ORGANIC SMALLHOLDING IN WEST CORK

A few days ago we visited a smallholding belonging to old friends, this couple had emigrated from Belgium to Ireland in the late eighties. Back then they set up a smallholding and were soon self-sufficient. About two years ago they bought a smaller piece of land, just about one acre in size.

Being who they are, hard working people, they amazed us totally with the amount of vegetables and herbs they have growing in an already very organized garden, the one acre is totally utilized and apart from vegetables they keep hens, ducks, a cock, and goats, so they have eggs, and milk from the goats.

We found their way of life so inspiring, totally self sufficient, they are so very organized, because of yearly flooding of their land they have built raised beds, the soil they used in these beds is totally organic, there being organic waste from the goats, the chickens, and their own compost heap, and lots more go into a recipe that is excellent to enrich the soil. A local strawberry farm provides mulching material. So the vegetables and herbs grow very well, they look the picture of health.

Among one of the things that is very important to them is to save their own seeds.  They reckon that seeds saved from their own produce, and swapped perhaps with neighbours, will produce easy to grow crops.  Crops that would naturally grow well in this particular micro climate, and soils.  Some of the crops we saw were, potatoes, mais, beans, peas, broad beans, onions, leeks, carrots, spinach, oca, spring onions, asparagus, lettuce, quinoa, marrows, cucumbers, kale, broccoli, and lots of herbs, among them rosemary, oregano, chives, comfrey, milk thistle, angelica, bay leaf, mint, and so many more.  There is also a wide variety of berries that grow along the side of the acre.

There are six home-made tunnels in which the couple grow a variety from tomatoes and quinoa to millet, and all sorts of other interesting things. Along the beds the grass is kept short by guinea pigs, these do a good job. The guinea pigs are kept in specially made large wire cages, that get moved along the grass, they also have a larger cage inside, there seem to be quite a few of them, and they are looked after very well.

Use is also made of ferrets, these guys keep the rats down.

Everything has a use, there is no sentimentality at the smallholding. We shared a meal with this couple and it was delicious, all produce out of the garden, except the fish which had been locally sourced too. From the photos you can see how efficient the place looks, lots of hard work goes into it, but I think that the satisfaction one gets when all runs smoothly and the produce is great, is wonderful.

JAN & NADIA'S SMALLHOLDING

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DIFFERENCE SOURCES OF MANURE FOR THE LAND
DIFFERENCE SOURCES OF MANURE FOR THE LAND

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COMMUNITY GARDEN IN SKIBBEREEN

Today a few of us went to work in our Community Garden in the town of Skibbereen, which is a little town in the South West of Ireland. Some years ago a local group of the GIY organisation was set up in this town and monthly meetings were held, discussions, seed swapping, information nights and more were organised and it was real interesting and encouraging. Around the same time I also started with my own organic garden following permaculture principles, so I learnt a lot by attending these events and meetings. Now with the warm weather and the long evenings we meet regularly at the Community garden and we do some work. Part of the work that is done in Skibbereen is to facilitate school children to learn a bit more about growing vegetables, something that I have become involved with this very day. We had a class of about twenty-two 9 or 10 year olds from the girls school, they came with their water bottles filled (not just for themselves but also to water the plants), and they looked enthusiastic and happy. The day was hot, the sun blazing down on us. I was allocated my little group of about 7 girls and after introductions we started with looking at our plot and discussing what we were going to do, in fact we were going to plant some chive plants, but first we had to take away some weeds, then we had to add just a little lime and we had to water the very dry soil, I explained how important it is to prepare the soil before we plant anything in it. There were some herbs growing in the plot too, so they all had to smell those and tell their stories of how their mums or baby-sitters did or did not use oregano and rosemary in their cooking. Next the planting was started and they all got a go of digging a hole and putting in the chives, hardly a scream was heard when they encountered an earwig or a snail, anyway to make a long story short, we then pulled some grass away from the edges, and they watered their newly planted chives, we also discussed the beautiful purple flowers of the chive plants, they all loved the colour purple (surprise!) they all agreed that the flowers were beautiful.

Lots of fun was had while all this was going on, they were very well behaved children, they were very kind to one another and took turns with the work.

Afterwards we did a tour of the rest of the garden, lots of stories about vegetable use and some home traditions were coming from each child, I was impressed, quite a few of the girls knew bits about the plants, the fruit trees, and the berry bushes, so nice to see this in children.

