It’s been a relaxing weekend…you’ve spent it binge watching cooking shows on TV. You know, the ones where chefs nip out to their gardens to pick some rosemary to add to their leg of lamb, or mint to crisp up homemade lemonade. Wouldn’t that be nice?
But alas, you think. Alas. You live in an apartment in Dubai…and isn’t it too hot to grow anything other than cacti here?
With temperatures already cooling down (and the festive entertainment season around the corner!), there’s never been a better time to flex your green thumbs and grow your own veg and herb garden…right on your balcony!
But first…what can you grow!?
Several fragrant herbs thrive on Dubai’s balconies, like basil, mint, dill, coriander, chives, marjoram not to mention, (for fans of Simon & Garfunkel) parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. You can buy them from any plant nursery in Dubai.
It’s not just Instagram-worthy leafy herbs that grow here though. Tomatoes, okra, aubergines, peppers, cucumbers and chilis are also found in balcony gardens across the city.
Sachets of seeds can be found in several supermarkets, garden centres, farmer’s markets and more. If you’re tempted to buy some already grown herbs from a supermarket to replant, we’d advise against it. These plants are usually meant for immediate consumption and don’t really last too long if you re-pot them.
For vegetables, if you fancy using what you already have, all you need to do is carefully remove the seeds from the fresh vegetable, rinse lightly, leave them to dry on a paper towel (but not dry out) then use them as you would regular seeds. For tomatoes, it’s best to keep the plant indoors until it’s grown a couple of inches, before moving it outside.
ok, but do you need a huge terracoTta pot?
No, you don’t. Unless you want one, of course. You can plant your seeds in anything from a bucket to traditional plant pot, from a cardboard box to an empty yoghurt tub. The one thing you need to make sure of, however, is drainage.
This means that whatever you choose needs to have holes poked or drilled in underneath, allowing excess water to flow away. Why is this so important? After all, isn’t water good for plants? Well, yes…but excess water means that the roots don’t get enough oxygen, leading them to rot, eventually die, and leave a horrible smell on your balcony.
If you choose a smaller container, remember that you’ll need to keep checking to see if the soil (we talk about that next) has dried out; while larger containers usually hold moisture for a bit longer. If you’re digging your heels in because you still don’t think you have space, buy a hanging balcony pot. Relatively inexpensive, they can hang from a hook on the ceiling or clip onto your balcony railing. Or buy fabric pouches and hang them on the wall or against vertically stacked plant pots. Unless you live in a cupboard under the stairs, a la Harry Potter, you should have space.
time for soil
We may live in the desert, but what you need is loamy potting soil (i.e., soil that is in equal parts sand, silt and clay and meant for potting, not for being in a garden). Before you start trawling the city with a shovel, several nurseries and larger stores like Ace and Dubai Garden Centre sell potting soil (just remember to lay down some newspaper in your car before you load it in!)
and now…we plant
If the dangers of excess water have got you rattled, line the bottom of your container with broken bits of terracotta, ceramic or shredded paper – this will help water drain a little easier.
Now, if you’re a bit of a tiger mom when it comes to gardening, and you want your little seedlings to have the best start…mix in some compost (again, from a garden centre or simply use veggie scraps from your kitchen, like potato skin, onion skin, fruit peels…) with your loamy potting soil. Instead of compost, you could also buy some granular fertiliser (not water-soluble plant food) and add the recommended quantities to the soil.
Whichever combination of potting soil you decide on, fill ‘er up. Be careful not to pack the soil it tight – run a trowel, fork or your fingers through the soil (sort of how you would fluff a risotto).
Once you’re done with that, dampen the soil with a little water, make a small hole with your finger, drop a few seeds in (the back of the packet will let you know how many is ideal), cover with some soil, water and…voila. Call yourself a gardener.
even plants need some TLC
You will need to water the soil (not just spray some on leaves) every day, making sure the soil is moist…not overly wet and waterlogged. Once the weather starts cooling down, however, watering them once every other day or so is usually sufficient – but be sure to check the soil daily (with your finger) to make sure.
When it comes to sunlight, you might find that you need to shuffle some pots around. Towards the sun if your plant is looking a little sad and wilted and away if it looks a little dry, crispy and brown.
- If using a container smaller than 30cm, make sure that your plant doesn’t outgrow it. If this happens, it’s time to repot into a larger container…use your hands and be delicate! How to tell if your plant is getting too big for its pot:
- The roots are growing out of the holes in the bottom or through the soil on the top
- When watering, water trickles straight through the holes in the bottom
- The leaves are yellowing, despite you being on top of their watering and sunlight schedule
- The plant starts growing sideways instead of straight up
- Once the plant starts gaining height, stick a pole or stick next to it, in the container. This gives your little green thing something to hold on to
- When growing herbs, delicately pinch the flowers off, once they bloom. This ensures that your plant is working on creating delicious leaves for you, not unnecessary flowers
Now all you have to do is wait patiently. Send us photos of your balcony gardens on firstname.lastname@example.org and, if you’re growing basil, some fresh, homemade pesto!