Summer fruits of the earth

Historically, mid-summer was not the most productive season of the year in Egypt. From August, the Nile flood began to cover the river valley, reaching the Delta in September and finally subsiding from mid-October onwards – leaving behind a rich deposit of fertile alluvial soil.  All this was before the 1960s, when the Aswan High Dam was built, regulating the river’s flow; and before new varieties of crop and methods of cultivation were introduced to cope with the tough conditions of the hot season.

There used to be three seasons in the agricultural year: the flood, the season of sowing, and the season of harvesting.  People were utterly dependent on the river for their survival – a good flood meant food to eat, plus some to store for leaner times; too much water meant water-logging of the earth and flooding of villages; too little meant failure of irrigation. So precarious a life!

From the modern perspective, it may be hard to grasp the fragility of existence over the millennia; still, in our garden, the summer this year is truly a thin season, underlining the point if that were needed. Definitely, it’s below the level of production in 2012. We have aubergines and bell/chilli peppers. The herbs are doing well: oregano, thyme, sage, chives, rosemary, mint, sweet basil  and fennel tolerate the hot, dry conditions. Parsley has died back, unless under cover, and coriander has disappeared. Cherry tomatoes have come and gone in fits and starts, but have been wonderfully sweet – I’ve found they do well planted in pots and trained along the sunny back hedge, with a combination of sun to ripen the fruit and some protection against the burning effect at midday. Leaf mosaic is a problem, though, the plants don’t look healthy and probably produce less fruit than they could. This year, both courgette (zucchini) and cucumber crops have failed.

So it’s back to the drawing board: most likely, we have a problem with the soil in three of the raised beds caused by overwatering (glitches in the irrigation system). This will have leached the nutrients out of the soil. I haven’t yet produced enough compost to compensate for the loss – so I’ll be rolling up my sleeves and getting down to composting post-haste, in time for the “post-flood” sowing season!

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