With the weather finally taking a turn for the better, many UAE residents are scrubbing the dust off their balcony floors and garden chairs. Another hobby that’s seeing an increasingly fruitful uptake, particularly by people living in villas, is the growing of organic fruits and vegetables. Thanks to the internet and local experts, it’s now easier than ever to grow things yourself.
A cursory Facebook search for the term Dubai gardening reveals groups with members totally nearly 10,000. These groups, home to a passionate hive of plant fans, are also lively with pictures and videos of members showing off their fresh produce, the result of a few months’ care.
When Irish-Pakistani expat Saniya Chughtai and her husband were looking for a home after arriving in Dubai in 2017, a good garden was top priority. “Once the high garden beds were made we started planting all sorts of vegetables and fruits,” she says. “It was a first for me and I experimented with everything. It was important to keep the garden free of pesticides and create a layout such that we could still enjoy a free open space.”
Chughtai, Founder and CEO of The Wadi Tribe, which focuses on creating content for children’s well-being a mental health through edutainment, now grows up to 40 varieties of fruit and vegetables in the garden. She loves the process. “It is such a great joy to spend time in the garden, especially in the morning when it is full of birds and butterflies. During the tomato season we get blue hummingbirds. We grow all kinds of gourds, herbs and fruits. Every year we try new seeds. Last year we tried kale and this year brussels sprouts.
“It is pure joy to eat fresh vegetables and fruits from one’s garden. Our breakfast omelette has fresh ingredients from the garden, chillies, chive, tomatoes, coriander, spring onions and bell peppers.”
Meanwhile, some residents are turning the UAE’s budding love for growing organic food into a healthy business. “People are realising the importance of eating fresh healthy organic produce – I try my best to educate people through social media by spreading my organic gardening knowledge,” says Mohammed Al Dhahouri, Founder and Owner of Local Roots UAE, which offers consultation and assistance to people interested in growing their own produce while also hosting organic gardening workshops for children. “Here, we teach them the basics of sustainable organic gardening and its importance to our health and the environment.”
He is keen to correct a common misconception about growing food in the UAE – yes, you can grow even in a hot desert climate. “We actually have one of the longest growing seasons here in the UAE, from October until late April,” says the Emirati, who adds that it’s even economically feasible to grow your own organic staple fruits such as tomatoes, after an initial set-up investment. “One of the things that I do with my family is to make organic ketchup from the excess tomatoes that we harvest from the garden and my kids enjoy the whole process.”
At Chughtai’s Al Waha Community villa in Dubailand, the crucial groundwork for today’s thriving garden was a good soil foundation. After that, it’s a matter of dealing with pests and grouping the right plants together. “As our garden is organic, we have learned which plants to plant together so they benefit each other and can fight any pests or potential plant disease.”
Like Al Dhahouri, Chughtai sees gardening as an excellent medium through which to teach children about the abundance of nature. In fact, she has divided her garden into various zones, her favourite of which is the storytelling area by her Italian olive tree. “On a cold winter’s night, the fire pit is lit with homegrown corn slowly roasting in it and friends and family gather around to hear and share stories.”