The Last of His Kind
I just love to visit people and their yards when they are interesting and resourceful. On a recent trip to Grand Cayman, we visited the yard of Otto Watler… the only beekeeper in the Cayman Islands. He’s in his seventies and he is the last of his kind.
We sought him out. We drove all over the place looking for the ‘Cayman Honey’ sign in front of his house. We stopped several times to ask for directions. We were so thrilled to finally find his place, but we had no idea what to expect.
We drove into his yard unannounced and piled out of our van. Otto was sitting under a tree taking a break from yard work with a couple of his helpers. We introduced ourselves and started asking him questions about his bees. I think he liked that we are quite educated about honeybees. He is bursting at the seams with knowledge about his bees. Otto was such a pleasure to talk to. He has an obvious nurturing nature about him… and striking blue eyes.
Otto explained to us that he lost most of his honeybees in hurricane Ivan in 2004. That year was going to be one of his best years for honey production and he almost lost it all. He said there were dead bees inside the boxes and out after Ivan hit. He didn’t have any honey to sell us because the bees are not recovering well. Otto is worried about their future on the island. On the bright side, Cayman doesn’t have any of the honeybee diseases and pests to deal with like we do in Florida. However, it’s only a matter of time before they end up in Cayman. One of Otto’s concerns is the honey that is being shipped in with honeycomb inside it. The honeycomb could potentially carry foreign honeybee diseases in it. The same would be true of raw honey that is imported into Cayman.
There are no Africanized honeybees in Grand Cayman, although they’ve had some misfortunate events happen due to aggressive honeybees. The media sensationalizes the stories and refers to the bees as “killer bees”. They instill fear in people instead of educating people about the honeybees behavior. However, I’ve heard that the media in Florida is making a conscious effort to support the plight and help save the honeybee. Live bee removers (beekeepers) don’t make much money from removing live bees and are usually doing it as a labor of love for the honeybees.
Beekeeping and gardening always seem to go hand-in-hand. We were so happy when Otto decided we were worthy to go on a tour of his yard. He has two acres of land around his home that he has spent a lot of time and money making into a yard full of food. He has planted every available space with some plant or tree that produces. Cayman has rocky soil and some areas are laden with limestone rock which makes it extremely difficult to garden. Otto invested in a machine that helped him to excavate the rock in order to make holes for planting. He keeps his chickens (and other birds) in coops and puts sand underneath them. He uses the sand mixed with all the chicken manure around his fruit trees to provide them with nutrients. He said this system has worked great for him. The bees make all his produce big, beautiful and bountiful. His hard work shows and his yard is amazing.
Otto and I share the same vision of our yards. His yard just screams, “pick me”!
Come grow with us!