Friday, July 18, 2014

The sun is out and so are the bees!

After four days of rain, drizzle and clouds (much needed, not complaining!), the sun has now come out.. and along with the sun, the bees have returned. The garden is literally buzzing - loudly! What a welcome sound and sight..

Just a reminder how important it is to include bee and pollinator friendly plants in your garden..

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Edible inspiration at the Phipps Conservatory!

I was lucky enough to visit the Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh last week for a book event.. A heartfelt thank you to the many enthusiastic gardeners who came out to talk food gardening and share the day with me!

I had several opportunities during my visit to wander through the various 19 indoor and outdoor gardens that make up the Phipps Conservatory and snap many (many!) photos. Now that I've finally unpacked and have uploaded my photos, I thought it time for a long overdue blog post on some of the sights of this Pittsburgh treasure.

I arrived on Wednesday afternoon for a quick tour after the gardens had closed for the day. Gabe Tilove, the adult education co-ordinator and my host, guided me through a sampling of the glass houses and gardens. It was a gorgeous summer day with plenty of sunshine and countless bees buzzing from flower to flower.

I then returned early the next morning when the light was soft to snap more photos of the indoor and outdoor spaces as well as the amazing kitchen garden, planted and maintained by Mike, a passionate and knowledgeable gardener. I took photos in most of the 19 gardens and will share more in the coming days but for now, here is a sampling of the wonder of the edible garden.

A corner of the kitchen garden at the Phipps Conservatory.

The cucumber obelisks in the kitchen garden. The
sky blue of the structures melded so well with
the bright orange and yellow nasturtiums
and marigolds. 

More of the funky obelisks, but these ones
are covered with rampant pole beans.

Well hello Swiss Chard! Mike used this
ornamental edible in many spots to add welcome
colour to the garden.

Early morning sun lights up the chard and beets. 

Such an inspiring garden, but most importantly, it is
achievable for the home gardener. Simple, but
attractive wooden raised beds and structures for
growing a wide variety of food plants.

A tomato trellis made from bamboo and mesh.
A closer look at the tomato trellis. 
They also practice succession planting in the kitchen

Sweet alyssum was tucked throughout the garden to
entice pollinators and beneficial insects.

Edible landscaping! Kale and cabbage
was used to edge pathways. 

Another tomato trellis.

I was lucky to wander the garden on Thursday morning
 with Phillip, a botanist at Penn State. He
has an observant eye and noticed the
lacewing larvae (AKA aphid lions) trolling
for aphids on the milkweed. So cool!

Whimsical art and practical structures
meet in the kitchen garden at
More Swiss chard - I LOVE this cheerful variety with
bright gold stems. 

Large scale production beds were tucked in the back corner
 of the kitchen garden.
The building where we had the book event - seriously beautiful!
The front gardens in the early morning light were spectacular
and filled with birds and bees. 

This bench was also placed in the front
garden and surrounded a fountain. The
perfect spot for a morning coffee. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Summer in my Garden

Can you believe it? Summer has finally arrived! Wahoo! Now that winter and spring are behind us, the harvest season has really picked up and I'm anticipating bushels of beans, tubs of tomatoes and crates of cucumbers.. zoodles of zucchini?? Ok, sorry, that might have been one too many.

It's now evening and the sun is falling towards the horizon. I was just putting around the veggie patch, adding pinches of lettuce seed wherever I spied empty space and I was struck by the beauty of the Red Russian kale that is now in full flower.

Not only are the leaves edible, but so are the flower buds and bright yellow blossoms. If you look closely, you'll see the stems are purple and contrast so nicely against the flowers. Even the seed pods are dusky purple! As well, the plants are rather prolific and although we've been munching on the flower buds and tossing the little blooms in salads, there always seems to be many MANY more flowers - which the bees and beneficial insects appreciate. This morning when I was watering my new seed beds, there were hundreds of bees buzzing around the early summer flowers and bolted veggies - kale, mizuna, pak choi, mustard, catmint, sage, chamomile, chives and more. Heavenly!

Anyway, the light was nice, so I snapped a few photos.. Enjoy!

Every leaf axil produces more flower buds -
yummy! Just like a peppery broccoli.

Here is a maturing seed pod. Once these pods are dried and
the seeds are rattling around inside, I thresh them and
gather ziploc baggies full of the seed. 
Mizuna in bloom.. 

