After wind, plants need some love

After all the wind the island has experienced during the past ten days, I noticed many of our plants and trees had leaves that looked dead around the edges. Although we’ve enjoyed some refreshing rain, large shrubs and trees become dehydrated far quicker by wind than by drought, and unhappy leaves are a sure sign they’ve been affected.Image

So, in spite of the rain, most of my garden (apart from the vines) has been treated to a little extra water plus a good dose of copper spray on their leaves (including the vines).

Copper spray acts as a general fungicide so plants that are susceptible to black spot or mildew will benefit from regular use. Citrus trees and avocados, in particular, seem to become glossier almost over-night following treatment. When you visit your local garden centre you may see tell-tale bluish-brown dollops on plant leaves. This reveals that they’ve been given their strengthening medicine recently.

If there are late heavy rains, after vines and trees have already produced dense leaves,  the risk of mildew is increased. This problem ruined all our grapes a couple of years ago. After this experience we discovered that a thorough copper spraying could have saved both leaves and fruit before the problem became acute. It’s also useful on pear and apple trees if you see any evidence of fire blight disease. This is when the tips of leaves and shoots blacken and droop into crook shapes. Remove and burn any black parts and then spray the whole tree with copper spray, reapplying in a fortnight if the tree is still looking poorly.

Although copper spray is certified for use by organic gardeners, if you wish to go even further down the green road some gardeners claim that liquid seaweed achieves much the same results. This is said to work by boosting beneficial fungi which then counteract any bad ones.

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Courgettes and the dreaded wood louse …

Courgettes do well in Mallorca and I often end up berating myself for producing too many as they don’t freeze or store well, and by their final demise the family can be in open revolt about finding another one gracing the dinner table. In this situation it’s a godsend that the hens will happily feast on the excess so I can convince myself they’re not being wasted. To be honest, the hens are invaluable at soothing my conscience about “throwing away” all left-overs.Image

Back to the courgettes though, this year although the plants are very healthy, so are the wood lice. In fact every female wood louse within a kilometre radius appears to have told her friends that there’s a courgette patch close by ready for them to dump their collective off-spring in. As every big yellow bloom pokes its head out of the leaves, it’s instantly filled with tiny woodlice which start devouring the courgette as soon as it’s as long as a toothpick. I object to harvesting half-eaten vegetables so I’ve taken to picking them when I see the first signs of wiggling in the shrivelled flower, but the infestation still seems to be getting worse.

It goes against all the ideas of “knowing what’s in your food” to annihilate them with some devastating toxic mix of chemicals, so I consulted the internet for a remedy that allows me to feel “greenish” whilst still murdering them in their thousands.

The first information to pop up is that I should love my louse as, not only are they related to crabs and lobsters, but they act like earthworms in the garden by breaking down soil and compost. After that comes a post entitled: “How to look after a pet wood louse”. I am beginning to feel that my genocidal instincts are embarrassingly out of place.

But … there really are far too many of them for all of us to live in harmony, however useful they may be on the compost heap.

Finally, a post on how to kill! The wisdom seems to be to put in a drip watering system so that the ground is never damp, as they really like soggy soil. However, as a quick fix, put out boiled potatoes, orange shells and over-ripe strawberries on a damp newspaper. This banquet should lure the babies away from your courgettes, or other fruit and veg, during the night. In the morning roll up the heaving mass of squidgy news print and throw the whole thing in the hen house for them to breakfast upon, or on the compost heap if you’re feeling philanthropic.

I hope it works!

A refreshing cup of tea – back on the menu

A refreshing cup of tea - back on the menu

I forgot to dry the leaves of my lemon verbena (Hierba Luisa in Spanish) this winter, so it’s been a while since I’ve been able to enjoy a lovely cup of tea. However, with the recent rains it has sprung to life and lemon verbena tea is back on the menu. This is another plant that does very well in pots and can give a wonderful scent to your balcony for much of the year. Once established it can grow up to 3 metres in height. Don’t be shy of giving it a good prune when it becomes scraggly and making use of any cuttings or unwanted base shoots in the kitchen.

