Book Review: Three For the Salad Challenge

I bought two of these and asked for a review copy of the other (The Speedy Vegetable Garden) to fill some gaps in my 52 Week Salad Challenge Reference Library. Note: all three of them are suitable as general references, not just for salads.

Martin Crawford is well-known for his work and courses about forest gardening. I've been pondering this system and the principles of polyculture Alys Fowler outlined when she spoke about Edible Gardens at Holt Farm last year. As a result I bought How to Grow Perennial Vegetables to expand my knowledge of what can be grown for eating from this plant group. In this regard it doesn't disappoint.

There are a few introductory chapters outlining why growing perennial vegetables is a good thing to do, plus the techniques and growing systems involved.  Finally a chapter on maintenance concentrates on how to keep plants in top condition, so pests and diseases find it hard to get a look-in.

The bulk of the book is devoted to an A to Z directory of the ones to grow, from Air Potatoes (see Yams) to Yellow Asphodel.  Common names are used first in each entry, so some plants have more than one  like the air potatoes do. Each descriptive entry has a good photo of the plant, followed by a general description, hardiness (USA version), then cultivation and culinary notes. A lot of information is packed into a relatively short space - this applies to the introductory chapters too.

Lots of the plants listed were new to me entirely, or as an edible possibility. Now I'm not only thinking where edible perennials may fit on my allotment, but also in my garden too! This is an informative and detailed book, which I shall be returning to again and again.

The Speedy Vegetable Garden is perfect for the impatient grower. The first produce (soaks and sprouts) can be harvested in a few days and the longest waiting time is 70-90 days for early potatoes and 80 days for mange tout/sugar snap peas. There are a few perennials like daylilies and lavender thrown in for good measure.

The book is broadly divided into Soaks and sprouts, Micro greens, Edible flowers, Cut-and-come-again salad leaves, Quick-harvest vegetables, then a round-up of useful sources at the end.

Each growing chapter devotes around two-three pages per crop, including a whole page photo to show-off each possibility. Quicker growing varieties are given, which is useful as some crops can vary pretty wildly in their sowing to plate times depending on the variety chosen. Some recipes are included, particularly for the more unfamiliar crops and growing techniques are sprinkled in where they're most needed. Remarks and tips from the authors (Lia Leendertz and Mark Diacono) are included from time to time, which gives a more chatty feel to the book where they appear.

My only gripe is I felt some of the entries were a bit sparse and padded out somewhat, particularly in the Soaks and sprouts and Microgreens chapters as there's not a lot that can be said about each crop individually. For me, the general technique followed by a list of the possibilities for each one works better. That's probably because I've blogged about them in that way; someone not so familiar with the options may prefer them served up one at a time.

Readers looking for an all-round edible growing manual will need to look elsewhere, as the slower growing groups like many of the brassica family aren't included. However, a gardener looking for a quicker return for their efforts - particularly in a small space - will find much to inspire them in this stylish volume.

A hot bed has been on my list of techniques to get to grips with ever since I began the 52 Week Salad Challenge. How glad I am I haven't got around to it yet!

Jack First's small but perfectly formed volume on Hot Beds is going to save me a lot of time. I won't be making mistakes like using the well-rotted cow manure I can get hold of easily (there's no heat from decomposition, so no hot bed), nor will I be placing my cold frame on top (too much space to heat up, so a warm bed at best).

If you're unfamiliar with this once widely used technique, then Jack First is the man to tell you all about it. A hot bed uses a huge heap of decomposing material such as fresh manure to create the heat. A frame is placed on top to enclose the heat and crops are then sown and grown on the hot bed within the frame. It means salads and many other vegetables can be grown much earlier in the year, for very little outlay needed for heating. Jack manages to do this in Keighly, Yorkshire, so it's not just a technique that's possible for us namby pamby southerners!

