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

 

 

Summer scorcher

Nowadays, in the height of the summer, the Jasmine Garden offers respite from the heat only early or late in the day, when the shady spots and cooling breezes work their magic. Otherwise, it’s out of bounds between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. – and that’s tough for a gardener.

Every day, the bees gather noisily around the water pots left out for them on a corner of the lawn. I am leaving the basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) unrestrained as it is one of very few plants to flower throughout the summer, providing our friends from the hives on the roof with sustenance in an otherwise bleak time.

The raised beds are sun-bleached, the tomato vines scorched and crumpled, the beetroots visibly wilting, but a few sturdy occupants carry on regardless, producing a good crop – the green peppers, for example. Today’s tally is 350g, rather more than I know what to do with. Oddly, although they come in many shapes and sizes including some that both look and smell as if they might be hot, they are all mild… These were supplied by our erstwhile Engineer (he who dared to bring Monsanto seeds into the garden!) so I can’t ask for any info as to what they are, but they were sourced from a Ministry of Agriculture supplier so I am surprised to find the batch so varied.

I have also gathered in another 700g of onions, making a total of 2.2kg so far, with more to come. Sadly the garlic never got planted… Unfailingly, when I mention it to the gardener (whoever he may be) every year, I always hear that it’s the “wrong time” and we should have planted it last week/month or a fortnight ago…

But a July sowing of rocket has germinated and, though stunted, the plants are producing fiery leaves that add piquancy to any salad. Neither the flat-leaf parsley nor the coriander appeared.

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Meanwhile, the fruit trees are doing better, with the fragile lime tree acquired at the 2015 Spring Flower Show in El-Urman Gardens at last taking off. The dates are approaching harvest time and we are keeping a close eye on them. To my husband’s enquiry as to how we should judge the right time to gather them a gardener in a local park answered mysteriously: “You will know!” This left him none the wiser, but we conclude that trial and error, and watching what the neighbours do with theirs, will have to be our guide!

Our guava crop is disappointing, so far. Affected by what looks like a burrowing pest, the fruit have developed patches of slightly mushy, brown flesh while remaining dry and underripe elsewhere. There’s also a tricky balance between leaving them until they are fully ripe and losing them to the birds, as the bulbuls are very partial to them, so we have netted some and hope to have a few that ripen fully and remain bug-free. Definitely not to be compared with last year’s wonderful fruit, however.

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One great thing about the summer: the fast-growing plants produce quantities of clippings and dead-wood for the compost bins or hugelkultur beds. Laid out in the raised beds, or on their walls, or between them, the heaps are sizzling in the sun and drying beautifully. This promises a much better balance of brown:green in the bins and, with the addition of some fermenting yeast solution plus leaving the bins in the full sun, I’m working on accelerating the composting process as much as I can.

And there is some colour too, and perfume especially in the evening: hibiscus flowers are showy but unscented; petunias survive by growing next to the water outlet from an air-conditioner; the jasmines cascade down the pergola and through the hedge, or help fill the border near the front gate – I have a flower in a tiny tumbler of turquoise Venetian glass next to me now, and it smells divine.