Let's get growing

Kim Wyatt, our resident gardening expert, shares some practical tips (yes, for dummies, too) on how to grow your own herbs and veggies Discuss this article

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Everybody is going green these days, and we’ll be the first to admit we’re excited to be jumping on the bandwagon of the sustainable living revolution. We may have always looked at this age-old tradition of home-growing (AKA farming) as being too tricky or too skilled to pick up, but suddenly, there has never been an easier time to dig in.

Home-growing is fast becoming popular in Qatar and it’s not hard to see why. Creating a home garden is a fantastic way to have fresh, delicious produce on your doorstep and gardening also saves your hard-earned cash, promotes sustainability and encourages physical and mental activity. What’s not to love? Growing in the desert may offer some challenges you say? Ah, fear not, after some intense research and trying our hands at it, we assure you it’s not mission impossible. And, as we head toward cooler climes, this is the perfect time to get planting.

If you’re new to growing your own produce, as any experienced home gardener will tell you, gardening can be very rewarding but also very unpredictable. Mother Nature is a force to be reckoned with so don’t expect perfection from the start. Mistakes may happen. Some plants may not grow. You may end up eating a flower instead of a fruit. Gardening, just like any learned skill, takes time and practise with some trials and errors along the way.

Having said that, with just a few basic tips and practical advice you can create that garden you’ve always dreamed of.

Growing in the desert can be a super rewarding and satisfying experience. Create either an indoor or outdoor garden full of fresh produce and you’ll be on your way to a range of deliciously, organic food at your fingertips. This practical starter guide should keep you on your toes for the next few months. Just don’t be surprised at how green your thumb really turns out to be.

Where to grow
You don’t need a lot of space to set up a garden. Any free space is the perfect opportunity to grow if the area offers good growing conditions. Firstly, choose your location – indoors or outdoors. Ensure the space offers sunlight – different plants have different needs and some plants such as tomatoes need more sunlight than others. For outdoors, ideally find a spot that has a minimum of four hours of sunlight throughout the day and is protected from sand storms and wind. For indoors, find a sunny spot by the window.

Smaller areas are often easier to maintain. If growing on a balcony be sure not to overload it – evenly space the plants for maximum sunlight as some buildings create pockets of shade. Larger outdoor areas can be sectioned into similar produce types such as herbs, fruits or lettuce. There are loads of practical solutions to help maximise your space for growing – use bookshelves to add small pots of fragrant herbs, grow sun ripened tomatoes on a balcony or patio. If you’re looking for inspiration – the internet has a variety of practical advice to help optimise your space for maximum yield.

What to grow
Believe it or not, you can literally grow anything in Qatar – with the right conditions. Over the past seven years we’ve witnessed a variety of fruit, veggies and herbs from beetroot and kale to tomatoes and chilli growing on home grounds. Start with easy growing plants that can thrive in most conditions. Herbs are one of the easiest to cultivate – they can grow indoors and outdoors. They’re also a very simple and easy way to add a punch of flavour to meals.

Be sure to grow produce that you love. If you constantly crave salad then cultivate an exotic variety of lettuce, mustard leaves, rocket, kale, Swiss chard, tomatoes and cucumber. If you love roasting veggies during the winter months then cultivate carrots, potatoes and other starchy vegetables. Make a list of produce to grow. This will ensure that you regularly harvest your crop to encourage regrowth and nothing will go to waste. It’s important to take advantage of the milder climate during winter so bear in mind that some crops will naturally take longer to yield. For fast growing produce, grow microgreens, rocket, lettuce, courgettes and herbs. These will provide early pickings and make way for you to sow more produce.

When to grow
There are two very distinct seasons in the year – very hot summer and very mild winter. The farming season in Qatar generally starts in September and continues until April/May (although this is changing due to new farming methods and greenhouses). Nowadays, with some pre-planning and protection from the harsh climate, home-grown produce can be grown all year round, even during summer. For outdoor growing – start planting seeds and seedlings now and you should have mature produce ready to eat within a few months. Indoor growing can reduce the impact of the extreme summer temperatures, wind and dust storms, but typically has reduced sunlight coupled with air conditioning – so be sure to find a sunny spot inside that is not in direct aim of the air-conditioner.

