Pros: Excellent book in all aspects...
Cons: though I wish it addressed drought conditions.
If you have decided that you want to go organic but don’t know when to start, this recently released 180 page book just might be a great start. Written by Barbara Pleasant, this colorful book uses concise informative text to guide you on your journey into organic gardening.
“Part 1: Developing Your Garden Plan” begins the book after a brief introduction. Part 1 is broken into four sections/chapters all sharing a theme of starting small with your gardening plan and slowly expanding year after year. After a brief overview of the different plans for the site, soil testing, and the idea that going organic will take some time to bring the soil to where it needs to be readers are led into Chapter One.
That first chapter is on “The Easy-Care Bag Garden.” The idea here is that you buy bags of topsoil, bring them home, and then lay them out wherever you want to grow your plants. Cut them open and plat your seeds and/or plants. At the end of the season, you pick up what is left of the disintegrating bags and then work the remaining soil back into the ground. The chapter includes plans for the first year you try this as well as the second and third years, as you continue to expand your garden. There are detailed recommendations for what to plant each year, how to plant and care for the plants as well as kinds of soil to buy, what to do by season, and other useful information.
This same format continues in “Chapter Two: A Bountiful Border.” Starting on page 33, this chapter advocates that instead of building borders out of shrubs and perennial flowers, use vegetables and herbs for the same effect with the bonus of growing good food. Using things like chard, beans, salad greens, onions and other things, the chapter is designed to get folks thinking differently about growing vegetables and borders. Like the bag garden, plans here start small and then expand outwards in years two and three. Building off of a straight line border that is twenty six feet in year one, the detailed plans provide specific instructions on how many 40-pounds of composted manure, organic potting soil, mulch, plants, etc to develop your edible border. Again there are detailed instructions on what to plant, how to plant, how to care for the plants, and seasonal guidelines for each of the years.
“The Front-Yard Food Supply” is the theme of Chapter Three. Not only will this give you less yard area to mow, it is a great way to get to know the neighbors who will be coming over to check out your produce. The same format of detailed plans for the three years are followed as in the earlier chapters. The idea here is to combine the practicality of a vegetable garden with the formality expected in a front yard. For example, instead of using wire cages to control the tomato plants as you would in the backyard, use a trellis and pieces of cloth ribbon to do the same job.
Maybe you have a family of four to feed. “Chapter Four: Family Food Factory Gardens” is designed for a high volume operation year by year. The various plans are designed for just about any conditions with names such as “Short, Cool Summers, Full Season Summers” and especially note to my fellow Texas residents, “Long-Hot Summers.” While the chapter starts on page 63, the information for Texans really begins on page 70. Beyond noting that the usually mild winters help plants remain productive (last winter being a notable and brutal exception), a number of recommendations of what to plant and when are made. It is worth noting that while plenty of choices are listed for the heat, nothing is specifically recommended concerning low water or drought conditions. Drought has been a frequent issue the last several years across Texas. As the water needs of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex as well as other areas of the state increasingly outstrip a vanishing water supply, one that simply has to be addressed in gardening books.
“Part Two: Essential Techniques And More Planting Plans” begins on page 75. The following pages are united by the idea that crops, climate, and various methods can all work together to make the garden as productive as possible. Production is the idea throughout the book and production should work for the gardeners and the family. A garden can also operate on its own theme such, as the author suggest, homemade marinara sauce.
“Chapter Five: Deciding What to Grow” kicks this area off with the obvious idea that you want to grow what you like as well as what will grow in your part of the country. You might need to expand your taste buds along with understanding that he time of year dictates what you can plant. Along with a black and white nationwide hardiness zone map there are recommendations for the various seasonal types across the country. The author notes, for example here in Texas, certain types of garlic that can’t be grown up north due to their winters as well as what should work well here.
