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.

Bay-Bean-Flowers

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).

Bay-Bean

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.

Bay-Bean-Flower-Closeup

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.

Bay-Bean-Plant

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.

Lizard

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.

Jalapenos

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.

Smokey

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.

Oasis

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!

Mangos

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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.

Kym2


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-&-Kym

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.

Cokey-&-Marie





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.

Last-Bloom

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.

Hoarding

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!

Lingering

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.

Oasis-080610

Oasis1-080610

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”.

Trellis

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.

Mystery-Critter

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?





My End of the Bargain

6 08 2010

In case anyone has forgotten, the winter of 2009 was miserable! RVs stay toasty warm with their liquid propane heaters employed. Toasty warm,  provided you can afford to refill your tanks every week. Since we were broke, with a healthy topping of cheap, our RV did not stay toasty warm.

Somewhere in the midst of a bleak week in February, I hiked up my wool socks to close the gap of bare leg exposed by my flannel pajama bottoms that shrank in the dryer, wrapped my “warm fuzzy” blanket tighter around my shoulders and made a promise to God.

“I swear, I won’t complain about summer at all. Give me whatever heat you’ve got. Give me the blazing sun and stifling humidity over this bitter cold, and I will make the best of every moment! I promise that I will go outside and play in nature. Just please don’t give us another winter like this one!”


I’m holding up my end of the bargain. Let’s see if the big guy comes through this winter.

In the spirit of being true to my word, AJ and I went snorkeling again, last Saturday. The ideal conditions are so rare that we were compelled to take advantage of the crystal clear water and light wind.

We drove to the boat ramp in Sebastian to put in. We watched the family ahead of us as they lowered their boat and prepared to board. On this gorgeous day, surrounded by bountiful nature, I witnessed something I see all too often, and which induces more anger each time: As she walked down the ramp towards her boat, a woman took one last drag from her cigarette and flicked it down onto the pavement. In my observation, this is an acceptable practice amongst many smokers. I have called people out on this in the past, and would have done so, had I not been too far away to catch her before they motored away. I quelled my disgusted rage and realigned my state of mind in the direction of positive thoughts. I did promise myself that I would deal with this at a later date.

Advice often given  by my pal, Doug, came to mind “Seek Understanding”. So I thought to myself “I could put together an educational flyer, with visuals, expressing the crappiness of throwing your cigarette butts on the ground.” Maybe my understanding would come easier if I could help them understand. I envisioned illustrating how they get washed into the waterways and eaten by wildlife. I imagined a nice explanation of how fire works and what happens when fire comes in contact with plants that haven’t seen a drop of rain in a month. The imaginary flyer kept me occupied for just long enough to burn off some of the anger, before it occurred to me that these clowns would probably just throw that on the ground, too! Oops, sorry Doug! I did change it to “clowns” instead of what I first wrote.

Next I decided to go on craigslist and post my thoughts on the community page. That idea soon lost its appeal. It wasn’t until I started typing this post that I remembered I have my own soapbox. Approximately 10 to 15 people per day find my blog by searching keywords. So, maybe with the enticement of some pretty pictures, I can lure some of them into reading my rant. I’ll keep it short and sweet:

For the love of God, butt-chucking smokers! Put some thought into what you do with your nasty cigarette butts. I assure you that I do not want to step on them, I do not want to eat fish that have eaten toxic sludge filled cotton balls, and I sure don’t want to move because you burned down my neighborhood! Put half as much effort into how you will dispose of your butts as you do in getting the money to pay for your cigarettes and we should all be happier! End of rant.

Are you still with me? Great. Let’s look at some pretty pictures of the place I prefer to find free of cigarette butts and other trash.

AJ drove us out to the Sebastian Inlet. Conditions were so calm that we were able to go out into the ocean with our little dinghy.

AJ-Driving

Approaching the Sebastian Inlet Bridge, facing east.

SIB-from-West

The fishing pier was full. I always feel a little sorry for those people who don’t have a boat. Although, not too sorry. They are in paradise, after all!

Pier

Facing the beach and north side of Jetties.

Sebastian-Jetties

The Sebastian Inlet Bridge, looking west from the Atlantic Ocean. AJ calls those clouds “Bahama Clouds”. Pretty sure that is not the meteorological term, but it works for me.

Seb In Bridge

Back in-shore and past the sand bar where everyone congregates in the Indian River Lagoon. We like our private sand bar much better.

Sand-Bar

Our private sand bar, plush with sea grass and lots of little critters to explore.

Sea-Grass

AJ couldn’t wait to jump in the cool, refreshing water!

Squinty

Not so fast for me. I had to fight with the insoles of my water socks for five minutes!

Rox-in-boat

Finally!

