The Returning Hedges of Wilton Manors

Running around town we’ve started to notice some rather interesting things.

Way back in the day, when we were all younger and more spry, South Florida had a lot of hedges of a specific type.

You would go by a bank or a shopping center or some such and you’d look down at an impenetrable knee level green wall.  They were typically Ficus Benjamina, the Weeping Figs that people would have in a pot up North that would grow quickly in summer and mope all winter. 

They shape incredibly well and if  unmolested, they’d grow quickly.

The problem was that over the last few years they got molested.  Badly.

If you want to see the results of what happens when mankind gets things wrong with the environment, South Florida is a great place to see it.   We’ve got waves of invasive species like Curly Tail Lizards, Iguanas, Ball Pythons climbing the walls and making a mess of things by eating up the plants that belong as well as the ones in the gardens.  For an Iguana, a Hibiscus is “crack”.

Hibiscus hedges were once popular too, in fact the Fountainbleu Hotel on Miami Beach had a spectacular hedge that would have these beautiful red blooms that pop out here and there.  For a snowbird, this was mindbending.

One of the waves of invasives were these mites that attacked the Ficus and basically turned them into stick figures.  Since people planted these trees in clusters and hedges, the mites would go from one tree to the next devastating the growth.   Homes would become visible from behind walls of green that had disappeared.

Treatment methods were fairly severe.   You would have your plants sprayed monthly to save them, but for the most part people would let the mites go at them and pull up the remnants.

Natural Selection being what it is would leave a tree here and there alone standing its ground as its neighbors disappeared.

When winter happened, the mites weakened, and if we’d get a cold snap of a night into the high 30s, many of those nasties would simply die.

Fast forward a year or two and things have stabilized.  The mites are a food source for other insects, the climate here isn’t quite perfect, so the good news is that these plants are rebounding as well as the rest of the environment.

Sometimes Mother Nature just figures things out.

Now if we could just get a good solid cold snap this winter of a couple nights a degree above freezing it would get rid of some of the rest of those creatures that don’t belong.

No, I’m not talking about snowbirds, but… Hmmmm….

Iguanas, Whitefly, and hoping for an early Winter

Welcome to South Florida.

We have many migrants to these lands, some welcome, others not.

Have you ever walked back to your porch and stared directly into the red eye ring of an Iguana that was six feet long and munching on your prized Bougainvillea?  I have, and I have written about them frequently.  They’re back and running through the yard.

The latest migrant coming in from Miami is something with a tongue twisting name of the Rugose Spiraling Whitefly.  I think they’re here already in Wilton Manors and making their way North.

Like most, their numbers will be reduced if we get a good long cold snap.  The previous wave of Whitefly that went after the Ficus turned the hedges into sticks on most plants.  Plenty of spraying cut their numbers back, the cold weeks of February that went as low as 34F/1C did most of them in.

What happens here is we get a cold week in February just like everyone else.  Statistically it is the second week of February.  It won’t freeze here but it does have some interesting effects.

It sees flocks of birds of a strange variety flying in to thaw their bones.  They come in from Northern places like Philadelphia, Chicago, Montreal and other cities and clog our roadways.  Yes, the Snowbird.  But the Snowbird’s effect is (somewhat) beneficial since they are an engine and boost to our economies.

Despite how they drive on the roads…

In the natural world it tends to empty out some of these exotic species.  Most invasives are not quite used to near freezing weather, so while the natives and those of us who are naturalized like many of us can adapt, these can not.  The last wave of the other kind of Whitefly died off greatly and that allowed the Ficus hedges in Broward county at least to rebound.

It also cut back the Iguana population to where we had them raining out of the trees.   My own Sea Grape tree in the back yard had 12 of them fall out of it when the tree was trimmed back last year.  Some survive and they come back later.

Personally I’m hoping they stay away.  They’re like having a vegetarian herd of stray cats running through your yard that shreds anything they like.  It’s not a case of share, its a case of they are like a lawn mower.

The latest wave of Rugosa Spiraling Whitefly may completely vanish if we get a cold enough snap but in South Florida, that is questionable. After all, the urban cores of Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and West Palm Beach are a few degrees warmer than just outside of downtown and the Keys are next door and always warmer.  That may be all they need to survive.

