By Niki Jabbour
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2019 GardenComm Media Awards Gold Medal Winner
Best-selling author Niki Jabbour invites you to shake up your vegetable garden with an intriguing array of 224 plants from around the world. With her lively “Like this? Then try this!” approach, Jabbour encourages you to start with what you know and expand your repertoire to try related plants, many of which are delicacies in other cultures. Jabbour presents detailed growing information for each plant, along with fun facts and plant history. Be prepared to have your mind expanded and catch Jabbour’s contagious enthusiasm for experimentation and fun in the garden.
To my family, Dany, Alex, and Isabelle, who understand that all I want for my birthday is a truckload of aged manure.
To my mother, Joyce, and my parents-in-law, Kamal and Noha, who started me on this global gardening path.
Try ground cherries, Cape gooseberries, tomatillos
BONUS: Unusual tomato varieties
Try cucamelons, West Indian burr gherkins, cucumber melons
BONUS: Unusual cucumber varieties
Like summer squash?
Try bottle gourds, snake gourds,luffa gourds
BONUS: Unusual summer squash varieties
Like snap beans?
Try yard-long beans, hyacinth beans, edamame, chickpeas, daylily buds
BONUS: Unusual snap bean varieties
Try mizuna, mustard, Italian dandelions, turnip greens
Try celtuce, minutina, Tokyo bekana, mâche
Try hosta shoots, asparagus peas
Try magenta spreen, amaranths, molokhia, sweet potato leaves, tatsoi, New Zealand spinach, orach, Malabar spinach, hablitzia
Try Chinese cabbage, yu choy sum, komatsuna
BONUS: Unusual cabbage varieties
Try 'Spigariello liscia', 'Piracicaba', Romanesco, gai lan, sea kale, huauzontle
Try Jerusalem artichokes, groundnuts, Chinese artichokes, daylily tubers, dahlia tubers
BONUS: Unusual potato varieties
Like spring radishes?
Try daikons, black Spanish radishes
BONUS: Unusual radish varieties
Like bulb onions?
Try Japanese bunching onions, Egyptian walking onions
BONUS: Bulb onions
Try Hamburg parsley
WANT MORE OPTIONS? Grow these unusual varieties of:
Nine Global Herbs You Need to Know
Gather More Garden Wisdom from Best-Selling Author Niki Jabbour
Share Your Experience!
The Snake Gourd That Started It All
It began with a snake gourd — a 5-foot-long vegetable we'd hoped to use as the centerpiece for our Halloween decor. That spring, I'd started the seeds indoors, and by midsummer the rampant vines had reached the top of a sturdy A-frame trellis. Hiding among the large leaves were about a dozen young fruits. It was at this point that my mother-in-law, Noha, dropped by for a garden visit.
Noha grew up in a small village in the mountains of Lebanon, where life revolves around fresh food and family meals, traditions that she continued when she and her husband, Kamal, and their two young sons immigrated to Canada in the 1980s. On this particular day, I had planned to harvest some of the early tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, parsley, and salad greens for her. But when she spied the slender gourds, her eyes lit up. She quickly explained that she knew this plant as cucuzza, and in Lebanon, as well as other regions of the Mediterranean, it's grown and eaten like a summer squash. At about a foot in length, the fruits on my vines were just the right size for eating.
Thanks to Noha, I learned that my "ornamental" gourds were also edible, and I was thrilled to share with her a vegetable that she hadn't eaten in decades. I started to think that perhaps there were other Lebanese vegetables I could try in my Nova Scotia garden, and I began researching and asking questions. Soon, I was planting 'Omar's Lebanese' tomatoes, Armenian cucumbers, cousa zucchini, chickpeas, and molokhia — a cooking green Noha uses to make a flavorful chicken stew that is served over rice and topped with toasted pita bread and vinegar-soaked onions.
Like most North American gardeners, my vegetable plots had always been planted with "normal" crops like tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, peas, and beans, and although I played around with different varieties, I certainly didn't venture too far from the traditional veggies. This crash course in global gardening soon had me scheming to branch out and try edibles from other regions like India, Thailand, Mexico, Argentina, Italy, China, and Japan. I requested seed catalogs that specialized in ethnic crops, ordering vegetables and herbs that had maturity dates that I thought would fit in with my climate and gardening zone.
As with most experiments, some things thrived and some things didn't, but my success rates far outstripped the crop failures, and in some cases I was able to prompt long-season vegetables to reach maturity in my short-season garden by using simple season extenders like mini hoop tunnels and row covers. The extra few weeks at the end of the traditional growing season was enough to push crops like chickpeas, Thai eggplants, and certain gourds to reach maturity.
