Tuesday, 3 May 2022

Egypt - Winter Trip 2022 - Luxor - Nile Horticulture and a Sugar Cane Harvest

I've been sharing some observations I made during a winter trip to Eygpt on the blog and during this post, we'll cover, a visit to Luxor, horticulture along the Nile, and a Sugar Cane harvest.     

It's interesting to consider that the accumulation of sediment in the great lakes of Africa millions of years ago, would result in water overflowing the banks to form a river that would spawn the emergence of one of the most iconic and revered civilizations that humans have ever witnessed. 

Water is indeed life and nowhere exemplifies this better than the Nile. 


Luxor and Horticulture along the Nile


After spending three weeks in Cairo I took the train south to Luxor, a tourist hotspot on the Nile that features some of Egypt's most popular Ancient Egyptian temples and tombs. The view from both sides of the train was pretty much what you can see in the below photo. Lush green bands of agriculture with desert mountains in the background, punctuated by various towns and cities along the way. The agriculture appears to be mainly wheat and alfalfa this time of year( February). Date palms are often  planted along farm tracks and at seemingly random intervals within the fields 


Arriving in Luxor from Cairo it is immediately obvious the pace of life is more relaxed here. Arriving in the dark,  the lack of dust/smog in the air was striking, like cleaning off a smudged camera lens.  


There is a beautiful Nile-side promenade across the road from the Temple of Luxor which is itself very impressive.  As a tourist, in an area where tourists congregate, you will most likely get pitched some service or another 30 times a day, but get away from the tourist trail and people are friendly and going about their business.
 

Most of the city is established on the east side of the Nile but there are a lot of tourist accommodations on the west side and the west side is where the majority of tombs and temples are located.  Village life on the west bank of Luxor is extremely relaxed. Not only does it feel like you have stepped back into how life would have been a few 1000 years ago, it most probably is.  I had this feeling that no matter what tragedy humans may have to endure within the next 1000 or so years, this place will be just fine.  

There are various canals cut into the land, often planted with Date palms with swathes of Phragmites australis - Common Reed growing along the banks.


Mainly wheat and alfalfa grow in open fields this time of year. The Alfalfa is harvested daily and brought into the city for the horses that taxi the tourists around. 


Some of the gardens have a layer of fruit trees growing above the field crops, as seen in the below photo(Mango, citrus, and date palm). These are great examples of simple multi-layered polyculture gardens and are probably extremely productive.


Pretty much all of the restaurants on the West Bank of Luxor are family-run and will serve home-cooked Egyptian food harvested from their gardens. The restaurants will often serve 6 or 7 different dishes in small bowls and all of them are delicious. 

Another common garden fruit tree is Guava - Psidium guajava. Yet to try the fruit


A short walk away from the ferry station on the Westbank of Luxor, I chanced upon this Mango (Mangifera indica) orchard. Introduced from India in 1825,  Mango is commonly cultivated along the Nile valley. 


The whole orchard is flood irrigated from the Nile with bunds, crafted from the deep and fertile alluvial soil, to retain the water in certain areas. There must be a number of different cultivars planted in the orchard as the flowers were absent on some of the trees and in various stages of development on others.


There is a Banana grove next to the Mango orchard on one side. It would be interesting to study the row of Mango and Banana plants that converge to see if each respective crop has any difference in growth rate, yield, and health compared to the rows of the same plants within the monoculture rows.  
 

I've never visited anywhere on earth without eventually crossing paths with Chenopodium album - Lambs quarter.  An edible ruderal growing here on the post-irrigated Mango orchard floor


Walking further west away from the Nile, towards the desert mountains (Valley of Kings and Queens) this bizarre scene came into view.


Ever bought a jar of sundried tomatoes immersed in olive oil from the supermarket? The rustic aesetic on the label, emanating vibes of sunny Mediterranean farms with sweet old folk picking, slicing, and drying tomatoes on rooftops from plants they have lovingly tended.  Reality check, this is how it's done.


As you move further away from the Nile the greenery of the land gives way to cream-colored rock and sand and it is here you can find some of the greatest artifacts of the Ancient Egyptian civilization.  


