Winter is a time many publishers issue their new gardening titles—perfect for winter reading for northern gardeners. These two new books for vegetable gardeners are packed with great information, particularly for gardeners who like to get the most from their vegetable space.
The authors are both horticulturists and contributors to SavvyGardening.com. While neither of them gardens in USDA Zones 3 or 4, one is from Nova Scotia and knows a bit about cold!
Growing Under Cover
Growing Under Cover by Niki Jabbour describes an abundance of ways to grow vegetables for a longer season with less pest pressure. I was lucky enough to interview Niki about this book and she is an enthusiastic, knowledgeable grower who harvests from her zone 5b garden in Nova Scotia 12 months a year. The secret to so much abundance is careful use of covers. She has cold frames for hardening off vegetables and a series of plastic covered hoops for giving seedlings a good start in spring. Her polytunnel is used year-round to grow a variety of summer and winter crops. Fabric row covers keep pests off target plants.
The book covers all the usual ways to grow vegetables under cover as well as some unusual ideas. For instance, she uses shade cloths to prevent greens from bolting when the weather warms up. She describes how geodesic domes can be used for growing plants, too, but my favorite structure was something called a walipini. A walipini is an earth-sheltered greenhouse, sort of a cross between grandma’s root cellar and an extra large cold frame.
Growing Under Cover gives gardeners the details they need — about watering, ventilation, diseases, construction and more — to implement their own season-extension strategies. She also gives specific tips for using covers when growing more than 20 vegetables. While many books for vegetable gardeners are geared toward beginners, this one is great for a gardener who has a few seasons of experience and is ready to take food production to the next level.
We’ve all heard the rules of companion planting. Plant tomatoes near carrots, zinnias near cauliflower or nasturtiums in any area you have aphids. In Plant Partners: Science-Based Companion Planting Strategies for the Vegetable Garden, horticulturist Jessica Walliser looks at the science behind companion planting strategies.
Walliser challenges gardeners to think about companion planting in a different way. It’s not a series of magical connections between plants, but rather “it’s about using plant partnerships to improve the overall ecosystem of the garden and create a well-balanced environment in which all organisms thrive from the tiniest soil microbe to the tallest corn plant.” Gardens are highly connected spaces with plants, soil, insects, microbes and fungi all interacting with each other. Plants can and do provide nitrogen for each other, release chemicals that restrict the growth of other plants, provide climbing structures, attract or repel insects or bring in pollinators that assist other plants.
The book explains these functions thoroughly but in an easy-to-understand way. It then gives lots of examples of how they work, and how gardeners can use them in their own garden. For instance, green beans are nitrogen fixers—meaning they have the ability to take nitrogen from the air and transform it into a form plants can use, including neighboring plants in the garden. Planting green beans in alternating rows with potatoes will help them both grow.
The book is full of examples and real-world ways to combine plants to help with pest control, soil nutrition, disease management and more. Like Growing Under Cover, this book might be best suited to an experienced vegetable gardener.