I don’t know about you, but I am already starting to work on my holiday gift list. Those who know me, know I think that few gifts are as good as a good book. Books teach and inspire, and often offer great encouragement.
Gardening has long been one of the nation’s most popular pastimes, but recently with our difficult economy, and worries about the energy costs of agribusiness, many people are turning to the vegetable garden, for fresh food, food savings, and energy savings. Those who have cared for flower gardens may know something about the importance of good soil, but find that much more is required of a vegetable garden.
Barbara Pleasant has just come out with an excellent book for the beginning vegetable gardener, Starter Vegetable Gardens: 24 No Fail Plans for Small Organic Gardens (Storey Publishing $19.95). A key word in this title is small. Starting small is important to success, but it is also a difficult concept for those who are fired up with enthusiasm for a new project. I speak from experience.
Another key word is plans. Pleasant begins by laying out plot plans for three different small gardens and carries them through a three year cycle which will see a careful enlargement, and soil improvement.
These plans, created by an experienced gardener, have the benefit of indicating how many plants of a given vegetable will fit in a given space, give advice about succession planting, fertilizing, and composting. In these small gardens many vegetables will be planted as seedlings from the garden center which means the new gardener can have the satisfaction of seeing the garden well planted and set up in just one weekend. Beginners benefit from that first dose of accomplishment.
I have one piece of advice to add to Pleasant’s. She, along with most other garden writers, talks about using a few sheets of newspaper or a single sheet of cardboard to begin a no-till garden. It is possible that if you turning a really nice lawn into a garden this may work, but I am always fighting witch grass and I find this slight barrier is not enough. There is no need to fear using lots of newspaper or two or three layers of dampened cardboard. Within a year it will all have broken down and disappeared; your worm population will have soared. Worms love living under cardboard.
Of course, those first three plans are just the beginning. Out of all the 24 there is bound to be a plan that will appeal to the new vegetable gardener, one that fits his available space, his needs and constraints, and his taste. One of the best pieces of advice any gardener can follow is to grow what he likes whether that is peas and tomatoes, or daffs and daisies.
In addition to garden plans Pleasant talks about ways to manage any garden from seed starting, plant supports, watering basics, mulch, fertilizers, insect friends and foes, diseases and harvest. This primer is full of good advice that will stay with a gardener well beyond the novice years.
Whether you are a novice or experienced vegetable gardener, harvest time means time to get going in the kitchen. Vegetables fresh from the garden are going to taste delicious no matter how simply they are prepared, but Andrea Chesman has given us
Recipes from the Root Cellar: 270 Fresh Ways to Enjoy Winter Vegetables (Storey Publishing 18.95).
Whether you have your own little root cellar or buy your vegetables at the market, there is real pleasure in eating with the seasons, choosing all those winter vegetables, some that are familiar like cabbage, potatoes, squash and beets, and some that are slightly less so like rutabagas, daikon radish, parsnips and celery root.
Chesman begins with a review of all the winter vegetables including dried beans, and then moves on to different categories of dishes. There are salads and pickles, soups, simple vegetable dishes, vegetarian main dishes like Rumbledethump that combines baking potatoes, cabbages, onions and cheese, then main dishes with meat, poultry or seafood, and baked goods and desserts. Think of pumpkin waffles, and almond-squash quick bread as well as maple-apple tea cake.
My daughter is hosting the Thanksgiving feast this year, and as I prepare for my part I am browsing through Chesman’s book. I have already decided that I will bring (among other things) a Festive, Fruity Coleslaw that adds dried cranberries, pistachios and clementines to the cabbage.
Actually, Chesman reminds us that many roots besides carrots can be shredded. Shredded raw beets have become standard at salad bars, but turnips and daikon can also be shredded to make a delicious winter salad with cabbage with nary a scrap of lettuce or tomato in sight.
Some of the recipes are familiar, but with a twist like Two-Potato Latkes with white and sweet potatoes, and Thai Coconut Curry with Shrimp – and lots of root vegetables, but some are quite new to me like the Turnip Puff which promises to be light and elegant.
Carrots are a favorite root vegetable at our house, summer or winter. My husband requires a lunch-time carrot every day. Chesman includes information about the virtual World Carrot Museum, and sprinkles charming quotations and kitchen tips throughout. There is also an excellent index.
How many cooks and gardeners do you have on your gift list? ###