Gozo Growing

“The one where we became weather geeks…”

Six months on and the plot has begun to take shape. Several “lasagna” (no dig) beds have been set up, together with two Hugulkultur beds. We successfully experimented with straw bale growing in the autumn, resulting in reasonable harvests of tomatoes (still cropping), courgettes and kale.

Three compost heaps have been set up, including a HotBin, which we moved across from our courtyard garden to cope with the additional levels of compost material. Nearly all the rubble walls around the perimeter of the plot have now been repaired or restored. Several of the mature olive trees surrounding the area were also lightly pruned to remove any obvious dead, diseased or damaged wood.

Here on Gozo, the weather impacts on the island, rather than the other way around. Being so small (26 square miles in total), it is exposed to a range of differing and potentially crop-damaging weather systems, including storms and strong winds – sometimes from more than one direction on the same day! These conditions present real challenges to growing successfully. The other is rain water (or lack of it).This winter has been warmer and drier than usual and this comes on the back of three years of drought and typically lower levels of rainfall than previously (further details at this brilliant Facebook site) https://www.facebook.com/gozoweatherpage/

These climatic challenges turn you into a bit of a weather geek, regularly checking the forecasts and trying to come up with (low impact) solutions to weather conditions. A typical example is dealing with the strong winds that gust across the plot. (Top Tip : If you see a windmill or two in your village, or they announce a Kite Festival on your island, assume the place gets its fair share of wind!) In fact, there are so many winds, you even start to get to know their names https://lovinmalta.com/lifestyle/language/youve-probably-never-heard-of-these-pure-maltese-words-for-the-wind-directions

In addition to the rubble walls, we recently put up two reed screens to try to slow down the impact of strong winds across the plot. Handmade by a chap in the next village, the one metre high reed screens were made for us to our specification, using locally grown Arundo Donax (Giant Reed), or Qasba Kbira in Maltese. The aim is to try to filter, not block, the very strong North Easterly Grigal wind and so reduce damage mainly on the raised Hugul beds (currently cropping broad beans, spinach, potatoes, beetroot, kale and garlic and field marigolds).

The other screen serves two purposes – firstly to provide a lateral trellis for climbing tomatoes and then later on, heritage varieties of climbing French Beans. Secondly, we hope it will reduce the damaging impact of the warm/hot southerly dust-laden Saharan (Nofsinhar) winds. We have planted Purple Globe Artichokes and Tree Mallows (Malva arborea) in an effort to slow down, provide produce and also attract bees and other pollinators to the plot. Wild asparagus also grows freely at the foot of the rubble walls and these are very tasty when added to soups or to broad bean risotto.

Whilst repairing the limestone rubble walls, we made use of the pruned olive trees to help provide some natural wind filtering and creating sheltered, sunny, planting spaces for pomegranate, plum trees and grape vines. In addition, we have grown some almond trees from seed and these have now been planted (eventually) to provide more wind protection together with pollen and nectar sources for the bees in spring. Plastic netting over some raised lasagna beds using a frame of reeds has reduced wind damage and helped achieve improved harvests for mixed plantings of cabbage, curly kale and lettuce.

In terms of year-round water supplies, the island has several spring-fed wash houses, many dating back to the Knights of St. John era, and still flowing to this day. https://www.visitgozo.com/where-to-go-in-gozo/towns-villages/il-fontana/

If we happen to be passing one of these sites in the car, we top up three 20-litre water bottles and carry the collected water across to the plot, where we have a water butt in the shade of a Carob Tree. We will experiment with thicker mulching layers, trying drought resistant varieties and shade growing to see if we can reduce our water collection trips. There is no comfrey here on Gozo, but plenty of manure courtesy of the village flock of goats, sheep, donkeys and the nearby horse stables. We are about to try establish a nettle bed in an effort to produce our own liquid feed for tomatoes etc.

I hope the impression we have created doesn’t make you think we are growing in some sort of windswept desert with constantly howling winds! Gozo has had a lot of rain over the last month and looks very green, lush and covered in wildflowers, particularly along the coastline – at the moment, it looks more like Galway than the Mediterranean. The other good thing about small island living is we regularly get to meet other growers or chat – people are happy to exchange ideas, buy or swap their island-grown produce or seeds and share weather tips.

Summer is on the way and with it brings new and different gardening challenges – let’s see how our plot stands up to the heat and maybe we will find time to go fly a kite or two!

Simon & Mary Wallace
Gozo, February 2018.

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