MY OBSERVATIONS ON THE LAND

Even though I only wrote these observations the other day, I have gleaned more information today that I would like to add to this blog entry as it is relevant. As well as that, some of my dear blogger friends have asked me questions about the water situation in relation to farming and growing crops which I have tried to answer, but I am constantly learning more about the situation on Gozo and so I want to update my writing, it is still only my own observations, and they will change as I learn more about this beautiful and attractive island. Thank you to Lydia (Lyart) and Mary Tang for asking me questions which made me think deeper and search for more answers.

Ever since we came to the Maltese islands nearly two months ago I have been looking for signs of agricultural activity, and in particular have I wondered if there were people practicing permaculture, or growing vegetables organically. I have looked for signs, asked around and checked the internet, and slowly I am forming a picture of what is happening on this front here on Gozo. I think from what I gather from the papers that back in 2008 some people wanted to see Gozo turn into an ecological island, growing crops organically, preserving water and stone, but there are many challenges and they are not easily overcome, and I don’t think much progress has been made, but don’t take my word for it. I am only observing, one needs to be longer in a country to be sure of what the real story is, what the problems are, and what progress is being made. I did see quite a few crops even this early in spring, the grains such as barley or oats seem to have been harvested already. Large cabbages were in some of the small fields, as were plenty of onions. When we came early in March the vineyards were still looking very bare, but now they are beautifully green and flourishing despite the drought. Yes, it actually has not rained here since the New Year, you can see some of the wild plants are wilting, and growth is stunted.  From what I notice there are a lot of small farms, or areas for growing crops, apparently there are not that many full time farmers on Gozo, but quite a few part-timers, people who have inherited farmland and work the land as a matter of course.  It is very noticeable when travelling around the island that an effort is being made to utilise every bit of available land to grow crops.   But today we had a chat with a local woman at Dwejra, she gave us information about the small farmer, the ordinary householder who will have a garden full of vegetables, will keep chickens for the eggs, will grow plenty of tomatoes, and some of those who have more land will even grow some grapes for wine making.  She told us that when the produce was plentiful people would share out to family and friend, a practise which is age old and so sensible and to be appreciated.

Terraced small fields at Xlendi
Terraced small fields at Xlendi, soil looking good.

The prickly pear is used in jam and liqueur making, the local wines are delicious.

DSCF5262

20160422_163808

Some of the soil is very stony, just like it is in Ireland!  Of course seeing that it is a very dry climate here, the soil everywhere I looked was totally dried out, still the crops looked fresh and full of foliage, when items are planted the Gozitans make a bit of a pit and put the plant in there and water it, this keeps the plant more moist and preserves the water I guess.  The darker the earth, the more fertile it is.

On the water questions, many of the people on Gozo use their own wells, but the water table is becoming lower and lower because of the lack of rain. The Maltese islands do have a problem with drought, they get their water for a certain percentage from wells and the rest from desalination using electricity to transform it. Small organic farms may still be possible but there are other factors to consider, when it does rain there is often flooding. A lot of area on the island is urbanised but not enough water is collected and stored in cisterns (I read recently).  According to our local source the ground water is being depleted, which is not surprising when there is not enough rain to replenish it and at the same time there is more tourism and this industry uses a lot more water than does local living, what with swimming pools and many more people actually utilising water.  I am sure that there is much more to be said and thought about with regard to water provision and regulation, that I do not know about.  Gozo does have water reservoirs, and I read that there is constantly improvement being done. Check this document too http://www.fao.org/3/a-a0994e.pdf

Some kitchen gardens at Mgarr, typical between the high-rise flats
Some kitchen gardens at Mgarr, typical between the high-rise flats

DSCF5296

This is a farm where, we were told are cows but we did not see any and were told that the cows are kept inside here on Gozo, not sure if this is true but I did not see more than two or three cows outside.  Some of the milk is imported from Italy.  There is excellent sheeps cheese produced on Gozo, a favourite of mine.  I also saw goats but was not able, so far, to source goats milk.

There is great potential for permaculture, and for growing vegetables, crops and vines without using pesticides and fertilizers, imagine what it could mean for Gozo if it became know for its pure and healthy food production, as there is a growing market for such produce all over Europe, and as the Maltese islands would not be at a danger of becoming contaminated with genetically modified pollination once seeds are kept out of the islands, this could be an ecological paradise.

