Monday, March 22, 2010

We've Taken Out The Trees -- or moved them around...

For the last fourteen years, we have cultivated a variety of trees on our two plots of land: the one near the main road has had up to 230 peaches, nectarines, apples, mangoes, guavas, pomegranates, figs, and mixed citrus – as well as supporting my 300 square metres of mixed veg, and the plot where the house is was the site of our olive grove. But the arrangement was full of inherent difficulties, and after taking a series of very deep breaths, Best Beloved and I have some changes wrought.

“How would it be,” he asked me late last autumn, “if we took out the olives from here, transplanted them to the field, took out most of the soft fruit trees and apples, turned the field over to olives and vines, and brought all your vegetables up to the house?” I looked at him as if he’s proposed a trip to Saturn, but quickly saw the wisdom behind his thinking.

Newly planted vines where we took out the trees six years ago.

When we originally planted the fruit trees, we had roughly thirty-eight each of nectarines and peaches, about twenty mangoes, and about sixty apples.

For the first few years, the care and the yield were insignificant, but once we began to harvest big crops, the workload vaulted: sheet mulching each tree for weed suppression; checking and spraying for aphids in the spring; strimming or tractoring the weeds between the trees; thinning, picking, and marketing the fruit – and turning what didn’t sell into jams, preserves, and jellies; pruning the trees in the winter; and looking forward to doing it all again.

Because Best Beloved is away for half the week, much of the work on the trees fell to me, or to the ladies that I hired, but it was an endless headache made worse by the fact that the market for organics was so small that nearly half of what we produced was simply unsellable. The mangoes went as fast as we picked them, but we would be left with 1000 kilos of apples to pick in August, and the prospect of selling them at .25 per kilo was heartbreaking. In recent years we have let most of the crop rot.

Six years ago we took out half of all the trees except the mangoes and life became easier.

But at about that time the neighbour slightly up-slope began producing summer alfalfa – meaning that he watered about three times a week and all his run off went to watering our weeds. More work, more cost.

I’m not as sprightly and resilient as I was in years past, and I hate trudging along in the sun spraying sulphur and copper from a heavy backpack sprayer. I bought lighter sprayers, but they all broke, and last year I dug in my heels so Best Beloved took over all of the heavy work.

Meanwhile, half of the vegetable production had moved up to the house – in the 100 square metres opposite the olive patch, so I was dividing my time between to areas of vegetable production. The olives were trucking along nicely, but on land better than they needed. And although we realised that we needed a change, I would never have thought of something as radical as Best Beloved proposed.

I grabbed at his idea, and ran with it. But he backed off. I nagged: “You have to let me know before I start pruning!” I told him. “I don’t want to start the work and then have you cut the trees down…”

“But it’s a huge job, Manamou,” he temporised. “And with the chainsaw broken, and no digger driver that I really trust…”

So I dropped it. If we do it, I thought, we’ll do it. If we don’t, I’ve practically written the trees off anyway.

Then everything happened fast. The chainsaw came back from the menders, the weather warmed up, and suddenly apple trees were falling in the field and the store of firewood was growing exponentially. Leo and Best Beloved worked like Trojans and one day last week only twelve apples and six each peaches and nectarines remained among the stumps.

Scene of destruction -- soon to turn into olive grove

plus vinyard, far lower maintenance crops than fruit

trees, and crops requiring far less water, meaning

less incidence of weeds.

“Can you pick up my vines from the Department of Agriculture?” Best Beloved phoned to ask one day. And a week later they were newly planted in neat rows on the patch that we had cleared six years ago.

The digger came Thursday and spent a day dragging out stumps and making new holes. We tried burning off the trimmings but they’re still too green.

The olive patch needs a deep ploughing to break up compacted clay and a few truckloads of goat manure and organic matter, and it could be ready for a summer planting but I want to think about it and try a more sustainable design than just rows and drip irrigation. Permaculture has always fascinated me, and although I have never taken a design course I am learning more about it and trying to apply its basic principles to my agriculture.

Former olive grove, slated for permaculture organic vegetable plot.We have kept a border of olive trees around the outside, and plan to underplant with native shrubs as well as aromatics like lavender, rosemary, rigani, and thyme.

So it’s all happening! Watch this space, faithful readers, to see what comes next.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

They’ve Taken the Trees

was never a particularly beautiful village. A few kilometres to the east of Pahos and slightly inland, it straddled the main road between Limassol and Paphos with a few handsome Neo-Classical buildings and a higgledy-piggledy collection of later shops and dwellings. Traffic always choked its plateia, and the Church, in a hideous attempt to enlarge its space available, tacked a twentieth century addition onto a Ninth Century masterpiece -- though it's quit difficult to find a web picture of the extension: most shots are taken from a flattering angle that excludes it.

But once the Municipality ‘took matters in hand’, everything went from bad to worse. First we endured more than a year of roadworks and diversions. (I say ‘we’ because we were living in Yerouskippou at the time and a ten-minute journey to town sometime morphed into a half-hour odyssey.) When the roadworks were completed, the new street plan became a nonsensical nightmare of no-left and no-right turns, zebra crossings that force drivers to stop in the middle of intersections, and at least one road that becomes one-way (the wrong way) just before the main road, forcing law-abiding drivers to reverse. For the first weeks of this daftness, demented traffic wardens ran thither and yon, gesticulating and even swearing at recalcitrant drivers. But they have long since given up, and Yerouskippou drivers cheerfully make illegal turns, mount the pavement, and park all over the street.