It’s a great advertisement for why the Government is completely correct in it’s agricultural inspection efforts.  Once in a while one gets by them, but for the most part it would only be worse if they weren’t stopping uninspected fruits and vegetables at the ports, and sending back exotic animals to their homeland.

(I hope)

The reason the Iguanas and the other animals exist in the wild here is because we brought them here as pets and released them.  Either accidentally or “on purpose” they got into the ecosystem and won’t leave.  Ball Pythons that may look “cool” in a home display aquarium will get loose and end up in the Everglades and eat up native species that are already under stress or endangered.

I shall take you home and put you in a glass prison and call you Monty.  No, thank you.

Parrots released have taken up residence in flocks all over Fort Lauderdale, and their calls are familiar especially when out on walks.  In fact, a Cherry Headed Amazon visited my property the day I went to look at it the first time.  I took That Particular Visit as a good omen but visits by exotics are typically disruptive.  Those same beautiful flocks of Cherry Headed Amazons that dine on the seeds of the Washingtonia Palms in my neighborhood are displacing native flocks of other types of Parrots and birds.

The Whitefly infestation this time won’t be quite as bad as the ones that killed off many of the ficus.   They will cover the leaves with a sticky goo that will turn moldy and drip onto everything.  The host trees won’t die, but they will look like they should have.  There are sprays that the cities around me are using to “control” these bugs, but that won’t get them all and it never does.   Hope for a good winter cold snap like I am.  I’ll gripe and grouse like all the other Floridians will but I’ll remember to watch so I don’t trip over falling Iguanas and be happy that the Whitefly infestation will be somewhat controlled naturally.

Electric Razors and the Disposable Society

Admittedly I am an odd character.

This society has moved so firmly away from “Mend and Make Do” as the British were told during the Second World War and the Austerity years thereafter, that here it is a rare person who knows how to fix something.

Getting my start as a toddler repairing my father’s 8-track player (remember those?), broken things became my playground.  If it was broken, a repair would be attempted since, after all, it’s already broken isn’t it?

Years of fixing radios, TVs and oddball household appliances earned me the curiosity that eventually worked its way into Computer Programming and Project Management.  If there was a piece of software, it could be fixed as well as enhanced.

Sitting here in the living room on a Poang Chair that had it’s upholstery replaced, listening to SiriusXM radio on an iPhone 3 that had a broken screen and worn out battery that were replaced, next to the dog who was a rescue from a no-kill shelter, there really is no reason to stop fixing things.

It is probably more accurate to say that the dog rescued me.  After all, she was fine, we were the ones who have benefitted from having her.

This morning, going through the ritual of clicking on and rejecting inappropriate job interview requests in strange places far from home, it was found.  A new electric razor.  The market price for this particular model is $35 in the South Florida Area so it was a good price at $25.

The curious thing was that instead of being able to get the blades themselves at a price cheaper than the whole razor, the razor is cheaper.   Coming with a new blade, the economic choice was to pull out the credit card, go deeper in debt by $25 and change, and get a new razor.   Never mind that the NiCd batteries in these razors will last for the life of three blades before getting annoyingly short.  Never mind that you can shock a NiCD battery back to life with “high current at a high voltage”.   The blades cost more than the entire item.

Replacement blades are around the same quality as the razor itself, so why buy those when the whole unit costs as much.

Basically it goes against my “mend and make do” mindset and there was a pang of Green Guilt as the Checkout button was clicked on that razor.  Shouldn’t be that way, but it is.  One more step further into the Disposable Society. 

There’s a nice collection of these razors in the bathroom vanity.  They have become surplus and diseconomic.  At some point, a visit will be paid to the local flea market with the number for the blades in the back of the mind.   Hopefully there will be someone with a cache of those blades at a more reasonable price. 

In the mean time, the radio in the kitchen still works.  That was repaired after someone tossed it out, batteries still in its compartment and the batteries are still good.  It sits next to the Glider Rocker and the matching Ottoman that were recently cleaned to make them acceptable for someone since they were replaced by a perfectly good second Poang chair and matching Ottoman.

Need one?  What do you have to trade?  We’re so very wasteful these days…

Indoor Livestock in South Florida

It started on a visit to my Godmother, Kathie and her husband Larry for the holidays.   We had a pleasant visit, and after Larry excused himself for some business he had to attend to, we went out to their little secret garden.

