Retreat from the Heat and the Dust
We are in the middle of a mini-heatwave. The air in Heliopolis yesterday felt like a fan oven. Today, the temperature in New Cairo hit 39C (100F) in the shade, and I can only imagine what it must be like for farmers working in the fields, or commuters travelling downtown.
On top of all that, Cairo has been named by the World Health Organisation as the second most polluted major city in the world, after New Delhi.
In the circumstances, the Jasmine Garden is now, more than ever, our retreat from stifling heat, dust and pollutants.
It is a mini-oasis that restores the spirit; balm to the soul; and a private “green lung” offering a degree of physical wellbeing after the heat, dust, fumes, crowds and noise of Cairo proper. Our urban garden really is all this, and much more.
Of course, we can’t control the heat. This week, I have retreated indoors for much of the day, only emerging to garden – briefly – early in the morning and again near sunset.
All I could do was to trim some fruit trees and shrubs (the overgrown basil, Ocimum basilicum, much hybridised by our bees, I suspect) behind raised beds (RBs) 1 and 2. And to overhaul both these beds, disposing of weeds, composting dried out veg. and herbs, and adding some compost from bin 1 to the soil:
RB1 (above) looks bare, but there is more here than meets the eye here: Salad leaves have self-seeded at the compost-bin end, and may yet survive with additional netting for shade, fingers crossed.
RB2 has not been improved by my attempts at hugelkultur treatment last year, being altogether too sandy and dry now that I have lightened up the heavier soil. Still, the carrots seem okay with this:
Plus, there is more evidence of self-seeding by the oriental leaves, so we may have new spicey greenery to add to our salad bowl in weeks to come.
I have left flat-leaf parsley and celery to go to seed, and earthed up struggling beetroot (variety not noted down, and now forgotten!) in the hope that they produce roots bigger than the tiny marbles we are currently harvesting. There is also a reasonably healthy European thyme, T. vulgaris, much used in the kitchen.
RBs 3 and 4 are yet to be tackled. The first is an odd mix of beetroot, sizzling in the sun,
along with chard “Bright Lights”,
and some self-seeded basil,
A few curly-leafed parsley (Petroselinum crispum) are hanging in there, under the protective sunshade of a rampant borage (B. officinalis), well past its best.
RB4 has struggling tomatoes, both cherry and standard, but the weather is hitting them badly:
In addition, there is one surviving clary sage (Salvia sclarea),
I am not sure why I have this, but as it’s an interesting herb with useful properties to aid digestion, calm nerves etc, it is surely worth having.
There are plenty of herbs elsewhere in the Jasmine Garden, both solitary plants and collections planted in a small herb border near the balcony. About 10 kg (seriously!) was cut from our mother rosemary plant last week, and I haven’t finished:
Craftily, “Boris” (as the plant is named) has layered him/herself and is therefore taking root all around the original site of planting – presenting a covert challenge to the Establishment (i.e. the lawn).
Our lovely “za’atar roumi“, Satureja thymbra or thyme-leaved savory, is doing wonderfully well beneath a young lime tree:
This aromatic herb is excellent for relieving indigestion and calming coughs. It may well be used in the “Cough Aid” tea made by local health foods company Imtenan, as thyme leaves are listed along with peppermint and guava leaves, and fennel seeds, although it is not precisely identified by botanical name.
So: back to the issue of environmental pollution. In Cairo, it’s not just a matter of narrow streets, too many cars with outdated engines, and industrial effluents from nearby areas such as Helwan. After all, many of the local buses are fuelled by natural gas, and the underground metro ought to reduce the car exhaust load (but I doubt if it does, significantly).
We also have to cope periodically with the smoke from burning rubbish tips around Greater Cairo, and – particularly in autumn – with farmers burning the rice stubble in fields in the Delta to our north. It’s illegal, but it goes on: Travelling between Cairo and Alexandria, I have seen the fields burning on more than one occasion.
Hence, I fear, the epidemic of respiratory ailments among family and friends, and my own repeated experience of bronchial complaints in winter. All the more reason to retreat to our oasis in New Cairo, to recharge the tired batteries.