We also helped a hazelnut tree along, by stamping on the high grass around it, covering the grass with cardboard, and then again with some grass, in this way the water is retained and the trees are getting extra compost when it all breaks down (I think – I’m still learning too).

A lovely morning was enjoyed by the children and adults alike. It is so nice to see the children soak in the knowledge and to see them get their hands in the soil and getting in contact with the earth.

For me this is a newly discovered joy, I worked with children before during my library work, story reading, and St. Brigid’s cross workshops, or helping them pick books. I also worked with children in India, helping them with their English. And I have five delightful grandchildren who I love to have around and teach them about nature or art, so I would like to continue my involvement with this Community Garden in a small way, share what I know, and learn as I go.
COMMUNITY GARDEN 3 JUNE 2016

ALL THE GOOD OF LAND AND SEA

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Today I did a spot of cooking, but first I took the bus to Victoria, only ten minutes away, and I searched for and found the Fish Shop where I bought one large steak of fresh tuna, and two fillets of ling, the man in the fish shop offered me a recipe for cooking the tuna, it’s a great recipe he said, you will need oregano and other items, and as he said it he added a bunch of fresh oregano to the bag of fish, all for only €7 which I thought was very reasonable.  I then visited a vegetable stall, in Victoria these stalls are at the large car park near the bus terminal, and they are there most days.  From what I can see the produce is very fresh.  A friendly man helped me to a number of vegetables, as well as lemon, parsley, and an orange that I needed for my recipe.  He added a bunch of free celery leaves to my other shopping free of charge, the herbs and vegetables smelled good.  I love cooking with fresh herbs, and that is why I am enjoying the cooking quite a bit here, fresh fragrant herbs, especially oregano, rosemary, mint, basil, and sage, as well as tomatoes, olive oil, lemon, garlic, broad beans, green beans, and fish.  I may add that the long type of onions also are delicious, I’ve been enjoying those here.  To finish the tuna story, I made the marinade as instructed and cooked the fish  according to the recipe, and it was really delicious.

The man at the vegetable stall also informed me that the local produce would be best if I was looking for organic, which of course I was and I told him that, and he was selling a lot of local produce which is very nice.  Why would one import foods when they can be grown at home.

I was in a sort of garden centre shop as well this morning as I wanted to check what the situation is in Gozo regarding the use of ’roundup’ seeing that now it has been recognised by the WHO that the Glyphosate contained in roundup is a cancer causing ingredient.  The nice girl that I was talking to did not know about these matters, she did say that yes they sold roundup and that it is needed as it is very hard to grow produce on Gozo, and this is the second person that tells me that.  Some people that I encountered in the last few days have also told me that it would be impossible to grow organically on Gozo because of the drought, I wonder if I am overlooking something, as I never realised that you need more water to grow organically than with using fertilizer/pesticides.  It is all very interesting to learn how other countries/people think about these matters.

The produce that we have enjoyed here a lot are the local honey.  Depending on what month of the year it is, the honey will taste different and come from different plants.  The prickly pear jam was something new to us, for me it is too sweet, but I just got to try new things, so we bought some.  The basmatic vinegar of Gozo is delicious, I love it in a tomato dish.  The capers, which are grown locally too, are lovely and add a kick to the mixture which all people of the Maltese islands love on toast.  Joso, a nice woman I got to know in Malta, a neighbour of ours there, gave me this recipe for a nice breakfast, she told me to cup up some nice tomatoes, or use tomato paste and put that on toast, then add capers and some basil, it does taste delicious.

Another woman in the shop the other day showed me how the Gozitans use their herbs, also mixed with tomatoes and olive oil, left for half an hour to soak it all up, and then served with capers and toasted bread.  I am sure that this food is all very healthy, it does taste nice that is for sure.

I still wanted to add some photos of what we were discussing in my last post, about the swales, because today I took some pics in the park which is in the middle of the town of Victoria.  A lovely and well kept place where it strikes you how much attention is given to each individual plant or tree.  I saw how they use the swales, and water harvesting.  They dig a ditch around the plant or tree individually, which then keeps any water near the roots and lets the plant utilize the water to the full.  They also make ditches along plants so that even more water is harvested.  Though these photos I took in a park, I am sure these methods are being practised in general.

Just a few examples above.  Below an example of terraced crop growing, where the water will not just run down the slope but will stay on the terrace watering the crops growing there, or in this case the crops that will be sown here.

