Monday, April 30, 2012

Protecting your garden from frost - a Canadian Gardening article

A mini hoop tunnel - a quick way
to protect newly planted veggies from
Earlier this month, I had a lovely chat with garden writer April Demes.. she was working on an article for Canadian Gardening magazine and it's now been published and she just e-mailed me the link. To read the article, click here! She was kind enough to include me (and the many mistakes I've made over the years! Bunny slippers and sheets!) in the article, along with a few of my photos from The Year Round Vegetable Gardener.. great article and great advice. Thanks April! :)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Upcoming Lee Valley Seminar

Photo from Off the Wall Urban Gardens
Saltscapes weekend is cruising by! I've spent the past two days giving lectures on growing edibles and extending your season.. just two talks left tomorrow and then I'll begin preparing for my next event, which takes place at Lee Valley in Halifax next Saturday from 10 am to noon. Pre-registration is required, as space is limited. Last month, my Lee Valley seminar covered the basics of veggie gardening as well as year round veggie gardening. On May 5th, I'll tackle the fun topic of Crops in Pots (click on the link to be directed to the seminar details and registration info). I'll offer ideas for the top crops for containers, combining ornamentals and edibles in pots, fun ideas for pots, as well as innovative ways gardeners are using their vertical spaces (walls, fences, arbours, etc.) to grow edibles (pallets, shoe bags, gutters and many many more!)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Saltscapes Weekend

Jodi speaking at last year's expo (
Well, it's Thursday and I've been busy this week with book #2, magazine deadlines and getting ready for my talks this weekend at the Saltscapes Expo. For the complete speaking schedule for Saltscapes, click here. Everyone tells me how much fun this event is, so I am looking very forward to my first time at the expo. Plus, Jodi Delong and Michelle Muis will also be giving garden chats, so in between my own talks, I hope to take in theirs. 

Oh yes, I also have been shovelling plenty of poop this week, planting peas, sweet peas, kales, lettuce, kohlrabi, scallions, and much more.. I love spring!

Update on the non-existent deer fence.. after much research and talking to some experts, I decided against electric (too many neighbourhood kids). Sigh.. so, I will go back to netting, but will certainly reinforce it with some extras defences.. they've been nibbling my chives and spinach, so it's time to get the barrier up. Hopefully this weekend!

See you at Saltscapes!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Ouest-Ville Perennials Update!

What a fantastic time today at Ouest-Ville Perennials in West Pubnico, NS.. the rains held (mostly) off and it was fabulous to talk to such enthusiastic gardeners (Ann Jones, who puts together the great magazine, Scotia Gardener, Paula Smith, Neil LeBlanc Jr - the worm poop man! and many many more) Such a great turn out - thanks to everyone who came by this afternoon for the book signing, veggie growing Q & A, cookies and coffee! Also, a huge thanks to the wonderful team at Ouest-Ville Perennials, including Alice, Margie (and everyone who I am forgetting to name in writing this so quickly!) for so generously hosting me today. It was a fantastic afternoon and I can't recommend the nursery enough for any plant lover - whether your passion is perennials, grasses, annuals, veggies or roses.

Neil and I admiring his poop - does that sound weird??!? Worm poop!

Some of the Ouest-Ville Perennial gang and me!

Ouest-Ville Perennials

It's a bit drizzly today, but I'm just getting ready to head down to Ouest-Ville Perennials for my 2 to 3:30 book signing and veggie garden Q & A.. Can't wait.. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Vertical Pallet Garden

Pallets are perhaps the biggest micro-trend in the gardening world at this time. Photos of gorgeous gardens made from recycled pallets are all over pinterest and Facebook. Yet, it all started a few years ago when the popular garden blog, Life on The Balcony, ran a photo of a pallet garden on a small space deck.  Since then, clever gardeners are finding many ways to turn pallets into productive veggie, herb and strawberry gardens, as well as grow ornamentals like sedums, nasturtiums, pansies and dwarf grasses in between the slats.

Yesterday, a press release was sent out announcing a new company in Halifax - Off the Wall Urban Gardening which aims to create and supply ready-made pallet gardens for new veggie gardeners or those with very little space. Read the details below and check out the photos sent to me by co-founder, Robert Cervelli.

