mercredi 10 décembre 2014

Guylaine's Holm Oak (Autumn 2014)

A magnificent 96 x 112 oil painting by Guylaine Bru Joulot,
following her September stay at the Monte.
Check here the facebook page of her Art Gallery. 

samedi 22 novembre 2014

Croatian Pomegranates... Jelena's Secret Garden (2)

A.G. Do the names of some of the cultivars make reference to their properties or origin?

J. G. I found lots of stories about pomegranate names. And not every story is pretty. For instance, the ‘Glavaš’ cultivar (above, on the left of wild pomegranates) is assumed to have been brought to Croatia by Turkish warriors who were cutting heads off during the Ottoman times. Since ‘Glavaš’ pomegranate trees carry very large fruits (from 500 g to more than 1 kg), they remind of “heads” – the meaning of “glava” in Croatian.

Another one is ‘Konjski zub’ (below). “konj” means “horse” and “zub” means “tooth”. It seems to originate from the Italian cultivar ‘Dente di cavallo’, the arils having the shape of a horse tooth. As to the cultivar ‘Dividiš’ originates from Turkey and its name means “camel tooth”. Again, “tooth” refers to the shape of the aril, not to the one of the seed (compare with the Glavaš arils at the bottom of this post).

Still another one is called ‘Ciparski’ because it came from Cyprus a long time ago. Since no one knew the name of the cultivar, they simply referred to its geographical origin. There are plenty of interesting stories of this type….

A.G. Can you describe us the features of some of the most interesting cultivars?

J.G. As I said, ‘Glavaš’ is definitely very interesting because of its very large fruits. Another one is ‘Barski slatki’. It is very sweet and is named after the city of Bar in Montenegro. It is easily recognizable by the ridges on its bark. Montenegrans won’t buy it if there are no ridges on the bark!

There is another very sweet cultivar: ‘Medun’ – from “med” which means “honey” in Croatian. As to ‘Šerbetas’, you can find it near Mostar in Herzegovina. It is very sweet and has deep red arils. The results of chemical analysis have shown that it has the highest amount of ascorbic acid of all our cultivars (38 mg per 100 ml !). As to ‘Dividiš’ (below), it is my favorite. It has very large fruits, juicy arils with a sweet-sour taste. Axel, I think that you tried it recently and liked it very much too, don’t you ?

A.G. You’re absolutely right! Delicious! By the way, you travelled to other countries to see pomegranate orchards too, didn’t you? Can you tell us about some memories from these trips?

J.G. Well, I didn’t travel as much I would have liked to. Since there is no intense pomegranate production in Croatia, I was very interested to see how it is somewhere else. I got a chance to go to China last year, in the Shandong province, and I was very surprised to see each pomegranate fruit packed in a bag on the tree. You can easily imagine how many hours of labour it takes to protect every single fruit in this way from birds, mice, rain, aphids, sunburns, etc. I was amazed! I tasted a cultivar of similar appearance as ‘Glavaš’ but with soft seeds. All Croatian cultivars have hard seeds. So, soft seeds were new to me.

A.G. Do you see a potential for new uses of pomegranates?

J.G. Pomegranates are traditionally used in Croatia as fresh fruits (especially Glavaš, Sladun and Barski slatki) or for juice (the same cultivars plus the small and sour wild pomegranate). For syrup, some people mix these cultivars while others only use wild pomegranate. Luckily, there is growing interest in some other uses. There is great potential here. Flowers can be collected and dried for tea, as is common in Turkey. There is no incompatibility between picking flowers and collecting fruits because it is easy to spot which flowers will end up as fruits and which ones will be rejected. It has an amazing and rich flavour. Vinegar can also be made out of the juice. In other countries (especially the Middle East), pomegranates are used in cooking. I think that Croatians should do it too. And I'm experimenting pomegranate liqueur as well Anardana, a very tasty Indian spice made of dried arils.

A.G. What is the current direction of your research insofar as pomegranate are concerned?

J.G. The truth is that funds are missing for me to continue. But I am trying to share my knowledge with growers and with people who are passionate about pomegranates. My passion for pomegranates will not vanish…

A.G. Many thanks, Jelena. (and thanks for the pics of these two posts, most of which are by J. G.)

Croatian Pomegranates... Jelena's Secret Garden (1)

Jelena Gadze is a pomologist at the University of Zagreb (Croatia). She works on different species of fruit trees, including cherries, plums and carob trees. In particular, she is a great specialist of Croatian pomegranate cultivars to which she devoted a PhD thesis in 2013 under the supervision of professors Sezai Ercisli (Turkey) and Zlatko Čmelik.