This bounty of international veggies and herbs has allowed me to flex my cooking skills, tackling recipes with ingredients that, in the past, had been difficult to source or expensive to buy. I was surprised how many of these unconventional edibles — pak choi, mibuna, edamame, bitter gourds, za'atar, yard-long beans, daikon radishes — thrived in my garden, and our backyard soon became known as the experimental farm. Measuring just over 2,000 square feet, the garden isn't huge, but it's enough space to test new-to-me crops as well as grow our traditional family favorites like 'Sungold' tomatoes, 'Napoli' carrots, and 'Purple Podded Pole' beans.
Fast-forward about a decade from that eye-opening day in the garden with Noha, and you'll find Dany and me standing in the garden, thrilled to discover the first Mexican sour gherkin cucumber ready for harvest. Also called cucamelon or mouse melon, these grape-size cucumbers have the mottled appearance of a tiny watermelon. There was some debate about who should get the first taste, but since marriage is (apparently) about compromise and sharing, we each took a small bite, enjoying the bright burst of cucumber-citrus flavor.
Dany's immediate response was, "Wow! Why don't more people grow these?" Great question! And one that eventually led to this book. Why don't more people grow cucamelons? Or cucuzze? Or herbs for za'atar? Or chickpeas? Or groundnuts? Is it because those are unfamiliar garden crops? Or perhaps gardeners just don't realize the amazing range of food plants that can be cultivated in their gardens? Or maybe because they aren't always readily available in local garden centers?
Diversity in the Vegetable Plot
There is a world of diversity available to gardeners, if we just take the time to look. For example, take the humble pole bean, a common crop across much of North America, the United Kingdom, and Europe. Most of us stick to the standard handful of varieties offered through seed catalogs, but if you just take a moment to look, you'll discover that there is an incredible range of pod colors, shapes, sizes, and flavors just waiting for you.
Have you met 'Gold Marie', a Romano-type bean produced on fast-growing vines? The 1-inch-wide butter-yellow pods have a hearty, meaty texture; with just one bite, this heirloom became a new family favorite. Or 'Red Noodle', a plant with mesmerizing dark red pods that can reach lengths of up to 18 inches? And don't get me started on my obsession with giant lima beans! These 10-foot-tall plants need a long frost-free season, but I still strive (with the help of an early planting in a spring mini hoop tunnel) to grow and harvest this Mediterranean staple. The beans are borne in lengthy, wide pods and, once dried, are a winter favorite. I slowly bake them in a thick tomato sauce liberally seasoned with fresh basil and aromatic vegetables for a simple, satisfying feast that pairs well with warm, crusty bread.
As I continued to explore the wealth of global crops, I realized that I was making a "Why grow that, when you can grow this?" type of list. Why grow 'Kentucky Wonder' beans, when I can grow 'Jimenez', a unique variety from Spain that bears beautiful green pods boldly brushed in bright red. The broad, flattened beans, which can grow up to an inch wide, are tender and tasty, with a flavor that pairs well with salty pancetta.
Or why grow spinach when I can play with the amazing assortment of greens like amaranth, orach, hablitzia, molokhia, and sweet potato leaves — just to name a few. Unlike spinach, many of these greens are heat tolerant, pumping out fresh foliage all summer long. And some, like hablitizia, are perennial, offering an annual crop of delicious greens.
Or why grow 'Straight 8' cucumbers, a garden standard, when I could grow 'Boothby's Blonde', an heirloom with pale, oval-shaped fruits and a lovely sweet flavor. Or how about Armenian cucumbers, which bear a heavy crop of pale green, heavily ribbed fruits. Botanically a melon, this "cucumber" is the perfect cooling treat on hot summer days. Or why not try growing 'Dragon's Egg' cucumbers for your Game of Thrones–obsessed family members and friends. This peculiar variety bears creamy white egg-shape fruits that are mild and bitter-free and, if placed in flames, may hatch into dragons (okay, just kidding about that last part).
I always tell gardeners to visit their local farmers' market for inspiration. It's a treasure trove of potential crops for your garden. If your local farmers can grow it, chances are you can, too!
Learning from Immigrant Gardeners
My original interest in growing a wider variety of edibles was sparked by my immigrant in-laws. In home gardens and community gardens across North America and beyond, immigrants bring their rich food traditions to their new countries, growing vegetables and herbs from their homelands. We have much we can learn from these gardeners, who, more often than not, are extremely generous in sharing their expertise and introducing us to lesser-known crops and varieties.