This is a very detailed guide and Jack has experimented with plenty of alternative materials such as cloth, to see what's possible if a supply of fresh manure isn't readily available. It's not a pretty, pretty technique, so it's one I'll be using on my allotment rather than in my garden. Charles Dowding has read this book and is experimenting with the technique on his new farm. That's got to be the highest recommendation anyone can have :)


  1. With regard to the hot bed and the technique. At least twenty years ago, we travelled to Orangedale in Cape Breton to visit a farm we had read about. The lady was a well known herbalist. Her husband was hugely excited to show us his new "hot bed". It was an old fashioned butcher's meat display unit that would have been a cooler in a former life in a meat shop. It was glass in the front, sloping back and then behind, where the butcher would have stood, were the sliding glass doors. The former butcher would have reached in to get the customer's chops or whatever. Instead, this gardener had filled the display case floor with hot manure, and on top of that, he had his seedlings and transplants positioned. I imagine he had let it cool a bit before placing on top, the transplants but am not sure. I was amazed with this setup and have never forgotten just wanted to share this with you. Hot Beds would be a marvelous read and it is something I haven't really experimented with either. Good for you for mentioning this.

    I can attest to Speedy Veg Gardener being great especially for a beginner and impatient grower.

    Great post VP!

  2. Thanks for the reviews VP. I have had a peek inside Martin Crawford's book and it is on my wish list despite my attempts not to buy any more books for the time being. I also had a quick look at 'The Speedy Vegetable Gardener' but it did not stand out as being sufficiently different in content to justify purchase or perhaps I'm being harsh. The hot bed technique sounds intriguing. Is my memory playing tricks or was this practice described in the 'The Victorian Kitchen Garden' ? Have vague recollections of pineapples grown in this manner.

    1. No Anna, your memory is correct, it was indeed described in The Victorian Kitchen Garden. It's my memory of that programme which prompted me to add the technique to my list to investigate for The 52 Week Salad Challenge :)

  3. Hi, I came to you via a link from Mark Charlton's blog. As I am a fairly new veg grower (last year was my first attempt and I grew a healthy crop of slugs)I have found browsing through your blog very interesting. As for the SAD lamp, well, I'm ordering one, but not for the veg, for me! I'm fed up of this weather. The snow's over my wellies today. I have potatoes chitting and onion sets all 'set' to go in and I'm so frustrated cos I want to do it NOW. I'm learning to be patient, as gardeners must be. I've a way to go though. I blog about 'slowing down' and exploring my own backyard and 'watching sparrows sleep.' I must take a leaf out of my own book!
    Looking forward to reading more tips.

  4. Bren - that's a wonderful story - thank you. That was most definitely a hot be in action :)

    Anna - your assessment of 'TSVG' is right - especially if you've been involved in the 52 Week Salad Challenge as I have! However, someone starting out with just a small space will find much of value, especially if they're impatient for results!

    Sarah - welcome :) Always good to know where someone has found the blog and mark is a particularly good friend. I think I saw you over at Elizabeth's blog? If so, then you're very close to each other :) Like you I have lots chitting away and onion sets growing in pots on the patio because everything at the allotment is sopping wet. Roll on spring I say ;)

  5. I have not heard of hot beds before. I must ask gardeners here about them. I went to a Gardening Presentation on Saturday in Memphis, Tennessee. There were a lot of garden arts and crafts, plants for sale, recycling ideas, and speakers on various topics. I thought of you when I saw the lettuces planted in shallow terra cotta basins (like birdbaths). So pretty! I was hoping to win one - there were lots of give-aways, but I won a rain gauge instead. Really just glad I won something!
    Happy Gardening!
    Lea's Menagerie
    Mississippi, USA

  6. Lea - I wonder if they have a different name in the States? It's a very old technique used widely in Victorian times (1800s). I love the sound of your Gardening Presentation - I'd have liked to have won a salad planter too!

  7. Hello VP! Interesting reviews. Some dudes up at my allotment started a hot bed last year in their poly tunnel. It was like walking into a tropical rainforest in there last summer and they got some really good results. Perennial vegetables looks like a really excellent book. I fancy that one.


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