Fresh From the Garden by John Whitman – Book Review
Fresh from the Garden: An Organic Guide to Growing Vegetables, Berries and Herbs in Cold Climates
By John Whitman
University of Minnesota Press, 2017
Hardcover, 536 pages
This handsome book with extensive and informative photographs provides comprehensive lessons about growing edibles. It’s divided into two sections – a section providing detailed information about growing edibles organically and a section that includes thorough descriptions of a wide range edibles, including some you probably haven’t thought of eating before.
Part I. Beginning with the Soil and Ending with a Harvest
In the first 120 pages of Fresh From the Garden, Whitman essentially gives us a primer in organic gardening from siting to harvest. He instructs us in the decisions that must be made when choosing a good garden site to showcasing the permutations of growing techniques from vertical gardening, strawbale gardening, lasagna gardening, container gardening and using raised beds.
Then he tackles information about soil and what the soil might need to support a healthy harvest. He recommends a soil test and explains how the results will be a valuable guide to improving your soil with compost, vermicompost and other organic fertilizers.
After Whitman has given full information about choosing a site and preparing the soil he goes on to explain the many ways of planting, from choosing seed and saving seed, to the ways the planting beds can be organized. His thoughtful approach to gardening is as helpful to the experienced gardener as it is to the novice.
I don’t think I have found any other book with such full and comprehensive information about every aspect of caring for an edible garden and dealing with the terrors of disease, insects and the depredations of critters – deer, rabbits, or whatever is most prevalent in your neighborhood. I thought that by leaving the country and moving into town I would no longer worry about critters, but it turns out there are hungry or curious beasts wherever you live.
Finally there is a brief and succinct list of garden tools and products that will be useful to gardeners of all types.
Part II. Vegetables, Berries and Herbs
I think many of us gardeners think about the pleasures of growing some of our own food. Even in a town garden it is possible to add a few berry bushes and our favorite vegetables. Whitman’s inclusive list takes us through the categories of vegetables, berries, and herbs, and then to artichoke, which is the first edible in the “unique plants” category. The less common berries that fall into the unique category include blackberry, boysenberry, currants, elderberry and gooseberry. This section is comprised of 370 pages of excellent cultural information for 133 species and uncounted cultivars.
Some gardeners will be surprised to find unexpected plants on this edible list. Daylilies! Not all daylilies are edible but the orange roadside daylilies, hemerocallis fulva, and the lemon lily, hemerocallis liliosphodelus, can be prepared in several ways. Edible chrysanthemums, lamb’s quarters, marigolds, nasturtiums, lavender and violets can all add a bit of taste and beauty to a dish.
Whitman doesn’t stint on describing each plant’s basic needs for soil type, moisture and light. He then goes on to information about the specific cultivars, like days to maturity, and nutritional values, as well as the cultural needs. He takes a cultivar from planting to harvest and then storage.
There is also a seven-page glossary to clear up any hazy ideas about what such terms as monocots, true leaves, puddling, or nymphs are, as well as a good index.
I highly recommend this book because it is accessible to the novice, useful to the experienced gardener, and covers a broad world of edible crops. In Fresh from the Garden I have found information and an invitation to try some of the more exotic edibles. Cloudberry sounds delicious – and hardy.
You don’t need to read every word, although those first 120 pages are worth a careful reading – and re-reading, especially when you are thinking about trying out new techniques. Even in that first section, it is easy to find the answers to specific questions you might have.
The second encyclopedic plant section is for browsing and reading when you are trying to decide what to plant, or when you are looking for full and specific planting information. A young gardener once asked me how to decide what to plant. My answer was, and is, to plant what you like to eat. Whitman’s wealth of knowledge will help that young gardener, and gardeners like me, achieve a happy success.
Whitman has been an organic gardener for fifty years, and clearly is still as enthusiastic as when he began. He is an excellent teacher, anticipating every question a gardener might have and providing just the information the reader needs.
Where to Buy
Fresh from the Garden: An Organic Guide to Growing Vegetables, Berries and Herbs in Cold Climates by John Whitman and published by University of Minnesota Press is easily available at Amazon for $35.05 for a hardcover.
And now over to you – What is your favorite edible to grow in your garden? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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