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Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Snakes of Cyprus - coming out of hibernation

Snakes hibernate in mountainous areas from around November till the end of March but in coastal regions hibernation can start as late as January.

There are 8 species of snakes in Cyprus, only three of which are venomous but only one which is very dangerous. 

Most of us have a innate fear of snakes which some researchers have claimed has evolved to protect us from attack. This fear, however, appears to be greater than the risk and although around 20 people a year are bitten in Cyprus, there has been no death following a snake bite for many years. It is also reassuring to discover that all hospitals in Cyprus have stocks of anti-venom. 

The venomous snakes

The most dangerous snake is the Blunt Nosed Viper and a snakebite requires immediate medical attention. The snake is a dull greyish brownish colour, can be as long as 130cm and is a front-fanged. It is most identifiable feature, however, is its blunt nose. The snake is generally seen near wells, running water or in shaded locations under rocks or shrubs. It will only attack in defence and if disturbed will hiss loudly before attacking very quickly. It's danger comes from the fact that when it strikes, it's teeth remain embedded in the skin and movements by it's jaw pumps venom into the wounded area.

The Montpellier snake is also venomous but its venom is not life threatening. A bite will, however, cause a painful local swelling and a severe headache. The snake can grow up to 2m in length, is greyish brown in colour and lives in areas with short grass and undergrowth where it lives on a diet of lizards, small mammals and insects.

The Cat Snake is also venomous but is no threat to humans because it is rear-fanged and does not possess the ability to deliver its venom to humans. The  consequences of its bite have been described as similar to a bee sting. You are unlikely to come across this snake as they are nocturnal. They generally live near streams, are yellow and brown speckled with black, are distinguishable by a broad flat head, vertical slit eyes and large scales on the forehead. 

Non-venomous snake

The Coin Snake is commonly mistaken for the Blunt Nosed Viper as they are similar in appearance, with a large head and a relatively big body. What distinguishes it from the blunt nosed viper, however, is that it's head has large scales and the body has a glistening sheen.
The Large Whip snake is the most common of Cypriot snakes. It can reach a length of up to 2.5m which makes it the longest snake in Europe. It is olive brown in colour as it ages but younger snakes can be yellowish brown. If disturbed the snake coils into a spiral and attacks whilst hissing loudly.

Cyprus Whip snake is the only endemic reptile in Cyprus. The young Whip snake is beige, with a pale pink underside, but after about a year its colour starts to change to an olive green. Then after about two and a half years it becomes all black in colour with a green tinge. It lives in dry, stony areas with bushes nearby or near streams.

The Worm Snake is very slender but slightly thicker towards the tail. Has a rather flattened head with eyes on top of it which look like two tiny black spots. The snake is brownish, pinkish or purple in colour and usually grows to no more than 35 cm.

The Grass Snake is a rather large snake which can grow up to 200cm. Females grow larger than males. It has a very variable colour with a olive greyish body and  greenish, greyish or olive-brown dark blotches or sometimes light stripes. The snake is very rare and endangered. .

Preventing snake bites:

There are a few precautions you can take to reduce your chances of being bitten. These include, not approaching any snakes you see. Apparently, some individuals are bitten because they try to kill a snake or get too close to take a photo. Keep out of their way and instinctively they will move away.

Stay out of tall grass unless you are wearing shoes and long trousers. Keep your hands and feet out of areas you cannot see such as holes or rock cavities.
Symptoms of venomous bites

The most common symptoms of venomous snake bites are a bloody wound; fang marks in the skin; swelling at the site of the bite; severe localised pain; dizziness;  blurred vision; raised temperature; increased thirst; nausea and and a rapid pulse
How to treat snake bites
When treated correctly, venomous snake bites seldom have serious consequences. Keep calm and sit or lie in the shade. Snake bites create shock and fear which is often more dangerous than the poisoning.

Call or get to emergency assistance immediately ,as responding quickly is crucial as it is unlikely that you will be able to identify the snake which bit you.

Some first aid you can undertake are to:

Wash the bitten area with alcohol or with soap and water 

Immobilize the bitten area and keep it lower than the heart to reduce blood circulation to other areas

Cover the area with a clean, cool compress or a moist dressing to minimize swelling and discomfort.

Monitor temperature, pulse rate and respiration.


