Wednesday, 30 November 2011

3 Men and a 'Zero Mile Diet' in the Industrial Wilds of Dubai

Out on the timber yard, Bishu, Prince and Jose probably don't see a lot of ladies. And certainly not two gardening enthusiasts who have ventured into the industrial wilds of Nad-al-Sheba one bright morning to see nothing less than a small wonder-  food growing on the yard, right there alongside the bare concrete and wood piles of the men's workplace. They smile shyly, stuffing their hands in pockets and shuffling their feet, almost a little embarrassed at our praise and questions.

But we cannot seem to get over the fact that, here in Dubai, except for the hottest months of the year, the men practice as much of a 'zero-mile' or 'farm-to-table' diet as they can.

There's a kitchen on the yard and in the growing season, most of the food cooked there comes from the vegetable patch. 

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Swap Your Cow for Beans

In the market, I swapped my cow for some magic beans.

Fortunately, my mother never got wind of it and I never had to go to bed without supper. In fact, with my younger brother's wedding looming, Ammi is much too busy to pay heed to my bean adventures. As for my suppers, I have indeed had many happy ones under the cool moonlight recently, admiring the gorgeously lush bean vines twining around the poles. Where will they lead me to?

Thursday, 24 November 2011

A Garden Veg Tagine & My 'Thing' for Markets

I have a thing for markets- the chaotic,  not-very-tidy types. Head to Dubai Vegetable & Fruit Market in Ras-Al-Khor and you'll know what I mean. The first thing that hits you is that it's a men's world. The only women you see around are a couple of Arab ladies who look like they know how to hold their own over the vendors. And a few tourists who have stranded off the main trail in search of something more exotic and organic than Dubai's standard malls. The market is also a piece of Dubai's history, preserving a sense of continuity in a city where everything from trees to homes feel newly sprouted. 

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

10 edibles to grow in the smallest of spaces

Things to consider before you head to a garden centre
  • Start with the right sized container- anything with a minimum depth of 6" and a drainage hole will do. 
  • Consider going vertical - fix baskets on a balcony wall or buy a sturdy plant table to save space.
  • Good quality potting soil is enough to start the plants suggested here- you can boost your plants with plant food as they grow. More advice on fertilisers at the end.

You can grow any of these 10 edibles on your balcony.  These plants are non-fussy and with some regular care, they will produce delicious, homegrown harvest for you all through the UAE winter/spring.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Beyond a Blue Gate in Oman

Driving into Oman from the Hatta border, I catch glimpses of farms all along the Batinah coast- date palms swaying against the rain-washed sky, groves of coconut, papaya and banana trees, green carpets of mustard and spinach behind closed gates and wire fences. We are headed into the Omani desert for our Eid holiday.

Stopping for a break at a petrol station, I catch sight of this brilliant blue gate- half ajar. I cant't resist poking my head in. Just inside, a couple of Bengali men are washing their clothes. After a brief exchange in a mix of English, Urdu and gestures, they wave us in. We look harmless enough, I suppose. It appears to be a small private farm. Palm-shaded paths lead off into a couple of directions, peaceful and dappled in the late afternoon light. The girls run ahead of us.

There's rows of aubergines, a banana orchard and lots of dates growing.

I linger by a mango tree, fingering the long stiff-edged leaves. It hits me that I hadn't really seen one in Dubai- they do grow there but I suppose I just hadn't paid attention. I grew up with one right outside my grandma's house in Karachi. The story goes that one summer day my dad ate a mango and buried the seed just outside the gate. The tree grew strong against all odds. Much happened around the house- new storeys added for newly married sons, municipality footpaths, a garage built within an inch of the trunk for my dad's first car. But the tree grew on and brought us an enviable mango harvest year after year, not to mention neighbourhood boys who whiled away their summer afternoons by throwing stones at the fruit (and breaking window glasses in the process which had my dad chasing after them!). I don't know how long mango trees live but our one started to weaken. Some pest bored it into it, hollowing it from the inside. It died. A few years later in 2007, my grandma passed away too. The neighbourhood had already been changing, bare of trees and lined with vehicles and renovated houses. The last Peepul tree in front of the cricket ground had been cut for new electricity cables. But by then, I had already moved on and away.

This Omani mango tree is still young and obviously the preferred laundry hanger for the workers. In the forty five years grandma's tree lived, it grew grand, its roots drawing life from under the concrete of the street. From our first floor balcony, we used to be able to see the sparrows, crows and lizards that lived under the lush canopy. But looking back, I don't think I  ever took the time to wonder...too busy growing up, checking out those boys :D

It's funny that we have come to Oman for a holiday in the desert but all we have seen so far are things green and growing.  In the desert too, life pulses on. Thorn Trees dot the resort. Birds twitter. The sky itself seems to be more alive here, thick with stars at night while we eat outside.

The girls are besotted with the camels. Zola, Salman and Baraaq arrive every morning with their bedouin owners to offer rides around the resort. They have eyelashes a girl would kill for.

Back in Dubai, my plants are thriving despite my four day absence. The drip system seems to be serving its purpose. Deep down I know that whatever else I may become, I will always be a city girl. And much as I love open fields and rustic farms, I will always come back to the intimacy of an urban garden. The contrast of a 34 floor high-rise and a modest collection of vegetable plants right at the base of it gives me a real kick.