There is something about planting that is simply primal and therapeutic. It not only provides food, but it fosters a work ethic and helps sustain a community.
Trees along the road have a calming effect when driving; plants complement the architecture of buildings or entire neighbourhoods. They give off oxygen and reduce storm water runoff. In the life cycle, many species of wildlife depend on trees for homes, food and protection, and humans depend on the fruits of our labour.
We yield the benefits of fresh produce – and much more – from toiling in the garden. Children learn about the environment when they are taught to plant seeds, and it’s fun. I remember many days travelling with my mother to plant pumpkin seeds inland, wondering most of the time how one tiny seed would amount to anything. Yet when it was harvest time, I was always amazed at the huge vegetable the tiny seed produced.
When it comes to planting, most Caymanians have it in their blood. In days gone by, our ancestors lived strictly off the land, eating what they grew.
“When I was a child it was a part of life for Caymanian families to grow crops to eat,” says Marilyn Nasirun. “I was very young, maybe only 10 or so, but I took special interest in the family backyard gardens, which was our basic way of survival. “Watching my parents taught me how to grow vegetables and other fruit trees,” she says.
“I grew up quickly, and school work, getting married, raising children and getting a job kept me busy with no time for planting. However, I was always looking for a way to express my love for farming and when the opportunity presented itself through the Department of Agriculture workshop, my love for planting grew,” she says.
According to Marilyn, the Department had the right goals. “It increased the amount of locally grown food and taught attendees how to graft local plants and identify diseases and pests. For me, it was a wonderful opportunity which fulfilled a childhood dream and taught me the basics of good farming.”
Today Marilyn operates a small farm and grows plantains, bananas, avocado, peppers, callaloo, mangoes, okra sorrel and much more. Seedlings are produced in a grow box in her backyard, where it is much easier for daily care. Seedlings are then transferred to the planting ground. Any produce not sold to stores is used to feed her family.
In years past, Cedric Levy, now 85, walked from central Bodden Town to Lower Valley, worked all day and received a couple breadfruits as payment. “Cayman was poor those days. If you didn’t plant, you didn’t eat, and everyone had a ground,” he said.
Older Caymanians believed in planting and harvesting on the moon cycle. “During full or new moon is no time for planting crops because the yield will be small,” says Marilyn.
There are different times for planting produce underground from up top. The McDonald Almanac is a good reference guide for when to plant certain crops.
Marilyn shares her tips for yielding a good crop: “Plant on the full moon any crops such as peas, mango and plums, which grow above ground, and when the moon is dark, plant below crops such as cassava, yams and potatoes. The days that are not favourable for planting, use that time to clear ground, weed, and spray and fertilise.”
Planting for retirement
Today, as people retire, they are finding that planting not only puts food on the table and cuts expenses, but that it also eases some stresses of life.
Planting also provides aesthetic benefits by adding equity to your yard whether it is flowers vegetables trees or herbs.
When I was growing up Grandma Nettie Levy was a staunch advocate of planting her own produce. In fact, all the people in my neighbourhood grew some sort of produce, there were sweet potatoes busting out the ground, pumpkins hanging from the fence, wangra, corn, gungo pea trees, okra, cassava, yams hills, sugar cane, red beans, watermelons, bottlers, plantains and everything we needed to make heavy cakes and fish rundown.
Every morning before the sun got too hot, Grandma Nettie pulled weeds from her sweet potato patch. After that she would head out front to the wangra patch and shake the tiny seeds to be pressed into a paste to spread on the hot sweet potatoes roasted on the caboose fire. When it was time for dinner, she headed to the fence that separated her from the next-door neighbour to pick huge pumpkins hanging from the barbed-wire fencing. This was steamed and serve with turtle stew.
“We need to go back to the earlier years of planting,” says gardener Twyla Andrews. “It was not only lots of fun, but was healthier. People lived off the land, were healthy and contented and some lived to over 100 years with no diabetes or cancer.”
She said plantation grounds in Grass piece and End-a-Bay Bodden Town were full of plantains, yams, sweet potatoes, peppers, coco, and gongo peas; enough to feed the family and give to neighbours.
“Sometimes up to 50 yam heads and potato slips were tucked into the ground; it was not even considered hard work. it was considered family time together. When planting and reaping took place, the whole family participated.
“Sometimes we would trade the ‘bread kind’ for some fish or conch because there was no money,” Twyla recalls. “Nowadays life is so different, people no longer see planting as a necessity and sell land to buy from supermarkets.
“Forty years ago Caymanians were stronger and walked miles to collect food. I am sure my grandchildren cannot walk half a mile to get a bottle of water. It may sound like a joke today, but about 30 or 40 years ago, I thought Breadfruit Walk in Lower Valley was a public place, and that all my life I would go there to pick breadfruits. “We better start building fowl coops, too, because the day is going to come when we will not even see a chicken walking the town.”