Seen at The Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Friday, 17 December 2010

Soil Mates: Book Review


Companion Planting isn't new, but most guides to it so far have tended to be a bit dull and boring. Soil Mates is quite the opposite: it's funky and colourful and treats the concept as a fun dating agency for plants. Twenty 'love matches' are made from the familiar tomato with basil through to sweet potato with summer savory. The book is sturdy and well illustrated and the growing details for each pairing are followed by a delicious recipe. The growing guides (detailed under novel headings such as Turn-ons, Turn-offs, Needy Alert, Stalker Alert and Love Triangles) are followed by a general guide to garden preparation and care, all with a view to organic gardening.

That's the good news. However, I can't recommend this book as there's too much in there to confuse UK readers or is just plain wrong. It was written in the US and unfortunately the UK edition hasn't been re-edited for this market. Most of us probably know that zucchini = courgette but pests such as hornworms on tomatoes and Mexican bean beetles either don't occur in this country or have completely different names. Colorado beetle is mentioned for potatoes, but there are strict regulations in place in this country to prevent its introduction. I also spent ages puzzling over such things as '3 c chicken or vegetable stock' in the recipe section, only to realise much later that c = cup or around 250ml liquid. I still don't know what all-purpose flour is.

I also got quite annoyed by the layout. Often the cultivation information given for each pairing is scanty and is added to in the general section at the back. This means quite a lot of darting backwards and forwards through the book is needed to gain the full picture on how to grow a particular crop. I also don't think many gardeners would want to grow dandelions, no matter how well it might go with kale! Be warned: the tobacco insecticide recipe is not only effective on pesky pests, but also on beneficial insects such as ladybirds, bees and lacewings, so isn't strictly speaking organic.

In summary it's a great idea, but I don't think it's executed well enough nor 'translated' for the UK to be a recommended read.

NB I received a copy of this book for independent review from the publisher.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for that review - its the sort of book I would have been very interested in .. but like you, could have been disappointed once reading it (esp with the USA pests / names.)

    Thats why it's so great to read real reviews from real people - thanks again XX

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  2. thanks for the review! even living in the u.s. i wouldn't buy this book due to it's poor layout. i don't appreciate having to flip back & forth when all of the information could easily have been arranged together. all-purpose flour is just plain white flour, no 'self-rising' to it. perhaps it's the publisher & not the author, but attempting to market a book without editing for the target market strikes me as rather insulting.

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  3. Ferris Jay - welcome! If you're interested in Companion Planting, then Bob Flowerdew's Complete Book of Companion Planting is a much better guide :)

    Petoskystone - I did wonder if it was plain flour, thanks for clearing that one up for me :) Whilst I've concentrated on whether it would work in the UK, you're right I wouldn't be recommending it for a US reader either. The layout and headings constricts the amount of information which can be given and there's still a lot of misinformation even when the pest differences are taken out of the equation.

    It's a shame because it's something different which had great potential to be a good guide.

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