Sink or Swim?

ImageOur first “training session” since we announced we wanted to sail round Mallorca got off to an inauspicious start when we developed a magnetic attraction to a mudbank  a few metres away from the boat slip and were completely unable to tack smoothly out of the inlet with the style and grace we felt our mission required. Eventually Nick jumped over the side, took hold of the painter and towed Rocky out, to the amusement of a gentleman on a nearby motorboat.

                “Is that how it’s meant to move?” he asked as he bent over a couple of 150hp engines.

                “It’s easier than any other method at the moment,” Seb replied as Nick flopped back over the side.

                The water was freezing and the experience made us realise that there are a few items we need before we begin a 160 nautical mile trip. Number one on the list is a second paddle! This morning our parents announced they are going to get us a PLB (personal locator beacon) which one or other of us must have strapped to our leg at all times. It will send out a GPS signal if we activate it which alerts rescue services, and our parents, if we get into serious trouble. It will be better for us than an EPIRB which becomes automatically activated if it’s submerged, as there’s a strong possibility we may be submerged fairly frequently.

                However, there are also other things that we are going to have to beg or borrow from Very Nice People if we don’t manage to win the lottery before July 6th. We definitely need some of the modern light lifejackets if we are to avoid frying; a role of sail repair tape is also a good idea as the sails are none too new and will be lucky to escape without a tear or two; a bailer would be useful in addition to our sponges plus a few small shackles in case any more of our split pins break on the stays, like one did today. We’d also like to find someone who could print Mediterranea’s logo on a long burgee that we can fly from the masthead. We have some of the charity’s stickers to put on the side of the boat but we’d like to make their logo even more visible.Image

                Kay Halley from Portals Nous Universal Bookshop was our first Very Nice Person to give us practical help, she’s already done some laminating for us and we will be taking our charts there for the same treatment once we’ve sliced them up into dinghy-sized coastal portions.

                Food is one of Nick’s preoccupations, and the possible lack of it at any point on the route lead him to announce that he would “beg if necessary!” So if anyone sees a very tall teenager accosting strangers with the words, “I’m growing, please feed me,” it would be very kind if you could throw a crust in his direction to give him the strength to continue on his way to find a shop. Even on our minor sail today, substantial ship’s rations were packed and the only remaining evidence of them when we arrived back were a couple of banana skins.

                Seb’s mum has just given us a couple of passes to Palma Boat Show so we’re off there now to see if we can drum up some more support for SailAid before we have to begin studying again.

If you would like to sponsor us, please get in touch through the blog or Facebook and we will get a sponsorship form to you at the speed of light.  Alternatively, it is possible  to donate directly to the Mediterranea bank account at Banca March in Portals Nous (Account Name: Organización no gubernamental Mediterranea, Account Number: 0061 0178 52 0048520111) or via PayPal through the www.mediterraneaong.com. Please put your name and “SailAid” on any donations through the bank or paypal so we know who all you great people are.

The Power of Poo – and other freebies

With the sun and rain we’ve enjoyed over Easter, the whole island is green and burgeoning. It’s time to give the soil a boost in order to get the very best fruit and vegetables possible this summer.

Top of the soil-feed desirability stakes for gardeners has always been horse manure – so much so that it was originally believed the tractor would never become popular on farms because of its lack of poo production! This year my garden enjoyed a bonanza after Eva Marie Burns from Inca posted on Facebook that she was happy for all horticulturists to descend upon her five-horse paddock and dig to their hearts content. The financial crisis has meant that the person who usually removed the “waste” and paid her for the pleasure, is no longer prepared to cough up, so, enterprising Eva crowned herself Queen of Poo (her words, not mine) and posted her appeal.Image

She is asking those who load up their cars at the stables to donate a couple of euros to the Dogs 4 U charity on the island or, if you don’t want to do your own shovelling, her son will bag it up for a euro a bag, half of which will also be donated to Dogs 4 U. This all seems more than fair for a pile of what my parents always referred to as “gold dust”.  Heavy feeding plants such as tomatoes, bananas, asparagus, avocados, cucumbers and roses will perk up no end with a few spadefuls of this superfood.