Of course, immigrant gardeners also present us with another learning opportunity: sharing traditional growing techniques. Several methods, such as the African keyhole garden, a plot that combines a raised bed with an active compost system, and hügelkultur, an Eastern European permaculture bed, have become mainstream and are being put to work in gardens from coast to coast.
More recently, I've begun to talk about my experiences with global vegetable gardening at my seminars and workshops. Not sure of the reception I would receive from vegetable gardeners used to more widely known crops and gardening styles, I was initially a bit hesitant. Happily, the response was overwhelmingly positive. I learned that food gardeners are hungry to explore the diversity of vegetables, herbs, and fruits found in our big, wide world. In these pages, I hope that you find the encouragement and inspiration to create your own global vegetable garden.
Immigrant gardeners generously introduce us to lesser-known crops.
try garden berries!
Like me, you may already be experimenting in your tomato patch, trying a mixture of unique heirlooms and hybrid varieties, each of which offers something different and tasty. Tomatoes (along with peppers and eggplants) are one of the most popular crops in the nightshade family, but other members are definitely worth a try! Some tasty ones include the "garden berries": ground cherries, Cape gooseberries, and tomatillos. With all of these plants, keep in mind that although the ripe fruits are edible, all other parts are poisonous.
Glorious Ground Cherry
A.K.A.: Husk cherry, Physalis pruinosa
Days to maturity: 70 days from transplant
Hails from: North America
Varieties to try: 'Aunt Molly's', 'Cossack Pineapple'
The flavor of a ripe ground cherry is comparable to pineapple with hints of cherry tomato and vanilla. It's an unusual combination, but one that works. Occasionally, I'll bite into an extra-ripe berry that almost tastes like butterscotch — sublime! Their sweet flavor is what earns them the nicknames "strawberry tomato" and "Cossack pineapple." You can eat the fruits fresh or in salads, but you can also turn them into jam, pie, cobbler, or sauce for drizzling over ice cream or cheesecake. If you have a dehydrator, you can dry them and eat them like raisins.
This is a fun and easy crop to grow, with the low, bushy plants producing hundreds of marble-size berries from midsummer until the hard autumn frost. The fruits drop from the plants when they are ripe, hence the name ground cherry. They are firm fruits, even when ripe, with seeds that are so small the fruits actually seem seedless.
Tricky to Start, but Self-Sowing Ever After
Ground cherries are notoriously tricky to germinate, but a bit of bottom heat will boost germination rates. I sow seeds indoors, 6 to 8 weeks before my last expected spring frost, and help them along by covering the seed trays with clear plastic wrap and placing them on top of my fridge to keep warm. Germination can take 2 to 3 weeks. Once transplanted into the garden, expect the harvest to begin in 70 to 75 days.
You may need to start them only once, though! Ground cherries are prolific self-seeders, so expect many volunteer plants to pop up the following season. You can either thin them and leave a few in place, or dig them up to share with gardening-minded family and friends. Growing them in containers on a wooden, stone, or concrete deck or patio will minimize the threat of self-seeding.
Relaxed or Trussed Up
The plants have a relaxed growth habit, which can take up a lot of garden space. I use tomato cages (inserted at transplanting time) or insert three 4-foot wooden stakes around the plant and use twine to keep the growth relatively upright. If you do support your ground cherry plants, you can transplant them 2 feet apart. Unsupported plants should be spaced at least 3 feet apart. They don't get very tall (between 11⁄2 and 3 feet in height), and they can also be grown in pots on a sunny deck or patio. Ground cherries pollinate themselves, so small-space gardeners can enjoy this crop, even if they have only one plant.
Look Down for Fruit
Harvesting is as simple as gathering up the fallen fruits — a favorite activity for our kids! Sometimes the fruits are still immature when they fall and need extra time to ripen from inedible green to rich, golden yellow. You could leave them on the ground for a week or two, but because the squirrels also love this treat, I pick up the fallen fruits every couple of days and bring them indoors to finishing maturing. To keep fallen fruits clean, I apply a straw mulch beneath the plants in early summer. This also helps keep the soil evenly moist, which ground cherries appreciate. To encourage ripe or almost-ripe fruits to fall, you can "tickle" or gently tousle the plant every few days.
If you're not going to eat your whole harvest immediately, store the small fruits, still in husks, in a refrigerator, cool basement, garage, or root cellar. Under ideal conditions, they can store from 6 weeks to 3 months. When frost threatens in autumn, cover the plants with a row cover or frost blanket to protect the crop. This can extend the season for several weeks.
