SUMMER IS UPON US

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I saw a heart in the sky the other day, and I would like to wish all my friends and followers love and kindness in their lives.

Lots is happening in the garden of course at this time of the year, wonderful things;  strawberries ripen, some are eaten by the birds who then give us their beautiful singing in return.  Basil mint is about the nicest scented mint I ever smelled, I am glad to have been given a pot of it.  The empty beehive on the little roof in our next door neighbour’s garden has of today received a swarm of bees.  We have to find out yet what type they are, they came buzzing around my head quite aggressively while we were drinking tea outside, so I wonder.  The comfrey flowers got destroyed by a week of wind and rain and it is now all manure on some of the raised beds.  There are but few flowers left in the garden at present but more are on the way to blooming.

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I think that there is something so nice about seeing clean linnen blowing in the wind outside, the will be so fresh when I take them in.

But more importantly here is an small update of my experiment in plot 1 and plot 2.

In Plot 1 the beans are finally growing better, they are well established and are climbing up the poles.  The spinach on the other hand are bolting, though they are growing leaves too.  There is a lot of wild plants growing in between the beans beside the spinach, the beans, and the radish (for the experiment).  I have found double poppies and also borage plants which I want to keep so I am not touching them at the moment.  In Plot 2, and there is a huge difference, there is nothing growing from under the leaf mould.  I am still giving this plot seaweed fertilizer every week.  I have sown radish there also.  The bean plants are doing ok but they are only 42cm high whereas the ones in plot 1 are already 82cm high.  So there is a marked difference between the two plots already.  In plot 2 also I have found a few flowers on the beans.  When not raining I give both plots water.  I have also noticed that now that the leaves on the trees in the canopy above my two plots are throwing a huge amount of shadow – I think that this is interfering with the growth of my plants.

And here  in the following photos are some of the other vegetables growing such as asparagus, onion, marrow, rhubarb, chard, kale, leeks, orka, several different types of herbs, and finally runner beans and broad beans.  If they all do well we will not be stuck for vegetables next winter.

This beautiful Cinnabar moth was on the leaves of the lemon balm.

CINNABAR MOTH - TYRIA JACOBAEAE

I was given this lovely window hanger by my daughter, I like it very much.  White and blue (in this case the sky) are some of my favourite colours.

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And so ends my present story of my garden.  I’m in the garden everyday, planting out young vegetables and tending to seedlings.  I love it very much.  The birds are singing, blackbirds have nests quite close by and are feeding their young.  I find that the closeness to the earth and the soil is what gives me solace and is what keeps me very happy indeed.  I can only say one thing about it….

IT IS PURE MAGIC!

MEETING WITH THE OMBU TREE

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While here on the island of Gozo I have been taking note of and enjoying the trees unfamiliar to me. It is nice and interesting to find out what they are called and then to search on Google information about their uses, growth, country of origin and so on, it keeps me quiet busy at times. Then I will take many photos of all the different attributions, leaves, flowers, seeds, seed hulks, shoots, trunks etc. And of course I like to share this in my blog, my blog is after all a celebration of all the earth so generously has to offer to us and to life itself. And so here goes, I hope you enjoy.


The Ombu tree, or to give it its proper name the Phytolacca dioica L. is an attractive tree. I found it growing in the area of Ghajnsielem along the main road. I was amazed to learn that this tree is actually an evergreen shrub that can become quite old and grow to look like a rather large tree. I became fascinated by the beautiful glossy dark green leaves, looking very healthy and growing very vigorously out of the trunk. Apparently the more you cut it, the more fiercely it grows. Its trunk is a soft spongy wood, the rings are loose and not at all like proper timber rings. It is resistant to fire and drought and this is due to its many trunks which store water very efficiently in its large base. Its sap is poisonous. The Ombu is a South American relative of the pokeweed (P. Americana) It is indigenous to Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, there it grows easily in the wild, and it is there that it manages to survive on the pampas. Put to good use because of its large canopy it shelters both animals and humans alike, but is especially good for the many cattle and so is of agricultural value.