 

SOME THOUGHTS

 

From inert fossils and lichens, to the very much alive and energetic lizards, bees and ants, and a huge range of other creatures, the flowers, trees, the amazing rocks and limestone buildings, the land here has such riches to offer for the eye and the mind.  It will take me a while to analyse it all.  I have taken so many photos while here, and I still have so much in mind to write about.  I am still finding out about the agriculture, the organic and permaculture on Gozo.  I’m also reading up about the local bees, the honey, the production of local wines, the economy of the land.  I have met local people on buses and in shops and we have had great chats, I have also visited the libraries and talked with people at an art exhibition.  I find the Gozitans very approachable, they are friendly people and welcoming to strangers.

 

 

WONDERFUL EARTH

And that was the story today, more wonderful creations to admire. While visiting the Ggantija Temples, of which I will write at some later stage, we experienced a wonderful outing, very interesting, the ancient works of mankind. And yet the eye did wander off to where the flowers, and the insects were. And here are some to share.

XLENDI WATCHTOWER ON GOZO

Our walk yesterday took us to the oldest watchtower on Gozo, the Xlendi watchtower. It was a nice walk to get to there, to our left the ever higher reaching stone terraces, and to our right a deep gorge, the Il-Kantra valley, sweeping down to the sea and lifting our heads up again to the cliffs on the other side of Xlendi bay, apart from the magnificent views a lot of wild plants and flowers made the walk interesting. Eventually we reached a plateau seemingly made partly out of pure white chalkstone, and partly out of other limestone types. Out towards the sea we saw the tower, it is lying just at the edge, and before the cliff steeply descends to the salt pans.
I read up a little about the watchtower. There are a number of them all over Malta and Gozo (I guess Comino too), they were built as a defence against the Ottoman invaders who would come and take the Gozitans bringing them home to use as slaves. I read that in 1551 there was a siege on Gozo, and 6000 Gozitans were taken into slavery. This is close to my heart because a small village back in Ireland, Baltimore, was raided back in 1631 by pirates from the Algiers, and the Ottoman Turks, they took nearly the whole village into slavery, the remainder of the inhabitants of Baltimore moved more inland, up river and established the town of Skibbereen, which is where I made my home many years ago.
The Xlendi tower dates back to 1650, it has been in continuous use both during the British rule and during the second world war, but it had become in disrepair and today it is being restored.
The cliff behind the tower reveals the salt pans which are as far as I know not in use anymore, but I could be wrong. They do look quite interesting, what a clever invention by humans to reap salt from the Mediterranean in this way. I wondered at the people working there and reaping the salt which the seawater left behind after the sun had done its drying out, it must have been hard work.
Looking back at the scenery in land from the tower the view is breath-taking, the rock formations brilliantly white, the vegetation scares but beautiful.
This is a walk I will not forget easily, nature at its most powerful, the winds were strong that day too. A walk that highlights a piece of social history, in a most beautiful natural setting, perfect for anyone.

DSCF5486

DSCF5408

DSCF5426

MALTESE ALLEY CATS

I just have to share this with all of you. I’m not a sentimental cat person, but you just got to love these guys around here, they are awesome, the Maltese cat! Feral cats have been around humans for a long time, they thrive not only in the city but also in rural areas, and here on Gozo and on Malta you see quite a few of them, they walk the streets, and they are not as used to people as the domesticated cat obviously, they are used to looking after themselves, fending for themselves and finding food. I look at them and see character in their faces! In the park in Victoria (capital of Gozo) there are several cats that lounge about, one lovely ginger is my favourite there, it stands high on its legs, a graceful animal.  (A lot of these Maltese feral cats seem to stand high on their legs I have noticed).  You see them in all sort of shades from grey to white, but most beautiful are the patchy ones who have deep ginger, black and grey colours. They have buckets of attitude, and walk around as if the street is their backyard, I just love their confidence. Here are a few of the guys around the street where we are staying.

Below I would like to share with you my favourite of all time.  It is this patchy cat, I only saw him/her today for the first time and hope to catch sight again, this cat is the type that you could write about with great imagination because that is what she/he does to you, makes you wonder how she/he gets her food, survives the night with all the other toms around.  What an intelligent look in her/his face too, no wonder she is looking after herself so well.  One of the most noticeable things about her is the long full tail, longer than any cat’s tail I have ever come across, she uses it to her full advantage to express how she feels, brilliant!

I hope you enjoyed my cat photos, I cannot for the life of me resist taking more pics of them, goodness me! 🙂

DSCF5352

DSCF5351

DSCF5350

DSCF5348

A SNAPSHOT OF TODAY’S BEAUTIES

Today we ventured on one of the ‘hop on hop off’ busses which travels virtually the whole of the island. It was the first day we that the sky was overcast and there was a breeze which made it quite chilly travelling on top of the open bus, but the views were spectacular. I wanted in particular to see what sort of crops were produced on the land. I have got a much better idea about that now, I took many photos and will write about this particular subject in the near future, it is a subject close to my heart. We enjoyed the Craft village where we saw all sorts of crafts being worked, most interesting to me was the lace making, but more about that also in a later blog. So much to write about…. Meanwhile I hope you enjoy the photos.

