Book Review: Niki Jabbour’s Veggie Garden Remix

The Canadian Organic Grower

Veggie Garden Remix was written by Niki Jabbour.

This Book Review was written by Rebecca Vito

Whether you are a backyard gardening enthusiast or a market gardener, Niki Jabbour’s Veggie Garden Remix is a book that belongs in your library. Instead of revisiting the same old varieties of vegetables that we all know and love, Veggie Garden Remix introduces readers to a plethora of interesting and unique vegetable varieties that are not so common in the typical North American garden. It all began with a snake gourd and the realization, thanks to her mother-in-law, that it could be used as an edible crop instead of an ornamental one. Since that time, Jabbour has tried many unique varieties and documents 224 of them in Veggie Garden Remix.

 

I was excited to read this book because I am always looking for different things to grow. Unusual colours, odd shapes, and different growing patterns make for a great way to look forward to the growing season. As a market gardener, there is nothing I like more than purple beans or long, twisty cucumbers that draw the attention of customers at a farmers market and bring them to my booth. While I sell more of the common varieties that everyone knows, it is the introduction to new colours and tastes that steer most of my conversations.

Veggie Garden Remix is a book that immediately catches the reader’s eye. With stunning pictures and an easy to read layout, it is inviting from the first page. The layout is straightforward. “Like this?” asks the book. Then you should “Try this!” This format makes it easy to jump to sections of interest if you do not want to read straight through. In addition, the author’s writing style is engaging and clear, making this book an easy read. By interspersing information about each variety with stories about where the variety originated and her own personal experience with it, Jabbour has created a book that is more than a reference book. It’s almost a story book on its own.

As I worked through the book, I constantly found myself jotting down varieties that I wanted to try. One such variety was Lemon Cucumber. I remembered hearing about lemon cucumbers at some point but the book reinforced my desire to give them a try. Jabbour noted that this variety was crunchy, a must have quality for cucumbers in my gardens, and that it was one of her favourites to eat. I started my seeds indoors and transplanted them outside in early June. The lemon cucumber plants were noticeably smaller than my other cucumber varieties and I wondered if I should have waited longer to move them out. However, once they were in the ground, the plants took off. My other cucumbers produced fruits before the lemons, but once the lemons started flowering, I was inundated. With nothing more than the compost I add to my garden beds at the beginning of the season, these plants went crazy. Jabbour’s advice to harvest the fruits before they turned bright yellow made a big difference in the quality of the cucumbers. I left a few to turn bright yellow and not only were they very seedy, but they did not have the same great taste. These funny looking cucumbers caused several people to stop at my booth. Many people laughed when I explained what they were, but most of them decided to buy a few. They became one of my best sellers and I had several disappointed customers when I told them the harvest was over. I really enjoyed having the lemon cucumbers as a snack on a hot harvest day. Just remember to rub the spines off before eating!

Suyo Long cucumbers were another variety featured in the book. These Asian cucumbers grow long and slender. Jabbour mentions trellising them if you want to have straight fruits but I found the really appealing thing about them was how curly they would grow when sprawling on the ground. Some fruits would be shaped like hooks, others made full circles, and the odd one actually grew straight. These were a hit with kids at the markets. One family referred to them as “crazy cucumbers” and the daughter ran to my booth every week to buy one. These were my favourite cucumber variety last year and I will be growing them again this season.

Some new varieties I am debating growing in the coming season are Sugar Magnolia – a purple-podded sugar snap pea, Celtuce – a plant with lettuce-like leaves that produces tasty fall stems, and Egyptian Walking Onions – a variety of onions I had heard about before the book, but want to try now that I have read Jabbour’s take on them.

Nikki Jabbour’s Veggie Garden Remix is perfect as a gift for fellow gardeners or as a present for yourself. It is one of those rare books that is easy and fun to read, while being informative and providing enough details to actually be useful. Diversity is an important part of organic growing, and this book will give you lots of ideas for diversifying your gardens. Try some of these varieties out for yourself. You probably will not like everything you try, but you might find your new favourite vegetable, and at the very least you will improve your gardening skills by trying something new.

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Rebecca Vito lives in Priceville, Ontario where she runs R & D Acres, a market garden and CSA farm. She enjoys sharing her passion for local food and organic growing.

You can find these books and many more in the COG Library here.

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