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.

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 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.