Oct 1st: last Day on the Farm and Home

One of the many beautiful birds on the farm

October 1st Saudi Arabia and Home

Dear Everyone,

More adventure filled days.  We began at 6:00 with coffee and Mamoul, delicious date filled pastries that one can get at the supermarket in a variety of fillings- pistachios, apricot- but are mostly date filled.  They have their own heading on the supermarket aisle. From this plebeian beginning followed even more plebian pastimes of digging beds and planting seeds in the early and dusty heat. We are working to get the whole lower area cleared and planted.  This activity involves digging out lots of crab grass that thrives here where many things fail. When crab grass is not involved, digging is swift because of the sandy soil. Cleaning each shovelful of grass makes for tedious going.

bermuda grass and puncture vine seedlings


The Prince showed up in good form and of course entertained us while giving the new garden manager, Paul, an introduction to the workings of the farm, especially regarding the personnel. He manages to be to the point, yet depersonalizes and regularizes the extremely sensitive.  He has great capacity to bring calm and normality. A Prince in more than name. He also repeated he would like to make this a commercial enterprise and does not want to spend a lot of money on it.

The upper garden under the palms

A trunk full of veggies: destination- Prince's kitchen.

100 beds to dig and replant

digging compost and organic fertilzer into each bed- all 100 of them.

We napped during the middle of the day.  One cannot help it.  As soon as one sits or lies down, the eye lids close. That is it. Usually when I sleep in the middle of the day I am annihilated for the rest of the day. Here, sleep is invigorating. Waking up knowing the hours of sun are more limited than before one napped is invigorating in itself.

The glorious hoopoe

Seeds for the farm: fennel, coriander, cress, fenugreek, arugula, nigella


At 4:00 a driver came to pick us up to go to the Agricultural show in Riyadh.  I was elegantly attired in my abaya of course.  At the door a pipsqueak security person who said- no women allowed met us.  EVERYONE was staring as if a freak had walked in, which I was.  We demanded to speak to the manager as the Prince had told us to go to the show office and ask this question. The pipsqueak who stopped us then referred us to another pipsqueak in a different color shirt, and we asked to speak to someone in CHARGE.  Paul, the calm garden manager, and former policeman used his very assertive policeman’s tone of voice and the pipsqueak materialized a large reasonable Saudi who affirmed that women were not allowed- and could only come on the first day of the show. At that moment, the Prince’s assistant came and said that when the Prince came they wouldn’t dare tell him anything.  I looked forward to trailing in the prince’s wake past all the pipsqueaks and to sweep into the show with my abaya flowing elegantly around me…………  It alas was only a daydream as they next piece of info was that the prince was already in the show and I, sorry, was to go home.  With all eyes staring, I was escorted to the car by my husband and driven home where I am typing this email in proper isolation.  A driver will pick me up later and take me to the restaurant for dinner with everyone.  I am sorry to have everyone tremble at the benign setting of an agricultural show.  The slight was made up for at the restaurant where the appetizers were so profuse they covered the entire table, followed by entrees that covered the entire table.  I had a lovely non-alcoholic beer.


At home, the 5 wild dog puppies were waiting but scurried away.  I didn’t dare follow them too far for fear of running into their 5 huge family members that ran at Ben the other morning.  Caveman-like he picked up a pipe and roared at them.  They fled.  The puppies have evidently just left the den and unfortunately den #2 is the back of the greenhouses.  We have to endure the sound of the puppies wailing for the parents and their cute faces as they run away when surprised by us.  I would love to rescue them but…………………………………….


puppy update:  they are evidently getting used to being away from den #1 and are hanging out behind the greenhouses during the day.  About 5:00pm they come out and fight in the alyssum in front of the greenhouses waiting for the parentals to show up.  They move to outside the Prince’s tent where the boldest brown ones bark at us and the white ones cower against the walls. They must only be 9 weeks old. We hate to just leave them and not even feed them. Their cuteness is torture.

Seed pod of Calotropis procera, in the milkweed family


Friday the 22nd, our Sunday

We have a day off today, but have no wheels.  I passed out at 7:30 last night.  This place takes it out of you.  Ben sleeps for 2 hours at lunchtime and still goes to bed early. The van is still in the shop and the truck hardly runs.  Between no wheels, the voracious mosquitoes keeping us indoors after dark- we need fresh air.  It doesn’t help that at the Diriyah ruins surrounding the farm the workers- can one call them that when they don’t work- spend a lot of time staring at us working in the garden. We are like a local scandalous TV soap opera on the hoof

Ben at work

Ben's stone circles in the middle of the quarry garden.

Detail of the stone circle.

Ben's dome for shade made of reedbar and an old tree trunk. Shade plants will be planted on it.

We went for a VERY nice walk down the wadi Hanifah this morning amidst the extreme xeric landscaping of limestone slabs, rock edged paths and thorn covered acacias, plus a fair amount of native vegetation that came up with the spring rains.  It is far greener this year than last even and it is beginning to look like a place of nature. The planted vitex, acacias, atriplex and pennisetums have grown tremendously. There are lots of birds twittering around- bulbuls and the mynahs, plus some green parakeets. Some of the acacias have nests in them. Stone circular seating areas with pits for fires interspersed with the landscape are about 5 minutes walk apart. The landscape goes for miles, yet it is mostly deserted except by the workers during the week who litter it with abandon.


We are going on a desert walk this afternoon with the expat community.  There should be about 150 of us.  Expat encompasses not just western, but Asian, Middle Eastern, and a few Africans- all with interesting stories about life and work shared amongst the ever-present dust and rocks as if it were a vast living room outfitted with over-stuffed couches and lounge chairs- under a burning sky.