However, Mallorca is abundant with many other free soil feeds in addition to horse manure. For centuries local farmers used seaweed on the land. It is useful both as a mulch to keep down weeds, limit water evaporation and discourage snails and also to add to compost heaps to increase the content of many trace minerals.

If you have chickens their manure should also be added to the compost but it’s far too strong to place directly on plants, this is a product that definitely needs mixing with less extreme foods such as grass cuttings before use.

Wood ash from wood burners or bonfires is another freebie that’s great for the garden. It’s full of potash and calcium carbonate, while slugs and snails hate it so it creates a natural slug repellent. However, don’t overdo it in one place as mounds of it can form an impenetrable cement which prevents moisture from getting through to the roots below.

My final free fertilizer is what my kids call Mum’s Witches Brew. When stinging nettles are prevalent, as they are now, this can be made easily and used anywhere, diluted with 3 parts water to one part “brew”. Fill a bucket with nettles and place it in the area of the garden you will want to spread the fertilizer. Fill with water and leave for a fortnight before using. The final mixture is full of nitrogen, magnesium, sulphur (yes, it does smell after a while!) and iron. It can be used on all plants or as a compost activator, but is particularly good for any trees whose leaves are paler than usual, indicating they need some extra iron.

A little bit of effort in the spring will reap huge benefits when the intense heat turns much of our land into a dust bowl. Better soil makes for improved water retention which is good for both plants and pockets, while regular feeding ensures gardeners can make maximum use of the Mediterranean’s two growing seasons without the earth becoming exhausted.

Lemons galore!

The great thing about lemon trees is that certain types, such as Cuatro Estaciones (Four Seasons), will fruit several times a year so you will almost always be prepared for friends to drop in for a gin and tonic! Furthermore, citrus trees are perfect for the mini-gardener who only has space for trees in pots. Even small trees will regularly be bowed down with copious quantities of fruit on our island where the climate is so ideal for lemons and oranges.

In general, lemons keep better on the tree than off it, so there’s no need to rush to pick them every time they turn from green to yellow. However, if they are beginning to reach their sell-by date or a friendly neighbour hands you a large bagful over the garden wall, as mine regularly does, don’t panic. There are many ways of making use of even the biggest glut and not waste a drop of that wonderful vitamin C.Image

The quickest way of using the whole fruit is to remove the outermost layer of zest with a potato peeler and leave the thin strips to dry on a plate before converting them to powder with a blender and storing in an airtight jar. A spoonful of powder in hot water makes a refreshing drink and can also be added to herbal infusions.

Juice the lemons and freeze the juice in an ice tray for use with hot or cold water. A daily dose of lemon juice improves the immune system, is great for combating skin problems and is said to aid digestion and be helpful to those who want to lose a few pounds. However, don’t overdo it as the one unwanted side effect of excess vitamin C is increased flatulence.

If you also have some fresh dill or parsley available, you may wish to fill ice cube sections with chopped herbs and then top up with lemon juice for an instant dressing to be used on fish or salads.

For easy storage, pop the lemon cubes into a bag once they’re frozen.

If you enjoy lemon curd, nothing can beat making it fresh. Any of the jars that have button tops are suitable to wash out thoroughly and reuse. So long as the button “re-seals” and is hard when the curd cools, it will keep for several months in your store cupboard. Once opened jars should be refrigerated. Lemon curd is very versatile and can be used on toast, as a filling for cakes or as a speedy cheat when making lemon meringue pie, it’s also delicious stirred into natural yoghurt.

To make about 4 small pots you will need: the finely grated zest and juice of 3 lemons (for lime curd replace the lemons with 4 limes); 200g white sugar; 115g unsalted butter; 2 large eggs; 2 large egg yolks.

