relatively speaking.  As I was getting for my morning run (technically morning "jog"), I saw this wonderful color developing as the sun rose over the sea.


Despite the bright beginning of the day, clouds soon set in, which kept the temperature reasonable in the morning.  By midday, the sun was back in full force.  This afternoon, our batteries are charged and water vats are full.

The little boa constrictor continues to hang out in the tamarind tree outside our back door.  I don't see it every day, but I am pretty sure that this tree is its home, for the time being at least.  A few days ago I noticed that it had a suspicious bulge.  A hummingbird-sized bulge.
Boa with a bulge.
Happy snake.  Sad bird.  Well, I suppose the bird isn't sad any longer.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Chaya and Cicadas in the Heat

Boy, is it hot!  The local produce suffers in the heat; the heat makes the water spinach and lots of other greens very bitter.  One plant we are turning to more and more is Chaya, also called spinach tree.
We were given a hand full of cuttings several years ago that were the start of this big clump of Chaya.
We put the handful of chaya cuttings that we got from a friend down into a bucket of water for a couple months and basically forgot about them.  When I finally remembered to check on them, they had developed a nice root system, so we  planted them behind our back veranda.  For 2 years now we have been harvesting chaya leaves.  I started routinely harvesting them about once a week several months ago when all the greens we bought at the market were quite bitter from the heat.  All except the chaya, which thrives in the heat and has no bitterness at all.  I'm actually rather puzzled about how to describe the taste of chaya.  It is mild, but has an almost meaty hint to it that spinach and other greens I am familiar with lack.  Maybe this is because it has higher protein content than spinach does.  Anyway, the taste is pleasant and mild, almost bland.
Freshly harvested chaya leaves ready for de-stemming and chopping.
I harvest only the newest, still-glossy leaves since the older leaves can be quite tough - even after boiling for 15 minutes!  Chaya is incredibly nutritious, packing in a lot more nutrients than traditional spinach.  One draw-back is that when raw it contains a cyanide generating compound, which fortunately is destroyed by boiling for 12-15 minutes.
Boiling the chaya.
I usually boil up a couple of cups of chopped leaves, which yields about 3/4cup of cooked chaya.  The leaves are sturdy enough that they stay intact through the boiling.  After boiling, draining, and cooling the chaya, I usually put in a baggie and store it frozen until I am ready to cook with it.  You can use it the same way you would for spinach - in soups, enchiladas, scrambled eggs, spaghetti sauce, or added to casseroles.
Chaya in creamy cheese sauce.
A couple of nights ago, I added chaya to a creamy cheese sauce that I made to put over baked potatoes.  I also put in a couple of red jalapeƱo peppers to give the sauce a little extra kick.
Chaya cheese sauce over pan-seared turkey sausage bits atop baked potatoes - a meal in bowl.
The sauce was very tasty.  In retrospect, I could have added more chaya.  Next time.

Besides bitterness to greens, the hot weather also brings out the cicadas.  I had been noticing empty cicada exuviae still clutching knee-level vegetation when out on my morning runs.  I got a photo of one, only to realize when processing it that the nascent adult had not yet emerged.
Last larval stage of a cicada.  I think the nascent adult is still inside.
The hotter the weather, the louder the adult cicadas sing - at least that is I learned growing up in Georgia.
Adult cicada.
I saw this cicada on the outside of the veranda screen and it stayed still long enough for me to get my camera and immortalize it.  They are sure loud these days.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Canna Lilies

Canna lilies are native to Belize and Central America.  Wild ones grow along the wet sides of the Monkey River Road as it cuts through the lowland jungle.  The wild ones are quite tall and have gorgeous ruby-red flowers that are somewhat smaller than the cultivated varieties.  (I think I know of some that need rescuing.)  In the meantime, we have a beautiful cultivar growing here.
Orange and yellow canna lily.
We have this planted all along the 100 ft. long path to the back landing on Black Creek.  Since canna lilies like wet feet, this path that goes through the swamp is a great location for them.
Nice and fresh after a pre-dawn shower.
 We also have some growing beside the caretaker's cabana.
Raindrops on lilies.
Canna lilies are easy to propagate by dividing the rootstock much like irises, so we will be able to divide these and spread them around.  I want to mix the wild ones in amongst them and perhaps get some other colors, too.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Iguanas and Mirages

