Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Best Edible Gardening Books (In My Opinion Anyway)

A few years ago, I knew almost nothing about gardening. I was terrible about keeping house plants alive--I used to run experiments in my head to see how long I could not water my plants before they wilted--but then we moved to the East Bay and everything changed. For the first time, we had a backyard of our own. Since moving to California, I had been enamored with the idea of growing my own food. At one point, I had tried to grow Kale and Chard in pots outside; I watered them maybe once a week and harvested what amounted to large micro greens: delicious, nutritious, but definitely not enough for two bites. When we moved across the Bay, I set my mind to learning to garden; my goal was to grow enough food in the summer months, so that I wouldn't need to buy produce from the grocery store. In the four years since making the move, I have learned so much and truly can call myself a gardener; I'm pretty proud of that. 

Folks often ask me now "How did you learn how to garden?" There was a defiantly a lot of trial and error (hello planting blackberries in a small garden) and researching on the internet (Garden Forums and Dave's Garden are fantastic resources), but there are a few books that really started me off and that I keep going back to for advice. Here are my favorite ones:

Western Garden Book of Edibles When I fist started gardening, this was my go-to-guide. The book is an encyclopedia for every edible plant commonly grown in the west, with helpful information about varieties, how to plant, how to care for, and in what regions it's best grown. Sadly, no mangos for me--but hey Hawaii, California has stone fruit. When I was planning out our very first garden, I went through this book and added post it notes to each edible plant I wanted to grow. I hadn't removed these notes until taking these photos and was happy to see I've grown each of the post-it-noted-plants since my initial edible garden dreaming days.

Grow a Little Fruit Tree Have you dreamed of having an orchard of trees but are faced with the reality of an urban yard? Or just don't want to have to get on a ladder every time you want a peach? Ann Ralph describes the little fruit tree pruning method, where you prune young, standard sized fruit trees to keep them small long term. Because of Ann's method, we have 9 fruit trees in our backyard and 3 in our front. She also holds winter and summer pruning classes in the Bay Area that walk you through the scary first cut and all subsequent pruning; she's also been very helpful via email when I've had additional follow up questions or just need a little virtual hand holding. 

The Beautiful Edible Garden You know me: I love an edible garden. But an edible garden doesn't mean a farm. This books walks you through creating your own, beautiful edible garden. You'll learn about how to apply design principles to your garden--repeating colors, plants, and materials often--as well as how to layer your garden beds with focal points, shrubs, and groundcovers. The book also  includes helpful plant suggestions for different sun exposures, year round color, edible groundcovers, and dry gardening as well as tips on testing your soil. The two women behind this book, Leslie Bennet and Stefani Bittner, each have their own gardening design firms: Pine House Edible Gardens and Homestead Design Collective

Farm City This book is a novel and not a gardening how-to, but it's a fun, funny, read. Novella Carpenter gardens at Ghost Town Farm in Oakland and uses this book to chronicle her starting out. Reading about her trial and error, experiments, and grit empowered me to believe I too could garden. Plus, she's my hero for having pigmy goats in Oakland--a dream for someday. 

The Rooftop Beekeeper This is probably the most advanced book on the list. Next year is the year I will start beekeeping (I have the hive! Just need the bees) but this year is the year I read Megan Paska's book and got excited about keeping my own bees. Megan also has a great Instagram feed, which I highly recommend following. Since writing this book, Megan has moved from urban beekeeping to being a full fledged farmer in the coastal region of New Jersey. Just like Novella, this lady has grit and grows beautiful food. 

The Backyard Homestead I use this book more as a reference than as a cover to cover read. Starting your raspberry patch? Want to try your hand at canning? How much can you grow in your space? This book has you covered with clear instructions and easy to follow illustrations. 

Golden Gate Gardening The Bay Area has a unique climate to say the least. San Francisco, covering an area of 49 square miles, has eleven (11!) different micro climates. This guide is especially helpful for those living in SF proper, but it has some helpful tips for anyone living near the Pacific in California. 

Gardening is a constant learning experience; learning about your space, the plants you love, and how to help your garden and all its occupants live together happily. These are my favorite gardening books but I'm always up to read and learn more. What are your favorite gardening books? 

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