Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy New Year from Merill Eco Tours!

This will be our last blog article for 2011! Oh what a year!

Merill Eco Tours will soon be a year old and we're so proud of the way it's been growing so far.

It's nice to look back at what we have been up to this year. We started off the venture and the year with the Press Launch which took place on the 12th of January. It was raining cats and dogs before and during the presentation, but still a nice crowd of around 50 attended the launch. Hon. Dr Mario De Marco officially inaugurated Merill Eco Tours as the first licensed ecotourism venture operating in the Maltese Islands.
(Click here to view the clips of the TV coverage; TVM and NET TV.)

Following the launch we immediately started cooperating with various tour operators and local DMCs to fine-tune our eco and agri tours, which are offered both for tourists and locals. The exclusive locations, together with the delicious products enjoyed during the tours, have been an asset to put forward a positive and attractive image of Malta as a rural tourism destination.

Our farmers have been kept very busy producing local products and other delicacies for our guests. Along the year we also branded a range of traditional processed products which were brought direct from the farmers and promoted at a number of different occasions and venues. In September we were also pleased to discover that our honey was featured in an official EU publication, amongst many other food products from all around Europe.

Traditional food products from all EU Countries

Sea Salt mini jars as souvenirs

To raise awareness about the richness of the Maltese rural areas, we are now producing short video clips, which we named '90 eco seconds', capturing the very best scenes and activities in local villages. Our first clip features Mgarr, which is truly an agricultural hub of the Maltese Islands.



We sincerely wish a prosperous new year to all our fans all around the world, especially to our dear Maltese expats who follow us regularly. Our special thanks go to our families and friends as well as all our business partners who have been part of this amazing journey.

Lots of eco wishes from Jeanette and Christian!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

It will soon be Christmas!




Hey Merill fans,

hope you're all doing fine! We thought of featuring the red breasted robin as it will soon be Christmas. It is a lovely time to be in the countryside here in Malta. So many winter birds singing and the weather is still nice and warm. Christmas holiday makers are keeping us busy and so are the eco hampers. 

the best seller for Christmas 2011
Though the Maltese people are very price conscious this season, we still had many customers asking for tailor made hampers with their favourite local ingredients. For sweet tooth clients, we included locally made mince pies and treacle tarts, perfect while enjoying a nice cup of tea or coffee. We're proud of these two items in our eco hampers as they are traditionally made with lots of passion and dedication by the staff at Maypole Bakeries. I was personally amazed about the genuineness of these items as they taste just like home made.

This week, I had the opportunity to visit the brand new Maypole Bakery in Tal-Handaq, where dozens of bakers and pastry chefs are busy preparing yummy cakes and pies. Was also pleased to get to know that hundreds of Cassatella tarts are being prepared with local ricotta cheese. The secret ratio between ricotta, sugar, chocolate chips and other ingredients make the Cassatella superb in taste and texture.

Guess I will have to follow a strict diet soon after Christmas, considering all the bountiful items I am obliged to taste on a regular basis...this make me love my job :)

We will keep you posted with more eco news and look forward to have a merry merill Christmas.

"Like" our Facebook fan page or visit our website www.merillecotours.com

Feel free to drop by any comments on info@merillecotours.com - we love to hear from our fans.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

90" Eco Seconds - #1 Mġarr: Malta's agricultural hub



What's your view about this first clip we're posting? Would you like to experience these locations?

We took these shots in Mgarr...a truly rich biodiversity hot spot. It is the village with the largest population of full time arable farmers. Many still work their land with the assistance of sons of daughters, and very often their spouses too. Things are not always plain sailing for farmers. They go through many adverse situations including drought periods, marketing challenges and work load. 

The reason why we are shooting these short clips is to raise awareness about the beauty of rural areas in Malta. I speak to many people who find it hard to understand that Malta has a lot of potential in eco and agri-tourism. Meeting real farmers and harvesting/tasting their produce is an experience that many enjoy. The fresh air of the countryside and scenic beauty give visitors a sense of space and relaxation. We are doing our best to include many hidden spots around the islands during our eco tours, surprising our guests with Malta's hidden assets. 

