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.  

A picture with Henry "Otto" Watler, the only beekeeper in the Cayman Islands.

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. 

Cayman Honey sign in Savannah, Grand Cayman.

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. 

Just a few of Otto's bee boxes.

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. 

Otto has hundreds of bee boxes.

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. 

Limestone rock in Otto's yard that he has to contend with.

Huge papayas in Otto's yard that he will take to the farmer's market to sell.

Otto's breadfruit tree with a ripe breadfruit hanging from it.

Otto gave us a breadfruit. We took it home and cooked it and it was the best one we'd ever tasted! Turns out, it is a variety called "yellow breadfruit".

This is a Jamaican pumpkin leaf and a flower that is about to set fruit.

A ripe Jamaican pumpkin still on the vine.

I couldn't believe how much food was growing around the place... just gorgeous! Otto said it's best to let the Jamaican pumpkin vine run wherever it wants on the ground.

Otto's ackee tree... the Jamaican national fruit.

This is ackee. It's one of my favorite dishes, but it can be hard to find outside of the Caribbean. We have an ackee tree growing in our yard.

Ackee trees grow easily from seed. They have to be ripe before they are picked though or they can be poisonous.

Otto's citrus orchard.

He has lots of bananas and plantain trees.

Otto's watermelon... I love what he did with the zinc and the wire under it.

Tamarind flowers hanging from the tree.

Otto gave us all the tamarind we could carry.

One of Otto's chicken coops. I love the design and the way it looks in his yard.

Otto standing in front of all his hard work.

Otto and I share the same vision of our yards.  His yard just screams, “pick me”!  

Come grow with us!

15 Responses to “The Last of His Kind”

  1. wonderful blog…
    That is what life is all about…getting out and connecting with other people…

  2. dear lisa!
    this is a wonderful,great teaching article.great pictures.it is very interesting to read about your blog.I like the way you presented.thank you for the soap nuts articlel I look forward to read your blog.thank you for educating society

  3. Thank you, for writing this article about Otto, He truly is the last of his kind. And he is a very hard working Caymanian. I have sent a copy to his Son.

  4. Neil Hatt Says:

    Otto’s life and backyard reminds me so much of my mum and dad’s life, back in Trinidad, the average family in Trinidad would be up around 5am each morning and finished around midnight, and their objective? survival! You could still find that type of lifestyle in most parts of the Caribbean, right now, 2012.

  5. wow !!!! a double wow! thats amazing, very inspiring. i felt like im on my dreamland when i read that blog, thanks to you. wishing good health to you and Otto

  6. Bob Posterli Says:

    My wife and I met him on our honeymoon in 1984. We have been back many times to see him. He has always been gracious. A true hidden treasure of Grand Cayman..His honey is delicious

  7. Wonderful article and pictures. I found it while looking up bread fruit. I am still here visiting Grand Cayman and will look up Ottis. Thank you.

  8. […] This year my friend and business partner Margie invited us as her guests for a week at one of her Conch (Konk) Point Villas in Grand Cayman. Also visiting from Jamaica was her nephew David, along with his adorable wife Indi and their beautiful children Seana and Thomas. The following week, Margie’s daughter Lisa (of PickMeYard) and her family visited Cayman. You can read about their fabulous Cayman Bee Adventure here.   […]

  9. My wife and I met Otto and his gracious wife last year and had the same opportunity to tour his land and talk about bees and all of the fruit,nuts and vegetables they grow. It was a wonderful time and I hope we get to see them again someday and bring them some of our honey,as they gave us a jar of theirs. So dark and delisicious by the way. They gave us their email address but I have misplaced it some where and have no way of finding it. Would you happen to have it?and if so would you be able to send it to me? Any reply would be appreciated. Thank you, Eric.

    • Hi Eric. Unfortunately I do not have Otto’s email address. Sorry I can’t be more help with that.

      • Do you by any chance have an address for Otto and his bee farm. We were there over 15 years ago and just can’t remember – we’ll be going back next year. Thanks. Janet

      • I wish I did. I just happened to read about the Cayman honey farm from a pamphlet in my hotel room and it gave me a general area of where it was. We drove out that way and started to ask around untill we found it. We actually passed it up a few times as the concrete sign is (or was ) overgrown. I did find a mailing address online but it is for a p o box. In my opinion,the man is a Caymanian legend(with a lovely and gracious wife to back him) and shouldn’t be too hard to find. I do remember his place to be on the southern(if there is such a thing) part of the island. I plan to write the Watlers a letter this very weekend(such an old fashioned thing to do eh?) and I will ask for their address. If and when I get a reply and with their permission of course I will post it here. Feel free to contact my email at: mailmane@yahoo.com
        I may be able to reply quicker that way.
        Good luck!

  10. Very great post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to mention that I
    have really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I will be subscribing to your
    rss feed and I’m hoping you write once more
    very soon!

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