Hanging garden: Inserts with net pots

DUBAI: Who said you need a large space for a garden? Or for that matter ground with fertile soil? Thanks to a new green brigade in Dubai, you can now grow a full-fledged garden – and organic at that – without ground or soil. All you need is a wall or pillar in your home, however crammed.

Vertical farming, as the new concept is called, is being introduced to Dubai homes by organic proponents Blue Planet Green People and Hybrid Vertifarms, a subsidiary of biodegradable major New Green World, which provides the technical initiation.

On November 10, some 75 residents gathered at the Cluster X park in Jumeirah Lake Towers for a free lowdown on what vertical gardens are all about. “We call ourselves Uber Green, a group of like-minded people who want to go green and organic,” said Renu Ojha, General Manager of Blue Planet Green People.

According to Ojha, many people who live in apartments lose out on the joy of gardening because of space constraints. There are also concerns about the use of soil, fertilisers and pesticides, besides water consumption. But with vertical gardens, all such concerns are eliminated.

As Sriram Ramaswamy, Director, Hybrid Vertifarms, explained: “At Hybrid Vertifarms, we use a technology called aeroponics which essentially is the process of growing plants in an air or mist environment without the use of soil.” He said plants are suspended in a closed or semi-closed environment by spraying their dangling roots and lower stem with a bio-nutrient solution. Typically, a nutrient tank is set up at the base of a wall or pillar with LED lights on top. The pillar is provided with small inserts from where the plants can be grown.

The inserts come in three configurations depending on the plant to be grown. The green configuration is used for growing herbs like parsley, thyme, basil and oregano; the red for strawberry, capsicum and lettuce; and the blue for tomatoes, eggplants, cucumber, etc.

“You can grow anything you like on these living walls,” said Ramaswamy. “The technique is ecologically safe, preserves water and energy and ensures higher yields with a 30-50 per cent faster growth rate.”

In another improvisation called aqua-aeroponics, a fish tank is used at the base which creates a complete sustainable eco-system, he added.

Ojha said the cost of installing a typical kitchen rack with six to eight inserts is Dh800, with an additional Dh40 for a container of nutrients. One container of nutrients is sufficient for one season of herbs and three harvests of tomatoes.

While aeroponics has been around on a commercial scale for a while, this is believed to be the first time it is coming into UAE homes, said Ojha. “We dream of transforming homes in Jumeirah Lake Towers where the project has been introduced. We are also in talks with authorities to develop a community farm where individual residents from the area grow vegetables and fruits. This concept is popular in the west and we want to introduce it here.”

But given the country’s landscape, Uber Green sees a huge potential for vertical farming.

“Lack of fertile land, rising fuel prices and imports of food are factors that go against traditional forms of cultivation here. That’s why we want to popularise vertical farms,” said Ramaswamy.