22 May 2011

Perplexed by Potatoes? How to Grow Your Food

... A Guide for Complete Beginners by Jon Clift and Amanda Cuthbert.  This is a(nother) new book aimed at novice food-growing gardeners and, after reviewing it, I give this book 9½ out of 10.



I love surprise packages and this little book - just 16cm square - arrived during the week from Green Books, an independent publisher in Devon. Green Books say it will be published this week, on 26th May, although Amazon apparently have had it since 7th April this year!

First impressions:  Lovely size and feel. Clear layout, distinct headings, plenty of photos for each plant, drawings where needed, e.g pinching out tomato side-shoots. It's a soft-back book, about the thickness of a monthly magazine, so (and I apologise if this seems sacrilegious treatment of a new book) it's tempting to roll it up and stuff it in a back pocket where it will happily sit until needed. As a gardener who stuffs everything in my pockets, this is a plus. I also like the matt feel of the pages which are printed on recycled paper.

So far, so promising.  The main sections are The Basics, then Easy-to-Grow Veg, E2G Fruit and E2G Herbs, arranged alphabetically within their chapters.  Each plant has a symbol showing at a glance where/how it can be grown (useful for small space or container growers), excellent illustrative photos and clear information about what to do. Just 6 headings contain all you need to know answers:  Plant or seed? Planting/Sowing, How do *** grow? Looking after your ***, Harvesting, Now What?  For me, this is the winner. The information is straightforward, concise, to the point and very easy to understand. I've even picked up a tip or two myself and found myself wishing I'd had this book three years ago when I started the Veg Patch.

The downside:  There is no index, despite the pages being numbered. This is easily overcome with a few post-it type markers relating to the veg you're planting, although I couldn't find Spinach until I happened on Perpetual spinach! I'm also curious as to the choices of plants that were selected for the book;  parsnips and turnips but no pumpkins and squashes?  Broccoli but no cauliflower or brussels? The fruit section has nothing on strawberries which, in my view are easy to grow, a good investment (if you're shown how to peg out runners) and expensive to buy in the shops even at the height of the season.  Melon (from seed) would have been a nice addition, too. The herb section is very limited - no coriander, no chives, no oregano.  Sure, rosemary and sage are easy to grow but how often are they used by the average cook? (This is, after all, a book about growing food and I'd have thought that coriander and chives are frequently used by cooks, along with parsley and basil (featured). Any tips on the uses of various herbs would also have been a big plus point. And what about edible flowers?  Many people still want a pretty garden, albeit a useful one.  I think that was the appeal of Alys Fowler's garden, the randomness of finding lettuce among the marigolds and so forth.

And so, to summarise:  Bearing in mind this is a book for novice food growers, it should definitely take it's place as essential early reading.  (I wish I'd had the section on potatoes when I first grew them, as every gardener I asked had a different piece of advice about planting!) What I love about it is the accessibility; when I started growing veg, I wanted to get straight out into the garden, not be sitting indoors reading about it.  This book allows that possibility, even including three short chapters covering Before You Start, Useful Gardening Terms (so you don't feel like an idiot) and Common Problems.

Forget Dr Hessayon (for now), this book contains excellent clear advice, does not patronise the newbie gardener and I believe (and hope!) it will give beginners the confidence to get started (whether from seed or plant), to succeed and therefore keep going and to explore other varieties in the future.  I imagine the book will get scruffy pretty quickly, having a soft cover, but it's a reference book that belongs in the tool bag or greenhouse, as well as on a bookshelf.

I say again:   9½ out of 10
(And a bargain at only £6.95 cover price!)
Sold via Amazon or Green Books

And the tip I picked up?  I didn't know that basil will grow to 50 cm if you keep pinching off the growing tips ... or that outdoor grown basil (in a warm, sheltered spot) can be cut down to soil level before the first frosts, transplanted and brought indoors where it will throw up new shoots for winter eating.  Keep pinching off those growing tips though, else it will flower and become non-productive.

1 comment:

  1. A good review of what sounds like a really good book. I'm not surprised as Green Books publications are generally highly regarded. I shall bear it in mind as I do occasionally get asked about books like this. Flighty xx

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