Most of the popular vegetable gardening how-to books are written on the east or west coast and have to be interpreted for the Midwest, upper south and south. For example, Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman (east coast U.S.), Gardening When It Counts by Steve Solomon (northwest U.S. and New Zealand), and Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew (northern Utah).
Gardeners in the rest of the country rely on local university extension office publications. In our area we are fortunate to have both Oklahoma State University and University of Arkansas to provide relevant instruction in print, online and through workshops.
Jim Wilson, the former host of “Victory Garden” and his partner Jamie Lynn Mandel, garden in Missouri. Wilson, 83, is the author of 14 gardening books. And he still has an organic garden that is 1,000 square feet divided into mini plots to grow herbs and vegetables for their table and to donate to the hungry.
Wilson’s new book, “Homegrown Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs: A Bountiful, Healthful Garden for Lean Times” summarizes his experience with growing food. Finally! A vegetable gardening book written by experienced gardeners in our geographic area.
The writing style is reader friendly. For example, one insert called Smart Gardener says, “Please don’t whack yon serpent” and explains that non-venomous garter and rat snakes are useful for keeping rodents under control.
“Preparing Your First Garden Plot” takes a patient approach that begins with getting a soil test. After that, Wilson guides you to stake out the plot for the garden and apply an organically approved, fatty acid, top-kill herbicide.
Critical instructions are highlighted in red type. For example, “wait until the air temperature is above 60-degrees F and there is no wind” before you spray herbicide. Use water hoses to mark off strips between which to apply the spray.
The next practical advice is to rent an 8-horsepower tiller. After tilling, apply an organic fertilizer, composted chicken manure and dolomitic lime if the soil test says you need it. Apply soil conditioners 3-inches deep to create 4-foot-wide raised beds. Soil conditioners include ground pine bark, cotton hulls, and composted manure. The book has a chart of fertilizer and amendments. They apply compost, mulch and compost tea to the garden.
Wait two weeks and spray again with organic herbicide. Ten days later the new garden is ready to plant.
“If deer have been seen in the neighborhood, you can assume they will destroy your garden,” Wilson writes.
Wilson and Mandel use galvanized steel fence as a bunny blocker and fence ornaments to discourage deer.
Wilson suggests we choose efficient vegetable varieties that produce the maximum food in the shortest time. Efficient vegetables can be harvested over several weeks including tomatoes, peppers, kale, and chard. If you grow plants from seed, you save 8 weeks of the days to maturity listed on the seed packet.
In addition to hundreds of tips, the book includes 30-pages on Selected Vegetables with seed starting, transplant, and pest control. The chapter on fruit includes trees, brambles and bushes. The herbs chapter is how to grow and preserve herbs from arugula and garlic to tarragon.
Wilson had experience with Victory Gardens in the World War II era and he thinks it is time to re-invigorate the concept. He wants us to plant “caring gardens” at schools and churches where food is grown for the undernourished among us.
“Homegrown Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs: A Bountiful, Healthful Garden for Lean Times” is published by Creative Homeowner (www.creativehomeowner.com, 1-800-631-7795) and sells for a thrifty $17.
Learn more on Saturday Jan 30, “Gardening Basic Training” will be held from 9 to 12:30 at St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Muskogee. Information 918-686-7200.