Guide to Canadian Vegetable Gardening” by Douglas Green. Cook Springs Press, 2009, 176 pp, 24.95

It will come as no surprise to many rural Atlantic Canadians that one of the hot gardening topics this year has to do with growing our own food. With ongoing concerns about food security, availability, and prices, coupled with a general worry about the economic climate there’s a real resurgence of interest in growing a kitchen garden, full of vegetables and herbs.

Ontario-based Doug Green knows about gardening, having been in the greenhouse and nursery business for most of his working life. “Guide to Canadian Vegetable Gardening” is his seventh book, and one worth investing in if you’re interested in growing your own vegetables.

Many of us don’t grow vegetables because we expect time-consuming, hard work. Perhaps we remember hot summer days spent hoeing long rows in a family garden when we’d rather have been pursuing more pleasurable activities. Green states his premise from the introduction.

“The only time gardening stops being ‘fun’ is when you bite off more than you can chew and try to do things in an old-fashioned, work-intensive way,” he writes. He promises to keep it simple and fun, and he delivers the goods, but also points out if people want to ignore his recommendations and do things the way they’ve always been done, “well, then you’re on your own.”

This book is divided into two sections. First, there’s the crucial planning before you actually put plant seeds or transplants. Green explains the importance of starting from the ground up by ensuring that you have healthy, fertile soil. He waxes eloquent about the most powerful tools in a gardener’s arsenal: mulch, compost, and organic gardening principals. He demystifies hardiness zones and helps simplify what a gardener can grow based on frost-free dates.

Unlike gardens consisting of flowers, trees and shrubs, where you can have a light hand with fertilizer, in order to have a good yield of most vegetables you do have to fertilize. Green supports gardening as organically as possible, although he is quick to say he’s not a purist. He offers several different planting systems so that a gardener with limited space can still achieve a generous yield of vegetables, and explains out possible crop rotation and plant succession patterns. Nobody enjoys having all their beans, corn, or salad greens ready to pick and be used all at once, so Green shows gardeners how to plant fewer seeds more often to achieve more productivity, less waste, and definitely less work.

Once you’ve situated and prepared your garden plot, the fun begins: the actual growing of the plants, whether from seed or transplant. The second part of the book takes readers through an almost-alphabet of vegetable varieties from asparagus to winter squash. Each plant profile explains when, where and how to plant it, how to look after it through the growing season, and what to do about possible problems. The types of vegetables are all the standards, with a few unusual choices such as celeriac and tomatillo thrown in for good measure. Green advocates starting with the basics of what you like to eat, and then every year adding one or two unusual varieties just for fun and for experimentation.

What goes beautifully with vegetables, and can also be grown in your garden? Herbs, of course. Green provides a similar section of profiles on nearly a dozen common, easy to grow culinary herbs. These can be planted in a dedicated herb bed, in containers, or incorporated into your vegetable garden, where some of them do double duty, acting as deterrents to insect pests.

Some readers might wonder why Green doesn’t recommend specific cultivars of the vegetables and herbs he profiles. Such recommendations would result in a much larger volume, as there are literally hundreds, even thousands, of choices for most vegetables. For those new to vegetable gardening, dealing with a local, reputable seed company or nursery will help narrow down choices to those best suited to local growing conditions.

Green has an appealing writing style, never preaching at the reader, instead taking an encouraging, personable and often humorous approach. Reading “Guide to Canadian Vegetable Gardening” is like having a chat over the back yard fence with a knowledgeable, but not know-it-all, neighboring gardener: the kind who shares his heritage tomato plants with you and doesn’t laugh when you plant two dozen zucchini plants. It’s been years since I’ve planted a vegetable garden, but Green inspired me to start one this year. Preferably with only one zucchini plant and plenty of short-season tomatoes.