Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category


Cyprus Cost of Living #5

July 10, 2010

The Guardian recently had an article in their Life & Style section about the spice saffron.  Their tagline for the piece was “It’s hard to produce and more costly than gold“.

These things are undoubtably true: each stem of saffron started life as a stigma on a crocus.  Each bulb flowers only once each year, producing just two or three stigma which must then be harvested by hand.  The writer of the article was provided, by Harrods, with a sample:  2g of saffron produced by over 400 flowers and costing £25 (at the time of writing about 30€ or $37).

Saffron’s usage, and cultivation, goes back an incredibly long way:

For as long as there have been people, people have known about saffron. A dye from its stigmas colours 50,000-year-old cave paintings in what is now Iraq. Ancient frescoes on the Greek island of Santorini depict a goddess watching – or perhaps blessing – a woman picking saffron, presumably for medicine. No one knows how old this painting is: a volcano buried it in around 1500BC, and the work could have been hundreds of years old even then.

Now here’s the oddity: saffron, and many other herbs and spices, are surprisingly inexpensive in Cyprus.  That’s not to say that it’s possible to buy premium grade saffron cheaply but it is certainly cheaper than the UK.

At the time of writing Carrefour are selling 30g of Syrian saffron for 3€; that is about 7% of the price of the saffron sold by Harrods.

For anyone coming on holiday to Cyprus it would be a great shame not to reserve a corner of the suitcase for a supply of herbs and spices bought from any of the supermarkets.  In the space it would take to re-pack a novel it should be possible to re-stock the kitchen stocks of herbs and spices for a year.

Saffron, peppercorns, coriander, mustard seeds and crushed chillis are all great buys here.


Tree supports

July 7, 2010

Tree support

We were out and about on yet more village wanderings and came across a gorgeous old tree in a churchyard.  Despite the unforgiving summer heat the area under the tree was blissfully cool and shady and, unlike the rest of the area, had a gentle cooling breeze.

The tree is clearly old and has grown in an inconvenient direction: the low stone wall on the left of the photo marks the boundary of the church land, beyond it is a steep drop.  Rather than cut the tree back it has been allowed to grow at will but essential support has been provide courtesy of a low pillar of Lefkara stone.

This stone, which is found only in a few square miles around the Lefkara villages, is a particularly hard type of limestone.  Our builders needed to use a diamond drill bit to get through some at the house.  In this case it gives a support strong enough to allow the tree to continue flourishing.


The Zenobia, 30 years on

June 29, 2010

30 years ago the Zenobia, a roll-on roll-off ferry, sank in Larnaca harbour; today she is considered to be one of the greatest wreck dive sites in the world.

LucyInnovation has written a super piece on what it is like to dive in and around her. Enjoy!

imagine the stories of the Zenobia Zenobia was a 3rd century Syrian queen of the Palmyrene Empire, who led a famous revolt against the Roman Empire. The Zenobia is also one of the top ten wreck dives in the world. Last week I was lucky enough to spend some time getting the know the Zenobia. The Zen, as she fondly referred to is a 178 metre roll on roll off ferry which sank just outside Larnaka harbour in Cyprus in June 1980 on a voyage from Sweden to Syria. There are lots of stori … Read More

via Lucyinnovation’s Blog


Village Life: Weed Clearing

June 28, 2010

Have weeds to clear?  Don’t want to use a strimmer?  No problem!

Weed clearing

Well, it was fast and fairly efficient.  Noisy and dusty too but it got the job done.


Filthy jobs

June 22, 2010

While the builders have been here we’ve been catching up on a whole bunch of jobs, as well as dealing with things that have arisen as a result of the work that they’ve been doing.

As previously mentioned they have partially re-built the garage.  We call it a garage but it isn’t: the door to the street is actually fixed in place and is neither hinged nor in a position to open.  Anyway, part of its construction is a huge wooden beam positioned as a lintel above the door-that-isn’t-a-door.

The beam is gorgeous, but filthy.  So while the builders have been busy on the roof Ian took the opportunity to clean up the wood.  The plan was to clean the whole thing with wire brushes, removing any debris and dead wood, then treat the wood with insect and mould repellent and then feed and protect the wood with a generous coat or two of linseed oil.

The first phase was, without doubt, a horrible filthy job.  But it provided a fantastic, and unexpected, photo opportunity.

Ian and his wire brush collection

To give some context, this is the beam post wire-brushing.

The lintel, post-brushing


Scops owl sighting

May 27, 2010

An unexpected treat today, we have an owl for company!

