It’s mango season and this year’s crop is early and big.
The traditional mango season started early this year on Grand Cayman. Many trees from West Bay to East End are bearing the ripe fruit roughly a month ahead of their usual summer run.
Local farmers, like Willie Ebanks of Willie’s Fresh Fruits, are enjoying not only a vast quantity, but also a high quality of mangoes.
“There are plenty mangoes and it is strange for them to pick up so early,” said Mr. Ebanks, who is Cayman’s largest mango producer. “With the rain we’ve had here in the last few weeks we’re at maximum peak. I’m harvesting over 1,500 pounds a day and I know I’m one of the biggest producers now. The island is filled with them and there’s no way of disputing that.
“Last year a lot of trees didn’t bloom. But they caught up with the rain we had in December. The trees are just blooming and all in my area they’re blossoming. I think they will keep bearing for awhile.”
Mr. Ebanks said there were more mango trees now than before Hurricane Ivan hit in September 2004 and that he has seen more than 50 varieties, including some called Ice Cream, Nam Doc and Fairchild.
“There is one called the Kurt – I believe after Kurt Tibbetts – and that’s as formed, fat and beautiful as ever and actually lasts two weeks.”
In years past, mangoes on Grand Cayman tended to be stringy, but tasty, Mr. Ebanks said.
“But I think with the new varieties that came after Ivan we’re seeing a lot rated well above three stars, like the hotels.”
Mr. Ebanks is based out of North Side but farmers further west are also seeing plenty of the fruit. Lower Valley farmer Hamlin Stephenson, whose wife Hope is from West Bay, owns Hamlin’s Farm and is a mainstay at Market at the Grounds, sells bananas and watermelon, among other fruit. He said he has seen many mangoes in his travels.
“There are a lot of ripe ones now and the island is covered in them,” Mr. Stephenson said. “We have some at the farm here and they are young trees like three- or four years-old. There are a couple of older ones as well by the house. All of them are bearing.”
The result is locals can enjoy lots of mangoes at good prices. In addition to just eating the fruit, people can make also juices, chutneys and jams. Mangoes are also good for health as they are rich in dietary fibre, vitamins A,B6,C,E,K and potassium.
Former Director of Agriculture and farmer Joe Jackman suggested the early mango harvest this year is a result of growing methods and the kinds of nutrients the plants receive in the soil.
“For example, in the growing stages you want nitrogen and phosphorus in the soil so that the seeds can get roots,” he said. “Then you add potassium to help the leaves blossom. By and large farmers are doing that, though some people use the same fertilizers all year and though it works, it’s not the most effective thing.”
Regardless, Mr. Jackman said there are a lot of mangoes on the Islands right now.
“They are early and they’re big,” he said. “I think it’s because of the season that went before where the trees were stressed. Plants are living things and they produce fruits for survival. So we’re getting a good crop this year because that is their response to the stress.
“It will continue if we get rain and they bloom. That will help with the development of young fruit. Mind you, mangoes have been brought in over the years that bear at different times (you can get some in January). But we’re coming into the hurricane season and we should get more rain. If we get good dry weather in there also it will be a long season.”
Omen or myth?
There is a prevalent myth that an early start to mango season is associated with bad weather such as hurricanes. For the most part the farmers state there is no truth, scientific or otherwise, to that theory.
“We’re saturated with mangoes and it’s yet to be seen if that means we will get a hurricane,” Mr. Ebanks said. “There’s no connection there to my knowledge. I don’t study history that much, I go forward.”
“We in the Caribbean have all kinds of traditional tales,” said Mr. Jackman, who hails from Monsterrat. “If we have a lot of fruit, that’s supposed to mean nature is telling us we will have bad weather. If there’s a lot of crabs going round, we will have bad weather. Whether it’s true or not, those signs have been spoken about for years.”