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Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Cyprus Drought - An effective watering strategy

Our village has had 15 minutes worth of rain since May and even cacti look in need of water. We listened to a very interesting radio program discussing the water shortage problems in Cyprus which stated that we have had only half the average rainfall during the last four years. And looking back further, since the 1980's a 15% drop in comparison to average rainfall has been recorded. Is this climate change or just a cyclical event?

The lack of rain has meant groundwater levels are becoming depleted and the problem has been worsened by rapid development linked to tourism with more hotels, swimming pools and golf courses using greater amounts of water.

The problem of reduced rainfall has been partly alleviated by construction on desalination plants and a pipeline from Turkey but are these long term solutions?

Between 65%-75% of water demand is linked to agricultural needs with high water need crops like citruses and potatoes still important to the export market. Is it time for Cypriot agriculture to consider crops which have much reduced demand on water resources?

For smallholders and gardeners the problem in not so acute but we can still play our part in preserving water.

By using an effective watering strategy we can reduce water usage. It is very important in the Mediterranean climate to ensure plants survive and grow by regular watering, sometimes twice a day, to keep the soil surface damp and as plants grow increase the water provided, especially for fruiting vegetables such as peppers and tomatoes. But timing is critical to allow water to soak into the soil, not evaporate away and avoid baking dry the surface and is consequently most beneficial early morning or early evening. Different crops have differing water needs and these can be found in more detail under each crops information. at  http://sites.google.com/site/cyprusgardener/home/vegetables

We are very aware of the need to conserve water and minimize its need by: continually adding organic matter to our soil which increases its ability to hold water; by mulching to reduce evaporation; by avoiding digging in the summer months which brings any stored water to the surface; by keeping weeds to a minimum as they compete for any water available and by growing natural windbreaks to reduce the rate of evaporation during dry hot winds.  

We use an irrigation system and timer which allows watering times and duration to be set and allows us to get on with other gardening tasks - a real time saver and well worth the expense. The piping is very cheap and nipples can be inserted with a tool to ensure drip watering where you want. 

We are fortunate enough to have a continuous supply of water but we still recycle our domestic water for use in the garden and this may be more important if your supply is restricted. Our solar panels are very efficient at meeting our hot water needs but quite a few litres run before hot water flows and we use this for watering by keeping buckets by the sink and shower. We also recycle water used for washing fruit and vegetables and water from steaming or boiling (which is usually contains nutrients). If you use a biodegradable washing-up liquid and store this water for two days it can be used without harming your plants. If you have guttering on your roof also consider capturing rain water in a holding tank.

Monday, 28 October 2013

How to make a fruit fly trap

Two species of fruit flies, the Medfly and the olive fruit fly are responsible for the most serious agricultural damage in Cyprus. Causing significant crop losses for fruit and olive growers. With the Medfly mainly attacking citrus, stone fruits, pears and apples.

Mild winters and the large numbers of fruit and olive trees on the island make ideal conditions for the two species to breed. The Medfly are can produce 6-8 generations per year, whilst the olive fly can have 4-6 generations. The main control method for both flies is based mostly on insecticides. For small time growers who prefer an organic approach, the following homemade fruit fly trap may provide some element of control but will not totally eliminate all the pests.

The traps are simple to make using plastic bottles which still have caps. Simply cut a small hole about 2 cm in diameter towards the top third of the bottle which acts as an entrance for the fruit flies. Attach some wire around the cap to allow the bottle to be hung on a fence or onto a bamboo cane and hang about 2 meters away from trees needing protection.

Before hanging mix and pour into the bottle: a cup of water, a few drops of washing up liquid (which breaks the surface tension and so the flies drown in the water, 1 tablespoon of bleach and 2 teaspoons of sugar. It is also useful to put a piece of banana into the bottle which apparently attracts the flies by its colour and smell.

The bottles will in no time be filled with hundreds of drowned fruit flies and new bottles can be hung to catch more.

