31 October 2013

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FOOD GROWING WILD
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One dish that Vina served last week was seijen “drumsticks”.   Seijen (pronounced say-jen, and I may be spelling it wrong) is a tree that just grows here.  Vina uses its leaves in her dhal soup. The English name for this is moringa.  I didn’t know there was anything else to eat from that tree.   Then Vina made the seijen drumstick curry.  When cooked, a drumstick is long tough strings that we suck the curried mush from.   Today a sweet neighbor boy came over to see if we still have some on the tree.  We did and here is a photo of his hands holding some of these things that do not look like they were meant for food.
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AT AN INDIAN CEREMONY.

I went with my neighborhood lady friends to the river where they had a ceremony to wash and bless a new Hanuman statue for their temple. We had to wait for the tour boats full of tourists to stop racing up and down our little stretch of river near the landing.  I guess we looked picturesque in our saris on the bank.  (I  can’t remember every having been a tourist attraction before.  Ugh! )    While waiting, I noticed a big thatch of light green vines mounded up growing together – no flowers.  I had a bad feeling.   Looked closer and there were thorns.     This was a weed that took over a field in Puerto Rico in one year, converting my short cut to my friend’s house into a no-man’s-land.   “Lantana?”, I asked.  The ladies were also really concerned.  “Not lantana,” one said, “Something else. It is bad.”  “Yes,” agreed another, “very bad.”  Then the ceremony started and distracted them. But because I did not understand the language, I was still thinking about the potential hell-plant just a few kilometers from our fields.
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10-31-13 stock mimosa invasive
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The actual name of the plant is mimosa invasive, and here is a stock photo.
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AT A FIJIAN CEREMONY
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We went to the 100 nights ceremony after the passing of the young man whose funeral we attended three months ago. We sat around for a few hours on woven pandanus mats in a room decorated with local greens and flowers.  As I waited to eat lots of nicely cooked local flora (various salads, eggplant, dalo, cassava, green vudi) and fauna (at least 3 chicken dishes, ocean fish, river kai),  the men conduced a lengthy traditional kava ceremony with the local root yaqona (yang-GO-na).  Some week I will dedicate the blog to yaqona as it is at the heart of Fiji culture.  Today I really just noticed how a fellow washed the grog out of the pounded roots in a cheesecloth bag, squeezing those soggy roots over and over and over … I thought, “These guys could really help their wives with the hand laundry if they ever felt like it.”   
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FEATHERED WATCHDOGS
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I have wanted geese since we had chickens stolen the first time. Habitual thieves know how to deal with dogs; geese on the other hand can be terrifying. We had a friend on Romanum in Chuuk who had tall aggressive honking geese – Whoa Nellie!   It’s taken a long time to get geese.  This week Austin  got 3 females and a male that we can keep here for breeding.  I asked him for photos.
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Phooey,  They are a lot smaller than the geese i remember in Chuuk.  Will they be scary enough?    Anyway, while Austin was taking photos, he also got some of his two species of ducks.
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MYSTERY OF THE WEEK
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Well, more of a discussion really
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Austin: What do you think ate this, Junia – myna or fruit bat?
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Junia;  Fruit bat.
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Austin:  Yeah – that’s fruit bat teeth.
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(So why didn’t you just leave it for the bat, Honey?}.
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10-31-13 honey eater KIKAU Cr
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NEW BIRD
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The honey eater has come to our property.  Its Fijian name is “kikau.”  They are native to Fiji and found only here (i.e. endemic).  They eat nectar and small insects – and they have a sweet song.
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PHOTO OF MOM
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Akka:  There is no photo of you on the blog, Mom – I’ll take one of you with the praying mantis.
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He took one with the mantis on my exceedingly scrunched up face – it would cause nightmares.   And the mantis looks better on my arm anyway.
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SHOUT OUT TO VICTOR
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This is Torsett now.   See how grown up he is!   He looks like Toto from Wizard of Oz, but nice and big.  He is a real sweetie, and his job is guarding the ducks, geese and fish at the fish pond.
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PS – Happy Halloween, everybody.