Rox-in-Lagoon

Hours later, still snorkeling. All those white parts are now peeling!

Rox-Snorkel-2

These guys know how to party. They have a table, umbrella and lawn chairs on their private sand bar. I’m pretty sure they were enjoying adult beverages, too.

Sandbar-Party

One last swim before heading home.

Feet

AJ-Swimming

Another lovely day in the lagoon. Proud to say that I’m keeping up my end of the bargain!

Check back for my next post about the mystery critter we discovered during our adventures.





Outing on the Indian River Lagoon

3 07 2010

Hey, I’m caught up to just two weeks ago.

Conditions were ideal, so AJ and I went out in the boat and snorkeled on a sand bar. It was gorgeous. The water was clear, and we found a couple of spots all to ourselves.

This whole area is about waist deep. The dark sections are sea grass, and teeming with life.

Lagoon

Diver-Down

It’s hard to look dignified with a mask, snorkel and wet hair. I am officially a “Dorkeler”

Dorky-Snorkeler

The Indian River Lagoon is an important estuary that is used as a nursery by many sea creatures. When we snorkel, we like to take an unofficial survey of what we find. Aside from the things we caught, we saw a manatee, a barracuda, a large cobia and thousands of colorful little bait fish, which schooled around us as we floated. Surely they viewed us as some handy pieces of flotsam, beneath which to seek shelter.

Here is a sea urchin I found wandering across the sandbar.

Urchin

A shy hermit crab.

Hermie-2

And a gangly spider crab, who was not keen on having his photo taken.

Spider-Crab

AJ can manage to still look cool, even when snorkeling.

AJ-Snorkeling

You’ve got to keep an eye on him, though. When he gets in nature he takes “au natural” literally. There were no boats within viewing distance, so he got a little extra sun where the sun doesn’t usually shine.

Ricketts-Moonfish

AJ caught the tiniest, most adorable little tripletail. These fish grow up to be quite ugly and very tasty.

Tripletail

With his experienced eye, AJ noticed the telltale star marking of sand dollars buried in the sand. I was quite surprised, as I didn’t realize they were so plentiful in our lagoon.

Baby-Sand-Dollar

Looking to the East, towards the inlet.

AJ-in-Boat

Here is a typical view to the West on any summer afternoon. That large beige box is the big, ugly marina. Our park is right next to it.

Sailboat

After we got water-logged from snorkeling, we cruised over to an island by the inlet and had “Happy Hour” in our beach chairs while watching the boats go by.

Whaler-Side

Beach

A wonderful day in a wonderful paradise. Times like this remind me why we live here and love Sebastian so much!





Playing Catch-Up

3 07 2010

I feel as though I’ve left a bunch of loose ends on this blog. I’m sure that I’m the only one who cares, but I’m doing my best to tie them up. Here goes:

Miss Carrie and the Giant Electric Bill

Miss Carrie is doing fine (see this post for context). The assistance program covered not only her past due electric bill, but they matched the amount of her credit. I assume this is what happened, because she now has a credit of $250.00. It has been difficult to get her to understand that she won’t have to pay her electric bill for about one year. I guess that she’s had this large credit since February, and has been paying her monthly bill, regardless. We’ve had to explain this to her numerous time, and I’m still not sure that she isn’t sending them payments. I am very grateful to Tom at FPL for taking a personal interest in her case and making sure that her power did not get turned off while we sorted things out.

AJ got her a nice, new water heater for free. Frank (the park manager) donated his time to install it, and Captain Kym’s wonderful lady (Marie) was so generous to pay for the materials.

Carrie also got an increase in her Social Security check (I’m assuming as a result of the phone calls we made). She still won’t wear the clothes I got her. When I ask, she says they are “really nice”, but continues to wear the old ones, with rips and stains. Oh well. I guess you can’t win them all.

Visitors

We’ve had some great company including AJ’s friend Nelson and his son, AJ’s Mom and her fiancee Mark, AJ’s dad and his wife Caroline, my dear friend Kim and my other dear friend Christy. As always, lots of great food, beverages and conversation.

The Garden

I’d give the garden a solid 5 out of 10. A few things are doing great, but many are not. The nematodes are winning most of the battles. The whole endeavor has become a testing ground for which plants are nematode resistant. I’ve had some interesting results, which I’ll share in a later post; as well as a depiction of what happens when you grab the wrong sprayer when treating the plants.

Work

Work is going great. We have finally gotten the wolves away from our door and are working at paying off our debts to family and credit card companies. As the economy continues to falter, we are seeing that bars are hanging in there. I suspect that people will continue to drink until they haven’t a dime to spend.

OK, enough of that half-hearted attempt to get caught up. Please move along for a more interesting post about our recent outing in the lagoon.