Being a dioecious plant it produces male and female flowers on separate trees. The flowers are greenish white, little and many on one long spike. The fruit is green and is clustered in a bunch together, I see both flowers and fruits on the tree at this time (November). To date I have not myself seen the seeds but believe that they are brown, small and glossy. I shall be on the look out for them just to find out.
I learnt that extracts of the Ombu have Antifungal potencies which would probably make it interesting to Naturopaths or to pharmaceuticals.
Some of its uses are:
• Fodder – leaves are used as fodder in time of drought.
• Medicine – infusion of leaves has been used as a laxative, but don’t take my word for it please.
• Hot drink – locally the leaves may be used as a hot drink. (I am not planning to try it out myself not being sure of what the result will be).
• Soapy juice – containing salts of lime and potash.
• Shade in regions where other trees won’t grow – in the pampas it is the only tree that will naturally grow and provide shelter.
• Bonsais – something I did not know is that it is an ideal tree to grow as a bonsai, nice to know!
• Dyes – juice extracted from the berries can be used as a source of dyes.
• Berries – apparently the berries are eaten by birds as they are not affected by the toxin as the seeds contained within the berries passes through the bird intact.
I also read that in South Africa Ombu is treated as an invasive plant, possible because it grows so rapidly. Here in Gozo there is more and more emphasis on the growing of indigenous trees and plants, and eradicating to an extent the growth of invasive plants and trees. This is, of course, a tendency all over Europe these days. I am not sure at which time the Ombu tree was introduced in the Maltese islands and why, I wonder if it was introduced because of the high temperatures in the summer months, the drought some years, and the lack of tree cover in general.

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I looked up a bit more on the antifungal activity which extracts of the Ombu can provide. Here is a link to a paper.
The antifungal activity of saponin-rich extracts of phytolacca dioica and of the sapogenins obtained through hydrolysis.
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/45826292_Antifungal_Activity_of_Saponin-rich_Extracts_of_Phytolacca_dioica_and_of_the_Sapogenins_Obtained_through_Hydrolysis
I also read through the following information ‘Oyama Bonsai Kai Ombú “Tree” by Pierre van Rensburg, which I enjoyed and found very interesting.

I hope you enjoyed this little bit of information on the beautiful and interesting Ombu tree which in fact is not a tree at all. I for one will enjoy twice as much when I am passing these trees in the knowledge of all its good uses.
And finally what I would like to know but could not readily find an answer to is whether the water stored inside the Ombu tree’s large trunk can be used in case of water shortage by cattle or people, or is it already juice in which case it is toxic? I would say, it is juice and it is toxic so it cannot be used. If anyone can shed more light on this please do.

BITTER ORANGES OF GOZO

Last week I tried something new, like many Gozitans I made use of the Seville bitter oranges which are grown locally to make marmelade, something I had never been interested before. But the scent and colour of the fresh bright orange fruit on the trees locally made me want to try my hand at making marmelade, but besides, one of my new Gozitan friends, Tessie, brought us three kilos of organically grown oranges fresh from the tree, and she also gave me a recipe to make this delicious bitter jam. So, full of enthusiasm last Monday I gathered the stuff that I needed to start. Fine brown sugar, weighing scales (which the flat does not have but Tessie brought, lemons, also brought by my friend from her own tree. The pictures will tell of how I faced some challenges due to the fact that the flat did not have the right pot for cooking marmelade, but I managed with a pan that has a thick bottom. I ended up with so many pots and we shared most of them out to friends and neighbours because we ourselves only eat a little of marmelade. I tasted it and it was very much to my liking, bitter, tangy, with a sweet after taste, but everything in balance. Yes the recipe was good and simple too. It was interesting to see the fruit preserved in this way, and to see the process of getting it from the tree into the jars. Taking part in a little bit of tradition here which I surely enjoyed.

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This type of orange has very many pips in it, these pips are used, cooked for a little while and the juice strained and used in the marmelade as pectin.

Above, here I had to weigh all the sugar into lots of 500gr and use the pan six times filled with 6 lots of fruit all measured out.  The large pot I had being very thin almost burned immediately so I transferred it this way, it took a long time, most of the day to do it this way but it worked and all the marmelade succeeded I am happy to say.

2017-01-25-19-44-54Apart from a lovely taste, I like this marmelade for its bright colour, only fruit and sugar used, nothing else. mouth-watering.

