Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Winter gardening

First a short explanation... my blog has been dormant for a while (it needed a good wintersleep!), but I have decided to enter the blogosphere afresh and focus my blogposts on what for me constitutes the Little Arithmetics: small things of real value (to me). 

One of the things I will blog about are my (organic) gardening and vegetable growing experiences in the sunny, dry Mediterranean climate, from the tiny rocky island Malta, which I currently call home. Malta's winters are mild: the temperature rarely dips under 10 degrees Celcius, and although January and February are the rainiest months of the year, the sun shines almost every day. It is the perfect season for long countryside walks and bicycle rides, and also for gardening and vegetable growing! 

At the end of November, beginning of December, we (me and my boyfriend Christian) started planting beetroot, brussels sprouts, spinach and carrots. We planted the seeds in seedtrays that we kept in our closed balcony (a typical feature of Maltese houses) for the first weeks, so the seedlings could sprout in a sunny sheltered environment, without being exposed to the strong North-Western winds (known here as Majjistral) that batter our house at times. After a few weeks we took some of the seedlings up to our roof to see how they would grow in pots, and took another batch to the fields of Christian's father, Joseph, whom we help out at the weekends and where we got a small plot to start growing our own veggies. 

Brussels sprout seedlings in a pot on our roof

In the first weekend of January, we decided to spend the weekend at the fields to help Joseph with planting potatoes, peas (piżelli), chickpeas (ċiċri) and broad beans (ful) and camp under one of the majestic carob trees. 

Joseph preparing a plot of land before planting the potatoes

The family fields...

... are a family business: 
Christian's nephew Andrei and his nannu Joe take a break

While Chris prepares lunch :)

Camping under (or in?) the carob tree (ħarruba)

We were happy to see our seedlings rooting well and growing steadily:  



Since the beginning of January we've spent almost every weekend at the fields, tending to the plants, watering them with water that we manually haul up from the well, and keeping the ħaxix ħazin (bad grass, a.k.a. weeds) at bay. 

Our labour is paying off, because after a few weeks, this is what our veggies have grown up to already:

Peas (piżelli)

Rows and rows of veggies

Broad beans (ful)

Of course not all that glitters is gold. It turns out that we are not the only ones who find our homegrown veggies very tasty: judging by their glittering trails, the entire snail population of Malta is enjoying them. 

Spinach is popular with all, also with the bebbuxu (snails)

We add lime (ġir) - a pretty common resource here, considering about the entire 
Maltese Islands are made up of limestone - around our crops as a deterrent for snails. 

Apart from that, we manually inspect the plants for snails and we sprinkle coffee grounds 
around the plants, which supposedly should also shoo away those slimy bastards

The nearby almond tree is blossoming beautifully, and we're already finding small seedlings sprouting under the tree from almonds that have fallen from the tree. 

Blossoming almond tree (lewż)

Unfortunately, the tree is a bitter almond and its nuts are poisonous. However, we are planning to try and use the growing bitter almond trees as a rootstock for grafting, in order to graft the much more desirable sweet almond onto it. Grafting is a horticultural technique in which tissue from one plant is inserted into another, so that the tissues join together. One plant is selected for its roots and is called the rootstock (in our case this would be the bitter almond) and a cutting from another variety (the sweet almond), called the scion, is grafted onto it. The scion provides the genes for the new plant, which in this case would be a sweet almond. We are going to try it out, and will report back :) 

Farming in the sun, with a view of the Mediterranean sea