Just below the desert mountain and within the mountians, Archaeologists are still discovering new temples and structures and in some places, you can see the water on the floors of freshly dug excavation pits and older pits with semi-aquatic plants growing. I assume the river would have meandered this far west over centuries, resulting in the burial of these ancient sites.  




As you move uphill away from the Nile the landscape is void of plant life and it seems to be a fitting place to bury the dead. Animal tracks and insect and reptile borrows are pretty obvious as you walk around the landscape so it seems there is life around. 


The transition from fertile land to barren land is almost immediate with just a few species inhabiting the edges, the most prominent in this area being Ziziphus spinia-christi - Christ's thorn jujube a native of North Africa.



Sugar Cane - Saccharum officinarum


Sugar cane has a long history of use in Egypt although the plant most likely used in Ancient Egypt was Saccharum spontaneum which was being cultivated two millennia before its related species, the sugar cane - Saccharum officinarum came on the scene. Traveling around up the Nile generally on land a few km away from the river banks sugar cane is cultivated and this time of year(February) is the harvest season. 


A lot of the cultivation in the Luxor region is small family farms with groups of workers hired to cut, prune and pack the canes. A group of the harvesters invited me over to see what was going on and offered me some cane that can be stripped to the pith and chewed fresh. It tastes great.  


The canes are stacked into bundles and loaded onto trailers, the softer herbaceous growth at the tips is collected and used as fodder for cattle, horses, goats, and donkeys. Nothing is wasted.


Local stores stock some canes and make sugar cane juice for their customers but the bulk of the canes are taken to factories and turned into unrefined sugar.  


This time of year the roads that run adjacent to the Nile are busy with trucks towing trailers,  packed full of sugar cane, to the processing plants. As the trucks slow down in the traffic you'll often see children pulling out a cane or two, faces painted with mischievous delight :) 



That's all for now, during the next post, Dylan comes out to meet me and we head over to the Red Sea, and then into the Nubian desert in search of reptiles.   

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Thursday, 10 March 2022

Egypt Trip - Winter 2022 - Cairo - Street Trees - Al Azhar Park

Following Christmas and New Year back in the UK with the family  I was supposed to be going to Italy, Sardegna for a consultancy and design site visit but, Covid things happened so we postponed. Egypt is a place I've never had a strong desire to travel to but it popped up first on a list of warm places to go in winter, so here I am. 

Two words that sprang to mind when I arrived in Cairo were chaos and contrast. After a few days, I began to see the order within the chaos but the contrast was even more striking. I don't see how you could describe Cairo as beautiful, pleasant, or charming but it is certainly very interesting. 

A word of warning for anyone that has never ventured from the comforts of the West, if you ever visit Cairo, be prepared for a culture shock Richter magnitude 9.

Cairo is a very busy city and you can move around hassle-free like every other city but get close to any popular tourist attraction and it's the real-life equivalent of browsing the net without AdBlock on and that's true of pretty much the entire Egyptian tourist trail. Fortunately, the Pyramids of Giza site (that sits west of the Nile on the edge of the city) is so vast it's easy to get away from the relentless sales pitch and enjoy the phenomenon.

I found it remarkable that across the whole area I did not find a single living plant. This could be due to grazing pressure from the 100's of camels and horses that carry the tourists around the site, could be just the wrong season or maybe there are just no plants around.  I did find a small patch of plant remnants that looked like last season's tissue from an annual plant (left image below)  


Just a few km east of the Pyramids, closer to the Nile (that runs through the center of the city) it's lush green with ornamental plantings, avenue trees, and parks.

 

Street Trees Of Cairo 


I have little experience with subtropical plants and for the first 5 days in Cairo, I did not recognize a single tree I came across apart from Ficus elastica - Rubber Fig the common house plant, only these  Rubber Figs were as tall as houses. 


I found an excellent resource on plants used for landscaping in Egypt (Introduction to Egyptian plants) that helped identify the majority of common street trees and I was surprised to see that many of the street trees are Figs (non-edible types), most of them are non-native and a high percentage of trees planted around the city are nitrogen-fixing, from Fabaceae. 



