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Seed capital and nursery stock

As the summer heat seemed to break recently, I was starting to get excited about sowing the new season’s crops in the raised beds. Now there’s a spike in the temperature, I realize I was running ahead of myself.

The farmer’s year in Egypt, part of the rhythm of life since time immemorial, counsels patience. This month, the only thing baby lettuce and spinach will do is shrivel up in the heat. So we planted a small patch of “gargeya” (rocket, Eruca vesicaria) and resolved to spend quality time preparing the soil.

Still, sourcing seeds and plants is fun – and it’s curious how it works here.

You can go to Bab El-Khalq in downtown Cairo, useful for agricultural supplies and seeds by the kilo, but too chemicals-heavy for my liking.

Another source is the local “a’atar” shop, which stocks spices that may also be used as traditional remedies (e.g.cinnamon and ginger for colds, sage to boost the brain cells), food flavourings, and seeds. We dropped by the old-style spice store in Midan El-Gami’a, Heliopolis – where the shopkeeper packaged and weighed our order of dill (Anethum graveolens) seeds:
A'atar crop
Across the road, we found “ba’adoonis” (flat-leaf parsley, Petroselinum ?) and something else (“figl”) which will remain a mystery until it germinates, in a more up-to-date version of the spice shop:
For plants – but not usually for seeds or garden equipment – you can go to any one of myriad nurseries all around town. The Ismailiya Road on the north eastern edge of Cairo has them in all shapes and sizes.
Nursery cans
If only they could be persuaded not to plant citrus saplings in old cans! It’s practically impossible to separate plant from container; on occasion, you would think they are glued in – which may be the case, as I have once or twice found plants in old glue cans. I’ve had to buy heavy-duty metal cutters to deal with this unnerving aspect of transplantation.

Otherwise, Cairo has all manner of drive-thru nurseries: these impromptu displays of all sorts of plants large and small are to be found kerb-side on roads, busy corners and even roundabouts.
Kerb side 2 crop
This is the mini-nursery I often drop by, in one of my favourite corners of Heliopolis. It’s tiny but quite well stocked in the busy season, and anything the nurseryman doesn’t have he will try and have sent over from the mother ship in Giza.

Nearer to home, we have plenty of roundabout nurseries. Most of these have sprung up over the past year or so: perhaps a good indication of the entrepreneurial spirit of Egyptians in difficult times. This one is just round the corner:
Drive thru (Photoshop)SMALL
With plants ranging from cycads – among the world’s most ancient – to frangipani (Plumeria rubra) to yucca (Y. aliofolia), the display nestles beneath a sign of the times: the Egyptian national flag, with the words “Tahiya Misr” – “Long Live Egypt.”

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Magda #

    This reminds me of my lame attempt at growing “maciejka” or Matthiola longipetala (night-scented stock) in Qatar. I brought the seeds from Poland where this sweetly scented flower is very popular (I associate its lovely smell with summer holidays in the country). At the time, we lived in a villa with a garden and since my husband successfully grew tomatoes, chilli peppers and spring onions, I thought I’d try gardening too, but decided to go for beauty rather than “edibility”. I planted the seeds in September and within a few days they shot up, long and thin and wobbly. Of course, in the September heat, they couldn’t and didn’t last, and died as rapidly as they sprang up… never got to the sweet-scent stage…


    September 14, 2013
    • For the most part I think it’s best to grow plants that you see are already present in the country you live in, so you know they can adapt to local conditions. If growing more sensitive plants in hot climates, then sowing late and providing protection may help them over the stress of being out of their comfort zone. I’ve managed (with difficulty) to coax some bedding plants, like Lobelia, to grow in Egypt. You could also try a wide variety of herbs: they usually tolerate arid conditions and poor soil, there are lovely variations of leaf and flower colour, and they are a draw for insects. Plus you get to use them in the kitchen!

      September 14, 2013

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