We’ve all been told to consult the internet for gardening advice. And there are so many resources to choose from! In a pinch, its a great place to find short term advice. I have scoured the internet in the past, when my references were all stuck in storage. But what if you want consistent tried and true advice that can’t fail, or mostly doesn’t fail unless you have a bad summer, weather-wise?
Here is my go-to, save-you-the-trip list of garden books to help you grow your green thumb year after year! I highly encourage you to buy them. It’s a shorter trip to the information, and less distracting than the internet!
Before I dive in, I offer three pieces of foundational advice: 1) Figure out what your hardiness zone is. I have linked the Canadian Site. Each country will have their zones listed on a map. Hardiness zones will shed light on what your overall seasonal climate is so you can plan with better timing. (2) Soil is everything. If you’re failing, most likely you have not ideal soil conditions. If you have invested a fair amount of time and effort but still having a hard time, it still may not be you, but ecological imbalance. Meaning, (3) you need a balance of good and bad bugs and a complete ecosystem that include flowers that attract beneficial and predatory insects so that your fruits, flowers and vegetables get pollinated regularly to produce fruits and seeds.
Which brings me to my first go-to reference:
Good Bug-Bad Bug, Jessica Walliser, St Lynn’s Press, Pittsburg, 2011. I LOVE this book! It’s a simple meat-and-potatoes of the most common bugs to expect in your garden, what they will look like, what attracts them and what attracts their predators. If you have found yourself getting completely sidetracked trying to find your bug, find a solution – this is for you. After using the very simple tips on companion plants and pollinators, I had almost an “infestation” of lacewings! (If you have too many lacewings, consider yourself lucky.) Best of all, I found my first praying mantis on my flower pot last summer. The more beneficial bugs I had, the less of a hit my crops took. If you want something more in-depth, you can try Jessica Walliser’s other co-authored book, Grow Organic.
Carrots Love Tomatoes & Roses Love Garlic, Louise Riotte, Storey Publishing 2004. This is a double issue. Louise Riotte passed away in the late 90’s. But her masterpieces (of many) are these two books that focus on companion planting secrets. One for the ornamental garden and one for the vegetable beds. Each give key secrets of the why’s and how’s that make it work, not only for harmonious pairing, but also for pest control and prevention, as well, plant combinations for optimal harvests. This was one of the first books I purchased as a new gardener to vegetables, because I wanted a way to avoid chemicals and focus my energy on ecological balance to grow great crops. So far, I have no disappointments and is one of the first books I grab every winter to plan out my season.
The Pruner’s Bible, Steve Bradley, The Reader’s Digest Association, 2004. If there was ever a clear example of following fundamental pruning guide, this would be it. It mainly focuses on ornamental shrubs, vines fruiting berry canes, and some specialized pruning methods such as pollarding, standards, and pleaching. If you want something more specific, say for orchards or any beginner fruit tree maintenance, you’re better off with the next two books I recommend, or take the course by esteemed, Toronto-based urban orchardist, Susan Poizner of the Orchard People!
The Holistic Orchard, Michael Phillips, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011. If you have been considering an orchard, a micro-urban backyard orchard (3-4 trees in your back yard), all orchard principles still apply. That being pest, diseases, fertilizing and pruning, plant support, and mulching. It goes into details on managing common fruit tree bugs, and fungi and maintaining holistic practices (consistency) remedies that have been foundational in managing his organic orchard. Definitely well worth the read and for ongoing troubleshooting!
The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control, Helen Atthowe, Linda A Gilkeson, Ph.D., L Patricia Kite, Patricia S. Michalak, Barbara Pleasant, Lee Reich, Ph.D., Alfred F. Scheider, Rodale Inc, 2009. Whew! You got pests, and diseases, you have got to get this! A follow-up to the Holistic Orchard and Good Bug, Bad Bug, you can never have enough troubleshooting guides as they always compliment each other! This is a great and thorough guide for vegetable production and fruit trees. It is riddled with pictures and thorough descriptions so identifying the pests and problem issues are less confusing. It touches on companion gardening as a strategy (complementary to Louise Riotte) to save you many financial trips to last minute garden fixes! Holistic gardening is all about preventing infestations of problems from the beginning and this book has been a reference I have used over and over again throughout the growing seasons. Get it. You. Need. It.
