Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Unfinished Tips/ Take Two

Here is some of the wisdom gathered by my dad and me (but mainly him) through experimenting in the garden in King Mariout.

- Sunshine, and how much of it a plant gets, is about 90% of it. Duh.

- Non-chemical ways to deter snails and slugs: the bucket-of-beer one does NOT work. Maybe UK slugs are boozy we dol mottadayeneen, but they don't go after the beer in a frenzy and drown like they're supposed to. Nothing happens. What does work is a ring of copper wire around the base of the plant, the little slime-streakers won't cross over it for some reason.

- Basil attracts bees. A beeless garden is a sad one indeed.

- Talk to, or otherwise spend quality time with, your plants daily. No really.


That was a post I'd started sometime back in April, the last time I posted. I never finished it and in fact haven't posted since then because my dad, who was battling lung cancer at the time, took a turn for the worse and passed away sometime in June (I think. Bit shaky on the date to be honest). After that I kind of lost the plot (literally and figuratively).

Part of the reason I couldn't handle it, I think, is because the only reason I know anything at all about gardening is my dad. It's not only tougher without his practical support and know-how, it was also hard to get back to it when I'd never had a gardening experience that wasn't about spending time with him (along with antiquing, it was our thing). Not to mention the fact that what made me start this project in the first place was that I wanted properly organic food for the super-healthy diet I'd put him on, believing it would help. I guess it kind of worked - even up to the end, he was in perfect health apart from the cancer. Ha.

Anyway I went with my mum to the garden in Alex a couple weeks ago, and tended the garden for the first time without him. Though I was crying into my crocs, it felt alright. I didn't really know what I was doing, but I more or less successfully pruned what needed pruning and got rid of this tiny furry white pest sucking the life from our apricot tree and precious grapevine, basically by wiping it off one little bugger at a time. So I think I'm ok to start work on my own vegetable garden (and my blog!) again, but I'm back to square one. And this time I'm going to need lots and lots of help.

There's manure on the soil now, and I'm going to look into this double digging thing (thanks for the comments, everyone! I'll get back to everyone individually soon). There's only a couple months to get ready (as far as I remember, I can start sowing in late Feb, right?), so whatever tips you have for me, please send them my way! I'm still hoping to grow all our own veg, as well as hopefully get the neighbours involved - I'd love to see the underutilised building garden turned into a lush veg patch that feeds the entire building.

Right now though, I could really do with a bit of encouragement.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Substitute Materials for Plantwall...Help!

Ok I need some help. Does anyone have any suggestions as to what are green and locally available substitutes for the following, given that they need to not rust and not rot?
- rigid pvc sheeting
- aluminum (like, square tubes ya3ni)
- synthetic felt

The plantwall is meant to be made from these unfriendly materials, and I'm on the verge of just going with plywood and wood and jute (خيش), but am concerned about rot issues. I can't use scrap metal because of the rust...unless someone knows a way to seal it properly.

I'm mostly aching to use jute instead of felt because a) it's much, much cheaper and b) it is apparently and amazingly made from molokheyya (or the mallow plant in general), and it is one of the few remaining things of which Egypt is a top producer.

Anyway any advice would be great. Are my concerns about rot overblown given that we're in Egypt? What about the rust? What about the substrate for the plant roots, anyone see a problem with using jute? Are their other, better materials I'm unaware of? I may ultimately try it it my way anyway just to see what happens, but it'd be nice to have a heads up if anyone has solid info.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Er, so ploughing or hoeing or whatever is really hard work. Basically I'm turning over the earth in which i'm going to plant things, using a fas فأس - because it was packed down all solid almost like concrete, and because since we've not been growing anything in it there aren't many nutrients in the soil.

So it's much slower going than I'd anticipated. I thought I'd be done in no time but even with the help of the building gardener it's only half done, as you can see in the photo (you can also see the bit where I'm going to hang my plantwall). I was impatient to sow some seeds right now, but was told by both dad and gardener that you have to 'air out' the soil in the sun for a couple days first.

It's so much easier in King Mariout, it's a clay-ish sandy-ish (limestone-ish too?) soil there, and we've found you can pretty much poke a hole in it anywhere with your finger, pop a seed in, and it'll grow with minimum fuss and zero prep. You'd think what with being so close to the Nile, the soil in Maadi would be easier to deal with, but it is not at all.

