Expert Tips on Growing Organic Vegetables In Your Apartment’s Balcony

Words of Mohammed Aldhahouri, organic farming enthusiast and founder of Local Roots UAE .

Growing your own organic vegetables is a great hobby and also a great way to ensure you always have healthy food on hand.

When you grow organic veggies, it’s a great way to reset your mind; a place where slow, steady progress is always happening, often in the form of food.

If you want to start an organic vegetable garden in the UAE, I will take you through all the important topics related to it such as the most suitable growing season, where to select a suitable spot in your yard or balcony, placing a raised bed, or setting up planting containers.

Next, choosing your soil and seeds, benefits of using mulch and keeping your plants healthy with organic pest control.

UAE’s Growing Season

Growing vegetables and fruits can be challenging in UAE as we live in the desert. The climate can be very harsh during the summer time, which makes it very difficult to grow most seasonal vegetables and fruits. However, as the weather starts getting better by October, that’s when the growing season starts. It lasts until end of April when the temperatures start to soar. We actually have one the longest seasons for growing seasonal vegetables and fruits, and we can literally grow anything during that time. Understanding the climate is very crucial when it comes to gardening, as it helps us to plan which crops we will plant during the season and throughout the whole year.

Click here to get the list of dates for planting the most common vegetables & fruits in UAE.

Choosing your Garden space

After getting familiar with the dates for planting vegetables and fruits. First, you need to start planning the layout for the garden. It is good to consider what space you will be working in and ask yourself some questions such as; Do I have enough space in my yard to designate an area for an organic garden or should I use raised beds? If living in an apartment, do you have a space to plant in pots, growing bags or raised beds? The good news is that whether you live in a villa or an apartment, everyone can start can start growing their own organic veggies right from their living space without any issues. The area of the garden is entirely dependent on what you are interested in growing. For instance, if you are keen on growing mainly herbs you will need less area than growing tomatoes or cucumbers. So, it is good to make a list of crops that you want to grow for your available space, and starts designing your garden accordingly. 

Second, observe the sunlight in your space, is the area that you are working with mostly sunny or shady? Try to make a shade sketch on paper for the shade pattern throughout the whole day. This will give you a better understanding of the sunny and shady area of the garden that you are planning to create.  As we all know, sunlight is very essential for plant growth and some plants, such as cucumbers and tomatoes, love warmth and light so can be grown completely in the sun. On the other hand, leafy greens, such as lettuce or spinach generally require a bit more shade.

Finally, think about when you are starting your garden. If you are too impatient to wait until the growing season and want to get started growing now, heat tolerant and sun loving plants such as watermelon, basil and okra will yield best results.

Right Soil Composition

The common type of soil in UAE is sand based soil, this type of soil you will find it in your yard. The sandy soil is known for good water drainage but is poor with essential nutrients that plants need to grow. It requires lots of soil amendments to fix that type of soil. The best way to tackle problem is to grow in raised beds or growing bags where you have the full control on the soil quality. In my experience, the best soil composition should consist of mixture organic compost, potting soil, peat moss, perlite and sweet sand. This soil composition will make you achieve great results in your garden.

Organic Seeds

Organic seeds are simply organically grown.  In other words, they are grown using sustainable methods from start to finish.  These seeds are Non-GMO, pesticide free, not having any chemical fertilizers, grown all on land that has been cultivated for at least 3 years using the standards established for Certified Organic farming.  Farmers grow flowers and veggies in this fashion and then let the plants “go to seed”, which produces the organic seeds that come to us in packets.

Regular (GMO) seeds are not advisable to use because they have been grown and harvested from plants that were treated with pesticides and fertilizers on land that was not necessarily cultivated in a sustainable way. Therefore, have a bad impact on the environment.

Bottom line, it is highly recommended to have organic seeds while starting your organic garden.

