Anybody whose gardened for even a year has favorite books and favorite web sites. As a 30 year, veteran organic gardener, I have my share of favorites, too.
There used to be dozens of books on my garden shelf. Today, there are only about 10 of them. What happened to the rest?
I realized that although I had a ton of books to choose from, I always chose the same, select few when I had a question or needed help. So I decided to do a bit of clearing up. When the dust settled, there were a lot more books in the back of the car than on my shelf.
I took the rejects to a used book store where all profits are used to support senior citizens and headed home, having done my good deed for the day. So, on to the survivors, my favorite gardening books…starting with two books I have and treasure.
The Victory Garden
My life in the dirt began when I tripped over one small book one Saturday morning about 35 years ago. Crockett’s Victory Garden. I guess I can blame Jim Crockett for all of my gardening crimes.
More than 3 decades old, Crockett’s book is still hailed as one of the best for beginning gardeners and it still has pride of place on my gardening book shelf.
Crockett was a gardener’s gardener. He didn’t need fancy tools or high-end gadgets. All this man needed was some soil, some seeds, some sun and rain and he had a garden full of the bounty of nature.
And he was always so easy to listen to and learn from. No rush, no worries, just good, old-fashioned gardening advice, that’s what you got from Crockett every week on your local PBS station. And that’s what you’ll get if you can find one of these vintage books for your shelf.
Seed Starters Handbook
The idea of seed starting used to terrify me. I was beset with questions. What if I saved the seeds incorrectly and none of them sprouted? What if the seeds I saved changed from the original plant to a Frankenplant…born out of a cross I didn’t know about? What if I got great plants and little, tiny fruits?
Saving my own seeds and using them in my garden the next year just wasn’t something I wanted to try. But I did, with the help of a friend I’ve never met — Nancy Bubel.
Published in 1988, Bubel’s The New Seed Starter’s Handbook taught me how to save seeds of tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and peppers and use them the following spring. Getting started was so easy that today, almost 25 years later, I raise all my own seeds.
In fact, this past summer every plant in my garden — 5 varieties of tomato, 2 types of pepper, 2 of cucumbers and 2 of eggplant and 2 of zucchini – were all started in my basement along with butternut squash, lettuce, spinach, basil and parsley.
Bubel’s techniques are easy. No special equipment is needed and success is practically guaranteed. In fact, seed saving is so…natural…I’m surprised everyone isn’t doing it.
Garden Insects of North America; Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs
If you grow them (vegetables and fruit), they will come. Bugs you never imagined in your wildest nightmares will show up one afternoon and you won’t have a clue whether they’re good or bad.
WARNING: Don’t do what I did. I wiped out a whole generation of monarch butterflies because I thought the caterpillars on my dill and parsley were “bad.” So, look before crushing.
It’s really important to, “Know thy enemy.” Garden Insect of North America Garden Insects of North America: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs (Princeton Field Guides) makes it possible to learn about every kind of bug you never thought you wanted to know existed. Literally.
The images in this book are so good that I turn the pages with my fingertips and only touch the lower corners. And the images and descriptions will help you identify what’s chewing its way through your garden and give you a flying chance at handling the critter.
Patricia Lanza’s book entitled Lasagna Gardening, helped me expand my knowledge and increase the size of my garden 5 fold. There are nooks and crannies in my backyard that were wasted space before I met her and read her book.
Now, every patch of dirt is real estate to grow in. The inside line of the fence becomes a foot wide bed where beans can be planted and trailed up the fencing.
What’s really great about Lanza’s technique is there is no expensive equipment, no digging, no ploughing, no tilling. All you have to do is find the space gather materials like shredded leaves, manure, grass clippings, coffee grounds, newspaper and compost and start layering.
Lanza made it easy to do but what she really gave me was the vision to see where I could plant and the freedom to “dig in” without digging at all.
Grow Fruit Naturally
This is my newest book but it is also a book I reach for frequently. If you decide to grow fruit, Lee Reich is the guy to have in your hip pocket. Why Reich?
For one thing, the man knows what he’s talking about. With a doctorate in Horticulture, Reich taught for a while then moved from academic to author, writing books for the everyday gardener and farmer. All of his experience shows in his new book, Grow Fruit Naturally: A Hands-On Guide to Luscious, Homegrown Fruit.
Reich’s knowledge comes from books but it also comes from experience. He lives on what he calls his “farmden” so named because it’s “…more than a garden, less than a farm.” And he really, really knows his stuff.
His latest book, Grow Fruit Naturally, could not have come at a better time for me and my backyard orchard. I especially love his advice on blueberries.
I started growing blueberries without knowing that they are one of the easiest fruits to raise. In fact, 6 of my bushes are mini-miracles in themselves. But that’s a story for a later date which I promise to tell in this eBook.
Let’s just say, I planted 12 blueberry bushes in the corner of my back yard instead of 6 and I’ve been harvesting 60 quarts of blueberries every summer…until the summer of 2012.
Weather had something to do with it – 90 degree days in April and 40 degree nights in May. But somehow, I knew weather was not the only problem. I was very lucky because, in 2012, one of the best experts on planting and raising bushes and trees shared the fact that blueberry bushes have to be pruned. Who knew?
Because of this book, I will be heading out into the blueberries in October to do my first pruning, ever!
The Pruning Book
Also by Lee Reich, The Pruning Book: Completely Revised and Updated. The Pruning Book is one I’ve had on my shelf for 15 years. I bought mine used and have read it a couple of times. Like his book on growing fruit, Reich shares tons of photographs and drawings that make it easier to learn how to prune any plant.
Reich also shares pruning basics using a step-by-step approach. He tells you how to prune ornamentals, vines, fruit trees and even house plants. And Reich offers a special section on pruning techniques for espalier, topiary, bonsai, and pollarding.
By the way, if you like what you read in these Reich books, check out the others he has on sale. I loved Weedless Gardening and still use the techniques I read in this book in my garden, today. This wonderful writer and gardener has published many good books. The books are easy to read, enjoyable and can teach you so much about how to grow and care for plants, vines, shrubs, bushes and trees!
4 Season Gardening
When you are ready to extend your growing season, I can think of no one more helpful than Eliot Coleman and his book, Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long. Coleman lives in Maine…so if he can grow vegetables year round, the rest of us should be able to do it, standing on our heads!
As it says in the new edition of this book, “It’s hard to achieve anything new in an endeavor as old as gardening, but Eliot Coleman has done it.”
In this book, Coleman shares every bit of his knowledge, his tools, his advice and his finely honed sense of the cycle of life over the course of a year. He does so because he wants all of us to benefit from what it has taken him, literally a lifetime to learn.
Clearly written, beautifully illustrated and loaded with photographs, this book is a slow, steady path to move from just gardening in the summer to gardening all year round. I love the fact that you don’t have to dive in and do it all, all at the same time.
Thanks to Coleman, I now use a small cold frame (made from recycled windows and wood) and have some small plastic tunnels for extending my lettuce crop. I saved old sheer curtains and sheets and use them to provide protection from frost and I am constantly on the lookout for an old green house that I can buy or move and start growing from November to February.
I love this book and this author because of his generosity of spirit. And I love Coleman because, as much as any other gardening guru and maybe even a little more, he has given me hope that comes from growing living things. We don’t have to wait for spring. We can grow despite the howling wind and falling snow.
Spring will come again but we don’t have to wait for it anymore.
Next week, web sites that I visit on a regular basis for help, advice, information and sometimes, just a little sympathy!