Our "Olive Themed Tour" and the "Malta Vine and Wine Experience" have brought about a new dimension of ecotourism in Malta. These tours are not just eco because we call them so. Real farmers are benefiting from these tours financially. They feel that their land and hard work is being appreciated. Without financial benefits, one cannot expect eco initiatives to last for a long time. We go out of our way to help farmers reach their goals and together create goods and services that make us proud to be Maltese. 

For more information about the principles we practice visit our website www.merillecotours.com 

Monday, 21 November 2011

Local Products Event at The Point Shopping Mall - 20th November 2011

Treacle Tarts - Maypole Bakery
Eco Hampers by Merill Local Products


Yesterday a local products themed event took place at The Point Shopping Complex at Tigne Point. Merill Local Products organised this event and teamed up with other producers of traditional and genuine food products to bring about a pre Christmas atmosphere at Malta's largest shopping mall.

Olive oil, honey and local fruit jams keep on being the most requested items by locals together with DOC wines. Sun dried tomatoes, pickled onions and cheeselets have been nicely put together into attractive Eco-Hampers. As Merill Local Products, we are doing our best to bring the farming community at the centre of our Eco-Hampers. All the products within each hamper comes directly from local famers thus keeping traditions alive and conserving Malta's rural landscape. Furthermore packaging materials are 100% upcycled therefore decreasing the carbon footprint. 

Large tables with fresh crispy bread filled level 0 with a lovely smell. Maypole bakeries offered a range of local products including traditional loaves of bread, treacle tarts and biscuits. Since 1973, Maypole bakeries have been owned and managed by Carmelo Debono who is constantly updating the wide range of products being offered, using modern machinery and latest technology to ensure optimum results. Mr. Debono works very hard together with his wife and six children to produce the very best products, all baked the traditional way.


Nougat Products by Beehive
Weaved Products

Barn eggs and Poultry meat by Tal-Malti Producer Organisation
This time we also decided to partner with a locally recognised producer organisation that is doing an excellent job in producing sustainable poultry products. Tal-Malti is the brand name of "The Malta Poultry Producers Organisation" that encompasses six established farmers rearing egg layer chickens and broilers. The farms enjoy high animal welfare and hygiene standards. Poultry meat products currently sold by the PO include whole chicken and separate poultry pieces all packed, weighed and barcoded to be sold at local butchers and at the Farmers Market in Ta' Qali every Tuesday and Saturday.


Eggs come in a variety of convenient carton sized and are produced by chickens reared in enriched cages and from barn hens. A total of 500,000 broiler chickens are reared every year together with 30,000 laying hens. It's great to have a local Producer Organisation who is continuously developing innovative products ideal for customers that are health conscious and are looking for well priced food items.


Their latest product is the "Kappuccel Tal-Malti", a spring chicken that makes an excellent meal for one or two persons. I've personally tried cooking these spring chickens on a BBQ and in the oven, and in spite my cooking skills are quite poor, I still manage to make great meals out of this little chicken :)

I strongly recommend all the range of poultry products offered by Tal-Malti as they are absolutely fresh and delicious!








To book your eco hampers now - call on 21/27/79411388!

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Olive oil, honey, wine and much more!


Autumn is here and we're already feeling Christmas in the air! For many, Christmas is a period of dread - hectic shopping, cooking and get-togethers and to top it all choosing the right gifts for family and friends can easily become a nightmare. We live in times when it's becoming increasingly difficult to buy gifts that are appreciated by others. 



This year you can hit two birds with one stone; buy a gift, and contribute towards the Maltese environment. The packaging used in our Eco-Hampers is entirely reused or fair trade, while all the products are strictly local. We work closely with farmers who produce genuine delicacies and are also committed towards the greening of our countryside. Honey and olive oil are by far the most popular products chosen by the Maltese people. Price also matters; this is why we have developed a whole range of packages between 6 and 40 Euros! We can even tailor make your ideal hamper according to your needs.



To view the whole range of eco-hampers click here

Feel free to send us an email on info@merillecotours.com or give us a call on 79411388. We'd love to hear from you!


Visit our stand at The Point Shopping Complex in Tigne on Sunday 20th November between 11am and 8pm.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

The real Malta

Traditional Biscuits - Photo by Jeanette Borg

Punic Tombs - Photo by Chrisitan Borg

Honey Buzzard - Photo by Chris Cachia Zammit

Barracudas - Photo by Sonia Silvio

Hello Malta lovers!

