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I first came across "How To Grow Winter Vegetables" by Charles Dowding during a visit to the library last year. It had recently been published and a librarian pointed it out to me as a title she thought would interest me. She was right and I ended up buying my own copy so I could keep it for reference purposes. It is one of the most useful and inspirational gardening books I have read - and I have used quite a few over the last few years.
WHAT IS MEANT BY WINTER VEGETABLES?
This book is a guide to growing vegetables to use in the kitchen over winter. In some cases this means food that has been picked earlier in the year but will keep in good condition in storage throughout winter. In other cases it refers to crops you do harvest over the colder months. There is also suggestions for vegtables to harvest during the so called "hungry gap". I am sure that those of you who grow vegetables will haqve heard the term mentioned before. For those who haven't, this refers to the time in spring when you have usually used up the last of the crops you harvested in the autumn and early winter, and the time before the next seasons harvest is ready to gather. This may fall out of the traditional winter time as it can occur in March-April, but suggestions as to what to grow to cover that tiime have nevertheless proved very useful to me.
I did not recognise the author of this book as one I have read before. He is described as an experienced gardener who grows organic crops intensively for local restaurants in his part of the world, and he also runs teaches horticulture. The use of photos from his own farm [where he uses an acre for vegetable growing], really help to illustrate his methods, and bring the subject to life. He is an engaging writer and I will keep an eye out for any other titles he produces.
THE SORT OF INFORMATION THAT IS INCLUDED
The first parts of the book deal with gardening basics such as sowing techniques and looking after your soil. I have many gardening books that deal with similar subjects, but I still found it an interesting read. The author uses no-dig techniques on his plot, and this means he has different ideas on using compost and weed control to what I have heard before. He starting vegetable growing on a compacted clay soil so hearing how he made this spot with difficult growing conditions productive is fascinating. There are photos which show his success, which certainly silenced my doubts!
Following the general advice there are calenders detailing what to sow when, and then detailed month by month "to do" guides and an A-Z of winter suitable crops. Lastly there is a harvesting calender, so it feels the author has thought of everything you need to know. I did wonder at first how this book would differ from regular all season books. The answer comes in the fact the advice really is tailored to the winter season. For example, you will find recommendations of vegetable varieties that store especially well or those that are suitable for later sowing and therefore harvest. The parts dealing with beans refer to beans that you will grow to dry, rather than eat fresh after harvesting in the warmer months. There is also detailed information on how to store produce well to keep it as fresh as possible. I followed the authors advice on this and have only just used the last onions pulled last summer, so I can vouch for his common sense.
There is a guide to growing inside, but if like me you don't have access to much indoor growing space, you needn't be put off, as there is still plenty you can grow. Having cloches or fleece available does help though.
IS THE BOOK EASY TO USE?
I like the layout as there is plenty of sub-headings that help you to narrow in to what you want to read. Clearly spaced paragraphs also help. The photos that show plants in various stages of growth proved really useful to me. This is because I have been growing many crops for the first time, without knowing what they should look like when healthy. Reassuring for a relative beginner!
Charles Dowding uses a no-dig technique, and therefore the advice he passes on reflects this along with his organic approach. I have adopted no digging for some of my beds at my allotment, and I feel that you will get most from this book if you are prepared to do the same. This is because, in order to achieve all year round cropping, you need to have plants in the ground most of the time. It is therefore difficult to do a tradtional autumn/winter dig over of your plot. I have adapted to this method well, and it seems to suit the soil too, as the parts I haven't dug are absolutely teeming with worms! They enjoy the layers of organic matter I spread on the soil surface I think.
I got this book last summer, and therefore it was too late for me to sow some of the slower growing winter crops that should have been started in the spring. This is an example of the need to be especially organised when you are growing for winter as you need to think ahead. This is of course not the fault of the book, and the authors monthly to do lists and sowing guides make things as easy as can be.
HOW THE BOOK HAS HELPED ME
Before I bought this, I only grew savoy cabbages and some kale for cropping over winter. As a result of what I read here, I grew lambs lettuce, landcress, and winter purslane, all of which survived snowfall and heavy frosts in a sheltered spot with minimum protection. I also kept some salad growing indoors which is handy to have when the shop prices are at their highest. I have a number of projects planned for the coming season - the idea of growiing broad beans to use the tops for salad leaves especially intrigues me. I feel that I have made much more of my small plot than I would have done without the books help so I thoroughly recommend it. If you do not want to adopt no-dig ideas, you will have to adapt much of the advice. You may not be able to folow the planting plans but I think you will still find it an interesting read. I know I have!
ISBN 978 190 032 2881 £14.95, paperback, 232 pages. Published by Green Books, on recycled paper using vegetable inks.