Don't worry too much. Remember most snakes will do all they can to avoid human contact and will only attack if frightened, cornered or provoked.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

The many uses of lemons

We are fortunate to have friends in the village who are happy to provide us with a bag of lemons whenever we want them. The lemon is a much undervalued fruit and is much more than just for lemon curd or lemonade, it has very many health benefits and uses. We planted a young tree about two years ago and it will probably be another few years before we can have our own supply but at least we can rely on our friends in the meantime.

Lemons are vitamin and mineral rich, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-septic, anti-rheumatic, anti-viral and act as a diuretic.

Lemon juice can be diluted in water and used as a gargle for sore throats. Diluted in a little olive oil to relieve insect stings. Mixed with honey to treat colds and flu's. Rub around your teeth to remove plaque.

Lemons are also useful in the kitchen. Add lemon juice to stop the smell of cabbage and greens spreading. To crisp up limp lettuce, place the lettuce in a bowl of cold water with added lemon juice. Use lemon juice to stop rice sticking together.

We have recently been making a regular batch of lemon curd. The curd, as it contains eggs, has to be refrigerated and used within 2-3 weeks, although this has not proved a problem as it tastes delicious. The recipe is available at http://sites.google.com/site/cyprusgardener/home/preserving-and-storing-produce/preserve-recipes if you would like to try it for yourself.

The lemon is useful in so many ways for making home made cleaning products, home made beauty treatments, a multitude of recipes and for use in home remedies. The acid in lemons make lemon juice a good de-greaser and it can even be used to remove surface rust. 

If you have a plentiful supply. lemon juice also makes an excellent organic weed killer spray.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Avoid chemical cocktails - grow your own food

One of the primary reasons we started growing our own vegetables, herbs and fruit, over twenty years ago in the UK, was the worry over what we were feeding our young family. The over use of  pesticides which are toxic chemicals mainly used to kill weeds, insects or fungal growth leave residues in most of the food we consume. These toxic chemicals can harm our health, wildlife and the environment. Every year agricultural workers are accidentally poisoned or after constant exposure to these harmful chemicals many suffer from long term health problems such as cancers. After researching the control of pesticides, I found that the government tests thousands of foods a year for pesticide residues. These results are published by the Pesticide Residues Committee quarterly. 

These reports show that between a third and half of all fruit and vegetables sampled contain detectable traces of pesticide residues and somewhere between 3% and 4% have residues over the legal limit. Residues get into the produce when overused on crops or when crops after harvested too soon after pesticide usage but can even be detected if used according to the pesticide manufactures instructions.

A few thousand tests are a very tiny percentage of the fruit and vegetables consumed and can only provide an indication of which produce are more likely to contain residues. A high dose of chemical residues may cause a short term problem such as a stomach ache but I am more worried about the long term damage caused by small amounts of a chemical cocktail. Although the manufactures tell us that individually these chemicals are safe in minute doses, it is the damage caused by a lifetime of exposure to a cocktail of chemicals which has never been tested.

The amount of pesticides applied to crops is high and one crop may be treated with several different chemicals all leaving residues. For example, a lettuce may be treated up to five times and strawberries about twelve times.  

So it is wise to grow as much of your own food as you can. Or alternatively buy organic fruit and vegetables. If using conventionally grown crops - thoroughly wash all fruit and vegetables and scrub root vegetables, discard the outer leaves of leafy crops, don't use the peel or zest for cooking and for small children peel all fruit.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Cypriot chard with rice recipe

Chard we planted in December is now ready to harvest and we are always trying new recipes to use our crop. One locally suggested recipe is a traditional vegetarian Cypriot recipe. Why not give it a try.

Chard is a good source of vitamin A and C, rich in lots of trace elements and dietary fibre.


800ml water;
A bunch (10-15) chard leaves thoroughly washed and dried
350g of long grain rice;
A large onion, finely chopped;
2 large tomatoes, blanched, peeled and chopped into chunks;
Olive oil for frying;
a small bunch of parsley finely chopped;
a tablespoon of lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.


1. Remove the ribs and stems from the chard and cut into large pieces.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and cook chopped onion until softened.
3. Add the water, tomatoes, rice, parsley and lemon juice. Season to taste and stir to combine.
4. Bring to the boil and stir in the chard.
5. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes on a low heat, or until the rice has absorbed most of the water.
6. Take off the heat and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving with a fresh roll.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

How to grow chickpeas

Chickpeas require about 100 days to reach harvest. You can sow chickpeas outside from mid-March or to get them off to a flying start sow your chickpeas indoors in peat or paper pots in late February. Transplant them outside, after hardening off, when the plants are about 10cm tall. If planting indoors, it's best to use peat or paper pots as chickpeas cannot cope with being transplanted. Just plant out the chickpeas in their peat or paper pots and the pots will rot away in the soil..