Behind the house in Wellington, there is a back yard full of Bonsai and fruit trees.  It is a compact space that has Tangerine and Orange trees as well as some other beautiful plants.  They seem to have the same idea that I do, you can have beauty in your yard but you should be able to grow something that bares fruit even if you don’t get a chance to have any of it.

That Tangerine tree had on the order of 100 fruits this season, and I came home with a shoebox full of them. 

I also came home with some plant cuttings.

My yard is quite full, but every time I get a cutting from someone I care about I am able to look at the plants and think of them fondly.  Remembering the times that I had when I got the cuttings that are now a tree is a nice way to remember your good times.

I have in the back yard a Trumpet Flower tree that has salmon flowers on it.  Nice plant but after reading the fear mongering that the local news paper said about how they’re poisonous, I’m afraid to go near it.  Many tropical plants have the same problem, they look beautiful but need to be handled with care.

The Trumpet Flower didn’t like the last cold snap and died back, and it died back last year as well.  If it makes it to next season I will be surprised.

Coming home with three plumeria cuttings as well as an unidentified cutting that was in the way of the walkway meant that I had to root the things.  In the two weeks, the unidentified cutting lost all its leaves and almost all of its green so I am afraid it will end up in the trash bin.  

Of the three plumeria cuttings, one has a leaf growing from it and the other two seem to be alive but unhappy. 

All of these are in water as well as some hybrid coleus.  I have a row of jars all three of which are rooting plants.  As the natural process of shedding extra leaves goes on, the water turns into a pea soup and has to be changed.

This is where the livestock comes in.  You see, this being Winter in South Florida, I’ve taken advantage of the cool breezes blowing through the house.  The last front that came through put us on the Northern side of the winds.  The wind isn’t coming from the ocean like it does in the Summer, and the land breeze is keeping us up to about 5 degrees F warmer than Key West.  The weather is backwards.  Metro Broward county is warmer than that of Metro Dade for some reason, and I suspect that is the water. 

All of that water that surrounds us in the Everglades breed Mosquitoes.  The little things are everywhere that aren’t sprayed.  They did spray here a while back, but of course that never gets them all. 

Unless your house is very new, your screens may be missing or have holes in them.  All it takes is for one female to find a tablespoon of water with a little bit of plant material in it, and you will breed bugs.

This morning we have killed six mosquitoes.  The usual trick is to have a copper penny in the bottom of the pots and I missed the ones with the plumeria.  So of course I emptied all the wrigglers into the sink, added a penny and started swatting mosquitoes.

(Make that 7, the little blood suckers are coming out of hiding)

So today when the neighbor stops mowing the lawn, I will open the windows and hope that they all end up in the back yard.  Wind blowing from the front of the house to the back will keep the little blighters banging their bug brains against the windows and hopefully they’ll just run out of steam.

Until then remember the helpful hint – copper bottomed plant pots or put pennies in the bottom of all of your “rooting pots” or else you will end up like I did.  I’ve got this big welt on the right knee and now I know where they came from!

Ok, those cuttings are getting planted TODAY!

The View from Inside of a Tropical Mayberry

I am involved in this City.   I have always said that I wanted to live in a small town, get involved, learn about my neighbors, do my own thing and help out where I could.  I guess I watched Mayberry on TV too many times but the idea of being able to go out to the river and fish and walk all over town, get intimately acquainted with everyone on the way seemed like the way to live a life. 

I never picked up a fishing pole in my life, but it is nice to know that I could.   The kids down the block go out to the Middle River, two blocks away, and have Family Time there fishing and have some success while doing it.  I watch the entire family, from the smallest to Mom and Dad walk past the house on the weekends using an old red wagon full of bait and fishing gear on their way down to the river spend some time and walk past the house on the way back home.  They almost always have a cooler with them, so I can imagine that this is their own little weekend picnic lunch. 

These folks are intimately involved with the upbringing of their children.  It truly is the way it should be, children get so much back from having parents take an active part of their lives.  Better than being parked in front of the TV watching old cartoons or playing the latest game on the console, these children are going out and seeing what life is about. 

