Some gardening guides feature lush plots of vegetables so blemish-free and gorgeous that you have to wonder if they’ve been Photoshopped like cover model images. Sometimes it’s easy to dismiss them with a defeated I could never grow that. . . . Take heart, not all vegetable patches look like something out of a Home & Garden Magazine. If you’re a novice gardener looking for an unintimidating, real-life gardening guide that doesn’t avoid the nitty-gritty and offers photos of messy gardens and less-than-perfect veggies, then the new Grow Your Own Food Handbook (Skyhorse Publishing, 2014) by Monte Burch is probably a good bet for your bookshelf. This handbook isn’t your typical gardening book; it’s a manual for growing food to feed you and your family.
The eleven lengthy chapters in Grow Your Own Food cover all the basics of planting for food. Burch doesn’t assume that all readers possess a roomy plot of land just waiting for seed sowing. Chapters are devoted to planning to grow, preparing the ground, and gardening in small spaces.
The planning chapter offers a dose of reality to overly eager food planting newbies who often want to grow everything—careful consideration of what to actually plant is warranted. If no one will eat broccoli, why plant it? he asks readers. Burch also urges gardeners with seed and trowel in hand ready to dig to first take time to consider the garden’s location and size, all detailed in the book, and to take a moment to reflect on the work involved with each planted item: While the thought of fresh corn is heavenly, if you plant a good amount, get ready to devote a weekend to shucking and preserving it, Burch reminds us.
The Preparing the Site chapter delves into the often-confusing subject of fertilizer. Here you’ll learn not just about the different kinds but also about which plants need which ones. He explains various nutrients required like rock dust, nitrogen, magnesium and potassium, to name a few. He’ll even explain to eager DIYers how to make your own fertilizer and how to apply it.
For weed control, many innovative solutions that eschew chemicals are offered. Got kids? Do as the author did and pay them to manually hunt the bad guys. A hornworm off the tomato patch meant a dime in their piggy bank. Colorado potato beetles went for a penny a piece, as did the squash bugs, he writes. You’ll also learn methods like companion planting to deter weeds and bugs.
In the Growing Food in Small Spaces chapter, city dwellers will be delighted to find out just how much you can grow in pots and hanging planters. You’ll learn how vital correct seed spacing can be in small spaces.
A particularly inspiring chapter is Growing Food for Fall and Winter. Here you’ll discover how some foods can actually be grown year-round. You’ll have to do a bit more work making covered hoop houses, but the payoff of less heat and fewer pests and weeds during the cooler months can be worth it, he advises. If nothing else, you can elongate your growing cycle to begin in spring and go into late fall.
The bulk of the 228-page book is a comprehensive index of fruits and vegetables. For each plant you get essential information like whether to start from seed or seedling; when and where to plant; fertilizer type, and growing and storage tips. This index provides an indispensable tool for growing a huge variety of produce and hits all the questions the typical home grower will face. Expect this book to quickly get a lot of use!
As the name implies, The Grow Your Own Food Handbook is not your weekend-gardening-for-a-beautiful-deck kind of book. It’s a concise manual for growing plants, not for show, but to feed the family. Burch writes in a straightforward, unintimidating tone and draws frequently on his own experience as a veteran gardener. He doesn’t make gardening sound effortless, but he does make the possibilities seem endless.