Sucuk or Soutzoukos Recipe

Sucuk or soutzoukos is a traditional Cypriot sweet which has been  made in villages for generations. This grape must roll is usually made between August and October when local white grapes are at their best.

There are numerous recipes and some include rosewater or other flavourings but the following is a basic village recipe using locally grown almonds and grapes which will makes 10 lengths of  sucuk which are 1.5 meters in length. (these measurements can never be totally accurate as they depend on the thickness of your mixture and the thickness of each sucuk sausage) If you want to make a smaller batch just simply reduce the ingredients to the level required.

To make sucuk you will need a large pan (a preserving pan used for jam making is ideal); 20-30 meters of doubled or crochet cotton and a strong needle.

You will need the following ingredients:

500 grams of almonds
5 kg of white (preferably seedless) grapes which are washed and pressed to obtain about 4.5 liters of juice
20-25 grams of calcium hydroxide (can be purchased at 500 grams for about £4)
2.25 cups of flour

Step 1 - Soak in almonds in water for 60-90 minutes. Thread the almonds lengthwise onto a 1.5 meter cotton leaving about 1 cm between each almond. You will need about 50 almonds per 1.5 meter length. Once threaded hang in a warm and airy room to dry.

Step 2 - Add the calcium hydroxide to 4.5 liters of grape juice in a large pan and stir till dissolved, gradually bring to the boil whilst stirring occasionally. The calcium hydroxide acts to release impurities as a froth which can be skimmed off the surface.

Step 3 - Allow the mixture to cool slightly before gradually mixing in the flour until it is fully dissolved. The mixture is then cooked, whilst stirring frequently to stop it burning on the bottom of the pan, for about an hour until it starts to thicken.

Step 4 - Once cooled slightly, fold each 1.5 meter length of threaded almonds in half (into a U shape to make dipping easier) and dip into the mixture a few times until coated. Hang to dry on hooks attached to a broom handle over some newspaper to catch drips for about 20 minutes. Repeat until all 10 lengths have been dipped.

Step 5 - After at least 20 minutes re-heat the mixture whilst stirring and repeat the process to thicken each length. Allow to cool for about 20 minutes and repeat the process once more. Any mixture left over can be poured into a shallow pan, cut into squares and cooled to enjoy as a snack.

Step 6 - Allow the sucuk to thoroughly dry for 5-7 days after which it is ready to enjoy. Keep in an airtight container for 3-4 months in the fridge or freeze and remove for thawing as needed.  

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Persimmons - a very nutritional fruit

We planted a persimmon in 2009 and it has now started fruiting.The fruits are best harvested from mid-September until December. If you try and eat the fruit straight after harvesting you will find its very bitter and astrigent. In order to fully ripen and sweeten, fruit needs to be stored at room temperature for 6 days then refrigerated for another 7. I have also read that this can be also be achieved by freezing overnight and thawing but I have not yet tried this method.

Once fully ripened persimmons are a sweet and delicious fruit which is rich in nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants that are vital for health but with the added advantage that they are low in calories. One very interesting nutrional fact is that persimmons contain a compound called zea-xanthin which is absorbed by the eyes retina where it is thought to provide antioxidant and protective light filtering functions and help in preventing age related macular degeneration.

Persimmons can be added to salads, pureed and used in cookies or added to smoothies. There are however an abundance of recipe ideas available and we will further investigate when our crop is larger.

Persimmons are any easy tree to grow and care for as they tolerate a variety of soils and conditions but
prefer a deep, well-drained soil. Plant your tree in full sun in a hole just big enough to spread out the roots. I would recommend sprinkling a few handfuls of organic matter on the soil around the trunk. Then spread a 10-15 cm deep layer of mulch around the tree, but keeping it away from the trunk, to help retain moisture. Water thoroughly and keep well watered until established and growing steadily. Watering is helped by providing a watering circle by raising a soil wall to the trees spread. Prune trees during the Winter if required to maintain a desired shape and to remove any damaged or diseased branches.

