From backyard to plate: UAE family turn small terrace into thriving kitchen garden

Dr Shaju Jamaluddin and his family grow everything from tomatoes and green chillies to figs and passion fruit at their Abu Dhabi home

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Some might see limitations with a tiny terrace, but one family in the UAE only pictured ample possibilities, turning it into a blooming garden.

Shaju Jamaluddin, who lives with his wife and two children in Abu Dhabi, has transformed his villa and its terrace into a 150-square-metre ecosystem where fruits and vegetables are grown, honeybees and birds are among the habitat, and wooden installations demonstrate the traditional techniques of watering farms.

“Using repurposed wood, I made a water wheel, a windmill, a gazebo, a bridge and a bamboo water feature. I created them at home with my tools and with great help from my family,” says Jamaluddin.

The family is from the southern state of Kerala in India, where they own a farm. They follow an agricultural technique called permaculture, which involves adopting arrangements observed in flourishing natural ecosystems.

Taking inspiration from the farm back home, Jamaluddin wanted to recreate the same experience on his family's Abu Dhabi terrace. They started building the garden two years ago, with water conservation forming a major component of their efforts.

“In our village, we use water wheels to irrigate the farm. The river water would fall on the blades of the wheel and make it rotate,” Jamaluddin says as he demonstrates how his version works. “The water would be taken to a higher level and poured into pipes which would irrigate the entire farm."

Shaju Jamaluddin on his Abu Dhabi terrace farm

He has replicated the system, albeit on a smaller scale, at his UAE home.

“Most of our plants here are on raised beds. They have different layers of materials such as mulch, soil and compost, which help in retaining water,” he says.

The family harvests tomatoes, green chillies, curry leaves, broccoli, olives, figs, moringa (drumstick tree), passion fruit, grapes, papaya, mulberry, spring onions and garlic from their home. They also grow Indian basmati rice in a small paddy field, which is watered by bamboo tunnels.

There’s a special herb corner that provides mint, rosemary, basil and thyme.

“My wife and children actively participate in gardening. They help water the plants, dig the soil and make the compost from our kitchen waste." he said.

The garden has been divided into various sections and named after places in the UAE, such as Masafi, Al Karama, Delma, Al Barakah and so on. It is also embellished with a quote from the UAE's Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed, which reads: "Give me agriculture and I will give you civilisation."