Off the Wall Urban Gardening serves new market for
high-density gardening solutions

April 17, 2012, Halifax, NS --  So, you’ve got a 6th floor condo balcony and you want to start growing some of your own food?  Impossible you say?  Nothing is impossible for “Off the Wall Urban Gardens,” a new business in Halifax focused on high-density urban gardening solutions. The new company specializes in helping people surmount the obstacles of growing food in small spaces, like balconies and small yards.

Three innovative entrepreneurs have sourced an impressive array of small-footprint gardening solutions for urban growers.  Co-founder Robert Cervelli says, “Our most popular product is a vertical garden, custom-built like a wooden pallet which stands upright and is filled with potting soil and seedlings of the customer's choice.  It requires only two square feet of floor space but yields the garden equivalent of ten square feet.”  The vertical garden is one of many solutions offered to the rapidly increasing demand for high-density urban gardening.

“There are many reasons people increasingly want to grow their own food – but basically it boils down to having fresh, organic, sustainably grown food literally on your doorstep,” says Co-founder Robert Ziegler. “Several products can be filled with a variety of herbs, salad greens and vegetables while other products, like the Potato Condo, provide a simple way to grow a single crop – in this case potatoes – in a very small area.”

Delivery and installation can be included with each order.  “We are used to elevators and carpeted hallways, and do whatever it takes to install our ‘ready and growing’ vertical solutions,” says Co-founder Lennart Krogoll, “People can potentially reduce their food bill by up to $400 over the season, and they can enjoy a ‘zero-mile-diet’.”

The company offers personal consultations, an urban gardening blog, raised-bed installation and mid-season replenishment transplants for extending the harvest season from April through November.  They source locally grown, organic transplants only.  Additional information can be found at their website:

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Seedling Update, Part 3 and Clumsy Gardener

I love my seedlings.. I love visiting them each morning, watering them, giving them a boost of fertilizer, repotting them and simply just gazing upon their green loveliness. Ok, enough of that, but I really do enjoy growing most of our garden veggies and herbs direct from seed. I also have to admit that I'm rather clumsy and in my haste to move my baby lettuce and endive seedlings out from the lights and onto our shaded front porch a few minutes ago, I tripped up the steps - no, not on a toy or other item, but rather over my own two feet. Graceful.

So, I have now spent 10 min repotting the little seedlings, which will be fine I know, but annoying. They're watered to ensure their roots settle back in and I stuck them out on the porch as planned. Sigh.. Anyway, to sum up my update, all is growing so incredibly quickly! Even my geraniums - a sample from McKenzie Seed - are growing fast (check out their glossy green leaves below!)

The basil is also growing quicker than usual and the tomatoes will need to be repotted this weekend into 4-inch round pots. Luckily I have a few huge stacks of pots in the garage and a new bale of potting soil. I can't explain why my seedlings are growing quicker than usual - perhaps it is the new fluorescent light bulbs? The basement is rather cool - about 15 C and it tends to slow down growth a bit. But, as a side benefit, it also tends to make my seedlings stronger and stockier. I am also using a new fertilizer - given to  me as a sample at Canada Blooms - Orgunique Tomato & Vegetable 3-1-4 liquid food. I've given the seedlings 2 doses of the food so far, about 12 days apart. I'll keep you posted on this new-to-me product.

Anyhoo, whatever the reason, (knock on wood) so far things look great.. now, if only the weather would co-operate!

Geraniums in the foreground, basil to the back and right.
'Garden Leader Monster' Tomatoes (another sample from
McKenzie Seed) are to the right beside the geraniums. 

So excited about growing geraniums from seed.
Grown in containers and window boxes, they evoke thoughts of
European cobblestoned streets...

Basil!! Three types.. this is about half of my basil plants, over
100 in all! Can't you just taste it??

Opps! Lettuce and endive take a nosedive. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

A-frame Trellises

One of my gardens about 5 years ago. The A-frame trellis
is on the right.. love the hose down the pathway! :)
I was asked recently about my A-frame trellises, which I use for an assortment of vining veggies. We use them to support the vigorous growth of cucumbers, climbing types of summer squash, gourds (with very heavy fruits), baby pumpkins (baby boo and Jack-b-little), pole beans and more.

