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

 

 

Walks on the not-so-wild side

We’ve spent a fun couple of days this weekend at the Spring Flower Show in downtown Cairo, pottering among the displays of flowers, looking at fruit trees, chatting to beekeepers – and trying to resist the temptation to add to our already crowded garden.

The show brings together nurseries and agricultural businesses, as well as suppliers of equipment, seeds and potting compost, from all over. If the flower displays are on the repetitive side (too many geraniums for my taste), it’s a great way to find out more about what works and what doesn’t here in Egypt, and where to get stock for the garden etc.

Oddly, there aren’t many garden design companies in the show, though one exception to this, from the upscale neighbourhood of Maadi, has an interesting, and unusual, display.

What makes the Cairo event so attractive, to my way of thinking, is the setting: the show is held over the road from Cairo University in the grand – if somewhat faded – El-Urman Gardens. Part of an ambitious scheme to create a fashionable European-style city by Egypt’s C19 rulers (Khedives), the gardens are filled with an amazing collection of conifers and exemplars of trees from across the world, from Australian kauris to Indian almonds to American swamp cypresses.

We wandered among colourful banks of flowers, some locally produced, some imported, testing the prices and looking out for a few we could take home. They make great gifts for family and friends: almost everyone we know has a balcony or small patch of garden, and they really appreciate a present of colourful and aromatic carnations, sweet williams or jasmine.

Thinner on the ground this year compared to 2015, I thought, were the fruit tree and kitchen garden sections, though the herbs were looking good and there were a few trays filled with veg seedlings such as lettuce, aubergine and celery. We resisted the temptation to buy a mulberry tree (one of my husband’s favourites, if only for his memories of boyhood escapades climbing them to feast off the sweet, sticky fruit). Just as well, they grow like topsy and have the kind of root systems we can’t accommodate!

Good to see some labels, though all were exclusively in Arabic: I’m not so sure about the vines, though, (above right), planted up in old industrial adhesives cans. Hardly the most sensitive of environments for the roots…

We came away with a modest haul, for once managing to stick to our plan – not something I normally manage when faced with temptation on this scale. As my husband went off to talk to the beekeepers, I even went round my favourite garden tools stall without buying a thing. Reformed character, or what!