For me, a book about veg gardening is at least half about sepia tinted dreams of wholesome productivity and tasty food, and half practicality. I envy gardeners who do it for a living and seem to have endless capacity for gardening outside work. But I come home from gardening all day and then play computer games, read books, argue with strangers on the internet and occasionally do crafty things (knitting mostly) or write stuff. I don’t do much gardening. So my little veg patch, which consists of three 4’x6′ beds and a herb border, is perfect for me. I may daydream about full size allotments but, let’s be honest, I just couldn’t hack it while I work as a gardener too.
So what do I use to feed these dreams…?
The Kings Seed catalogue is a favourite. I pore over it every year, choosing enough seeds to fill a giant veg plot. These days I’m savvy enough not to buy all those seeds and to remember that I don’t like cabbage very much even though it’s pretty and that a single variety of carrot will be plenty.
There are two books in particular that have walked the parsnip strewn path with me and held my hand.
I would heartily recommend this book to anyone taking up gardening, even if they’re not planning on taking an organic approach. There is a big section on gardening basics using organic methods, including a section on the ornamental garden and a one on the kitchen garden, then there are three ‘directories’ of vegetables, fruit and herbs which are arranged encyclopedia-style with each veg having an entry on how to grow, harvest and store it. The back half of the book is ‘The Organic Kitchen’ and gives advice on going organic plus well over a hundred and fifty pages of recipes, arranged by season.
This book from the 1970s is both useful and unintentionally hilarious. It assumes you have a full size allotment and there are such corkers as ‘A row (of swedes) 20ft long should provide about 30lb of roots – ample to last most families through the winter.’ Oh how I laughed. A winter of swede with everything is such a delightful prospect. Amusement aside this book is a classic, covering a huge variety of fruit and vegetables. If you want to grow medlars or asparagus peas, you can find out how with this book. It has a page or two on each vegetable, describing how to grow it in detail and in properly old fashioned style and also includes some recipes. Granted some of these are distinctly of their time (anyone for brocolli vinaigrette? anyone…?) but there are occasional gems and at the very least they provide a starting point for when you’re going ‘well, now I’ve grown Celeriac, what the hell do I do with it?’ If you spot this book in your local charity shop BUY IT.
I use these two books together, often comparing and contrasting the advice; one old fashioned ‘the proper way’ and one more modern and organic. Then I have a think about it and decide to do what I was going to do anyway.
There are also a couple of books that deserve honourable mentions …
The Allotment Month-by-Month by Alan Buckingham – I bought this a little while back and don’t use it all that often. However if I were being better about making the most of my tiny plot it would help me ensure bare soil was a rarity. It is certainly a useful way of arranging the advice – by month, rather than by type of veg, which means you can turn straight to ideas for what to plant now, or which pests you should be looking out for. Its ‘veg encyclopedia’ pages are a bit sparser then the other two books, perhaps aimed at a slightly more basic level.
Tender vols 1&2 by Nigel Slater – these are cookery books rather than growing books (Vol 1 covers veg and Vol 2 fruit) but he writes so lovingly about the habits of his subject in garden and kitchen it is seriously enjoyable reading. He gives basic growing instructions, general tips on what the veg or fruit likes to be cooked with (which is invaluable for constructing my own grub I find) and then some yummy recipes.
Do you have favourite veg books? Please share them – you can never have too many books!