Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A cool tool for opening coconuts

A few months ago, I saw one of these simple and efficient little gadgets used to open coconuts, and knew I needed one. I have four highly productive coconut palms, but we don't benefit from their fruit because it's such a hassle opening them up. (We once resorted to an electric drill, which, while successful, made a mess of the bit. And no way am I employing the traditional machete method).

These are made in Brazil and were being sold on eBay for $25. The business end is pushed into the coconut (where it attached to the stem), twisted and pulled out.

I asked for one for Christmas and it just arrived (better late than never), but I have yet to actually try it; I can't reach any of the ripe coconuts and none have fallen in the last couple of days. Stay tuned ...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A plant commits suicide

This has nothing to do with the freeze...

Some time ago, one of my variegated crinum lilies stopped producing chlorophyll, resulting in all-white leaves. They got a viral infection, and the plant died.

Before it changed, it had produced several pups that I planted around the garden. The first two photos are of one of those mature pups. The third is of a healthy plant.

It must be some genetic trait, but it won't be passed on since I don't plan to take any more pups.

What a shame, though. It was so beautiful before it went downhill, a bit like a consumptive Victorian heroine!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Garden Goddess

It occurs to me that perhaps my garden was spared the worst of the freeze through the good offices of my Garden Goddess!

I found her, with her lovely Rubenesque torso, at my favorite thrift store and got her for $20. (She's about two feet tall and made of plaster.)  Then, a month or so ago, I found a pedestal carved from local limestone at an estate sale (another $20 and a real find). So, I found a place under an oak, not far from a lute-playing cherub I found at another estate sale, and placed her on top of the pedestal. That's when I named her Garden Goddess. She reminds me of the Venus of Willendorf or the Venus of Moravany, although she may not like being thought of as that old!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The fastest creature on Earth

Taking the dogs for a walk this afternoon, a mourning dove, pursued by a bigger bird, flashed past just above my head in an avian dogfight. They were so fast that I barely registered their presence before both had disappeared into some trees. Given the speed, I assumed the pursuer was a peregrine falcon. That was confirmed seconds later when the falcon pulled up rapidly a few houses away, clearly showing its grey back and the distinctive wing shape of a true falcon. Whether the dove escaped, I couldn't tell, but it was an exciting moment of birding for me. (The only other falcon in S. Florida is the tiny American kestrel.)

Peregrines have been clocked at speeds of  200 mph when they dive on unsuspecting prey, thus making them the fastest creature on the planet. In pursuit of prey, as in this case, they can fly at nearly 70 mph. Doves fly fast, too, which is why both whizzed past at such speed.

(I found this photo on Wikipedia. It comes from a US government agency, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and is thus copyright free.)

A backyard snake

I often spot a brown water snake (Nerodia taxispilota) sunning itself close to the canal, but this is the first time I've seen one right in my backyard. I think it must have been searching for a nice warm paver since it's still relatively chilly. This one is a juvenile; adults are much longer, getting to five feet or more. It didn't move a jot while I was taking photos.

The fact that brown water snakes are completely harmless doesn't prevent them from routinely being beaten to death by frightened humans.

There are only six species of poisonous snakes in Florida:

  • Southern copperhead, only found in the Panhandle
  • Cottonmouth/Moccasin, found near or in water throughout the state
  • Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, found throughout the state, including the Keys
  • Timber rattlesnake, found in the northernmost counties
  • Dusky pigmy rattlesnake, found throughout Florida
  • Eastern coral snake, found from the northern Keys and north

The most common South Florida snakes, such as the black racer and ringneck, as well as the brown water snake, are harmless, but if you don't know your snakes, it's always a good idea to assume they can hurt you. That doesn't mean killing them; it means just steering clear. 

The University of Florida's Museum of Natural History provides good identification  information if you want to know more.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Seeing the garden after the big chill

I was out of town last week when the coldest nights for a couple of decades hit. My first reaction on seeing the garden was that there was much more light that usual. All the non-native trees are losing  their leaves, which, according to my husband, only started happening on Saturday. Unlike fall in temperate climates, these leaves are still green so the trees have dropped a ton of nutrients. I'll leave them to break down in place, and I hope the roots take back most of what was lost. New leaves will appear soon, so I'm not worried.

My natives, the oaks and mahogany, don't seem to be affected at all, but they may simply take longer to show stress. The avocado's response was to drop  its remaining fruit. There's so much that even the squirrels can't get to it all.