A desert walk with the expat community.


Best regards and love from us,

Kate and Ben


October 1, 2011

Dear Everyone,

Ben is feeding the last of our cheese to a cute stray cat outside our door. They frequent the mosque across the road.  Surprisingly few come over here. We are just heading out for my last morning of work here.  Tomorrow we go to Al Khaledia farm with Paul. The irrigation drip tape we ordered a week ago still hasn’t come.


Weeds are coming up faster than the plantings.  Some seeds in the beds in the lower area I just seeded are already up, or so I thought, until i looked more closely. I couldn’t understand why one bed of alyssum was up and another one wasn’t, and how I had over-seeded to such an extent. Looking closer I saw that what I had presumed were alyssum seedlings were in fact puncture weed- thousands and thousands of them, and repeated in many beds across the garden.  They germinate almost immediately and grow amazingly quickly.  Such is life here.


A number of the beds have holes in them all over the size of a large earthworm, except we have seen no earthworms in the lower garden and there are no castings.  Paul brought a large larvae for us to see that they find every time they dig.  It is almost 2-inches long and has fiercesome jaws that snap ferociously at a finger or whatever comes close to it- truly a sentient being. I suspect it is the larvae of a large darkling beetle that we see ponderously striding exactly like one of the enormous beasts that the storm troopers ride on in Star Wars. The larvae is  a favorite food of the hoopoe bird and one often sees them wringilng in their long beaks which must be specially designed for the purpose of fishing them out of the soil.

darkling beetle larvae that munches drip tape at night, and is the favorite food of the hoopoe bird.

The holes it makes in the soil when it emerges at night

The glorious hoopoe


Ben finished a new gathering circle in the lower garden.  From above it looks powerful and it brings the area together- changing it from a place of monotonous straight lines to a place of interest where energy is felt. Nearly all the beds are planted, Many are now weeded.  When all are growing it should look like a paradise- hopefully.  On Saturday Ben is going to begin renovation of the middle garden area, ripping out all the flood irrigated beds and the irrigation canal which is infested with crab grass- dreadful. He is going to put in a new wide path, plus another bisecting the very long beds there-  to open up access.

Detail of the stone circle.


Yesterday we went to Al Khaledia farm. This was our third visit there, but the first time we were there in summer when the leaves were on deciduous plants like the grapes.  Of course most of the landscape is evergreen like date palms, citrus, eucalyptus,  ficus, and bougainvillea, not to mention the carefully trimmed hedges of atriplex.  Trees are planted on the roadways for shade, the only place we have seen this done, plus there are windbreaks throughout the farm- all giving it a sense of place and a place of shelter from the burning sun.  It is also a place of intense activity with deer and wild game reserves, sheep, quail, greenhouses, composting, and palms underplanted with citrus of every variety and figs, plus compost and a large area where produce is grown fro the palace. Not to mention the fabulous Arabian horses and the wildflower meadow. The places shines with care and health.  Our question for our visit was: was, what are they growing and how do they achieve plant health organically? The most fun and impressive area was a couple of the greenhouses in the palace veggie area- that we had seen in February. One contained an eggplant forest and the other a bean forest.  The same plants we had seen in Feb, were now up to the ceiling of the greenhouse- and large, thicker and full of dangling, exotic purple fruit.

The Arab Breeders Cup horse show at Al Khaledia Farm


The question is, how are they there so tall, and at the farm in Diriyah, so pathetic along with everything else.  Nothing is growing well in the greenhouses- the plants look appalling- I think due to a lack of soil fertility and organic matter- a problem throughout the farm from the workers concrete-like belief in compost and fertilizer being bad.  It appears the fellows skimped on them against instruction,  and the plants are correspondingly showing the lack thereof.  The cucumbers are weak and wilted, the seedling tomatoes don’t grow.  Even in the outdoor gardens, a lot of the greens are small and spindly and the flavor sharp compared to the lush specimens at Al Khaledia.  When we were at the farm in Diriyah to shepherd, or should I say police the farm fertility last fall through March,  we saw a realization of vegetable paradise.


It will be up to Paul.

My last photo on the farm was of our favorite hoopoe bird that presented itself in perfect profile for a photo.


Ben is at the farm until the 10th and has building and renovation projects ahead of him.


Now waiting at the airport for my flight and the terminal filling up.  I looked for a raisin pastry at the Riyadh airport at the 3 coffee places that constitute the retail establishments.  Alas, the only thing that was at all possibly edible were wrinkled zattar and cheese croissants- deflated like popped ballons, obviously old.  The building is evidently modeled on the Mesquita mosque at Cordoba, Spain with large columns supporting the elegant palm frond- like roof.  It is spacious and airy and could be elegant except the whole place is filthy.  It looks as if it is never vacuumed and moped.  It seems odd as Riyadh is generally free of litter and has regular workers picking up trash.  However, the women’s bathroom did have toilet paper, though the only women’s bathroom for the whole airport has only 1 western style and 1 squat toilet.


In the plane, as the flight neared its completion, the restrooms were taken up for long periods by ladies changing from severe black abayas and scarves to modest, western style outfits and colorful, patterned scarves.

A wild bee nest

Butterfly on marjoram


Now I am in Heathrow in the new terminal 5 waiting at my gate 65, after a needed beer at Starbucks and a purchase of 2 Mars bars and 3 Cadbury milk chocolate candy bars.


Now home in our comfortable house with the doggies and lots of cool fog.

Our house, October 2011






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