Eventually, I returned my library book and purchased my own copy (according to Goodreads, I’m not the only person to do this) because The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour continues to be a main reference when I plan my seasons every year.
Having started my food-growing career in Mattawa and Thunder Bay, I am often skeptical of claims made by books and resources from outside of Canada (with the exception of Eliot Coleman’s Winter Harvest Handbook). Even books from Southern Ontario rarely deal with the realities of Thunder Bay’s short season, short days and long, sunny winters. Niki’s unique experience growing in Halifax was very transferable to the northern regions where I started Garddwest, and continue to be relevant here in Hamilton. As another Goodreads reviewer mentioned, “when a book is written from the region you live, it has a lot more credibility than when a Floridian tells you what’s possible in Canada” and I can’t agree more.
Eliot Coleman’s Winter Harvest Handbook is a rigorous and scientifically thorough manual, the go-to reference on this subject, but Niki’s Year-Round Vegetable Gardener is possibly a better fit for a beginner-intermediate winter gardener getting started at home or in a community setting.
Niki touches on the basics of timing, temperature and light needs, providing background for her more practical instructional content. One area where Niki does dig deeper is soil sciences – suggesting sustainable methods including cover crops, crop rotation, organic fertilizers and building a healthy soil profile. A section on intensive farming in small spaces directly addresses small scale urban agriculture and backyard farmers. With tips and tricks for growing, plus concrete blueprints for building cold frames and tunnels, this book has all the information required to get started with Cool Season Gardening.
So many gardening books seem to follow a formula, giving similar instructions, in similar formats. Ground Rules by Kate Frey feels different. This book doesn’t read like a collection of rules, but more a collection of wisdom. As the book’s cover states, the lessons within are easy steps to growing gloriously. The numbered “rules” don’t feel limiting, more like intimate notes left by a garden guru mentor just for you, and the book is laid out in such a way that the most important info is conveyed in bold headings, not buried in dense paragraphs or multi-part instructions.
The book is divided into chapters, yes… but the broad categories cover a huge range of topics in an unconventional order. Wandering from traditional (Planning Your Paradise) to esoteric (The Joy of Plants) with blunt honesty (The Real Dirt), wisdom (Be Wise With Water) and practical advice (How to Be A Good Garden Parent), Kate Frey encourages us to support our wild garden friends (Birds, Bees, and Butterflies) and our inner selves (A Garden of Earthly Delights) all within one tidy, charming book.
As someone working in the horticulture and garden industry, I can tell you the tips in this book are really really good. This is the sort of wisdom that is circulated between professionals, passed from teacher to student, and gifted to homeowners by their gardeners.
Rule 15: Don’t buy rootbound plants.
Rule 41: Not all mulches are equal.
Rule 58: For a (relatively) weed-free garden, don’t let a single weed go to seed.
Rule 70: Cardboard to the rescue.
Rule 96: Learn how to create emotion in the garden.
Admittedly, none of this information is rocket-science, nor is it new… but too often I see these important gems buried in pages of useless or superfluous text. Ground Rules distills years of garden wisdom into the most important seeds you need to get planting.