Wandering through the kitchen today we glanced out of the window towards the possible hidden garden and through to the plot that has been partially cleared.  Sitting quite proudly on one of the branches of a fig tree was a small owl.

Some time with a pair of binoculars and a copy of the invaluable Birds of the Middle East confirmed that he (well, we think it is a ‘he’!) is probably a Scops owl [Otus  Scops Cyprius].

Eyes closed

When we first spotted him we were concerned that our movements within the house would disturb him so we crept about to grab the binoculars, the camera, the bird books terrified that he might disappear.  No danger of that; it seems Scops is here for some time.  We first spotted him just after midday and as at 8pm he was still there.  He’s changed position once or twice but other than that seems to be contented in his new home.

Ian risked opening the back door to get a better chance of a photo.  The owl opened his eyes a quarter way and raised his ears (or are they just ear tufts?) to listen.  He must have decided that there was no threat as he was quickly back to his previous position.

We’ve heard an owl in the garden area in recent evenings but not been able to identify it.  Of late the occasional pellet has turned up.  Now that we’ve seen him it seems likely that Scops has been around for a while.  We have to wonder if the process of clearing the derelict patch has made it more inviting to an owl.  Apart from our kitchen window the spot he has chosen is fairly secluded and not overlooked, but for us.

For those who may be interested in such things, the author JK Rowling recently revealed that Ron Weasley’s owl is a Scops owl.  Readers of the Harry Potter series may recall that the owl, Pigwidgeon, was described as being both very small and very over-excitable.  This one is smallish but shows absolutely no signs of being so energetic; he appears to have been sleeping most of the day.


According to Cypriot legend the Scops owl is one of the oldest creatures in the World, mentioned in conjunction with the Ark.  The Cypriots have a tale that describes how the owl came by its cry.

But the most characteristic feature is its wailing cry, a lament that brings back to memory the tragic story related to the origin of this bird. According to legend, the bird was originally the son of a poor peasant family who lived at the edge of a forest. He tended the garden and sheep while his younger brother looked after the horses. One day, when the younger brother was in the forest a severe storm arose. The boy returned home and when the elder brother counted the horses he found that one was missing. He did not count the horse on which his brother was riding. Flying into a rage, he ordered his brother to return to the forest and find the presumed lost horse. There, in the unleashed storm, the young boy was struck by a lightning. When later that night his horse returned home without him, his brother was full of apprehension. He went out in search of him, shouting his name “Ghioni”, “Ghioni” but to no avail. At daybreak, when to his utter distress he realized that his brother was dead, he asked Artemis, the Goddess of the forests and of hunting, to release him of his torment. The Goddess turned him into an owl. To this day, the owl flies through the forest all night long calling “Ghioni”. “Ghioni” for his lost brother. Incidentally, the modern Greek noun for owl is “ghionis” and the same word resembles the call of the owl.


We can’t comment on that but it’s fair to say that we’ve made more trips past the kitchen window today, just to see if he’s still there.


Bee part of it

May 24, 2010

Listening to UK news it seems that bees and bee-keeping are much in the news at the moment.

The BBC and the National Trust have come together to raise awareness of the plight of the bee, campaigning under the banner “Bee Part of It”.  The National Trust, a UK charity which owns and protects over 450 historic properties across Great Britain, is placing new hive colonies on some of its properties.

The campaign is getting a fair amount of coverage right down to Martha Kearney, the anchor of the BBC Radio 4’s daily news programme World at One bemoaning the loss of her queen bee over winter in between commenting on the newly elected government.  Happily someone was able to provide her with a replacement, via the post, and her hive is happy once more.

Over at the Times newspaper the weekly column, the Beekeeping Diary,  following the trials and tribulations of their newbie beekeeper has become a surprise hit.  He too lost his queen over the winter and received a replacement via the Royal Mail.  Who knew that it was possible to pop a queen bee into a post box?  For those interested just how to mail a queen see here.

Here in Cyprus beekeeping is a huge industry, but not a mainstream commercial one.  It isn’t possible to buy local honey in any of the big supermarkets, to do that it’s essential to keep an eye out for roadside stalls or head into the mountain villages and find a small family-run stores.

As part of the reporting of the new National Trust bee hives there was a passing reference to the actual locations not being made public.  The logic for this is that good hives are at risk of being stolen; hive rustling is a significant danger in the UK apparently.

This doesn’t come as a surprise to us as a result of the comments of some visitors a couple of years ago.  They were over in Cyprus this time two years ago and we spent some time with them visiting assorted locations across the island.  As we drove up towards Troodos they were shocked to see run after run of brightly painted hives by the side of the road, each group placed next to a lay by to allow convenient access for the hive owners.  In the UK this would be madness, an invitation for someone to steal the hives, they said.  Here, we observed, it’s perfectly normal.  Hives are left by the side of the road, or at the side of a farmer’s field or wherever is convenient for both the bees and the hive owner presumably.

