Musician, successful retailer and entrepreneur Errol Watler doesn’t need to farm. What brings him from his home in George Town all the way to the seven acres, Sparkies Amazing Farm, is that, quite simply he loves it. “I like planting seeds, and I like watching things grow,” he says. Like its name says, Sparkies Amazing Farm is truly amazing because of all the different kinds of produce he manages to grow there. The list is probably too long to name completely. Mr. Watler, who was President of the Cayman Islands Agricultural Society for ten years, grows just about everything you can grow in the Cayman Islands – trees such as coconut, mango and guava, grow between patches of pumpkins, watermelons, egg plants, arugula. It’s like a giant’s patchwork quilt of plenty. I asked him why he grows crops like this – some here, others there: “It’s what is called integrated pest management,” he said. “because pests live on certain things and once you mix them up –they can’t jump to another place with the same thing, so they stay there, and they’re gone.” White fly, nematodes and a black kind of scaly insect (which has been all over the island this year, he says) feature in the list of pests he has to deal with but caterpillars are the worst.
There is plenty of water under the soil in a huge water-lens, but it is brackish, salty water and no good, he says, for crops as it is, (apart from possibly coconut trees) but Mr. Watler has installed a powerful reverse-osmosis pump which purifies the water and then sends it out through a complex network of tanks and black hosepipes which run in parallel lines here and there. He has it set up so that each plant receives a drip-feed of water, straight to the root, so that nothing is wasted. Still, it’s a battle against the hot sun at this time of year, and he sometimes has to give his plants a drink three or four times a day.
The soil here is not particularly good, and Mr. Watler has to feed it with a mixture of organic manure (mainly horse manure, or chicken manure from the chickens he keeps in a big coup) and inorganic fertilizer. The main outlets are the farmers market adjacent to the Cricket Pitch in George Town and the market at Camana Bay, too. But Mr Watler also sells directly to three or four restaurants, and he also sells to supermarkets, he says.
Bending down to pick up an arugula leaf, he crushes it between his fingers to let the strong, rich scent waft out. It is used in salads, he says, but there are also many claims for its health-giving properties, including anti-cancer, digestion, and it being a great source of Vitamin A. Just beyond it is a crop of beautiful shiny eggplants, and next to these are ochre, and tomatoes. We walk past half-grown watermelons and pumpkins, and come upon one of several ‘greenhouses’ which are really large wooden rectangular framed structures, covered with a fine black mesh. They stop butterflies laying their eggs there, and keep away other pests too such as iguanas and chickens. Across the ground, inside some of them, are long strips of black plastic, on which are plastic plant pots full of soil, ready for growing. The black plastic underneath stops nematodes, tiny worms which work their way from one planter to another through the drainage holes in the bottom, and eat the roots of the plant away.
Lettuces, Big Sun and Scotch Bonnet peppers, and seasoning peppers too all grow close to one another. The corn growing in one corner looks very unhealthy, “caterpillars took possession of that,” he said.
“These are the coconut trees, I sell a lot of coconut water,” We walked past a magnificent breadfruit tree, to a mango tree. The mango tree looked fine, but Mr. Watler, like everyone else who grows mangos, isn’t sure what’s been wrong this year. “This year there’s not much mangos at all – that’s the way it happens some years its full of mangos and some years that’s the way it goes – there is nothing we can do about it,” he said. On the ground is a crop of Parsley “They make some of those ‘green’ drinks out of this,” he says.