Thursday, December 31, 2009

Winter Garden

Nice eggplants, eh? Well they are in their infancy but they are coming along nicely. The bush is another matter, it is far, far beyond infancy. Who was it warned me the plants might tip the Earthboxes over? The eggplant ("aubergine" to some English speakers) is doing it's best:
My wife wants easily accessible herbs so we threw some cilantro, rosemary, thyme and oregano close by.There's a tomato plant and a Cuban oregano lurking underneath the exploding zucchini:In addition to a couple of potted tomatoes we also threw a couple more into hanging planters which i strung up from the top of the water cistern/deck:
I am considering getting a couple more topsy Turvies next time we are at Target in Miami because I think we could usefully grow bell peppers in them too.
They just hang there impervious to iguanas and grow, conveniently facing south:
We put one bell pepper into an Earthbox next to the eggplant/aubergine monster and it is forcing its way through to sunlight.
The Earthboxes have worked a treat and they really do produce some strong growth. The only thing I don't like about them is that when it rains I still have to water them, but they go several days without watering even with monster plants like these. It's easy to fill their tanks and then just let them water themselves.We put a selection of lettuce in an Earthbox as well, and these are four plants overflowing even though we have been peeling leaves off for dinner regularly. We bought our plants form the guy who sells them at the Big Pine Flea Market. His plants seem suited to Florida conditions and they do a lot better than the generic stuff that is available at Home Depot. The other lettuce plants in the wooden planter I built last year are doing well. I've been spraying Iguana Rid madly and it seems to have worked. I started spraying early and though i did see a few mouthfuls bitten out apparently the capsaicin mixture works well because they have learned to believe these lettuce are not tasty for far so good.
My two pineapple shoots are weak but I should probably have put them in water before I threw them in the ground on a whim. The three strawberries I planted last winter yielded nicely and then started to take over the entire bed. I figured what the hell and now I'm looking forward to a meadow of blooms in a few weeks:My trees continue to grow, mango, sugar apple, avocado, pomegranate (Thanks Robert and Dolly) and a tangerine and key lime.It seems to be going a lot better this year than last. We seem to be figuring stuff out better so perhaps we aren't too old to learn. My coconuts are producing as usual and there are so many nuts lying around on the ground they are sprouting:I've thought about doing a Johnny Appleseed and hauling these nuts around and planting them at random. So, before you think this is the Garden of Eden let me remind people under snow that in summer things don't grow that well and that is a whole new chapter we will be working on. Last summer we went fallow but I hope this year with the help of Earthboxes to produce something year round. I can't wait for my wife to get back. When she gets home I get to commute on the Bonneville again. I miss it really badly but Cheyenne isn't settled enough to leave at home, crate or not crate and being a single parent sucks, let me tell you. I keep hosing the Triumph down to keep corrosion at bay but a ride would be nice.And to close the year we have the perennial view across the salt ponds towards Highway One and the Niles Channel Bridge in the distance. Imagine sitting here in my deck with a glass of plonk and a book, and a Labrador at your side. Who needs snow?
And look through the mosquito netting on the front porch- the moon is rising above the palm trees and it's full and I'm snug at home and not working. Let someone else deal with the loonies loose in the bars of Key West. I'm hunkered down in the suburbs, far from the noise, the bars and visitors. They tell you Key West is paradise, I tell you the outlying islands are. Prove me wrong.
Happy New year Everyone and let's hope we have better luck in 2010, whatever we want.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Honeysuckle Lane

