books food

The best books on growing food

On wednesday night Transition Luton hosted an evening on growing your own, all about inspiring Luton to get growing. We had a panel of experts and it was great fun. I was reminded once again that there’s no substitute for knowing experienced gardeners, but when you haven’t got one to hand, a book will get you most of the way there. Here are some I’ve been consulting over the last few weeks as we get into the growing season.

This is where I start, with the Reader’s Digest Food from your Garden and Allotment. It has sections on most things I could want to grow, with lots of pretty pictures and illustrations, and summary timetables for sowing and harvesting. There are also tips on cooking and preserving each crop, so it’s a kind of all-in-one resource. I’ve also had reason to the ‘pests and diseases’ section a couple of times too, which is handy for trouble-spotting. If you’re starting out and want to get one book, this would do nicely.

For more detail, you can’t do much better than Dr Hessayon and his expert series, and I was lucky enough to find the fruit and vegetable books for 10p each in a charity shop. I found them both a little intimidating at first as there’s just so much to take in, but I’m appreciating them more as my understanding grows. The fruit expert was particularly useful, for someone who knew nothing about rootstocks and tree types. There’s a whole series to explore too, for those who want to grow flowers or pot plants or even, heaven forbid, want to pursue that immaculate manicured lawn.

Last summer I was lucky enough to visit Michael Guerra’s little suburban garden and see his permaculture philosophy first hand. This is his book, describing how to get the most out of small spaces. There are some profoundly radical ideas beating beneath the glossy pictures here, and I can only imagine the discussions that went on with the publisher when he delivered the draft. If you’ve only got a patio or a window box to play with, The Edible Container Garden will show you just how productive it could be.

Even if you’re only growing in your own back garden, growing food is still a community activity. You want to be sharing expertise, seeds, cuttings, tips on where to get manure. It’s been great meeting local growers and seeing the informal networks around the town. Local Food is all about the community aspects of growing, tackling problems together and widening participation. I’ll be consulting it on how to get more allotment space in Luton, for a start.

Those are a few books I’m using – I don’t suppose they are ‘the best books on growing food’, that’s more what I’m looking for. So which ones would you recommend? What’s been most useful? I’m particularly interested in a permaculture growers manual, if you know of one.

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