In nature, nothing goes to waste. There is always some kind of plant or animal which makes a livelihood from the rubbish of others, so that everything goes round in a big cycle. Natural ecosystems are therefore just about as efficient as it gets when it comes to making use of the Earth’s scarce resources because they have, after all, been in the recycling business for millions of years. So what happens if, instead of fighting against nature, we try to understand it, and fit in with it? Perhaps we can be part of that efficiency, too? That is one of the things Joel Walton has tried to do on his two acres of land in Lower Valley. Everything has a place, and the fruits and vegetables he produces and sells at the Farmers Market, or directly to restaurants, are the result of his efforts to fit in with the Cayman Islands as an ecosystem.
“I grew up in the Cayman Brac in the 1960s as a vegetarian, and my first garden was at age four. From that age I always enjoyed the idea that you were able to grow what you eat,” Mr. Walton said. “The whole philosophy behind my living is that you should do your best to ‘integrate’ within your living space; not just lawns and flowers, but also fruits, herbs and spices. When you do that, you get to understand the importance of living within a cycle of life, where everything has its space.”
Fitting in with nature begins with understanding how other things live. For example, the honey-bee, so vital for pollination, does her work early in the morning and later in the evening. So it is a good idea to spray outside of these times, to protect her, Mr. Walton explained. “A lot of insects don’t fly more than three foot above the ground, so if you use raised beds you can eliminate a lot of them simply by constructing your raised beds at a height that eliminates them,” he said. In amongst Mr. Walton’s vegetables are flowers, such as Marigolds, which produce a natural pesticide, and help keep the soil healthy. “Also we do a lot of crop rotation – we don’t grow the same thing in the same space every year,” he said.
“Live in a space that you eat from, and make it as integrated within your personal lifestyle, as possible, and share it with other people,” Mr. Walton says. “In life as well as in growing things, diversity is important.” Using diversity in a garden or smallholding is an important principle, because it reduces the spread of disease, and enables plants to enrich one another. Understanding different growing patterns can also create environments for plants. Mr. Walton has a wonderful, elongated plant called Dragon Fruit, which tastes like a fruit, but looks like a long, thin cactus. He lets it grow upwards on sturdy trees, and in one place he has used a dead tree to carry it. Another trick is to use things which bear fruit at different times of the year. You can introduce fruits from south of the Equator, Mr. Walton said, because here they have a reverse growing season.
“Another part of what we do here is we try to use as much of waste materials as possible, which would normally go to the dump. So if you move around the property you will see that our compost bin is built from pallets that are untreated. You’ll see a lot of Styrofoam boxes, and they would normally got to the dump as well, but we use them to plant in.” Mr. Walton gets in touch with as many people as possible who may have ‘useful junk,’ and everywhere around his garden you will see old things put to new uses. The Water Authority gets rid of a lot of old, broken pipes, and Mr. Walton has his name on a list, he says, so that he is ready to buy them up. Cut in half they make excellent planters, and Mr. Walton also fills them with gravel, for use with a hydroponic system. “When people clear sites sometimes they will mulch the wood instead of burning it, so when we find that we can buy it and put it here – it keeps the weeds down,” he said. A large pond holding a couple of hundred tilapia fish is integrated as part of an aquaculture system. The fish excrete urea and other nitrates, and the nutrient-filled fish water is pumped up to the top of an artificial stream, filled with a special vegetable that thrives from the water. The stream trickles back into the pond, but by this time, the water is clear and clean.