A.G. Jelena, how did your passion for pomegranates grow?

J.G. My parents originate from West Herzegovina where pomegranate is a traditional fruit. As a child, I used to spend there my summer holidays. And then, in the autumn, our family would send us packages with their fruit harvests (pomegranates, figs, grapes,…), including finished products (pomegranate syrup, some sweet from grapes...). I happened to enjoy what most people dislike: removing the arils from pomegranates… and eating them!

A.G. How did you move from there to writing a whole PhD thesis about them?

J.G. In 2008, I started working at the Faculty of Agriculture in Zagreb. I was told that a PhD thesis had to deal with something new and lead to some applications. As I was having coffee on my terrace with my friend Antonela Kozina, she reminded me of my passion for pomegranates. From that day, I knew that this would become my PhD topic.

I started searching the literature and I got very surprised by the fact that very little was written about Punica granatum. I remember that a search on Science Direct at that time only led me to only 800 paper references, which is very little in our field. Unsurprisingly, the specific literature on Croatian and Herzegovinian pomegranate cultivars turned out to be even more scarce. This triggered my curiosity even further. And I engaged in 5 years of field work.

A.G. In your research, you found different cultivars of Croatian pomegranates. And you have established in Split a living collection of these cultivars.

J.G. Yes, I investigated the pomological and chemical characteristics of pomegranate fruits. Based on these results, I described around 20 cultivars which I observed for a few years. I wrote a full identity card for each of them. And I established the first living collection of Croatian pomegranate cultivars. It is based in Split where the climate is more suitable than in Zagreb. It is my friend Mira Radunić from the Institute for Adriatic Crops (Split) who made this possible.

The most common problem I encountered during my research on cultivars had to do with synonyms and homonyms. After a selection based on the results of pomological and chemical properties, we ran an AFLP analysis. The results confirmed that we had selected the cultivars properly.

In addition, I also did some research on the harmful entomofauna in pomegranate orchards (especially aphids) with Antonela Kozina. We put some yellow pots in pomegranate orchards (here in County Vitina, Herzegovina) to observe aphids species that get attracted by this colour.

Also, since pomegranate have hermaphrodite flowers, I was curious about pollens. I studied in vitro their viability, their germination and the pollen tube growth in germinated pollens which is important to obtain higher yield. Here is a picture of my MA students putting a label on each flower we took pollen from. We then observed how many flowers became fruits.

samedi 15 novembre 2014

Um burro com certeza... e algumas duvidas

Tenho algumas fotos de familia do lado da minha mae relacionadas com Portugal. Eles passavam as ferias de verao, nos anos 1950, na zona de Nazaré. Lembro-me que, vindos da Belgica, ficavam impressionados com a grande probreza das familias de pescadores dessa zona. Como o meu avo gostava muito de burros, a familia guardou algumas fotos desses burros que chegaram ate nos. Uma delas representa uma das minhas tias sentada em cima de um deles. Quanto a esta outra foto, aqui em baixo, com um outro burro (ou burra), foi provavelmente tirada pelo meu avo, provavelmente nos anos 1950, provavelmente entre Sao Martinho do Porto e Nazaré, em um lugar onde estava um agricultor muito simpatico que lhes deu figos e inspirou uma poesia ao meu avo... Olha para o aguadeiro em cima da albarda...

Um Rei, dois amigos e dois carneiros no Rio de Janeiro em 1883

Nao sei si as Churras Algarvias podiam fazer isso. Mas si algumo rei vem visitar o Monte, sabemos ja o que precisamos... Dom Pedro de Alcantara, Dom Antonio Gastao e Dom Luis Maria e dois carneiros, pelo grande fotografo Marc Ferrez.

L'église d'Estrela, ses fresques et sa serrure inviolable...

Estrela est un tout petit village très attachant. Avant le barrage, l'eau s'en approchait déjà (merci à un des habitants pour son petit cours d'histoire de rue...).

Mais le village surplombe à présent une véritable péninsule, avec en son coeur, son église du 16ème siècle. De l'extérieur, Notre Dame de l'étoile témoigne d'une grande simplicité: une étoile en son faîte, une cloche extérieure et .... un nid de cigogne comme il se doit. L'intérieur est plus surprenant, avec des fresques qui en recouvrent l'ensemble et qui dateraient elles aussi du 16ème.

