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Malta’s blossoming green fingers

People are growing their own vegetables in a new scheme

These allotments form part of a pilot project kicked off last year by the Rural Affairs Ministry. Photos: Matthew Mirabelli. Right: People of all ages can benefit from learning how to grow their own food.

These allotments form part of a pilot project kicked off last year by the Rural Affairs Ministry. Photos: Matthew Mirabelli. Right: People of all ages can benefit from learning how to grow their own food.

Growing your own fruit and vegetables is not something that comes to most people’s minds when hobbies are mentioned.

There’s nothing quite like putting vegetables you’ve grown yourself on the kitchen table

And as the pace of modern day life increases, you could be forgiven for thinking the age-old tradition of tilling land is petering out.

But a growing number of people from all walks of life are going against the grain and caring for their own organic vegetable patch come rain or shine.

“I had never done anything like this before, but it’s made me feel so proud. There’s nothing quite like putting vegetables you’ve grown yourself on the kitchen table,” Joe Demanuele, 63, said.

A consultancy director by profession, Mr Demanuele is the proud farmer of one of 57 land allotments in Għammieri, each50 square metres in size, dedicated tocitizen cultivators.

These allotments form part of a pilot project kicked off last year by the Rural Affairs Ministry, which is titled Midd Idejk fil-Biedja (try your hand at farming).

Allotments were distributed on a first come, first served basis and a yearly €100 fee.

For that €100, cultivators get their own allotment, free water and manure and fortnightly lectures on organic farming.

They are then free to grow their own fruit and vegetables, provided they do so organically and tend to their land at least once every three weeks.

“It’s been a great success and the government is now identifying other sites across the country to convert into further allotmentgardens,” project coordinator Pierre Mazzacano d’Amato explained.

With more than 200 people on the waiting list, it seems likely that any further land offers will quickly be snatched up.

And a stroll along the various vegetable patches immediately reveals why.

Shrubs and leaves of all shapes, sizes and colours sprout out within each plot.

Tomatoes line up alongside carrots, turnips, bell peppers, marrows, strawberries and melons. Cabbages, cauliflowers, potatoes, lettuce, spinach, pumpkins: all are present and blooming.

The kaleidoscope of crops stands in stark contrast to a neighbouring patch of fallow land, with its yellow weeds and arid soil, which is untended and unloved.

“I always dreamt of having my own bit of land, so I leapt at the chance when the scheme was announced,” said construction worker Adrian Cini.

“Cultivating the land takes time and effort, but the more effort you put in, the more you get out of it.”

Lab scientist Ray Grech Marguerat, 51, said: “It’s very time consuming, but it’s also a form of mental relaxation. It’s even more relaxing than fishing.”

Plants were not the only thing blossoming across the allotment: cultivators had become friendly and developed asense of camaraderie, MrMarguerat said.

“We all help each other out wherever we can. We’ve become a bit of a family over this year.”

To his right, a couple of allotments away, a man leantdown to show his neighbour how best to lay down his drip irrigation tubes.

“I often swap crops and seeds with some of my neighbours,” said Air Malta technician Colin Camilleri as he showed off his cauliflowers. “I couldn’t afford to buy a piece of land to cultivate, so this was a great opportunity.”

Mr Demanuele told The Sunday Times he bought most of his seeds from eBay and was planning to experiment and grow purple sweet peppers.

“I nourish the crops with a special seaweed extract and spray them with vinegar to ward off insects.”

However, growing organically has itschallenges, admits trainee gynaecologistDaliso Chetcuti.

Like all the other cultivators, Mr Chetcuti entered the project with practically nofarming experience.

“Of course, there were some mishaps. Last autumn, almost everyone’s tomatoes died practically overnight. We showed the leaves to our lecturer, who said it was probably afungus. He suggested spraying them with copper sulphate and it worked,” he said.

Mr Mazzacano D’Amato said that the allotment gardens had the potential togrow exponentially.

Not that everyone was happy, Mr Marguerat admits. “There were a couple of weeks where my children refused to eat any more of my broccoli. It was coming out of their ears!”

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