Raised bed fever
It’s nearing the end of the summer in Egypt and, with temperatures hovering around seasonal highs, many of the food plants in the raised beds have had their day.
All the onions from Bed 4 (pictured below, right) have been collected, the tomato vines have stopped cropping, and only sweet basil and capsicums are still producing, along with some mint that crept illicitly into the Bed, I know not how.
So I asked one of the gardeners to dig out the area where the onions had been – the section that was not rehabilitated before the spring planting – and give it the hugelkultur treatment. He went down to a good depth, at least 30 cm, extracting the odd root coming from the Indian laurels (F. nitida) in the hedge several metres away. The sand and soil left inside were then roughy levelled off. This was a tremendous job, in my view, but it took the gardener less than an hour: we had let the soil dry out over the past few weeks, which reduced the strain of lifting the soil, and he set to with huge determination.
Armfuls of dried out branches and clippings from trees, overgrown basil bushes and honeysuckle were then thrown into the space. On top, to my great satisfaction, we emptied a sackful of dried leaves, “cleaned” (along with a certain amount of topsoil) by a gardener working on the herbaceous borders last spring. Nothing need be wasted – but I have to be ever vigilant that we make best use of whatever organic matter we safely can.
To finish the job, the gardener shovelled the sand and soil extracted earlier back into the bed, and then spread some compost and well weathered horse manure on top – scattering far and wide any number of woodlice, beetles and other wildlife that had been slumbering among the compost!
I can’t wait to get the newly readied section of Bed 4 planted up… But this is as feverish as it is foolish, so I’m going to be strong-minded and wait a while. It’s not the time for tender young seedlings, even with netting for protection.
I also need to check the irrigation pipes are dependable. While the Engineer we employed to overhaul the system in April did a good job, we’ve had a few mishaps. So better test the system in the bed, and to iron out any problems before the seeds go in: “Shwoya shwoya” as the Egyptians say, or “Little by little”.