Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Review: The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden: Completely Revised Edition

I am trying something out here.  A friend turned me on to an organization called Blogging for Books.  Basically through relationships with publishers bloggers can obtain free copies of a wide range of newly released books.  The only stipulation is that the blogger must write an "original and thoughtful" review of the book, at least three paragraphs in length.  It doesn't have to be a gushing, positive review--that isn't the point at all, as far as I can tell.  The point is to generate an assortment of honest reviews about each book on the web across the spectrum of bloggers.  It strikes me as book publicity, but in a sort of grassroots kind of way.  Since I blog and I read a lot already it seemed a natural fit when Kjell brought it to my attention.  With that, below is my first Blogging for Books review.
The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden: Grow Tons of Organic Vegetables in Tiny Spaces and Containers--Completely Revised Edition--by Karen Newcomb

In general, I think this book is great for a new gardener.  However, that is not to say it wasn't helpful to a gardener with a handful of years experience either.
I really appreciated that the emphasis was on small spaces.  A lot of people I know live in rentals and cannot just tear up the yard as Matt and I have done at our place.  This book encourages gardening on even the smallest of scale--from a few pots on windowsills to raised backyard beds.  I appreciated that.

I liked how there was a good overview at the start covering some (mostly organic) garden basics--different methods of growing vertically, interplanting, succession planting, soil composition, warm vs. cool weather crops, composting, etc.  It covered a lot of bases.
The postage stamp style garden seems akin to the square foot garden in that things aren't planted in conventional rows.  This is how Matt and I garden, too, though both approaches (PSG and SFG) can get too insistent on doing this just so...as if it wouldn't work otherwise.  We have never made up the special soil mixtures, say, that each book recommends.  Our garden does fine--but it does make me want to try a little experiment and see.  Maybe it would do even better.  I might try it next year, but probably we'll continue to amend the existing soil rather than create a special, new soil mix.

The book is speckled with helpful boxes which highlight the most useful information in the chapter.  There are boxes colored so they jump out from the text.  I like that.  It makes finding the information on how far apart to space things when planting, or how many plants to grow per person, a snap.
There were sketches of some different garden layouts, but I only found those marginally helpful.  I suppose they might be good jumping off points for someone just starting their garden, though they'd still have to be customized to food tastes, climate, space limitations, etc.  The book did encourage using whatever resources were available and encouraged people to think about re-purposing things, which I liked.  Of course, my garden beds are edged with bricks and pieces of lumber acquired here and there for free, so of course I would like that advice.  If I had an old ladder I would totally use it as a trellis...  How charming!
There was a chapter where each common vegetable and herb was given a good overview--care, selection, harvest, space requirements, common problems, popular varieties and where to obtain the seeds for them.  That would be especially helpful to someone just starting out, I think, though I certainly learned a thing or two from my reading.  I had no idea there were so many hybrids designed for container gardens, for example, even short "midget" corn!  Though, in general, we don't use a lot of hybrids ourselves, so I guess its not all that surprising that it was new to me.  I'd like to try a few of the suggested varieties of Asian eggplant.  I will also look into obtaining some seed for New Zealand or Mountain Spinach which are not really spinach, but similar plants which can better take the summer heat without bolting.  I'd love to extend our fresh green eating even into the 90+ degree days.  The Swiss chard withstands the heat better, but variety really is the spice of life!   I liked that there was an emphasis on the countless varieties of produce--white eggplants, black tomatoes, purple carrots-- to choose from, depending on personal preferences.   That is one of my favorite parts about gardening.  The grocery store is so limited in color palate.
There were a few bits of advice in there that made me puzzle a little bit, as it seemed like more work than my own strategy, but I think that just happens with garden books--or talking to other gardeners, for that matter.  Gardening is one of those activities that can be carried out in a myriad of ways--all of them valid for that person, place, or time.  People have a tendency, Matt and I included, to think that our way is the best way.  That may be true for us, but it is rarely the only way.  Still, I've never heard anyone suggest that anaerobic composting is a good idea.  I mean, it will work, but is slow and so stinky I cannot imagine why it was listed first in the methods of composting.  That said, there is a whole chapter of different methods of composting and why its so beneficial.  None of the methods described are quite what we do, but they all would work.
I had to chuckle at the part that said, "There are few, if any, problems growing spinach."  Sure....unless you've got leafminers!  If we don't use row covers they are a constant problem in our spinach growing!  Still, like I've said, each garden is different.  I should also add that I admired the general attitude towards insects in this book.  The author stresses ecology and working with nature--not just spraying chemical pesticides at the sight of any ol' bug.  She offers some non-chemically intensive alternatives like hand removal, soap-and-water sprays, waxes and oils, beer traps for slugs, and rolled newspaper traps for earwigs.  I like the simpler approach and we've found it works well for us--though I wish I'd heard about that earwig trap last year when they were so problematic for us.
There was a "fact" or two included in the book that I think are actually inaccurate--carrots being a source of vitamin B12 being one of them.  As far as I've been able to determine that is just false information.  Carrots are packed with a lot of goodness, but B12 isn't part of it.  I don't like running across stuff like that in books as it makes me question the veracity of other claims made within the pages.  Still, we're all just humans and mistakes happen--even in books, with all their proof-reading and editing before publication. 
There certainly was a lot more good advice than bad though--and I learned quite a few new things, as well as reinforcing things I've read and experienced elsewhere.  The book taught me that onions need a lot of water while they're making that delicious bulb, which makes sense when I stopped to think about it.  The book advised that if the onions do not have enough water they will not die in the garden necessarily, but will not have as much to put into making large bulbs.  We've taken extra care to keep our onions well watered and you know what, they're looking the best we've ever grown.  Cross my fingers--no more egg sized onions this year!  The author says that carrots and other vegetables that are thinned make great additions to soup.  I'd never thought of eating those before.  I just always composted them.  It makes sense though--so many "baby" vegetables are most delicious and tender and we already thin and eat our greens, so why not do the same with other baby veg?!  I also am going to try pre-sprouting pea seed indoors early next spring because the author says it allows your to plant peas even earlier, when the ground would otherwise still be too cold.  I'll give it a whirl next year.
Overall, it is a book I am glad to have in our gardening library.  I think it will a helpful resource for troubleshooting common problems and for planning crop rotations to make best use of companion planting.  I also would like to try some of the suggested vegetable varieties that I'd not previously heard about and check out that Asian vegetable seed company listed in the back.  I would recommend it to a friend, particularly one just starting out in gardening or just beginning to alter their methods to a more square foot gardening style.

As an added bonus the book was printed in the USA.  A cherry on top.
Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book from the Blogging for Books Program in exchange for this review. 

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Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and ideas. I value the advice and friendship that you share with me!