08 January 2009

Vegetable Gardener's Bible - 2000 Book is Still Relevant for New Gardeners

Once in a while a garden book comes along that stands the test of time. The Vegetable Gardener's Bible by Edward Smith was published in 2000, and continues to attract the attention and praise of vegetable gardeners.

Smith's approach to vegetable gardens is based on his WORD. system: Wide rows, Organic practices, Raised beds and Deep soil.

From Seed to Harvest: Higher Yields with Less Work is the first chapter about how wide, raised beds produce considerably more vegetables than narrow rows. In a standard garden, half the space is compacted by gardeners' feet. Planting beds that are 3-feet wide and made deeper with 18-inch deep raised beds and narrow paths gives more of the square footage to production.

Wide beds save space and work. They allow closer planting and easier access for weeding and harvest. That design also conserves water.

Either building plank-sided boxes around beds or simply piling additional soil onto the rows can accomplish the recommended depth of your growing beds.

Smith has pages on tools, planning a new garden, converting a grassy or sod area into a vegetable garden and how to read a seed catalog.

The pages on companion planting are arranged in charts for easy reference. Then there are tips about interplanting. For example, he recommends that you plant light-feeding carrots with heavy-feeding tomatoes and pair deep-rooted parsnips with shallow-rooted onions.

Smith says crop rotation by plant family is crucial for fooling the insects that prefer specific plants and he gives examples of how to make it work.

One of the reasons you get more out of Smith's method of vegetable garden planning is that he recommends that you grow plants a lot closer together. He says that you can put them closer in a 5 by 2 bed that is 2-feet deep, than in an 8-inch wide by 2-foot long row because
the plants can get the nutrients they need from the deeper soil.

The chapter on jump-starting the season with your own seedlings is detailed enough to help a new gardener get off to a good start using seeds.

Vertical gardening is utilizing teepees, A-frames, trellises and fences to support tomatoes, melons, beans, peas and other climbers such as winter squash vines. Smith gives plenty of help with how-to build and install them.

Organic mulches are usually recommended as the best for weed suppression, soil enhancement and moisture conservation. Smith also recommends IRT, infrared transmitting plastic as good for weed control. IRT blocks visible light that weeds need for growth.

When your soil is fertile from a few years of the addition of organic matter and rock powders, the only fertilizer you will need is compost and maybe some fish emulsion. This winter is a good time to get a soil test before adding spring fertilizers, so you will know what you are doing.

Watering has its own chapter: Watering cans, nozzles, irrigation systems, etc.

Then he covers soil and plant health, including the nutrients plants need and how to provide them, soil pH (acid and alkaline), followed by the benefits of green manure. Planting a cover crop in the fall can improve soil texture and fertility.

There are 100-pages of plant descriptions for a typical vegetable garden.

Scattered throughout the easy to read text there are garden wisdom tidbits such as these: Grow lettuce among onions, carrots, corn, beets, and cabbage. The lettuce shades the roots and cools the soil. Soil nutrients pass into plants through the water surrounding their root hairs so careful watering is essential.
Pick corn in the morning when the sugar content is highest. Treat seed potatoes with sulphur to help prevent potato beetles. Carrot roots grow 1.5 feet out on all sides and 3-feet downward so deep, wide beds work best.


The book has 320-pages and hundreds of photos and illustrations to guide you, including how to get a head start on the season, protecting vegetables in the summer and extending the season into late fall.

Storey Books published the Vegetable Gardener's Bible by Ed Smith in 2000. It is available for $17 on Amazon.com and Overstock.com and the paperback edition is available from Walmart.com for around $17. Muskogee and Eufaula libraries have copies, too.

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