Growing Green Leafy Vegetables in UAE

Al Ardh Alkhadra > Blog > Agriculture > Growing Green Leafy Vegetables in UAE

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Weather in the UAE can be harsh. However, with tastefully manicured and artificially leafy suburbs, it’s often easy to forget just how difficult farming can be in the desert. One of the most significant issues facing agriculture is the lack of water above and below ground. The UAE region has experienced a massive drop in the freshwater tables over the past few decades, mainly due to rapid development and the draining of natural water resources.

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The result is significantly increased salinity levels in the soil and remaining water, which makes it very difficult to grow crops. With the demand for freshwater likely to increase by around 30 percent over the next few decades, the situation is reaching a critical breakpoint for the region’s farmers, many of whom are already going out of business.

The government is responding with a drive to increase awareness of sustainable farming practices that conserve water and place more reliance on “smart farming” practices such as water harvesting and cultivating climate and region-appropriate crops.

Major Steps involved in growing Green Leafy Vegetables

Step 1:

You must have knowledge and skills about the basics of green vegetable cultivation in the United Arab Emirates. Farm fresh produce are always in demand. Humidity and light requirement affect the different stages of plant growth, where variation in temperature decline or rise can affect many of the plant’s productive and vital processes. Increasing relative humidity reduces the temperature in some vegetable crops. Additionally, the day length controls the timing of flowering and maturity, and it is directly proportional to the increase in the size of tubers and bulbs.

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Step 2:

When cultivating green leafy vegetables, optimal soil type selection positively affects the success of agriculture and good productivity, both quality, and quantity. In general, soil with good drainage is considered the most suitable land type to ensure planting green vegetables crops.

Step 3: 

The dissolved salts in soil such as sodium chloride, magnesium chloride, sodium bicarbonate, and magnesium and irrigation water causes significant damage to vegetable crops, . The tolerance of vegetable plants for salinity differs from crop to crop. For example, beans, radishes, celery and watermelons are saline-sensitive crops. While cucumbers, basil, onions, peppers, garlic, melons, squash, lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, and cabbage are moderately tolerant plants and salt-tolerant crops such as cowpea, spinach, spinach, and beet. 

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Step 4

The next step is irrigation of vegetable crops. The need of water for plants are different for each crops. While some of them are resistant to lack of irrigation water, and some are not. The distribution of plant roots controls this factor. The plants with deep roots like tomatoes, sweet potatoes and pumpkin require less water as compared to plants with surface roots such as potatoes, onions, cabbage, broccoli, squash, garlic, lettuce, parsley, spinach, radishes

Land Preparation to grow Green Leafy Vegetables

The procedure of preparation of land applies to all crops to be grown: 

  • The availability of water source. 
  • Choosing the appropriate area for planting in the garden in terms of appropriate natural lighting and soil type.  
  • To check the appropriate location, you can contact your local specialist or agricultural advisor. 
  • Setting a garden plan showing all the details of the farn or garden.
  • Reserve an appropriate place to recycle plant waste to produce organic fertilizers (compost) 
  • Ploughing the earth and turning it well and get remove all the stones and grass and ensure that all cement blocks and others preventing growth of plants are removed. 
  • You need to add organic fertilizers decomposed and thermally treated at a rate of 3-4 kg per meter. Later, it can be added in small quantities as required.

Identify the green leafy vegetables

  • Identify the crops you wish to plant in your farm or garden, knowing that each crop is grown according to the season.
  • While some crops are grown directly in the ground, and some are transplanted.

Cultivation procedures for green leafy vegetables

You must ensure to get the seeds from a reliable source and ensure they are appropriate for your area. 

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Cultivation procedures for Green Leafy Vegetables that require transplanting 

  • Peat moss soil containing 30% of perlite content is mixed well and hydrated with water. 
  • Fill traya and containers with peat moss soil that has been moistened. You must plant seeds in seeds trays or small containers at a depth of 0.5-1 cm without pressing them. 
  • You need to cover the planted seeds with a peat moss soil layer. 
  • Irrigate the seeds. 
  • You must cover containers or trays with plastic cover (plastic piece)
  • Put the containers or seeds trays planted in a suitable place not exposed to wind. It can be either inside a plastic house, that is possible, or in a room with good ventilation.
  • You must follow up and verify the water needs of seeds to avoid dehydration. Additionally, excessive irrigation may cause the death of seedlings or the incidence of root diseases and the death of seedlings. 
  • After a week, the germination is verified. If this happens, the plastic cover must be removed and the seedlings exposed to the sun (natural light)

The challenges of desert soil

Desert soil is a mix of rock and sand, lacking organic matter. It’s difficult to plant anything at a great depth in desert soil, and good drainage is complex as well; on top of that, desert soil tends to be quite alkaline (salty). It makes sense to create your growing environment for plants and vegetables using your own compost/soil mix for all these reasons. A raised bed works well, but consider its position – a south-facing bed will get very hot and need to be adequately watered.

