Wednesday, 23 November 2011



Never, under any circumstances, leave your Barbour to air in the garage overnight......unless of course you are secretly hankering for a new one!! ; )

Tuesday, 22 November 2011


Just a quick addition to yesterday's musings on banana growing.  Wherever there is abundance there will always be those who feel they have the right to simply take what is not theirs.

This quiet corner of St Lucia is no exception and we have to be vigilant at all times to get to our hard-earned spoils before another snatches them from our mouths.....I refer to these dispicable characters as the Banana Bandits! Though in reality they could equally be dubbed the "guava grabbers" and even the "dasheen diggers" (the latter being a starchy yam-like root, that they dig and eat raw).  Perhaps a cover-all would simply be the Canine Kelptomaniacs, for in reality they will help themselves to whatever they can.  

During guava season, George & Ilsa will pass the two trees that grow low to the ground and check the fruit every morning but will never touch them until they reach the fragrant, perfumed stage where they take on a flush of delicate pink....when that happens, it's every man (and dog) for himself and a case of  the early bird (dog, (wo)man) catches the worm!

Joking aside, it is my firm belief that this is not an act of wanton greed, but instead that this clever pair of canines carry some sort of deep, in-built ability to seek, find and devour precisely what they need to counteract the deficiencies of commercially produced dog food.  An upset tummy will always lead them straight to the nearest fruiting banana tree....

Sunday, 20 November 2011


Whilst I pride myself on being able to manage most things around the place (I'm still beaming from single-handedly installing my new gas stove this week), I am always pleased to see Trevor, my trusty gardener, when he comes to give a hand with weeding, grass cutting and pruning.  

In the same way that produce is shared, so too are seeds and saplings.  If I've enjoyed a particularly good eat at my parent's place, there is no better, or more economical way than to "adopt" a sapling from the tree that provided this bounty, in the hope that in time, I too will be producing such gems (this doesn't always happen when you take saplings, but it's certainly worth a try, particularly when these are freely available and free of charge).

Although my dear old Dad, now 84, conducts a daily walk around the garden to check his fruit, occasionally, during a high wind or stormy weather, a prize specimen will drop, roll away to some far corner and take root.  This was certainly the case after the hurricane last year and down in the undergrowth, seven fallen coconuts took root and proceeded to grow.  My father was more than pleased to be able to pass these on to me.  As they all came from one tree (it is the only coconut tree on that side of his garden), I tend to think of them as the seven sisters.  These have been planted in a row along the perimeter of the veg garden which I now refer to as "The Garden of the Seven Sisters"; I have no doubt that some local folk, being rather superstitious, will believe this name is based in some sort of magic... magical - definitely, but magic - not as far as I know.

On previous occasions, my father and his helper, Mr Johnson, have appeared three days before Full Moon, armed with other saplings looking for a new home and I have always been happy to welcome them.  My entire banana collection has come from my father's garden. Bananas grow, flower and produce fruit in a rather quick cycle and then the lead shoot dies, so is usually removed immediately after the fruit has been harvested.  But all is not lost, for whilst the lead shoot has been busy making bananas, she has put in place a cunning succession plan, one which many large corporations could learn a great deal from. For she leaves behind two or three "daughters" in various stages of growth, ready to take her place.  The clump is known colloquially as "mother and daughters" and can either be left to create one huge clump or daughters can be encouraged to leave home and move to pastures new.  A simple sharp spade to the base with cleanly remove a daughter.  A truly amazing growth process that keeps us in an abundance of bananas (and plantains) the whole year round. 

Despite all the years of cumulative knowledge and treemanship, occasionally, it is necessary to bring in other tree specialists. It recently became obvious that some of the very large, older trees that I managed to save from the excavator during the land clearance and house-build, were in need of some attention and for this I called in some local tree men.  I had seen tree specialists around the place, with their hoists, hard hats and chain saws - however, these were not they! Recommended by Trevor the gardener, these guys came down from the country for the day.  In a random episode in my previous life, I had been obliged to study for a Health & Safety qualification, so thought I had a reasonable idea of how such a project should be undertaken. As it transpired this training had no relevance whatsoever to the events that would unfold. The best options were to either close my eyes or go inside until the work was completed.