I know I won’t see this scene today since their pickup truck rolled past the house early with the Air Boat in tow.   They will go out to the west side of the county and float around for a while doing some more fishing and having some family time, Mom, Dad and the boys enjoying the Florida Sun out in the Everglades.   This is more of the Journey being worth more than the Destination, but it is nice to know that people still get out and see the natural side of life. 

South Florida is densely urbanized.  In this part of the county, there are more than 6600 people per square mile.  Once you get past the western expressway, the Sawgrass, the urbanization abruptly stops and the River of Grass that is the Everglades begin.   Since that is a heavily protected environment, there will be opportunities for people to get out and experience it again in the future.

I used to have a river that ran past the house when I was small.  I’d get out and go exploring every so often, find myself by The Pond or back in The Swamp looking for frogs or turtles.  I didn’t have a very clear idea of what I’d do with them when I caught them so generally I’d just annoy them by moving them out of their home, take them to mine, then release them out by the river before nightfall.  We couldn’t eat any of the catch from those polluted waters so we didn’t bother fishing. 

I am glad children still do that sort of thing.  It makes me feel like my childhood wasn’t that out of the ordinary.  If you listen closely you may hear someone whistling a tune with a 10 year old boy walking by, fishing pole up on his shoulder as he heads back into town…

The Light’s On and Somebody’s Home – Picture

Can’t you just hear the 3 year old kid next to you tugging on your pant leg…

Mommy?  Why is that light on?  Its DAYTIME!

Specifically it was almost 6PM, rush hour.  As you can see, it was a brilliant blue sky, a bright South Florida afternoon.

So why is it on? 

Yeah, Kid, I was getting to that…

See the City of Wilton Manors was able to get these new “people centered” light poles put up on the Drive.  From Five Points down to the South End at Richardson Park, we have these beige poles that remind me of a Art-Nouveau-Repro light standard from the 30s brought back to date.  They’re all Metal, so they’ll stand up to the South Florida Weather, the lights are not your standard bulb, and they are much nicer looking than those evil looking Highway Lights that are all over the place. 

You know the Highway Lights that I’m talking about – the ones that were used as a design for the Martians in War of the Worlds in the movie back in the 50s?  I see those lights and my mind thinks they can come alive at any moment and shoot sparks at something to make it glow red then turn to dust… BOO!

These are lower, designed to make the light go where we are, to light our footsteps and show where we are to the traffic.  You know, since this is South Florida, it makes us a better target…

Maybe not but they work very well.  Three hours later, I was walking Mrs Dog past the Gables of Wilton Manors and noted that the sidewalks were very nicely lit, there were much fewer “dead zones” and the colors were truer than the ugly yellow Low Pressure Sodium Lights that we grew used to seeing in cities.

The light has been on for the last few days, and they were all on this morning.  The reason is that they’re all in their burn-in period.  They are required to be to make sure we don’t have any that just don’t work or are not installed correctly.  The ones that I have seen are all turned on.  

When the period has ended and they’re “normal”, they will all turn off at dawn, back on at dusk.  The sensors are set to save us some electricity in our bills as well as the bulbs being higher efficiency than the usual White lights.  They look like they could be a Halide or High Pressure Sodium lamp, but I haven’t been told.  The color rendering is excellent at night, we all don’t look like weird ghosts.

Another feature is that they’re centrally metered.  What you didn’t realize is that most cities pay an estimated bill.  Count up the number of lights you have, multiply it by a factor and pay so much.   That works if you use the old ugly lights but our new pretty lights being so high efficiency will save us money by our only paying for what we use.

One last feature – the bulb sockets are normal “Edison” sockets like the one in the table light next to you… if you don’t have a florescent light everywhere like I do.  This means that in 5 years when LED lighting becomes cheap we can unscrew the old bulb and put in a fancy-schmancy light bulb that will save us even more. 

That is why it’s on little girl.  We’re all happy now.  Lets go walk home, ok?

Parasailing at the Beach Picture

This morning, one of my Facebook friends, Norma, mentioned that she was going to the beach.  She had a friend up in Springfield, Mass that said he wanted to go too.  

I probably won’t go to the beach.  If I go out into the sun, I tan so fast that I’d end up looking like a surfer dude.   I don’t mind that, but when you’re interviewing for Project Management positions, looking like you spend your day sitting on the beach isn’t exactly the best thing for portraying your professionality.

