diy, field
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more tips for island living


So the first post of this series was a pretty popular hit with local island readers. So I figured I would share some more hints and tips that I’ve discovered in the five years of residing in Puerto Rico.

1 | save the silica dry bags. You know those little desiccant bags you get in some of your purses or with online orders? They say “choking hazard, throw away” – well don’t throw them away! You can actually use those suckers to keep out moisture and prevent mold in some of your hard-to-monitor places – like in your camera bag. We recently had to have our Canon sensor professionally cleaned because we started to notice some fungus through the viewfinder. Who would have thought that mold could grow there?? So now I’ve added some silica bags + bamboo activated charcoal to my camera bag to keep all of that from happening again. You can also try my homemade desiccant resource, the kitty litter dehumidifier which still works wonders in my cabinets and closets.

2 | keep out the cane toads. For those of you with ground level herb gardens or veggie beds that cannot stand when the cane toads make their homes in your soil, then this tip is for you. We get cane toads jumping into our aluminum pails of herbs, they kick up the roots and toss around the herbs which then die while these big fatties nestle into the moist soil. So we found a way to keep them out! We use a small mesh screen around the upper lip of the pail that then extends a good few inches up over the pail and ties to a circular tomato trellis. The toads cannot jump high enough to get inside, and the herbs still get plenty of uninterrupted sun.

3 | hang clothes up to dry at night to avoid windy pica pica.  Not everyone will be able to relate to this, and not even everyone on Puerto Rico as I’ve found that some folks have absolutely no idea of the hell that is pica pica. This little microscopic plant bursts open in the dry season and gets tossed around by the wind, landing everywhere it can squeeze through which includes window screens. I’m sure many of us have experienced wrapping a freshly dried towel around us only to throw it off in rage after now being covered in this fiberglass torture. So, I started hanging my clothes up to dry at night after the wind has died down. The clothes don’t get completely dried overnight due to the humidity, but at first sun in the morning I have a few good hours of sunlight before the wind starts back up. Worth a try!

4 | avoid frozen zippers with silica gel.  I’m sure we have all experienced this a few times. Going to your closet to pull out a bag you haven’t used in a while only to find you cant unzip it because those metal zippers are now coated in salt and rust? Probably one of the most frustrating things to find in the closet. I don’t have remedy to unfreeze them yet, but I did find a way to slow the process or completely avoid the frozen problem to begin with! You can use a silicon based gel (often used by divers to wax o-rings to make them more water resistant before use, helps seal them against whatever they are making watertight). This silicon gel can be purchased on Amazon.  Then you’ll essentially coat the zippers and pulls with this gel, open and close them several times to move the gel along the zipper. AND for added protection, throw in some silica desiccant packs or bamboo charcoal or kitty litter into those closets to help keep out moisture.

5 | Leave the watering can out to sit for at least 20 minutes to dissolve the chlorine. Most of us have potable water on the island but it’s been heavily treated with chlorine. If this is the case for you, then leave your watering can or bucket sitting out in the open, uncovered, for about 20 minutes or longer to let the chlorine dissolve out as a gas. This will reduce the chemicals that you pour into your herbs or veggie beds. Better yet, install a rain barrel to collect all of the wet season rain!

6 | raw honey, local only for seasonal allergies. And I just read in Rodale’s Organic Life that you can also feed a small drop or amount to your dog if they also suffer from seasonal allergies. Good to know! But the key thing is that this raw honey – which is rich in vitamins, minerals and essential oils, plus a small dose of the pollen you’re allergic too – must be local. Add a little to your tea, or just take a little by the spoon in the morning. These doses will start to boost your immunity to the pollen by exposing your histamines to the allergen to help them recognize them as less foreign.

7 | plant haliconias around the yard for your own bird sanctuary. We have the pitcher style haliconias all around our backyard. In the spring, these plants start to bloom with their huge red or yellow flowers that attract all kinds of little birds. The blooms collect water and the finches and hummingbirds just can’t help but flutter around these things. I love to work outside in the spring (despite the pica pica) because the birds make my outdoor workspace feel like a little paradise. You can purchase these from Home Depot, or try to find them on some public land where you can take a small clipping and start your own.

8 | upcycle the glass containers since they don’t recycle. This may not be the same everywhere, but in Rincon our recycling collector no longer accepts glass. Which is unfortunate as a lot of what we buy comes in glass. So I’ve started to find other uses for salsa jars, apple juice jars, etc. Here are my ideas: used oil holder, pressed juice storage, powdered soap storage, Q-tips, misc. nuts and screws storage, sprouting jar, paintbrush cleaner, bean storage… I’m sure you get the idea. What other creative ways have you used old jars?

9 | coconuts for plants and orchids. We have a surplus of dried coconuts, clearly. So every now and then Evan and I will wander down to find a few. I turn them into cute trinket dishes, and Evan uses them for orchids. The hollow inner hole gives the orchid plenty of space for its roots and stays moist enough to allow it to grow just fine without a lot of attention.


This entry was posted in: diy, field


Chelsea is a marine scientist in Puerto Rico. Her interests include invasive species ecology, fish biology and ecology and marine protected area management. She is a co-founder of the only field course coordination company in Puerto Rico - Isla Mar Research Expeditions.

1 Comment

  1. I just found your blog! So cool you live in Puerto Rico! I still haven’t been even though half my family is from the Island. I’ll have to follow along to see all that I’m missing. At least I’ll get a taste of some island living when I move to Hawaii next month!


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