The weather is becoming cool and welcoming once again with the temperature dropping nicely as we enter the winter season, which also marks the start of the growing season here in the UAE. The change in the weather means it is time to dig out the gardening tools, get your hands dirty and enjoy one of the best activities that your home has to offer at this time of year — growing your own food! Our resident gardening expert Mohammed Al-Dhuhouri, Founder of Local Roots UAE, is here to guide you through the easiest edibles you can grow in your garden.
The growing season in the UAE has officially started, and it lasts until the end of April when the temperatures start to climb. Far from being restricted by the weather, we actually have one of the longest seasons for growing vegetables and fruits and the ambient climate means we can grow anything during this time. I may be biased, but I think there’s nothing more ‘fruitful’ than growing your own little green patch at home. Studies also suggest that gardening is therapeutic — the perfect hobby after a long, stressful day at work! If you’re a first-time gardener, the variety of veggies and greens listed below are easy to plant and grow; follow my simple sowing advice and you’ll be enjoying fresh produce grown straight from your garden in no time!
An essential additive to cooking, this aromatic herb isn’t just for lovers of Italian cuisine. You can grow basil in pots or directly in the ground, or even indoors on the kitchen windowsill. Now is the best time to sow basil seeds directly into the soil of your garden’s vegetable patch, in a well-drained area. When the leaves reach a desirable size, simply pluck them from the plant and wait as the basil continues to provide fragrant and flavourful leaves that you can also dry and use for a long time afterwards. Long Leaf Italian, Genovese and Thai basils are good varieties to try.
Carrots can be grown in the garden or a deep pot (at least 20 gallons) and must be planted in soil that is free from stones and deep enough to handle this root vegetable. They require between six to eight hours of sunlight a day. Directly sow the seeds in October and early November when the temperature starts getting lower than 30C in the evenings. Sow seeds half an inch deep and one-third of an inch apart. Keep the soil evenly moist. Once the seedlings are two inches high, thin out to one plant and keep one inch of space between the baby carrots and three inches of space between larger carrots. Carrots are ready for harvest when their tops breach the soil line. Scarlet Nantes, Danvers Half Long and Sweet Treat are three special varieties to try.
Cucumbers are another simple plant to grow in gardens in the UAE. The important thing to remember about cucumbers is that even if you don’t like them on a salad, you might enjoy putting them in a jar as a homemade pickle or adding to a cool glass of water to give it a subtle flavour. When planting cucumbers, you can either plant them in your garden or plant them in containers. It is highly recommended to install a trellis for the plant to climb up. Cucumbers can be planted directly into the ground from September onwards so start planting them now. Beit Alpha and Marketmore 76 cucumbers are very delicious varieties to try.
Radishes are one of the most popular ingredients in salads and on vegetable trays – and for good reason, as they’re extremely nutritious and quite easy to grow. Some of the fastest-growing radish varieties can mature in as little as three weeks. You can plant radishes almost anywhere, however, as with any root crop, you’ll need to make sure that the soil is loosened up to enable easy root growth.
Spinach is remarkably high in iron and is a wonderful addition to salads, omelettes and soups. Plant spinach in well-drained and compost-rich soil. Sow spinach seeds directly into soil at the beginning of November, or start growing your spinach indoors a couple of weeks earlier — now is a perfect time! Sow seeds half an inch deep into the soil and one inch apart; later thin the seedlings to six inches apart. You can pick the plant continuously once its leaves are a reasonable size to encourage new growth.
If you’d like more guidance on growing vegetables, download the Local Roots UAE planting calendar to help you plan what to plant when throughout the year. Enjoy!
For more gardening inspiration from Local Roots UAE, check out Mohammed’s advice on growing vegetables in a raised-bed garden, and discover his six essential tips on growing organic produce in the UAE at home. With winter approaching, there’s no better time to become a self-sufficient green-fingered goddess!