Where to buy
You can’t beat the Plant Souq located behind the Wholesale Market in Abu Hamour. Here you’ll find a street filled with garden stores offering a range of home gardening products, plants and utensils. Both Carrefour and Ikea offer some gardening items. Head to the Government Nursery (located near the Old Airport) to grab yourself a bargain. Prices are cheap and cheerful – however the nursery only grows plants and does not offer any gardening products, such as soil or utensils. Al Meera stores have a range of small, potted herbs. For more exotic and rare seeds you will need to buy online.

Seeds and seedlings
A variety of common seeds can be found at the Plant Souq and supermarkets such as Carrefour. If planting from seed, be sure to read the sowing instructions on the back of the packet. Generally, the size of the seed will determine the planting depth in the soil. When planting from a seed make sure the soil is moist but not waterlogged as this will help seeds to germinate. For more exotic varieties, buy online.

Seedlings are a great way to start your garden – they have been grown specifically to transfer to a pot or garden. They also speed up the growing process. Seedlings in Doha can be very limited to eggplant, chilli, tomatoes, mint and basil – check with your local store.
Mature fruit plants such as pomegranate trees, lemons and guava plus a small variety of seedlings such as aubergine and tomato can be found at the Plant Souq located behind the Wholesale Market in Abu Hamour. The Government Nursery also offers seedlings and mature trees at very affordable prices (some start at as low as QR2).

Soil
Good soil is key to healthy plants. Ideal potting soil can be used for both indoor and outdoor plants. It has been treated and sanitised for bugs, pests, bacteria and contains fertiliser as an added boost for your plants. For outdoors you can mix potting soil with the top layer of earth for a solid, fertile foundation. Be sure to turn the area and let it aerate for several days before planting. You can even add your own homemade compost to the mix and there are many online resources on how to create it. Add the potting soil straight into the container or pot for indoor plants.

Sun
The sun is the main source of energy for plants (you’d remember this if you ever paid any attention in science class). Plants prefer either sun or part shade. Fruits and vegetables will not grow in full shade. Find a sunny spot either indoors by a window sill (check how much sun comes in during the day) or outdoors on your balcony. Sun loving plants include tomatoes, aubergine, basil, chillies and courgette. Plants that prefer a shadier position include lettuce, spinach, rocket, parsley and mint.

Water
So how much do you water your plants? The rule of thumb for indoor plants is keep the
soil lightly moist and not saturated. Check the watering instructions for your specific plant.Make sure there are holes in the bottom of your plant pot for good drainage. Get rid of excess water in the saucer. For plants outdoors in the sun – water daily and well. Look for signs of water distress such as limp or yellow leaves.

Pots and containers
Container gardening is perfect for growing in small spaces such as balconies and patios and allows you to move the plant easily to sunnier positions. Most crops can be grown in containers as long as they are large enough to allow the plant to grow. Window boxes are ideal for growing smaller crops such as herbs and lettuce. Hanging baskets make use of vertical spaces where floor space is limited. Local gardening stores offer a range of ceramic and plastic containers with trays. If you want to help the environment and reduce the harmful impact of plastic – use recyclable materials such as plastic yoghurt pots, bottles and egg cartons.

Fertilisers
There are a very limited number of organic fertilisers in the local market (make sure there is organic certification on the package). If you want to go more environmentally friendly, you can even make your own all-natural, organic fertilisers. Local gardening stores offer a small range of fertilisers including pellets and sprays. Be sure that the fertilisers are specifically manufactured for edible plants and not the decorative flowering variety.

GARDENING CHECKLIST
Potting soil
Compost
Containers
Pots
Watering can/jug
Seeds
Seedlings
Trowel
Trellis
Sun shade
Fertiliser

WHERE TO BUY
These top spots offer a variety of gardening items and products to get you started:

Plant Souq at Wholesale Market
Potting soil, seeds, seedlings, fruit trees, herbs, gardening utensils, fertiliser, pots and containers, decorative garden items

Carrefour
Potting soil, seeds, gardening utensils, fertiliser

Ikea
Potting soil, flowering and decorative plants, gardening utensils, pots

Government Nursery
Seedlings, fruit trees, herbs

By Kim Wyatt
Time Out Doha,

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