To preserve persimmons you can make jam, freeze the pulp or slice and dry them.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

How to prepare Black Olives for eating

These can be prepared for storage, usually from late October until late December in Cyprus, using the same method as green olives, see my previous blog on green olive preperation using the link below, but do not crack black olives http://cyprusgardener.blogspot.com/2013/10/tsakistes-or-cakistes-make-your-own.html 

Alternatively, black olives can be dry salted.  Pick two kilograms of nice plump blemish free black olives.  Wash them well and pack into a large jar and cover with water. Change the water daily for four days and after the final draining, sprinkle enough rock salt to cover the base.  

Pack the jar with three handfuls of black olives, then add a handful of rock salt and repeat the process until the jar is full ending with a layer of salt. Seal the jar and for the next fifteen days roll the jar every third day to distribute the salt. Your olives will be ready to eat in about four to five weeks.  Take out the amount you require rinse to remove excess salt, drain and dress with lemon juice and olive oil to serve. 

Tsakistes or Cakistes - Curing your own cracked green olives

September to November are traditionally months to prepare green olives for eating in Cyprus. The great Cypriot way of processing green olives (cakistes or tsakistes) is to make them edible by cracking. The following recipe is one method of producing your own tasty green olives. 

Pick about 2kg of plump blemish free green olives, usually from late Septembe, thoroughly wash removing any stalks or leaves and then dry them in the midday sun.

Once completely dry place each one on a large flat stone and hit gently with another smaller flat stone or wooden mallet to crack the flesh but not the olive stone. This is a messy job and best done outside, away from the house and wearing a plastic apron, as the oil splatters everywhere. Put the olives into a large plastic or glass jar and cover with cold water, you will have to insert a smaller lid before sealing to ensure all the olives stay submerged or use a jar with an inverted lid.

Change the water daily for the next seven days which will remove their bitterness and on day eight rinse well  and drain. Make up enough salt solution to cover the olives, this will be approximately 100g of rock salt for every litre of water required.

Pack the olives tightly into a clean jar and pour in the brine, tapping the jars base to ensure all air is released. Then pour a good layer of olive oil over the surface to seal and replace the jar lid tightly. Before adding the olive oil you may also add about seven crushed garlic bulbs, one lemon sliced finely and three tablespoons of crushed coriander seeds to add flavour.

Store your jar in a dark cool place for about four weeks, after which the olives are ready to enjoy. Your olives are now ready to be rinsed to remove any excess salt and dressed with lemon and fresh coriander for serving as mezes or undressed and used in a variety of recipes. 

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Make your own spicy cucumber relish

We do not like wasting food, especially food from crops that we have tendered from seed to maturity, so here is a recipe to use for cucumbers that hide themselves in the cucumber patch and get overlooked, start to toughen and go to seed. Our recipe is hot but you can leave out the chilli flakes if your taste buds prefer a milder flavour.

Alternatively, you could leave them to ripen well beyond the edible stage and keep them for seeds by using the following link  http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g? blogID=5924564628460841604#editor/target=post;postID=4078000423619890122;onPublishedMenu=posts;onClosedMenu=posts;postNum=8;src=postname

To make 4 jars of spicy cucumber relish you will need the following ingredients:

500g of finely chopped onions
500g of peeled cucumber cut into small chunks (remove the seeds if they have toughed)
1 medium cooking apple cored and cut into small chunks
325ml of apple vinegar
250g of sugar
1 teaspoon of chilli flakes
1 teaspoon of salt, pepper, mustard powder, turmeric and allspice

Place the onions, cucumber and apple in a preserving pan with the apple vinegar. Bring to the boil, whilst stirring occasionally, and simmer for 25 minutes.

Add the sugar and stir until it fully dissolves and then add the chilli flakes and rest of the ingredients. Cook on a low heat for 40-45 minutes until the relish thickens but remember to stir occasionally to ensure the mixture does not stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.

Once cooked, pour into pre-sterilised jars whilst still hot and seal. Once cooled completely clean any residue from the jars and store in a cool, dark place for up to a year unopened. Once opened store in the fridge. 