Terraced small fields at Xlendi
Terraced small fields at Xlendi

I’m enjoying all this getting to know about the life here, so interesting, but also what it does to me is, it makes me think more, and ask more questions to how things are done back in Ireland, where things are on a far larger scale because of the size of the country and the larger population, but still comparisons may be made in certain areas.

One question I still have for Gozo, I still have not seen any cows, sheep, pigs, only three goats, and one chicken, where is all the smallholders livestock?  Are they really all inside like I am told?  And if so how are they fed.  It seems most unusual not to see cows or other livestock on the land.  I look forward to getting answers to those questions some day.

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.

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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

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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.

 

LUSH SUMMER GARDEN

Yesterday I nearly had a disaster with my blog, not realising that if you delete photos from your media library, that they also disappear from your actual blog entries, I started to delete very energetically. Luckily I discovered in time that something was not right. I was told to up-grade – my kind partner Ian treated me to the update for the year, I am very happy that I can keep going, and also I only need to replace photos of my first month of blogging which was August 2014, that is easily done. So now I’ve got 13GB instead of 3GB to play around with.

Today it was quite nice out despite the soft rain and heavy clouds. I went and looked at my overgrown garden to check what I needed to do first, so I set to trimming the overgrown hedge along side one of the raised beds that I am also putting in order. This year was my first year in permaculture, not sure if I got it quite right, since I was not able to do much gardening (instructing and keeping an eye on my wild plants that like to grow more vigorously than my vegetables), due to family visits and reunions.
There has been a lot of growth, a lot of the larger herbal plants have been trashed down by rain and wind, so it all looks a bit messy. I am reluctant to cut down the large comfrey as it is full of flowers and bees visit constantly, this is important. The feverfew is beautifully in flower, but the wind has also slashed it down, and the lady’s mantel the same. I cut one hedge and got rid of the branches and leaves on the compost heap. Then I got side tracked into the shed, as anyone can remember I am making a big effort to clean out my two ancient sheds. One was used by my now ex-husband when he still had the roofing business, there is still stuff in there that needs to go. I got quite a bit sorted, and while dealing with an old press riddled with woodworm I came across this spider. I thought that it was a lace web spider but I could be wrong. So took some photos. I then discovered that a lettuce which had gone to seed had black lice on the stem, and found that there were also quite a few ants running over them, maybe they eat them?

Yesterday I also noticed that I am getting flowers on my bitter gourd plants which delights me, one experiment going real well 🙂

This blog entry is a ramble, and that is exactly how I feel about my garden right now, it’s overgrown and so lush and green, it’s amazing, making me feel a little puffed and wondering will I ever get it sorted again, but then it is good the way it is, so much to discover, so full of life. It is all good. It’s a job finding some vegetables among it all though, but slowly things are coming along (those that were not eaten by you know what!)

And that brings me to some new books I got in the library this morning. They both look interesting. The one about the companion planting especially will be useful, the other one is just for inspiration. I find that books always inspire me so much, I let them too, and choose them carefully. We are lucky to have a good library, and of course there is always Amazon, and second hand bookstores around which are lovely to browse through.
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Lush summer growth flattened by wind and rain.

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Black currants, and some of my sweet peas growing among the edible peas.

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Garlic nearly ready to harvest, and the peas which also suffered from the rains but are doing fine.

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Variety of herbs, all fighting for space it seems.

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So blessed with a good library!

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One of my precious bitter gourd flowers, and the hypericum flower.

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The black lice with the ants, and the lace web spider (I think)

SATURDAY AFTERNOON IN THE GARDEN

A bright and sunny day saw me planting out more beans, green ones this time, and some flowering broccoli that we bought at the market this morning. Every thing is growing quite well now and the broad beans are fully in flower. I’ve had to shift some of the wild plants that we are not using for food in order to have space for planting out the oca which has become quite big and beautiful now (it’s a vegetable though :-)) The garden is producing so much wild food at the moment that I did not even sow or plant, just comes growing there, and we are using it all in soups and other dishes.   I harvested almost the last of the spinach from last year. The English marigolds, also in their second year, are flowering absolutely amazingly and beautiful. I do recommend growing lots of marigolds, not only are they beautiful and vibrant but one can make marigold oil to use all year round. I grow them in between vegetables. The oca plants have to be earthed up just like potato plants, I did that too today, it is a big experiment, never grown those before. And finally the bitter gourd is doing very well and tomorrow they will be put in their permanent place for the summer, I believe they become very large and need to be kept inside as not hot enough here in this climate, so inside I will let them trail, I have decided on a pot and I am very curious what they will be like and if I will get fruit. Much to do in the next few days!
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Above:  Lady’s mantel early morning.

