Haynes Smalls is a good friend to have if you like fresh produce. He shares his wealth of fruits, roots and vegetables with friends and neighbors. But he doesnt just give away the provisions that he himself would not eat he shares the best of his crop.
What I dont like for myself, I dont give it away, he said. I dont sell my plants, I share. Thats what I do I give away some and I eat some.
Smalls, a St. Lucia native and St. John resident since 1964, grows everything from papaya to tania leaf to dasheen at the small Estate Enighed home that he shares with his wife, Anne.
He employs certain tricks and techniques to ensure his plants grow green and healthy.
The soil is too dry for dasheen, so I put the plants in pots with a dish underneath, said Smalls. The dish collects the water and the plants soak it up.
Taught Farming by Father
Smalls learned about horticulture from his father, who was a farmer in St. Lucia.
My father was a farmer all my life, he said. He taught me a lot of things. One tradition passed on to Smalls is farming without chemicals.
I grow everything naturally with no chemicals, said Smalls. My father never used chemicals.
The one thing that could drive Smalls to use chemicals in his gardens is his current nemesis the iguana.
They say they are protected, but they are multiplying and eating everything, he said. If I could find something that could chase them away, I would use chemicals. When I shake my trees, they jump and run.
Iguanas continually ate the leaves off one of Smalls soursop trees until the plant finally died, he said.
Iguanas ate it, then the leaves grew back, said Smalls. This happened three times, and the fourth time, the leaves grew back nice and big, and I thought, okay, now Ive got it. But the iguanas came back and ate it again, and now the tree is dead.
Natural Resources for Fertilizer
Aside from possibly using chemicals to deter iguanas from eating his plants, Smalls only uses natural resources from his own yard in his gardens.
For the yam vines, I dig holes about two feet deep and fill them with dry bush for fertilizer, he said. Some people clean their land and throw away the bush. I dont do that.
I leave the bush, Smalls continued. Ive had banana plants for 30 years, and I never throw away the leaves I cut off of them. The plants are continually being enriched, and the trees are always handsome.
Because Smalls recycles his yard waste, he never has to buy soil.
I dont buy soil, he said. I make my own mulch. I mix it with rabbit or bat manure, whatever I can find, and the plants grow like crazy.
Rabbit Pen in Works
For Smalls, rabbit manure is easy to find. He was recently given a family of rabbits a mother, father and four babies by a family whose children were allergic to the rabbits fur.
I feed them tamarind, potato vine, all of that stuff, he said. I also buy them food at the store, but I dont like that, because in the wild they wouldnt have that food.
Smalls is working on building a large pen for the rabbits, who currently reside in cages on his front porch.
It might be shocking that a man old enough to have a great-grandchild plus six children and eight grandchildren is strong enough to tend to his garden and build a pen for his pet rabbits.
Smalls credits bush medicine for his health and strength.
We dont take medicine, and we dont go to the doctor, he said. We use all bush medicine.
One medicinal plant that Smalls grows is turmeric, or yellow ginger. This plant is used to heal bruises.
You boil it, and then you drink it when you have bruises, said Smalls. This scatters the blood in the bruise.
Smalls also credits his other hobby beekeeping for keeping him healthy. The bee stings are supposed to be good for arthritis, so maybe thats why Im so healthy, said Smalls, who has been stung more times than he can count.
Smalls keeps beehives at his Enighed property, and on land within the V.I. National Park, which gave Smalls permission to keep some of his bees on Park land.
But dont worry about getting stung on an afternoon hike the hives are out of the way to protect residents and tourists.
Smalls, a retired mason, was introduced to beekeeping by his former boss in St. Lucia.
My boss had a lot of bees, and he used to take us to see them, he said. There were so many bees around here, so I got more into it.
Unlike stateside honey, Smalls honey is rich with pollen.
Pollen is a good source of energy, he said. It keeps me healthy.
Smalls used to sell his honey to health food stores on St. Thomas, but to get this pollen-enriched treat nowadays, you have to go directly to the source.
I still sell it, so come to my house for honey, he said.
Smalls has both a wax melter and a honey extractor for getting the honey out of the honeycombs.
The wax melter uses heat to separate the honey, while the extractor uses centrifugal force.
The honey is the same whether it comes from the wax melter or extractor, but in the wax melter, the heat kills some of the enzymes, said Smalls. I prefer to use the extractor.
Pleasure, Not Task
While its easy for Smalls to choose his preferred method of extracting honey, dont ask this remarkable man to choose between his two hobbies.
I like them both; both gardening and beekeeping are nice, he said. When Im digging up the ground though, I feel energized. God put man in the garden, and I feel that when you are working in the ground, you get all the nutrients.
Working with plants is a hobby, so it doesnt seem like work to me, Smalls continued. Its a pleasure instead of a task. I do it with pride and dignity.