They're built, very basically, from 8-foot lengths of 1 x 2's and the finished trellises measure 8 feet long and once placed in the garden with the 'feet' sunk into the earth, are about 6-feet tall. Before I put them in the garden, I do run lengths of twine vertically up and down the trellis so that tendrils have more bits to grasp for climbing. You could also attach chicken wire or another type of mesh. There are many designs on the internet for these types of structure, but I wanted ours to be large so that they would fit the garden beds. Here's an example of one with chicken wire. I find it easier to harvest if the 'holes' of the chicken wire are big enough so that my hand fits through.

An old photo of some of my first A-frame trellises. Simple, but
effective. Takes about an hour to make one.  
Ours have stood up rather well and each one lasts about 3 years and costs around $20 to make. In the partial shade of the vines, underneath the trellis, we grow cool season veggies like spinach, lettuce and arugula. No wasted space! By giving these greens shelter from the hot sun, this allows us to grow them in mid-summer when they typically would bolt quickly.

Although I love my simple trellises, I think I will go more heavy-duty this year as 2 of them collapsed in a hurricane last autumn - mind you, they were rather heavy with gourds! There are so many fun designs out there that I thought we'd experiment a bit more with vertical veggies.. I had great success last summer with my Trombetta climbing squash from Renee's Garden. The flavour was outstanding - nutty, with hints of artichoke (which I LOVE) and although production wasn't up to normal standards because of the wet, cool summer, we still harvested a handful of long, trumpet-shaped fruits from our 2 plants.

Great book.. full of easy ways to increase production!
I've also been reading the excellent book, Vertical Vegetables & Fruit by Rhonda Massingham Hart (Storey Publishing, 2011) (Full disclosure - Although I haven't had the pleasure of meeting Rhonda, we've chatted via e-mail and I'm pleased to say she has provided an amazing garden plan for my next book, Edible Garden Plans). Vertical Vegetables & Fruit has given me new inspiration to keep growing edibles up and I love so many of the clever ways she details in her new book - growing in bags, trellising, growing a personal salad bar, shoe bags, window farming and so on. I am hoping to book her for The Weekend Gardener radio show when Season 6 starts in just a few weeks.. I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Overwintered Kale

It was a lovely spring day yesterday, so I actually snuck away from my computer and did a bit of garden work. 'Bit' might be the operative word, but it was invigorating to dig some shredded leaf mould into the veggie beds. I also took note of my overwintered kales.. I tried to overwinter them in three ways: Some were planted in the open garden with no winter cover, others under mini hoop tunnels covered in 6 mil greenhouse poly and finally, the rest were just tucked under a medium weight row cover that was laid directly on top of the plants. All kales in this casual experiment were Red Russian and planted around the same time last year (mid-July). Here are the results!

Under the mini hoop tunnel, this plant is now sprouting
4 to 6-inch long baby leaves. So tender and prolific. Little
winter damage.

Under the medium weight row cover
this kale is also in very good shape.
Little winter damage and plenty of
4 to 8-inch long leaves. Not as many leaves
as the mini hoop tunnel kale.

Lastly, the unprotected kale. We didn't have much of
a snow cover to insulate it. There is a lot of winter kill, but
also a lot of new growth. It was the hardest hit, but will still
offer several months of harvest before it goes to seed. 

Ok, not a kale, but this bok choi overwintered
under the medium weight row cover too.
Hardier than I thought and it's just starting to
bloom - yum!

My spinach that overwintered under a mini
hoop tunnel. I keep the plastic on top only to
keep the deer out. The ends are opened for
air circulation. I should just toss a row
cover over the bed to thwart the deer.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Super Seedy Sunday

This coming Sunday, April 15th is Super Seedy Sunday at the Halifax Seaport Farmer's Market. I will be there at 9 am giving a brief talk on some of my favourite fall/winter veggies and spotlighting a few of my top season extenders, concentrating on those used at this time of the year (row covers, cloches, etc).

Below is a description of the event, which runs from 8 am to 4 pm. Copies of my book will also be for sale!

Hope to see you there!

