Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Books for the Vegetable Gardener

I have found that the best way to learn about gardening is from other gardeners. I had a wonderful gardening friend, Susan, that shared my interest in butterflies and native plants who lived a few houses away, and we talked almost every day about our gardens, shared plants, and exchanged knowledge. Susan and her family moved a few years ago, and I still miss her. The family that bought her house tore out the butterfly garden and planted shrubs, and I still haven't recovered.

No one in our neighborhood has a vegetable garden. In fact, few people in our neighborhood actually work in their own gardens at all, leaving it to professionals who show up once a week with their lawn mowers and leaf blowers. It is so hot and humid, I really can't blame our neighbors for abandoning their gardens to the pros, but I wish there was someone else nearby that shared my interest in gardening.

Instead, I have had to rely on reading for my education when it comes to growing vegetables. The internet has been incredibly helpful when I have specific questions such as the identity of a particular garden pest. I use the google "images" search often. Seed catalogs are also full of excellent advice, so I never throw away a catalog.

I also have several vegetable gardening books that I would recommend. Unfortunately, most of these books are not specifically for the Southern vegetable gardener. This is a shame because our growing conditions are so different from those in much of the country that the advice in these books often does not work for us. But once you have some rules about southern gardening in mind -- autumn in Houston equates with summer in the rest of the country, we rarely have a prolonged freeze, be prepared for unbearable heat followed by torrential rains followed by more heat -- the guides can be useful.

My favorites are the Ortho "All About Vegetables" and "The Vegetable Gardener's Bible" by Edward C. Smith. My copy of the Ortho book is from 1990, and I recommed that you ignore Ortho's fertilizer and pesticide recommendations. Use the book for its excellent descriptions of each vegetable including variety recommendations, harvest guidelines, and planting instructions. Smith's book is also full of useful information, although I don't possess his Yankee do-it-yourself talents for building frames and supports. Smith's book is particularly helpful when you're starting a new vegetable garden, or adding new types of vegetables.

Unfortunately, Smith's descriptions are heavily biased towards the Northeastern gardener, as is another book I recommend, Eliot Coleman's "Four-Season Harvest". Reading Coleman will get you excited about growing your own vegetables, and you'll want to hop on the next flight to France to visit the growers and seed companies he describes. Just skip the sections on greenhouses and cold-weather growing if you live in Houston.

The last book I turn to often is Rosalind Creasy's "Edible French Garden." This book is from a series, each covering a different region, and it is full of helpful growing advice. It contains variety recommendations upon which I have relied, and beautiful garden designs. I would like to add her other books to my collection next.

I constantly discover other books of interest. In fact, I have several additional items in my Amazon wish list right now, but the books I already own have provided all the expertise I need to grow a healthy, successful vegetable garden this year.


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