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Above:  flowers on my aubergine plant.

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Above:  Lady’s mantel and chives, and the flowers on the broad bean plants.

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Above:  A nice buttercup among the vegetables, but this is the only wild plant that I pull up from between the vegetables.

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Above:  The oca plant now earthed up, and glorious English marigolds.

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Above:  Newly planted out bean, broccoli and rhubarb.  And one of the thousand dandelions finished flowering.

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Above:  The bitter gourd doing great, lovely to see it grow so well and holding my breath!

CHECKING THE SOIL

I thought today was a good day to check the readings of my soil in the raised beds. And I don’t think that the readings are too bad for February. Since it has not rained all week, it appears that the soil is only just on the moist side, between 7 & 6 which is not bad.  I was very surprised that the soil temperature is 12degrees Celsius, this should almost be good enough for planting some of the hardier seeds like broad beans.
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I’m also quite happy with the readings of  light (around the 1000 mark), the bed where it took the light reading is one of the lighter beds, I had better check the other beds too in order to see where I plant what.  Then the PH of the soil is pretty good too, on the alkaline side (just between 7 and 8).  I find it very helpful to have these gadgets to be able to take readings, keeps you well informed.

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Then the seedling which are only sprouting now, sowed them about a week ago, I moved them to the window sill, they are so far only Sweet Peas (for the scent), and there is also a Ginger and an Artichoke starting off.  The little seedling is suffering from not getting enough light but I hope that will rectify itself now that I moved them.

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The Ginger popping up, but being very slow about it.  And one of the Sweet Pea seedlings.

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PRACTISING SOME PERMACULTURE IDEAS

Great activity going on in the garden today, perfect for a sunny Sunday, and the first day of spring in Ireland. The temperature was 8 degrees Celsius in the shade and went up to 15 degrees in the sun, lovely and warm. I had a raised bed to prepare, and according to the rules of permaculture that I am learning about, I do not disturb the soil. So I only pulled up some tough grass that came growing there during the winter. Then I distributed some of the seeds I had been saving, Plantain, Evening Primrose, Yarrow and some others. I found young plants growing there such as Tansy, Nettle, Lemon Balm, Goose grass, Dandelion, and some Oregano that I planted last autumn. When I had everything recorded I mulched just a little leaf matter to protect the seeds, and added some Epson salts (I read this is good to help with germination). I am trying to copy what nature does anyway with overwintering seeds of wild plants (and they grow so wonderfully in spring without our help).  This raised bed is my ‘experimenting’ bed and I will keep a close eye on what happens in the next few weeks.
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Experimental bed set with seeds 1/2/15

The raised bed now ready to be left alone for some time, and to be watched to see what happens.

1st of February 2015      Nettle     Tansy

Young Nettles and Tansy plants that came growing here by themselves.

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Lemon Balm, and two types of Oregano

DSCF5606   Young Parsley plant window sill over winter   Dill or Fennel?

Dandelion, Parsley, and either Dill or Fennel, not sure, will find out.  All these overwintered.

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I also re-potted some house plants, I like especially the Peace Lily as it is a plant that is said to purify the inside air from electro magnetic pollution.  The Aloe Vera also got too big for its pot.  And lastly two young Poppy plants that seeded themselves over the winter.  A good start to spring, very appreciative indeed.

PERMACULTURE COURSE ON-LINE

Just today I have started an on-line course in permaculture, got the information in my email and thought I would try it out. Well I was so impressed after watching the first lecture that I am already looking forward to tomorrow when I will listen to lecture 02. The course is free and the link is:      https://www.openpermaculture.com/

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I went for a stroll through my garden today, it was lovely and sunny, I needed to check what is going on, and I see that there are quite a few plants doing very well.  The leeks growing together with the feverfew, growing right through the winter months.

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Here a thyme plant that had a Foxglove plant growing beside it, I will move that one in the flower section as it becomes very large.

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Garlic is coming up well, and beetroot still need to be harvested and used.

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And more work in this patch, deciding what to grow where.  The Borage plants are strong already, the flowers will be good to attract bees into the garden.