You love gardening, just like us! And also like us, when we first started growing, you too have likely been frustrated to see your vegetable and fruit plants die because of pests, disease, overwatering, too little watering, and a number of other reasons that you have no idea how to tackle. So frustrating!
Luckily, as an organic farmer with extensive experience in setting up and running organic farms (in Palestine), I can provide home gardeners in the Middle East with expert gardening tips and planting ideas to develop a thriving home garden! The secret sauce is in these 6 ingredients.
The 6 secrets to starting a vegetable garden
1. Soil (that’s healthy)
2. Sun (that’s plenty)
3. Seeds (good quality)
4. Sow in Season
5. Service with care (checking in often)
Soil is the home of your plant. If you want your vegetables to thrive, make sure the soil is a nurturing environment. Whether you are sowing your seeds in a potting tray or directly in the field, the following ought to be the composition of the soil:
- Seed starting soil mix (where you plant seeds to grow into baby saplings that you then plant in the main field):
Roughly 50-50 mix of peat moss and perlite.
Soil in the main field:
a. Topsoil (60%)
b. Compost (30%)
c. Seed starting soil mix (10%) or aged manure (10%)
Planting outdoors can be in raised beds like this, or directly in the earth, or in containers
There’s a lot more one can add, but these are the essentials. You ought to find these in your garden stores. Buy organic, because it’s better for your health and better for the environment.
Your vegetables and fruit plants need direct sun, which is 6+ hours a day. Some plants, such as herbs, thrive in partial sun, between 4-6 hours a day.
When you plant your home garden, plan the location well.
Ensure that it receives the right amount of sun to grow. Don’t plant near walls or under trees, unless the sun requirements of those plants are minimal.
Lucky for us in the Middle East, there is no shortage of sun, and there’s plenty available for free!
All seeds are alive and breathing. However, some are good to grow, and others not so much.
The following are international seed stores that may ship to you:
4. Sow in Season
Is gardening in Saudi Arabia the same as gardening in Egypt? Is gardening in the UAE the same as gardening in Jordan?
If you live in the Levant, grow cool crops in the months: September to March
If you live in the Gulf, grow cool crops in the months: November to February/March
The summer season in the Levant is: April to September
The summer season in the Gulf is: March to June (in July, August you can grow indoors) and September to October.
Depending on where you live, the temperature will either be more temperate (like the Levant) or more arid/desert (like the Gulf and the interior of North Africa) and so follow the guidelines above.
If you’re not sure what climate your area falls under (or you are a bit of a climate-nerd), check out the “World Map of Köppen−Geiger Climate Classification” and find analogous zones – are you more like the Levant or Gulf? And plant accordingly.
5. Service with Care
Plants are like people. To thrive, they need love and attention. In order to service with care, make sure you:
- Water adequately. Do the finger test – sticking both your index and middle finger in the ground spaced 5cm apart and see if the tips of your finger are wet. If your finger tips feel wet, then you do not need to water.
- Companion planting. Tomatoes grow well with basil, while the three sisters make great companions: consider growing squash with corn and beans. Onions and lettuce grow great together, and plant nasturtiums and borage near tomatoes and squash to keep pests away!
- Control pests by hand, with soap solutions and have these simple organic solutions on hand:
- Neem oil,
- Diatomaceous earth,
- Pyrethrin spray
Don’t forget to harvest and then savour your produce. Do so regularly so the plants continue to produce!