Vegetable Gardening Book Reviews

I’ve got quite a few books on vegetable gardening, some are great, some I wish I had never bought. So to help other gardeners, especially those just starting out, I’ve decided to review some of my books. I’ve included a rating, but for some books, while they are great, they may have a low rating based on how good they are for Vegetable Gardening.

Sunset Western Garden Book
Overview:
Encyclopedic reference book of plant species and varieties that grow in the Western States of U.S.
Review:
Being in the Landscape Architecture industry, I use this book almost daily. It is an indispensable reference guide to all things plant. It gives great descriptions of plants, including size, color, watering needs, sun exposure requirements, etc.  However, this book is not good for vegetable gardening. It’s just too general for getting good information on how to grow a successful garden. It does have some useful info, however in the back on gardening techniques, but it mostly refers to shrubs and trees, rather than annual vegetable plants.
Rating: 2 out of 5

Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew
Overview:
A method of gardening with specific soil mixes, bed sizes, and planting schedules and spacing.
Review:
This book is very self congratulatory to the writer. There is a certain arrogance in it pages. It’s also very repetitive.
I used his method for one year and had horrible results. The soil mix held too much water for some crops like onions and garlic so they just rotted. The spacing was too close for tomatoes – we only got 5 small tomatoes from 6 plants that year. Peppers don’t like to be grown in peat so they also failed. The plants were so close together we had a lot of problems with pests – something we had never had a problem with.

He “kind of” uses the French Intensive Method, but fails on some important points. Mainly the depth of beds. He recommends 6″ deep beds, which just aren’t deep enough for a lot of plants to be successful when grown so close together. It promotes lateral root growth rather than vertical root growth, which the French Intensive utilizes with double dug beds which result in beds that are 18-24″ deep.

Also his soil mix does not provide some essential micronutrients. My raised beds that had his mix never did as well, even after going back to my usual method, as my beds that contained native soil with compost. Because of the peat, they were highly acidic, which is fine for a lot of plants, but not all plants like highly acidic soil. Not to mention that the soil mix is expensive and is not sustainable – peat is not a renewable resource.

I will give him an extra star however for his planting schedule in the appendix. it is useful for those beginning. I however, no longer use this schedule as I base my plantings on the moon cycles.
Rating: 2 out of 5

How to Grow More Vegetables (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and other Crops) than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land than You can Imagine by John Jeavons
Overview:
Focuses on using the French Intensive Method to increase yields and how to grow a completely self sustaining garden.
Reveiw:
I find this book to be very technical, but at the same time well written. It has a lot of charts and tables to fill out. I really like the planting schedule and garden layouts that it offers. It wasn’t until I read this book that I realized I should use a professional soils lab to test my soil. And I’m so glad I did! The at home kits just aren’t reliable. It covers just about anything you can think of in regards to gardening. Only one bad part of this book is that it is so technical, it might be a little too overwhelming for the beginning gardener. It just has so much information in it. It also doesn’t have much info on pests and diseases, which I feel is important to thoroughly cover if you are being organic.
Rating: 4 out of 5

The Gardener’s A-Z Guide to Growing Organic Food by Tanya L.K. Denckia
Overview:
Reference book going over different crops of vegetables and fruits and how to diagnose and treat plant diseases and pests organically.
Review:
What I like about this book is that it covers nearly all diseases and pests and how to organically treat them. A lot of gardening books lack a lot of information pertaining to these problems either because they were written by gardeners that live on the east coast and are not familiar with west coast pests and diseases, or they just cover the more common problems. The book also offers information on specific crops and what problems they are prone to, beneficial companions, and cultural needs. It also tells you how much you should plant per person of each crop, however, this info can be difficult to find because it’s in the introduction to the crop rather than it’s own box. This is a good reference book, though I wouldn’t recommend using it by itself for beginners.
Rating: 4 out of 5

Reader’s Digest Vegetable Gardening; From Planting to Picking – the Complete Guide to Creating a Bountiful Garden by F.M. Bradley and J. Courtier
Overview:
Basic vegetable gardening that incorporates both conventional and organic methods.
Review:
There doesn’t seem to be anything new about this book. It covers both organic methods and conventional methods (use of chemical pesticides, herbicides and fungicides). It does, however, offer information on keeping just picked produce fresh and how to store and preserve your garden’s bounty. I also like that there is a colored box with each crop variety’s description that explains spacing, time to plant and how much to plant per person.
Rating: 3 out of 5

Sunset’s The Edible Garden
Overview:
A short 189 page gardening book that goes over basic crops of vegetables and fruits.
Review:
This is a pretty good book even though it’s short. Because of the short length though, it is fairly generalized. It doesn’t go over specific crops pH and nutrient requirements. I do like how they cover fruit trees along with berry vines. The first part of the book goes over basic gardening techniques, garden designs and then it has chapters on seasons and what needs to be done in the garden during those seasons.
Rating: 4 out of 5

Crockett’s Victory Garden by James Underwood Crockett
Overview:
The companion book to the PBS television series.
Review:
I’m not even sure if this book is in print anymore, but if you can find it, get your hands on it. My mother bought this book when I was a small child, and I still use it as a reference. Between Jim Crockett and my Grandfather, my love for all things plant grew, so even though this isn’t necessarily the best book for gardening, it will always hold a soft spot in my heart. The book is divided by month and what you should do each month, whether it is starting seedlings, transplanting, harvesting, etc. It does not go over organic methods since it was written prior to the big “green” movement. However, there is still a lot of useful and interesting information in it. This book will definitely be more useful for people that have a shorter growing season, compared to those of us in warmer climates.  Don’t let the lower rating fool you though, this is a classic book that I think all gardener’s should have on their shelves even though it doesn’t necessarily offer the info everyone could use.
Rating: 3 out of 5

The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith
Overview:
A gardening book based off of the “W.O.R.D.” system. Wide rows, Organic methods, Raised beds, Deep Soil. Published by Storey Publishing LLC the quintessential publisher of all things sustainable.
Review:
If you can only have one gardening book this one should be it. The first half of the book is all about garden methods and design. The second half goes over specific requirements for popular crops. The book contains a lot of easy to read charts and explains how to get the soil requirements you need. Each crop overview contains easy to find info including when to plant, companion plants, crop rotation, and soil requirements. This is my go-to book on all questions I have, and I use it almost exclusively for planning out my garden every year.
Rating: 5 out of 5

Comments

  1. Thank you so much, I have some of the books you critiqued and came up with similar scores. I don't have the Vegetable Gardnes Bible by E Smith, but I do have THE GARDEN PRIMER by Barbara Damrosch and love it. Sounds similar. Thanks again for saving us from buying what we don't need or being disappointed in our purchase.

  2. Do you have any recommendations for books on container gardening? We're in an apartment, and although I don't exactly have a green thumb, I am doing my best. We have herbs (rosemary, basil, mint, thyme, oregano) and some flowers (even I can't kill geraniums and marigolds), but I'd like to attempt a veggie or two this summer, if it's even possible. Maybe some kind of tomato at least.

  3. Elizabeth, while I don't do much container gardening, The Edible Garden does have container information in it.

  4. lexica510 says:

    Definitely bookmarking this post for future reference. Thanks!

    One book I like is so specific to the East Bay that it wouldn't be useful to anyone not in the SF Bay Area. For those who are, however, Strawberries in November by Judith Goldsmith has some really good information.

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