MY DISCOVERY OF GOZITAN ART

DSCF5208

I’ve had my eye on this exhibition for a few days already, I did not know anything about the artist or his work, but I thought that I had to start somewhere if I wanted to discover the art of the Gozotian people, and that I wanted.  So today I stepped inside the hall and immersed myself in the works of George Scicluna, an artist born right here in Victoria on Gozo.  His work did not immediately appeal to the eye, you had to look at it long to try and get what was going on in the artists mind, I struggled a bit with that, I did notice that all of the large paintings had a religious motive, but not in a devotional way, I thought that the artist was looking for answers in his mind, in a most torturous way, looking for answers about life, about belief, faith, fear, torture, redemption, humankind.  I could be totally wrong about all this.  But I strongly believe that true ‘Art’ is supposed to allow or encourage the observer to ‘feel’ something, or to ‘experience’ something, and that it did for me, this exhibition of paintings made me feel how mankind does run around with deep anguish about its existence, about the why and how.  I can relate to that very well.

That’s all, and that is good enough for me.

Later on I went to check out some more work of the same artist and found that he is also a sculptor, creating fine, sculptors in lime stone.  Nice.

DSCF5206

Some of the works in the exhibition, with the artist.

 

 

 

BETWEEN MOON RISING AND SUN SETTING

This evening we took a walk along the cliffs at Xlendi.  It had been a hot day and the evening cool was nice and refreshing.  Where the path leaves the road it becomes interesting and I found many wild plants and flowers growing here.  The landscape was beautifully lit by the setting sun, which throws a special warm light over the earth.  Higher up along the cliffs there is an amazing array of terraced walls in the local stone, the walls are dry, stones just left on top of one another.  It looks like they are terraced agriculture land but they are actually a pathway winding its way up to the top of the cliff, towards the tower, we did not get that far this time but are planning another walk and pick-nick soon up there.  The moon was rising at the same time, full moon it seems too, it is so very beautiful here, photos just don’t do it justice.

20160420_191407

20160420_190059

MARSALFORN – GOZO

A little journey to visit Marsalforn today, an apparent busy tourist place in the North-East of the island, where the apartment buildings greet you as you get closer to the sea and the promenade.  The narrow little streets of the older village are quant and more interesting.  The sea itself is so blue and transparent, and to the north of the harbour you can still see some fishing boats and nets.  It is only a few minutes bus drive from Victoria, which is the capital of Gozo and lies in the middle of the island.  Every place on Gozo is close by each other, a short bus drive and you are there.

I discovered a few colourful and beautiful sights while there today.  I saw that the reddish fishing nets they had in Marsaxlokk, Malta were being used here too, and baskets to catch octopus, as far as I know.  While walking in among some of the apartment blocks I then came across the little yellow Oxalis Pes-Caprae flowers, and a few of the Sulla flowers which brighten everything with their beautiful shade of red.

On the way to Marsalforn I saw some signs of agricultural practices, this I am very interested in, Gozo has suffered drought for a few months now and everything does look very dry, though the neatly ordered rows of vegetables, I saw lots of onions, looked healthy enough.  The hay had been harvested too in lots of fields.  I want to explore this further, what is being grown, produced and so on.  I did see quite a few vine yards but they were smaller than in Malta.  The grapes are delicious here though.  I know that a lot of wells are being used to water the land, but also that the mains water comes from desalination of seawater, I want to find out more about all this.

DSCF4857

DSCF4866

The views out to sea along some of the coast are impressive with the limestone eroded in all sort of shapes.  .

 

DSCF4809
As far as I know it is a basket to catch octopus with

 

One of the stones of which newly built walls were made near the dried out river in the town, in this limestone I could see crystals if that is possible, very beautiful and intriguing.  These type of walls you see all over Gozo and in Malta too, they used to be erected to prevent erosion but also of course to divide the land.  I think they look so lovely, all the white limestone pilled up on each other.  The wall I came across in Marsalforn was a new one, but I believe that the older types are now under the protection of the Heritage rules.

Though I was not that impressed with the touristy area of this town, we are going to go back and explore the older town and beyond, beyond is where the salt pans are and some other villages, I am curious!  More to come on that part of Gozo.