On the other hand, we have a great beach.  I used to drive 1206 (yes exactly) miles from my place in Pennsylvania to this particular beach to do what these folks are doing now.  I’d lay out and bake and turn nut brown and come back and make everyone jealous.  I wouldn’t lay out flat on the ground here facing the street again though, the beach is angled fairly sharply to the water’s edge.  One time I hit the perfect storm of time of day, sun angle and my laying feet toward the street and managed to sunburn my sinuses.  I never want to go through that again!

Although this picture was taken in June, I would bet that the beach today will be just about as crowded.  There are no tarballs yet washing up here, no Kiss of BP’s Incompetence destroying the beach yet, and plenty of sand to lay out on.  This may not be forever since the Gulf Stream is only 8 miles off shore here.

If you’re planning on coming, now’s a good time to do it.  You can even go up and parasail like one person did in this picture.  I’ve wanted to do that but have always wondered how I’d taste to a shark.   It looks like a wonderful adventure, I’d have to take a camera up in a plastic bag if I went, but I think most likely it will just be a wonder rather than a memory – I’ll probably never do it.

Fort Lauderdale Beach at Sunrise Blvd

For most snowbirds, this is one of the first views that you get of Fort Lauderdale Beach.

The oil hasn’t gotten here, yet.

It is still clean, there are still people coming to the beach.  It is summer, and while it is what most people would consider hot, it has been hotter in the big cities of the Northeast. 

The summer isn’t the time most people expect to go to Florida, this is a “cold weather destination” – people come here when their own places are miserable and it is beautiful here. 

I call this our secret season.  This is when the locals come out to play and bring a few select friends.  The water is still blue and warm.  The breezes are still refreshing.  The sand still gets between your toes.  You can walk the beach without having to step over too many college kids from Michigan and Iowa and you can get a seat at any restaurant you like without too much trouble.

Sure it rained all weekend, but this is the Wet Season.  There are four areas to watch in the Caribbean Basin and the Gulf of Mexico, but nothing is going to amount to anything here yet.  It may later, but for now it is all clear.

After all, its nice to go outside dressed like that guy and walk out to the beach on a “Beach Day” and play tourist.  Millions have.  Millions will.

How do you start a Lawn Mower

I’d really like to know.

The problem with this mower is not that it is a dead machine.  The motor is strong, it will start.  The mechanisms are fine, however there is one wrinkle. 

It is old.

Specifically, it is an old Lawn Boy with a Two Motor that requires that you mix oil with the gasoline at a 40 to 1 ratio.  Not necessarily a problem so far because the world has used Two Cycle Motors for decades, if not centuries.

The problem is that with oil in the gas, the motors tend to be harder to start.  To combat the harder to start motor, there is a primer bulb on the motor somewhere that you are expected to squeeze once or more per run.  I have the same problem with the string trimmer that I use.   It has a bulb that you press, and it injects fuel and oil mix into the combustion chamber.

Normally they will start with little effort, however I have found that in order to start that little strimmer, I have to take the spark plug out and scrape the plug clean of deposits and then replace in order to get it to run.  It hasn’t run in a month because after a half hour of trying to get it started, I gave up with a stiff right arm.

The lawn mower eventually started after working its pull rope for about 10 minutes, but it resulted in our getting quite tired.   I’m sitting inside while someone else is mowing the lawn.

I’m thankful that the lawn’s getting mowed by that person.   My allergies won’t allow my doing it.

On the other hand, the problem isn’t the motor specifically.   It is that little bulb.  The thing cracked through years of use and needs replacement.  A small soft vinyl or rubber bulb that most likely snaps in place and costs a dollar or less means that this lawn mower will either have an expensive repair or it will end up being replaced.  Since it is running well at this moment, I don’t want it replaced. 

Hopefully the part will be easy to find.  It does reflect on our disposable society though.  I have a lot of appliances that through the years have been replaced.  Sometimes they have been patched together and gave many years of service like that lawn mower.  On the other hand, I am sure that if the TV or Stereo started acting up, I’d make a token attempt at a repair and out it would go.

The quality of equipment has not gotten appreciably better over the last few years, although over the last couple decades it has.  When all the manufacturing of electronics moved out of the United States, some got better some got worse. It all depended on country of origin.  

