Grow your own edibles with Niki Jabbour’s Groundbreaking Food Gardens

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Whether you want your garden to be the source of endless salads, an array of chilis to add heat to your cuisine, or a cheaper way to eat fruit and vegetables year-round, Niki Jabbour has the plan for you.

Jabbour, author of the award-winning The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener, reached out to her gardening heroes – professionals and amateurs, bloggers, community gardeners and more – and collected their innovative edible garden plans into the brand new book, Groundbreaking Food Gardens.

“I really wanted to inspire people – not to just give them a plan but to give them information on how they could do things,” Jabbour tells Cityline.ca. There are 73 plans in the book, each with a design illustration, plant lists, and stories about how the gardens were developed, and they provide a jumping-off point for gardening enthusiasts who can follow the plans as much or as little as they choose.

There are ideas for urban gardening, including balcony and rooftop plans, outlines that gravitate toward specific edibles (figs, chilis, herbs), and designs that get the kids involved.

“There are so many ways to engage kids in the garden,” Jabbour says. The Halifax-based author has two kids, and both spend time in her 2,000-square-foot garden. “We just put toad houses in, to attract toads that will eat the slugs. [My kids would] plant whatever they wanted to grow. One year, my daughter only liked purple things, so we had purple carrots, purple beans, purple cabbage, purple kohlrabi, purple tomatoes.”

Jabbour’s passion for edible gardening came at an early age — annual cottage visits meant tending the vegetable patch. At first it was a job Niki shared with her mother, then, when she became a teenager, she took it over.

“Everything we harvested, like the beans, tasted so much better,” she recalls. “I remember being eight or nine and I didn’t eat many vegetables, but having a plate of beans from the garden was one of the highlights of summer. I never forgot that.”

Jabbour’s own garden is included in the book, and focuses on fall and winter gardening. Hoop tunnels allow her to grow kale and broccoli in the colder months, while cold frames help shelter veggies from bitter wind and harsh temperatures.

“Anytime you go [into my garden] in the middle of winter there are still at least 20-30 different things you can harvest,” she says. “I designed a garden that’s very ornamental, as well as highly productive, and very easy to take care of.”

The author points to gardening expert Mark Cullen’s plan as a terrific one for those looking to save money on produce.

“If you go to the market to buy organic raspberries, you’re going to pay $7 or $8 for a small container,” she notes. “But raspberries are very easy to grow. Heirloom tomatoes, things that produce well, but are very expensive to buy [are the focus of his garden plan].”

Among the plans that will appeal to urban gardeners: Andrea Bellamy’s ‘Beautiful Balcony Edibles,’ Patti Marie Travioli’s ‘Urban Farmscape,’ and the ‘Rooftop Farm’ designed by Colin McCrate and Hilary Dahl.

Jabbour’s advice for urban gardeners? Use what space you have wisely, and don’t be afraid to grow ‘up’ instead of out.

“Take your sunniest spots, and grow things that need the full sun, like tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers,” she suggests. “In the partial shade, concentrate on leafy greens. If you get full sun against your wall, try hanging a pallet garden – the book has a great pallet garden plan from Joe Lamp’l, the host of Growing a Greener World. It’s so easy to do, and costs very little money.”

If you’ve tried your hand at gardening before, but have never grown from seeds, Jabbour says this is the time of year to get started.

“The great thing about growing directly from seed is you get diversity. If you go to the garden centre, you can maybe pick from three or four different kinds of tomatoes, but if you grow from seed you can pick from hundreds. You’ll get the Sungolds, and the Cherokee purples, and all the ones that will blow your mind,” she enthuses.

“There’s nothing more exciting than pulling a carrot, it doesn’t matter how old you are. It’s buried treasure.”

Niki Jabbour’s Groundbreaking Food Gardens is available now.

Our friends at Thomas Allen & Son have generously shared two (2) autographed copies of Niki Jabbour’s Groundbreaking Food Gardens for giveaway on Cityline.ca. For your chance to win one, submit a comment below telling us what fruit or vegetable you’d most like to grow in your garden. Good luck. Contest ends 04/04/2014, 11:59pm. Cityline contest rules

Photo of Niki Jabbour: © Raylene Sampson