Through the years, I’ve accumulated more gardening books than I care to admit. It’s a bit of an obsession. There are worse vices, I suppose.
In my book (good pun, that), I find certain references are as critical to gardening as good tools.
With no further ado, for the how-to of winter gardening, my top five selections:
1) “Sustainable Market Farming,” Pam Dawling (2013, New Society Publishers). Dawling is a member of Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia. She oversees vegetable production for about 100 people using three-and-a-half acres of land. This is a book for all seasons; hands down, it ranks as my latest, greatest source of information about gardening. Most gardening books of substance are geared to growers in the Northeast, where snow and cold temperatures can be relied upon each winter – what one can expect, one can plan for; here, temperatures bounce about willy nilly – cold and snowy one day; warm and rainy the next. The only certainty about gardening in Western North Carolina is the utter uncertainty of gardening in WNC. This is not a gorgeously laid-out coffee-table book catering to the casual enthusiast. Dawling’s book is utilitarian, the writing dry. There are no color photographs. Her book is invaluable, however, because it’s the sole comprehensive, expertly rendered, year-round growing guide focused on a region similar to WNC.
2) “Four-Season Harvest,” (1992, Chelsea Green Publishing Co.) Eliot Coleman is a Maine organic farmer who pioneered the art of growing vegetables all year long. His books – there are several, all worth owning – could be summed up with a truism: feed the soil and not the plant. Just remember, Maine is not North Carolina. His planting schedules are geared for colder, harsher, longer winters.
3) “The New Seed Starter’s Handbook,” Nancy Bubel (1988, Rodale Press). Everything you need to know for growing your own transplants and more. This is an excellent go-to reference. From this book, I learned the critical importance of thinking about soil temperatures in connection with seed-germination rates.
4) “Year-Round Vegetable Gardening,” Niki Jabbour (2011, Storey Publishing). A nice introduction for anyone wanting to learn how to stretch the growing season. Jabbour covers timing, intensive planting, winter growing, productivity. There are lists of vegetables and herbs able to withstand cold, as well as a comprehensive overview of cold frames.
5) “How to Grow Winter Vegetables,” Charles Dowding (2011, Green Books). Dowding is a gardener in the United Kingdom, so you must ignore his planting and growing schedule since it has little to no correlation with ours. I mention his book because of his thorough, convincing explanations about the no-dig approach to gardening. Also, Dowding has experimented extensively with growing vegetables for transplanting. Among other wonders, he explains how one can start root vegetables, such as rutabagas and beets, for transplanting.
Quintin Ellison is editor of The Sylva Herald.