Well hello Indigo Rose tomato.. it's a grafted tomato - my
first grafted tomato ever! These fruits are already 1 1/2 inches across.

Chives anyone?? Please! 

Striking in the evening light. 

A little lettuce.. I've got a 5 by 8 foot bed planted in
salad stripes - 'Peppermint' Swiss chard, 'Ruby Red' lettuce
and this lovely green heirloom lettuce. Photos will
follow soon of the bed.. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

National Garden Days - Join me June 13th at Alderney Landing Park!

One of the dazzling entries in last year's celebrity
container garden contest!
In just a few short days, Canada will be celebrating all things gardening with National Garden Days, an annual event that runs the Friday to Sunday of Father's Day weekend (June 13th to June 15th this year).  Organized by the Canadian Garden Tourism Council, National Garden Days reinforces the importance of celebrating the role and many benefits of gardens in our communities, with an emphasis on the wonderful public gardens we have in Canada.

Coast to coast activities are planned for gardeners from Vancouver to St John's and to see the complete list of events, just click HERE.

As the Maritime spokesperson for National Garden Days, I will be taking part in a WILD and CRAZY container gardening contest on Friday June 13th. Four local celebrities will be paired with four skilled gardeners to create the best container garden earn some serious bragging rights. The winning container is voted by YOU! So, once the photos of all the creations are posted on the Halifax city website after the event, you can vote for your top pick! I'll be emceeing the event at Alderney Landing Park in Dartmouth from noon to 2 pm. Rain or shine! We're going to have a lot of fun and want plenty of audience participation, so please come say hi! The four green-thumbed celebrities are Deputy Mayor Fisher,  Crystal Garrett (host of Global Mornings - and a talented gardener!), Jordan Hipson (amazing designer & radio host of At Home) and Lil MacPherson (Owner of the Wooden Monkey restaurant). 
An entry from last year - and one of my favourites - see
the Swiss chard?? 

A sister event will be taking place across the harbour at Grand Parade.. It's hosted by Neville MacKay and his four celebrities will be Mayor Mike Savage, Cyril Lunney (host of CTV Morning Live), Chef Chris Veldon (Owner of The Flying Apron Cookery) and Louise Renault (CBC Information Morning)

But, c'mon.. the Dartmouth event will be where all the action is happening, so catch me there and let's have some fun! 

For more information on National Garden Days,  visit their website

Monday, May 26, 2014

A Conversation with Tara Nolan!

Tara and some 'new' gardeners!
Tara Nolan is a co-founder of Savvy Gardening (as well as myself, Jessica Walliser and Amy Andrychowicz), a real food advocate and a Kashi Plant it Forward Ambassador. She recently took part in the Plant it Forward campaign that kicked off on Thursday May 15th at the Toronto Kiwanis Boys and Girls Club in Cabbagetown. Essentially, the aim of this campaign is to highlight the importance of real food and Kashi has donated money and time to build and support 18 community gardens across Canada! Now, that's my kind of community involvement!

I recently talked to Tara about her own experiences in growing food and here is what she said:

Q1 - Tell me a bit about what you're growing this year - do you often grow food crops and why?

Getting started with the new garden
A - I always grow several different heirloom tomatoes and plenty of fresh herbs, like parsley, chives, sage and basil. These are the things that would regularly appear on my grocery list alongside carrots, radishes, lettuces, kale, beets, etc. Each year I look forward to my tomatillos. I have a fantastic salsa verde recipe that I make and freeze. (UPDATE - See below for Tara's recipe) I already have garlic coming up (that was planted in the fall) – the scapes should be ready to make into pesto in June and the garlic bulbs at the end of July. I like to grow my own food crops, because nothing beats the taste of fresh, whole foods you’ve grown yourself. I like to preserve some of these fresh flavours to enjoy over the winter, as well. Growing fruits, veggies and herbs from seed can also help you save money. 

A photo of the 'before' garden. 
Q2 - Vegetable gardening has a reputation for being a lot of work. Are there easy ways to add homegrown food without putting in a lot of time and work?

A - Growing fruits and veggies in pots can minimize tasks like weeding the garden or laying mulch. I’ve had great success with strawberries in hanging baskets. Many garden centres now offer pre-made pots, as well. You can get a lettuce bowl or a whole herb garden in one container. There are also neat innovations like upside-down tomato planters – no staking required! The main task you can’t avoid with gardening is watering your plants. 

Q3 - What are you excited about for 2014?

