As usual, I’m obsessing about the raised beds. Seen from above, they don’t look so bad:
Up close and personal, it’s a different story. Depleted soil; swarms of snails; tribes of woodlice; a late-summer plague of grasshoppers; reams of caterpillars; mealy bugs on aubergine/tomato plants…. Not to mention the truly spectacular failure, etched on my memory, of crops I tried to grow through spring and early summer 2017, from aubergines to squash, courgettes to tomatoes.
So has anything gone right? Well, the mint in RB4 is magnificent, although it’s not supposed to be there at all. I hauled armfuls of the herb out this morning as I got the bed ready for the coming growing season:
Now this is quite a treat, so let me acknowledge the glorious, fresh smell that pervaded the kitchen. Known as na’ana’a baladi, or “local mint” in Egypt, it’s often added to glasses of sweet black tea, or whizzed up with lemon juice, sugar and ice-cold water to make a frothy and refreshing pick-me-up in hot weather.
Spearmint, known for some reason as sa’oudi, is less popular. We were given some by friends: I keep it by the back door, to be accessible for emergency purposes – an infusion is a brilliant (and rapid) digestive tonic.
Returning to my obsession: I began the growing season this autumn by getting the timing wrong. I’ve done this before – planted too early – and paid the price, and now I’ve repeated the same mistake. So my neat rows of cut and come again lettuce; early mizuna; dill; rocket; and oriental green leaves a) hardly germinated and b) where they did struggle to the surface, were decimated by pests.
On the other hand, seeds I didn’t sow have germinated with a vengeance, including flat-leaf parsley in RB4 around a similarly self-seeded basil (below left), while I also discovered an unknown Greek oregano hiding under the mint (right):
Rocket has appeared here, there and everywhere except where I sowed the seeds; but, not to be put off, after finishing preparing the bed and moving some young rocket plants into it from elsewhere, I sowed more seeds in the hope that the timing now might be better.
As for RB2, everything that germinated there was eaten to oblivion, in spite of the netting covering the whole bed. There’s just a tiny bit of mizuna left – though you may have difficulty spotting it in the photo:
Although I did some preliminary clearing of RB1, I’ve yet to get properly to grips with it or RB3. Seen from above, they look slightly better than at ground level.
RB3 is the major challenge, as it has not been properly dug for at least 2 years, and I have no doubt it will be full of tree roots. Plus, I will have run out of compost by the time I get to it, so I will have to buy some in if the soil is to be improved and it’s anyone’s guess whether the commercially available kompoost here is any good.
Maybe a green fertiliser would do the trick. However, my previous attempt, using clover (or berseem, much grown in the countryside in Egypt, where it is also used as animal fodder) was counter-productive: I couldn’t dig the stuff out of the bed!
So, having calmed down a bit as I worked steadily on RB4, I decided to take the kitchen garden one bed at a time, and stick to a conservative sowing schedule for the rest of the season. No adventures, no tricks – just steady digging and sowing, and a prayer for each row as I cover the seeds over.