This book is a treasure trove of information. With over two hundred pages of extensive and detailed information drawing on many years of experience it goes way beyond the scope of what normally lies between the covers of books on growing vegetables.
Charles has pioneered and written about organic and no dig gardening since 1983 and Stephanie is an organic gardener, writer and chef. Their combined approach to their gardens is both personal and distinctive and is described in a very engaging and interesting way.
“Growing food is often presented as a list of procedures. Life is snuffed out of the process, rules are given, but the reasons are not always explained... The conventional method of learning by rote reduces connection and interest. Gardening is about learning and enhancing natural processes. Using the methods we will explain you will understand what you need to do, and in the quickest way.”
From the beginning reading the book feels like taking a master class with experts – easy to understand, but full of detail so be prepared to read and re-read and cross reference as necessary to ensure you have all the information you need on a particular subject. Every topic is described and explained in detail, usually with many clear photographs alongside.
The topics covered are inter-related, but also diverse. They include:
- Preparing the ground and looking after vegetable beds, including variations for different climates and soils
- Growing and caring for vegetables, herbs and edible flowers, including perennial and unusual vegetables
- Detailed tables on seed sowing and planting out instructions
- Extending the growing season all year round, including undercover techniques and using hotboxes
- A fascinating and informative chapter on seed saving.
Including such a comprehensive set of topics means the reader feels empowered to make the best use of everything you grow and stems from Charles’ and Stephanie’s core philosophy.
“Taking control of how your food is grown and what you eat is a political act, particularly crucial now that so much of the world’s food production and availability – and therefore the health of whole populations – is becoming under the control of a few corporations.”
The section on no dig growing is in superb detail and gives variations on the main theme to suit different gardeners, gardens and climates. I was particularly intrigued by a six step example of how to create a growing bed on top of lawn and / or weeds and simultaneously grow a crop of either potatoes, courgettes or squash. The chapter on seed saving is fascinating, giving details of which plants are particularly suited to seed saving and which are not and why as well as how.
Stephanie’s experience in the home as well as the garden is evident in chapters on:
- How to preserve your harvests
- Versatile and interesting recipes
- How to prepare ‘potions’ for cleaning the home, personal care and herbal health care to avoid the need to use chemical products
Storing produce includes techniques for the short term and preserving them in the long term – freezing, dehydrating, bottling and canning, jams, chutneys, cordials and oils. The chapter on ‘Food for Thought’ includes how to eat seasonally, reduce waste and multi-functional recipes that combine the produce that is available at any given time to make tasty and healthy meals. The chapter on ‘Growing and Using Edible Flowers’ is both beautiful and inspiring. Amongst many other things is a comprehensive list of uses for dried flowers which I intend to follow and I also now know that it is possible to make flower syrups, vinegars, liqueurs and butters!
It is the level of detail and attention that I find particularly compelling about this book and it is clearly supported by exhaustive research and decades of experience. The descriptions and instructions can sometimes read more like a recipe book than a gardening one – and this is good – it inspires confidence in both the writers’ knowledge and the readers own chances of reproducing the results in their own garden or kitchen.
This book is for the experienced gardener and the novice alike. The methods and techniques can be used at any scale from a windowsill to a market garden. It is for anyone who aspires to growing any or all of their own vegetables and to having an organic home as well as an organic garden, to eating year round from their own plot and to have the confidence to increase their repertoire of skills in both the home and the garden.
Anni Kelsey is the author of Edible Perennial Gardening: Growing Successful Polycultures in Small Spaces