Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Book review: Vegetable Gardening in the North

At last—a gardening book germane to my reality!

And just in time for planting season here in the Northeast USA. Author Doug Green hails from Canada, our climatic neighbor, and presents in one concise e-book everything northerners need to know about growing vegetables. I read the book in one sitting and couldn’t wait to get started. But, true to our location, the weather disagreed with the calendar, so all I could do was prepare.

Doug maintains the popular Doug Green’s Garden website, newsletter, and blog (www.douggreensgarden.com), and publishes a steady stream of articles and e-books. Like most gardening gurus, he espouses certain horticultural techniques; but unlike most gurus, he also has a “whatever works” philosophy that encourages experimentation and enjoyment. In fact, his only two rules are (1) gardening is supposed to be fun and (2) it isn’t rocket science.

The feature I most appreciate in the book is his Rules of Thumb. I’m an unscientific gardener, and extremely lazy, so I look for basics and sloppily follow them. Doug provides useful, reliable guidelines that allow individual approaches while still leading to good results. He’s also one of the few pros who share my attitude about Zone Maps, which so many take as gospel, and which for so many years led me to planting the wrong things at the wrong times and thinking that gardening really is rocket science.

“A zone map is a guideline,” says Doug. “It isn’t a ‘rule’ to be carved in stone. That pretty much sums it up. These areas are more relevant to growing perennials and woody plants than they are to growing vegetables. . . . The important thing to understand is that the colder your zone (the lower your number), the shorter your growing season”—followed by information I’ve been seeking for 13 years: “For every zone colder than 4, wait a week [for planting]. For every zone warmer than 5, advance the date by a week.”

Thank you!

Doug also understands and addresses the ultimate gardening bugbear: microclimates. “Gardeners have more micro-zones than we have politicians,” he remarks, tongue in cheek, then provides tips on how to maximize microclimates to your (and the plants’) benefit.

The book emphasizes common sense and adaptability, general in the first half and specific in the second, with useful details about cultivating a broad range of vegetables. He writes it all in a friendly, shoot-from-the-hip voice that covers all bases without drowning you in data. Again, this is the right style for me, who just wants a few reliable guidelines to follow, plus a fingertip resource when I need particulars about my vegetables of choice.

Vegetable Gardening in the North includes tricks for dealing with insect and animal pests, as well as a straightforward glossary. In sum, I can throw away the library of gardening books I’ve amassed (and given up on), and just refer to this one for the rest of my northern life.

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