Friday, March 23, 2012

Resources on Gardening

Last year, before I started my first real garden I won a $100 gift card for Borders. They may have gone out of business a few months later, but not before I managed to pick up a few books on gardening. I didn't do any research on the books themselves, but instead sat on the floor, cross-compared and made my best guess. I have found them to be helpful to varying degrees, and unhelpful in different ways. So, if you are looking to buy a gardening book, or check one out from the library (it's important to support Libraries, dear friends) I thought I would throw my two cents in, on three of the options you will find out there.

And if you don't go to books anymore, because you have Google, I say this not just because I have an MLIS degree, but really and truly, nine times out of ten, if you are researching something your information is going to be more reliable, tested and worth the extra effort, from a book.  I really believe that. Not that I am anti-Google, I love the bejezus out of that handy little search engine and all it encompasses. The point here is only this: don't over look books!

On to the subject at hand. Currently, I am impatiently watching the first garlic I have ever planted grow. So for this post my examples will all be founded in garlic. Sweet, pungent, makes everything taste better, garlic!

My favorite of the books I bought last year, is Carol Klein's "Grow Your Own Vegetables". If you are looking for a single book to start with, this is the one to go to. Or at least, its the one I go to.

It starts with a briefish - 55 pages - on getting started with gardening and has lots of great tips to bring you all the way through to harvest and even preparing your garden bed to "over-winter". It's quick, concise and filled with pictures, but most importantly it's informative. The vegetable section has between two to four pages each for most everything you are going to grow in your backyard, broken down into helpful family-groupings. In the instance of Garlic, which is grouped with Leeks, Onions and Shallots, you have a full page dedicated to general information about garlic, what kind is best to plant, suggested types to start with, different types and which regions they are best suited for. And then two more page of information pertinent to your gardening experience: 
  • Where to Grow
  • Planting tips
  • Caring for the crop
  • Harvest 
  • Storing and Cooking Tips
  • Pests and disease information
My favorite thing about this book is that it is so visual. In the top corner for each vegetable you see the veggie in its seed form, plus a plethora of of other pictures at various stages in the planting/growing/harvesting process. For the visual learner, it's really incredible. The one down side to this book,  is that while she does offer up tips for gardening in colder or warmer weather, she isn't specific to zones or regions. 

But, I don't rely on that book alone. I also love James A Fizzell's "Guide to Minnesota Vegetable Gardening". Having a book that speaks specifically to your growing area is really invaluable. It's kinda like having insider information. It's filled with great information about the history of gardening the Midwest, and it even has helpful charts about precipitation and freeze and frost dates through out the state, not to mention important numbers for local resources. 

Like Klein's book The Guide to Minnesota Vegetable Gardening breaks into sections everything you are going to want to grow - but it does so alphabetically. Which makes it a bit easier to navigate. It also has a pretty impressive section on Fruits, which does not exist in Klein's book. There are however, no pictures in this book. Where it lacks in imagery though, it makes up for in content. The Garlic (Alum Sativum) section starts with a bit of history, just as the other book, although much more precise, and then has the following sections:
  • When to plant
  • Where to plant
  • How to plant
  • Care & Maintenance
  • Additional Information
There are helpful charts through out the book on various varieties of your veggies and fruits. If you use this book to help figure out what you want to plant in your garden, be prepared to have to pair down your list -- a few times over. 

Just a heads up for you non-Minnesotan's out there, this series does exist for all 50 states. I can't speak to how well they are written in comparison to the Minnesota variety, but the point really is to find a book specific to your state or region. 

Finally, we come to the third book I purchased last year. "The Everything Grow Your Own Vegetables Book" by Catherine Abbott.  Honestly, this book is surprisingly unhelpful, so I am not going to spend a lot of time going on about it. 

Here is the quick and dirty version: It seems like it has a lot of information, but there is no detail.  Here is what it says on Garlic, "Choose the biggest cloves to plant and mulch the beds after they are planted." Really? How do you plant them? (Because that matters with garlic!) And how far apart? And when? And how deep? I suppose as a supplement to all the other things you have read, it doesn't hurt to take a look if you already bought it...but if you haven't bought it...I might try something else. And then, if I were you, I would come back and tell me if I should pick it up too!

So, there you have it. Two books to pick up, one to not waste your time on.

Do you have a gardening book(s) you love, and find extremely helpful?? I would love to hear about it!!


  1. Christina and I are using the Square Foot Gardening book, among others. We've got our seedlings planted and this week I'm building beds from salvaged wood. I'll share some photos once they're in the ground.

  2. John Seymour's The Self-Sufficient Gardener. Loveit!