Smokey has his own definition of “Comfortable”

20 08 2010

I’m glad he’s comfortable, because we have officially adopted Smokey. This makes me his fourth cat parent within a three year period and three lot radius area.

Make yourself at home, Smokey!


A Sandhill of Beans

14 08 2010

So, what’s up in the garden? We’ll talk about the (mostly) pretty stuff in this post, and I’ll give a forewarning about the next post (which will cover a topic I find fascinating, and which most of you may wish to skip).

Let’s start out with a great plant that has far exceeded my expectations:

Bay Bean

Canavalia rosea, otherwise known as the bay bean, beach bean, seaside jackbean, coastal bean or Mackenzie bean is an important plant for control of beach erosion. I’ve often marveled at the lush foliage and quirky flowers of this plant when I found it growing on the sand dunes.


Last year I became very interested in the plant and learned that it is a severely underrated, hardy and drought-tolerant ground cover. I decided that it would be the perfect plant for our barren “Back 40”, and resolved to acquire some beans to plant.

As though I had placed an order, Mike (the guy who pays us) who had been harvesting beans from the beach, and growing these plants in his garden, gave me some seeds. He also mentioned that he enjoyed eating the beans, prepared the same as edamame. Research gives mixed results about the toxicity of these beans and suggests that they should be thoroughly boiled (if eaten at all).


He shared some seeds with me, which I planted this spring. The vines have since grown to fill my trellis and are blooming and creating beans.


I’ve also begun training them to grow out on the Back 40″. My next step is to get some native beach daisies and gaillardia to intersperse with the bay beans. I’ve seen this at Sebastian Inlet, and it is not only appealing, but attracts native pollinators.


I would be remiss if I failed to mentions that Canavalia rosea is a psychogenic herb. In other words: People have used it to get high. I cannot vouch for this quality, but I have noticed that my bay bean plants are conspicuously absent insect damage. Maybe the bugs take a bite and then forget where they are? Whatever the reason, this plant is thick, healthy and exuberant, despite the root knot nematodes and abundance of destructive insects in my garden.

I’ve also discovered a treasured Carolina anole living in its canopy, as well as a marked reduction in the number of aggressive brown or Cuban anoles.

Today I found an exception to this generalization as I was following a small, blue butterfly with my macro lens; hoping for it to light on a blossom for a photo op.

Before the butterfly could land, it was snatched up by a juvenile brown anole, which proceeded to dispense with it in a few hearty gulps.


As healthy as is the bay bean, the rest of the garden is struggling. My best producers are the Jalapeños grown from the seeds of a produce market pepper. I’ve shared many of these peppers and have made some hot sauce that I think is pretty darn good. Despite the obvious damage of pests and the dreaded root-knot-nematodes, these plants continue to offer up their picante prizes.


Today, I was reminded that insects and nematodes are not the only culprits responsible for the weakened plants in my garden.

Smokey makes sure everyone knows these are his plants.


The heat, drought and root knot nematodes have conspired to ensure that we pay cash for our produce.  The bamboo fascia around the Oasis is also rotting and falling over. This repair is one of many projects on my procrastination list.


In hopes of getting our own place in the near future, I’ve let things go to seed (literally). The amaranth you see in the foreground is a volunteer from last season’s experiment. But something I learned today has given me a new found sense of encouragement. In order to find out what this is, you’ll have to read my next post. I warn you to avoid eating immediately before or during such reading.

For now, have a look at some magnificent mangoes bequeathed upon us by Mike. These represent half of what we had yesterday (before gifting them to the neighbors and making the frozen mango rum drinks that entertained us last night.)

Thanks Mike!


Sad Riddance to Good Neighbors

14 08 2010

We don’t have any bad neighbors. Sometimes I complain about the consequences of living in such close proximity to so many people, but even the people with annoying habits are all goodhearted and likable folks.

Every once in a while we get a great neighbor like Captain Kym. I was apprehensive when Kym’s motor home appeared in the spot next door. We had gotten used to our big open space; as it had been vacant for a long time. “What kind of neighbor was he?” I wondered. My imagination ran the gamut of all the different type of aggravations we might encounter. “Did he have a noisy dog? Did he get falling-down drunk and have scream fights with his significant other? Would he take issue with my ever-expanding garden, which had already encroached onto his lot?”