Citrusy Cape Gooseberry
A.K.A.: Inca berry, Aztec berry, golden berry, Physalis peruviana
Days to maturity: 70–80 days
Hails from: South America
Varieties to try: None
If ground cherry fruits grow to the size of marbles, Cape gooseberries are closer to that of a cherry tomato. In fact, I find they look very much like 'Sungold' tomatoes when fully ripe; about 3⁄4 inch in diameter, with glossy orange-gold skin. Once ripe, the fruits are more tart than ground cherries, with a flavor that combines the tang of citrus with hints of tomato and pineapple.
Cape gooseberries need a slightly longer growing season than ground cherries; short-season gardeners will find that prewarming the soil before planting will give them a jump on the growing season. To prewarm, lay a piece of black plastic mulch (or even black garbage bags split open) over the bed 2 weeks before you intend to plant. Once the crops are in the ground, a mini hoop tunnel covered in clear plastic can be used to protect plants from the up-and-down temperatures of late spring. Just be sure to open the ends of the tunnel on mild days to allow good air circulation.
Go Easy on the Nitrogen . . .
Overall, Cape gooseberry is a low-maintenance crop, needing full sun but growing in a wide range of soil conditions. I dig in a few inches of compost before planting, but no aged manure or high-nitrogen fertilizers. Too much fertilizer will result in lush, vigorous growth but few blossoms. The plants of Cape gooseberry fertilize themselves, but you can boost pollination by giving the plants a gentle shake from time to time.
If garden space is tight, plant them in large pots or planters; they make attractive container plants and can be mixed with other ornamental or edible plants in their pots. Cape gooseberry plants grow more upright than ground cherries do, typically reaching 2 to 3 feet, or even taller in southern regions.
Cape gooseberries can be slow to ripen, especially in northern gardens. If frost threatens while the plants are still heavy with ripening fruit, erect a mini hoop tunnel to shelter the plants. This can be left in place for several weeks as the remaining fruits turn from green to bright gold inside their husks.
Like ground cherries, the fruits are gathered as they fall from the plant. Ripe Cape gooseberries can be stored in a cool site (50°F/10°C) for up to 3 months. They can be eaten fresh, cooked, or dried (toss dried fruits in homemade granola bars or trail mix). Chop fresh Cape gooseberries and add them to leafy or fruit salads, salsa, chutney, or relish. I have a friend who swears that the best way to eat them is to dip the fresh berries into melted chocolate (but isn't everything better dipped in chocolate?). You can also bake them in pies and crumbles or make them into jams and jellies.
A.K.A.: Husk tomato, Physalis ixocarpa
Days to maturity: 70–75 days
Hails from: Central America
Varieties to try: 'Toma Verde', purple
Ah, tomatillo, the starring ingredient in salsa verde, the classic Mexican green salsa. By themselves, tomatillos have a tart, citrus flavor, but roast them and pair them with hot peppers, onions, and cilantro, and you've got a dynamite dish that can be added to tacos, served with a bowl of nachos, spooned onto grilled fish or chicken, or used in a thousand other ways to add a bright zip to your cooking.
Straight out of the garden, tomatillos look very much like Cape gooseberries and ground cherries, but they are more the size of golf balls. Another important difference is that the two other species are not eaten while still green, but tomatillos are; if you wait until tomatillos turn pale yellow, they'll be too soft for most dishes and the flavor will have mellowed significantly. You'll also notice that tomatillo fruits fill out their husks as they grow, often splitting the papery wrapper as they approach peak ripeness. When that husk is removed, the fruits look like a green tomato, which is why they're also called husk tomatoes.
It Takes Two!
Tomatillos are very easy to grow, but they are not self-pollinating, and you need at least two plants for good fruit set. When planting, bury half of the stem beneath the soil to help encourage deep-rooting and drought-resistant plants. They are relatively low maintenance, but they do need 1 to 2 inches of water per week; too little water, and they will drop their blossoms without developing fruit.
It's not just the fruits that are larger; the plants of tomatillos are also bigger than those of Cape gooseberries and ground cherries. They can grow 3 to 4 feet tall and spread up to 3 feet across if left unsupported. I space my seedlings 21⁄2 to 3 feet apart and stake them by placing three 4-foot stakes arranged in a triangle around each plant. I wrap garden twine around the supports as the plants grow to hold them in place.
Brown Husk = Ripe Fruit
The fruits are ripe when the husks turn from green to brown. You can also give the husks a light squeeze to see if the fruits are firm and have filled out the wrapper. Once husked, you'll notice the skin on tomatillos has a sticky coating; just rinse it off before you use the fruit. Ripe tomatillos can be stored for up to 3 months by placing them in a single layer in a cool basement or room. However, the fruits can also be frozen (husk, rinse, dry, and freeze) in freezer bags. Any ripe fruits that are left on the ground will reseed the following spring and can be lifted and moved to a new spot or shared with tomatillo-loving friends.