About a month or so ago we drove around part of Lefkara dam.  The water levels were encouragingly high after the recent wet winter and the vegetation was fantastically lush and green.  At pretty much every twist in the dam-side track we came across hives, dozens and dozens and groups of hives.  Usually in Cyprus the hives are painted shades of blue; for reasons that aren’t clear a good number of the ones around the dam were in shades of yellow.  Oddly some, no more than one in each group, was marked with what appeared to be a crucifix.  In the photo below it can be seen in the top half of the middle hive.  Is all the honey from that hive destined for the local church or the monks at a nearby monastery?  Is this some sort of honey tithing?  So many questions.

Bee hives above Lefkara dam

Today our garden is alive with the sound of bees once more.  As far as we know the nearest hives are in a field about a quarter of a mile away on the drive into the village.  There is someone wonderful in the knowledge that bees from those hives are pollinating our citrus trees, giving us enough lemons for the coming year, as well as proving lashings of honey.

To finish up, some bee facts.

  • One bee would need to fly the equivalent of twice around the world to gather enough pollen to make a single jar of honey.
  • 40% of the world’s crops rely on bees for pollination
  • In the US alone bees are responsible for pollinating over $15 billion of crops per year with one mouthful in three directly or indirectly benefiting from bee pollination
  • Einstein is said to have stated (though there is a question about the attribution ) that if the bee population dies the subsequent chain reaction will result in all life on the planet dying out within four years

To find out more about the “Bee Part of It” campaign click here.


The garden, mid-May

May 22, 2010

Another month, another round-up of the garden.

The main lemon crop needs picking.  Strong winds over recent days have dislodged a good number of ripe fruit; happily there are dozens more on the tree still.

Dropped Lemons

Our biggest challenge is finding homes for them.  There’s no question that we can use sliced lemons, zest and juice throughout the year and within a few months there won’t be ripe lemons left on the trees.  The only issue is just how much we can squeeze into the freezer.

The arum lilies have decided that they’ve had enough for this year.  The last of the flowers have gone and the foliage is dying back.  Once it has gone completely we’ll be able to have another attempt at lifting the remaining rhizomes and relocating them to elsewhere in the garden.  The narcissi have already had similar treatment; they were scattered in and around the area containing the monster yucca.  Having tied them up some months ago and allowed the foliage to die back we spent the good part of an afternoon searching them out and lifting them.  The plan, such as there is one, is to plant them in a series of containers which can then take centre-stage when they are in flower.

Elsewhere the pomegranate trees are in full bloom.  The flowers are absolutely fantastic and as the fruits set the petals fall from the tree creating a delicate red carpet across the donkey track.  Were it not for the minor rodent issue we would be absolutely over the moon with the amount of fruit we might expect.

Pomegranate flowers

An abundance of blossom

Pomegranate in full bloom

A carpet of petals

The pomegranate isn’t the only one bursting into life.  Last month we mentioned that the bougainvillea was putting on a massive amount of growth and the first colour had recently appeared.  In less than a month it has gone from a tiny amount of coloured bracts to being absolutely stunning.  As an added advantage, when the plant had this much growth it provides good and solid shade underneath which, as the days heat up, is very welcome.

Bougie, from above

Coloured bracts

More next month.


The garden, mid-April

April 26, 2010

Yes, yes, mid-April is long gone.  That’s what swimming with icebergs will do … it freezes the brain and results in days passing without you realising.  Beware of icy cold water!

Good grief, will this lot never stop growing?  When we bought them we had no idea how much use the garden loppers would get.  Considering they cost less than 20€ they have proved invaluable.

The citrus trees are, pretty much, pruned for this season.  Far too late we know but at least they are done.  The poor old orange tree ended up having a haircut of epic proportions.  One of the branches was making a break for the sky and was easily as high as the second floor.  Some of the tree was in poor condition, and the break-for-the-sky branch was alive with bugs.  So we, reluctantly, took the decision to prune it drastically in the hope that it would solve a multitude of problems.

Top two-thirds of the orange tree gone

Should the tree make it through the year then it is a prime candidate for our own fruit cocktail tree experiment.  Imagine being able to graft a branch of our tiny lime tree onto the mature orange and kick-start our lime production.  At the moment we get about 3 a year so any increase on that would be appreciated; we can buy limes in the fruitaria but they are usually imported from South America.