The relish has many uses, we use it in sandwiches, with homemade burgers or add it to pasta or potato salad. 

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Pomegranates are a superfood

Pomegranates in Cyprus are at their best towards the end of October. They are ripe when they achieve a shiny colour and a tinny sound when tapped. If rain is due, picking ripe pomegranates is essential as the ripe fruit tends to split open following a downpour.

The taste of a sweet pomegranate is amazing with the health benefits as an added bonus. Packed with antioxidants to protect your heart, pomegranates also lower cholesterol levels in the body, lower blood pressure and are packed full of vitamins and iron. Pomegranates provide a boost to the immune system, helps prevent dental plaque and have anti-inflammatory properties.

If you do not like seedy fruit then pomegranate is probably not your type of fruit as it is packed full of seeds. For me the seeds are however very tasty, an enjoyable chew and are said to cleanse the body by the roughage they provide.

Not only can the pomegranate be enjoyed as a snack but it can be added to your muesli, salads, made into jam or jelly, juiced, used in a chutney or for numerous recipes available on the internet.

Once picked pomegranates will stay fresh for up to 2 weeks or 4-6 weeks in stored in the fridge, with the added benefit that stored fruit usually improves in flavour and juiciness.

Make your own pomegranate vinegar

Whilst pomegranates are in season take the opportunity to make yourself and your friends some pomegranate vinegar which adds a gorgeous flavour and aroma to salads.

The vinegar is easy to make, just add a handful of pomegranate seeds to two cups of white wine vinegar. Mix well and store in an airtight pre-sterilised jar for 1-2 weeks to allow the pomegranate flavour to infuse into the vinegar. After 1-2 weeks, strain the vinegar and store in a pre-sterilsed bottle.

Your pomegranate vinegar will keep in a dark cool place for upto 6 months.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Make your own green tomato chutney

At the end of tomato growing season we are left with a lot of green tomatoes. Although these can be stored to ripen, in a box on top of a kitchen cupboard covered with a tea-towel, a delicious preservation technique is to turn them into a green tomato chutney.

For any chutney you need a large stainless steel pan or if you are planning on frequently making jams, chutneys or sauces it is worth investing in a preserving pan.

You will also need glass jars which we always clean and keep but it's amazing how many you can collect by asking friends and relations to keep them for you. And you can always reward them with a jar of homemade produce. Jars need to be sterilized before use and this can be done by washing, drying and placing them in a low heat oven for 15 minutes.

Your homemade chutney will keep for 18 months if stored in a cool, dark place and will improve in flavour if eaten after six-eight weeks.

To make 4 jars you will require the following ingredients:

500g of roughly chopped green tomatoes
450g of chopped onions
225g of cored and chopped apples
125g of sultanas
425g of sugar
1/2 tablespoon of salt
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of allspice
1/2 pint of vinegar

Place all the ingredients into the preserving pan and stir until the mixture comes to the boil. Keep on a rolling boil for about 80-100 minutes whilst stirring occasionally until the chutney starts to thicken.

Whilst still hot spoon the chutney into your prepared jars and seal with lids. Once cooled completely you can clean any excess off the sides of the jars and store.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Make your own pickled garlic

No matter what method you use to store harvested garlic it will eventually dry-out or rot. Preserving garlic by pickling is one method of extending the life of your crop.

Pickled garlic takes on a whole different flavour. The taste of garlic results from compound allicin which gives it its strong taste and smell. The compound is, however, destroyed during the pickling process and so completely altering the garlic's flavour

To pickle your own garlic follow this simple recipe

Mix together 1.5 cups of distilled vinegar; 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 tablespoon of salt.

Pour the mixture into a pan and bring to a boil for 1 minute. Add 3 cups of peeled garlic cloves and bring to another boil for another minute. Cool by placing the pan in a bowl of cold water.

Pour the pickled garlic and brine into a sterilized jar and once completely cooled store in the fridge. Your pickled garlic will keep for at least 6 months and can be enjoyed raw or used in a multitude of recipes such as salad dressings, to make dips or used in salads.