Method: place a Pyrex bowl above a pan of boiling water.  Put the lemon zest and juice, sugar and butter in the bowl. Stir occasionally until the sugar has dissolved and the butter has melted. Beat the eggs and yokes thoroughly until completely blended. Add the eggs to the lemon mixture while whisking. Stir slowly with a wooden spoon over a low heat and allow the curd to cook until it is thick and coats the back of the spoon. Meanwhile warm your clean jars and lids either in a low oven or weighted in hot water (so that the insides remain dry). Pour the curd into the warmed jars to within half a centimetre of the rim. Tighten their lids immediately and wait to hear the satisfying “pop” when they seal as they cool.

No blog on lemons would be complete for me without adding my friend, Beth’s, recipe for lemon snow. It’s been a favourite in our household for more than 30 years, for me, because it’s so quick and easy, while for everyone else it’s because it melts in your mouth.

Beth’s lemon snow has just three ingredients: A can of evaporated milk (chilled in the fridge for a few hours); a sachet of lemon jelly; 2 lemons.

Method: Dissolve the jelly in 250ml of boiling water. Leave to cool for 20minutes. Finely grate the zest from both lemons and add it with the juice to the jelly. Whip the evaporated milk until doubled in size then tip in the jelly/lemon mix and whip until fully blended. Pour the mixture into a glass bowl and chill until set.

Lemon trees require minimal attention on Mallorca. Trim out any dead wood and give them an iron-rich feed if the leaves begin to look pale in places. Although pot-housed trees require more frequent watering, once established in a garden, lemon trees only need extra water in the most extreme dry summers. Many other sites detail a myriad of ways you can employ the fruit to clean metal, negate unpleasant fridge smells and a host of other uses in addition to the culinary ones. A true super-fruit.

Something is better than nothing …

Whether it’s exercise, saving the pennies or growing some of your own fruit and veg, I’m solidly of the opinion that something is always better than nothing! To know exactly where some of your food has come from is always a plus as, even when you believe you’re consuming a thoroughly healthy diet, you can come across daily shocks that make you sit up and think.

A few years ago I was eager to grow some avocado trees. A South African friend had told me that in her country, whose climate is similar to Mallorca’s, avocados grow along the roadside and are considered to be one step up from a weed.

“They’re the simplest thing in the world to sprout,” she assured me; yet try as I might I managed zero response from the pips from my Mercadona-bought pears.

In frustration I contacted Richard Handscombe whose wisdom on growing fruit and veg in Spain is documented in the two books he has written with his wife Clough, Growing Healthy Fruit in Spain and Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spain.Image

I discovered that most of the fruit and veg imported onto the island had been irradiated and so seeds would not germinate. Richard kindly packaged up a couple of pips in a jiffy bag and put them in the post. They are now over two meters high and have been joined by others I bought from local markets – these may look small compared with their supermarket cousins but they haven’t been tampered with and so they will grow.

Very few people can eradicate all irradiated fruit and veg, additives, artificial preservatives and e-numbers from their diet, but reducing them in some measure at least leads to the feel-good-factor that you’re “aware” and attempting to stem the avalanche of unknowns.

Whether you’ve got a window box or a casa senorial with an army of gardeners, it’s worth growing something edible. Most people, like those depicted in the hit show The Good Life, fall somewhere in the middle, and whereas I might not go as far as Felicity Kendal and have a pig in the back garden of a suburban semi, you don’t have to be living in the heart of the countryside to enjoy a real difference in your diet.

My own home is so close to Palma’s infamous Plaza Gomila that hoards of teens become my kids’ best friends every Friday and Saturday night so they can crash onto one of the stack of mattresses I keep specifically for the purpose – not exactly rural isolation, yet we have hens laying eggs and trees laden with fruit.

Clough and Richard Handscombe’s books are full of tips for the terrace gardener right up to those who have large tracts of land. From herbs to tomatoes and even citrus trees in pots, they describe how much can be achieved in an apartment, the message is: you don’t have to have a garden to be a productive gardener.