The bougainvillea is also attempting to set world records for the fastest growth possible in an improbably short space of time.  How, exactly, did we manage to forget that it did this?  We’ve fallen into a weekly routine of lopping back the worst overhanging branches just so we have a chance to make it to the front door.

Note the re-appearance of the painting kit

Underneath bougie

This week the first colour started to appear.  The plant’s flowers are tiny, white and unremarkable; the fantastic display of colour is provided by bracts, a type of modified leaf.  Poinsettias, the plant so often seen in deepest winter is the same, the deep scarlet comes from a coloured leaf, not a flower.

Meanwhile the pomegranates are flowering.  This is both good and bad news: the flowers are absolutely gorgeous but the local wildlife enjoy them too much.

Did you spot the euphemism there?  Doesn’t local wildlife sound better than pack of rats who we can’t get rid of despite many attempts and significant amounts of angst?  Regular readers will have seen the occasional reference to a rodent problem.  Lets be clear; both the derelict house next door to us and the empty plots behind have rats.  This is deeply, deeply troubling.  Apparently these rats adore the seeds from unripe pomegranates and next door’s tree abuts our wall.  Our tree, as named on our deeds, abuts our bedroom window.  No prizes for guessing which window never, ever gets opened!

We’d discussed stripping both trees (yes, including the one on next door’s land – these are rats!) of their blossom in the assumption that no blossom would mean no fruit which would mean no rats.  Sadly this plan came crashing to the ground as one of those creatures was seen romping up the tree which doesn’t even have any fruit on it yet.  Plan B, possibly involving a gallon of petrol and a box of matches, is under discussion now.  Really we can’t endure another year of sitting in the garden eating a pleasant meal with friends whilst watching those things run up and down the tree trunk.

Anyway, let’s concentrate on the positive.  The flowers?  They are really, really lovely.  And when you consider how desolate the trees looked over winter it is amazing what a show they put on just a few months later.

Pomegranates, if they don't all get eaten

Some of the roses have decided that there’s no point in having one flower when you could have a dozen or more.  They have an incredibly short lifespan though lasting just a day or two.  Since there are another few dozen rosebuds to follow it’s hard to object though.

Pink roses

In other news we finally found time to plant up some large containers that we brought with us from the UK.  Either side of the front door was now have a matched pair of guards comprising of some white geraniums and ivy.

Guarding the front door


Icebergs ahoy!

April 23, 2010

Treatment on the dodgy joint continues, complete with the weekly trips to Paphos.

Early indications are good: the drugs, or the physical work on the joint or Mother Nature are having some sort of impact.   Finally movement is starting to return.

A check-up with the surgeon went well.  Having manipulated the joint in all directions he declared that he estimated at 50% improvement.  Surgery would no longer be beneficial he said.  Not surprisingly there was much rejoicing all round.

However, there was a sting in the tail.

You must swim; this will help the shoulder like nothing else.  At least twice a week, preferably thrice!

Yes, he really said thrice.

We, perhaps understandably, protested slightly.  The sea, afterall, is still cold.  The surgeon disagreed.

The sea is wonderful all year round!  Many, many people swim throughout the winter months.

He is right, many do.  We know some of them.  They are mad.

It seems that they spend their time out of the water trying to convince the rest of the world that the sea really isn’t painfully cold in January.  Put two of them in the same room and they’ll spend their entire time trying to convince each other.  The rest of us know the truth though.

However the surgeon was in a good mood and listened to the objections with good grace.  With a twinkle in his eye he grabbed his mobile phone and called someone on speed dial.  A five minute conversation, with much enthusiasm and gesticulation, took place. As he ended the call he grabbed a notepad from the nearest desk, wrote down a phone number and started drawing a map.

Here is the port roundabout; here is Carrefour.  Yes?

Behind there is a gym that my friend owns; this gym has a heated pool.  Here is his number.  Call him and he will arrange for you to swim in the pool.  He will not charge you for this.  Come back and see me in one month.  Swim at least twice a week!

Such is life here.  There is a solution to everything, as long you know the right person to call.  Did we mention that, as yet, we haven’t paid a single Euro to this doctor?  It seems, as best we can work out, that unless he operates he expects no payment.  Yet another oddity of private medical care here.

In the end we declined the very generous offer of the pool.  It would be at least a two hour round trip, two or three times a week, in addition to the weekly Paphos run.  And the beach, well it’s only 15 minutes from here.  And really, just how cold can the sea in Cyprus be in April?

The answer is really rather chilly.    Those folks who do this by choice, well, they really are mad.