It wasn’t but a day or two before AJ had met Kym. He quelled my fears and assured me that he was “a really cool guy”. He went on to inform me that Kym was a treasure hunter who had hit a few bumps in the road, and a guy with a lot of great stories and life experience. A robust guy with a preference for tropical print shirts, a great sense of humor, the spirit of a jovial pirate and some of the best stories you could hope to hear; Kym is the life of every party.


I don’t recall the exact date that Captain Kym pulled in, but I know it was at least two years ago. Over those years, we’ve had the privilege of living next door to a fascinating, funny, thoughtful and generous neighbor. We’ve had cookouts, helped each other in times of need and shared the things we have to share. Heck, Kym even looked after the cat crew on the occasions that we went out of town.

Over the past year we’ve been so caught up with life and work that we didn’t hang out with him as much as we might have. In the meantime, a beautiful lady and longtime friend of his (Marie) came in and swept him away. He moved out of his rig a few months ago, but didn’t really seem gone because his friend Cokey was staying there, and Kym and Marie would drop by every so often.

Yesterday, as Kym’s rig rolled out, it struck me that our neighbor is really gone. Although he now lives just up the road, it seems such a shock to have that empty space next door. I’m glad that Kym is moving on to bigger and better things, and I think that he and Marie make such a fun pair; but I sure will miss my favorite neighbor, Captain Kym! He’s still my favorite neighbor, only now I have to get in the car and drive to visit.

Cokey and Kym on moving out day.


Cokey and Marie. Two more awesome people I know because of Kym. Cokey was also an awesome neighbor; but luckily, he’s house sitting right behind us for a few months.


The Breezeway Buzz

6 08 2010

Although AJ and I have been doing well, all is not happiness and light in the park.

In July, Gary passed. He was suffering from cancer, which took over his entire body before he relinquished. Gary was a quiet and seemingly peaceful man who lived in the back of the park. He was only in his mid fifties when the disease took his life. We have heard that Gary was a rough and tumble guy, with a penchant for hard drugs, in his youth. However, the man we knew was a gentle giant who cared for his mother at the end of her life and always took our neighbor, Carrie, to the store until he was no longer able to do so. Rest in Peace, Gary.


Jack, the atomic veteran and hoarder, who lives behind us, is in the hospital. He had some discs removed from his neck; and I am told that when they were transporting him to the rehab facility, three paramedics dropped him and fell on top of him. Word is that he may be sent to a nursing home, instead of returning to the park. I think this would be in his best interest, as his living conditions are far beyond unsafe and unsanitary. I’m hoping that he gets placed in a nursing home nearby, so that I can go visit him. He really is a fascinating guy, and I’d love to document some of his stories in a more comfortable setting than the cluttered heat of his yard. My hope is that he finds comfort and cleanliness at the end of his life; and in a fit of selfishness I find myself wishing that his accumulations will soon be removed from our back yard. Although my anti-clutter trellis has managed to disguise much of the junk, I still have concerns about wandering roaches and rats, which will be rendered homeless when he is gone.


Carrie is not doing so well. We feel so helpless as we witness her gradual deterioration. Her mind seems to be holding fairly steady, but her physical state continues to decline. Last week she fell on her way to the bathroom. Her tale of crawling (first to the kitchen table and then to the living room chair) to right herself, was mortifying. What do you do with a strong-willed, independent woman who professes that she would rather die than go into a home? The worst part is that her air-conditioner has completely quit. So, while we languish in our cool environment, she is roasting in the sweltering heat! I am sickened by the thought, but am unable to help her. AJ spent half the day trying to fix her AC, and I have posted an ad on craigslist in search of some window units. If I can’t find something in the next day or two, I will have to call social services and see about getting a case worker assigned to her. I feel like such traitor, but I don’t know what else to do!


The garden is pretty weak. The pepper plants are hanging in there. The stevia is doing OK (although, I’m not sure what stevia is supposed to do). The weedy greens like Okinawan Spinach, Purslane and Amaranth are doing great, while the green onions and basil are limping along.That’s about it for the Oasis, as the nematodes have decimated everything else.



O2 is not doing much better. I have harvested quite a few Jalapeño peppers, and another, smaller pepper given to me from my cousin Alan. The Culantro continues to produce, as well as the rosemary. Because of the nematodes I have all but abandoned the garden. AJ has taken over with planting pineapple tops (mostly donated by our neighbors, Jane and Barry.) The pineapples and the sea beans seem to thrive, no matter what. The sea beans are a wild native ground cover that produce pretty, round leaves and purple flowers. As you can see in the photograph, they have filled up the trellis and are doing a good job of blocking the view of “Hoarder Haven”.