La petite chaire de vérité est particulièrement adorable avec ses petites étoiles bleues. Détail intéressant: elle est adossée à une porte dont la serrure est ... inviolable. Référence à l'inaccessibilité du mystère divin?

Chevaux près de l'eau (Estrela, Novembre 2014)

lundi 10 novembre 2014

Jeropiga est arrivée

Voici Jeropiga, notre petite mirandaise âgée d'un peu moins de 6 mois! Elle est arrivée un vendredi soir, vers 21h30, après presque 1000 kilomètres de route. Accueillie à la lampe frontale... Pas mal de barrissements cette nuit là, ainsi que quelques ruades, le temps de prendre ses marques. Mais les voilà déjà rassemblés autour de la "baignoire", nos trois artistes: Violeta, Jeronimo et Jeropiga, cette dernière portant le nom d'un alcool portugais qui mélange vin nouveau et aguardente. Dénomination enivrante, fruit d'une règle oulipienne asinine: J comme 2014. Et en plus, demain, c'est la Saint-Martin, le jour où se croquent les chataignes grillées, accompagnées d'un peu de ... Jeropiga! A propos, ne manquez ni ceci, ni ceci, deux films merveilleux sur les relations entre hommes et ânes dans le nord tras-montano.

Couleuvre de Montpellier

On sent peu à peu l'hiver arriver. Les aubes sont frisquettes à l'issue de belles nuits étoilées. Mais les rainettes arboricoles et les crapauds calamites continuent à nous tenir compagnie, les unes chantant dans les cimes, les autres enfouis autour des pieds de fruitiers et que nous découvrons ici et là, au détour d'un coup de bêche. Et puis, dans une botte de foins, voici une Couleuvre de Montpellier (Malpolon monspessulanus) juvénile (merci à E. Graitson pour l'identification) que J. M. découvre en paillant les pots de chênes verts avant la saison calme. Jeune, mais déjà bien agressive, elle nous tire la langue en soufflant. Les portuguais l'appellent Cobra rateira. Une couleuvre de plus donc pour le Monte, après la Couleuvre fer-à-cheval (Hemorrois Hippocrepis), et la Couleuvre à collier (Natrix Natrix) qui affectionne nager dans le puits. Et voici ce que nous dit l'Atlas de l'herpétofaune portugaise sur cette espèce.

Autre belle observation de ce week-end de novembre: deux vautour moines, survolant le Monte à basse altitude. Du grand spectacle!

dimanche 19 octobre 2014

In the North-Eastern Armenian Pomegranate Orchards (1)

It is a mid-October sunny afternoon and we leave Djudjevan with Levon B. and his father to go and visit some pomegranate orchards in two villages located at the North-West of Noyemberian. Levon belongs to the very small club of philosophers who are also… pomegranate growers. We cross Berdavan, its peach orchards and vineyards with their warm autumn colours.

Levon’s father explains us that there are some lands on the Georgian side of the upper Debet Valley, just in front of us, where the soil and subsoil are under Georgian jurisdiction whereas the trees that grow on it are under Armenian jurisdiction. We arrive in Bagratashen, our first destination. The mayor introduces us to a group of fruit growers who decided to join their efforts to set up a fruit drier. There is one room in which four women are pealing pears. And next, there is a cold room with plastic bags full of delicious dried peach, plum, pear slices. Some of them are exported to Italy. We try some and then discuss around a cup of coffee. Our discussion revolves around dried arils, Spanish pomegranate cultivars,…

Valer, who comes from Azerbaijan, has a pomegranate orchard of 1 ½ hectares and cultivates a variety that comes from Goychay, a district in Azerbaijan where there is a long pomegranate tradition. The fruits seem to be large, red, not too sweet and with hard seeds. He started a decade ago but he is unable to show us any of the fruits because most of his trees got frozen during the last winter. He is waiting for them to recover.

Micha is another fruit producer from Bagratashen. He grows 2 hectares of pomegranates and has 4 or 5 different varieties, some Armenian ones and others from Azerbaijan, some of his trees being 17 years old. We take the car and drive across Diospyros kaki orchards planted in this peninsula surrounded by Georgian territory. He has planted several hectares of kaki. He waters them. His neighbour, a priest, has an olive tree plantations. There are also mulberry, fig, apricot trees here and there, taking advantage of the rich local soil and the southern exposition.

