Farming is one of the most ancient occupations in the Maltese islands. The Maltesefarmer cultivates different types of produce such as;potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, lettuce, artichokes, peas, cauliflower, clover and otherproduce. They also grow various types of fruit such as;strawberries, watermelons, melons, tomatoes, prickly pears, grapes, citrus fruits andother fruit. These are then sold locally either in supermarkets, fruit and vegetablevendors or at the farmer’s market in Ta’ Qali. Some produce like onions and potatoes areexported to England and Holland.
In the north of Malta there are some areas wherethe soil is very fertile, these are the PwalesValley, Burmarrad, Siggiewi, Mellieha, Rabat andMgarr, and in Gozo there is more fertile farmingland especially in the Lunzjata Valley. These areasare sheltered from strong winds that damage thecrops and also there is water to irrigate the cropsespecially in summer during the dry season.Pwales ValleyBurmarrad Mgarr Lunzjata Valley Gozo
In Malta and Gozo one can see variousfields with rubble walls surroundingthem. The various shapes and sizes ofthe stones used to build these walls arefound in the area lying on the groundor in the soil. Rubble walls are used toserve as borders between the propertyof one farm from the other. A greatadvantage that rubble walls offer is thatwhen heavy rain falls, their structurewould allow excessive water to passthrough and therefore excess water willnot ruin the products. Soil erosion isminimized as the wall structure allowsthe water to pass through but it trapsthe soil and prevents it from beingcarried away from the field. One cansee many rubble walls on the side ofthe hills and in valleys where the landslopes down and consequently the soilis in greater danger of being carriedaway.
Different crops grow in different types of soil, for example dry land crops likeonions, potatoes, peas, wheat, beans, barley and clover grow in fields where water is scarce.These are usually watered only when the rain falls that is why they grow them because theyneed little water to grow. Whereas tomatoes, pumpkins, fruit, cabbages and eggplants growin fertile soil where water is abundant. The rainwater is stored in reservoirs or wells. Watercan also come from underground sources and then it is pumped up from boreholes by windpowered windmills or electric pumps.
The Maltese farmer has to face many problems. One of the main problems heencounters is the climate. The Maltese climate is very cold and rainy in winter whilst insummer it is very hot and dry. In winter when it rains very heavily, the soil can be carriedaway by the water and it is lost, or else the soil get waterlogged and the products whichwere being cultivated rots and dies. On the contrary, in summer as it does not rain, thesoil dries out and hardens, and if the farmer doesn’t have a water cistern or reservoir, towater the crops, he has to bring water bowsers. This increases the expenses for thefarmer. That is why some fields in summer looks dry and barren because withoutwater, the products cannot grow.
Another problem a farmer encounters is the strong winds that damages the crops. Apartfrom drying out the soil, it destroys the produce especially the young and tender shoots. Italso damages fruit from trees because they fall to the ground and then most of them won’tbe edible. Plastic greenhouses are torn by strong winds too. By planting trees, bushes andgrasses, these act as a natural windbreaker. Hail is another major problem in winter becauseit destroys the leaves of the products and damages the greenhouses both the plastic andglass ones that are erected in the fields.
Farmers may not only suffer losses through droughts, floods, destructive insects, anddiseases. They can also suffer losses because of rats. Occasional rodent outbreaks can lead tosevere effects on the livelihoods of farmers. Rats can do damage in almost every phase offarming from munching on seedlings to destroying mature crops. Birds too can be a problembecause they peck on seeds, tomatoes and grapes. The farmer has to find means to deterthem by using either bird netting that can be draped over the crops so that they cannot passthrough, or as birds are scared of shiny objects, tape strings which can be fastened to stakescan do the trick. This is especially helpful in windy areas where the flapping will keep thebirds away. Another device that farmers use to deter birds is a bird chaser, this mechanismgives out shooting like sounds to frighten the birds.
Poor soil condition is another factor a farmer has to face, that is why they use fertilizers toenrich the soil. Common source of fertilizer is manure from livestock; primarilycows, sheep, horses and other animals that feed on grasses and grains. Farmers also useartificial fertilizers to help their crops grow strong and healthy. A major problem in crops arepests that attack the plants and weakens its strength, sometimes if the necessary steps are nottaken, they can kill the whole crop. That is why the farmer has to spray pesticides to preventthis from happening.
TYPES OF INSECTS THAT RUIN CROPS AND CAUSE DISEASES
In Malta there are a few Organic Farms. This is a system of growing agricultural produce whichdoes not make use of artificial fertilisers, pesticides and other harmful chemicals. OrganicFarming is practiced by using the crop rotation method, whereby crops from the same familyare not grown in the same area more than once every four years. Crops are rotated in such away so that they help each other. Intercropping is practiced, where crops which are known tobe beneficial to each other are planted together, like for example basil helps tomatoes byrepelling mosquitoes, flies and hornworms; leeks help carrots and roses by repelling aphids,mites and nematodes; dill helps cabbages, lettuce, sweet corn and cucumber by repellingaphids and mites; garlic help roses and stone fruit by repelling the aphids, insects, caterpillarsand mosquito larvae. Then there are crops which dislike each other, for example onions andgarlic dislike legumes; sweet corn dislikes tomatoes, etc and therefore these should not beintercropped.Organic farmers need to get to know more about beneficial insects like the ladybug, bees andothers. These are all predators or parasitic insects which kill the bad bugs and therefore everyorganic farmer must do his utmost to create the right environment for these beneficial insectsto thrive. The more beneficial insects there are the less pests we have to attack the crops.Certain types of worms and centipedes also help to increase soil fertility and aerate the soil.
Erecting a greenhouse in a field has many advantages, the main one being that a farmer cangrow a wide variety of crops all year round. A greenhouse will protect crops from severeweather conditions, improving the chances of growing them successfully. The manygreenhouse accessories available will enable the farmer to achieve just the rightatmosphere within his greenhouse, whatever the weather outside. Even during winter thefarmer can add extra heating and lighting to create just the right atmosphere for his crops.Adding vents will help to achieve a healthier atmosphere for crops during the warmermonths, when the humidity level rises. In a greenhouse it is easier to grow organic cropsand control pests without using pesticides.
Agriculture is hard work but nowadays unlike past times there are machineries that helpthe farmers to lessen the burden and facilitate work. In past times farmers used animalpower to plough and also to bring up water from underground. They also used to do manyof the work manually.Ploughing a field is much easierusing a tractorBefore the farmers used either amule or a pair of oxen to ploughtheir field
Cutting hay with a scytheThen after farmers usedto tie them intoindividual bundlesNowadays hay is cut down then rolledinto bales by machinery
An irrigation timerIrrigating fields is much easierusing an irrigation timerAnother method to irrigate crops isby using a drip irrigation systemIn past times, a mule was used to bring up waterfrom the well to irrigate the fields
Nowadays there are a few full-time farmers and many part-time farmers because thereare many expenses in farming. Young farmers can attend the Agricultural College to learnnew farming methods and how to use new technologies to lighten the work. TheGovernment with the help of the European Union give money to farmers to help themlighten the expenses.Farmland is getting scarce dew to intense development that is why we have to take careof the remaining farmland that is available.