Little Torch is just a couple of miles from my house (30 seconds by Bonneville) and i decided I could combine my after lunch dog walk with a bit of an explore. Cheyenne has been feeling the effects of sleeping in my car each night while I work and she was somewhat reluctant to leave the comfort of her bed but I think it was worth her while.Leeward-South was definitely worth it for me.The street is sort of paved with a hard surface overlaid by a sort of bitumen gravel, as though someone tried to asphalt it years ago and gave it up as a bad job. Usually these streets are mangrove alleys but here I found myself carried along by an incredible scent wafting across the street. It was all honeysuckle blossoms, everywhere, flourishing in the bright December sun.It was quite lovely and totally unexpected.I am not a botanist as I have made clear and I wouldn't trust my own judgment, but these fuzzy balls that smell so fragrant have been pointed out to me as a form of honeysuckle, but I've never seen an entire street lined with them. Cheyenne ignored the honeysuckle as much as she ignored a dead turkey buzzard, though I was quite surprised by her indifference to the deliciously ripe bird. She is a perfect dog.Behind the honeysuckle screen it was mangroves, thatch palms and impenetrable scrub as usual.The street runs straight to the west and opens into a little turn around with magnificent views across the red mangroves to the water. I know it's not the Sierra Nevada or the Mojave Desert but it has an air of solitude and wilderness that never fails to impress me even though the wilderness is frequently interrupted.
The channel was barely visible across the bushes and the sun beat down like an instrument of torture. Actually it was very pleasant yesterday afternoon, low sixties (17C), a light north breeze and crisp clear skies. What a perfect spot.
Perhaps what helped to make it perfect was the fact that the street is empty... ...except for a dog, a few trees and that lovely deep blue sky.
Alas alack there was a sign of human habitation all the same.Isn't it great, you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere and yet Waste Management will come by and do it's duty for this single solitary home splendidly ensconced on the end of this empty street.Granted it's a dry lot (no canal access) but what a great spot, this is a home where men can be men and beer can be drunk to the accompaniment of loud music and there's no one to complain. That was actually what they were doing under the house as I walked by, doing the beer boats and music thing. "...and she said to me what are you going to do with all these boats? And I said to her I've only got four, and I've had to work hard to get them!" It was like he was answering the question floating right through my brain at that very moment.As I strolled back towards the main road (State Road 4A) I spotted a white PVC pipe snaking off through the mangroves. Ooh I thought to myself, someone's growing dope in the mangroves! One is always ready to imagine the worst. Then I spotted the meter and guessed again. Why they run their official, legal water from here I don't know. We were closing in on the end of our walk when we came across Earl who thought Cheyenne was the bees knees and he sniffed enough to make her rear up and snap at him. I liked Earl, a big thick furred three year old who is owned by a man smart enough to agree that letting him off the leash would probably calm Earl down. Besides Earl had wrecked his extend-a-leash and they had to get resupplied with a fresh one to try to restrain the exuberant Earl for those occasions when he meets dogs less affable than Cheyenne.
We stood around and talked a bit, the usual laments about how the Keys have gone downhill. When I suggested things Up North had gone downhill further and faster he claimed his residence and I claimed mine and we sniffed around each other like two dogs. I first came down in 1981 on a motorcycle (I didn't tell him it was a 200cc Vespa)- so did he, and he had been here first so he could legitimately be the alpha dog. Just like the adorable Earl.
I like the Keys even today, even though they have changed. To live this well, this peacefully, in the 21st century is a privilege we shouldn't take for granted. I don't.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Fat Albert

It happens sometimes when giving directions and you mention "Blimp Road" in passing, that they think you are joking. "Uh, Blimp Road?" and you just nod your head sagely.It really does exist as you can see. It's a handy street not least because Mad Dawgz BBQ stand is right there, and this is the best barbecue in the Keys. Across the Overseas Highway my wife's "temple"crouches like a monument to physical fitness. it's called Pirate Wellness and is actually a very decent gym if you like those sorts of places (I don't). More obviously there is the Kickin' Back convenience store on the south side of the Highway, and that big white sign tells me I'm five minutes from home on my commute in the morning:
Blimp Road itself is home to the dump, now known as a transfer station, home to recycling and waste removal and all that good stuff (bring your used motorcycle oil for clean disposal) and also to it's namesake, Fat Albert:Blimp Road is couple of miles long and runs dead straight north from the Overseas Highway at about Mile Marker 21:
And the closer you get to the end of the road the bigger Fat Albert gets: And bigger (a telephoto lense helps):
I found a bunch of excellent info about Fat Albert on the Internet, and learned to my surprise that it is in fact part of NORAD, the US Air Force radar defense alert system beloved of movie makers. They say Fat Albert uses radar to detect smugglers but I had an experience when I wondered about that. I saw a smugglers' boat in a Stock Island marina after they had dropped off a dozen Cubans and had been located by the Coastguard and chased into Oceanside Marina. Cuban smuggling is big business these days as Miami Cubans will pay ten grand each to have their friends imported. Smuggled Cubans aren't allowed to stay so when they land they have to say their boat sank because if they come over on their own and land on US soil they get to stay, but if they are smuggled they don't (call your US representative if any of this doesn't make sense). So this smuggler's boat was docked and it was a 25 foot black inflatable with three blacked out outboards and I got to wondering if rumors that they use a heat seeking device on Fat Albert may not be true. That boat seemed like it would be really hard to 'see' on radar...

