Abu Dhabi: Having a kitchen garden need not be a distant dream for those living in an apartment. As some UAE-based women show, all it takes is a green thumb and some innovative thinking.
“Having your own garden on a balcony is not difficult. Almost any vegetable plant that grows in the backyard does well on a balcony if you can manage the right soil conditions,” says Abu Dhabi’s Shaikha Mohammad Al Muheiri. A resident of Al Buteen, she grows everything from tomatoes, radish, cucumber and pumpkin to beans, carrot and chillies on her 160 square foot balcony.
“With sufficient sunlight, a balcony can yield a number of vegetables. The best way to grow plants here is in clay pots or plastic containers. Make sure they have good drainage on the sides.” For Muheiri, growing her own garden is a way of connecting with her roots. “My grandparents used to have a farm near Abu Dhabi. I have always wanted to have my own nursery,” she says, adding that her potted veggie patches fit the bill just fine.
Angela Rodrigues, living in a three-bedroom apartment in New Bridge Hill, Dubai Motor City, says her family has been enjoying home-grown vegetables for years. “I am sceptical about buying non-organic produce from the market as they are grown using pesticides. Organic veggies on the other hand are over-priced. So I try to grow as many vegetables as I can. At any given time, I have 15 types of vegetables. This summer alone, my garden yielded 25kg of vegetables.”
Rodrigues says she has just harvested bottle gourd, ash gourd, asparagus bean, okra, Malabar spinach, tomatoes, chillies and eggplants. “I am ready with my winter produce of beetroot, cauliflower, spinach, carrot, cucumber, bush beans, yellow cucumber and herbs. Be sure to harvest your vegetables when they are ripe.”
There are many others who are equally adept at growing their own kitchen gardens. Take Vidya Janardanan, an Oud Metha area resident whose balcony spans 40 square feet. “I have harvested a large quantity of basil and I made some walnut pesto with it. I am currently growing cherry tomatoes, Mexican mint and spring onions. I had two harvests of spring onions and they were a big hit at home,” she says.
According to Greens resident Menaka Arun, “Plants should be watered just once a day. I grow beans, bitter gourd, lablab, potato, colocasia, okra, brinjal and curry leaves. I also have a lotus plant that’s flowered. When I thought of starting a garden on my balcony, I never thought it would do so well. I am now researching on what rare plants I can grow.”
Debbie Stewart of New Dubai, brings back seeds from the UK every time she visits. “Whenever I go home to the UK, I pick a variety of seeds. Currently, I have aubergines, courgettes, rosemary, parsley, hollyhocks, fennel and peppers. I am also a regular at the organic farmers’ market where I buy plants.”
Some women even make their own compost. Rodrigues uses peat moss, sawdust, vermiculite, perlite, vegetable peels and egg shells. She first fills the bottom of the pot with coarse gravel before adding the compost mixture.
The gravel improves drainage for the plants. “Food waste and vegetable peels are always re-cycled in my house to make compost. I am passionate about gardening and I am happy I am able to do it in my small balcony space,” she adds.