Andrew Bell's Diary of Happenings in the Cretan Countryside


For the past couple of years I have copiously applied the “magic” yellow and blue powders to my vegetables, without knowing precisely what they are or for what reason(s) they are applied.  When I first started growing tomatoes etc. here my neighbour took me to buy the powders, explaining that they were essential for healthy crops.  I do remember from school chemistry lessons that sulphur is yellow, and that various salts of copper are blue.  I also remember learning about “Bordeaux Mixture”, essentially copper sulphate and lime, which French wine producers discovered as a preventative for mildew, and which was also used to control potato blight.  Nevertheless, I didn’t really know whether I was applying a fungicide, an insecticide, or trace elements to the crops.  And so this year I decided to find out more about these powders, and consulted Γιώργος  from the gardening supplies shop in Kastelli who is both helpful and informative. 

The yellow powder is indeed sulphur, and is known here as Θειάφι.  It is used to prevent or control various mildews in Grapes, Tomatoes, Aubergines, Peppers, Cucumbers, Courgettes, Melons, Water Melons and Roses.  Θειοχαλκίνη, as the blue powder is called, is a mixture of sulphur and copper sulphate (40% Sulphur and 4% Copper) and seems to be more specifically for blight (Phytophthera infestans) on Tomatoes, Grapes and Potatoes, and also on Beans. 

Both these powders can be applied from the beginning of June, although the Θειάφι can be applied after mildew has appeared as it does provide some control of the disease.  The Θειοχαλκίνη must be applied before blight appears, which is most likely after damp, humid, cooler weather.


Not everything in the garden has been lovely during the last couple of months: 

 - watching weedkiller being sprayed in one of the olive groves next to us, on a breezy day, had me pacing up and down anxiously as the tractor slowly got closer.  There was some spray drift, but no damage to anything in the garden.  Interestingly, there has been fairly quick re-growth in the area which was sprayed and it now looks no different from an adjacent area which was not sprayed. 

-         I delayed planting the tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes, aubergines etc by a few weeks because we went to England during the second week of May, and I was reluctant to rely on the automatic watering system while the young plants were establishing.  Although most of them are producing satisfactorily now, I don’t think they have done as well as they would have done if planted earlier.  We spent our week in England lugging cases full of warm clothing whilst enjoying hotter weather than Crete was experiencing. 

-         we managed to “drown” a white jasmine and a yellow winter jasmine through a combination of inadequate drainage in their pots and overwatering.  It was entirely our fault as we failed to establish responsibility for their watering, and by the time we realised we were both watering them it was too late. 

-         we have a bougainvillea which had flourished in a large pot despite much neglect.  We decided to transplant it into the garden, but in the process – struggling to remove it from the pot - we broke off about 90% of the roots.  We continued to plant it but it has not yet shown any signs of recovery.

-        -  and finally…  We are given a lot of “tzigoudiά” (raki) which always comes in water bottles (you may be ahead of me now!.  One of us was tidying up the fridge, and decided it was time that a quarter-full bottle of “water” should be thrown out.  Why waste some stale water? Why not put it in the hanging basket by the front door containing a rather nice fuchsia?  Despite giving it copious amounts of water (we did wonder about black coffee!) it has not survived.  At least I have some pictures of it.



This year I have grown some Fenugreek.  We use the powder (made by grinding the seeds) in curries but have found it difficult to obtain here.  The name apparently comes from the Latin “faenum graecum” meaning “Greek hay”, as the Romans discovered it being grown as a widespread animal fodder crop in Greece.  My few plants would barely provide a single mouthful for a goat or sheep, but they have produced seed pods.  Another ingredient of our curries is Ginger which I am also growing.  It will be interesting to see how well it thrives.  My final new crop this year is Cape Gooseberry.  I have never grown it before, but I was given some seeds and it is doing very well.  The fruit takes a long time to ripen, but I have tried it and the taste is indeed very similar to Gooseberry.


After the migrating birds had passed through on their journey North, it seemed rather an anticlimax.  Seen from the house and garden the main changes to the bird populations are the appearance of the Swallows and Swifts, and the takeover of the olive groves by the Spotted Flycatchers which are now the most numerous species.  It is fascinating to compare the feeding habits of these insectivores.  The Swifts high in the sky, catching insects at break-neck speeds.   The Swallows, sometimes up with the Swifts, but often feeding near ground level and narrowly missing people and cars as they perform amazing aerobatics as they follow the road.  By contrast, the Spotted Flycatchers sit on a branch of an olive tree, tail wagging up and down, darting out to catch an insect and then often returning to the same perch.  Sometimes the sparrows get in on the act and can be seen chasing a butterfly or cicada.

Insectivorous birds provide a tenuous link to the lizards in the garden.  Without carrying out a scientific survey I have the impression that they are more numerous than last year.  If I am correct it certainly demonstrates that they are capable of surviving a harsh (by Cretan standards) winter.  As the summer progressed they became less shy of me in the garden, allowing quite close inspection of these fascinating creatures.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Click picture to enlarge.


As the migrating birds fly over Crete they must see many birdwatchers, binoculars at the ready, scanning the skies.  The following might be an entry in “BEAK BOOK”, the avian social networking program:- 

Entry by:  Sharp-eyed Observer Bird   (Canonus digitalis)

"The following picture was taken over West Crete on my way to North Italy. 

Small group of 3 males, watching my flock flying over.  Note that it is a long time since these males were juveniles, clearly shown by significant moulting of the head plumage, thickening of the middle regions and the need for artificial eyesight improvers.  Also note the very drab overall plumage, demonstrating that they are no longer trying to attract mates.  Believed to be residents as the seasonal (Summer) visitors tend to have brighter plumage at all ages.  Will look out for them on my return to Africa."                  

Thanks to Sue Turvey for the photograph.  Click picture to enlarge.


Birdwatching friend Bob sends me very concise text messages.  An example from earlier this year: “Flock of GO here.  Quick.”.  A full interpretation of the message: “I am watching a flock of Golden Orioles from my balcony.  Come down quickly to see them”.  On a Sunday afternoon in July I received the following: “r u watching the GP they are all over the place”.  I took my binoculars outside, thinking Grey Partridge, Green Plover, Green Parrot?  Not seeing a single bird, I phoned Bob.  The full version of the message: “Are you watching the British Grand Prix from Silverstone.  It is pouring with rain and the cars are slipping and sliding all over the place.”


I have fixed wire mesh to our gate to prevent the rabbit getting in again.  He is still around, and still sheltering under cars. 



Google Earth™ users will find a good spot for seeing migrating waders, as well as being a significant World War 2 site, at 35º 31’ 36” N, 23º


The Countryside diary commenced - February 2008.  The current diary is moved to the diary archive at the end of each month - if you are considering visiting NW Crete for the countryside seeking the flora and fauna, these previous highlights may well help you decide the best month for your visit. Certainly if you seek particular aspects you will need to get your timing right and remember that things can change quickly. Your link to the diary archive is below.