My first WWOOFing task at the Cape Trib Exotic Fruit Farm has been dressing the mangosteen. Mangosteen are considered the queen of tropical fruit, with a hard purple-brown skin and flesh that looks like garlic cloves and tastes like heaven. As they have proven to do particularly well in this orchard, less satisfactory types of trees (and there are over 150 different species of tropical fruit grown here) are gradually being replaced by baby mangosteens which can take 12 to 20 years to start producing fruit.
Mangosteen in need of a makeoverMy first evening here, before I had even seen the orchard, Alison and I watched the movie, The Devil Wears Prada, which is why I came to interpret my orchard job in fashion terms. Dressing the mangosteen involves firstly (while the rain is pelting down) cutting up a roll of weed gunnel which is a black cloth with a surprisingly nice drape into sections with an x sliced in middle of each one.
Then when it stops raining, you find a baby mangosteen all overwhelmed with weeds and first kick back the weeds to see that there is a nice circle of bare earth around the little tree, thanks to the work of the last WWOOFer. If any naughty weeds have started to infiltrate the clear circle, you squat down and hack at the roots with a pick axe, avoiding any of the many rocks studding the ground. Then take a double handful of chicken-shit pellets (not as disgusting as that sounds though they smell of ammonia) and sprinkle those around the base of the tree.
Mangosteen half-dressed in gunnel-burquaThen take the square of weed gunnel and gently slide it over the mangosteen so that the tree emerges through the x-hole in the middle. Pulling each little branch through is like dressing a baby, but a baby with eight or ten arms, perhaps the baby Hindu goddess Vishnu. After I started reading Geraldine Brooks' Nine Parts of Desire about women in the Islamic world this black cloth started reminding me of a burqua.
Eventually, the gunnel gets pegged down at each corner and then you look around for some mown grass clippings to pile on top of it as mulch. Then you set up a wire frame around the mangosteen and finally drape a netting over the frame like a ballgown over a hooped petticoat and clip it on with staples. Finally you stand up straight, stretch and look up at the looming peak of Mt Sorrow and see whether it is shrouded with cloud or (rarely) clear.
Mangosteen fully dressed and awaiting only a layer of mulch to finish it off