12 Apr 2010

Newspaper Interview, April 2010

1. How did your interest in gardening begin?
It started with my father. Daddy was an avid grower and he practised traditional Caymanian ground provision farming on any plot of land to which he had access. Even if the land was only available during the time that he was constructing a home for someone he would plant and reap what was available during that time and then leave a “ground’ for the new homeowners.

2. Were you always interested in growing produce?
I recall having a garden at my Aunt Vida’s house in Spot Bay, Cayman Brac at age 5 or 6 and started using raised beds (now also called grow boxes) in the early-1970’s at our homes off Smith Road and Crewe Road in George Town. I ate limited amounts of meats while growing up and always yearned for fresh, locally grown product to supplement my meals.

3. What sparked your interest in organic/sustainable techniques?
Put simply, I ate the stuff that I grew and then later my children did the same so that made it an easy choice. Also, my gardens are located where I live so sustainable practices are paramount in my mind at all times.

4. Can you provide me with some examples of plant combos that seem to work well as natural pest deterrents?
Marigold and tomato. Rosemary and Spring Onion. Basil and Aubergine. Mint and Cabbage. The combinations are endless. However, in home gardens like mine where the full use of crop rotation techniques are limited (for many reasons), the key is to create a garden of diversity in plant types and heights, leaf size and textures, scents, and so on. Also, accept that some of your crops will be lost to pests, animals and diseases and make allowances for this in your plantings. Imagine eating something that pests don’t want…. If you stop and think of this… we do this most every day when we buy "perfectly" coloured and unblemished produce without knowing how it is grown.

5. A lot of people are hesitant about composting. What tips do you have for beginners?
Keep it simple. Forget activators, green/brown ratios, turning, wetting, covering, store bought gadgets, etc. Simply screw 4 un-treated wood pallets together (hardware store dumpsters are filled with these), dump your compostable waste in and leave it to rot with the help of the many organisms that will naturally inhabit the waste. Once this first bin is filled then build 2 other “bins” and repeat the process. Composting time will be in excess of a year but once you have 3 bins (or more) going all at the same time then you can reap mature compost every 4 months or so. This timing fits very nicely into typical vegetable growing cycles.  As time permits and your success grows using this simple approach then you may step-up to more advanced add-ons like green/brown ratios, turning, and so on.

6. You’ve got a big family, do they help out with the work?
Unfortunately, not yet (smile).

7. How much land area do you have under cultivation, and do you have plans to expand?
We have just under 2 acres of lawn, ornamental, herb, medicinal, fruit, nut and spice plantings. We have no plans to expand for now but wish to share our experience with gardening in Cayman in limited growing spaces and to encourage others to do the same.

8. What is growing right now, and what types of things do you have in mind down the road?
At the moment we are in the middle of transitioning from “cooler season” crops like beet, carrot, tomato, florence fennel, kohlrabi and radish to warm season crops like cucumber, courgette, pumpkin, watermelon, okra and corn. The gardens at Plantation House currently reflect this transition. In addition, we grow aubergine, passion fruit, banana, plantains, botler and herbs/spices like lemon grass, rosemary, basil, bay, pimento and parsley all year round along with mango, avocado, limes/lemons, breadfruit, bananas and many others.

9. Can you go into the psychological or mental satisfaction you get from your passion?
Relaxation and balance. Mr. Mike Simmons, a friend of my Dad’s and later a friend of mine once said something while he walked around my yard that has stuck in my head. I quote, “with gardens like these to come home to Walton, no one can mess with you head”. That sums it up best for me.

10. What has been the response from local buyers?
In two words: “unbelievably positive” from the individual consumer and the restaurants, albeit we get a somewhat milder response from supermarkets, but that too is understood.