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How to improve salty sandy alkaline soil?

Posted by dubai-gardener none (My Page) on
Sun, Oct 6, 13 at 14:12


I live in Dubai and our soil is salty sandy and alkaline. I would like to practice organic gardening and find it hard with the limited resources we have here. I do buy potting soil and peat moss but my plants are not thriving (all the neighbors have trees and plants that look healthy and grow fast but I am sure their gardeners use chemical fertilizers, common practice here). I just started composting again (after failed attempt last year). But it will take me a long time to have enough for my whole garden, so this is something I am starting to use in the long run. I am also planning to make fish hydrolysate. I searched a lot online and feel overwhelmed with all the info. I also searched locally for things like blood meal but they seem to be available in commercial quantities only. I am going to use square foot gardening and container gardening, but I also want to improve the soil in other parts of my garden where I have trees in the ground.
I am able to buy:
potting soil , peat moss, coco peat, vermicompost (very expensive), manure, gypsum (from building materials shops), perlite, "sweet soil" aka not salty sand, nd probably a few others.
We don't have much rain but we have irrigation.

My question is what would I need to buy to create a balanced soil. If someone could break down to me what I need in regards of N P K etc and several alternatives for each. This way I could use this list as a starting point and start looking around. Also the required quantities per sq foot or meter, or how much to apply would be beneficial.

This post was edited by dubai-gardener on Sun, Oct 6, 13 at 14:24

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: How to improve salty sandy alkaline soil?

  • Posted by glib 5.5 (My Page) on
    Sun, Oct 6, 13 at 19:57

Easier said than done, but, lots and lots of organic matter.

RE: How to improve salty sandy alkaline soil?

What your soil will need the most of is organic matter and that may mean you might need to grow cover crops. You also need to find a soil testing lab so you know what your soils pH and major nutrient levels are. With the limited rainfall you have I would expect your soils will be alkaline and sodic and gypsum will help with that.
Accumulate as much vegetative waste as possible form whatever sources are available and using the manure you have make compost. Buying peat moss, compost, vermicompost, etc. can become cost prohibitive, so concentrate on what you can get free.

RE: How to improve salty sandy alkaline soil?

More than anything, you need organic materials. And you will go broke buying them.

AVOID PEAT MOSS: When it dries out, it's like styrofoam and almost impossible to get wet.

Talk to the coffee shops and vegetable markets to see if you can get their scraps for composting. Any sheep, goat, horse, camel or cow manure you cna get? Shredded paper from offices? Cardboard? Sawdust?

Research "salt tolerant" plants, and grow them just for the compost. Cut them off at ground level and let the roots rot in the ground to add organic material.

Grow okra, and cut it off at ground level - its deep roots will remain and decompose deep in the dirt. Grow lab-lab or other heat-loving vines and compost the tops.

If you only have a small amount of organic matter, it's better to amend a small area thoroughly than to spread it over aq large area.

then use the improved area to grow more things to compost ... it will spread.

RE: How to improve salty sandy alkaline soil?

Thanx for your replies everyone. Manure is very cheap so I can get a lot of it. Would newspaper do? We have a subscription and recieve it everyday and theres the sport inlay as well as business so a lot of paper. I could talk to the cafeterias in the area for the fruit/veg scraps. I love okra and I am glad to know I can use it the way described by lazygardens. And yes I am gonna work with small areas otherwise it's overwhelming. That's why I am starting in containers because I still want to garden in some way. I want to improve the soil overtime and am not expecting to have it ready now.
But in regards to cover crops. I am not sure the roots will decompose quickly. When we first moved we had grass that eventually died. Now when I dig into the sand I would still find the roots of it intact and it's been over two years now.

RE: How to improve salty sandy alkaline soil?

Your experience with that grass may be due to the type of grass it was. We have what we call "Beach Grass' that is planted in the dunes to help stabilize them that has very tough roots that will last as you described but other grasses don't have that characteristic.
Kefir and other grains commonly grown in that region may be available to you as seeds for planting as cover crops.

RE: How to improve salty sandy alkaline soil?

I will look for those kimmsr.

RE: How to improve salty sandy alkaline soil?

As well as planting in containers, make some raised beds and layer them with shredded newspaper, kitchen scraps, manure, and your local dirt. Water them well, let them set a few weeks, then plant okra and other tolerant vegetables in them. The open bottom will let nutrients mix down into the soil.

After a year or two they should be ready for other plants - whatever grows in Dubai. You can probably grow the heat-tolerant plants I grow: Armenian cucumbers, chili peppers, lab-lab beans, Madagascar Spinach.

You can also do "trench composting" - just dig trenches a foot or so deep and bury the organic material. Water the area every few weeks, and in a few months, plant on top of the buried material.

RE: How to improve salty sandy alkaline soil?

Lazygardens both methods look interesting, and I am probably gonna try both, each in different part of my garden. I know building raised beds around my trees wouldnt work so I was wondering if trench composting could be worked around existing trees that I have. Is it possible to bury organic matter away from the trees roots? Would this cause damage? They are all newly planted trees less than a year ago but most are well over 5 feet.
Most things will grow here during our cooler months, our growing season is sep-apr, with most things growing during oct-march. I planted some beets and radishes in mid September and they are doing great (I really did just for the heck of it and didn't expect much, it was like "I have to plant something now", and I also wanted to see what will germinate and do well. Well It's like an experiment, and I am learning from it a lot (seed packs are generous anyway, there are lot more than I can use in the next couple of years). I try to buy heat resistant varieties which are available here. I did learn a lot from my previous failures.

RE: How to improve salty sandy alkaline soil?

Trench composting around the trees ... ??? I really don't know.