There will be seed and plant vendors, a pot and tray recycling table, information space for community projects like community gardens, local foods, free seed exchange, and a table to bring unwanted garden, tools, books, and other equipment for sale. In addition there will be hourly workshops or lectures on year round gardening,composting, the Common Roots Community Project and more.

Monday, April 9, 2012

How Many Cukes Does One Need???

Cukes from left, Lemon, Armenian
 (botanically a melon) & Garden Oasis
I am loving this time of the year. I know it's cold. And damp. And cold. And we woke up to 10 cm of snow yesterday morning, but the seedlings under my lights keep reminding me that it's spring and soon the garden will be a tangle of homegrown veggies. Plus, we're still harvesting mache, mizuna, mustard, arugula and spinach from the cold frames. I will be cleaning them out in the next few days so that they'll be ready for some fresh crops. I'm a bit late this year, but that's ok. The lovely thing about gardening is simply finding your own rhythm and having fun. This has been a busy year for me and the garden has unfortunately been a bit neglected in recent weeks.

But my seedlings! Oh, so exciting.. I just moved some Rainbow lacinato kale, Ragged Jack kale, Baby Jade Chinese cabbage and lacinato (aka, dinosaur) kale outside to begin the hardening off process. Today they're in the shade, but over the next 5 or 6 days, they will slowly be moved into more sunlight until I tuck them into the garden in about a week. I'll keep a row cover handy in case of unexpected cold nights, but they're all cold tolerant, hardy veggies that thrive in the cool temp's of spring. I could also move them to a cold frame to shelter them until they're ready to go to their permanent garden location. Or, cover them with a mini hoop tunnel until the weather is more settled.. So many options for a year round veggie gardener!

I also seeded another 4 flats - 5 types of zinnias from Renees Garden, a few more tomatoes (a bit late, but I couldn't resist!), more kohlrabi, over a dozen types of lettuce, a few more gourds and way too many cucumbers! How many cukes does one need?? Well, apparently, I need a lot! We grow all our cukes up A-frame trellises which keeps the fruits clean and straight, helps prevent disease/insect problems and keeps their rampant growth under control, allowing us to grow more food in less space.

Here's a brief rundown of my cuke list for 2012:

The lovely Lemon cucumber. Our family favourite!
Lemon - Our family favourite, this is an amazing little heirloom with rounded, light green, maturing to yellow fruits. Harvest when they are still light green though for the best quality! Plants are heavy producers and the 2 to 3 inch long fruits are excellent and never bitter. I could go on and on, but I'll just recommend that you try them yourself!

Crystal Apple - A new acquisition from Hope Seed, this is an heirloom variety that is very similar to Lemon, but it has white spines, not black. I don't think the flavour will be much different, but I'll keep you posted!

Suyo Long Japanese - Strongly recommended last spring by Owen Bridge, the 20 year old owner of Annapolis Seeds, so I had to pick up a packet. We loved them! Growing up to 16 inches long, these cukes produced a good quantity of crispy, sweet fruits that will curve if grown along the ground, or hang straight if allowed to climb a trellis. We trellised ours and picked them when they were about 8 inches long - the impatient gardener couldn't wait any longer! 

Garden Oasis, almost ready to harvest!
Tasty Green Japanese - I've been growing this hybrid for a number of years now and have found the plants to be both reliable and productive. The fruits can grow up to 10 inches long, but we tend to pick them before they reach that point. They don't need peeling, are bitter-free and the flesh is sweet and crunchy.  

Garden Oasis - A mid-east hybrid, this is the type of cuke sold in six-packs at the grocery store for big $$$, but they are extremely to grow at home. Each plant will bear dozens of glossy fruits, that are best picked when just 5 to 7 inches long. The productive plants are also very disease resistant. 

Melonie - Thanks to NB gardener Pete, I have also planted 6 Melonie cucumber seeds. This is a rare, unusual variety with eye-catching striped fruits (dark and light greens stripes) and is said to have a mild, sweet flavour. Looking very forward to this one!! For a photo, check out this link - Cucumber Melonie

More Lemon cukes - and my hand. Typical Niki photo!
Armenian - We've been growing these melons for a handful of years and I think that the above mentioned Melonie is going to be very similar. Marketed as a cucumber because of its shape and cool, mild flavour, these really are tasty. Because they are botanically a melon, they do best in a hot summer (good luck with that!) and they can be hit or miss.. last year was a miss, but the year before, we were swimming in them! Sigh.. Definitely worth a try. 