“Chapter Six : Designing Beautiful Food Gardens” notes that if you have been growing flowers for years, the pesticides and fertilizers you used are not approved for vegetable gardening. For example, where you had your rose beds is not a good place to plant edible crops. This is a very short chapter that just covers the basics regarding changing your soil and supplements some of the info found earlier in the book.
One has to know how to work with young plants and that is the theme of “Chapter Seven: Working With Seeds And Seedlings.” Like the preceding chapter, it gives the basics and supplements earlier information. Broken into two parts, the first bypasses seeds for the most part and has you bring home and plant various plants that are already well on their way. Speed is the key here with quick production. The second part is all about growing veggies from seeds by using a few packets. This includes tips on starting seeds indoors by using item such as disposable food containers with clear tops.
Beyond water, vegetable plants frequently need support to stay upright. The four pages of “Chapter Eight: Supporting your Plants” cover the concept in a variety of ways in a variety of situations.
Making water as productive as it can be is the theme of “Chapter Nine: Make Every Drop Count.” Various water techniques are explained in detail along with some planting recommendations for the “Marina Medley Garden Plan” (homemade Mariana sauce referenced earlier) among others. While the information is of general use, again this chapter falls short in that it doesn’t address low water or drought situations. It also doesn’t address in this chapter or anywhere in the book, what to do about that low spot in the yard that is always muddy.
It is fitting that right after water is addressed, the next chapter is on “The Magic of Mulch.” Not only does mulch help control weeds and conserve water, as the author notes, depending on what is used, mulch can improve the soil. Various types of mulches are covered along with lots of information and tips on the topic in Chapter Ten.
“Chapter Eleven: Fertilizing Your Garden” starts on page 118 and expands beyond the use of various types of mulch into the concept of also adding organic fertilizers, mineral supplements, and compost. Lots of good advice, gardening plan diagrams, and seasonal calendar information that allows you to use plant material at it becomes available for maximum effect.
Bring on the bugs is the theme of “Chapter Twelve: Your Insect Friends and Foes.” Instead of the blanket “kill them all approach” favored by those I know and love, this chapter is on how to identify the good, the bad, and the ugly. Once you have it identified, this chapter will tell you how to assist or how to send them to buggy heaven. What you plant can assist with this and the gardening plans on pages 126-128 explain how.
If the bugs don’t get you, diseases will. Hence “Chapter Thirteen: Preventing Dastardly Diseases “follows the chapter on bugs and follows the same informative format.
“Chapter Fourteen: Smart Harvesting” explains what to do with all the extra produce that you can’t consume right away. Can it, freeze it, dry it, etc., there are choices and this chapter explains what works best for each item. This chapter also includes gardening plans that will generate dark leafy greens as part of the “Good-For-You Garden Plan.”
Cold frames and other ways to start earlier and garden longer are covered in “Chapter Fifteen: Stretching The Seasons.” Lots of different techniques are showcased in text and pictures which mean that more than one idea should work great for you.
Part Three provides still more key information to make you very successful. It starts off with a twenty-three page section on “Pick-Of-The-Crop Veggie Varieties.” Information on the different varieties that are available and what are considered the best ones is detailed here. This leads into a few pages of definitions in the “Garden’s Basic Lingo” before going into one page sections on the listings of plans, sources for seeds, and plants, the hardiness zone map with metric table and the four page index.
This 180 page book is a fantastic resource and guide providing lots of detailed textual information, colorful photographs, and comprehensive gardening plans. While aimed primarily at those new to organics as well as gardening in general, experience gardeners will find plenty of information worthwhile here as well. This is simply a must have book and one well worth your investment.
(Reviewer note--Those that rate based on what the reader could cook or grow based on the book should note that I live in an apartment on the second and third floors. While I do practice container gardening, because my apartment management frowns on ripping up the grounds I have been unable to put any of these ideas into practice. Additionally, this review at over 1600 words does not comply with lean and mean standards.)
Starter Vegetable Gardens: 24 No-Fail Plans for Small Organic Gardens
(check out her fantastic website)
Material provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.
Kevin R. Tipple ©2010