Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
May, 2011
Regional Report

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Be more successful growing vegetables by investing in at least one good gardening book.

Expand Your Vegetable Gardening Knowledge

More and more people are either expanding the amount of space they devote to vegetables or are starting a vegetable garden for the first time this year. Thankfully, many vegetables will grow well in spite of what you actually know about growing them. Still, there are other vegetables that require a bit of skill and knowledge. And even the easiest to grow of vegetables will sometimes present a problem, be it a pest, disease, or some other affliction.

Where do you turn to find help? Many of us have learned the most from some combination of experience, the guidance of family or friends, and free bulletins from the Cooperative Extension Office (available in every county in the United States). Magazines, newspapers, and television shows provide some help, too. Of course, nowadays, the Internet provides a wealth of information, especially for those willing to spend the time doing the research. Over time, you'll learn which sites provide accurate and reliable information.

Look to Books
There's also an old-fashioned way. Books on vegetable gardening provide us with comprehensive information, can be easily carried into the garden, and are always available for reference. In my own library, I have some 150 books on vegetable gardening and, as more are being published every year, I'm sure my library will continue to grow. Some are wonderful personal accounts, providing the best bedtime reading. Others are more encyclopedic, forming my basic frame of reference.

Unfortunately, my very favorite is out-of-print and becoming difficult to find from used book sources. Still, because it is so good, it is worth seeking Gardening: The Complete Guide to Growing America's Favorite Fruits & Vegetables produced by the National Gardening Association (Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1988). Certainly, there are newer varieties than the ones mentioned, but for information on both vegetables and fruits, this is the book I turn to first.

So what book should you consider instead? One of my favorites is The Vegetable Gardener's Bible by Edward C. Smith (Storey Publishing, 2009, $34.95). Smith advocates wide, deep raised beds because they provide much better soil conditions than the traditional narrow rows. The many topics covered in the book include information on choosing a site, tools, soil preparation, cover crops, how to read a seed catalog, choosing what to grow, companion planting, crop rotation, starting seeds indoors and transplanting, row covers, sowing seed, weeding, mulching, watering, harvesting, storing, and composting. Many people will find the extensive section on natural pest control especially helpful. And if you've ever wondered how to sharpen a hoe, Smith even gives instructions for that. There is also an extensive encyclopedia section on vegetables and herbs. For those who learn from photos, you'll find lots of helpful ones throughout the book.

So Maybe You're a Beginning Gardener
Maybe you or someone you know is just beginning with vegetable gardening and would benefit from a simple, fun book on vegetable gardening. My favorite for this is Starter Vegetable Gardens: 24 No-Fail Plans for Small Organic Gardens by Barbara Pleasant (Storey Publishing, 2010, $19.95). Don't be fooled by the somewhat lighthearted approach in this book, as Pleasant is a very knowledgeable gardener, and the book contains a great deal of information. She starts out with providing a first-year garden in bags of topsoil, then gives ideas for expanding it in years two and three. Other plans create a border vegetable garden, a front yard garden, and then much larger gardens for different climates. The second half of the book covers essential techniques and other planting plans.

But I Have Questions
The Veggie Gardener's Answer Book: Solutions to Every Problem You'll Ever Face Answers to Every Question You'll Ever Ask by Barbara W. Ellis (Storey Publishing, 2010, $14.95) may oversell itself a bit, but is an extremely useful book, especially since the index is quite good. The small size of the book, a little over 4 by 6 inches and 432 pages, means that it should easily fit into your bucket or bag of garden tools, providing on-the-spot help in the garden. Actually, I think you'll find yourself skimming it while you're resting because of all the information in it.

What About Vegetables in Containers?
Even those of us who have a large space for gardening enjoy having at least some vegetables growing in containers near the kitchen or grill. The best eggplant I've ever grown were in a self-watering container, and it's fun to have a few small-growing tomato plants near the patio for snacking. There are a number of new books on this subject, but I still consistently turn to The Bountiful Container: A Container Garden of Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits, and Edible Flowers by Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey (Workman Publishing, 2002, $17.95) for its bounty of information. One caveat that may or may not matter to you, there are only lovely black-and-white illustrations. For those who desire lots of color photos, Edward C. Smith's The Vegetable Gardener's Container Bible: How to Grow a Bounty of Food in Pots, Tubs, and Other Containers (Storey Publishing, 2011, $19.95) is the perfect companion as it combines photos with Smith's extensive knowledge and experience with container gardening.

Any of these books will stand you in good stead as you produce your own home-grown food now and in the years ahead.

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