These guys climbed trees 40ft - 60ft tall, with no ropes, harnesses, hard hats or steel toe-capped boots.  Armed simply with machetes and with bare feet, they clambered to the top of each tree, which incidentally are full of stinging ants and other unpleasant inhabitants, and proceeded to hack away, moving down the tree until the desired height and shape were obtained. And so they worked, creating a sense of calm that all was well and this is how things had been done for generations. THEN came the hysterical shouting......they had disturbed a bee's nest and were flying down out of the tree as though on a greased fireman's pole!  The following scene of these two grown men running around the garden whilst one manically swished himself with a cut branch was just too close to an old Laurel & Hardy movie to be taken seriously.  I tried my best not to laugh out loud instead putting on the look that best conveys concern and compassion, but it was hard - very, very hard.  Thankfully, neither were seriously hurt, though they decided that this particular tree had been sufficiently well trimmed and quickly moved on to the next with bodies intact and only their pride slightly dented and a few bee stings to show for their encounter.  

Sunday, 13 November 2011


WATER, in its many guises, whether rain or piped from the water company (or snow, sleet or hail for my fellow global gardeners) was what I had in mind when I tapped out the title for this piece.  However, my thoughts apply equally to any weather phenomenon - sun, rain or even wind; for who does not appreciate a pleasant breeze on a summer's day and yet, are almost petrified at the thought of a gale force wind, tornado or hurricane? Or delighted by a light dusting of powdered sugar-like snow, only to despise it when it prevents one from going about one's daily business, beyond the first magical day.

Growing up, my mother used to say of friends - the best way to keep them is not to see them too little or too often - I have a similar relationship with water/rain.  The Fickle Mistress who we cannot live without, though on some days we wish her gone. We even make up rhymes asking her to go away and come back another day and then complain bitterly and pine for her return if she stays away too long; what contrary creatures we humans are.

This week, we experienced water shortages in some parts of the island with the pumping station for this area only turning on the supply at seemingly random times, in the early hours of the morning (or at the "crap of dawn" as my friend Carolyn likes to say) or very late at night.  What a sense of relief one feels when you turn on the tap and hear that gurgling sound as the water returns. I know now, with hindsight, that I should have incorporated a rain water capture system within the house build, however, at the time my head was so full of other issues - at first only the nice elements about the aesthetics and then later, picking up the pieces after the crooked builder left me with an unsafe structure and absconded with the sizable deposit.

So, until I can add a proper rain water system, I have installed an eight hundred gallon water tank to store piped water. Unfortunately, this too has it's own complications, having become  contaminated after the local reservoir was flooded with silt - and so it sits months later, waiting for me to hire a man to disconnect it, clean it and re-fit it.  A second back-up tank is also on the "to do" list.  Like many other aspects of island living, it's often a case of feast or famine and this week was no exception with a change in the weather (we are at the tail end of hurricane season) bringing sudden and torrential downpours - a case of too much water outside, whilst barely sufficient inside.

There was a time when one could predict the comings and goings of the rainy season and the dry season with reasonable accuracy, but recent years have seen the wettest dry season, the driest wet season, the driest dry season (close to 5 months without rain on this a rainforest island) and the worst hurricane, in terms of fatalities and damage to infrastructure, since records began when HURRICANE TOMAS passed through a year ago this month.  Global warming? Perhaps........

Torrential rain causes a landslide and blocks the road

What was to later become the driveway to the house

Road to my parent's home. The wall on the left totally collapsed later that day

LOST! All my top soil washes down and blocks the 3ft deep storm drain for about 100 yards

The finished drive with its torrent of rain water during stormy weather

A great view, even on rainy days

Tuesday, 8 November 2011


Having been rather busy these past couple of days, I've been unable to complete anything of sufficient merit to share, so in the meantime, here is my version of a broadcast test card.....a little bit of eye candy from the garden and surrounding areas. 

Monday, 7 November 2011


Purple Tomatoes post puppy invasion
George manages to trap himself 

When a picture paints a thousand words.....what is the point of even trying to verbalise the sense of frustration and anxiety that one feels when you happen upon a scene of carnage such as this?

These pictures actually depict two different events - the first being George's near death experience. The second, something that became a regular occurrence in our garden for the early part of this year when the puppies, George and Ilsa, Doberman/Rott crossbreeds arrived. They were 12 weeks old and weighed about 10lbs each. Today, a few weeks post their first birthday, not much has changed as far as the seedlings are concerned, only now George weighs in excess of 110lbs and the damage is more rapid and infinitely more devastating. I have no doubt that others with home farms who have had their crops devoured by rabbits, sheep, goats or deer or trampled by cows, horses or even elephants will think this trivial and me pathetic.  They do say that we are only sent what we can deal with, and as a city girl trying to learn - small, bite-sized lessons are by far the easiest to swallow. After a while one takes things less to heart and can visualize the now popular war-time poster with the words "KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON" and know that these things are sent to try us and after each such event, we will be stronger and ever more determined........or so "they" say. 

