Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Living Close to Nature

Living close to nature is easy in a tropical environment. We have had a couple of natural experiences lately, or unnatural depending on your perspective!

A week ago I was startled to see hundreds of bugs crawling over the veranda. With a second glance I immediately realized that they were army ants in formation! About half a dozen columns were streaming across the front yard and onto the veranda. They were moving quickly in search of anything alive to chow down on. I quickly closed all of the doors preventing them from entering the house. Most people here simply leave home for a few hours to allow the ants to march through and clean out any insects in the house. Since our house is tight enough, they can’t get in and we can live with a few bugs inside, we didn’t let them in. It would have been hours for them to clear out. We watched them work their way around the exterior. We thought that we’d need to bring the animals in, but it started raining and the ants disappeared. There were tens, maybe hundreds of thousands! We lost count.

At 6:30 the other morning Norm heard a thump at the front door. He discovered a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl and a Mountain Gem Hummingbird lying on the sidewalk. Unfortunately the owl died within a minute or two. After a few minutes, the hummingbird recovered and flew off. Being partly diurnal, this species of owl also occasionally hunt birds.

The only four legged critters that we have been seeing are our own pets. Django, the puppy is growing rapidly. He is 15 weeks and weighs over 30 pounds. Yikes! So far he and the cats are doing okay. The cats still chase and bat at him, and he thinks it is wonderful fun. He loves to run around them with his rawhide bone in his mouth. We had to move our papyrus, lipstick palms, a few other plants and Collie’s rock collection (don’t ask). He is a busy puppy!

Mario is bringing great loads of plant every week. This week he brought a couple dozen Bougainvillea in three colors, 150 heliconias to border our whole front yard, eight good sized agaves, and white lilies. There is no way we could do all of the landscaping if we were buying plants. He’s bringing us plants from his yard and family finca (farm). The plants grow like mad here, so dividing them is a great way to get plants. He is happy to have the work and we are thrilled to be making such progress on our landscaping.

Speaking of agaves, we have a dozen or so very large specimens on our property. Three of them have 20 foot flowering stalks towering above them. The flowers are yellow, waxy, and fragrant. The photo doesn’t do them justice. This morning the yellow flowers seemed to be bright, sparkling, and dangling gems with dew in the morning sun.

Norm discovered this saddle backed caterpillar crawling along a sidewalk. Lots of interesting bugs.

Night time brings crystal clear skys and lightning shows. Many nights we can see lightning flashing every 30 seconds in 3-5 areas over the ocean and in the mountains South of us. It is too far away to hear the thunder. Speaking of lightning, we had some violent storms this early Spring. Unfortunately our Davis weather station was struck and severely damaged. I really miss knowing the rate of rain, the cumulative rainfall, and the wind speed. It is on our list of items that we’ll have visitors bring from the States.


Monday, August 17, 2009

House and Garden Update

Our plans for major landscaping seemed to have been thwarted by the stock market. Until the market recovers, our spending will be limited to our Social Security income, which unfortunately doesn’t allow for major expenditures like landscaping or international travel.

Fortunately, Mario, one of the men who helped build our house, has been helping us with various odd jobs. The biggest bonus is his resourcefulness in his access to plants! We needed hundreds of clumping grass to place on the banks around the property; the amount of rain we get in the rainy season is astonishing and torrential. Grasses are really key in preventing erosion. We have been revising drainage pathways since the rainy season started in mid-May, but knew that we needed to do major planting. Mario has divided the grasses he has on his farm and those available from his neighbors and friends. He has planted between three and four hundred grass clumps and another one hundred or more clumps of lemon grass. One day he brought a sample of a variegated grass to show me and suggested that we plant it along the driveway. It was exactly the plant that I had on my list of landscaping projects. He again came through with hundreds of small clumps which are planted along sidewalks and the driveway. If that wasn’t enough, he also brought a dozen or so ginger rhizomes and three Cana lilies. I had a vision of Bougainvillea and ginger in the area adjacent to the casita. Last week he brought 8 split leaf philodendron cuttings of 1-2 large leaves with nodes that will root, another dozen or so Cana lilies, a variegated “canna”, and 30-40 verbena bush cuttings. So my landscaping plans are happening thanks to Mario!

We have also had another huge gardening problem solved. Our friends and neighbors up the road have a trailing yellow daisy like ground cover. They have been clipping it and spreading it to areas in their yard and offered us clippings. Dario and Cesar, two other local workers have been clipping it there and planting it here. We have some very steep banks along one side of the driveway and between the house and casita. These are now covered with hundreds and hundreds of the clippings. Within a few weeks the first plantings are already perky and growing.

There are many plants that only require a cutting to be stuck into the ground. That is true of hydrangeas (we recently planted a couple hundred), hibiscus, the trailing ground cover, and apparently Bougainvillea.

Speaking of plants, we have many more orchids in captivity! The same workers have brought orchids from their homes or from found orchids on our property. These are now mounted to a large branch from a tree that is an orchid host. Once that branch was stuck in the ground it started sprouting leaves and flowers! I was very worried about where to place the branch with regard to the amount of direct sun. Dario kept telling me not to worry, and know I understand why! The branch will grow and create the correct environment for the orchids! I have taken to walking around with binoculars looking into our trees for orchids. We have no fewer than six varieties.

Here is a recent photo of the area with bromeliads along side the garage.. We added some grass and small anthuriums, coleus, and various other bedding plants. It has been only a few months! Not quite immediate gratification, but not terribly far off.
Of course I still have a huge list of plants and layouts/designs in my head for yet to be planted areas. We should have good planting times for the next month or two. The wet season ends in December and if the plants are in the ground for a couple of months they should be well on their way to being established.

We received the remainder of our shipped furniture and household goods several weeks ago. It was in storage since arriving in the country over a year ago. We had part of the container delivered last year, but didn’t have room in the rental house for everything. We have been slowly unpacking the boxes and getting organized. The furniture is set up and in pretty good shape. A few pieces sustained damage, but nothing major. We were really worried about a china cabinet with lots of glass. One of the mirrors in the back broke, but Norm easily replaced it. The shipment was handled multiple times between loading at Bainbridge into trucks, then into the container, then through customs, into the warehouse here and finally to our house. We have everything unpacked and have very little damage. We’ve started to hang paintings and art. With cement walls, we need to be sure of the placement because Norm needs to drill into the cement to place anchor screws for each picture. Very time-consuming! A few days ago, Norm was drilling a hole to hang a picture in the powder room. Unfortunately, he drilled into a water line! He then had to chip away the concrete with a chisel to expose enough of the line to repair the pipe. Mario has since patched the concrete, but of course we don’t have any of the matching paint. We’ll be done eventually!

The house has been done for a couple of months now, except for a couple of not so minor items. The dormers have leaked from the start and the roofers have not had the knowledge or experience to resolve it. After multiple failed attempts to remedy the problem, Norm had to find diagrams on the internet showing the proper way to handle the angles. It has been quite a trail, but fortunately our contractor has come through. He has withheld final payment to the roofers; otherwise we probably would never see them again.

Our three boys, Jelly, Fred, and Django are doing well and for the most part, the cats are tolerating the over-active puppy.
He is much larger than they are now, but they’re definitely not afraid of him. When they get fed up with his antics, they chase him around the yard, which of course he LOVES. Eventually, they give up and retire to their little houses which are on the wall, and out of Django’s reach.