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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Giant pumpkins are the norm for Khalifa City A's garden and greenhouse guru

Green-thumb Hesham Alkhateeb tells us how he turned his Abu Dhabi garden into an urban oasis

<p>Hesham Al Khateeb showing giant pumpkins in his garden at his villa in Khalifa City in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National</p>
Hesham Al Khateeb showing giant pumpkins in his garden at his villa in Khalifa City in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National

The UAE is renowned for many things – grand buildings, desert vistas and its long-standing relationship with the sea, are just a few.

Generally, one would have to concede, however, that lush, green vegetation is not one of its biggest selling points, but there’s one green-fingered Abu Dhabi resident proving otherwise.

Hesham Alkhateeb has transformed the garden at his Khalifa City villa into a veritable urban oasis, where he grows pumpkin, cucumber, and much more despite the hot, arid climate. He says it’s something anyone can do with a little dedication.

“It was a big surprise when I discovered I could grow all this,” says Alkhateeb. “I consulted with farmers initially and was really surprised to learn that you can grow everything in the UAE, providing you give it the proper nutrition and good fertilisers, so I import organic fertiliser from the [United] States and grow them in the winter till around late April early May when I take my last harvest. It’s not only pumpkins – I grow tomatoes, cucumber, and grapes in the winter.”

Alkhateeb admits things are a little trickier in summer, but even then, with the help of a greenhouse, he keeps his micro-farm going. “You can grow everything, but in summertime you have to stop and move everything indoors. I can grow lettuce and cucumber in the greenhouse all through the summer, so I keep farming year round.”

<p>Hesham Al Khateeb with organic cucumbers in his&nbsp;greenhouse Pawan Singh / The National</p>
Hesham Al Khateeb with organic cucumbers in his greenhouse Pawan Singh / The National

The amateur agriculturalist says he has always been a keen gardener, but things really began to pick up when he moved into his current home five years ago.

“I’ve always loved gardening and greenery, but space was always an issue in the past. My new place in Khalifa City has a nice big garden, so now I can really get into it. I’ve been gardening seriously for about five years now.”

Alkhateeb’s crops have been a huge success. This year he’s even produced a 90-kilogram pumpkin, which could be beaten as the capital’s enthusiastic cultivator has pumpkins still to be harvested before the summer.

With such sensational salad items growing in his garden, it’s hardly surprising that Alkhateeb has plenty to go round.

He says he enjoys sharing his produce with his family the most.

“I give some of the crop to my mother and my brothers. It makes me happy that I can give them something healthy and organic,” he says.

Although Alkhateeb has turned into his family’s regular supplier of fresh fruit and veg, he has no plans to give up his day job and become a full-time farmer.

“It’s just a hobby. I’m not thinking of taking it to an industrial scale, it’s a big investment, farming is a business, and especially with all these organic fertilisers you need to import – they’re not cheap.

“I don’t want to go too big scale. Just enough to feed three or four households is fine for me.”

For Alkhateeb, the gardening is all about the pleasure he derives from it. “Gardening just gives me peace of mind,” he says. “It’s just a hobby, and I really relax when I see greenery."

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From seed to harvest: some essential advice for gardeners in the UAE

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