The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener, Niki Jabbour, Storey, 2001. Nikki Jabbour covers the complete basic framework for a successful garden – year round! Local climate zones, soil health, crop rotation, and the winter garden is explained in detail, making this a well-rounded reference for the ambitious gardener with a rigorous home “farm” plan. I have used this as a foundational reference as a reminder throughout the growing season. and this year, I am rolling full steam ahead with my winter garden ambitions!
Weeds and What They Tell You, Ehrenfried E. Pfeiffer, Floris Books, 1970. Soil testing is essential when you want to transition from an ornamental garden, that is happier with a more acidic conditions, to a vegetable bed, that is more reliant on soil that is more alkaline. You definitely want to do a soil test if you have plans to establish a home orchard, as fruit trees can be really picky about their homes. It is pricey and takes time. I’m not deterring you from doing a test; I’m saying there are indicators to the overall health of your soil, just by looking at your weeds! So you can look at the overall conditions, come up with a hypothesis, and send away a sample for a more detailed and accurate assessment, depending on what your ambitions are. Weeds is keeper.
Rating and Raising Vegetables, Virginia L. Beatty & Consumer Guide, Publications International, 1977 (Out of Circulation). It’s true – it is out of circulation! However, you can find it on Amazon, which has doubled as the place to find many obscure and long lost treasures as this one. This offers bare bones, “meat & potatoes” of growing just about anything. Be mindful to adapt its directions to your local climate/hardy zone.
The Complete Book of Herbs, A Practical Guide to growing & Using Herbs, Lesley Bremnes, Viking Studio/Dorling Kindersley Books, 1988 One of my absolute favourite books that goes into details (without too much extra talking) on the various common varieties of each herb, how they are used, including footnotes on certain varieties that are not for consumption
Cornucopia II, A source Book of Edible Plants, Stephen Facciola, Kampong Publications, 1998 (Totally out of circulation, but I have linked to a downloadable e-copy – happy new year!) PLEASE NOTE: To this reference: some names have changed over the years so you will need to cross-reference nomenclature & taxonomy and trace species names back to their previous ones. Look up sources you trust to reference the eating methods for even more safety. This is a list of all the edible food sources and how it is used, how to identify in a dictionary form. I have used this as a reference when I wanted to know what other parts of plants can be useful both culturally and historically. It has been invaluable to me. If you try to look for tangible copies from Amazon, don’t be surprised by it’s price. This book was going for $300 in 2018 and it has only escalated in price. The last time I checked it was priced between $700-$1400! Update: A revised link is provided!
Who can stop at 10?! - You should at least have 2 more references if you are going to try to grow something worth saving, gifting and eating over the winter!
(BONUS!) The Dehydrator Bible, Jennifer Mackenzie, Jay Nutt, Don Mercer, Robert Rose Inc., 2015. I have had the good fortune of being taught by Don Mercer; a Ph.D who has travelled all over the world learning, studying and teaching food preservation. If you have had the luck of a great harvest, you also know the conundrum of trying to figure out what to do with it. This book gives you the basics of dehydration, recipes so you can successfully use those ingredients and essentials on how to use them in outdoors or limited situations.
(BONUS!) The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants, Mushrooms, Fruit & Nuts, Katie Letcher Lyle, Falcon Guides, 1998 Another goodie. Not a replacement for the grocery store, but if your goal is to become a better knowledgeable foodie, this is a great beginner guide, full of ID, basic uses and traditional understanding to get you going so you know how to find current and updated recipes. This is where my naive introduction to pickled walnuts (BBC’s Two Fat Ladies lured me in) came full circle. There is a long list of wild food I have not yet played with, as toxicity and harvest timing are paramount. Pick too early – could be poisonous; pick too late, and it’s gross or too fibrous. Some plants require gloves to handle when harvesting, and so on. So references that caution you on handling and uses are vital for me to consider using.
Well that’s the list. I hope this was inspiring without making you feel buried by the information. This is the quick-and-dirty list. Since starting Pretty Tasty Gardens, my references have only exploded. Perhaps by fall, I will make you another list for an intermediate audience. Mind, you these books I have listed here are useful at all levels of expertise, so I hope there is at least something for you to take away!
Until next time, stay warm and well read!