We can now say goodbye to "September" and welcome to "October". Autumn look busy at Merill...eco tours and local products are keeping us on the go. We're very excited working on the new Eco-Hampers catalogue which will introduce a new range of delicacies and eco gifts that are strictly local and fair-trade :) 

At the moment eco tours featuring the culinary aspects of Malta are going strong. Appreciation of the local landscape goes part and parcel with this gourmet niche. In the meantime we pray for some rain to irrigate the fields and replenish the aquifers after a long dry summer. 

I added some interesting photos to this blog article showing a range of eco items in Malta. The traditional biscuits, known as "Biskuttini tar-Rahal" are still baked in traditional bakeries where the ovens are managed by hardworking bakers who keep recipes alive. Following that is the photo of the rock-cut tombs. These are very particular as their architectural arrangement resemble a set of pigeon holes. 

Autumn is a great time for bird watching. This is why I've uploaded a photo of a lovely honey buzzard in flight. Photo is kindly shared by one of our expert birders. Today I was at the Lippija area with some foreigners and  came across two hunters. We kept our distances from them and went on. We always adopt this approach during our tours and never encountered any problems so far. When necessary we do change our itineraries to avoid conflicts. 

In principle we are against hunting and very much pro bird watching. However we strongly believe that it is only through mutual respect that we can achieve harmony between eco tourists and hunters during the hunting season.  It is of no use pointing out a hundred and one negative aspects of hunting without promoting the fun and excitement one can experience while bird watching in Malta. 

Enforcement officers are all over Malta, keeping poachers at bay. Enough damage has been done to Malta's reputation because of poaching. Very few, if any, give credit to hunters when it comes to environmental stewardship. How many out there would spend money and time to irrigate trees and keep rubble walls in good shape? In my humble opinion there are only two active categories of stewards in Malta, whether people admit it or not: farmers and to a lesser extent hunters! All those that are not into agreement with this must bear in mind that tourism, especially ecotourism,  goes hand in hand with all stakeholders in rural areas. 

Last but not least, I added a stunning photo taken by our expert diver and underwater photographer, Sonia. This amazing shoal of Barracudas seems to be coming from a different world. Diving is such an eco-friendly activity for all nature lovers and photographers. 

Stay in touch for more news about eco stuff: follow us on Twitter (@merillecotours) and visit our website www.merillecotours.com to keep updated.


Sunday, 18 September 2011

A Happy Weekend for Birdwatchers

Bee Eater in Flight - Photo by Chris Cachia Zammit


Honey buzzard - Photo by Chris Cachia Zammit


Honey Buzzard - Photo by Chris Cachia Zammit


Friday, 16 September 2011

Our Daily Bread at Casal Fornaro


The old streets of the bread making village, Qormi, have been once again turned into one big feast to celebrate traditional bread. Qormi is also known as Citta Pinto, named after Grandmaster Emanuel Pinto de Fonseca who granted this village the level of a "city" in 1743. The roots of the old city are still well ingrained in traditions, architecture and local dialect. In order to promote the traditional bread of Malta, two whole evenings of activities are underway.


Today has been fantastic. The streets were well lit and full of aromas coming from stalls of bread, biscuits and traditional nougat. A 230-foot-long baguette was prepared and sold in aid of Puttinu cares, a charity organisation. 




Tomorrow will be the second and last evening of Casal Fornaro. Live bands and traditional music will fill the streets with pleasant sounds. More delicious foods and sweets will be freshly prepared for the large crowds expected to visit this amazing village. 



Photos by Christian Borg

Saturday, 10 September 2011

The Maltese Goat Breed


This breed is known throughout the Mediterranean and it was common for farmers from other countries such as Sardegna, to come and buy goats from Maltese farmers. The Maltese goat is typically black and is renowned for its high yield of milk. Unfortunately, at the moment, there are no 100% pure-bred goats in Malta. However one can still find them in Sardegna in Italy. The drastic decline of this breed from the Maltese Islands was the discovery of Brucellosis (Brucella melitensis) in the goat’s milk by Sir Temi Zammit. A misconception was initiated in that only goats’ milk contained the disease this urging Maltese farmers to look for other milk producing farm animals.  Infact the government of that time supported this idea by having a programme against goat rearing and proposed a scheme that gave a cow (Holstein Friesian) in exchange for five goats (1).

