Gardening Blog

Gardener’s bookshelf: help with veggies

I love flowers as much as the next girl, but when it comes to gardening, I got into it for the food. Pretty didn’t matter. I’ve come to see the error of my ways, but no matter how many flowers I now grow, my green heart still really belongs to the edibles. As such, I am always on the look out for new insight on growing better vegetables.

There is absolutely no shortage of books on this topic; here’s three books I’ve been using this week as I start putting pencil to paper on my plot plan for 2014. Please comment if you’d like to recommend a similar volume.

Kitchen Gardening for Beginners (DK publishing, 2013) got a nod in the Fall/Winter 2013 issue of Canadian Gardening, and while I’m not exactly a beginner I’m no expert either and decided to give it a gander. The cover identifies it as a “simple guide” and that is very true. The text is straightforward, the layout uncluttered and easy to navigate. It takes you right from a blank slate of land, through soil preparation; the building of paths, beds, fences, and supports; into plant choices and seed starting; finally bringing you to maintenance, harvest, and storage. Pictures abound, illustrating projects, plants, techniques, weeds, bugs. It is simple though — ¬†serious students will likely find it a useful starting point but need to go elsewhere for more detail on topics of personal interest. There’s also the unfortunate truth that the authors garden in the much milder climate of Great Britain.

For a similar breadth of material with more detail (and Canadian detail at that), The Kitchen Garden by the renowned Patrick Lima and John Scanlan is a valuable, if somewhat less illustrated, manual. Published by Key Porter in 1993, it doesn’t have as many splashy colour layouts as we have gotten used to in modern publishing, but it has more guidance on choosing varieties (the ones available then, anyway), troubleshooting organically, and planting and upkeep tips. Patrick’s advice is unfalteringly understandable and useful. Plus it’s sprinkled with lovely recipes in which to use your crops. (You might have an easier time finding Patrick and John’s more recent The Organic Home Garden. I recommend it sight unseen, that’s how much I trust these guys.)

If a sprinkling of recipes isn’t enough for you, try tracking down The Cook’s Garden, (McArthur and Company, 2003), a compilation of growing advice and favourite recipes from past issues of Canadian Gardening. A few pages expertly describe the care and keeping of a given plant, and then dive into a selection of ways to best devour it at harvest. ¬†A lovely book to look at and use in the garden and in the kitchen. If you ask very nicely, I’ll let you borrow my copy.

Okay, okay, here’s a fourth. If you’re feeling really hardcore, you could try The Backyard Homestead (Storey, 2009). It leaves no stone unturned in the food-from-your-own-land department: veggies, yes, berries and fruit, yes, but also eggs and the associated chicken, meat and dairy, homegrown grains, honey, herbs, mushrooms, all with useful yet succinct explanations. It’s a formidable book, in a beautiful, exciting way, but I must admit, thinking about all that fruitful abundance makes me just a tiny bit exhausted.

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