Working hard!
A - I’m excited about growing “new-to-me” veggies, like lovage and pickling cucumbers and walla walla onions. I’ve also planted cucamelons and okra, which I’ve never tried before. I’ll be adding edible flowers to my pots and gardens, like nasturtiums (I’ve planted some from seed), as well as adding plants to my vegetable garden that will attract pollinators and keep the bad bugs away – plants like marigolds, lemon balm and milkweed.

Q4 - Why is Kashi trying to get Canadians to garden?

Kashi is encouraging Canadians to eat fresh, local food, but also to develop a deeper understanding of where their food comes from. That is why the company has partnered with Evergreen, a not-for-profit organization committed to green cities and a healthy planet, and identified 18 communities in need that will benefit from the creation and/or maintenance of community gardens. The idea is to make fresh, whole food more available in these urban areas. And in general, Kashi is encouraging Canadians who have the space, whether it be a a big yard or a small patio, to plant their own gardens full of fresh edibles. For a limited time, there are organic seed packets on specially marked boxes of Kashi product. It’s a great way to get customers curious about gardening themselves.

Q5 - Tell me about the kick off event for Plant it Forward

The planting begins in ernest! 
A - Thursday, May 15 marked the launch of the Plant it Forward initiative. Kashi and Evergreen built and planted a brand new garden at the Toronto Kiwanis Boys and Girls Club in Cabbagetown, which is in downtown Toronto. The kids will be tending the garden all summer long and will be able to enjoy the fruits (and veggies!) of their labour. 

Tara's Salsa Verde

  • About 10 to 12 medium-sized tomatillos (roughly the size of a plum or a golf ball – use more if they’re small)
  • 1 small hot pepper if you like a bit of spice
  • 1 to 2 cloves of minced garlic (I use a fine grater to grate it right into the food processor)
  • 1 tbsp of lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons of honey
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 to 4 green onions, thinly sliced, or fresh chives (optional)
  • Fresh cilantro (optional)

Remove the husks from your tomatillos and give them a rinse to remove the sticky coating and any debris. Dry them off and place on a cookie sheet lightly coated with olive oil (I use a foil-topped cookie sheet to preserve my pans).
Roast your tomatillos and the pepper for 5 minutes, then flip and roast for another 5. Everything will start to blister and occasionally a tomatillo will burst open (just be sure to scoop up all the juices when you’re blending).

Gently scrape the seeds away from the hot pepper when it’s cooled off a bit.

Add the tomatillos, hot pepper, garlic, lime juice, honey and salt to a food processor and blend.

Pour into a bowl and stir in the onions or chives and/or cilantro.

Almost done!

The 'after' photo - great job everyone!

Time for a snack :)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Book Review - A Garden to Dye For

My first connection with Chris McLaughlin was as a fan. Sitting on the shelf above my desk, I have well-worn copies of several of her books, including Vertical Vegetable Gardening, whose techniques I have put to very good use in my garden. Therefore, when I started working on Groundbreaking Food Gardens, I immediately added her to my 'wish list' of potential contributors.. I had no idea what to expect when I contacted her, but was thrilled to find a kindred spirit in our love for growing food. She quickly agreed to contribute and created an inspiring plan for a front yard veggie/fruit garden that is both beautiful and productive. (AND was the image featured in a recent LA Times article about the book - click here to see.)

Perhaps the first thing one realizes as one talks to Chris is that she is ENTHUSIASTIC (with a capital E!!) Her passion for her craft is so motivating and I'm happy to announce that she has now finished her latest book - A Garden to Dye For: How to Use Plants from the Garden to Create Natural Colors for Fabrics and Fibers - and it has just been released by St Lynn's Press. Go Chris go!!

Some of Chris' natural dye scarves!
Growing a garden with crafting in mind is not so different from growing a garden for its beauty. In fact, I was surprised to learn just how many of my existing garden plants (and those on my 'want' list) can be used to colour fabrics. Who knew?!? I can use my marigolds, dahlias, rudbeckia, onions, red cabbage and many many more of my flowers, veggies and herbs - even my beloved morning tea is an effective fabric dye.