24 October 2013

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The bougainvillea in front of the new house is resplendent.  We’ve been building the house for over a year now, and maybe we will move in before another year has passed….. Fiji time.
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Sometimes I get pretty tired of being on the farm (I am a nomad at heart) but the sight of the bulbul in the coconut sapling, the bee in the whatsit flower, and especially the gaze of a warm puppy eye – they make me feel ok with my moment.  Here are some of the puppies getting into a bucket of commercial chicken feed.
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The pups are the age to give away.  The age that if they aren’t gone soon, they are going to end up under the car tires entirely by accident.  We’ve had sad experience with this, both in Guam and in Suva.   New Owners – come get your puppies!
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Months ago Austin planted a big circle, 20 meters (66ft) diameter, of pineapples on a newly flattened hill.  He also put big stones for the rising and setting points of the sun on the March equinox and also for the moon.  “Pinapple-henge”   Anyway, the pineapples are growing and the plants are so red! …. and could use a bit of weeding, I notice.
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You probably already know this, but pineapples grow nestled in the leaves, and they also grow a Hat that is the next pineapple plant.   When it is ripe, you eat the body – yum, yum – and plant the hat.
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You might think this is an unremarkable looking bug.  Akka says it is a Click Beetle.  He took this photo.   See the bright yellow spots on each side of the head part.  Those are not reflections of the flash.
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They are this click beetle’s little green lights.  It’s kind of a lightning bug but less bright and less twinkling.   Still, it is a bug light and we like it.   That IS the green light – but should be two spots.  There are trailers because the beetle moved.
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We’ve got zucchini!  Hooray – I really love zucchini.  Junia took me to the field to show me the plants.   The zucchini in the close up still has the flower on its head – see?  (I didn’t see until Junia pointed it out)
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Sister-in-law from Texas pointed out teeny flying insects on one particular section of a wind chime about 3 months ago.  We’ve been trying ever since to get a close up.
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Definitely flies – but sooooooo tiny!  What do they live on?  What are they doing here?  Why do they always hang out on that one small section of fishing line?
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KITTY UPDATE –  They both died!    Rest in Peace, nameless kitties.  Better luck next time, Betty.
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MUTATION OF THE WEEK     …is so icky I’m not even taking a photo – a chick embryo without the upper half of its head.   A little bit of chicken brain, the bottom half of a beak on top of a regular chick embryo body.  EEWWW.   Something for Halloween.
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READER FEEDBACK –  “You are the only person or family I have ever known who has kept a bat as a pet, but I like the big, furry so called fruit bats of Fiji. Besides they don’t carry rabies like the bats of NC.”     EW!  I forgot about rabies!    Luckily we don’t have rabies in Fiji –  but I just googled, and there IS rabies in Puerto Rico, where we raised Radar.  Dang!
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SOMETHING HAPPY TO END WITH
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My younger son and his beautiful wife planted this red-striped lily while they were living here, and now it is blooming.   Aww….    And for those of you who prefer Fauna with your Flora, here is a shot of the lily with Inu (ee-noo), our dog with the name that means “dog” in Japanese.
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17 October 2013

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If you only see what is in the store, you tend to forget that nature is not so uniform.   This week we got a really long duck egg (the big one), and another strange little chicken egg (the little one).
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These are Austin’s 50-egg incubators from the US.  Not so photogenic, even in good light.   But the egg shells outside are a hint that the incubators are in use, and that hatching is going on.
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Austin ordered two 1000-egg incubators from China and hopes to bring in heritage chickens from New Zealand.  because……
– the NZ hybrid meat birds sold here are really stupid and they suffer from their extreme growth spurt;
– the NZ hybrid egg birds are good for only one season and they suffer from not being able to repair their bodies (it has been bred out of them);
– the truly local birds (in Fijian “toa ni veikau’, in Hindi the “jangli murgi” ) are not so good for meat or egg production even though they are really intelligent as chickens go.
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The administrative hoops to import heritage birds are taking forever, so Austin is working on breeding local hybrids with what we’ve got here
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inside the incubator.  You can see a number of chicks have hatched.  The little partition is separating out a cohort of eggs due to hatch later.  All very low tech.   Sometimes the unexpected set is the ready one.
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Here is a close up.  Not only can you see the still wet hatchlings, but you can also see that some of the eggs are pipped.   The chick inside pecks out a breathing hole and then rests for a few hours, and then pecks at the shell more to finally get free.  It is important not to rush this process because the yolk sac finishes getting absorbed as the chick works at getting itself hatched.
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10-17-13 bat stock photo
10-17-13 bat stock photo 2
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The bats are back in the evening.  (confession: stock photos)   Even when I wasn’t blogging I was aware the last time the bats were here. These bats are really something – quite large, not put off by humans, and not pesty at all.   I suspect they eat insects, because why would they fly at sunset in order to eat fruit?   More questions:  Where did they go for months?  Why are they back now?
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In Micronesia we had a couple of fruit bats for awhile: one we let go, and one I forgot about and it starved (oops)  In Puerto Rico we raised a tiny orphaned leaf-nosed bat to adulthood – that was a great experience.   Austin brought home another fruit bat baby about 8 years ago, and I accidentally let that one get overheated to death in the car because I didn’t want to leave it home alone when I went to a funeral.   That marked the end of my bat-keeping  – but I am quite fond of bats and am happy to see them back in the neighborhood.
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Anyway, the only other thing I have to write about this week is tamarind again.   I told you the ladies take the seeds out of the tamarinds, but I did not say that I did it.  That’s because I sliced my thumb with the knife when I tried, and so I’d given up.   But there was a bunch of tamarind still here and so I gave it another try –  this time with a 4 inch nail.  It worked!   My occasional slips were not injurious, and the activity is down-right addictive.   All my many hours watching stuff on the computer were accompanied with a bowl of tamarinds to pip.  Fun fun fun.
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Monica got the homestay registered and Akka has put up a Facebook page – “Teitei Homestay”…. and so it is time for me to put up a Cast of Characters page on my blog.   You’ll see a new tab at the top when I get it done.
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Thumbnail poet butt
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10 October 2013