Friday, 4 November 2011


Our newest addition, a small lime tree, is sitting patiently in the early morning sun on the verandah waiting for the next Full Moon.

Already heavily ladened with three good sized limes, this little tree purchased from the local Agriculture Department, has burst into the most heavenly scented flowers, some of which have quickly (in just a matter of days) transformed into clusters of fruit buds. I am almost frightened to plant her (it looks like a her to me), for fear that the trauma of being moved may disturb the developing fruit. Then there is the question of whether these clusters of fruit buds need to be thinned in order to produce better quality limes?  I will have to consult the Citrus Guru (my father).

He has already informed me that the fruit, which I assumed to be fully mature and begging to be picked (based on their size), will not be ready for some weeks yet.  Apparently, I will know they have reached perfection when they  become less dense to the touch, their skin will lose its dimples and become almost totally smooth and shiny - only then will they be juicy and full flavoured.  Clearly in all things garden related, patience is a virtue and Margarita Time will have to wait, for this little tree at least.  

Tuesday, 1 November 2011


As we enter into November, I am taking every opportunity to make the most of the remaining weeks of what seems to have been a bumper 2011 avocado season.  I, like many others, will be sorry to see these wonderful, nutrition-rich beauties vanish for our daily menu.  And as if this was not woeful enough, the timing coincides with the end of our own mango trees fruiting; Julie, Palwee, Long, Pont (and a purple variety that none of us know the name of), have given up the last of their bounty for this year and are now busy erupting with new shoots of acid and lime green and deep coppery reds (these vary by variety).  The speed of growth is quite phenomenal - seemingly to grow several inches every day - and all over the island mango trees are bursting into flower and for some, next year's crop is already making an appearance as tiny, grape-sized specimens.  Sadly, I'm not a huge fan of freezing, drying or bottling this particular fruit, preferring to enjoy it simply and naked (the fruit, not me, though they're so juicy and sticky, that at times it seems that eating them naked would possibly be THE most sensible thing to do).

2011 has also brought a superb crop of cucumbers and the biggest challenge has been to use them all before they spoil. It's worth noting that the best specimens seem to grow on patches of land, recently cleared and burnt and left to settle for a week or two.  Eaten freshly picked, with a knife in hand and a tiny pile of ground sea-salt for dipping, is by far the best way to enjoy these, in my view; though thankfully, the results of my first efforts of bottling, pickling and even fermenting have proved to be most successful and produced some truly wonderful new taste sensations. Making the most of my father's seemingly endless supply of enormous home-grown limes, I've experimented with a range of marinades of sea salt, lime juice, rice vinegar, garlic, spring onions (scallions), fresh coriander (cilantro) and dried red chillies and used this to bottle some of these fabulously crisp cucumbers cut into thick spears. These (sealed in glass jars) last for several weeks in the fridge and make a superb accompaniment to a variety of hot and cold dishes and perfect with a hunk of good mature cheddar cheese and fresh crusty bread.  Finely sliced and blended with shredded, crunchy white cabbage and imported New Zealand Braeburn apples, they also make a rather delicious alternative twist on Korean Kimchee.  Hot, sweet and sour and packing a punch from a combination of fresh scotch bonnet peppers, dried red chillies and fresh garlic.  Equally, the addition of some chargrilled aubergines (egg plant) drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, adds yet another dimension - the possibilities seem endless.  
With further thoughts of bottling and pickling in mind, I am watching with interest as a new wild, self-seeded lime tree has burst into life.  I'm not sure how it came to be there, but it is now well established just beside the main driveway to the house.  Hopefully, it will go on to produce masses of small, juicy fruit, known here simply as "local lime", which are the perfect size for making traditional Indian style lime pickle. In the meantime, I will beg my Indian friends for their mother's, aunt's or grandmother's secret recipes!  If anyone has a particularly good recipe that they would like to share, I would be very happy to hear from them.  And so, the experimenting will continue as I try to find new ways of using and saving all that the garden provides.  Of course, sharing and bartering is prolific here and exchanging produce with family and friends is a great way to make the most of one's harvest; there is of course the added bonus that in the process one may even manage to save seeds from varieties that one has not previously grown.

* MAN-GO.... MAN-GONE! one of those silly family sayings that we use, never really knowing how, or when, it found it's way into our vocabulary.  I'm sure that every family has them....sometimes many years after the original occasion has long since been forgotten.