Micha first shows us an Armenian variety that is rather small, yellow/white outside and red inside. Delicious! 

He then shows us a small variety from Azerbaijan that is red outside, red inside, has large seeds and is delicious too. Its name is Ganja (Gandzak in Armenian), referring to an area in Azerbaijan.

We then drive west, following the Debet valley, to the next village: Debedavan. Here again, the mayor was expecting us. He explains us that the village has a total of approximately 2 hectares of pomegranate trees. On his shelf, there are three red pomegranates. They are red inside, juicy, sweet sour, average size and he tells us that they have had it for a long time in the village. We then visit with him one of the orchards, not too far from his office. The fruits are yellow-pink and nicely red inside. The arils seem to detach themselves so easily. They fall in our hands as we open the fruits. Sweet sour again and we all exit the orchard with very sticky hands.

On our way back to the car, another villager brings us a fruit of the Gandja/Gandzak variety, the same as the one we saw in Bagratashen. He insists on the fact that the skin inside is pink, not simply white. The sun is slowly going down and we drive back home after a happy afternoon, our mouth full of flavours.

In the North-Eastern Armenian Pomegranate Orchards (2)

We spent the day after in Koti, a peninsula of Armenian territory surrounded by the frontline with Azerbaijan. Levon’s mother, Aghunik, hosts us in her house with its wonderful little vegetable garden: cabbage, tomato, basil,… The house still didn’t recover all its glass windows blown away by two Alazan rockets that fell there during the 1992 war.

Levon has planted here a bit more than 100 pomegranate trees in April 2013. He waters them once a month and covers them during the two first winters to protect them from the cold. Three cultivars: Goychay, Ganja/Gandzak and another Armenian one, all coming from Bagratashen.

We then visit a large area that used to be covered with orchards, including of pomegranate trees. It is only used for cereals and tobacco nowadays because there is no access anymore to the large water reserve located on the Azeri side. The geopolitics of pomegranate is not far…

The atmosphere reminds of Buzatti’s Il deserto dei Tartari on this peaceful afternoon, with this steppe landscape and the Georgian and Azeri mountains in the far front. The locals tell us that Kalachnikov shootings between Armenian and Azeri soldiers are frequent. Not a single one today. Just Chacals howling around the village, in the darkness of a late evening, the dogs joining them while we are having a delicious bowl of matsoon, sheltered from the rain.

The village also has a few donkeys, including this little 5 years old black female named ... "black" in Armenian. Aghunik, Levon's mother, shows us a very nice donkey pack. She made it by hand with her grandmother, one of the local centenaries, who died at the age of 105 (here: in 1990 in Koti at the age of 98, with Aghunik on the left, in front of a Cornelian cherry tree). Memories of an Alentejano donkey pack in manta from Reguengos are not far…

mercredi 8 octobre 2014

Researching on Dehesas and Montados - Interview with Fernando Pulido

Fernando J. Pulido Diaz is a professor at the University of Extremadura (Plasencia) who has been doing research for years on the Dehesa. This is a savannah landscape, typical of the South West of Spain and the South East of Portugal – where it is referred to as Montado. Quite a surprising landscape for most northern Europeans. It is one of the largest agroforestry systems in the world, covering 2,3 millions of hectares in Spain and 0,7 millions in Portugal, dominated by Quercus ilex/rotundifolia (Holm oak) and Q. suber (Cork Oak), depending on soil characteristics. An amazing habitat for wildlife, it also involves a complex cycle of agricultural practices. Fernando Diaz has accepted to answer a few questions.

A. G. Fernando, what do we know about the origins of this landscape? Did it evolve out of dense forests where Quercus were the only climacic species? Why did local communities not mix dense forests with fully cleared arable land instead of moving extensively to the more intermediary agricultural Dehesa landscape? And where does the word “Dehesa” come from?

F. P. Iberian oak forest have been cleared by human populations since the Neolithic, but dehesas as a systematic type of land use dates back to the early Middle Age, when the word “dehesa” (from the latin “deffesa”) also implies a legal status for grazed lands which were defended from uncontrolled use. Oak trees were retained because they increase forage, acorn and firewood production.

A. G. Are the origins similar for the Portuguese Montado and for the equivalent landscapes that exist in California?

F. P. California oak woodlands have been managed by natives for millennia but with a much less intensive use because they did not practice livestock husbandry nor tree thinning or pruning. The origins of the montado apparently differ from the dehesa because of the greater importance of cork in Portugal.