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“Austin, what kind of tree is it, above the pond, that has lost its leaves?”
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“That’s a teak, a white teak”
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So, ok, gang – this is a white teak.  I noticed it when two all-black mynas were having a chat in it.  Then I noticed no leaves – not the norm here.   Then I notice the flowers –  voila!
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It seems trees here lose their leaves when they are about to flower.  I like these flowers because they look like brown orchids with bright yellow beards.
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Photographing the tree, I noticed words carved in the trunk – oh the things I never notice on my property!   Showed this to Junia –
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and he recognized the names of two of the farm workers!   Ha ha – BUSTED!
(The old Pacific island custom was to carve your name on a coconut leaf.  Like a calling card and not so permanent.)
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We didn’t know Betty Cat was pregnant.  We’d been putting essential oil on her fur and thought we had kept the suitors away when she was in heat.  But on Thursday Akka noticed that Betty was pregnant again.  And on Friday she delivered a kitten.  And Friday night she delivered another
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MUTATION OF THE WEEK-
Baby boy kitty – orange.  Because he is a boy, we can find him a home.
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Baby girl kitty – gray.  Amazingly her paws are all straight.  Maybe we can even find her a home, we think… then we discover that she has a knot in her spine.  And she has an extremely hard time finding a teat.  Only 2 kittens and she can’t find a teat?
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At four days old the boy is nearly twice the size of the girl.   I like the little girl kitty, but will not give her a name.  I think she may not make it.
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REAL FARM STUFF
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Remember the abundant tamarind tree?  Well the last two weeks have been harvest week.  The photo above is from last week – we were taking the shell skins  off the fruits.  Four of us were shelling the pods for about 4 hours.
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This is some of the tamarind drying on sheets of roofing iron.
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Then we have to take the seeds out, the strings off, and roll the fruit up into balls to be stored until needed.   I normally share the tamarind with the ladies who help – but this is such a bumper crop year.  One of the ladies got her own huge sack to take home to process.  Three other neighbors have come over to get huge sacks.  There is at least one sack still on the tree.   The big hurry is to get it off the tree, now that it is ripe, before it starts raining.  Whatever gets rained on now will go moldy.
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LIFE WITH MY NATURALIST DEPT
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I overheard Austin on the phone   “No you can’t, a mongoose will eat it….. no, I told you a mongoose will eat it….  NO, don’t kill it!  It is endemic to Fiji and is a rare species….”

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I didn’t like the sound of this and yelled from the other room, “a WHAT, Austin?”
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He didn’t answer me.  He talked into the phone.   “I’ll come over now and get it.”
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“Get what, Austin?”  I asked.   Fifteen minutes later he was home with this.

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“Maybe I’ll put it in the roof to get the rat,” he says.
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We are not amused.
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Thumbnail poet butt

 

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PS –   HAPPY  FIJI   DAY

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3 October 2013

stock malabar chestnut for 10-3-13
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Guess who’s got a MONEY TREE !!

(confession – this is a stock photo, but we really do have the trees)

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Remember that nut tree that Austin recognized as edible from Palau when we were at a funeral on the coast a few months ago?  The same tree that he got about 10 free trees of?  Well, it turns out it is a Malabar chestnut – and it is famous in the orient as a “Money Tree”
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Austin and Junia got all the trees planted this week.  Now, let the good fortune roll in!.
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It’s raining – and I’m in love with the green.  The camera isn’t catching the beautiful light green against the blue sky, but I had to try.
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Here are freshly harvested limes.  I love the green.
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Here is a leaf that goes green to red – and I have no idea for the name of this green – but you can tell I am green obsessed right now.   Never mind.
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Akka found some old photos of insects here on the porch.  Here is a big beetle that was around last wet season.
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Here is an interesting moth that Austin found a few years ago.  The wings look like stained glass.
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This less-photogenic fellow is a blister beetle.  Akka just found him this week and stuck him in a baby food jar.  We’ve had experience with this insect since Micronesia days.  They engage in chemical warfare – squirting out a liquid that raises blisters on you when they feel threatened.
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A bunch of chicks hatched  few days ago.  Austin wanted me to put a photo of them in.  These are factory-fresh – still egg-shaped.
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Akka and I were driving home from town – and he pointed out a very fine looking horse.   The photo does not do him justice – such a shiny brown coat and such a luxuriant mane and tail.   You don’t see horses this good up the valley where we live.  After we oohed and aahed a bit, we realized that he and his extended family were in the middle of the road.
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Animals in the road are normal here.
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