Abu Dhabi couple grow food forest in desert backyard
The garden in the home of Advaita Sharma and his wife Prachi in Khalifa City A has about 500 plants of more than 30 different types.
From a small barren land in their backyard in Abu Dhabi, an Indian couple has grown a food forest — teeming with a variety of fruits and vegetables, from melon to spinach, sweet corn and even taro.
Advaita Sharma and his wife Prachi just wanted to eat clean and live green, so when they moved from Dubai to Abu Dhabi in April, they started an agricultural project that could give them bountiful harvests of all-natural food.
“We are a vegetarian family and my wife is pregnant. So, we wanted healthy food stuff with no chemicals. I am also keen on reducing the organic waste going to the landfills. So, we are composting all the food wastes at our home and using it in the food forest,” said 34-year-old Sharma, who is a sustainability and green decor consultant at Urban Lifestyle Redefined.
The couple’s lush garden in Khalifa City A is now home to about 500 plants of more than 30 different types. In just two months, their 24sqm backyard is a forest of fruits and vegetables. They have watermelon, honeydew melon, Piel de Sapo melon, papaya plant, mango plant, as well as eggplants, sweet corn, sweet potato, yam, garlic, leek, chilli, onion springs, amarnath leaves — you name it.
They are also growing some moong lentils, spinach, Zirzir (rocket leaves), carrot, micro-greens, and herbs like mint, lemongrass, rosemary, paper-mint, holy basil (Tulsi), sweet basil, Thai basil, curry leaves; beneficial plants and trees like Aloe Vera, Neem tree, snake plant; and flowers like Mexican Ruellia and hibiscus.
Sharma said around 80 per cent of their plants were grown from seeds and through sustainable methods. They follow the ‘forest gardening’ technique, which originated from the southern part of India and explained to the world by English horticulturist Robert Hart.
“It’s like working with the nature rather against it, in a way a forest grows with different layers to it — canopy, sub canopy, small trees, shrubs, climbers, ground cover and tubers. We have also combined techniques like Miyawaki forest, companion farming, and permaculture together,” said the Indian expat.
For water efficiency, Sharma said they are using the traditional Ollas irrigation system and special breathable sand, which has low water percolation.
“No pesticides or chemicals have ever been used,” he added. “We just put natural home-made compost from food waste.”
Since their forest started bearing fruit, the family’s weekly supermarket haul has been shrinking. “We go to the supermarket once a week, mainly for dairy (milk, yoghurt, etc.), rice, wheat, and other staple food and non-seasonal vegetables. The rest, mainly the seasonal fruits, herbs and vegetables, are grown and consumed at home,” he said.
Sharma and his family not only live with plants, they learn from them, too. Plants communicate and share water and nutrients with each other, he shared, and they do that through their network of roots.
“Another interesting thing about plants is that they fight for each other. They have a healthy competition between themselves as a community,” said Sharma.
The fruits and vegetables from the food forest are purposely for their family’s table, he said. But whenever the harvest is good, they will sure be sharing them with their neighbours, friends and workmates, he added.
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