Heirloom Tomato Island Adventure in the Bahamas?
We visited the Abacos Island chain a little over a year ago. The trip uncovered that most of the Islands had herb and vegetable gardens tended by dedicated gardeners.
Unfortunately, time constraints limited our ability to investigate gardening styles and vegetable varieties.
A year of thinking about the possibility of re-discovering some lost heirloom tomato variety, brought over by colonists in the 1700's, became so overwhelming we had to return.
Friends living in Hopetown on the island of Elbow Cay offered us the opportunity.
For those unfamiliar with travel to this area in the Bahamas, getting there is part of the adventure.
Visiting Hopetown requires either a boat trip or a flight into Marsh Harbor.
Boating being the best option, because it's the only way to access most islands in the chain.
If boating there isn't a travel option, the flight in from West Palm Beach, Florida is quick and easy. (Note: a passport is required). Pick a window seat. The views possible during the one hour flight are spectacular. Vistas of crystal clear blue water and sandy beached islands are memorable.
Landing in Marsh Harbor and exploring the approx. 130 mile long Great Abaco Island could be an adventure in itself, but a trip to the less developed out islands is the magic of the Abacos
A short taxi ride to the ferry docks is next. There are ferry's leaving regularly to
many of the larger islands. The ferry network makes it possible to visit a variety of tropical places, each with their distinct personality. There were a number of backpack adventurers using the system to become island vagabonds.
Talking to some of them about their travels, revealed it wasn't just the
usual tourist hot spots, sunning on beautiful soft sand beaches, fishing or snorkeling.
It was the food! Magnificent seafood blended with local ingredients and Bahamian cooking styles made the foodie travelers keep coming back for more.
Did I mention the drinks? Exotic beers, rums and tropical concoctions make the sun feel better, the fabulous sunsets set slower and the food tastes better.
But, enough of that! We're on a tomato quest! Heirloom Tomatoes!
The ferry took us into the docks in Hopetown which were only a short walk to our destination. One of the most popular rental homes on the island.
A Tranquil Landing
There are a number of reasons why A Tranquil Landing is a great home base for island adventures. Number one being location, location, location. It's on the Main Street (lane) and overlooks its own private boat docks, an entertaining / relaxation gazebo and a view of the famous Hopetown lighthouse harbor.
From Tranquil Landing it's a short walk to shops, restaurants and island transportation options such as the ferry's to other islands, bicycle, boat and golf cart rentals.
Go up the lane, behind the house, up over the hill and your just a brief walk to a beautiful dream beach with snorkeling reefs within swimming distance, practically all to yourself.
Is this heaven? No it's A Tranquil Landing in Hopetown.
Upon arriving, we went up the hill to the house with the beautiful garden we'd seen on our last trip. Gone! Nothing there. Just turned dirt.
The house was still there, the garden was not. Is it possible to be depressed in one of the best most laid back getaway's on the planet?
Our friends snapped us out of it, because it was Monday night! Dinner and Jacks.
It turns out Cap'n Jacks, a restaurant / bar up the lane, had bingo on Monday nights.
The difference from our bingo being, it was called JACKS (same amount of letters as BINGO) and the markers used were discarded beer bottle caps. We Like it already.
The Jacks games started as the sun was setting. Behind us in the backround, the lighthouse seemed to glow. The interplay between the caller and crowd was hilarious.
We didn't win. None of us. But we did contribute more bottle caps for future games.
The next morning we joined our hosts for a boat ride over to Man-O-War Settlement.
Our host's goal was to find a young woman that was famous for making homemade sticky buns to order.
Ours was to walk the island looking for gardens. We found a couple of homes with a variety of tropical fruits and herbs.
But no tomatoes.
Outside of one shop we saw a freshly tilled garden with what looked like blooming watermelon plants stringing across the plot. But, no Heirloom Tomatoes.
We went back to Hopetown after a day out on the water adventuring and snorkeling, but no tomatoes.
The next morning we woke up to the smell of coffee and sticky buns. The coffee and sugar bomb buns were an island version of a power energy drink.
Out of paper towels, I volunteered to walk up the lane to the grocery store. Walking by Cap'n Jacks I noticed across from the bar was a house with a white latticed fence. BINGO! I mean, JACKS!
Hanging from between the lattice were quarter sized purple/ black
tomatoes. I stood there staring and wondering what variety? Obviously heirloom tomatoes.
Then a voice came from over my shoulder asking " Can I help you". The puzzled young man was wondering why I was staring at the fence. I stuttered, " Heirloom tomatoes?"
He said " Oh! The tomatoes! I don't know, I'll get my Dad". I said " No, don't bother him.", "No problem he's in the bar", he replied.
Great! Now I'm some whacked out, nuisance tourist. Not the M.O. I intended.
Out stepped Captain Jack himself!
I told him about my tomato quest. He went on to explain all he knew was that the tomatoes were heirloom black grape tomatoes that originally came from New Jersey.
His plants suffered from the same malady that was finishing off our tomatoes back in Florida. Whiteflies.
We both agreed our tomatoes would have to be pulled out soon. That explains the empty and re-cropped gardens I had seen around the islands.
I asked what he was doing to fend off the little white demons. He was using a similar soap solution as we use in our Florida gardens.
I told him the best thing I found was to shoot water up under the leaves every couple of days. Silence
Then the Mr. Obvious tumblers kicked in.
The islands fresh water supply depends on cisterns under each building. Rainwater is collected from a roof/gutter/filtration system into the cistern.
So my whitefly defense wasn't practical for island gardeners. In fact the
islanders as a whole were praying for rain, because water supplies were very low.
The rain came later in the week
Black Pearl Heirloom Tomatoes next to store bought Grape Tomatoes
The soil is another consideration. It's sandy, shell filled with bits of ground up coral rock . I'm sure calcium's not an issue but lack of other nutrients may be an issue.
I also realized the island season was the same as ours in Florida So our next visit to find active, healthy island tomato gardens would have to be in the winter (any excuse to go back)
Talking to Cap'n Jack about his "Black Pearl" Island Heirloom Tomatoes
(arghh! I couldn't resist), they had a similar indeterminate survival growing style as our Wild Everglades Tomatoes.
Captain Jack and his son Clint were kind enough to give me a few of the tomatoes. We sill ripened and seeded them for future use. The meat of the tomatoes wasn't quite as sweet as our Everglades, but were very good. The difference could be the soil and growing conditions.
We will plant some next season for comparison
Special thanks to Captain Jack and his son Clint , Our hosts the Duffy's and the wonderful people of Hopetown
Ah! One more sunset at Cap'n Jacks before we leave!
Fly in from anywhere in the world. With closest U.S. connections being West Palm Beach Airport, Fort Lauderdale Airport and Miami International Airport.
Check them all for Rates.
The rates change from time to time. So, to get the best deals keep checking well in advance.
Here's the current flights from West Palm Beach to the Bahamas. Just enter your departure and destination airports.
If you're looking for a Hotel / Resort, Weekender Getaway on Elbow Cay or anywhere in the Abacos and not a weekly House Rental like "A Tranquil Landing" . . . . . .
Looking for a Stateside Tomato Adventure Destination?
From Foodie to Wild Bucket List Adventures check out The Traveling Tomato