Port Manatee is so big, it looks small - somewhat
The first thing you notice at Port Manatee is how big things are. Really big. So big that everything looks small, until you realize that what's surrounding you are "houses" 1,000-feet long and "hills" of aggregate that reach 200 feet in height.
Port Manatee is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. Since its first shipment of 10,000 metric tons of plywood from Korea, it has become one of the largest lumber-handling seaports in the United States. It is also Florida's fourth-busiest port.
The Port of Tampa, by the way, is No. 1 in the state.
Those facts and more were revealed in a tour of the facility at the extreme north side of Manatee County. The tour was hosted in absentia by Manatee County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann, who had to skip the event that she organized due to another pressing issue.
The 1,100-acre port is indeed a bustling place, with upwards of 1,700 trucks going through the gate daily. Besides the plywood and lumber, the port sees ships load and unload phosphate, produce and containerized material that flows to and from worldwide markets.
Phosphate, used for fertilizer, is shipped to Australia.
Del Monte, the banana giant, has huge refrigerated warehouses on site for all manner of produce, imported this time of year from Central and South America.
There is also a fuel plant at Port Manatee, allowing ships to refuel while there, or to allow tankers to transport fuel to Tampa for refueling other ships, as needed.
Plans are in place and permits pending to expand the facilities. Another ship basin and more berths are in the works, and the expansion could make the port one of the largest container-handling facilities in the state.
Not too bad from its lowly 10,000-ton first shipment.
Island kudos from AAA
Anna Maria Island got a nice tourist bump from AAA's "Going Places" magazine it its May-June edition.
Besides portraying the Island in a stunning picture of the dunes at Bean Point in Anna Maria and a charming shot of the Bradenton Beach City Pier, the magazine had this to say about the Island:
"Anna Maria Island has always been known for its sugar-white coastline, emerald Gulf waters and quaint business districts. Today, it is known as a vacation favorite among local, national and international travelers. And unlike other popular Florida cities with their theme parks and water slides, there are no lines on Anna Maria Island, except for the ones you draw in the sand."
Nice color, huh? And the timing at the "shoulder" of the season is a nice touch for rentals and businesses, too.
Garden tour Sunday for mothers
The Sixth Annual Rob Branch Mother's Day Garden Tour will he held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, May 14. The 1-acre fenced garden has thousands of tropical plants nestled along a bubbling creek - well, with the dry times, it's not bubbling all that much - and has been described as one of the finest private gardens in Southwest Florida.
The estate is at 1315 38th St. in Sarasota, a block north of Myrtle Avenue off Cocoanut Avenue.
Best of all, it's free.
Take Mom, or anyone, and spend some time seeing what can be done with some attractive landscaping - all without the use of grass. It's pretty impressive.
Baby, it's dry out there
My yard is dry. Your yard is dry. All Florida's yards are dry, and with the rain forecast only a smidgen of a chance for the next few weeks, no improvements are in store for our parched landscape any time soon.
Jane Morse is a Manatee County extension agent with the University of Florida. She offers these tips on dealing with drought conditions, and starts with a good one: "The best way to cope with this yearly dry season is to practice water conservation all year long. To do this right, you need to know when to water and how much to water."
Basically, Morse advocates letting your landscape talk to you. "Most landscape plants show their need for water by wilting," she said. "If they continue to wilt during the evening, they need water. If the soil is wet from watering, stop watering. The plant may have root rot. When plants show wilt, it is best to water them the following morning by giving them a good soaking. A good soaking means that you apply 1/2 to 3/4 inch of water. Watering in this way will promote strong, deep root systems that are capable of withstanding drought, whereas if you frequently apply light sprinklings of water, the root system will be shallow, weak and unable to withstand drought."
As your plants suffer, weeds prosper, and it's a good time to yank them out, since they're competing with your prized landscaping for water and food. Morse is a staunch advocate of using mulch, which "suppresses weeds, prevents water loss from the soil, provides a more uniform soil temperature, and adds organic matter to the soil as it decomposes, thus improving the quality of the soil. Also, mulched plants grow additional roots in the mulch and therefore have more roots than un-mulched plants."
Hold off on fertilizing now, too. Morse said fed plants are thirsty plants, and now is not the time to foster extra watering. Wait until the rains start before you start feeding the landscape.
St. Augustine lawn grass, she said, "can be the largest consumer of water in the landscape. Try to minimize areas using this grass. Determine how much grass is actually needed for children, pets and recreation, and replace the rest of the turf areas with low-maintenance ground covers, shrubs and trees suited to the area."
And if the dry spell keeps on? Morse offers these drastic landscape plant tips which can save the garden:
Water plants only when they start to wilt.
Prune plants severely to reduce leaf area.
Remove weak plants.
Thin dense beds of plants to reduce competition among plants and pull out weeds.
For Bahia grass lawns, stop watering and allow the grass to go dormant. Bahia grass will turn brown, but will recover well once the rains resume.
Paul Huffman was the tour guide for the Port Manatee excursion, and he offered this factoid, particularly timely with gas prices reaching all-time highs and the drive to drive more fuel-efficient vehicles.
He said he worked out what kind of mileage the Queen Elizabeth II cruiseliner gets, one of the largest, if not the largest, of its ilk in the world.
The answer: 6 inches per gallon.
Bet that makes you feel better about your gas hog, doesn't it?