Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Growing your own in small spaces - a crop of new books!

My New Year's Day ritual is to sit down with my seed catalogues and plan the coming year's veg growing. I mostly use The Organic Gardening Catalogue, supplemented by some of the more mainstream commercial companies for specific items. I'm also a member of Garden Organic's Heritage Seed Library, so I get to choose a few varieties to grow each year that are no longer (or never were) commercially available. This is always a delight.

You can grow tasty, nutritious salad, fruit and veg in the tiniest of spaces. It's deeply satisfying, and the miracle of seeds germinating each spring remains a profound delight year after year. If you've never grown anything to eat, try Garden Organic's One Pot Pledge . . . and you may find yourself hooked for life!

The 'bible' for growing your own in small spaces remains, in my view, the wonderful Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew (plus an updated edition available on Kindle and lots of clips on YouTube).
'square foot' raised beds,
plus cordon fruit trees
along fence
This is the method I use in my own small garden. I knew nothing about growing veg, and had assumed I couldn't possibly attempt anything in my tiny plot. Then I happened upon a magazine article about Square Foot Gardening, maybe 10 or 15 years ago now, and thought: I could do that. And I haven't looked back since.

But sometimes you need a bit more inspiration, and some new ideas, alongside the basic 'how to' book, and there's a crop of new and forthcoming books to help with that.

When I was thinking about fruit trees three years ago, I wish I'd had to hand Fruit Trees in Small Spaces by Colby Eierman. It's USA-based, so some of the information needs to be adapted for the UK, but with sections on: 'Home orchard primer', 'Fruit tree guide', 'Practicalities' and 'Fruit in the kitchen', it's a valuable addition to the small plotholder's library.

Also useful then would have been Vertical Vegetables and Fruit: creative gardening techniques for growing up in small spaces by Rhonda Massingham Hart. Part 1 is on 'The whys whats and how-tos of making food grow up', Part 2 is 'Vertical annual vines' (includes beans, peas, tomatoes, squash), and Part 3 is on perennial fruits. As this book is also American, notes on varieties and suppliers won't work in the UK, but a web search will easily find substitutes. On a personal note, I can add that I grow my courgettes each year from a trailing/climbing variety that I train up over a trellis, making very good use of a small area of ground.

Also recently out is The Edible Balcony by Alex Mitchell (a step on from 'one pot'!). He covers city balconies, roof-top gardens and terraces, covering issues of sun, wind, water, shelter, weight of pots, compost, plant food, pests and diseases, design, layout and planning. There are practical tips on specific crops suitable for balcony growing, a section on growing things you can't find in the shops, and a section on reused/recycled containers. There are photos to inspire you to make best use of your space, and projects ranging from the very simple to the more ambitious. There's even a section on keeping bees on your balcony, plus recipes and kitchen ideas. And if you're seriously ambitious, there's a chapter applying the permaculture forest garden principles to a balcony or roof terrace! This is a UK published book, so the suppliers etc are relevant to this country.

For more on container growing, there's Fern Richardon's new book, Small Space Container Gardens: transform your balcony, porch or patio with fruits, flowers foliage and herbs. Published in the UK, the chapters in this book cover: choosing containers; water, weather and climate; attracting wildlife; growing food; ornamentals; pests and diseases; basic gardening techniques and knowledge. Appendices help you with understanding plant hardiness, and also suggest suppliers and further resources. It's a good beginner's book.

Another American book is Ivette Soler's The Edible Front Yard: the mow-less, grow-more plan for a beautiful bountiful garden. It covers design, practicalities, organic gardening techniques, kitchen ideas, and how to keep the whole thing looking good (this is designed to be your front garden after all - but no reason why you couldn't use the ideas anywhere).

 After all this inspiration, you might want some more basic gardening nous if you're embarking on this for the first time. Try The Year Round Vegetable Gardener: how to grow your own food 365 days a year no matter where you live by Niki Jabbour. When I started with vegetables, the summer season was quite easy to get a grip on . . . growing food over the autumn and winter took me a while to get my head around. This is a very practical book that will help you with crops, timing, succession planting, use of of covers and protection to stretch the growing season, and so on. The 'further resources ' are US based, but the general advice and information can apply anywhere. 

And lastly . . . the trouble-shooting book: What's Wrong with my Vegetable Garden? by David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth - this is a compendium of organic solutions for pests, diseases and crop failures. It's arranged first by crop name, and offers tried and tested advice for the organic grower . . . it's a US book, so remember you'll find 'courgettes' listed as 'zucchini' ! Then there's a section arranged by common problems and how to tackle them. Suppliers listed are US based, but there are plenty similar in the UK.

 So there you go - happy gardening!

NB: the links to the books are, in each case, to the publisher's website; however, all the books are available in the UK via your usual bookshop or online seller.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the great book ideas:-)

    I have just started my own small space sustainble garden venture.

    Have a fantastic week, happy gardening