My next reaction was, "Phew!" Although there is plenty of damage, most plants should recover. Even the orchids my husband left attached to tree trunks are better than I expected. I'm attributing this to two things: First, the wind came out of the northwest and directly over the lake, and that may have had an ameliorating effect on low level plants. (There's more damage higher up.) Second, the red pavers, which cover much of the yard as paths and sitting areas, may have retained and released sufficient heat to keep frost at bay.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Cold damage: First report

It didn't get below 38 here (phew), and so far, everything looks okay. The cattleya and dendrobium orchids growing together on a coconut palm took the full force of the wind blowing across the lake and seem none the worse for it. However, if there is damage and rot sets in, it won't show up for a while. The only thing that does show damage is the basil, which has wind burn. Go figure.

And there was a lovely surprise, too. One of the gardenia plants, that's been in bud since well before Christmas, has started opening its flowers. I would certainly have expected them to drop because they are usually cold sensitive. It's possible that the reddish colored pavers soaked up enough sun in the daytime to release a little welcome warmth. And they were out of the worst of the wind, too. My camera doesn't like anything white, so forgive the poor photo.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Raining iguanas? Really!

To paraphrase humorist Dave Barry, "I was not making it up." The Herald finally got around to putting something on the Web. Here's the video.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

It's raining .... iguanas??

The AP has a story about the cold in the South, ending with a couple of paragraphs about iguanas, stupefied by the cold, falling out of trees. It happens most years in these parts. It's one of those things that goes with cold weather and always makes us laugh. (Well, they don't belong here, after all.)

A couple of years ago, one of The Herald's photographers had been dispatched to take pix and he came back with a bright green one, about 14" long, in his pocket. It was just beginning to revive in the warm newsroom.

I forgot to check the neighborhood this morning for any on the ground, but in the meantime, here's a picture of the monster that lives on the other side of the canal where he suns himself at the top of a tree and wards off all rivals.

American kestrel

If you spy a bird perched on the tallest branch, pole, spire, or similar, in Florida's winter, the chances are good that it's an American kestrel. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology reckons that this little bird is about the most colorful raptor on the planet. Its call, a quick high-pitched "kee kee kee," is unmistakable once you hear it. I took this photo yesterday close to my house.

Spanish moss For Mr. Brown Thumb in Chicago

Blog follower, MBT, commented that he likes Spanish moss, so here are some pix I took yesterday with the sun shining through. It was a gorgeous sight. Incidentally (and as I responded to his comment), in most of the South chiggers live in Spanish moss, so it's risking handling it. For some reason, South Florida's Spanish moss is chigger free and safe to pick up. I've got it hanging off a young oak as well as dripping off orchid containers where it proliferates in the sun.

Urban hens

These ladies, who look like Rhode Island reds, live about a mile from me. Four hens should provide a family of four enough eggs plus some for the neighbors.

Before moving to the US, I'd kept "Rhodies" in England where I remember letting them out of the coop on frosty mornings. Their feathers, all plumped up, were sometimes glistening with frost. They might have preferred this climate.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Miami (temperature) blues

Brrr! It's even chilly in Havana! While this may be a subject of mirth to those familiar with snow, hard freezes and below-zero wind chill temps, it's a serious problem for those of us who grow cold-averse plants. (There's a reason you don't see snow on coconut palms.) The Miami office of the NWS put out a statement earlier today saying this might be the longest cold spell for 15-25 years. Already, my aglonemas have keeled over from a combination of strong, cold wind, low temps and, I suspect, rambunctious dogs; these plants are usually dense, upright, and beautiful.

Most of the plants in my garden, including the orchids, will survive temps that fall into the low 40s for a night -- or even two, as long as it warms up in the daytime. But this week, with yet colder weather forecast, look like a disaster in the making. It doesn't help that I'll be out of town for a week leaving my husband, who has limited skills -- and even less interest -- in maintaining the garden (although he does appreciate the results of my efforts), to institute an "action plan" to prevent a calamity.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Winter in Miami

It's always odd to see Miamians wrapped up against the winter cold, and it must be a real shock for tourists expecting to prostrate themselves before a hot sun on the beach, but it is cold today and will be colder tonight with a freeze warning for interior regions of Broward County (Fort Lauderdale) and north. It's been more than 20 years since downtown Miami had a frost; I remember ice on the bird bath. It killed so many precious plants.

Today, it's grey, matched by the oak and Spanish moss above, but I came across one glorious bright spot out on my bike ride with Sparky the dog. It's one of the most colorful crotons I've seen, beautifully framed by the silver grey leaves of a young Bismarckia noblis palm.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Violence of the palms

                     These were inspired by the photos taken by my teacher, Lama Karma Chotso, who happens to be a terrific artist and photographer. Notice the lethal edges.

Welcome, 2010!

Happy New Year to you. And may it be better than 2009.

Here's a view from the back garden shortly after midnight.