Starter Vegetable Gardens

by Barbara Pleasant

I strive to keep my backyard garden organic. So far, so good. I have yet to resort to chemicals to eradicate pests or weeds, although I was tempted when we first moved in to poison the thick fields of clover in our backyard to oblivion. I get asked quite often how to manage an organic bed by my neighbors, who don't have countless hours to spend weeding and picking bugs by hand. I was delighted to discover a catch-all book I could recommend to these budding organic growers.

The book “Starter Vegetable Gardens” (2010) provides 24 detailed plans for starting your own organic garden. The plans are aimed at the small grower, making them perfect for home gardeners. The plans include container options, small hobby plots tucked into a border bed, to family size gardens meant to supply all your produce needs. There is truly something for everyone.


Author Barbara Pleasant, a Master Gardener herself, provides detailed information on everything from watering and companion planting, to how you can keep those plants productive with out poisons or chemical fertilizers. There are even details on starting seeds, and my personal favorite, saving your own seeds. This is really a good introduction for new gardeners and it's chock full of useful tidbits for those of us with a bit more experience.


The book also appeals to my visual side. Although the written instructions are excellent, the photo, illustrations and diagrams ensure you understand the concepts perfectly. Truly, there is no better beginner book for backyard gardening that I have found.

The New York Times 1000 Gardening Questions and Answers: Based on the New York Times Column "Garden Q & A"

Let me start by saying if you get this book, get the ebook version! Why? Well it’s nearly 870 pages long but worth its weight in 

gold. The New York Times 1000 Gardening Questions is the ultimate bible for gardeners. It’s based on the paper’s long running and very popular Garden Q&A column. It many sections cover everything you could possibly want to know about flowers, landscaping, vegetables, fruit trees, houseplants, soil, and garden tools, garden pests, and more, all accompanied by gorgeous illustrations.

The book answers just about every gardening question you can think of, from how to deal with skunks damaging your lawn to how to tell the difference between a bulb and a corm and the benefits and drawbacks of different kinds of manure. It’s a treasure trove of information for new and veteran gardeners alike. In addition to all the questions and answers, there are sidebars sprinkled throughout filled with bits of trivia, helpful hints, garden lore and other fun and useful things.

It’s written in casual, easy to read language and the sections are arranged to make it easy to find exactly what you’re looking for. A detailed index is also provided. I highly recommend this to every gardener looking for a handy reference guide.

The New York Times 1000 Gardening Questions is available in ebook form for $9.99, paperback for $13, and hardcover for $13 from most bookstores, but get the ebook version because trust me, you’re going to be using it a lot! 

The Complete Guide to Container Gardening

Better Homes and Gardens

I have six raised beds in my backyard for vegetables, a raised terrace along one side of the yard for berries and a few perennial vegetables, and a border bed lining two other fence lines. Most people would find that plenty of space for a home garden, but it sure isn't for us. More garden beds aren't the answer, since we still need a bit of grass for the dog and the boys to run around it.

I used to garden in containers back when we rented. I still use containers for a few of my tender plants that require overwintering indoors, like my pretty ginger that gives us tasty roots for ginger ale and stir-fries. We also have six hanging baskets adorning our patio columns that spill over with strawberries in the summer, at least until I figure out where we can stick a strawberry patch!


Perusing “The Complete Guide to Container Gardening” (2009) is giving me a few new ideas. The pictures are gorgeous, just like you would expect from a Better Homes and Gardens publication. Over 500 inspiration pictures are inside, to be exact.


Unfortunately, there isn't much substance to the book. The images did give me some ideas on how to fit even more plants into my crowded garden, but it was a far cry from a “complete” book about anything. It features plans, which they call recipes, consisting of different kinds of plants crammed into pots. If you want to follow their planting plans to a tee you likely won't go wrong, but it doesn't educate in my opinion. A complete book is likely to be grabbed by beginners. Novice gardeners should be rewarded with a in depth book about both the plants and culture necessary for a container garden.



Book: You Grow Girl: The Groundbreaking Guide to Gardening


Title:  You Grow Girl: The Groundbreaking Guide to Gardening (Paperback)

Author: Gayla Trail

This book is very different compared to other gardening books I have read. This book is a trendy, hip and funny book perfect for women who are interested in learning how to garden.  Gayla Trail is the creator of the site which is a gardening site helping women from all the country to learn how to garden with passion and garden correctly.  The site focuses on helping women find their lost love of gardening and use the how-to guides and tutorials by making their dreams come true of homegrown tomatoes and beautifully fresh-cut flowers.  Gayla Trail’s book You Grow Girl: The Groundbreaking Guide to Gardening (Paperback) shares even more information on how to effectively garden and have fun while doing it.   Gayle Trail is not only a writer but she’s also a graphic designer and a photographer with an extensive background in Fine Arts, ecology and cultural criticism.  While this book has received mixed reviews, it has been mainly positive and has provided excited to beginner gardeners.  The book provides assistance to gardeners of all levels on how to:

Prepare soil

Care for and nurture seedlings

Get rid of bugs

How to get plants ready for winter

Prep for upcoming seasons

Grow and bag herbal teas

The website provide beginning and intermediate gardeners will helpful tips, recipes and projects for any garden whether the gardener has a small or large backyard or no backyard at all. Her site eliminates the thought of feeling intimidated by gardening and learning how easy it is cultivate plants, flowers, herbs, and more.



