Perhaps it’s global warming or some other dramatic changes in the air – Cayman is growing green grapes.
Yes grapes! Not our local sea grapes, but the juicy succulent kind that residents purchase from local supermarkets every day.
Generally adapted to cool climate growing regions, green grapes are flourishing in one West Bayer’s garden.
The huge vine, laden with bunches of these juicy green fruits, is the handiwork of 70-year-old local farmer Jack Smith.
Mr. Smith said he got the tiny cutting from a friend who had a vine in his yard.
‘I took the cutting home and looked for a place in the garden with the best soil.
‘Three years after I planted the cutting, the tree was bearing. Since that time, which would make the tree six years old, the tree has produced fruits two times each year. But this is the biggest crop I have ever seen the vine produce,’ he said
Although he waters the plant twice a day – early morning and late afternoon – Mr. Smith said the vine strives much better when it gets natural rain water. Recently he said he has not been watering much because the rainy days have been good.
‘I try to avoid watering too much with the city water which contains a lot of chemicals. If I have to use it I try not to get it on the leaves but mostly around the roots.’
Gazing up at the vine, which runs on the top of a greenhouse which he built to protect his seasoning plants from the chickens, the healthy bunches of green grapes hang all around.
When asked what he was going to do with the grapes, Mr. Smith said he was going to give them to friends and family.
To the friend who gave him the cutting many years ago, Mr. Smith said he would be returning the favour by giving him a cutting from his plant because the one he had died.
These and many more local fruits, vegetables, produce and seasonings plants are the handiwork of the West Bay resident.
A special mango tree
Mr. Smith’s green thumb has even produced a mango tree that bears four kinds of mangoes: Nam Doc, long common, a salad variety and another that Mr. Smith said he is still trying to find a name.
Mr. Smith said the tree was a local long mango tree, which a friend grafted.
The mango tree was blown over by hurricanes in 1932 and 2004. Both times the tree survived, and left to grow where it fell. This makes the tree much stronger, said Mr. Smith.
The bountiful garden also produces other fruits such as June plum, limes, oranges, guava, mango, banana, grapefruits, ackee, breadfruit, cherry, sorrel, and seasoning plants such as basil, onion, peppers and loads of flowering plants.
Another remarkable tale from Mr. Smith is that his chickens are a valuable asset to his flourishing garden.
‘They keep the weeds from tangling the roots of my trees,’ said Mr. Smith.
‘My secret is to sprinkle chicken feed around the base of the trees and the chickens peck and scrap away the grass to get at the pellets, which drops between the grass blades; this gives the trees lots of air to breathe.
‘I do have a lot of trouble with the Cayman iguana; those buggers just eat away the tender leaves of my plants.’
The old days
Mr. Smith, a man with a pleasant and humble personality typical of the Caymanian culture also remembers the good old days of yesteryear.
Always a farmer at heart, Mr. Smith said he has loved farming from the time he was a young boy. His real farming days began in earnest after retiring from his job at Cable and Wireless.
One of 11children born to Caymanians Henry and Mary Debra Braggs, Mr. Smith said he grew up in a very simple lifestyle.
Like most other Caymanin men, his early years were spent working on ships overseas.
He left Cayman at 19, and for the next 31 years he worked on the ship until he was made quarter master. That is a position between captain and chief mate.
Mr. Smith said although he travelled to many different countries, his love for his homeland never left his mind.
‘It was nothing like the good old days growing up in Cayman,’ he said.
‘I remember attending school in the old West Bay Town Hall and many a day spent playing hooky from school to go fishing.
‘Those days were good but not so good when you had to go outside because the mosquitoes would eat you alive.
‘Even though the mosquitoes were a nuisance, we found ways of living with them. The good old smoke pan stuffed with cow manure was their cup of tea,’ he said.
‘I remember one time the mosquitoes giving my father a good biting all around the neck just trying to bring home mangoes from the land for the children.
‘To make matters worse, as children we got into that basket of mangoes and ate them all.
‘Mangoes played a big part in feeding the children those days. Lobster, fish and conch, which were so plentiful in those times, also played an important part,’ said Mr. Smith.
‘Those were rough days but I have something good to remember. The right way to think about people and the kind and sharing way we had with our neighbours.
The older folks had plenty of children to feed in those days but a lot of sharing went on.
Mr. Smith says if he was younger, he would market logwood, which is so plentiful around his home. He also said he thought at one time to try his hand at goat farming.
‘Money was not as important to us as to have produce from the land and sea to feed the family,’ said Mr. Smith.
‘Necessities such as salt, sugar, flour and cornmeal from the store were also shared.
‘Not today; there is money but I find that people do not share as much.
‘Going to the movies was also a treat in those days. I remember getting together with others youngsters to do chores so that one person could attend the movies with the money earned.
The person who was chosen had to be able to tell an excellent story and act out the scenes as well, so when they returned they could share the movie with the others.
‘Trips to the eastern district were made by boat with the roundtrip lasting all day.
‘There was lots of unity back in those days not like today with the easy transportation.
‘Things have changed since then. It is nice to know that life has changed since the days of mosquitoes but the unity should have stayed,’ said Mr. Smith.
Today the crabs, mangoes and even the mosquitoes, which were a part of our history, are being fast eaten up by the vast development that is taking place in our island.