When the revamped plateia was unveiled early last summer, my heart sank to my sandals. In place of the scuffed but cheerful, well-shaded hodgepodge of kafeneia, shops, Turkish (oops, gasp, no, sorry!) Cyprus Delight factories and other miscellany, stretched a gleaming expanse of white marble and sandstone, shaded at intervals by concrete structures – mercifully stone-faced – with bizarrely curved roofs of Perspex and steel. And hardly a tree in sight. The old clump of cypresses still stands at one end looking a little like a poor relation at an upmarket wedding, and a few saplings have been carefully inserted into breaks in the marble, but the old broad leaved ficuses are gone, and any other greenery that dares intrude gets ruthlessly sprayed or pruned out of existence. One wonders who will be able to sit on the scatter of benches between June and October – even the hardiest of sun-worshipping British tourists -- the kind with skin like well tanned leather, a sprinkling of illegible tattoos, and necks and wrists encrusted with chains usually spotted chain-smoking on a sun lounger clutching a beer -- would be fools to try.

The stalls, shops, and factories on the non-plateia side of the road are all now directly open to summer’s murderous glare, and the absence of dust-filtering greenery means that tourists hoping to see the church frescoes or buy some ceramics, baskets, or Delight, get lungfuls of

particulate into the bargain.

A similar affliction has struck the promenade of Kato Paphos. Around the harbour, pines and ficus remain, but the newly renovated seafront parade has been resurfaced with dark grey granite cobbles and only a few tall scraggly palms shade the benches which could be a delight.

Imagine… late afternoon in mid-July, the thermometer stands at about 35C… you’re a tourist… you leave your room for an apr├Ęs siesta dip at the Municipal beach, and with wife and child stroll the promenade. You stop for an ice-coffee and take-away treat, then continue your stroll to a shaded bench that overlooks the water. You slurp and lick contentedly, people watching and taking in the view to the harbour. In the middle-distance, brightly painted caiques head seaward for an evening’s fishing, and overhead a flock of birds chatters their last song before dusk…

All that could be possible in five years if the Municipal crews get planting now. Meanwhile, keep dreaming.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Billy Had a Little Lamb

My Brother-in-Law (we’ll call him Bill), holds and important position with regards to security here in Paphos. He wears a quasi-military uniform complete with beret, bloused trousers, and spit-shined boots. He often carries a sub-machine gun, and has perfected a macho swagger.

Recently, however, he has acquired a hobby with a more pastoral bent.

Some thirty chickens arrived a fortnight ago, complete with three or four roosters, and several brace of ducks. They have taken up residence in his front yard and were recently joined by two lambs – no doubt destined for the easter souvla, but meanwhile enjoying their transient freedom in the lush orchard.

Bill gives every visitor the tour. He snagged me last week and led me into the orchard, rhapsodising on the virtues of livestock among the trees: “They loosen the soil and fertilise it. They kill the weeds, they eat the bugs, they lay tasty, golden-yolked eggs…” He showed me an Italian vegetable grinder that he’d picked up cheap from a restaurant that went bust. “I make their salad every morning with vegetables left over from the supermarket at the end of the road. Other than that, they eat some grain, drink some water, and add a nice living touch to the place, don’t you think?” I murmured something appropriately positive, thinking that I, the organic farmer and permaculture aficionado of the family, needed no convincing as to the benefits of free-range livestock in a smallholding.

On Sunday afternoon, shortly after the sheep had arrived, I walked past Bill’s house on the way to help Best Beloved sort out the irrigation of his new vines. The orchard is below the level of the road, and trees obscured most of my view of the menagerie. I could see Bill – but only from the waist down – pacing his plot, hands behind his back, once-shiny boots treading a path between the olive and citrus trees, peering into nesting boxes and checking the level of the drinking water with a thoroughness and gravity that I had seen him bring to his usual occupation. I watched him for a moment, staying hidden and listening to him muttering to himself and talking to the chooks.

When I reached the vineyard, I reported my sighting to Best Beloved. “On the count of three,” he said. “Billy has a little lamb…” We let rip at the tops of our voices, the slightly altered words: “Billy has a little lamb, a little lamb, a little lamb. Billy has a little lamb, its fleece is black and white. And everywhere that Billy goes, Billy goes, Billy goes, every where that Billy goes, the lamb gets in a fight!” We were laughing too hard to hear his unprintable reply.

The Littles often break into song now as we pass his house; “Old MacBilly had a farm, ee- eye ee-eye oh!”

His family are not the only one to tease Bill. Alex is doing work experience with him at the moment and says that he is the butt of constant leg-pulls at work. “He was talking about marksmanship today,” Alex reported. “Saying that he used to be able to knock out a fly’s eye in the dark at fifty paces but now he can barely see the fly, and one of the lads under his command said softly ‘Too many free range eggs, didn’t you know that golden yolks destroy your vision?’ They don’t give him a break.”

Best Beloved and I have bets as to how long this new interest will last: Bill is not known for his stamina at maintaining new projects on the domestic or agricultural front. “A month or two, Manamou,” my husband said. I voted for a little longer – at least until the hot days of July make sleeping through the day required for all male Cypriots. Unless Sil (my sister-in-law) gets involved – then Paphos will have a permaculture centre to envy.