Dubai-resident Jamie Carroll embarked on a rather unusual adventure when his daughter Amirah was just a year-and-a-half old. He noticed his toddler’s love for cherry tomatoes, and wanted to teach her to grow her food. “I remember gardening as a child and wanted Amirah to experience her own vegetable garden. My mother grew flowers and tomatoes in her glasshouse and my father had a vegetable plot at the side of the house. I wanted Amirah to have those kinds of memories too, so I made sure she was involved from the very beginning,” says Jamie.
The Carroll’s rented villa in Arabian Ranches 2 has a lovely garden with lots of light. “I chose the sunniest part of the garden for our vegetable plot, which happened to be an unused space at the side of the house covered in decorative gravel,” he says.
Getting the garden started was a family effort, but Amirah was roped in early to help and clear the space. “We started small, just a single in-ground vegetable bed. That year we grew over 40kg of tomatoes alone! Each year we have added more growing space, currently we have four large in-ground beds. This year we are also using grow bags, as we want to show people that a meaningful amount of food can be grown in small spaces and containers. Container gardening also allows people like ourselves who are renting, to move and bring their garden with them. Our favourite food to grow is still tomatoes, this year we have about 12 different types of tomato; red, yellow and orange cherry tomatoes, as well as paste, slicing and beefsteak varieties. We love making chutney and sauces from our harvests," says Jamie.
Gardening beneficial for kids
Amirah, who is now four and half, loves working and playing in the vegetable patch. “I actively try to include her in everything. Kids gardening is incredibly beneficial. It helps develop fine and gross motor skills, a sense of ownership and responsibility. Kids also learn about nutrition, science and nature and hopefully develop a respect and understanding for the natural world around us,” says Jamie.
Despite her age, Amirah is able to confidently sow seeds and help care for the plants as they grow. She is in charge of harvesting the produce. “I’m delighted to say she takes full advantage of her position as head gardener and some things like strawberries and peas rarely make it into the house!! She understands composting, and how we use compost to feed the soil.”
Amirah’s favourite dinner is pasta with homemade pesto, so she takes an extra interest to grow lots of basil. Other fruits and vegetables that grows in her garden, includes figs, eggplant, zucchini, pumpkins, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, beans, peas, melons, watermelon, carrots, beetroot, turnip, radish, Swiss chard, cabbage, kale, onions and many other herbs and veggies.”
No chemical fertilisers
Jamie believes healthy soil means healthy plants. “We also garden organically, which means we use no chemical fertilisers or pesticides. Instead we rely on homemade compost, and natural fertilisers such as manure and liquid seaweed. We actively encourage wildlife to visit our garden, which means pests are rarely a problem. There is a pair of white cheek bulbuls living nearby which bring their fledglings to our garden. This year they have raised three chicks in our garden. Amirah named them the Mcfluff family! On the rare occasions that we do have a pest problem, we generally apply neem oil which is completely organic and does not harm the beneficial insects, such as bees, ladybirds and praying mantis,” he explains.
Hundreds of people have approached the Carrolls for help over the past few years. “I love showing people what can be achieved, even in the harsh desert climate we live in. It really does give me hope for the future that so many people are trying to grow their own. Food security has always been taken for granted, but events in 2020 such as the ongoing pandemic have really shaken that belief. There are so many benefits to having a garden; not only fresh and healthy food, but it is good exercise, gets you outdoors into the sun and air, and can really have a calming effect on the mind. Our garden was essential for easing the stress and anxiety during the Covid-19 lockdown," he says.
"It gives me a wonderful sense of achievement when I look at how we have transformed this wasted patch of garden into such a productive and healthy family space, and encourage everyone to try growing their own and teaching kids the basics of it as well.”