For many years, the simple act of tending plants has brought a touch of joy into my life. Swirls of sweet peas climbing a trellis, fragrant rosemary plucked and ready to enrich a tomato sauce, a cheeky little gopher munching away in the carrot patch. Oh wait, that last example didn’t exactly incite a joyous feeling! Nevertheless, late winter is the perfect time to start planning your spring garden and I definitely hear mine beckoning. You can even mail order your plants, like I did with my olive trees, no thicker than a pencil when they arrived, now fruitful and towering as an impressive grove. Your efforts will result in a beautiful garden ready to emerge and befriend you for another season.
“Plant Partners: Science-Based Companion Planting Strategies for the Vegetable Garden” by Jessica Walliser is an informative book explaining how pairing certain vegetables in your garden will improve soil, yield a more productive crop, attract beneficial insects and strengthen resistance to disease. Her organic approach and suggestions are all backed by studies. Lure pests away from your harvest crops by trap cropping. If aphids are attacking your collards, try drawing them off by interplanting calendula. This will deter aphids from eating the collards and attract beneficial bugs to control the aphid population. Other suggestions include cover crops to improve soil and living mulches to discourage weeds. This interesting book offers creative ways to produce a thriving vegetable garden.
No matter where they live, all gardeners experience challenges along their growing pathways. In my own garden, I’ve had a late frost turn my lettuce bed into an icy tundra right out of the movie Frozen. Disappointing, yes, but I did let it go. It’s always interesting to see how fellow gardeners respond to their own challenges. Although based out of Novia Scotia, Niki Jabbour’s “Growing Under Cover: Techniques for a More Productive, Weather-Resistant, Pest-Free Vegetable Garden” has innovative solutions, even for us Californians. Here are some of her great takeaways. Make a cold frame for starting seeds using a recycled window sash. Plastic PVC pipe or metal tubes can be used to make small and large hoop frames, perfect for wind and pest protection. Shade cloth extends the spring season and more importantly for us, prevents sun scald on leaves and vegetables once the heat begins. While our weather may be quite different, it’s how we respond to it that makes each garden special. Many of these ideas, thoughts, and tips will give you the confidence to start your own special garden. Niki clearly has found a way to make growing under cover work for her. You can too.
There is nothing like using home-grown herbs to enhance your culinary creations. They smell great and taste so fresh. “Grow Your Own Herbs: the 40 Best Culinary Varieties for Home Gardens” by Susan Belsinger and Arthur O. Tucker is the perfect gardening book for anyone who loves to cook. The authors provide an overview of each herb, the type of conditions they grow in and a color photograph for identification. They include plant characteristics and flavors, harvesting and preserving ideas, and suggestions on how to use them in your cooking. There are appetizing recipes too, like herb pastes, herb vinegar and herb butter. Garlic, basil, cilantro and mint may be familiar names, but have you tried stevia, lovage, or saffron? Whether you grow them inside on a sunny windowsill or outside, they’ll add amazing flavor to all your dishes.