Assessing the garden produce
In temperatures easily reaching 40C, sometimes well above that, the plants in the raised beds have to a large extent survived, seemingly against the odds. To give credit where it is due, I think this is largely owing to the Engineer overhauling the irrigation system in April – after which he disappeared for two months! Benign neglect while we were away in May-June seems to have done the plants no harm either. This all puts me in my place, I rather think.
Raised bed 4 has been a triumph of our experiment in hugelkultur. Formerly overwatered and depleted, the soil in two-thirds of the bed was dug out, the trench filled with dead wood and dry composting materials, and then topped off with mixed sand and soil plus a thin dressing of compost and horse manure. The cherry tomatoes, capsicums, sweet basil, beans and mange tout were all young plants when we left on holiday. On our return, the tomato vines had grown like topsy and were laden with a heavy crop of fruit; likewise, the capsicums had produced a plentiful supply of fine, tender peppers, while the basil bushes were glowing with health. Only the beans and mange tout had been well and truly fried by the sun.
Swinging into action last Saturday, the Engineer and assistant rigged up a rather peculiar frame for the tomatoes using bits of wood from around the garage to raise the tomatoes off the bed. Just picked, the little fruit burst on the palate like a summer’s day: sweet, flavourful and warm from the sun!
Bed 3, partially renovated along hugelkultur lines but with less dried material as we were running low at that point, has done correspondingly less well. The soil seems dried out and is retaining less water, I assume. Tomatoes and capsicums are not cropping as well, but we do have a welcome little patch of self-seeded rocket, some straggly beetroot, and a whole lot of flat leaf parsley and coriander in seed.
Bed 2, rather neglected in the early summer, was filled with drying out chard, celeriac that had grown like topsy but refused utterly to form a decent root, two-year old red carrots that had grown likewise, and a sprinkling of herbs including a very healthy sage bush acquired at the Spring Flower Show at El-Urman Gardens.
The gardeners cleared the bed and began preparing the soil for a sowing of molokhiya, a mallow plant grown in Egypt since pharaonic times. The leaves are used to make a rich and quite heavy soup; I am not sure that we really want to grow it – or eat it! – but I’m willing to have a go.
We found the chard in bed 1 in need of trimming but otherwise still producing healthy new growth. Again, not my favourite but it can be used as a spinach substitute and it’s very handy for stir-fries and mixed vegetable soups. Dill and flat leaf parsley had gone to seed, celeriac was misbehaving again, and the mint was threatening to take the bed over. So the gardeners cleaned the bed and we plan to re-plant with herbs and rocket next week.
Lastly, the herb bed: I don’t often write about the diamond shaped bed in the middle but in some ways it has been an unsung star of the garden. The herbs – thyme, chives, marjoram – just get on with the job of growing. Rosemary rises to gigantic proportions elsewhere in the garden. I never give them supplementary food (no nitrates!) or water but leave them to their own devices: as a result they are filled with essential oils, giving off a wondrous perfume if you simply brush against them and filling the dishes we prepare in the kitchen with the most delicious, beneficial flavours.