Without an unseasonably warm March for inspiration I found myself a week behind schedule with my vegetable gardening. So, I was happy to get a bump in the right direction when Bonita from Thomas Allen & Son sent me The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook: Design Plans, Seasonal Checklists, Fresh Recipes, Plant Profiles, Growing Tips, and Flowers for the Table by Jennifer R. Bartley to review.
The book is divided into four sections with one for each season. Each season is divided between crop information, recipes, and garden plans.
There is an aggravating social construct that demands of homeowners who want to grow fruit or vegetables for eating that they hide this shameful gardening away in their backyards and keep their front yards for monotonous swaths of grass and flowerbeds. So, right off the bat, I’m happy to see that The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook offers four seasonal plans for an edible front yard that include a diverse palette of plants.
For each crop Bartley gives its rap sheet with Latin name, annual or perennial, days to harvest, and other information needed to grow it. Happily, she has also included several foraged edibles like morels and ramps. This book probably couldn’t act as a sole reference for beginner gardeners though because it assumes a working knowledge of things like hardiness zones, techniques for starting seed indoors, and troubleshooting problems like pests and nutrient deficiencies.
Each season has more than a dozen recipes to make with the appropriate produce. The recipe techniques aren’t revolutionary but they do offer some interesting ingredient combinations. Standouts that particularly drew my attention were the Stuffed Trout with Green Garlic and Herbs, Peach Cookie Crust Tarts, Braised Fresh Kale with Bacon and Onions, and Chorizo and Black Bean Soup. I look forward to the time of year in a couple months when the biggest problem really is finding a recipe to use the summer fruits and vegetables.
The design ideas Bartley offers–as an eater, amateur cook, and vegetable gardener (in that order) I’m perhaps I’m least well-suited to evaluate this attribute–may be the The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook’s strongest suit. This is not another call for wandering your yard, randomly dropping a few handfuls of wildflower seeds or planting straight rows of plants in a rectangular plot of soil. Instead we’re given creative garden plans that seem like excellent ideas for creating outdoor spaces that people want to enjoy. In the end that is a really important step in making full use of a kitchen garden because beginners can easily get into the habit of treating their gardens like museum exhibits and then food stays on the vine well past its prime.
Written from the author’s home in Ohio–the same hardiness zone 5 as southern Ontario–we can put much of the advice on seasonality to good use. In order to get four full seasons from her potager (the formal, raised-bed garden that is central to the book’s plan) she pushes the envelope beyond where I would probably be willing to go. In the introduction to the Fall chapter she writes of the tomatoes and peppers which are making way for kale and chard that “sometimes it is difficult to pull out perfectly good heat-loving, producing plants, but it has to be done to give enough time for the new plants to grow before the weather is too cold.”
Thanks to the generosity of Thomas Allen & Son we have a copy of the The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook to give away. I’m looking for new ideas of what to grow in this part of the world. Leave a comment with the name of the fruit or vegetable variety that you have successfully grown or heard good things about. The winner will be randomly selected from eligible entries made before April 6, 2011 at 12 PM (noon). Only open to residents of Canada.