Maltese Goats - Photo by Salvatore Pipia
The Maltese goat has a white body with long hair, black head and large dropping ears and originated from the Middle East. This breed does not have horns. It is usually raised in small flocks of about 40 - 60 heads. Kidding occurs during the whole year, with a concentration during the months of November and February. Milk production is about 350L with a high fat and protein content, 3.8% and 3.3% respectively. Prolificity is of 180% as is considered as high. (Rubino, R.; 1993) (2).

Due to the lack of pasture land, an open yard system is commonly used for housing goats in Malta (2). Shelter needs to be provided in case of bad weather. However in countries having a higher availability of pastureland, the extensive production of goats is possible. Housing goats in the dark for several hours each day in the spring and summer months will result in an earlier estrus. Conversely, artificial lighting in the goat barn may delay estrus in autumn (6).

In Malta up to the late forties, the herdsman would take his flock round the village streets where he would milk the goat at one’s doorstep. (3) Nowadays the small portable milking machines are preferred. Milking parlors are not commonly used as the number of goats in a flock is usually small (2).

Goat milk has played an important role in human nutrition for a long time because of its nutritional and dietetic characteristics (Morand-Fehr et al., 2000). The Maltese goat as an indigenous breed, supplied households with milk and before the introduction of the Holstein Fresians, goat milk was the only source of milk. 

The importance of goat milk in infant diets is growing probably because goat milk in some cases is less allergenic than cow milk. Maltese Goat milk has often been processed into cheese. Goat cheese is of a hard-texture, made with full-cream raw milk. Curdling is carried out in woody tubs at 35 °C for 45 min by adding lamb’s rennet. The ripening ranges from a few days to some months (Rubino, 1996). Its sensorial profile is particularly appreciated among cheese tasters. An interesting study elaborated the effect of lactation on the flavour of cheese made with raw milk of Maltese goats bred in Sicily (Italy). The goat cheese flavour was analyzed for the first time by Solid Phase Microextraction (SPME) coupled with Gas chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS) (5).

In my opinion several actions can be taken towards the improvement of the situation of this breed. The loss of such a valuable breed can mean loss of agricultural biodiversity in the island of origin, that is Malta, but also in the Mediterranean context.



Reintroduction of the breed into Malta

The modern goats breeds are said to be reproducing nicely. Although goats have done considerable damage to the local flora in the past, they are more suitable for Malta then cows which are adapted to graze on pastures, rather than the rocky hills that are more typical of the Maltese islands (1)

So far there are no plants to reintroduce the Maltese goats back to Malta. The use of goats has decreased in these years and the only goat breed one can find in Malts is mainly the Syrian, which are mainly red in colour and which used to be imported from Syria and then exported to North Africa. Although no pure-breed Maltese goats remain in Malta, one cannot exclude that some of the local goats may be closely related to the pure Maltese breed. It is a pity that having a breed with strong cultural roots is totally absent from its place of origin. The Maltese male goat is depicted on stones from the Tarxien prehistoric temple (3).

There are various initiatives which the local government can take so as to reintroduce this breed. Being a member of the European Union, we can benefit from the various funds to achieve this aim. LEADER projects and LIFE projects have aided such purposes in several countries in the past. Nonetheless such initiatives can be taken to Malta’s advantage and conserve local biodiversity (8).


Kindly acknowledge Jeanette Borg when using any part of the text in this article.
(Reference: Borg J. 2008, The Maltese goat breed)




References:

  1. Galea De Giovanni Martin; Agro-Biodiversity Campaign; Paper on Maltese Agro-Biodiversity; Friends of the Earth

  1. Blundel R.; 1994; Reintroduction of the local breeds of sheep and goats in Malta; CIHEAM; Options Mediterraneennes; Department of Agriculture, Government Farm for Research and Development; Ghammieri; Malta
  2. Busuttil Salvino; Agriculture in Malta: A Historical Note; Options Mediterraneennes; United Nations Environment Programme, Co-ordinating Unit for the Mediterranean Action Plan, Athens, Greece

  1. Gigli Isalbel, Sardina Maria T, Budelli Elena, Finocchiao Raffaella; Genetic and Protein Polymorphism at CSN1S1 Locus in Two Goat Breeds; Universita degli Studi di Palermo, Dipartimento S.En.Fi.Mi.Zo., Palermo, Italia.