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To make a raised bed, mark out the area you wish to use. Now dig down a few inches and create walls using logs, wood, rocks, bricks, or cement blocks – you can get creative but use materials that can sustain the weight of the soil. The depth will depend on what you intend to grow. You will need adequate depth to contain any root systems, particularly if you plan to grow carrots and other below-ground vegetables. Despite apparent concerns about plants not getting enough water, it’s also vital to ensure adequate drainage, particularly if constructing a raised bed over a base with a lot of dense rock. There is a danger the roots could end up drenched and rot.

Hence, you will need to ensure you add some loose rocks to the base of your bed to create a drainage system. Once you have the walls and ground, fill halfway up the wall with sand. Add your own compost or soil mix (and any organic fertilizer you wish to use) and mix well.

Making your soil and compost for green leafy vegetables

Pure compost consists entirely of rotted down organic matter. Soil differs slightly in that it contains other minerals and inorganic elements, such as sand, silt, rock, clay, etc. A good, rich soil or compost includes a mix of all these elements. It is dependent on your site and environment and the type of crops you wish to grow. You may want to use additional minerals, and it can take some experimentation to get it right.

Suppose your soil contains plenty of good, organic plant-rich compost and a healthy balance of minerals. In that case, it should contain virtually all the nutrients required for growing vegetables successfully, and little to no fertilizer should be needed. A soil used in hot, dry climates will also need to contain something that will hold the water well, so add coconut coir or peat moss filler to the mix.

Preparing your own Compost for green leafy vegetables

Of course, it is possible to purchase store-bought soil and compost combined – and in the beginning. At the same time, you wait for your compost to rot down, this might be a good idea, but you can best be assured of a healthy, organic provenance if you follow these instructions for making your compost:

  1. Find an old garbage can (PVC or metal is fine), or you can even customize a composter out of wood – anything, so long as it has a lid and can be kept dark and out of the reach of animals, kids, etc.
  2. Place a coarse layer of organic material, such as straw, on the bottom of your container, thereby assisting with drainage.
  3. Add organic matter such as leftover potato peelings, apple cores, grass cuttings, and so on. NO animal products!
  4. Once the composter is getting full, it’s time to add a dry, top layer of shredded, organic-based matter, such as leaves, straw, or paper.
  5. Add a layer of soil – an inch or so will suffice. Add water to moisten and leave to rot down for a few days.
  6. Using a fork, turn the top layers over to aerate and mix.
  7. Continue adding organic matter until the composter is full, and repeat from step 4, turning over every few days to incorporate the newer top layers. After a few weeks or months, you will have light, rich soil packed full of the organic goodness that you can use in your garden.

Water – The crucial factor in growing green leafy vegetables

Ensuring plants are adequately watered correctly is key to a successful desert garden. Unlike most conventional gardens, overhead watering – or the use of sprinkler systems – is not advisable; the leaves will only scorch and burn in the fierce sun, and the plants will not receive sufficient water near the base and roots where they need it most.

For this reason, a drip irrigation system or subsoil irrigation system is the way to go. These methods may involve a little more outlay at the start.  They will prove effective and far more economical in the long run because they get the water where the plants need it most: in the soil and around the root zone. The pipes can be run around the base of the plants or sitting on top of the soil, or buried below the soil. You can then set the system to the desired drip cycle. This would provide a steady, regular and targeted flow of water throughout the day as required. You can then be  free to do other things. These systems can be purchased from garden centres in the region

Utilizing other Water Sources for green leafy vegetables

Installing a drip irrigation system may be more economical, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to utilize other water sources available. There are several ways to do this:

  1. Installing a water butt is one option to harvest rare rainfall. You will need to ensure you can capture the rain runoff from a downpipe. Use a trash can with a lid or a large plastic bin or (to prevent mosquitos) for it. Attach an adapter from the pipe to the cover to allow the rain to flow into the butt. This will enable you to open the lid and access the water. Try to keep the butt in the shade to avoid evaporation.
  2. If space allows, place a large plastic sheet outside on a hill or sloping surface. You  can tie the sheet  securely to trees or heavy objects. As the sun rises and the air temperature increases rapidly in the morning, condensation will form on the sheet. You can capture the runoff into a suitable container. Alternatively, you could funnel the water directly into a hose pipe. The hose pipe should have holes cut at regular intervals to run around the base of your plants. This way you can  create a kind of DIY irrigation system for part of the day. You may need to supplement with another water source later). You can experiment with various techniques based on this method. Try the internet for more tips and suggestions.

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