Niki Jabbour

Growing a highly productive vegetable garden

By Mickey Stobbe ©2014
Penn State Master Gardener

Considering that agriculture began 12,000 years ago, it might be tough to label vegetable gardening as a trend. Experienced gardeners know that growing exactly the vegetables that suit their palates, knowing what’s been sprayed (or not sprayed) upon them and enjoying the fruits of their own harvest is very rewarding.

Embracing this trend, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens and Penn State Extension is presenting a Summer Short Course on July 10 featuring Niki Jabbour. Niki is a renowned garden designer, author and host of the radio program, “The Weekend Gardener”.  Her debut work, The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener, won the 2012 American Horticultural Society Book Award.

Her newest book, Groundbreaking Food Gardens:  73 Plans That Will Change the Way You Grow Your Garden is a must-have for anyone interested in advancing their practice of vegetable gardening.   The book is a showcase of how-to advice and plans from 73 garden experts.   Topics include: “Best-Tasting Tomatoes”, “Edible Cutting Garden”, “Rooftop Farm”, “Cocktail Garden”, “Pollinator Friendly Raised Bed”, “Chicago Hot Dog Garden” and “Edibles on a Patio” plus 66 others.  Our local garden experts have contributed topics:  Doug Oster’s- “Italian Heritage Garden” and Jessica Walliser’s-“Good Bug Garden” are included in the book.

In an interview Niki Jabbour shared her insights on gardening. Her course will emphasize ways to have a highly productive garden. Niki resides in the Canadian Maritime province of Nova Scotia. It is a temperate climate, classified as USDA Zone 5b, which includes the Pittsburgh area. Winters can be harsh, yet she’s a year-round vegetable grower, maximizing the productivity of her home garden. Her presentation will include details on vegetable, fruit, edible flower and herb gardens.


Ms. Jabbour breaks the garden season into three parts:  cool, warm and cold.  Each season has a range of vegetables that will thrive. There is some overlap between seasons, most often with cool-season veggies, which are very adaptable. Intensive planting, succession planting and interplanting are gardening methods that Niki will cover in the course.


Cool-Season Harvest: Thrive in the cool spring and fall weather.

Swiss chard
Purple Pak Choi


Warm-Season Harvest: Require warmth and lots of sunlight to thrive.

Pole Beans
Summer squash


Cold-Season Harvest: Can be grown in cold frames and mini-hoop tunnels.

Brussels sprouts


Intensive planting was developed by French market farmers in the late 1800s and enabled gardeners to grow more food in less space.  Despite the instructions on spacing written on plant tags, Ms. Jabbour advises spacing plants closer together in a grid pattern. When plants touch each other they form a “living mulch” and shade the soil.  This technique reduces water usage and minimizes weed germination.  She advocates regular applications of aged organic matter keep the level of production high. 

Ms. Jabbour states that succession planting is the key to a nonstop harvest.  When you plant in smaller quantities there is no glut of produce all at one time.  For instance, you might plant one block of lettuce, then three weeks later plant another block.  You will have high quality, fresh veggies ready for the table, nonstop. 


Basil between tomatoes

Bush beans between tomatoes. peppers or eggplant

Cilantro between leeks

Lettuce under corn, pole beans or tomatoes

Parsley between tomatoes

Spinach under pole beans or trellised cucumbers, between leeks, turnips and Brassicas

Succession planting can help you outwit some insect pests by avoiding their prime season.   For example, holding off a zucchini planting, until after squash vine borers have passed, helps to ensure a larger harvest.  Most salad crops can be sown every few weeks for a nonstop harvest.

Her top five veggies for succession planting are:  leaf lettuce, arugula, bush beans, radishes and carrots.   Look for early, mid- and late-season varieties of your favorite vegetables, including potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, cucumbers, broccoli and more.

Niki recommends interplanting as a great way to get more out of your space without expanding your current garden.  Interplanting is combining two or more types of vegetables in the same garden bed, at the same time, in order to maximize the growing area.   Plants with different growth rates and growing requirements should be planted together.

She stated that you wouldn’t plant broccoli and kale together, as both are nitrogen “pigs”, known as heavy feeders in garden terms.   However, kale and lettuce, a light feeder, would pair well.  Corn, another nitrogen lover, and soybeans, with their ability to fixate or produce nitrogen, are good combination.   The “three sisters”:  corn, squash and pole beans are a great interplanting trio.   The squash provides living mulch and corn thrives with the nitrogen provided by pole beans. Interplanting can be achieved in several ways:  with alternating rows, mixed beds or by adding an edge-friendly crop around the perimeter of the bed.

Ms. Jabbour further increases the productivity in her 2,000 square-foot garden by using A-frames and bamboo poles to support plants vertically.  This strategy increases yield and can reduce the incidence of pests.


She will discuss ways to extend the seasons of growth and increase productivity by growing plants at the right time and utilizing covers.   Mulch “blankets”, cold frames and mini hoop tunnels are all employed in her garden.  She lives by the credo that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy fresh vegetables from a year-round food factory.   Plus, when winter is still in the air, there is the added benefit of lifting the door to the cold frame and smelling spring and new growth. 

Cold Frame
Cold Frame

Niki Jabbour believes that there is an increased awareness among families and young children as to the benefits of gardening. Her advice to us is to keep trying “what’s new to you” vegetables and experimenting with different growing techniques, many of which she will share in her talk.


Year Round Veggie Gardener Blogspot

Garden Planning

Fall vegetable gardening


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