Jean Ann Van Krevelen’s Grocery Gardening book takes the subject of growing food and makes it fresh (Sorry, couldn’t help myself). The book is packed with the practical information everyone needs to plan, plant and successfully harvest a bountiful garden. It is written with wit, wisdom and employs a graphic design style that jumps off the page.
As you might have gathered from past articles, I’m a landscape architect who doesn’t garden—there’s all that dirt and heavy lifting and stuff. But I am very interested in how gardening and landscaping affect the environment. So is Grocery Gardening.
Right out of the starting gate, Jean Ann makes a convincing case for the most important step in sustainable gardening—analyzing your location so you can work in harmony with your particular site. The better you understand the sun patterns, soil, air movement and other physical features, the more likely you’ll avoid frustration later.
Jean Ann gets right to the point explaining how the soil under your feet is a living organism that must be respected and nurtured if the garden is to be vital and productive. As she accurately states:
“It takes a bit of time to really build the quality and structure of your soil, but it is one of the foundational elements of gardening. If you don’t have healthy soil with good drainage, your poor plants will not have the nutrients they need to produce great vegetables and fruit.”
The text cites many organic sources of fertilizer (some admittedly “stinky” ones, too) and includes a sidebar filled with practical composting tips.
The first chapter also emphasizes the importance of monitoring soil moisture, the necessity of good air movement to fend off fungal diseases and the role of mulch, ”…a gardener’s best friend.”
Making The Most Of Your Space
Fret not if you don’t have 40 acres to farm. Grocery Gardening provides ideas for small-space gardening using front yards, containers or going vertical.
My favorite idea, one that’s spreading like gangbusters in my hometown of Santa Barbara, is “yardsharing.” It’s just what it sounds like—joining forces with friends and neighbors. Benefits include access to more land, shared costs and labor, time savings and the joy of getting to know the people who live nearby.
The chapter on organic pest and disease management encourages readers to adopt the principles of integrated pest management. Simply stated, the IPM approach discourages gardeners from calling in an aerial napalm strike at the first sign of an aphid on your Brussels sprouts. As the book tells us, “A general rule of thumb is to start with the least invasive method and step upward if needed.”
And the best way to do that is to build a strong ecosystem, having a tolerance for small, transient “visitations” and accepting that, “Some percentage of your food will be eaten by vermin.” (No mention of whether this includes your sketchy cousin, Spike).
One quibble: Although Jean Ann does mention the role of releasing beneficial insects like ladybugs, praying mantis eggs, lacewings and others, this section would benefit from teaching the reader how to create their own insectary garden, leading to permanent, six-legged residents doing your dirty work for you.
Grocery Gardening brims with a heaping shovelful of reality, making the refreshing admission that not everyone has the time, talent or inclination to grow every bit of food they eat. The chapter titled “The Secret To Purchasing Quality Produce” makes the case for buying from local farmers (community-supported agriculture, or CSAs), shopping at farmers’ markets and roadside stands, visiting “u-pick farms” or joining a food co-op.
Aside from the benefits of feeding the local economy, you get to put a name and face with the food you eat. This way, you know how the food is grown, where it comes from and have the assurance that everything is fresh and in season. Not only that, but locally grown food has the smallest carbon footprint, traveling the shortest distance from field to fridge. Pretty cool and very green.
I’ll let you discover for yourself the plant-by-plant advice for growing dozens of crops highlighted between this book’s covers. Oh, did I mention that there are over 100 recipes for putting your sweat and toil to its highest use? What about the section on freezing, drying, canning and preserving? There, I just told you.
Twitter and Facebook to the Rescue
Now for the very most unique aspect of the book: It is a collaborative project that includes three other credited authors, all of whom met through Twitter, “chattering away about our love of gardening and food.” Amanda Thomsen (twittering @Kissmyaster), Robin Ripley (@robinripley) and Teresa O’Connor (@seasonalwisdom) are familiar 140-character characters at Twitter, lending their expertise and expanding the knowledge base of the book. Using Twitter and Facebook, the crew collectively solicited hundreds of ideas that have been blended into the book, resulting in a project that was completed in just 60 days!
My only problem with the book is that it doesn’t come with a generous patch of rich, loamy soil, abundant sunlight, spare time and someone to do the hard work for me. If it did, you know I’d be right out the back door, reliving all my favorite episodes from Greeeeeeeeen Acres.
For more about the Grocery Garden, visit the Web site. And if you’re at Facebook, become a fan.
Read another review of Grocery Gardening at VegetableGardener.com