Using Mulch in the Garden

Mulch is any material that is spread or laid over the surface of the soil as a protective layer. Mulching is not a necessity, but because of the high temperatures in the UAE it helps tremendously when growing a garden. It also provides substantial benefits for instance; It is used to retain moisture in the soil, suppress weeds, keep the soil cooler in summer, and makes the garden bed look more attractive. Organic mulches also help improve the soil’s fertility, as they decompose.  Materials can be used as mulch: – Bark, Shredded or Chipped- Grass Clipping – Newspaper – Shredded leaves – Straw – Compost – Black plastic

Pest Control

The best way to keep pests away is to grow healthy plants and maintain a clean garden environment. Certain plants that can be grown in combination together will help to provide protection from some pests. For example; Onions and basil can repel insects and planting them close to other plants helps in protecting them from those pests. 

It would be nice if no pesticides were necessary for the garden, but sometimes problems do occur leaving us to use some organic pesticides. Left unattended, insects can ravage leaves, flowers and fruits and diseases will spread quickly. When a problem is severe enough to need control, always reach for the least toxic option first. That can be removing pests by hand or using an organic pesticide like Neem oil, Insecticidal soap and Diatomaceous earth.

Mohammed Aldhahouri of Local Roots UAE provides consultation for growing food at home. Visit to know more about the consultation services.

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Dietician Talk: Tips and Tricks for Staying Healthy this Summer in Quarantine

Words of Mae Al Gethami, Holistic Dietician, Nutritionist and Founder of The Vegan Spot Dubai

We have all collectively , jumped on the home cooking train this quarantine. From banana breads, to “Dalgona” coffee , to pancake cereal. These fun trends have managed to ease us into our rarely used kitchens and changes in lifestyle. Well, now that we’re all well settled into in the current situation.It’s time to make some healthy shifts this summer.

Plan your meals

No you don’t have to jump on the meal prep train. To avoid getting lazy and going for some precooked boxed meals. Try planning some meal ideas for the week, and having all your ingredients ready. Whether it be a new fun recipe, assembling a colorful budda bowl , joining a live cooking class, or calling mom for her recipe of your favorite comfort food like chaal dawal. Regardless, Aim to eat as fresh and in season as possible. Focus on incorporating diversity of locally grown vegetable like carrots , zucchini , tomatoes , maybe some okra to name a few and adding in lots of whole grains & legumes like quinoa, brown rice, and lentils. That way your blood sugar stays stable and you’re less likely to snack later in the day.

Snack Smart and in Season

Dubai’s heat is settling in. While it is temping to reach for that fifth cookie. Try subbing your usual mid day sweet treat, for an option that gives you a hydration element. You’ll find that you’ll feel more satiated after and less likely to have more sugar cravings. Aim for cooling foods like sliced cucumbers and hummus, and lots of summer fruits like papayas , cantaloupe , peaches, and watermelon. Fun fact , Watermelon contains an amino acid called glutamine which aids in muscle repair making it a great post home workout snack.

Schedule your movement

Being indoors has obviously lowered our activity levels. Daily movement isn’t just for physical fitness, it has been linked to better digestion and improved mental health. Try to workout at the same time everyday. That way you’re more likely to form a habit and stick to your routine. Any form of movement works and thanks to the internet there isn’t a shortage of workouts to try. Switch it up between low intensity and higher intensity training. For some motivation try a live class or commit to some zoom sessions with your favorite studios.

Lights out before 10

Most of us are probably getting more screen time than usual now, from working on your laptop, to passing time on the phone, to maybe some TV before bed. It’s a no brainer that excess radiation can negatively impact our health being link to cancer and heart disease. But those blue lights emitting from our screens can also wreck our sleep cycles , making us stay up way too late, and impacting quality of sleep. So make sure, you cut off screen time at least 2 hours before bed. Aim to get to bed no later than 11 pm as our hormones happen to also work on a clock. If your job requires late night screen times , try investing in some blue light blockers to minimize those bad side effects.

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