Give Purple a Whirl
Experimental gardeners (which I hope you are) will want to try purple tomatillos, which have very pretty purple-green fruits and a slightly sweeter taste than green tomatillos. If an early frost threatens, cover plants with a frost blanket or row cover to protect them, or pick the maturing fruit and allow them to continue ripening indoors. Full flavor is achieved when the fruits are mostly purple.
growing garden berries
- >Grow Cape gooseberries, ground cherries, and tomatillos as you would tomatoes: start them indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last expected spring frost; plant them in a sunny garden bed (or in big pots) with plenty of organic matter; water them regularly if there hasn't been rain; and mulch them to suppress weeds, maintain soil moisture, and keep fruit clean.
- >Garden berries all form protective, papery husks around their fruits, which help to discourage bugs and birds. The plants are low maintenance, but they can fall prey to a handful of pests, including cutworms, flea beetles, Colorado potato beetles, or striped cucumber beetles. Be observant and take action where necessary. A lightweight row cover over the just-planted seedlings will deter beetles. Remove when the plants begin to flower.
why grow ordinary tomatoes?
Before Craig LeHoullier (author and tomato advisor to the Seed Savers Exchange) introduced me to the staggering assortment of colors, shapes, sizes, and flavors of heirloom tomatoes, I thought the sunny yellow fruits of 'Lemon Boy' were novel. Boy, was I in for a surprise! Soon I was picking the pea-size fruits of 'Mexico Midget', the weird clusters of 'Reisetomate', and the pale ivory tomatoes of 'Snow White'. Note: Days to harvest are from transplant, not direct seeding.
'Black Zebra' (80 days). Fruits of this cross between 'Green Zebra' and a black tomato have a remarkable sweet, smoky flavor. The 11⁄2-inch tomatoes are burgundy-purple brushed with green streaks, and in my garden, they begin to ripen in August. The plants are indeterminate.
“Read this book, have a notepad ready, and prepare for a new, international gardening experience. It’s how we grow.” — Country Gardens
“You’ll find acres of inspiration for your spring potager fantasies in this guide.” — Modern Farmer
“A wonderful surprise of a book. Jabbour shakes up gardeners’ assumptions on how our “conventional” vegetables should look or taste—from tomatoes to potatoes, onions to summer squash.” — Booklist
“Loaded with lush photos throughout, this attractive book will appeal to gardeners and gourmands alike.” — Publishers Weekly
“If I could poke around one person’s garden for amazing vegetable combinations, it would be Niki Jabbour’s. This book lets me do just that! Here’s a great way to get out of the ‘same-old same-old’ gardening rut and tempt your palate!” — Carson Arthur, HGTV and Cityline outdoor lifestyle expert
“Niki Jabbour takes us on a global romp filled with peculiar, fun, and delicious vegetable varieties. Inspired by the gorgeous, vibrant photography and Niki’s thoughtful plant descriptions and growing advice, I’m ready to place my seed order!” — Jessica Walliser, horticulturist and author of Container Gardening Complete and Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden
“The perfect book for any gardener seeking new and exciting edible options to keep it fresh and interesting. Thank you, Niki Jabbour!” — Joe Lamp’l, founder of joegardener.com and creator/host of PBS’s Growing a Greener World
“Creative vegetable gardeners rejoice! Niki Jabbour’s new book will shake up your salads and revolutionize your raised beds. Stunning photos and practical growing tips make vegetable gardening so approachable that anyone can grow magenta spreen, celtuce, asparagus peas, and more!” — Stephanie Rose, award-winning author of Garden Made and creator of the blog GardenTherapy.ca
“One of the most powerful ways to build a positive relationship with food is to grow your own. With this book you’ll learn proven techniques, celebrate hard work, develop patience, and ultimately harvest joy.” — Chef Michael Smith, host of Food Network Canada’s Chef at Home and Chef Abroad
“Niki Jabbour opens the door of infinite possibility for gardeners looking to expand into more diverse and exotic vegetable varieties. With a creative approach, she introduces you to a wide variety of plants and gardening techniques and gives you the confidence to take your vegetable garden to the next level.” — Mark and Ben Cullen, of MarkCullen.com: 10,000 Gardening Questions Answered
“I love trying new-to-me veggies in my raised beds, and this fresh, vibrant resource gives me bushels of interesting new options.” — Tara Nolan, author of Raised Bed Revolution
- On Sale
- Feb 6, 2018
- Page Count
- 240 pages