We have now had our allotment for almost six years, and even before that I had been growing edibles in containers in our small back garden for quite some time. Whilst there is a plethora of information online about growing your own produce, you really can’t beat a good book for guiding you through the process. The books highlighted in this blog are those I have found particularly interesting and useful (so far!).
The Vegetable and Herb Expert, Dr D.G. Hessayon
Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd; ISBN: 9780903505468
Dr D.G. Hessayon first started publishing the range of ‘Expert’ guides in the 1950s and over the decades an increasing range of books has been produced covering aspects of gardening from lawns, to bulbs, to houseplants. The version of The Vegetable and Herb Expert that I have dates from 1997 and is very much an old school guide to growing produce, covering traditional crops and cultivation methods. Still, it is a great place to start for beginners with a clear, simple style, and quite a visual form of presentation. I continue to keep a copy in the allotment shed for easy reference and it still gets consulted fairly regularly for guidance on sowing spacings and diagnosis of damage caused by pests and diseases. There is a new edition available, published in 2014, which claims to cover contemporary and “novelty” varieties, but I’m rather fond of my slightly dusty older version, copies of which are available for a snip on Amazon marketplace.
The RHS Allotment Handbook
Publisher: Octopus Publishing Group; ISBN: 9781845335397
As the title suggests this book is squarely aimed at the new allotment plot holder, or those who aspire to be, waiting lists being what they are. As well as crop by crop guidance, there is also information on getting a plot in the first place, where to start once you’ve got one (which will inevitably be completely overgrown), keeping chickens and bees, and even allotment etiquette! The crop guides are a bit more wordy than in The Vegetable and Herb Expert but cover fruit and flowers as well as vegetables and herbs, and include handy “What I wish I’d known” tips on common pitfalls. The book also features a very useful crop planner covering sowing, transplanting and harvesting times for all the crops included.
Charles Dowding’s Veg Journal
Publisher: Frances Lincoln; ISBN: 9780711235267
Now we’ve been growing our own produce at the allotment for a few years I’ve started thinking more about the nuances of our horticultural practices. In a previous blog I discussed the pros and cons of digging and my main point of reference about the ‘no dig’ approach was Veg Journal written by one of its foremost advocates, Charles Dowding. The book is presented as a month by month guide to growing vegetables with comprehensive information on the ‘no dig’ system and its merits, as well as detailed advice on certain featured crops. This challenges traditional approaches to aspects such as cultivation, plant nutrition and crop rotation. I have now begun implementing the ‘no dig’ approach for this growing season and have found this book a useful starting point.
Grow for Flavour, James Wong
Publisher: Mitchell Beazley; ISBN: 9781845339364 [the version that I have is an e-book]
James Wong is a botanist who seeks to bring an evidence based approach to food and horticulture. I’m a big fan of his myth-busting statements about food, health and the environment on Twitter (@botanygeek). Grow for Flavour begins by challenging the notion that all food that we grow ourselves is automatically better tasting than that we might buy in the supermarket. A primary factor in the quality of flavour is the varieties we choose to grow, and while supermarkets tend to want varieties which look good and last well on the shelf, domestic growers may not necessarily choose the best alternatives. As someone who has frequently chosen varieties on the basis that they are a quirky colour (purple Brussels Sprouts, orange Cauliflower etc.) it has certainly made me rethink my seed buying strategy.
As the title suggests the book gives advice on the best varieties to grow for flavour based on James Wong’s personal research. It also provides some pretty unorthodox tips on other ways of enhancing crop flavour through various cultivation techniques based on credible academic research. I am intending to experiment with some of his his advice on Tomatoes this summer and will report back on how that goes.
Tender, Nigel Slater
Publisher: Fourth Estate; ISBN: 9780007248490, 978000732521
So once you’ve grown all your lovely fruit and veg what are you actually going to do with it? I doubt there is a domestic grower anywhere who hasn’t experienced ‘the glut’. Nigel Slater is one of my favourite food writers for his simple but exceptionally tasty recipes which are squarely focussed on what to have for your tea rather than what to cook for your highfalutin dinner guests. He is also a keen gardener and Tender is his extensive treatise on cooking with the crops you have grown. It is in two parts, one on vegetables and one on fruit with each chapter focussed on a specific crop. There’s some thoughts on variety choices and of course a selection of delicious recipes to try. As someone who is fond of a bit of improvisational cookery the thing I find really handy is the advice on flavours which complement the relevant fruit or vegetable, so even if you don’t have all the ingredients for one of the recipes you can still come up with something edible!