GROWTH IS GOOD

Yes growth is doing well, the sun and warmth are certainly helping. What a new experience in growing here in this climate. The pepper plant is already throwing some flower buds, and the basil is doing just fine and already I can get a delicious scent from the seedling, some of which I planted out. Most of all I am happy about the seeds I put down which my friend from Kerala sent me last year, it is the bitter gourd and one of its seeds has sprouted, exciting that is as the last time I tried to grow them in Ireland I only got one gourd, a lovely climbing plant though. The tomatoes and lettuce are growing fast now, soon I will have to stake the tomatoes with the bamboo I found, hope that will work.

Meanwhile I keep picking up stalks which I find in the dusty street while we walk, I root them and already I have collected about eight different succulents, most of them have rooted and some are flowering, it is fun to see this happening, and it costs us nothing. Plants are not cheap here, I am surprised because most of the houses have plants outside their front door and in their front gardens, which are mostly tiled. This makes the street scene quite attractive. You see a lot of succulents here but also cacti of course.
22/10/2016 CONTAINER GARDEN - GOZO

AN UPDATE ON MY TERRACE GARDEN

The tomato plants are doing very well, and so are the lettuce though I think that it is a bit too hot for them, we shall see what comes.
The seedlings are starting to really come up, at the moment they are only as far as the cotyledons but they look healthy and it is exciting to see them grow.
The temperature is still reaching near the 30C but it feels much hotter, it is nice though that now and then there is a little breeze which brings relieve.
I have taken to picking up bits of succulent plants on the roads, this is good because I can propagate them and it is a joy to see them do well. It is fun too to discover yet another orphan lying in the dusty street of Victoria, bringing it home and giving it a new lease of life.  I am really enjoying all this.

My little corner in the conservatory, it will expand as plants will grow.

Every conceivable container is used as we cannot spend to much money on buying plant pots, and anyway its good to re-cycle isn’t it.

These are all succulents that I found on the street and brought home.

Some of my seedlings coming up, some more containers that are going to be put to use.

Here are two more succulents and their flowers, pretty and interesting.

 

A SMALL CONTAINER GARDEN ON GOZO

About a week ago we arrived on the island of Gozo, we are staying in the wonderful town of Victoria and have a flat there that has a terrace and a small conservatory too. As I miss my garden in West Cork I decided to try my hand here at growing plants, herbs, small vegetables and also flowers in containers and yesterday I started. I will use anything I can get my hands on as containers, milk cartons, bottle bottoms, buckets etc. but I also bought some long containers in a garden centre, soil also and it was a job getting that up the stairs but I managed. I had brought some sealed seeds from home and sowed some of the herbs including a really good small leafed basil, and lemon balm. Here in Victoria I bought four tomato plants and some lettuce plants to start myself off. To prepare the soil I used coffee grinds, banana peels and eggshells and I added a bit of this underneath each plant. The temperature here is still around 30C and humidity is high, though the last few days it has become less so. Sunshine a plenty here!
I had sown some chives earlier in the week and goodness me one little seedling has popped up today! I am waiting and hoping for more.
My aim is to grow everything organic but for a start my soil is not, one must do what one can of course and it is not possible to get organic soil around here, at least I will not be using pesticides or fertilizer and that has got to be good. The magic of seeing things grow is already good enough for me and the enjoyment that gives is very good for one’s health anyway – so!
I found some bamboo sticks on the side of the road and took them home to use as supports when the tomato plants get bigger. I also found a lovely piece of succulent plant on the footpath the other day which I have now rooted and it produced a beautiful little orange flower. There were the cacti to look after that belong to the flat, and I am rooting another few succulent leaves that I found on the road.

I am so very happy here on Gozo, I just love everything about the place, the people, the architecture, the limestone, the culture, the exotic plants, the weather, the sun, and the Mediterranean foods, it is all wonderful!

Making my fertilizer from banana skins, coffee grinds, and eggshells.

Containers ready to use, some of them anyway.  Seeds picked to sow.

Tomato and lettuce plants

The bamboo sticks to support the tomato plants when the time comes

Some micro plants, and trying out lettuce seeds from back home

The cacti belonging to the flat after I gave them some TLC, and the succulent i found on the footpath the other day, all are doing fine.

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.