  1. B. Chiofalo, A. Zumbo, R. Costa, L. Liotta, L. Mondello, P. Dugo and V. Chiofalo; Characterization of Maltese goat milk cheese flavour using SPME-GC/MS; South African Journal of Animal Science 2004, 34 (Supplement 1); South African Society for Animal Science Peer-reviewed paper: 8th International Conference on Goats

  1. Camilleri K; 2001; The economic aspects of breeding sheep and goats in Malta; Dissertation Diploma in Agricultural Sciences; University of Malta

  1. Uysal-Pala C., Y Karagul-Yuceer, Pala A. Savas T.; Sensory Properties of Drinkable yogurt made from milk of different goat breeds; Journal of sensory studies. Malden, USA: Blackwell   Publishing Inc 2006 Oct., v. 21, no. 5, p. 520-533

  1. Horst Korn, Rainer Schliep, Cordula Epple; 2005; Opportunities of EU Agricultural Policy Instruments for Biodiversity Conservation and Integrated Rural Development in Protected Areas of the New Member States; Report of the workshop convened by the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation at the International Academy for Nature Conservation; http://www.bfn.de/fileadmin/MDB/documents/skript153.pdf

  1. G.M. Vacca, L. Chianese, A. Ghibellini, V. Carcangiu, R. Mauriello, P.P. Bini; αS1-casein genetic variants in Sarda goat breed; Dipartimento di Biologia Animale; Università di Sassari

  1. Gabina D.; Management of European Sheep and Goat Genetic Resources; Options Mediterraneennes; Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Zaragoza; CIHEAM; Spain




Other useful links;

Heritability Estimates of Lactation Traits in Maltese Goats

Reintroduction of Maltese Sheep and Goats

Brucellosis and Maltese Goats in the Mediterranean

Characterisation of Maltese Goat milk cheese flavour

The Black Maltese Poultry Breed

Photo by Jeanette Borg






















In-Situ conservation of the Black Maltese and performance evaluation under a small-scale intensive system - J.G Mallia

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Agriculture - The Industry that shaped Malta's Landscape

Photo by Christian Borg
The Maltese archipelago consists of three inhabited islands (Malta, Gozo and Comino) and a number of small islets. The total land area covers a surface of 316 km2. In 2007, 404,000 inhabited the Maltese archipelago, with an average population density of 1,282 inhabitants/Km²; it remains by far the most densely populated Member State of the European Union. Approximately 64% of the total population lives in rural localities. Agriculture is the largest land user accounting for 47.8% of the total area of the islands. Only 2% of the holdings have more than 5 ha. (Ref 1)

Photo by Jeanette Borg
The origins of agriculture in Malta are as old as man’s presence on the archipelago. Judging by the quality, size and numbers of the megalithic temples on the islands, those origins are indeed remote. Tools and agricultural equipment discovered in Malta express neolithic man’s vocation to husbandry and his dedication to agricultural life (Ref. 2).

That the Maltese were advanced in their knowledge of agricultural science and of related pursuits has been well documented. Roman historians refer to the islanders’ prowess in producing cotton and honey. Sails manufactured in Malta were a prized possession in the ancient wor ld. Honey is, of course, associated intimately with Malta’s own name (Ref. 3).

Photo by Christian Borg
Nowadays farming is a less popular industry among locals. Nonetheless, agriculture still has a very important role in providing fresh fruit and vegetables to locals as well maintaining the landscape. Some villages have quite a pronounced agricultural community while others have unfortunately lost their character because of urbanisation. Most of the crops and foodstuffs produced are consumed domestically. The main crops are potatoes, cauliflower, grapes, wheat, barley, tomatoes, citrus, and green peppers. Livestock production includes dairy cattle, chicken, sheep and goats, pork, rabbit, and turkey. The main livestock exports are prepared meat products and fish (Ref 4).

