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Planning a vegetable garden in Dubai- Part 2

By Jamie Caroll. 24/11/2019

 Welcome back! Last week we looked at how to choose a site for your vegetable garden, and the soil mix you will need to get your veg off to a great start. We briefly mentioned raised beds, ground beds and pots, so let’s take a closer look at each of these.

Raised Beds

I love raised beds, and used them when growing our vegetables in Ireland.
They can be used to great effect in landscape design, as they add height to a garden and make it easy to sow, grow and harvest from.

The idea of raised beds is to allow you to stand or kneel on the paths around the bed, and not step on the soil. This prevents the soil from being compacted, making it more productive. They drain well and heat up quicker than ground beds, so are useful in areas with poor drainage and cold winters. Neither of these are much of an issue in the UAE. Importantly for us living here, is that they allow us to add our own soil mix. They do tend to dry out quite quickly though, so you may need to water them more than ground beds.

Raised beds are usually 2 to 4 feet wide. Don’t be tempted to go wider as you won’t be able to reach the centre of the bed. Most raised beds are at least 6 inches or higher. We would suggest at least 10 inches. The higher you make it the less you have to bend over, great for people with back problems. Of course, the higher you go the more soil you need to fill it with, so bear that in mind too. You can make the beds as long you want, but 4 to
8 feet would be common sizes. If it is too long, you may regret it when you have to walk so far to get to the other side!

Timber is commonly used to enclose a raised bed, but brick or block can be used. Making raised beds will add to the cost of setting up your garden.


Left: beautifully made raised beds (photo credit @hungrytogrowhappy)

Right: raised beds in our former home in Ireland

Ground Level Beds
We chose ground beds for our veg plot. You are probably wondering why we didn’t go for raised beds given how much I like them, but there were a few good reasons! From a design perspective, it fit in with our existing landscaping. We already had bricks and decorative gravel left over from a patio installation, and a neighbor kindly donated some additional bricks from her recent garden makeover, so it cost us very little to setup. We also rent the property we live in and didn’t want to add permanent features, as many communities require approval from the community management company.

Even though the beds are in-ground, we applied the same principles used in raised bed design. We kept the width to 4 feet so that I could reach the middle of the bed. The edges are defined using bricks, which makes it easy to avoid stepping on the soil and compacting it. We dug out 8 to 12 inches of the existing soil, and added our soil mix as described in our last post. This means we have the same soil quality in the ground as we would have
in a raised bed. Also, as it is in ground it should not dry out as quickly as a
raised bed would.

The drawback of making ground beds was the work involved in removing and disposing of the existing sand and replacing it with our soil mix.

Ground bed thriving last year

Container Gardening
Container gardening is a simple way to start growing your edible crops. It can be a great solution for people in apartments or rented accommodation. You can take them with you if you move, and if you are careful you can bring them with you, even if it’s in the middle of growing season!

Decorative pots can be expensive, but places like Warsan plant souk normally have nice pots for reasonable prices. When choosing your pots, remember they can be heavy when filled with soil and plants. For growing most vegetables, choose containers that are at least 12-18 inches deep and wide.

Growbags are another form of container gardening. Last year we successfully grew our very first watermelon in a grow bag. You can find them in different materials, but we recently purchased some fabric pots. We will be experimenting with them this year and will be sure to report back and let you know how we get on with them!

We use containers for our herbs, such as basil, rosemary, sage and mint. We have also successfully grown tomatoes, courgettes and chillies in pots. It’s a wonderful way to start growing your own without incurring too much
expense. Living in the UAE, one of the biggest benefits of pots is that they can be moved to shadier areas when the summer heat arrives. On the other hand, the intense heat and temperature means that pots will dry out
quickly and need plenty of water.

Chillies, courgettes and tomatoes grew well in containers last year

There is no right or wrong option, just choose whatever style suits your space and needs. Join us next week for the final installment of our garden planning series and our recommendations on what to grow! In the meantime, why not check out what we are doing in our garden now and visit @emiratesbiofarm to see what events are planned.