By Patricia Jordan
THE old saying that an apple a day keeps the doctor away is very sound. It’s a frequently used expression in our house too and according to statistics, a wonderful fruit to keep you healthy. Apples are low in fat, salt and cholesterol (lowering the level of bad cholesterol), and a very good source of fibre. What more could you want in a fruit? Now some of the 7,500 known varieties of apple are available in the shops all year round here since Cyprus joined the EU as they are brought in from around the world.
If you look on the fruit counters, you will see in their different seasons apples that can be kept in cold storage for long spells and indeed travel and keep well. No one wants an apple that shows its age. My favourite apple is Braeburn, found as a chance seedling in New Zealand in 1952, and is thought to have been a cross between Granny Smith and Lady Hamilton. Like Kiwi fruits before them, New Zealand Braeburn apples are now grown in many temperate climates but for the most crispness and flavour, they are best eaten fresh. Most apples for sale here come from the Italian Tyrol. You may be drawn to the bright colouring of Pink Lady, another favourite of mine, a fresh tasting apple with a bright pink peel originally from Australia. Those available in the shops right now are from Chile, which as the crow flies is 13,388 kilometres from Cyprus! What a large carbon footprint it has and retails at only 85 cents an apple. They are also grown in Greece, along with Galant apples and quite a bit cheaper.
Apple trees need a winter chill and grow best between 400 and 1,600 metres in Cyprus, although an imported apple from Israel called Anna can be grown successfully around the 300 metre level. However, Anna is an early cropper but its keeping qualities are not so good and the fruit may be infected with maggots. It is best to cook them quickly as they ripen, and freeze the pulp, using it for fruit cobblers or apple pies. Here in Cyprus there are two traditional Cypriot cultivars growing in the Kyperounda area, where an Apple Festival is held at the beginning of October each year celebrating the apple harvest. They are Kathista and Loriko, but when trialled against others they do not have good keeping qualities. Kathista resembles a Bramley apple, loved by Brits for stuffed apples and sauces.
Much cross breeding has been achieved in the apple world. Many of you will be familiar with the Delicious apples. Red Delicious was used in breeding Stark Crimson, Starking Delicious and Red Chief, which you may see in the stores here. Generally speaking, scions of apples are grafted onto a rootstock to produce a tree sizable for easy maintenance and cropping. Apples can be grown from seed, and the trees will become quite large. Indeed some of the current crops of Chilean Pink Lady apples have germinating seeds in them – probably caused by being in cold storage and the long journey. Many flower seeds also need winter cold before germinating, which is the reason that we put them in the fridge or freezer to simulate winter chill before sowing. I am currently planting these apple seeds to see what happens to them. If an apple has seedling, pippin or kernel as part of its name, it suggests that the tree was grown from seed. My Pink Lady seedlings might just turn out to be like one of the parents, Golden Delicious, a long time favourite, and how delicious that would be!
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN IN NOVEMBER
AFTER the clocks changed, an autumn feeling began to permeate the air although the temperatures may still be in the high 20s this month. Hopefully we will have some decent rainfall at last, certainly enough to wet the earth deep down to be able to finish bulb planting. Tulips are generally the last bulbs to go into the earth, being the last to emerge and bringing bright colour groupings to the garden. Single bulbs look lonely, so plant in groups for effect. They can be planted in pots too, but even then they don’t do well a second year.
If you have managed to take some cuttings of shrubs, keep your eye on them and when the roots begin to show through the drainage holes, transfer them to a pot of their own. However, with the likelihood of winter storms they will be very vulnerable, so keep them in a frame if you have one or in a sheltered spot as spring is quite a way off! Annuals that flowered early in the springtime may well be sending up seedlings now that it is cooler. They may survive until the spring if you live in a sheltered spot, but be prepared to lose them if you live at higher elevations.
Near the coast, plants of Strelitzia reginae will be in full bloom now. Watch out for locusts that may still be about, as they like to gorge on the tough but fleshy leaves. I have found that the best way to deal with them is to bash them with a hoe or rake, or if you can corner them drop a brick on them. It sounds cruel I know, but they will devour any fleshy leaves if you don’t deal with them.
Other baddies in the garden, the Mediterranean Fruit Flies will be appearing now that oranges and grapefruit are colouring up. You will see in Cypriot-owned gardens that the yellow sticky cards are appearing amongst the branches to trap them. Lemons and limes don’t seem to be affected though, maybe it is the tougher peels. The heavenly perfume of the loquat flowers scents the November garden and hopefully there will be plenty of bees to fertilise the flowers and bring lovely golden fruits in March or April.
Tiny cyclamen, a gift from a gardening friend, which I planted out last year around the edge of a circular bed, are showing their pretty leaves again. Last year they were chewed to bits by snails, so I am afraid that I laid a trail of pellets around them just before the first rain (I know shock-horror!) and hope that I get to enjoy them this year.
I am waiting for my nerines to flower. These are the loveliest autumn flowers and I worried for them during the extremely hot summers as to whether they were deep enough in the soil to withstand the heat. These bulbs are similar to paperwhites and the bigger amaryllis. All need their head and shoulders above the compost in their pots, so can be quite vulnerable in very hot conditions. There is mixed advice about re-potting amaryllis, a very popular flower here and mostly grown in pots in gardens and courtyards. I have always held the belief that you should let the foliage die down by not watering during the late summer and then re-pot in fresh compost at this time of year, when hopefully leaves will begin to shoot upwards. Others say no matter, just refresh the compost. They are very popular bulbs in the garden centres now and are often given as Christmas gifts.
Plant of the Month Euphorbia milii AGM
Euphorbia milii, commonly known as a spurge, was originally found growing in Madagascar. It was brought to Europe in the early1800s and has been grown since then as an attractive but thorny pot plant. Legend associates it with the Crown of Thorns as worn by Jesus Christ. This plant is best grown outside here in part sun on a patio or veranda. The exception to this would be in higher elevations. Plants can survive in temperatures down to about minus 4C, but some protection during winter would be best. A similar euphorbia with large leaves and flowers is known as Euphorbia milii var. Splendens.
Although Euphorbia milii is botanically speaking a succulent, it is usually regarded as a shrub as it retains its leaves all year round. The stems are very thorny and grooved and sometimes light brown in colour. It can reach half a metre in height given good growing conditions, and the flowers can be red, cream or yellow. The actual leaves grow around the stems with the flowers appearing on the stem ends. The flowers are pollinated by flies, although I have yet to see a seed on mine. Propagation is by stem cuttings. However, be aware that the milky sap emanating from a broken stem can be at best an irritant and cause swelling or blistering, and at worst, poisonous. Carefully break or cut a stem and leave it a few days for the break to callous. Plant in a gritty compost and feed the plant from time to time with a liquid fertiliser with little nitrogen or floppy foliage will emerge.