Grow your own vegetables in Dubai

Inspired by Dubai’s organic veg suppliers, we learn how it's done


In Dubai, the call for organic and locally sourced produce has been gaining ground, and the providence of fruit and vegetables is now a key concern for discerning food lovers. Demand from consumers has sparked the launch of farmers’ markets and gourmet grocers – such as Blue Planet Green People and Ripe – that specialise in selling locally grown vegetables.

It has even led to the launch of companies such as Greenheart Organic, which cuts out the middleman by not only selling, but also growing its own local and organic veg. Like Ripe before it, the success of Greenheart Organic’s veg-box service has led to the brand opening its first grocery store, set to launch this month in Barsha 3.

‘With a little effort, anyone can grow some great-tasting, nutritious vegetables at home right here in the desert,’ says Greenheart Organic founder and director Elena Kinane. ‘It’s a therapeutic experience and
can be very satisfying when you get good results.’

View Foods you can grow at home in Dubai

Inspired by her green-fingered enthusiasm? Growing your own – even with only balcony space available – could kick-start a few new year’s resolutions: eating more ethically, healthily and saving money. We’ve rounded up key tips from Elena and organic gardening enthusiast Cursty Mitchell, with a guide to growing your own vegetable patch, regardless of the space you have to play with.

Setting up

First of all, think about how you can use your space and where the sun falls across the area. Try to put larger plants at the back, climbers up (or down) the walls and smaller plants that need more tending – such as rocket and herbs – at the front. Most plants need partial sun, but some, like basil, just can’t get enough of sunlight, so it’s important to monitor your plants and see how they flourish.

The great thing about containers, as opposed to planting straight into the ground, is that if they’re not right you can just move them to another spot.

Once you have a plan, you’ll need some pots and containers. These are extremely affordable and available in a variety of shapes and sizes. Most plants will require pots that are at least 12cm deep and 12cm wide. Also look for darker, glazed pots, which will reduce water evaporation.

One thing to remember with containers is they dry out quickly and the roots get hotter than they would in the ground, so remember to water a minimum of once a day. To reduce water consumption and give your plants a boost, try a practice called ‘mulching’. This involves covering the soil around the plant’s base with a permeable, but protective, layer. The idea is that water can seep through to the roots but not evaporate, thus saving water, plus the material should slowly disintegrate, releasing nutrients into the soil to feed the plant as it grows. Newspaper and wood chips are ideal for this, but you can also use gravel too. Just place on the soil surface and water as normal.

Buying seeds and plants

Often it’s better to buy from small local garden centres because they stock the local heat-resistant desert varieties. Try to choose the healthiest-looking plants, with richly coloured leaves. Also try pulling the pot away from the root base. If the roots are heavy and tangled, the plant will take longer to adjust to life in a new container.

Seeds can be collected from many supermarket vegetables. The best are local (because they’re adapted for the heat) and organic (no genetic modifications, pesticides and so on). Cucumbers, tomatoes, pumpkins
and melons all grow really well from seeds collected this way. Whether you buy seedlings and plants from a garden centre or grow your own from collected seeds, it’s really not that tricky.

Local restaurants that grow their own

Jebel Ali Golf Resort
The hotel boasts a fairly large bio garden, growing organic veg and herbs. It’s managed by the hotel’s chefs, who use the organic produce in the resort’s restaurants, as well as recycling biodegradable kitchen waste by using it as compost in the garden. The bio garden is open to the public.
Jebel Ali (04 814 5555).

Nais Italian Kitchen
While this independently run northern Italian eatery doesn’t have its own restaurant garden, we have it on good authority that the basil used to make the signature home-made pesto comes straight from the owner’s garden at home.
HDS Tower, Cluster F, JLT (04 452 9991).

Nobu’s garden is a multifunctional space. Guests can dine outside in the serene, landscaped area, and the garden is also used to grow fresh herbs and vegetables, allowing the restaurant to offer Japanese veg and other specialities while they’re in season.
Atlantis The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 426 2626).

Radisson Blu Media City
The hotel manages its own rooftop kitchen garden, growing a selection of vegetables and herbs including aubergines, green peppers, tomatoes, okra and coriander. While the quantity grown isn’t enough to supply
all of the hotel’s restaurants, the kitchen at Chef’s House regularly uses this home-grown produce on the menu.
Dubai Media City (04 366 9111).

Green tips

Greenheart Organic founder and MD Elena Kinane shares tips for starting your own kitchen garden.

1 Set up ‘For balconies and gardens alike, it’s best to grow plants in pots due to the salinity of the sand. Rocket, mint, basil and radishes can be grown in 9cm-deep trays without holes. Vine fruit such as tomatoes, cucumbers and capsicums need a container of at least 23cm depth and 20cm in diameter.’

2 Soil ‘Mix your own soil as follows: one third red sand, one third compost and one third peat moss or coco peat. If you can’t get compost, use treated manure instead. But don’t ever use fresh manure.’

3 Crops ‘If you’re just starting out, good first-time projects include growing your own herbs, leaves, lettuces, red radishes and tomatoes. Lettuces are fairly expensive and rarely fresh in the supermarket. Tomatoes from supermarkets are never ripened on the vine and hence lack flavour and nutrients, so it’s really worth trying to grow your own.’

4 Eco tip ‘To save water, use only half the necessary quantity first thing in the morning and again in the afternoon at about 4pm. You can save up to 20 percent by doing two rounds, so it’s well worth the extra effort.’ (056 640 7060).

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