Review: Groundbreaking Food Gardens (Niki Jabbour)

NJ_GFGWhen I heard that Niki Jabbour was writing her second book, my excitement was instantaneous.  After all, her first book (The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener) captivated and inspired me with ideas and how-to instructions.  Before I even knew what it was about, I knew this new book was going to be good.

I was not disappointed.

Groundbreaking Food Gardens: 73 Plans That Will Change the Way You Grow Your Garden has blown my mind.  It’s TOC (table of contents) is the first indication of how well organized it is.  It’s the kind of book that you can sit down and read cover-to-cover or, if you’re like me and don’t have that kind of time, you can scan the TOC and choose to read one or two individual garden ideas at a time.

Each garden design is unique, and includes beautiful hand-drawn layouts alongside plant lists and information on how the gardens were built by the featured gardeners.  What I particularly liked about it is that most of the layouts work for small spaces.

Of course, I’ve already picked out a few favourites, which I plan to use when designing my garden for next year.  For instance, Donna Balzer‘s Edibles on a Patio will add to the container gardens, while The Chicago Botanic Garden‘s Small Space Beds will help us plan our landscaping project in a few years.  Kathy Martin’s Urban Shade Garden will help me grow beyond microgreens in our shady areas.  Others, such as Rhonda Massingham Hart‘s Vertical Vegetables, solidified my love of vertical gardening, and reaffirmed that I am, as they say, “doing it right”.

Groundbreaking Food Gardens has quickly become a favourite in my home.  My daughter loves going through the layouts, no doubt dreaming of how her own garden will one day look.  It’s not just a great read, it’s also a great coffee table book, inciting conversation between gardeners and non-gardeners alike.  This book will be added to my permanent collection… if it ever makes it to the bookshelf.

Our Temporary Lack-of-Space Solution

Staging ShelfWe ran out of space for seedlings, and had to pick up a temporary shelf for our staging area.  When the weather warms up, we’ll be moving it outside for the hardening off period.

A Letter to my Seedlings

Sweet and Hot Peppers

Dear Pepper Seedlings,

First, let me apologize for what you experienced this morning.  I realize that being dunked in cool water and having your leaves rubbed repeatedly must have been terribly uncomfortable.  I won’t say “it hurt me more than it hurt you”, but it is my job to make sure that you grow into strong, healthy, sweet and hot pepper-producing plants.  In the long run, the bath was a lot better than what would have happened without the bath.  We may even have to do it a few times.  But really, what it comes down to is, your leaves are tasty to some.  Aphids love you.  If it makes you feel any better, try to take it as a compliment.

Your Planter.

Herb saver… or Herb Starter?

IMG_7646A few years back, I was given a Herb Saver as a gift.  It has a removable plug in the back to add water, and the front cover comes off to access the herbs.  I never used it for fresh herbs because the cover was very difficult to remove from the front.  (They have made newer models much easier to use since then).

IMG_7648So I had this herb saver sitting around my house, collecting dust, and I thought “hey, why not try planting in it?”  After all, the plastic front on it acts like a tiny greenhouse in the sun.  A little sumi soil and a sprinkle of seeds later, and I had myself a neat looking new herb planter.  I keep the plug out so that the moisture has somewhere to go (I want herbs, not mold!)

Since I used sumi soil as the medium, the only watering it requires is a few sprays of water into the back opening once a week.  A couple of weeks is all it took to sprout a good amount of seeds.  Sadly, I can’t remember if I planted rosemary or thyme in it, only time will tell.

Secret Seed Exchange, Spring 2014

Free Seeds!Despite the cold and snow, spring is around the corner!  Spring brings a flurry of seed swaps, Seedy Saturday events, and planting workshops.  One such upcoming event is The Secret Seed Exchange.

The Secret Seed Exchange uses the Secret Santa concept.  This is how it works:  You send 2 packs of seeds and return postage to the address provided to you, in an envelope with your return address on it.  By mid-April, you will receive two different packs of seeds.

The exchange is open to anyone living in Canada, and the deadline for the Spring 2014 exchange is April 5th.  You can join in this exchange by emailing or by joining the Facebook group The Secret Seed Exchange and sending the Admin a PM.

Happy Seeding!

March Seedling Alert

Happy tomato and pepper seedlings, enjoying the warmth of the greenhouse.

There may be a March snowstorm here in Eastern Ontario, but don’t let that keep you from planting!  If they haven’t been started already, tomato and pepper seeds should be planted now.  Starting seeds indoors reminds us that, soon, the snow will be gone and we will be planting outdoors.

Annual Seedy Saturday, Ottawa 2014

Bird's Eye View of Seedy Saturday 2014

Bird’s Eye View of Seedy Saturday 2014

Last Saturday I went to the annual Seedy Saturday event in Ottawa.  It was basically a second Christmas for me.  Hundreds of people attended to browse various seed, sundry, craft, and other eco-related vendors.
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Seedy Saturday Ottawa

Free Seeds!Fellow Ottawans, only 3 more days until the 2014 Seedy Saturday!  There will be various vendors (seeds, food, information and other fun items), workshops, and a free swap table!

I’ve got about 80 seed envelopes for the swap table, so drop by and see if we have anything you need!

Saturday March 1, 2014 10-3
Ron Kolbus Lakeside Centre, Britannia Park, 102 Greenview ave
(Free Admission)

Workshop / Talk Schedule:
10:15 Square foot Gardening with Carolyn Klickermann
11:00 Everything you ever wanted to know about Kale: growing, eating and storing – Jim Thompson, Notre petite ferme – Our Little Farm
12:00 Growing sweet potatoes – Dan Brisebois, Ferme de Tournesol
13:00 Beginner seed saving- Kate Green USC
14:00 The 10 meter diet – Tom Marcantonio

Contact:, 613-521-8648

Aphids, Fungus Gnats, & Fruit Flies

Aphids feasting on a hot pepper plant.

Aphids feasting on a hot pepper plant.

I’ve been hearing the same questions over and over, and thought perhaps it was time to do a post about common household pests.  I’ve written a post about aphids in the past, and this post will include all of that information, as well as information on fungus gnats and fruit flies.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty about each pest, it’s important to differentiate between the three in terms of appearance, so that you know what you are dealing with.  Aphids are tiny white flies, and their larvae has small, clear-green bodies.  Fungus gnats are tiny, slow moving black flies, and their larvae is a clear-brown colour.  Fruit flies are tiny, quick moving black flies, and their larvae is a clear-yellowy-brown colour, similar to maggots (only smaller).

This article will provide information and suggestions on how to rid your plants and homes of each of these three common pests.
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Spring Begins With Peppers!


We started our peppers about a week ago using the baggie method:
1.  Put the seeds between paper towels.
2.  Wet the paper towels.
3.  Place paper towels in a baggie.
4.  Label the baggie.
5.  Place the baggie on a heat mat or other warm surface (the top of a fridge works well).

This year we planted Mixed Habanero (hot), Black Hungarian (hot), Bulgarian Carrot (hot), Sweet Chocolate, Gypsy Red (sweet), and Sunrise Orange (sweet).

After just a few days, the pepper seeds started to sprout.


Once the seeds sprouted, we placed them in loose compost mixed with perlite (to help with drainage).  It took a couple of days before the first sprout emerged from the soil.

Now we’re well on our way to having some very happy pepper plants in this year’s garden!