Did you know you can grow your own food here?

Get in the garden with our guide to growing your own fruits and veggies

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From polished apples flown in from the US to oranges from Spain, our food racks up a lot of airmiles before it reaches our plate – and it’s not always something we think that deeply about while doing the weekly shop.

But take a look at your garden – or balcony, as the case may be – and you might be surprised at what you can grow in your own backyard, and the benefits it can bring.

Green cities

“Almost ten to 15 percent of the food grown worldwide is produced in an urban environment,” says Jean-Charles Hameau, founder of mygreenchapter.com, a green online gardening store that’s trying to bring the urban gardening revolution to the UAE.

“Urban gardening is definitely growing here,” he continues. “It’s much more beneficial to the environment; you’re growing into what we call ‘slow food’. When you grow locally, you have a hugely reduced carbon footprint and you don’t need so much energy to get the food to your plate.”

With other added benefits including knowing what is – and isn’t – in your food, like pesticides, Jean-Charles says it’s also crucial to get the kids involved for a sustainable future.

“We’ve detached ourselves from nature,” he reflects. “Children need to know where their food is coming from and why they should stop wasting the food they have. It’s a
way to get them away from the electronics and teach responsibility.”

Garden variety

So, what can you grow?

“Just about anything,” Jean-Charles laughs. “Eight months of the year, we’re blessed with a good climate and there’s a vast array of fruits and vegetables we can grow. You can start the process from October – there’s a few cooler nights and that’s good for the plants.”

From peppers to aubergines and cucumbers, there are lots of options for budding gardeners, with the most low maintenance options being tomatoes and varieties of salad.

“Those are the easiest things to start with,” Jean-Charles advises. “They don’t need so
much attention.”

With many of us living in high-rises, access to a garden is not always possible, but your balcony or a sunny window are still good places to start.

“In an apartment, it’s best to try your hand at growing herbs,” Jean-Charles says. “They smell great, but they also repel insects and flies. Basil, coriander and mint are all good options.”

But if the seeds don’t sprout, Jean-Charles advises gardeners not to lose heart too early: “It’s about trial and error,” he comments. “Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t – but that’s nature, and that’s why it’s so fantastic.”

Get sowing

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Prepare and plan: “October is the time to start preparing your soil,” says Jean-Charles. “You need to mix a little perlite with potting soil and sand. In October it’s still a little hot to plant the seeds, but you can make a programme with what you’d like to plant.”

Get germinating: “Usually seeds do best when they’re germinated in a small greenhouse, rather than being planted directly into the soil,” notes Jean-Charles. “You can buy small trays with a lid for this purpose. You want the seeds to be stronger before planting.”

Happy potter: Don’t get too adventurous with large pots just yet: “You need a pot that fits the scale of the plant – don’t buy a huge one,” Jean-Charles says. “When they grow, you can increase the size little by little. For herbs, a 20cm diameter pot will do.”

Pest control: To keep those pesky bugs away, try a natural alternative to chemicals, says Jean-Charles: “You can get a really spicy chilli and make that into a paste with water and soap. Coat the plant leaves with it and it will keep them away.”

Create compost: “A lot of people think plants just need water and that’s it,” laughs Jean-Charles. “They need food too – that’s why home composting is crucial. Put food scraps in a compost bin and spread over your garden to fertilise it.”

WORDS Camille Hogg
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