A. G. In the Dehesa, the holm oaks are pruned, a bit like fruit trees in orchards. What are the rhythm and functions of such pruning?

F. P. Quite surprisingly, there are not conclusive data of the effect of pruning on acorn production. Therefore, the main benefit is firewood. Pruning was performed every four year (matching the cycle of cereal crops) in the traditional dehesa system (before 1960). Currently, pruning does not follow a specified time schedule and it is performed according to firewood demands.

A. G. Nowadays, one often hears that this landscape is under threat. Is this true? And if so, what are its causes? Too deep ploughing? Too intense grazing? New mushrooms? New Insects? Climate change?

F. P. Yes, it is certainly true mainly because of tree regeneration failure and tree diseases. In general, the system is now used much more intensively due to a three-fold increase in stocking rates as compared to traditional levels.

A. G. One interesting finding seems to be that when Holm Oaks are grown in less dense formation, they can stand the drought better than in denser formations, which is crucial in the long summers of the south of Spain and Portugal.

F. P. Yes, our research group and others has provided evidence of increase tree vigour in low-density stands, and this affects growth and acorn production, being the result of decreased competition for water resources.

A. G. Can you tell us a bit more about your idea of conceiving a sustainable Dehesa in terms of a mosaic managed in a dynamic way - what Blondel would perhaps refer to as a metaclimacic system?

F. P. As Dehesa is a kind of wood pasture, tree regeneration is inherent to its definition and it can only be achieved by reducing or eliminating livestock impact in some parts of the farm in which natural vegetation is allowed to increase. This is the basis for a mosaic of plots with different grazing intensities.

A. G. Among the possible principles for a more sustainable agriculture are the following two. First, we should try to raise less livestock and go more vegetarian, which would lead to less energy input for the same amount of calories, less methane emissions, etc. Second, we should move towards cultivating perennial plants – including cereal crops – rather than annual ones, that require much more input. Could Dehesas be preserved if we were to follow these two principles? Pasture surfaces would probably have to be reduced and we would probably need to focus more on the shrub stage, experimenting mixes of large oaks and smaller fruit shrubs and bushes such as feijoa, pomegranate, or even small almond or carob trees that are especially drought resistant. Have there been interesting experiments in that direction, transforming Dehesas into a new type of forest gardens somehow?

F. P. Fruit trees have not generally been introduced in dehesas because of soil/water limitations. Among the potential candidates, pistachio trees is probably the best and some parcels have been planted in the last few years. However, our group is leading a project promoting the use of oaks as fruit trees. In fact, oaks have been pruned in a way similar to fruit trees. Certain acorn varieties can be marketed as snack or processed food (including beverage) and in the future this will provide additional income to landowners.

A. G. Have there also been experiments either to use holm oaks for other functions (e.g. edges) or to mix holm oaks in a Dehesa Savannah with other large tree species? I am thinking about Californian oaks, Q. canariensis or even non-oak species such as Carob or Fig trees for instance. One feature of the Dehesa is that it looks like a vulnerable monoculture of oaks that could perhaps gain from some diversification while preserving its general structure. With other large tree species that could stand the same pruning methods, that would have deep roots as well, and fruits that are more edible for humans than acorns, etc.

F. P. Yes, dehesa is a vulnerable open forest, but there it is also the result of soil traits limiting cultivation. The problems here are (1) the high investment needed in the plantations you suggest at a large scale, (2) the chance for farmers to get benefits from traditional practices (though with moderate to low profitability), and (3) the cultural inertia of historically grazing systems.  In addition, any landscape change derived from cultivation should be assessed for its negative effects on biodiversity.

A. G. What would your main advice be to someone in charge of a few hectares of Dehesa who would want to contribute to its preservation through methods that are neither costly, nor heavy to put in place? And is there one pilot project that you would recommend every Dehesa and Montado amateur to visit?

F. P. Dehesas, by definition, are large farms over 50-100 hectares. You cannot manage a few hectares as dehesa in a profitable way unless you introduce a number of complementary uses such as agrotourism and cropping in case the soil is appropriate. Two examples of interesting pilot projects are the Herdade do Freixo do Meio (on the portuguese side) and Casablanca (on the Spanish one).

A. G. Many thanks, Fernando

And if you want some extra references, here are a few: Fernando Pulido's google scholar page, a small film on the Monfrague dehesa with Fernando Pulido,  a great link on the history of Montado (in Portuguese), and two portuguese products made of acorn.