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The Raised Beds Lark

RB3 11.18Before I started gardening in New Cairo, I had a dream… It had to do with a series of raised beds, filled with lovely, crumbly, richly organic soil, producing seasonal crops in healthy rotation. Rather like the many incredible kitchen and market gardens I see regularly on Instagram, where gardeners all over the world, and especially in Australia, seem to have perfected the art and science of growing anything they want.

It had rather less to do with the brutal reality of my four-and-a-half raised beds where the soil is lifeless, seeds won’t germinate – except for volunteer borage (above), the bugs and snails are having feast days, and … and … and

I think part of the reason for my frequent lapses of concentration, not to mention wandering off the straight and narrow, has to do with simple discouragement. I can’t get the beds to work.

In October, ever hopeful, I sowed salad leaves, rocket, coriander, flat leaf parsley, spinach and radishes in RB4, the best of the main beds. The rocket is doing well:

Rocket RB4 11.18

Spinach and radishes have germinated poorly and are being regularly raided by snails:

Spinach & radish RB4 11.18(Poorly focused images, but I’m not sure that it matters. Truth is, there isn’t much to see).

Of parsley and coriander there is almost nothing.

However – and there’s always a “however” in gardening, as plants have a habit of springing surprises where you least expect them – there is a good sprinkling of flat leaf parsley in a bucket full of debris right beside the bed containing October’s sowing!Bucketful of volunteers 11.18

I am aggravated. According to gardening folklore, you shouldn’t transplant parsley: “Immemorial disaster looms over the parsley transplanter” warns my handbook The Gardener’s Folklore* . Unless you do it on Good Friday, when there is a chance you will be protected from unfortunate consequences – but better not bank on it.

It occurs to me to wonder whether this refers to flat leaf, or curly leaf parsley. Or is the question academic? Better leave it alone, I suppose. I’ll let the seedlings thrive in the bucket of rubbish, offspring of discarded seed heads from last season’s crop, among the stones intended to stop local cats from using it as a toilet. I can’t remove the stones, or the cats will be in there in a flash, so this is a necessarily self-limiting sowing.

Meanwhile, in the raised bed, why do I suppose parsley would have germinated within a month? It is notoriously tardy. I should leave it at least another month, try another sowing, and maybe pour boiling water all over the freshly-sown seed (The Gardener’s Folklore, again). There must be some logic hiding in this story somewhere…

RB2 has also been planted  this month with rows of salad leaves, mizuna, rocket, coriander and chervil. RB2 after work 11.18Again, there isn’t enough compost for more than a sprinkling in and around the seed drills, so the soil has not been sufficiently enriched. But there’s hope – as one volunteer mizuna suggests:

Volunteer Mizuna RB2 11.18The addition of chervil in the bed is a bit left-field, perhaps, and I don’t know why I have it. But, again, I have come across Instagram-ers who are filled with enthusiasm.

RBs 1 and 3 have to wait while I ponder how to improve the soil. The latest idea is to turn them both into compost heaps, literally removing the soil and filling the entire space with kitchen and garden waste. I’m not sure I have the will-, or the muscle-, power to do that. Or the patience to wait a year or two for it to transform into the soil of my dreams.

  • The Gardener’s Folklore – Margaret Baker pub. by Sphere Books
7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Parsley really does take a long time to germinate. Also I wonder about your seeds. Often seeds that we buy are actually old and do t give good germination. Saved seed often works better for me for vegetables and for cut flowers. Turning one bed into a compilation bed for a year isn’t a bad idea. My crops were noticeably better this year after managing to improve the soil (it does take ages). I sow a lot of my crops into modules and then plant out which has the advantage that you can really see what germinated well and how long it takes. Keep positive and keep trying, it is really worth it!

    November 24, 2018
    • Hello Christina – agree with you about the seeds. I intended to write about them, but the post would have been too long. Most of the seeds are from Suffolk Herbs in the UK and many of them are organic. Others are from Thompson & Morgan. A minority are sourced locally, no idea where they originated. I have my doubts about Suffolk. T & M seems more reliable. All UK seeds bought from Kew, so they ought to be fine – ? Saving seeds is a great idea and the ones that germinated in the bucket of rubbish seem to prove the point!! I used to sow into pots for transplanting but have had difficulty finding decent potting compost recently. A gardener’s life in Egypt is an uphill journey… Sylvia

      November 28, 2018
      • It isn’t always that easy in Italy either, Silvia

        November 29, 2018
      • Hello Christina – Yes, I realise that when reading your blog. I am often surprised by the challenging weather conditions you have to deal with. But my impression when travelling in Europe, and certainly in Italy, is that there are some services to support people who garden. This is not the case in Egypt. Not at all. Sylvia

        November 29, 2018
      • Yes that’s true but the availability of ornamental plants in variety is very poor. Plugs of vegetables on the other hand are excellent and very cheap to buy. I do have issues getting good reliable compost, but I know that even in the UK, the quality can be very variable.

        November 29, 2018
  2. ‘Immemorial disaster’?! Oh my! I just don’t do it because it does not work well at all. There are some plants that do not want their roots disturbed while they are just starting out.

    November 25, 2018

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