Monday, October 24, 2011

End of Summer Woes

The end of the summer has brought a few problems this year that have not occurred previously. Over the years we have had relatively few insect problems in or out of the house, except for the constant no-seeums and other biting insects. We have suddenly been inundated with ants! I covered this problem in a previous blog but wanted to update my readers.

I checked on-line for natural solutions because of the fact that the ants were appearing mostly in food related areas. We read that if you put a line of dried hot red pepper flakes around, they would not cross the line made by it. Well, these ants apparently have not read the material that is being published, or they are Honduran ants and love hot stuff! Either way, it had no affect on stopping their onward progress.We also discovered that hot pepper flakes when mixed in water are not attractive to ants. We have small cups above each feeder filled with water to discourage ants from crawling down into the chamber holding the sugar water mixture. Lately the ants apparently have been donning their snorkel and dive gear as not only were they swimming across the water to get to the edge of the cup and climb down, they were now entering the feeding holes and, by large numbers, were inside the bottle of sugar water! The bottle could sit overnight and when we brought it in to empty it, we would find the bottle filled with ants floating around. When the bottle was emptied, they would shake themselves off and attempt to climb out of the sink! I could not see their air tanks nor their regulators, but surely they must have had those devices to live all night in the water. I mean, I did not imagine that ants could hold their breathfor hours!

Next I read that ants would not cross a line of talcum powder. I put a line of it down and, according to the written word, they would not cross it. But they would walk around it and traveled the full length of the line to do so. We did find that they came in droves to eat cornmeal which is said to eliminate them by the simple fact that they eat it and it enlarges in their bodies and they explode, or some such thing! I think the fact that 1) since ants don’t really eat what they gather and instead take it back to the next and feed it to the larvae who in turn process it and make a fungus out of it which is eaten by the ants and 2) the fungus from the cornmeal is foreign to their nest and, indeed, takes over the normal fungus they produce and destroys it thus rendering them without food and this is what kills them over time. I put cornmeal out mixed with boric acid to make sure it worked and they went for it, like a super-special free buffet. Over a short time the ants disappeared, or moved on, I don’t know which.

Finally, we read where boric acid mixed with honey or bacon fat would be appealing to them. They would take it back to the nest and spread it among their fellow workers and die. This appealed to me but I did not think we would find boric acid on the Cay. Imagine my delight when inquiring after the product I was told that “yes, we have it” and I bought up the whole small supply. It was a small bag with individual packets of the boric acid; about a tablespoon each. This mixture seemed to do the trick and we are slowly gaining control of our house back.

So, while the ant numbers have decreased drastically, we still battle them around the perimeter of the house and have been removing dead, rotting stumps which they like to nest in.

For one week in October we experienced a swarming of mosquitoes. Normally we have a lot of these insects in the low lying part of our property in back as there are many crab holes holding water there in which they breed. This year, however, for a few days the mosquitos were all over; on the beach, in the front and around the back. We had reports from other sections of the island of a huge influx of mosquitoes and are at a loss to figure out why the sudden outbreak. It was short lived thankfully and we are free now to exit our boat without being overcome!

Next, our lovely hibiscus bushes had developed a white, powdery mildew/fungus. This appeared mid-summer and we blame it on a long period without rain as we have never seen this on our plants before. The mildew/fungus creates mutated leaves which are deformed and flowers which are much smaller than a normal bloom, as can be observed in the above photos. Again, I went for a natural cure as we have a lot of hummingbirds and small geckos/lizards which I did not want to harm. We had a fungus powder which was to be mixed with water and sprayed on the plants once a week for 3 weeks or until the fungus disappeared and then once a week for 3 weeks or more thereafter. It was not harmful to animals/birds so my husband tried this for over a month. It seemed to contain some of the fungus but in some areas it was still spreading. We then tried a mixture of water/oil/alcohol which was said to be effective. Same outcome! I then convinced my husband (who hates to cut back the hibiscus bushes because it would eliminate, for a while, the blossoms which the hummers feed on) to cut back the bushes and burn the offending limbs. We had to cut all of our bushes down by half and our yard looked pretty pitiful for a while. Fortunately the rains came in October and the hibiscus are recovering and thriving. The rain fell for a total of 7 days with more than 17” accumulating. The cooler temperatures were a relief and sleeping was improved. And, the plus, the hibiscus love the rain and are now putting forth new shoots on the bare limbs. We are just hoping that the fungus did not enter the actual woody pulp of the limbs and continue to harm the plant. We have one bush that we believe will not make it, but one out of maybe 50-60 bushes is not bad.

The bright spot in our month lately has been the return of the little migrating birds. This year they have appeared in large numbers hopping about our front lawn seeking insects. Evidently there must be a lot of them to feed on as they have been here in greater numbers and staying longer at this time. They also are very curious and seemingly unafraid of humans. My husband, while sitting on the porch yesterday, had one actually land on his foot and preen itself and another walk across his knee. These are small warbler type birds and while most of them are black and white or gray, yellow and black, there was a small red bird, a Summer Tanager, who appeared on our porch rail. He managed to take several photos without disturbing the bird on his foot and it is shown above.

We have also have received some disheartening news. My husband’s daughter who has been fighting the worst form of leukemia and the hardest to cure, is not doing well. In July she went to the Moffit Cancer Center in Tamper and received a stem cell transplant to supplement the bone marrow that was destroyed by chemo and radiation. For two months she was in the hospital being tended to while fighting the effects of the transplant treatment. She seemed to be rallying but in late August she had a down turn. Since her immune system is virtually non-existent, contracting any germs was dangerous for her. Her bladder was attacked by a bacteria which is not uncommon in these treatments but, unfortunately, they were not able to combat this strain as effectively as they wanted. She became very ill and has been losing a lot of blood daily to the point of needing transfusions every 3 days. She has bladder problems and continues to bleed. They tested her blood and although the transplant was successful, her blood was full of cancer cells once again. There is nothing more at the present time that they can do because of her weakened condition and she returned home to Orlando to see what is now available for her. She has lost considerable weight and is weak and, so, not many options are available to her at this time. We only hope that there is something that can be done for her to overcome this disease.

Oh, and with all this going on we got a new computer. We decided this time, since we have tried a variety of brands, to go with Apple/Mac. We purchased the Mac mini and after waiting for 3 weeks for it to come on the boat, we are now attempting to understand and use this computer to its maximum. So far it has been challenging but with my constant research on the net and some clues from other Apple computer owners, we are slowly making progress. My husband cannot use his favorite photo program and we are trying to transfer our documents from a Microsoft program to Apple though a migrating program. So far it seemed to transfer but we cannot find the documents which leads me to believe that it was unsuccessful. Now, if the weather would clear up so we have sunshine, I could work longer on the computer and not worry about the solar electrical power.

Oh, another problem. Our batteries, after 15 years, are starting to get old and losing their charge! We will be forced soon to check into another set and that will present a whole new array of problems - mainly transporting them here and getting them up to the house. The original 2 batteries weighed 450 lbs. each and are modified fork lift batteries. There is a new battery out, that has more power and is only one unit but weighs 1,100 lbs. So, how to get it into and out of a boat, onto a dock (without caving the dock in), up the hill and up the steps into our back door! Don't you just wish you had our problems?

We are hoping that November will bring better news and continue to deal with the day-to-day problems hoping for the best.