But we'll see what the yields will be like. My guess is that even if the soil is richer, it'll be harder for the plants, because Cairo air sucks. Plus there are way fewer bees - although we hope to attract some with our basil ريحان. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Veg Thieves

My uncle says I should be worried about people nicking the veg. Seriously? I mean, what am I going to do, put an electric fence round it? If someone wants to have a carrot, go ahead.


I bought my seeds! From the Garden Needs store on Rd. #233 in Maadi. Spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes, aubergine, okra, carrots, radishes, beetroot, green beans, lettuce, and dwarf mallow (خبيزة), to plant in Alex.

I got a packet each for LE3/packet at a total of LE36, but was sad to find that unlike seed packets from the UK, they aren't labelled with local planting times and basic info. In fact, they don't even have the date stamped on, as I'm sure they're supposed to. But I was assured by the shopkeeper (from whom I buy many things) that they're fine. Next time, however, I'm going to get my seeds in Ataba, where the best are to be found according to my dad.

I'm going to go ahead and plant everything. For most of the veg April is ideal, it might be a bit late for the aubergine but what the hell. We've always had good luck before! Elsewhere in the world people might have to wait a while to plant the tomatoes and cukes, but it's already pretty warm out - plus I'm going to put them on the plantwall, so they're going to get plenty of sun.

The beets and carrots I'll resow in June and July, because you can't really get enough of that stuff, and I'll also try to get my hands on some peas, which you can sow every two weeks starting now (plus it's such a pretty plant). Yalla beena.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Plan

So there are going to be a few problems planting stuff in the garden. We're already growing lots of lovely herbs and non-food plants, but mainly in pots and buckets. Otherwise there are the tall trees we planted when we moved in that surround the plot, and a few small trees in the middle. (I'll upload photos soon)

The reason there isn't much in the ground itself - not even grass - is because our bit doesn't get much sun. There are the trees of course, but even without them there'd be the buildings, which is why we've let the trees grow bera7ethom.

I'm going to tackle this in two ways: there's a small strip of sunny ground that I'm ploughing and will use to plant the heavier veg, and on the sunny wall next to it I'm going to hang a vertical hydroponic garden based on Patrick Blanc's but with locally available (and hopefully greener) materials, for tomatoes, beans, spinach, peas, and so on.

I'm going to compost the hell out of everything so it grows up big and strong. We've dug a drainage pit and have gotten the wood to make our bin, and since we separate our organic trash anyway it should be a piece of cake.

I'll have to water the vertical garden manually at first, which is fine because it's outdoors, but if I can figure out how to fit a fish tank in my house and hook it up I'd rather use a simple closed-loop aquaponic system, like the one used for the plantwall in this very helpful blog.
I have space in the balcony, but I can't leave a fish tank out in the sun in Egypt, can I? I mean I know you can get certain fish to get rid of the algae, but I'm more worried about the fish boiling to death.

To do:
- Plough (hoe? I'm using a faas فأس to turn it) that strip of earth
-Measure that sunny wall and design frame, find materials and make it.
-Build compost bin (should take a couple minutes with a hammer)
-Get seeds: spinach, tomatoes, cucumber, carrots, potatoes, molokheyya, lettuce, arugula, green beans, peas. We'd love to grow grapes as well, but we'll see.
-Make planting schedule
-Plant and go

I'll post detailed plans for the compost bin and vertical garden later, with photos of the garden.


The point of this blog is to share my experiences trying to grow my own food, both of which I'm doing for several reasons.

The blog part is partly to keep track for myself, and partly in gratitude to all the blogs which helped me in my efforts, and partly in contribution to the Egypt Food Sovereignty Project.

As for the growing, I'm heavily influenced by the fact that my dad has been growing his own fruit and veg for a while now, but I'm also doing it for health, environmental, social, political, ethical  and personal reasons (all of which will be elaborated on in future posts). Plus it's fun.

I've just embarked on a project to grow food in a section of the communal garden of my apartment building in Maadi, Cairo, after helping my dad grow food in the garden of his home in King Mariout, near Alex. I'll be drawing on that experience as well as trying to figure out ways to grow as efficiently and greenly as possible.

I hope that the blog will be useful to anyone trying to do the same thing (if so send me a link to your blog or your contacts so we can exchange info), and show everyone else that it's easy and they should try it!