Alzainah Albabtain, a 22 year old student, is growing her own food in the scorching heat of Kuwait and wants others to give it go too
A green fingered student from Kuwait is taking the blogosphere by storm with her ‘It All Grows’ blog. Filled to the rafters with gorgeous photos of lovely fruit and veg, recipes, and gardening tips, Alzainah wants to prove that “good fruits and vegetables don’t have to travel across the world to make it to your plate.” I caught up with her to find out how she got hooked on gardening and her insider tips for growers in the Middle East.
What inspired you to get your garden started?
I’ve always been fascinated by nature and wildlife, but never by gardening and how food is produced because, just like most people in Kuwait, the idea of growing food was quite foreign. I used to think that it took large expensive greenhouses a hundred kilometres away in Wafra with countless staff and complicated fertilizers to produce vegetables in Kuwait, until one of my relatives mentioned her 10 year old grandson’s cherry tomatoes, I was baffled! He grew cherry tomatoes in a container – I followed with questions like “outdoors? In our weather?” “Is it possible?”
I was completely shocked, and thought to myself, if a 10 year old can do it, I can at least try. The next day I went and bought seeds of whatever I found. I planted them in my back yard, under some palm trees, and with skepticism, I checked on them every other day. Once the seeds sprouted I started taking beautiful Micro photos, to show to my family. In a short time with a lot of research, I managed to turn my entire indoor pool into a greenhouse of cherry tomatoes. After this gratifying experience, I was hooked, I found myself extremely passionate about gardening in Kuwait.
What have been the biggest barriers you have faced in getting your garden to bloom?
First, it was figuring out what grows when. All the research I was doing left me hungry to learn more, but I was having trouble relating general gardening principles to our desert conditions. Plant care is so different, and the seasons are the complete opposite. It took me a while to figure out the seasons here, its like this; a short warm season, a long cool season, then short warm again, and then summer during which gardeners take a break.
Another issue was organic pest control. There is so little offered in Kuwait when it comes to organic products, so it took me a while to find what I use now, which is organic insecticidal soap. I would go to plant nurseries and for any problem there was always a chemical solution, whether for fertilizing or pest control and I refused to use any of their recommendations on my plants. To me, it just didn’t make sense to spray something which you need to wear a gas mask to handle, on the plants I wanted to eat.
You’ve been gardening for over a year now. What tips would you give people want to grow their own food in the scorching heat of the Middle East?
It’s the blog I’ve started last year, I’ve actually been gardening for much longer. The tips would be, to start with something easy, to do your basic research on what plant you’re growing, and to make your own compost, because its the best fertilizer there is. You cant go wrong by starting with basil and arugula, grow them in simple potting mix in a sunny spot, any time from October to January or from February to May as they don’t like it too cold. Both plants are fast growing, easy, and delicious.
You’re right that you can’t grow in the scorching heat but you also can’t grow in the frost which other climates have to deal with. In our case we have three really hot months, (even if things did grow, I wouldn’t want to stand over or take care of them in the heat) but people look past the 9 months of good weather! And you also cant grow anything in the sand, who says you have to? Good soil is so easy to find and make, so we really have no excuse to why we think it’s so crazy to grow fresh food.
Why do you think it’s important to encourage your readers to use organic products?
It’s organic practices that make your greens superior to those at the supermarket. The joy of picking something and eating it right away without worrying about insecticides or preservative sprays is unbelievable. A big part of organic gardening is using compost, and making your own is the best thing to do, homemade compost recycles garden and kitchen scraps into beautiful dark fertilizer, which keeps plants happy all season long.
Water shortages are a real issue in the region – what tips do you have to grow with limited water?
Growing in raised beds like I do, gives you complete control over your soil, and compost rich soil with peat moss, helps retain water, and minimizes water loss. Drip irrigation is a way to control water use and deliver water directly to the plant. Another good way to prevent loss of moisture is using mulch to cover the soil surface.
Favourite crop and your favourite recipe?
My favorite crop to grow in Kuwait is Bright Lights Rainbow Swiss Chard, because its absolutely gorgeous, with bright magenta and yellow ribs and large dark shiny leaves, its highly nutritious and does amazingly well from October to June. Thats a very long time if you ask me. I like to sauté it as a side dish with some almonds and garlic oil.
What would you tell someone thinking of starting a garden but is little worried about lack of costs/time/expertise?
I would recommend starting small, with a potted plant, and see how it goes from there. Start with something easy, like herbs and leafy greens. Most importantly, the internet is your best friend when it comes to gardening, I’ve learned everything I know from online research and youtube tutorials. In fact, I created my blog to help others, to share my successes and challenges and prove how beautiful our gardens can grow.