The skin of onions, including these heirloom
red onions make vibrant natural dyes.
Now you might ask, "Ok, so I CAN use them, but WHY would I?" Too much work? Not feeling crafty? I get it.. really I do, but here is what Chris says - and I think any avid food gardener will understand, "Ever heard of the Slow Food movement? If not, then look it up, because making food, fiber and life from scratch is the way the wind is blowing these days. Slower is being more aware and more involved. Slower usually equals better. Growing the plants and extracting your own dyes brings intimacy to the craft." As for me, I live in an urban area, with a young family and little of my 'own' time.. but I still see the value in this. I take pride in my garden, my cooking and even my feeble attempts at jam making (just a newbie at canning/preserving), but I am so excited to try my hand at making some natural dyes from my plants and experimenting with colours and fabrics. Nothing fancy, but Chris' gentle encouragement and the many simple starter projects detailed in the book have got me hooked. (natural coloured play doh! watercolour dye paints! tie-dyed T-shirts!)

Perhaps my favourite sections were those that detailed the plants. Chris offers a brief intro on each plant (including dozens of perennials, fruits & veggies, herbs, and trees & shrubs), followed by advice on planting and growing them. Finally, she shares information on how to obtain the colours from these plants for dyes. (What? My deadheaded marigolds could be transformed into bright hues for scarves, tablecloths and more?)

And I can't say that I wasn't warned.. (and I certainly don't need another garden obsession) but in the first chapter of the book, Chris does start off by apologizing for getting the reader hooked! "Fair warning, though: once you start dyeing, it's surprisingly hard to stop. Forever after, you'll be looking at everything around you in one of two ways. The next plant you lay eyes on, one of your first thoughts will be "Hmmm… can I get colour out of that?" Anytime you see a fabric or fiber, you'll think, "I wonder if that will take colour?"

 "I consider myself the gateway drug to a healthy plant
addiction." Chris McLaughlin
So, here we are.. I'm now excited to harvest my red heirloom onions not just to eat, but to turn the vibrant hued skins into an exciting dye for tie-dyed T-shirts? Or a pretty scarf? Who knows what I'll create, but I can tell you that I will now look at my garden in a whole new way.

Thanks Chris!

FYI - For my US friends, check out Chris' website where she has a giveaway for a Natural Dye Starter Kit - here!

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Weekend Gardener is Back for its 8th Season!

The view from my studio seat!
It's official, this Sunday April 27th season 8 (8!!) of The Weekend Gardener kicks off. Geeze, how did 7 years go by so fast? Anyhoo, we have a slightly earlier show time - now 10 to noon Atlantic time (9 to 11 am EST) and we are still broadcast on three stations - News 95.7 FM in Halifax, News 91.9 FM in Moncton and News 88.9 FM in Saint John. Or, if you're nowhere near any of those cities, just go to and listen live. After each show, the two hour broadcast will be podcasted. (is that a word? it is now.)

I've been very busy calling/emailing/messaging some of my favourite folks to join me over the coming months, and we have a very wide range of gardening topic to cover. I would LOVE to hear any of your thoughts, guest ideas, topics, etc too, so please comment with your suggestions. I will also be getting your tweets throughout the show, so feel free to tweet me at @NikiJabbour anytime.

I will also have a copy of my new book to give away to a caller - 1-877-801-8255, so call us with your questions!

Tomorrow - Saturday, April 26th, you can find me at Costco Dartmouth Crossing from 11 to 1 pm signing books and then at Costco Bayers Lake from 3 to 5 pm signing books. Costco has them for a limited time and they are priced at just $13.99, down from their regular list price of $24.95. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Seedling Update!

I know I was late to the seed starting party this year, sowing my indoor seeds weeks later than usual.. but you know what? Things are coming along very well. It's amazing the difference two weeks makes. Just look at these seedlings - they are getting BIG!

I'm especially excited about my 'Peppermint' Swiss Chard and 'Ruby Gem' lettuce from Renee's Garden.  This lettuce is seriously on steroids! I'm almost ready to pick the leaves for baby greens, but will harden off the plants this weekend, moving them into the garden next week. The chard will also go in the garden next week, but I'm reserving some for large containers, as I saw at the Halifax Public Gardens did last year. They tucked the boldly coloured plants between more traditional container plants and it was electric!

Anyway, it's one of those 'two step back' days for spring.. cool, damp, rainy today, so it's a good day to seed a few more flats indoors - more 'Ruby Gem' as a succession crop!!

Ruby Gem you are getting rather big!

Peppermint swiss chard - gorgeous!

Sungold tomatoes. I need to move my lights up a notch.

My green cotton has germinated - great germination rate.