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Niki Jabbour is a Halifax gardening expert and author of the book Growing Under Cover. She’s seen a spike in interest about gardening since the pandemic began, including more traffic to her gardening website.
“This year, it’s been even more so,” she says. “It’s like the gardening boom Part 2. People are looking for information and it’s really great to help them be successful.”
Jabbour says food gardens – veggies and herbs – are the best entry point for newbie gardeners. “They’re easy to grow and low maintenance, and they can go in containers as well as garden beds.”
Start off with a simple planter on your deck or backyard. Fill it with potting soil and a few plants, place it in a sunny spot and keep it watered. Once you’ve had success with that, you’ll feel confident to move on to a raised bed or garden bed (go for one that gets full sun to ensure success).
Grow what you enjoy
“Think about what you like to eat,” advises Jabbour. There’s no shortage of veggies that are easy to grow: bush beans, cucumbers, peas, zucchini or tomatoes are all great options.
Tomatoes are a staple of summer gardens. Opt for a cherry tomato transplant first and then branch out to larger, full-bodied or heirloom varieties. “Heirlooms are popular and so flavourful, you’ll never go back to store-bought tomatoes,” Jabbour says. Be sure to read the label on the size of the plant and use a stake to keep larger plants healthy and off the ground.
Most garden centres or farmers’ markets carry several heirloom tomato varieties: Jabbour recommends Black Krim, Cherokee purple and Brandywine.
Save the best for later
If you’re growing herbs, pinch them back often. “The more you pinch them, the more they grow,” says Jabbour. You’ll stop the plants from going to seed early, boosting your yield.
“I have homegrown basil every day of the year,” she adds. She chops fresh basil leaves, mixes in a little olive oil and then freezes it in ice-cube trays. She dries herbs like rosemary, oregano and thyme to preserve their flavour.
Involve your kids
If your kids are fussy eaters, gardening can help them explore new things. “There’s no shortage of fun veggies for kids,” says Jabbour. “I’ve been growing lemon cucumbers for 30 years. They are round with pale yellow fruit and are amazing to eat. Kids love that they’re different-looking.” Other suggestions are rainbow carrots and cucamelons (these are grape-sized cucumbers with a lime zing).
Most of all, let kids get their hands dirty and be part of the process. “They can help water the garden and pick out what to plant,” says Jabbour. “Give them their own container so they can plant a themed garden – a pizza garden [with cherry tomatoes, peppers and oregano] or a fairy garden with mini herbs and flowers. Or even an herb tea party garden, with mint, lemon balm and stevia. The options are endless.”
Pro-tip to prevent pests
Even if you’re growing veggies or herbs exclusively, throw in a few flowers (such as nasturtium, sweet alyssum and calendula) to attract pollinators and beneficial insects (such as soldier beetles, lacewings, ladybugs and hoverflies). Beneficial insects eat things like slugs and aphids, including their eggs, preventing the pests from invading your garden.