Friday, April 13, 2012

Home grown book review - part one

As you all know if you've read here at all, I'm growing my own veggies and I have been for quite a few years now. Last year I had my first bumper crop of tomatoes.  Not enough to can, but enough to make plenty of sandwiches, two quiches, a few salads, eat with melted Cowgirl Creamery's Mt. Tam cheese and fresh baked bread for a week, eat right off the vine and make two batches of marinara that was eaten immediately. I've grown lettuce, peas, weird mutant carrots, zucchini, strawberries, cucumbers (poorly), pumpkins, and peppers.

I am a researcher in real life, so, what I do when I want to know more about something is read EVERY FREAKING BOOK I can get my hands on. Fortunately, this includes some gems. Unfortunately, it also features some books that are not as helpful, or you can find the information better elsewhere. I have owned or borrowed each and every one of these books. Some I bought at the now-extinct Borders, some were found on Amazon and some are from libraries, yard sales and second-hand stores. I have DEFINITELY not been compensated in any way to review any of them.

If this is the year you're going to build your raised bed and join me in enjoying fresh-from-the-vine tomatoes and peas this year, here's what you should look at (or pass over) - but remember, it's only my humble opinion.

My best and most valuable advice in gardening is, START SMALL!!!! The best way to ruin a career of harvesting fresh food from your garden is to try to do too much at once. If you think you're suddenly going from zero to be raising enough veggies to get you through the entire summer without going to the farmer's market, you might have a little gardening fever. Scale back. Plant two types of tomatoes and some carrots, or peas and lettuce. If you enjoy it this year, you'll be back for more next spring and then the spring after that. It took me 6 years to get to chickens, and I've actually lived on a farm before!

All New Square Foot Gardening  I will go on and on about Mel's book, given half a chance. Mel's a little crazy, bless his heart.  He is super-passionate about his system and I'm a follower, but he's a little rigid for my tastes. I can't plant in squares. Everything just grows out of them and gets messy and then it's out of the lines.  I'd rather have no lines at all.  I'd love to be neat and orderly about my planting, but that's just not how I roll. More than anything, Mel taught me about soil. Good, healthy, living soil.  I would have been quite content using bags and bags of planting mix if I hadn't read this, but I make my own soil per Mel's technique and since I started, I have fertilized so rarely, it's crazy. I add compost every year and it's fluffy, soft, good loamy soil.  Yay! Some people get very angsty about Mel's use of peat moss which is not a sustainable resource. You can use coconut coir in place of peat and it's cheaper.

Western Garden Book of Edibles: The Complete A-Z Guide to Growing Your Own Vegetables, Herbs, and Fruits
If you're going to plant anything in Southern California, Northern California or the Pacific Northwest, BUY THIS BOOK. It tells you basically everything about everything (except loquats -- why doesn't any book ever have loquats!?). Pests, soil, diseases, how to plant, when to plant, harvesting, etc.  Love this book.  Must have.

The Urban Homestead (Expanded & Revised Edition): Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City
For a while, I was carrying Erik Knutsen and Kelly Coyne's book around with me like a bible. It had everything I wanted to know about permaculture, composting, backyard farming and they're in L.A. so I felt like I could trust that what they were growing would be appropriate for my area as well. I don't carry it around anymore, but I do refer to it quite often.

The Garden Primer: Second Edition
This book is comparable to the Sunset book above, but it's so damn hefty and has so much good information, I just can't seem to part with it. It's also very good if you don't have the pleasure of living on the West Coast.

The Complete Compost Gardening Guide: Banner batches, grow heaps, comforter compost, and other amazing techniques for saving time and money, and ... most flavorful, nutritous vegetables ever.
After reading the Square Foot Gardening book, it occurred to me that I would be going out to buy quantities of compost. Instead, I could use our food scraps, our trimmings and our dryer lint to make it ourselves. So I bought this book. It's honestly a bit overwhelming in terms of the amount of information but it's all in there and if you want to compost, I highly recommend this one. It's got a bunch of different techniques, so you can try one until you find one that you like. I've still had to buy compost since I can't seem to manage to turn it often enough.  Eventually, I'm going to have a literal shit-ton of gorgeous compost, especially with the chooks coming, but until then, I'm adding as much veggie scraps and straw as I can.

Monday, I'll post the rest of the reviews since I just kept writing and the post got too long!!!


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