Well, that catches me up on the park business. I have one more post to share the recipe of a hot sauce I made today. I’m not too shy to admit that it might be one of my best concoctions, yet!

Come back tomorrow for that recipe. Better yet, come on down for a taste of the real thing!

Creature Feature

6 08 2010

In my last post I alluded to a mystery creature that we found in the lagoon last Saturday.

We are both fascinated by aquatic creatures, and both aspired to be marine biologists as children. So, when AJ pointed out an interesting hole in the sand bar, we were intrigued. As we continued to snorkel, we observed a handful of these perfectly round holes. The largest one I saw was approximately 3″ in diameter.

Most interesting was that the holes appeared very deep and resembled underwater volcanoes. It was obvious that a good-sized creature had created the mound when excavating its den.

Not long after AJ and I had met, we took a trip down to the Florida Keys, where we went snorkeling together for the first time. I recently found the photos from that trip and almost had a heart attack when I saw a particular photo of myself holding a huge, live cone snail. I’ve since learned (thankfully not the hard way) that this was a terrible idea. One sting from a cone snail, and you are pretty much a goner. There is no anti-venom for the deadly poison of this mollusk. I unwittingly escaped a painful demise on that day; and have since developed a high level of respect for sea critters.

So, when we found these mysterious volcano-shaped holes, last weekend, we were cautiously curious. I did drop a pinch of sand into one hole and could vaguely make out what looked like a prehistoric monster peering up at me. It looked almost like a disfigured lobster or a strange crab. I doubted that it were either of these, though; as its body shape had to be conducive to the perfectly cylindrical excavation.

Later, AJ found a remnant of a creature near one of the holes. This led us to believe that either the resident or its prey was some sort of crustacean. If you know me at all, then you will probably have guessed that I spent a good hour or so on Google that night. I did finally ID the creature.

I’ll show you the remnant AJ found, and will give you one hint. “I am very glad I did not have the opportunity to pick up one of these bad boys.”  If you want to guess what it is, stop at the picture. I will post the answer below.


What does this look like to you? I started by searching for crabs, because it is hinged and looks like a bizarre crab claw. To his credit, AJ had suggested what it reminded him of, but at 2″ long, it seemed large for a shrimp part. We ran the gamut from crab to lobster to horseshoe crab, but nothing seemed to fit.

Finally, I remembered what AJ had mentioned and searched “Mantis Shrimp”. Sure enough, we had a match!

I’m not positive, but it seems that we came across Squilla empusa. If you are really interested, you can search this character and find out all the sciencey stuff about him. Otherwise, here is a quick breakdown:

Mantis Shrimp are neither mantids, nor shrimp. They are stomatopods, and are related to crabs, shrimp, lobster and even the roly-polies you find in the garden.

After reading a bit about Mantis Shrimp, however, I think I’d prefer a crab pinch over the damage done by the claw AJ found. Stomatopods are distinguished by two types of claws “Smashers” or “Spearers”. Smashers have a club-like claw and use blunt force trauma to disable their prey, Spearers, well, “spear” their prey with the appendage pictured above. I can attest that this device is very sharp. This is one critter you don’t want to piss off! They are commonly known, by shrimpers, as “Thumb Splitters”, as just about every shrimper has encountered a Mantis Shrimp injury. When AJ and I were in the shrimp selling business, these primitive creatures would occasionally appear in the bags with our stock. I was fascinated enough to take a photo of one (although I cannot find it now).

Mantis shrimp make one of the fastest movements of any animal on earth. They make a “popping” sound as the movement of their claws is as fast as a .22 caliber bullet and creates a sound wave which causes the cavitation of air bubbles. The bubbles “emit light and produce heat in the range of several thousand Kelvin” as described in this article “The Science Behind Stomatopods”. Although admired and collected by some, they are generally thought to be a nuisance by aquarium enthusiasts, as they decimate the other inhabitants, and can even break the aquarium glass with their powerful strike.

As a foraging enthusiast, the trait I find most interesting is that these creatures get as large as 12″ long and are said to be delicious; with a flavor resembling lobster.

With our new found knowledge we will be aware of these feisty critters and will stay poised for the opportunity to grab a couple of them up for gastronomical experimentation.

Broiled Mantis Shrimp, anyone?