Chickpeas are a bushy plant which can grow to about 45cm tall and produce pods about 3cm long - each of which will contain one or two large chickpeas. Chickpeas prefer full sun and a loose but well-drained soil which is rich in previously included organic matter. Each chickpea plant will yields an average of 14-19 pods per plant.

If you are sowing your chickpeas direct, sow two chickpeas about 2.5cm deep and about 5cm apart but do not pre-soak as this promotes splitting. Sow in rows 60cm apart. Germination will take about 6-8 days. Keep the bed moist until the chickpeas emerge. Thin successful plants to 15cm apart. Cut away thinned plants at soil level with scissors, so as not to disturb the remaining chickpeas root structure.

Water regularly but especially during flowering and pod formation but always water at soil level, as spraying can cause flowers and pods to fall off.

Chickpeas can be attacked by aphids. Keep an eye out for pests and if needed spray with homemade organic solution. http://cyprusgardener.blogspot.com/2011/06/organic-pest-and-disease-control.html

Chickpeas will be ready for harvesting about 100 days after planting. You can enjoy chickpeas when the pods are still green. Or alternatively, allow chickpeas to dry before harvesting the entire plant. Harvest when the leaves have withered and turned brown by putting the whole plant on a flat, warm and sunny surface and leave until the pods are fully dry. Collect the seed as the pods split at which stage they should be thoroughly dry and can be stored for up to a year.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Tomatos - which varieties to grow?

Our ideal would be to begin picking our first crop of tomatoes when our preserved stocks, mostly frozen cooked with onions, garlic and basil, were just about to end. In reality though, in twenty five plus years of gardening, we have only achieved this once. Tomatoes are the base for so many dishes, salads and even juices and we love tomatoes.

Over the years we have tried growing many different varieties. Mostly red but some yellow, orange and even purple. We have grown cherry tomatoes which were tiny and at the other end large beefsteak ones. Some were juicy and some were very firm but there are literally many thousands of different tomato varieties in cultivation today.

If you have been gardening for years, you probably already have your favorite varieties which you save seed from and plant every year and your choice will undoubtedly have been influenced by your own taste buds.

If you have plenty of space, experiment with various varieties and continue with the ones you enjoy the most. If you have a limited amount of space, choose a variety which produces a good crop in a small area such as a bush or tumbling variety.

If you, like us, enjoy saving your own seeds from one year to the next, you should avoid hybrid varieties which will rarely produce an identical plant from saved seed.

We are currently growing the following varieties: gardeners delight, outdoor girl, tumbling tom red, alicante, marmande, red cherry, beafeater and various saved seed over many years which include yellow cherry, plum cherry and plum tomatoes. But there are plenty of varieties and whichever you grow you will not regret it, as the taste of your first freshly picked tomato is one of the highlights of the gardening year.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Origarum vulgare onitis or salvia lanigera poir?

A kind villager gave us a herb plant to add to our herb garden a while back and it has grown into a healthy looking specimen. We are now trying to identify it, which would allow us to look into the plants uses. The villagers refer to the plant as DRIGANO (or something similar). It's  a perennial, smells of menthol, with green but furry type foilage and is short and bushy. Cannot provide information on it's flower type as it has not flowered yet.

We think it appears to be either origarum vulgare onitis or salvia lanigera poir. Any ideas or comments would be appreciated.


Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Using a wood burning stove for cooking

We would be very cold without our wood-burning stove but are we using it to its full potential - could we also do some of our cooking on the wood-stove and save on our energy bills.

Our wood-stove is flat on top, so is able to support a saucepan safely and reaches a very hot surface temperature. So why not use this heat for cooking as well as comfort? We already use the wood-stove to boil a kettle for drinks or washing-up but have recently tried out it's cooking potential.

The wood-stoves heat output alters with the kind of wood burned and depending on how much air is allowed through it's vents. All woods burn differently and for example - pine burns quickly but doesn't give off much heat whilst olive wood makes a hot fire with a strong heat and a long lasting burn.

