A mini vendange, and other fruit

We have just picked our first ever bunch of grapes!

It weighs in at just 100g, the fruit small but juicy and pleasantly sweet. Above all, they are our own produce, free from chemicals – nothing of any kind has been sprayed on/applied to them – ripened in the sun. Birds permitting, we may get some more, although none of the bunches left on the vine, which is climbing on the wooden frame over the garage, is as large as the first one.

The story of our fruit crop this year is one of “minor triumphs” with the notable exception of the lemon tree (another excellent harvest on the way) and the kumquat, where masses of blossom surround the few fruit remaining from last year:

I picked the first lemon yesterday. Admittedly they are far too small to be useful for juice, but I like to take the odd one when I need lemon rind in a recipe: I know the fruit are untreated and the peel is perfectly safe once rinsed.

As for the kumquats, it will be interesting to see what sort of crop we get this year after last year’s bounty. Meanwhile, I’m glad to have a rest from marmalade-making…

Just now, the yellow plums are ripening on the tree, and – assuming the birds leave them alone – we are back now to the “minor triumph” category. We’ve never had more than a couple from this tree (and none from the red plum), but this year we may get about a dozen. Soft and juicy, still warm from the sun, they are delicious.

We have counted four pears on one of our trees. It will be a while before they are ready to eat. The second tree, which I was attempting to espalier along the green fence, has been given her freedom and allowed to grow tall again: Let’s hope for some fruit from her next year.

Going down in terms of numbers, but up a good deal in size, there are two beautiful mangoes on the way:

The tree, var.¬†Keet, is small and compact, nothing like the giants commonly planted incredibly close to blocks of flats all around Cairo. ¬†Bought from an organic supplier at the Spring Flower Show a couple of years ago, and planted rather too close to the hedge, this is the first time the tree has produced fruit. We can’t wait: Mango, in so many different forms (a thick and luscious juice; cubed and eaten with ice-cream; sliced and used to decorate cakes; never, ever made into chutney) is the taste of summer in Egypt.

In fact, none of our fruit trees has been in longer than 5 years, so the crop we are likely to get this year is probably about what we should expect. There are no fruit on the satsuma tree (resting after last year’s superb effort) and none on the lime trees either.

Hopefully there will be another good crop from the date palm. You may recall that we had some wonderful red (Zaghloul) dates in 2016, and it looks as if this year will be good:

Early datesIt’s early days yet, however, and we are concerned about the number of dates that have already fallen to the ground while still small and green. It’s unclear what the loss signifies – unless it is related to the exceptionally hot weather over the last few days.

Also developing: the guavas.

Baby guavas

We had one excellent crop two years ago, after spraying with Malathion. Almost all were spoilt by fruit fly last year (no spraying). This year, we are trying fly-traps to protect the young fruit, but opinion is divided on their effectiveness. I shall be sorry if we don’t have any fruit but we can’t risk using chemical spray, for the sake of our bees.

Now for two complete surprises: a fig and a melon!

I had given up on the fig tree, and discovered the lone fruit by accident when pruning some basil nearby; the melon is on a ‘spare’ plant thrown into a pot of surplus tomato seedlings and left by the compost bins. The melon plants carefully transferred into the raised beds are producing…nothing!

Last word, however, has to go to the real stars of the Jasmine Garden: The bees, and yesterday’s harvest from the hives on the roof – gorgeous, golden, poly-floral honey:

Honey 6.17

 

 

Packing a punch: a feast of fruit (we hope!)

We are watching our fruit trees, waiting on tenterhooks. Compared to last summer, we are promised a bumper harvest. In some cases that wouldn’t be difficult as we had nil, or a mere 4, fruits in 2015 partly because our trees are still quite young. In other cases, the trees have raced ahead this year. But it’s wise not to be over-confident: you never know what pests may creep in while the back is turned.
First, the date palm. We have a first crop of Zaghloul dates close to being ripe. Over the past month they have turned from green to a reddish colour, which means they will soon be ready to harvest. Widely cultivated in Egypt, the Zaghloul is long (up to 7cm or so) and slender, red turning brown to black as it over-ripens, with a woody texture and sweet taste but – to my way of thinking – a tendency to leave a dry sensation on the palate that is not so welcome.
Back in late March, my husband turned his hand for the first time to pollinating the strands, as many farmers and gardeners do. This meant clambering up a high step ladder with a bundle of pollen-filled staves obtained from a local “a’attar” shop, where you buy seeds and other basic supplies, and brushing them against the female inflorescence, hoping that enough pollen had been transferred to do the job.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


It worked! This is the first time the date palm has borne fruit since we bought it 4 years ago, and it’s something of a triumph.
Next, the guava tree. Unexpectedly this has turned into one of my favourites; I had never previously liked the fruit for its tendency to be tart rather than sweet and for the unavoidable seeds, like so much grape shot seemingly designed to find gaps among the teeth. But closer acquaintance with the fruit of our tree, an apple guava, has persuaded me otherwise and I can’t wait to start gathering this season’s crop. They are still green and on the small side (see below, left), but hopefully by late August we shall start picking them.

An interesting point about the guava tree is its medicinal uses, particularly in alleviating coughs: it is used in cough medicine here in Egypt, and you can make an infusion of the leaves for the same purpose. The fruit is loaded with vitamin C: four times as much as an orange, in fact!
Meanwhile, the lemon tree has excelled, producing countless fruit after bearing just 4 last year (above, right). Although the fruit are on the very vigorous root stock – and there isn’t a single orange on the scion – we have much to be thankful for as lemons are a staple in our kitchen.
Just across the lawn from the lemon, near the pergola, we have a small satsuma tree. It hasn’t thrived since we planted it some 4 years ago, bearing no fruit at all after the first year. But TLC, in the form of compost and manure, and attention to the water supply, mean it now has a good crop of fruit, hopefully to be harvested in the winter – below, at left:


Then the kumquat (above right) – the biggest surprise of them all. Originally planted on the basis that it was a satsuma tree, it turned out to be of a different species and is now bearing a fourth generous crop. At first, I was mystified as to how I might use the fruit, but regular readers will know that I discovered the joy of marmalade-making, producing small batches of delicious, fully organic conserve that is sweet rather than bitter and packed with goodness. This season’s crop is eagerly anticipated!
Lastly, the pear tree. After several barren years, it has made a supreme effort and produced two fruit: one a normal size, the other somewhat stunted. We wonder, discuss, speculate about what the beautiful full-size pear will taste like: with each sun-filled day, it turns a little less green, a little more golden.

Pear 7.16
After the successes, the inevitable failures, not that I would wish to dwell on them: the grand total of two plums that simply disappeared while we were away in June; and the (reputed) lime trees that compensate for an absence of fruit by bearing the most atrocious thorns of any tree I know. Plus the figs, refusing to thrive even though I hear that figs are so hardy they “grow anywhere”. Not in our garden they don’t!