What kind of trees have you planted?

Dubai sounds much like gardening in Phoenix, AZ ... we have alkaline dirt with either clay or sand, and do a lot of gardening in the winter. In the summer we grow the real heat-loving plants like okra, chayote, and other tropicals.

RE: How to improve salty sandy alkaline soil?

Hi dubai-gardener,

I don't know if you are still active on gardenweb, but I just wanted to see if you have been able to create a nice soil for your plants?

I am in Dubai also, but because my garden is so tiny, I have to do all my gardening on my concrete roof in containers.

I found a great source for potting soil, and stuff... they sold it to me at a discount plus gave free delivery... I made a post about it here:

this was 2011 so their prices may have gone up though. And if the phone number isn't valid, just look up Shalimar Herbals Dubai on google :D

I hope this is of some help to you.

RE: How to improve salty sandy alkaline soil?

Hi Ameera,

In fact your messages led me to Shalimar. I did buy from them already. Great prices, even though the 50 liters bags are actually 35 l only, I measured them lol (after I felt that the soil level was low in my "raised bed/square foot bed", still cheaper than what's on offer. I also tried almost all their fertilizers. I can't tell if they work yet but I hope they do.
I planted some things in containers too just cuz I have plenty around and in case the in ground plants don't do well.
I also started composting. Have been wanting to try bokashi but the price is putting me off.
Have you tried using cow/chicken manure in your containers? Some people say it's a big no-no and some say use it. I tried it in a couple of containers and it doesn't seem to do any harm. I actually think they are doing better but not sure.
And the bees seem extinct here, I rarely see them, though I see others, I think wasps.
Can you share your successes from previous years? What did well and what not so.

RE: How to improve salty sandy alkaline soil?

Hi dubai-gardener,

I am still what I would consider a rather newbie gardener and this will be my 4th season trying to grow vegetables.

My first season I successfully grew tomatoes. They weren't tasty varieties unfortunately. The second season I planted well over 200 tomato seeds of many varieties (seed bought from the US) and they all kept dying. By the time I got only one to successfully grow, the temperatures were too high for the flowers to turn into fruit.

Last year I finally successfully grew beautiful and tasty Brandywine Sudduth tomatoes. I only had 3 plants though, and one got some kind of disease. But they were the best tomatoes I have ever had.

I was able to also get about 5 cucumbers out of 4 plants (huge aphid problem) and also grew a couple of spaghetti squash though I stored them too long thinking they can last like normal winter squash and they went bad before I tasted one :(

the 2nd season I was late but got zucchini, eggplant, and buttercup squash to grow but the heat did not let them produce :(

I wasn't going to garden this year but I am about to plant some pepper and eggplant varieties tonight :) I regret not planting tomato seeds earlier though... I will definitely try to grow them next year though!

Oh, and I tried yellow, white, purple, and red carrots but 2 years in a row I got nice foliage but the largest carrot only grew to about 3" so I give up trying again for now. The beets I only got seedlings and nothing much more. Not sure what went wrong with those.

Where do you buy your cow manure from?

I would love to do bokashi once we move into a home where we have plenty of garden space to bury the food. I have been researching it and the next time I travel to the US I am going to buy a biiiig ol' bag of the bokashi ingredients to make my own bokashi granules. That stuff is expensive here! I will eventually buy the bokashi buckets from here though. But I think a house with a yard is still about a year away :(

I have seen cute lil' bees all years I grew veggies but they never pollinated my squash plants for me. I had to do all that by hand.

They loooooooved these one flowers we have... they swarmed the yellow colored ones (didn't touch the same variety in red) If you want a pic of the flowers I can take one for you so you can try to encourage bees into your garden :)

I have had ladybugs visit my rooftop garden two years in a row but they arrived a bit late for my cucumber plants. They laid eggs and their larvae did eat up most of the aphids.... I just wish they showed up earlier :(

That disappoints me that Shalimar is not really filling their bags to 50litres! Next time I have to buy soil I will measure it myself and if it is indeed less I will have to speak with the owner about this!

RE: How to improve salty sandy alkaline soil?

Hi Ameera,

Long but informative post. I get my manure from Warsan, and in Ajman if I get there to visit the in laws. In Warsan there's also chicken manure mixed with cow manure, and probably chicken manure.
I am also newbie in this gardening field. I tried the previous years with little success and more failure. I believe my mistake was starting late, and pollination, well the lack of it. Cucumbers and marrows grew but never set fruits.
This year I started in mid September. I have planted radishes, beets, cucumbers, tomatoes, okra, eggplants, book choy, other greens and salads, melons and watermelons and marrow. Well cucumbers are flowering already, melons and watermelons, capsicums, are growing in some places and not in others, okra are already giving fruits, tomatoes are still growing, but the transplant I got from souk is just setting fruit, marrow seedling failed so I planted another ones recently, eggplants are growing, pal choy is growing, beets are growing, radishes we already ate, salads and greens died so I started again later, capsicum is slow but growing.
Most of the mentioned above plants are in pots, okra is both in pots and and ground and doing well, melons and watermelons are in ground. I forgot o mention that I also planted broccoli and cauliflower, and one ( I don't know which one :( ), is growing in the ground.
Starting mid October, and still doing now, I planted more things, both in ground ( in a raised bed using square foot method), and some are started as transplants. I am recording everything now to see what does well.
I got different varieties and got some seeds from Dubai Garden Center, yates brand and the ones suitable for tropics. Will see how it goes this year.
I added the manure to the pots a little and added a little of other fertilizers from shalimar, cuz if others can we can too.
I have read the blog by dubaiveggrowers, and am determined to have success this year.
Please update on your successes.

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