Now I look to see where something is made before I buy.  If I have a choice between Made In China and Made Anywhere Else, even if the Chinese made item is cheaper, I leave that on the shelf and look for something made anywhere else.  With people jumping off of roofs at the Foxconn Factory so we can have Apple Products, I think we may have to reconsider our priorities as well.   At this point, in the middle of the Second Great Depression, we have a good reason to step back and leave Chinese Junk on the shelf.

At least I have a good chance of repairing my lawn mower.  My Television Set won’t ever get repaired.

Hurricane Season Starts Tuesday

Ok, everyone, it’s that time again!

Time to listen to the media tell you to DUCK AND COVER!!!!

While the houses here are generally built much more solidly than they were up North, it does bear some consideration.  Nothing will survive an Andrew or a Katrina Event, but most hurricanes are not that powerful.

Hurricane Season is upon us and it gives us an excuse to prepare and repair

Everyone here hopes that it will be another gap between major storms like the 80s and 90s.  Fort Lauderdale area went approximately 20 years between major storms, then the season of 2005 that spawned Katrina, Rita, Wilma and stretched on until New Years 2006 happened.  We have had three relatively quiet years, nothing more than tropical storms that were merely Rain Events.  When the Hurricane Season of 2007 hit, we tried all of the shutters on the house, decided they were in good working order, and put them all back in the shed.  The next year, we merely bought food and water, and repeated that in 2009.

This year we won’t do anything different.  The books all say 3 to 5 days food and water.  Have Buckets for toilets and extra supplies stowed in case you really do have to evacuate.  There are more specifics that I won’t go into. 

They changed the rule of thumb recently to 3 to 5 days.  When I moved here the rule of thumb was a Week To Ten Days.  I then started listening to the Emergency Management Personnel here in the City and what the “Old Timers” had to say about prior storms.  When Hurricane Wilma came through and turned the infrastructure into Barney Rubble, the power on my block was out for two weeks.  There were individual homes that were out for a solid month. 

Wilma was such a slow moving and grinding storm that it convinced everyone here that things had to change.   First, the markets were required to have emergency back up generators.  Good idea in any rate when FPL has such a bad track record of providing clean power.  If you sit in my front room and listen to the music, through the course of the day you will be hearing a mechanical accompaniment.  That would be the addition of the relays in my power conditioner filtering out power spikes because some wire somewhere shorted something out and sent more voltage through than the system is designed for. 

Second, the stores setting up emergency generators resulted in some bright start somewhere getting a great idea.  Lets save money by not distributing Ice!  It was a given during the storms that trucks of Ice would be delivered to central locations and those who needed them could come and get bags of Ice to put in their refrigerator and freezer to try to maintain some cold food. 

This was done away with.  Basically you’re on your own and have to go to that store with everyone else and buy ice.  …if the stores have it.

Once the ATMs have run out of money you’re done with Ice because it is questionable that the phone system will be functional.  The cell towers are programmed to knock we the people off in order to give emergency responders priority.  The POTS Network that came to your house on a pole to feed a phone on the wall will be damaged and even if you have a “landline” service.  You may not have that after the coconut tree takes a header into the phone pole and the lines are now draped down into your swimming pool that is green from the algae that will be joining the mosquitoes that are breeding after a couple days.

There will be a sales tax holiday expected in June for certain emergency goods.  This will be when I go out and buy two weeks of food, a tower of bottled water, and fill up the Propane Tanks for the grill.  The reality is that even if they don’t have that tax holiday, a trip to the big box stores to stock up is in store.

Time to eat the rest of the frozen foods that you stocked up over winter, you will need the space.

I’m here to stay.  Will you be?  After every storm there is always a flow of people who pack up the U-Haul and go to places that are less dangerous in their opinion.  There is no place in the country that doesn’t have some sort of environmental disaster possible.  San Diego gets Earthquakes.  Hawaii gets Hurricanes and has Volcanos so there has to be Earthquakes there.  The North gets snow.  The West does not have enough water for the millions of people who live there.  Forget about Las Vegas in Summer.

We at least get a couple days warning when a Hurricane approaches. 

So it is time to prepare.  Think of it as spring cleaning.  You didn’t really want to eat that three year old can of Okra did you?