Seen at The Festival of the Tree

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

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Book Review: Organic Vegetable and Fruit Growing and Preserving

As you can see it's a rather long title to fit into the one for my post! Organic Vegetable and Fruit Growing and Preserving Month by Month is probably the longest title of any book in my collection and hints at its comprehensiveness. The authors' pedigree is faultless: they were at Garden Organic (HDRA in their day) for many years and with a science background to boot they're very well placed to write this volume.

The title doesn't quite tell you everything this book contains. There's herbs and nutritional information too: the latter is the first time I've seen the subject tackled in the context of growing your own.

The book is divided into four main parts. It starts with a brief chapter on the basics which is divided into gardening and nutrition sections. Then follows a detailed month by month guide (grouped by season and starting with winter) of the key tasks. At the end of each season there's a 'project' section of major tasks which are appropriate to that time. Thus winter focuses on soil preparation, spring on seed sowing and so on

The third section is the crop guide, the largest section of the book. Each of the vegetables, fruit and herbs featured has the usual information you'd expect. Key nutritional information is also given, allowing you to make dietary choices in what's grown, including GI values. The final section is a 50 page basic guide to preserving and storing your harvest which also includes a few recipes for e.g. jams, flavoured vinegars and chutneys.

I could tell you a lot more about this book, but instead I've chosen to highlight what I think are its strengths and weaknesses (in no particular order), which I hope will help you to decide whether this is the book for you:

Strengths

  • Very comprehensive - over 300 pages from plot planning and preparation, through seed sowing and cultivation, to storage and preservation
  • An organic guide (though some of you may think this is a weakness!)
  • Lots of nutritional information to help you put together a balanced diet and identify which 'superfoods' you'd like to grow
  • Good for people with a large home patch or allotment to cultivate
  • Good for anyone starting to grow produce for the first time and through the first few years
  • Lots of guidance on good varieties to grow, including heritage ones
  • Covers over 70 different vegetables, fruit and herbs
  • Good for people who like to know what to do and when
  • Good value for money
Weaknesses
  • A little short on detail for soil preparation and nutrition, particularly for an organic-centric book
  • Poor specific guidance for anyone restricted to mainly container based growing and the best varieties to use for this situation
  • No detailed guides for some of the more complex tasks in the monthly lists e.g. pruning
  • More experienced grow your own addicts will probably want a few more unusual vegetables and fruits added to the mix
  • The nutritional information needs to be more engaging - I believe most people would struggle with this section
  • It's not pocket sized as claimed in the Introduction - or I need different clothes ;)
  • There's a lot of dense text - that's not a plea for more illustrations per se (there's just 27 of them), but more use of e.g. shaded boxes, italicised introductory text and two (or even three) column layouts would have helped to make the text more readable
Would I happily replace my usual guides* with this book? No, nor is it different enough to sit alongside them. However, if we could rewind the clock back to when I first had my allotment, I would be happy to have this one instead of one of the others.
* = The references I use the most (and used for comparison purposes for this review) are Joy Larkcom's Grow Your Own Vegetables, Caroline Foley's The Allotment Handbook, D.G. Hessayon's The Fruit Expert and Andy Clevely's The Allotment Book (though mine is the hardback version of the latter book).
NB The publisher sent me a copy of this book for independent review.

4 comments:

  1. Really useful review VP. I always get tempted to buy yet more books, but I already have three - including the Andi Clevely book - so although I might try getting this from the library at some time I shan't put it on my wishlist to buy. I do like the idea of including nutritional information though, I sometimes wonder when selecting seeds whether some have more vitamins and minerals than others.

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  2. Plantaliscious - this book will give you that information on a crop by crop basis. Information on Phytochemical etc content (the ones which result in the 'superfood' tag) are also given

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  3. Great review.. and it sounds like a great book.. I'll have to check to see if it's available on 'this side of the pond'..

    Thanks!
    Niki

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  4. Welcome Niki :) I'll see if the publisher has any plans for Northern America...

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