Each year in early March, we start to see nesting activity of female green iguanas.  They dig large holes in the sand and come back to them every day for weeks as they dig and explore and test out various locations.  We have seen as many as 7 females at a time working on nests on our south lot.  Sand flying in all directions! Last year, I noticed that many of the nests got trampled by our workers as they wheelbarrowed sea grass from the shore.  Not mention the bad dog who dug up nests, with help from raccoons.  We saw only 4 hatchlings last year as a result.  Of course there probably (I hope!) were more that we missed seeing.  This year, we decided to try to protect the nests.  We got what is locally known as hog wire fencing which we stapled to palmetto posts to make enclosures around 3 areas in which the iguanas were digging.  Since iguanas come back day after day, we left an 8 inch gap along the bottom to give the iguanas clearance.  That worked really well, with the iguanas totally ignoring the presence of the hog wire and proceeding with their digging activities.  Now, nothing is going to keep a determined raccoon away from delicious iguana eggs, but I think putting a small barrier in their way minimized the "crimes of opportunity" since we noticed only one incident of raccoon predation this year, unlike the almost nightly forays of years past.  The fences also kept Barnie out, but we did have to keep her tied up for about a month while the females were active.  Don't worry - I took her for walks every day, more than an hour every morning and then for about 45 minutes in the late afternoon.  Once the female iguanas stopped nesting activity, Barnie was free most of the day and all night.  The only nest she bothered was one that was not inside the enclosures.

Late one afternoon as Barnie and I returned from a walk, some movement caught my eye.  I saw 4 baby iguanas running toward the jungle!  I called to Dennis and got my camera (which had only returned from repair 2 weeks earlier) and was able to get a few shots in the fading light.
Little iguanas, reaching the light of day.  You can see the gap along the bottom of the hog wire.
Aren't they the cutest?  You can also see the collapsed nests from which the hatchlings emerged.


We watched for close to an hour as iguanas emerged and then ran off in groups of 3 or 4 toward the jungle to our west.  I estimated that 40 to 50 hatchlings emerged that evening.  Over the next 3 weeks, other nests hatched and we had the occasional hatchling show up on our veranda to hang out before disappearing into the wild.  We are very pleased with the success of iguana nesting this year.  We will keep the enclosures in place and put more sand inside them.  Since iguanas can't resist nice piles of sand in which to dig, there is an excellent chance they will return to the same spots next year.

For something completely different - this morning we had the perfect atmospheric conditions to see the mountains of Honduras.  It really takes a particular kind of mirage to see them distinctly here - a superior mirage. As explained at this website, this is what happens:  "The superior mirage occurs under reverse atmospheric conditions from the inferior mirage. For it to be seen, the air close to the surface must be much colder than the air above it. This condition is common over snow, ice and cold water surfaces. When very cold air lies below warm air, light rays are bent downward toward the surface, thus tricking our eyes into thinking an object is located higher or is taller in appearance than it actually is."

So here are mirage photos of the "tall" mountains across the bay in Honduras.  We normally can't see these on clear days.
Heavy clouds overhead trapping the cold air below. You can see the mountains behind Little Monkey Caye.
A slightly better view from out on our dock.
Clouds on the water with mountains behind.

Another magical dawn.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

More Than Just Orchids

I think these hibiscus flowers rival the orchids of my previous posts for beauty.

These hibiscus are all growing at our neighbors' place, the currently out-of-operation SteppingStones Resort.

They have lush landscaping there and have generously given us permission to take cuttings.
We got some white hibiscus started, but could always use more.
We don't have any of this incredible apricot and ruby flowering hibiscus, though.
I think I will remedy that lack this week.  Now that the dry season is over, all I need to do is take some cuttings and stick them in the ground.  It doesn;t get easier than that.
Now, where are my little secateurs?