Probably the most common trees are Ficus microcarpa that you will often find lifted and tightly trimmed to shape. 



Roystonia regia -  Cuban royal palm is also a common species used around state buildings, parks and gardens of the downtown residencies. It is native to Mexico, parts of Central America.


 
 

Having never spent a winter away from a temperate climate, it felt a little odd walking the leafy downtown streets in mid-January. I would imagine during the high summer the trees provide essential shade but even in subtropical Egypt the winter is cool and, where the deciduous trees in a temperate climate would have lost their leaves, the subtropical evergreens create a moody shade.


Upon the layers and layers of history to wade through in Cairo, the relatively recent European colonial influence is very obvious in the architecture of Downtown Cairo including the mansions that flank the Nile. Quite a few of these buildings have been abandoned as the Egyptian elites have largely moved out of the old city into new estates guarded by tall walls and armed guards, referred to as "compounds". One such abandoned mansion in the Dokki neighborhood caught my eye. Crumbling apart, the garden plants were thriving. 


Probably one of the most impressive trees I came across in Cairo was a Banyan Tree - Ficus benghalensis. It's a famous tree in the city, known as the Cairo Tower tree, or Zamalek tree, and is more than 150 years old. What looks like the large tree in the middle of the road with a number of other large trees planted around it is, upon closer inspection,  one single tree.


Banyan trees begin life as an epiphyte (a plant that grows on another plant). Usually, the seed of an epiphyte will germinate in a crack or crevice of a host tree and when large enough will send down roots that anchor into the soil and eventually form a trunk. As the plant takes over the host with its own growth and forms a canopy the plant will send down further growth from its branches that will form new trunks. 

Cairo by night- taken from Cairo Tower looking South up the Nile

Al Azhar Park - Cairo

Al Azhar Park is a perfect way to escape the din of the city. The park is built on a 30-hectare site, surrounded by what looks like an apocalyptic-like landscape. The area used to be a dumping ground for rubble from earthquakes, wars, fires, and urban reconstruction and had reached a height of 45 meters tall. Aga Khan, a royal figure, had watched this pile of rubble grow over the decades from his palace terrace and one day in 1984 decided to clean it up and replace it with an Oasis. 

Mission accomplished!

Al-Hazar is an excellent garden that gets a lot of use from the public. It's composed of large grassed areas subdivided by low-growing hedging, intricately landscaped sections, water features, and forested areas. 

Roystonia regia -  Cuban royal palms are planted in rows alongside the central access of the garden 


The central access leads to a beautifully landscaped herb garden 


There are a number of elevated areas that provide excellent views, 4 or 5 restaurants and cafes, water features, ponds, and lots of brides and grooms posing for wedding photos. It's pretty magical at sunset.


A variety of drought-tolerant shrubs are densely planted and tightly trimmed serving as ground cover to the canopy trees.


That's all for this post, during the next post I'll be looking at horticulture along the Nile, Sugar Cane and a dive into some plants featured in Ancient Egyptian artifacts.  


Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course 


Want to learn how to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes?  Join us for our Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course from May 1st to Sep 13th, 2022. 


We're super excited about running the course and look forward to providing you with the confidence, inspiration, and opportunity to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes, gardens, and farms that produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity.

Regenerative Landscape Design Online Course

You can find out all about the course here and right now we have a 20% discount on the full enrollment fees. Just use the promo code
 RLD2022 in the section of the registration form to receive your discount. 

We are looking forward to providing you with this unique online learning experience - as far as we know, the very first of its kind. If you are thinking of reasons why you should do this course and whether this course is suitable for you, take a look here where we lay it all out. Looking forward to it!

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture, forest gardens and regenerative landscapes including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. We Deliver all over Europe from Nov - March. - Give a happy plant a happy home :)


Our Bio-Nursery - Permaculture/Polyculture/ Regenerative Landscape Plants 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Support Our Project 




If you appreciate the work we are doing you can show your support in several ways.

  • Comment, like, and share our content on social media.
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