The Urban Gardener

I call out from the kitchen window “Evelyn, show Daddy where the big eggplants are in the garden so he can help you pick one. I need it in the kitchen now for dinner!“. The deep purple skin is so firm, fresh and shiny it blows my mind that it grew in my own garden and it’s still warm from being on the plant enjoying the last of the day’s sunshine. I slice it, dress it with no more than a drizzle of olive oil, ground sea salt and a little black pepper, then just before placing it on the grill I decide that a sprinkle of fresh thyme from the garden that will finish it off nicely. Bliss… I’m in my happy place. It was the sweetest most tender eggplant I think I have ever eaten, but it my judgement may be clouded by the serene picture of my little girl running to the garden bed where the eggplants are and pointing out the purple beauties that have grown with little more than water and a bit of sunshine in our own backyard! I wear a smile ear to ear watching the kids jump off the garden edging, as they navigate the meandering sweet potato shoots now breaking the boundaries of the garden beds and watch them swoop down to pick a bean and munch on it straight from the garden, or pull our a carrot and run inside to wash it for immediate eating.

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So, where does food come from? It’s an honest question of a 5 year old and the answer shouldn’t be “the supermarket” in my eyes. We are fortunate to have a farmer and a chef in the family (not me!) so reinforcing is lesson is easy and fun when we are on summer vacation. I’m always inspired each summer and in total awe of what come from the farm; the diversity, the colour and the taste of some seemingly ‘ordinary’ vegetables like carrots and tomatoes is phenomenal! So that got me thinking, surely it can’t be that hard to grow a few things from seeds or vegetable cuttings in our own backyard and teach the kids where food comes from.

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Well firstly, we live in a desert – is it even worth trying to turn sand into soil? Secondly we started with a sandpit last year. Literally a dust bowl of a sandpit we moved in to call our home! And thirdly, it’s a funny and short growing season here with a dip in temperatures cooling down in the middle of the season rather than rising to a hot peak. In saying that, my trial and error sort of gardening style lends itself to all these sorts of challenges! Before going any further I must say credit where credit is due – our home helper loves the garden too and is a natural with buckets of intuition and common sense, so we are blessed to have her help inside and outside our home. Here she is with my little apprentices.

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This is year two of our own garden. The first year was a muddled kind of test run with less than ideal conditions so it’s a miracle anything edible made it into the kitchen. We were in no way skipping the fresh produce aisle at the supermarket (I wish!), but more like adding little snippets of homegrown goodness to the odd meal here and there. And more importantly, showing the kids where food comes from.

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Our garden is thriving this year – a combination of a new built in shade cover, an automatically drip watering system and the ‘sweet sand’ that new gardener convinced us to buy (the irony of buying sand when we live in a desert…hmm). The soft sand does mean that the plants have a fighting chance to send their roots down into something other than the literally rock hard earth/sand/dust that was there last year.

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So basically we prepared our garden beds in September/October – mixing bags of potting mix and manure with the sweet sand, then planted a few seeds & seedings in the garden beds in October, and low and behold things started growing! It’s definitely a trial and error sort of style garden with an air of organised chaos and survival of the fittest motto. Kind of like my life really 😉 And the best part is we watch it grow everyday, we taste the results and we enjoy the rewards in our kitchen.

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Some of our successes that could work for anyone with a small garden or balcony pots in this part of the world would be:

  • Rocket – just sow the seeds straight from the packet into the soil, water and after a few weeks you can enjoy fresh rocket for salads, quiche, with poached eggs or make it into a pesto sauce (rocket walnut pesto!).
  • Cherry Tomatoes – I cheated and bought cherry tomato plants and didn’t grow them from seeds. They are small little plants that haven’t grown an inch, but what they lack in height they make up for in produce. We check the plant every couple of days for new red tomatoes that are ready to enjoy.
  • Basil – we only planted a few seedlings this year, and we have a garden bed full of basil! It’s the hardy thai style basil that grows into about a 1 meter high shrub. Almost impossible to kill and it looks after itself pretty much. Perfect for garden boarders or edging if you want a shrub that looks nice with deep red/purple flowers and a beautiful smell when you walk past.
  • Radishes – quick to pop up their first little leaves up soon after sowing. The tops of the bright red/pink radishes can be seen as they grow full and plump and make for fun pulling up to see what surprise lays beneath the soil.
  • Beans – we just planted a few peas from inside the beans we bought at the grocery store. They are great for little people who need to see results in a few weeks. You can watch the plants climb up a trellis or simple frame and the beans quickly follow by the handful. They are so amazing when you eat them straight out of the garden – crisp, fresh and green tasting! No need for cooking.
  • Sweet potato – simply grown from a sweet potato I left for too long on the bench before it started sprouting. Sweet potatoes love sandy soil and ours have grown SO well, we are considering taking over part of the garden that is still a patch of sand to let it spread it’s shoots and add a carpet of green to the ground.

I hope to inspire others to try growing one or two vegetables with the kids or even plant a pot of fresh herbs to brighten up your window sill. But if this isn’t your thing, then why not visit the farmers markets and talk to the farmers about visiting the farm and having the kids pick a few treats they can take home. Mo from Yas Farm Abu Dhabi is more than happy to have visitors (by arrangement) so feel free to contact him and make a day of it!

What are you going to try planting?

From our kitchen to yours.

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One thought on “The Urban Gardener

  1. Very inspiring! Really well-written and illustrated too. I can’t believe what you’ve been able to do! I’m glad I saw the “before,” as it makes the “after” all the more miraculous. 🙂 Wish I was there to enjoy the fruits of your labour of love. I would trade you some sprouts!

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