A wood stove's temperature is increased when wood is added, then drops as it burns. By adding wood frequently in smaller amounts, you can keep the temperature relatively even.

To test the surface temperature of a wood-stove, place a little water on the surface and see how it behaves. If the water rolls while sizzling, the surface is between 230-345 degrees celsius and you can easily boil or fry foods at this heat. If the water drops spread out slightly and sizzle steadily, the wood stove is between 150-200 degrees celsius and hot enough to simmer or bake. If the drops of water flatten and bubble, cooking will be slow, but perhaps you may be able to use the heat for slow steaming.

Our wood stove has it's own door for the removal ash tray and we have found this to be a good place to cook potatoes wrapped in foil. We have also successfully cooked beetroot on the top and made a rice pudding. Soups and stews are the next foods we are going to try and we are looking for wood stove recipes to add to our cooking options, possibly even using the ash try area for baking..

Time for a hot drink - the kettle is steaming hot and the room is lovely and warm on this wet and chilly day.

Friday, 2 March 2012

How to make your own olive tapenade or pate

Where would we be without our olive trees. Most importantly they provide us with olive oil and eating olives but also provide kindling and logs for the wood burning stove whilst pruning's can also be used as pea sticks and to provide support for growing vegetables.

We have recently also discovered another delicious use for pickled olives which is to turn them in to a pate or tapenade which is great spread on fresh bread, on pitta bread or used when making pizza's. Our recipe is vegetarian but you can add anchovies or other ingredients such as hot peppers or sun dried tomatoes for a different flavour. The following recipe makes about a cup and a half full and will keep in the fridge for 2-3 weeks.

(1) Remove the stones from a mix of black and green olives - enough for a cup full.

(2) Peel and cut finely two cloves of garlic

(3) Cut finely a sprig of parsley, some basil and chives

(4) Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend till fine

(5) Add a teaspoon of lemon juice and two tablespoons of olive oil

(6) Re-blend until all ingredients until thoroughly mixed.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Gardening in Cyprus - Jobs for March

We witnessed the unusual event of snow yesterday but March is usually a spring like month in Cyprus. Although temperatures can fall to as low as 5c at night - day time temperatures can climb to 20c plus with an average of 7 hours of sunshine a day. March weather can be unpredictable but there are plenty of jobs to be done in the garden and it's not too hot to work. Fruit trees are blossoming, especially almonds which can be seen everywhere, and spring bulbs are flowering. March is sometimes referred to as the yellow month in Cyprus as wild yellow flowers can be seen growing all over the island. We have had plenty of rain this winter and the soil is in good shape to start sowing. The following jobs should keep you busy throughout March. levels.

1.   Make and plant cuttings from geraniums, rosemary and sage 
2.   Start a planned program of organic spraying of fruit trees coming into bud
3.   Sow carrots
4.   Start cucumbers in a propagator
5.   Sow climbing french, dwarf french, string and haricot beans
6.   Want a later crop sow tomatoes in a propagator
7.   Sow molohiya 
8.   Plant out previously germinated marrows, squashes 
9.   Plant out spinach
10. A good month to plant out grape vines
11. Mid-month plant potatoes
12  Sow summer purslane a local favourite
13. Start majoram and chicory from seed indoors
14. Plant out lavender or rosemary plants
15. Plant out sweetcorn plants and start more in propagator for a later crop
16. Plant out tomato plants
17. Plant out kolokasi tubers
18. Sow chive seeds and or divide established clumps
19. Sow mid-month spring onions, beetroot, pak choi, rocket and salad leaves
20. Mulch goji berries with well rotted manure
21. Plant out egg plants, watermelons, melons and sweet potato during the third week
22. Plant out chrysanthemums
23. Prune grapefruit, persimmon, pomegranate, pear, citrus, almonds, apricot, nectarine and peach
24. Mulch apples, passion fruit and mulberries but keep away from the trunk
25. Sow lettuce plants out and start more seedlings for a continual crop
26. Towards the end of the month plant out pepper plants
27. Start more egg plants in the propagator for a later crop
28. Sow chickpeas and soya beans 
29. Sow coriander
30. Plant out comfrey, fennel, lemon balm, peppermint, sage, dill, oregano, borage etc
31. Alternatively start herbs from seed. We have got anise, lovage, korean mint and dill in the propagator.

Happy gardening and remember it's safer to grow your own. For further advice  go to cyprusgardener.co.uk