Be that as it may the blimp flies without any humans on board though it is piloted from the ground. I learned that when I actually met a former pilot, and though I was bursting with questions I refrained as it seems rather silly to ask a person about their involvement with something as secretive as NORAD...Anyway I learned on line that the helium filled blimp flies at 10,000 feet (3,000 meters give or take) and is 175 feet long (55 meters more or less) and 58 feet around (18 meters) and carries 1200 pounds (400 kg) of something mysterious called "payload." It is launched from a ground station visible across the mangroves:
And this is the ground station seen from the water:If you have any doubts about which direction the wind is blowing Fat Albert will point the way:At night you can see Fat Albert blinking red in the night sky. Not everyone sees it though and I seem to recall last year a small private plane took off from around here someplace and flew straight into the wire holding up the blimp. They say the wire has a 26,000 pound (13 ton) breaking strain and it didn't do the plane any good which spun out and crashed killing the people on board. The blimp kept flying until they retrieved it to check for damage. If you fly a plane, like a sailor you should check your charts. And look for blinking lights aloft:
Cheyenne was indifferent to the delights and mysteries of flying blimps. She is also not interested in the water and sticks firmly to dry land. Next summer I am planning on teaching her to enjoy the water.This is the view looking south down Kemp Channel toward Summerland Key on the left.
We have fun together. Awww!

This is the end of Blimp Road at the boat ramp:Just before you reach the end of the road there is a side street to the left but it's not open to the public:The turn off is exactly this far from the end of the road!
The exact cost of flying Fat Albert isn't made public as far as I can tell. But we do know that before Hurricane Wilma in 2005 a similar balloon flying alongside the NORAD blimp carried TV Marti anti-Castro propaganda at a cost to taxpayers of a cool $16,000,000 a year. And naturally the signal never got through as the Cuban authorities jammed it, but it kept the anti-Castro fanatics in Miami happy (and voting Republican in a keystone state). Now we are back down to one:Fat Albert is barely visible in this photograph but it is amazingly visible all round the Lower Keys in real life. It got separated from the ground once in the mid 90s and they had to shoot it down before it reached Cuba and nowadays it seems they have a remote control that can deflate the blimp and bring it to earth if it breaks loose again. One sign of impending strong winds is when Fat Albert is brought back to ground :Fat Albert may be costly but it is amazingly unobtrusive and life in the mangroves goes on as usual. If you stand right under the blimp you can hear it's steering propeller buzzing like a distant lawn mower on a summer afternoon. But out here it is silent and unnoticed:
TV Marti has thankfully faded away but Castro's in-laws, the Diaz-Balarts of Miami, who have pledged eternal hatred (a family value of course) still push for Radio Marti to send propaganda to Cuba and here it is at Mile Marker 15, an unobtrusive gated little road opposite Baby's Coffee: More taxpayer dollars being happily wasted to keep the Miami Mafia (as Castro calls them) happy. I listen to Radio Nacional on 950am (classical music) and Radio Reloj at 570 and590am (news headlines) which means I suppose I am getting a freebie from the Cuban government. Pity it's so boring! On the other hand I can't imagine how boring it is to be on the ground piloting the stationary blimp. The Cold War lives and demands its sacrifices I suppose.