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

 

 

Bee-muse

We have escaped the late summer in New Cairo and retreated to the cool of London in October – en route, it has to be said, to the citrus groves of Sicily. They, of course, will be another story.

As usual, one of our first diversions in London was to Kew Gardens… and here we came across a fabulous installation that is as much about engineering as art, education as creative inspiration, vibration as melody.

The Hive is a 17 metre-high structure made of aluminium and glass, inspired by a most unusual artist’s muse: the honeybee. It isn’t exactly a replica of a hive, but rather an installation that takes the hive as its essential frame of reference.

First seen at the Milan Expo last year, the Hive was relocated to Kew to underline a key message that is central to the Botanic Garden’s mission: pollinators are vital to our food supplies across the world, and they are in trouble for a number of reasons from climate change to the over-use of pesticides.

Artist Wolfgang Buttress worked with a team of architects and engineers to construct the Hive from aluminium, with a glass floor dividing the structure into two storeys. You begin by visiting the lower section to get a general idea of the project, then walk up a ramp to enter the hive itself, rather as if you were a guest in the bees’ home.

What turns the visit into a compelling immersive experience is the connection with the inner workings of a real beehive in Kew Gardens. Using accelerometers placed inside the hive, it is possible to relay the vibrational signals that are constantly transmitted by the bees straight into the installation. And bees, we learned, always hum (vibrate) in the key of C!*

This fascinated me: at a yoga retreat in July,  we did all of our asanas (physical postures) accompanied by a recording of “Omm” – again, in C. According to the Indian sages (rishis), this is the primeval sound dating back to the beginning of creation, and it appears to be one that bees have stayed loyal to in all their 120 million-year existence. How mind-blowing is that!

In harmony with the bees’ own vibrations, a group of musicians created a soundscape to mirror the ebb and flow of energy within the hive, and this combination is what you hear once inside the installation.

In addition to the soundscape, the Hive features almost 900 LED lights, which flicker and surge according to the energy emitted by the bees. These were not so effective on the sunny afternoon when we visited, but at dusk they must make the experience amazing.

The purpose of the installation is not simply to astonish, of course, but rather to help us understand the reality of our dependence on pollinators, and to consider what we can do to help them thrive. The UK, for example, is home to about 275 species of bee. They in turn need a diverse biosphere in which to live – yet Britain has lost over 95% of its wildflower meadows since the 1930s.

The team at Kew has therefore planted the embankment surrounding the Hive with wild flowers, while also providing information panels to explain their importance. The area of herbaceous borders featuring pollinator-friendly flowers has also been increased. Here we found members of the daisy (Compositae) family – Echinacea “White Swan” and Rudbeckias, for example, exuberantly blooming among a rich tapestry of flowering plants and grasses.

And how they attracted the insects!

 

*Pioneering research into the vibrational patterns of bees is being carried out by Dr Martin Bencsik at the UK’s Nottingham Trent University, who worked with Wolfgang Buttress on this project.