Photo by Jeanette Borg
At Merill Eco Tours we specialise in eco and agricultural tours. We are MTA licensed excursion organisers and are supported by fully trained staff and guides. We enjoy an exclusive extensive contact base of the best farmers and craftspersons to provide you and your guests with a professional and unique experience. For more information visit our website (www.merillecotours.com), follow us on Twitter or "like" our Facebook Fan Page. Should you need to contact us...send us an email on info@merillecotours.com





Ref 1 - Malta Country Profile - Europa.eu

Ref 2 & 3 - Agriculture in Malta; A historical note - 1993 - Salvino Busuttil - CIHEAM

Ref 4 - Encyclopedia of Nations - Malta; agriculture

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Bird sightings close to the sea

Yellow legged gull














Photos by Chris Cachia Zammit


Cory Shearwater

Fresh ideas for social events within your company


We spend a lot of time where we work, and our workplaces all have an ecological footprint. Moreover, some of our 'social' activities still revolve around the workplace when we organise incentives for the employees, get-togethers and other events. 
At Merill Eco Tours we are continuously developing fresh ideas which offer CSR Committees and Organisers a balanced solution for 'fun' yet 'responsible' events. Most of our team-building experiences and excursions can be customised and adapted according to the needs of the organisation, including its aims & objectives and group size. 
The Maltese Islands have a lot to offer even for the locals, and by taking into consideration the Ecotourism Principles, our firm strives to make the best out of each experience - for everyone involved.  

Tours for CSR Committees

For more information email us on info@merillecotours.com or visit our website www.merillecotours.com

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Prickly Pears in Malta are just ripe!

Prickly Pears


















The prickly pear reigns supreme in Malta’s landscape. At this time of year, its fruits ripen and are harvested by hardy folk as a food for free. In the more rural villages, you’ll find veggie vans and shops selling the pears, spines removed thank goodness. Often, my village neighbours arrive at my door with a plastic bowl full of the fruit, peeled to reveal their jewel-like, ruby-coloured succulent flesh. I accept graciously, though I have never really got to grips with munching or spitting out the abundant seeds. Apparently, there are seedless varieties around, just not in the wild of course!
Although not a native of the Malta, or the Mediterreanean (its origins lie in South America), the Opuntia ficus-indica (Indian fig) certainly thrives here. Were it not for farmers lopping off bits from time to time it might well take over. Farmers of old would use it as a boundary between fields; it’s definitely a good deterrent to intruders or straying livestock and is cheaper for villa owners to install than a security system!
The fruit can be red, deep wine-red, green or yellow-orange and is perfectly edible (fussiness over seeds aside). It is sweet and moist with a flavour similar to sub-tropical fruits like watermelon, honeydew melon, strawberries and figs. And is a fraction of the price of these, or free if you pick your own.
I would leave picking, and removing the peel to the experts though; rural folk with hands like leather, who wield a knife skilfully and are impervious to the nasty spines. On my first trip to Malta 20 years ago, I was offered a half-heartedly peeled prickly pear and ended up, very uncomfortably, with very fine, hair-like spines swelling my lips for days.
Prickly Pear culinary delights
Malta doesn’t really make much use of its abundant prickly pear supply. Our Sicilian neighbours treat it far more adventurously making candies, granita (slushy ices), ice creams, and jellies from it, as well as serving it up as dessert in restaurants ranging from casual trattorie to those listed in the esteemed Michelin Guides.
The prickly pear is however on the increase on menus in Malta as we are beginning to see chefs value this humble, poor-man’s food. Its presence on the menu can add local flair to what is often a bland list of internationally available desserts. The prickly pear is also versatile, and equally at home in savoury dishes.
Most people I know simply eat it unadulterated; or they juice it. It can make a refreshing drink, and it certainly makes an interesting, pink-coloured Maltese liqueur under the Zeppi brand, called Bajtra. You’ll find it in most grocers and at the airport, alongside Maltese honey and biscuits, being sold as a souvenir.
Health benefits
It has an impressive list of healthly properties: it is rich in anti-oxidents and contains a good dose of vitamin C. Some say its juice can help cure a hangover. The ficus indica is being looked at closely for its health benefits:a Maltese company, along with a French partner, has been researching prickly pear properties since 1996. It has has found its extracts can help alleviate symptoms of extreme fatigue experienced after performing strenuous exercise – we’re talking about scuba divers and racing drivers here.
So, it seems that the humble prickly pear, much maligned and often viewed as an invasive weed, has a lot to offer Malta after all.