Little Tyke - Another new one for me, I was just given a sample of this seed from a local company and asked to give them some feedback. From what I understand, the plants are extremely early - often just 35 days from planting and bear a bumper crop of petite fruits that are most often used for pickling. That isn't going to happen - no pickling skills (yet!) - but I think we'll still enjoy these fresh from the vine.. 

What are your favourite cukes??

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Just call me, Rock Star!

Was just informed that while I was in Toronto for Canada Blooms last month, the Toronto Star newspaper did a little write up on a handful of the speakers at the show - including me.. Their description of me gave me a big giggle, so thought I'd share it! :)

 Niki Jabbour, for instance, is not well known in these parts, but in the Maritimes she is a rock star. Known best for her weekly radio show on News 95.7 in Halifax, she just recently published her first book, Year Round Vegetable Gardening. Jabbour represents the incoming generation of gardeners and she shares a passion for growing food. I have often said that the surging interest in vegetable and fruit gardens is driven by young women, many of them new mothers with a genuine interest in the quality of the food that they are feeding their kids. Listen to Jabbour at 1 p.m. on Friday, March 16 in the Blooms Garden Solutions room.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Seedling Update and Random Bits!

It's been almost 2 weeks since I started 6 flats of seeds indoors.. Tomatoes, peppers, basil, parsley, geraniums, petunias, gourds, giant pumpkins, onions, leeks and so many more.. Due to some work travel, I was a bit late this year for some things, but it never ceases to amaze me just how fast seeds germinate and the plants grow! My onions are now 3 inches tall and need to be trimmed back with scissors (we toss the trimmings into scrambled eggs - yum!). The tomatoes are entering the 2nd leaf stage and the Chinese cabbage (Little Jade, a new dwarf variety from Renee's Garden) is ready to be hardened off and moved to the cold frames!)

Just popped down to the basement, where the temperature is a steady 15 C and a fan keeps the air circulating 24/7. Blowing air can help prevent a host of problems, but it also toughens up the plants, making them sturdier, stronger and more ready to deal with the 'real world' once they are moved outside.

Here' s a peek under my lights on this cool and cloudy Wednesday, along with a few other photos from the past week!

A photo from the Spring Ideal Home Show last weekend.
Finally, a company that sells quality cold frames! For
contact info and pricing,  check out Nova Tree Company. So exciting!

Paul MacPhee of MacPhee's Landscaping Services. Paul is also
the current President of Landscape Nova Scotia!

Retail Sales Manager, Jackie from Blomidon Nurseries! I had
a great time speaking there last month and will be back again on
Friday, May 25th from 10 am to 12:30 to speak on Year Round
Veggie Gardening and do an extended Q & A session! 

A GIANT pumpkin seedling from garden friend, Pete. You
can't buy seed like this! He sent me some from a 1200 LB
pumpkin! This baby is already 5 inches tall and I have 4 others
that are quickly catching up.

A peek under the lights - look how things have grown in
just a few days. Plus, I have more to start - zinnias, cukes,
zucchini, more gourds/pumpkins, etc.

Ragged Jack Kale. Love that the true leaves are so 'raggedy'
and divided. You can even see the purple centre vein already.

Another photo.. gourds, kale, tomatoes, onions and more!

Portuguese Kale from Renee's Garden. Huge flat
leaves grow 18-inches tall. Heat tolerant with a mild,
sweet flavour. Can't wait!

Last, but not least, my Little Jade seedlings. I'm not sure who
likes Chinese cabbage more - me or the slugs? But, I gotta
keep trying. These seedlings are only 12 days old and
will be moved to the cold frames by Monday I hope after a
few days of hardening off.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Sh*t Gardners Say

A few months ago, some of my crazy gardening writing pals decided to jump on the bandwagon of all the funny videos being posted online. Happily, they included me in this project! I have a feeling that some of the thoughts from these gardeners may sound mighty familiar to many of you! :) I hope you enjoy it..

Sh*t Gardeners Say!