I'm not done with the gardening books, not by a long shot. Gayla Trail (of yougrowgirl.com and the beginner gardening book You Grow Girl which I thought was good with minor caveats) has written a new book, entitled Grow Great Grub. It's about growing edibles organically, and no matter what your space constraints. I had it on hold at the library, got about halfway through it, and then decided to buy it. I've got my own little copy here beside me now. It's that fabulous, and I can see using it again and again, right up there with my favourite gardening book of all time, Patrick Lima's The Organic Home Garden.
First of all, this book is gorgeous. The pictures are lovely and the layout is both attractive and easy to follow. Just looking at the cover makes me want to get out into the garden. But it's not just the photographs, either -- the text gets my gardening fingers itching. This is something I appreciate in a gardening book: it doesn't overwhelm, confuse, or make me feel hopeless. It gets me excited about trying new things, or about trying again things I did last year that didn't work out the first time. (Actually, it's a very rare garden book that convinces me to give spectacularly failed experiments a second shot.)
It's organized in such a way that it's easy to find the information I need. One of the not-overwhelming parts is that Trail doesn't drown the gardener in information; there is enough, but for super-detailed info like specific planting depths or spacing, or long lists of varietals this might not be the best book. The thing is, I have discovered that, after three summers of attempting a vegetable garden with varied results, I don't need or want excessive detail. I can get the detail I need from the seed packet. The information I want is of the more general sort, anyways. I wish someone had been a little more clear, for example, on how damn difficult winter squash can be to grow instead of going on about specific varieties and finding disease resistant ones. Reading the section on squash, both winter and summer, made me realize that it's not actually as easy as my grandmother makes it look. Again, rather than frightening me off, Trail's little section on squash made me want to try again, this time forewarned and forearmed. I've got some small, easy tips to try out, including a suggestion not to worry about the male flowers all dying before any of the female flowers actually bloom. And how to give my squash a better chance against powdery mildew. I'm still not going to expect ten beautiful buttercup squash. I will be satisfied if I get any. And I might even try frying up some of those early male flowers at Trail's suggestion, if I can bring myself to steal them from the bees.
As with You Grow Girl, there are little projects stuck throughout the book, from making a teatowel storage bag for produce to making a self-watering container out of plastic bins to planting potatoes in a garbage can to recipes. I want to try nearly all of them. The entire last section of the book is about the harvest. There are ways to preserve the harvest, and yet again, it's not overwhelming, it's encouraging. Simple things like how to best freeze food, or how to can it. This is stuff that may be second nature to my grandmother, but aside from my yearly forays into new types of jelly, I'm pretty clueless.
But the best thing about this book, for my money, comes in the form of Trail's encouragement of and tips about growing food in containers. We have three little vegetable garden beds. This will be the first year that I'm not planning to dig another one, or enlarge any of them. The one that lends itself to enlargement is currently planted up with garlic, so I'm not even going to bother this year. So, if I want a larger variety of veggies than I can fit in my three little beds, I'm going to be growing in containers.
Trail makes this so easy. The second section of the book is called "The Plants" and as advertised, there is a page or two for each grouping of edibles (ie. root vegetables, leafy greens, beans, brassicas, etc.). And in each section, in a little box, is some information on growing plants from that group in a container. Each box includes general tips, suitability of the plant for container growing as high, medium, or low (but nothing is off-limits for container growing, as far as Trail is concerned), a suggested minimum depth for the container, suggested varieties best suited for containers, and any additional things a container farmer might need to know. This may seem a small thing, but it is excellent. I am feeling confident that I can try some of this in a much more organized and hopefully successful way than I managed last year.
There's a lot more to this book than I've managed to discuss. It is going to be useful throughout the seasons, including winter with the projects I can see trying. I highly, highly recommend it for anyone interested in food gardening, even and maybe especially if you don't think it's something you could ever do. It's budget-conscious, helpful, and enthusiastic; and the best part is, you really don't have to have a backyard. Even a sunny window can grow at least some tasty things and Grow Great Grub will help you do so. Now excuse me while I go stare at the seeds I have been trying to sprout.