Article written by Elizabeth Ayling and published on Malta Inside Out


http://www.maltainsideout.com/4680/prickly-pear-shaped-healthly-eating/

Reviving Traditions - Weaving in Malta

Weaving machine


I chose my favourite colour in stock!

lovely shades of thread










































The artisan weaving

A unique work of art!

Learning about hand made parts of the weaving machine

Cotton bags 

The origin and development of woven cloth is closely tied to the history of mankind. People learned to weave thousands of years ago using natural grasses, leafstalks, palm leaves, and thin strips of wood.


Weaving is the process of making cloth, rugs, blankets, and other products by crossing two sets of threads over and under each other. Weavers use threads spun from natural fibres like cotton, silk, and wool. But thin, narrow strips of almost any flexible material can be woven.

It is firmly believed that the Phoenicians introduced weaving and dyeing skills in Malta and Gozo. Since classical times, the Maltese Islands have been renowned for the excellence of the local cloth. Roman senator Cicero in his report refers to quantities of Maltese cloth that had been stolen. He also states that Malta had "become a manufactory for weaving women's garments".

The cotton industry thrived up to the early 19th century before declining slowly by the end of the century. Because of the cotton plant, introduced to Malta by the Arabs, nearly every house had its loom, while girls were taught this trade at a very early age. Up to World War I, the Islands produced coarse and finer weaved cotton on traditional handlooms. Today, fabrics are produced by both hand spinning and mechanised means.

The woollen industry remained small, but Malta and Gozo today still produce small quantities of useful heavy knitted garments and rugs. A wide range of woollen and fabric garments and accessories including skirts, handbags, ties and wall tapestries are available. 

We realise that many locals have lost most of the knowledge about this ancient tradition and many don't know it still exists because of lack of awareness and education in this field. On the other hand tourist who come to Malta are offered an array of souvenirs, many of which are not 100% authentic.  To address these issues, Merill Eco Tours are organising tours and demonstrations to revive traditions and offer authentic hand made products to those who wish to own a unique work of art and support local artisans.


Feel free to visit our website: www.merillecotours.com
Photos taken by Christian Borg

The Kingfisher in Malta


The Kingfisher at rest
This morning has been particularly exciting to one of our expert birders, Chris Cachia Zammit. He managed to capture this beautiful bird while resting. He told us that the Kingfisher is one of the few colourful birds that come to Malta. In spite it's colourful plumage, the bird is quite difficult to spot, but from time you get a glimpse of the bird flying. If your lucky, you might spot the Kingfisher fishing or resting on a pole. These birds migrate to Malta in August and some of them spend the winter time in the Maltese Islands. The scientific name for this species is Alcedo atthis and its Maltese name is Ghasfur ta’ San Martin.


For more information about bird-watching tours, visit our website www.merillecotours.com or send us an email on info@merillecotours.com.

Malta - The land of plenty

Cabbages













Pumpkins













Melons













Prickly Pears 













The farmer and myself


















This morning Christian and I met a farmer who took us around his family run estate of 4.5 hectares. The farmer explained that before his family settled there, all the land had been abandoned and all the rubble walls and paths were derelict.  It took this family decades to turn this estate into fertile land, where crops grow all year round. Strawberries, cucumbers and garlic have been planted while the season of summer fruits such as melons and watermelons will soon be over.

While going through the fields, I asked the farmer about challenges they face and future prospects of such an enterprise. He explained that the prices offered for produce at the Pitkali market are often too low to cover costs of inputs and intensive labour. However since the Farmer's Market in Ta' Qali opened, they can sell the produce directly to consumers thus keeping prices reasonable. The Farmer's market is also challenging in itself. All his family are engaged in harvesting, grading and selling fresh produce, thus offering the very best every Tuesdays and Saturdays. One of the things we can all do to support local farmers is to buy their produce. Apart from producing fresh fruits and vegetables, they maintain the landscape and conserve agricultural biodiversity. 

As Merill Eco Tours we're doing our best to help farmers by promoting their produce and offering ecotourism opportunites. For more information about agri-tourism experiences, visit our website www.merillecotours.com 


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