Composting Toilets

We were looking at campers the other day, and wondering what to do about black water when we’re out and about.  What if we wanted to stay for a longer period of time in an area without waste water facilities, such as on land we own that we inhabit for the summer?

Traditional camper toilets require a lot of water, and drain into a waste system that must be emptied regularly.  If we’re camping for the summer, we don’t want to have to hook the trailer up just to run into a faraway town to dump sewage.

Enter the composting toilet.  Just like other manures, human manure makes an excellent compost, assuming you aren’t consuming a lot of harmful chemicals or medications.  Added to a lawn or other area in need of extra nutrients, composted human manure is very effective.

A composting toilet is an easy way to avoid a black water tank, at least for toileting.  Topped with sawdust or another absorbent material, such as newspaper, a composting toilet makes no more odor than a traditional toilet.

When it is full, you simply add it to the compost pile, which can be created for the occasion if you have your own camping land.  Turn it over regularly and in a year’s time, you will have compost to use as fertilizer.

Composting toilets are a great way to conserve water and return nutrients to the ground.  Best of all, you can set one up with a real toilet seat for under $20, and use it with no additional water, saving money and the Earth’s resources.

Cattle Panel Greenhouse

Cattle panels are among my favorite construction materials.  They are made of galvanized and welded rods, and they are both extremely sturdy and very flexible.  You can bend them into arches to create numerous useful things around the house and farm.  If you are short on cash and time, you can build yourself a very functional, moveable greenhouse with just a few cattle panels, some T-posts and greenhouse sheeting.

Cattle panels are usually 16 feet long and about four feet tall.  Bent lengthwise, you can connect them together to create as short or long of a greenhouse as you need.  To build the greenhouse, you will simply bend the panels into arches, and secure them on each side by pounding in metal T-posts for them to rest against.  As long as the panels are securely attached to one another, you can keep them in place by installing one T-post per panel per side.  For extra rigidity and stability, you can also attach them to a 2x4 laid down on the inside of the T-posts.

Cattle panels are sturdy enough to build shelves on the lower part before they start to curve in an arch, so you can maximize your space, or build freestanding shelves and not worry about the weight.

If you need to move them, all you do is pull up the T-posts and pound them down again in a new location.  They work great for animal shelters and portable sheds, too.

At approximately $20 each, you can build inexpensive, sturdy and easy to build greenhouses and other shelters for just about any purpose you can think of for your home or farm.

The New Western Garden Book

Sunset Magazine

The climates aren't as clear cut on the western side of the country. Once you cross the Rocky Mountains, the country becomes a mottled collection of microclimates that can vary greatly within just a few miles. I live in USDA zone 5, but my home sits on hill over a river valley and the climate is closer to a zone 6 most years. My old home, five short miles away, was a definite zone 4 and experienced frost a full four weeks longer than at my current home.

The “New Western Garden Book” by the editors at Sunset Magazine tackles the issues that plague western gardeners, from our much more changeable climate to the plants that thrive here. Much of the west suffers from drought issues, so we can't always grow the same plants or grow them in the same manner as those who share our zone on the east coast.


The new edition features 500 more plants than previous versions, giving us more information and greater choice when planting our gardens. It includes trees and shrubs, foliage plants, flowers, vegetables, and even herbs.


The plant encyclopedia within lists 8,000 plants and their care requirements, including which of the “Sunset Zones” they thrive in. Sunset zones differ from USDA zones, and our only applicable in the west. In our region. For example, both Seattle and parts of Arizona are a zone 8, but growing conditions vary drastically in the two places. The Sunset Garden Book and Sunset zones provide a more in depth analysis of these differences and provide a more suitable guide for planting.

BOOK: Garden Way’s Joy of Gardening

BOOK: Garden Way’s Joy of Gardening

Author: Dick Raymond          

Gardening is the best way to enjoy your day with your family. It is fun and at the same time an enjoyable way for your body to exercise. The book also describes the primary benefits in having a garden. The author stressed that if you have a garden in your backyard you can ensure that the vegetables you’re eating are chemical free.

Garden Way’s Joy of Gardening shared how to run your own garden, how to make fruits and vegetables grow healthy. In this book I learned about the process of growing one’s own garden. In this book the author Dick Raymond shows that he was using an organic fertilizer for the vegetables.

 I learned about so many different ways of designing a garden, the kind of plants and vegetables to plant. He shared many helpful ideas on how to plant seeds. There are different techniques in taking care and properly growing your vegetables.  Dick Raymond shared alternatives to fertilizers containing chemicals and pesticides. 

 The author also describes the soil that is best for plants to be planted. He helps us determined the best soil and different kind of soils.

 Gardening is not for everyone and is hard work.  You need to have your full attention on your plants and think of the best option to have the best harvest all of the time. This book will help and guide you regarding gardening. This will give us more knowledge when it comes to gardening. The author Dick Raymond got his start by having a farm, was able to pay for first home with a roadside stand and garden, he has appeared on many food  production related documentaries, given gardening classes on radio and television.



Tomorrow's Garden

By Stephen Orr

It's no secret that I practice sustainable gardening methods and that my family and I are working toward becoming self sufficient on an urban lot. In my constant quest for information and new ideas, I came across a new book on sustainable home gardening. Intrigued, I brought it home.

In “Tomorrow's Garden: Design and Inspiration for a New Age of Sustainable Gardening” (2011), author Stephen Orr strives to show readers how they can turn a garden large or small into a self sustaining environment. He primarily focuses on garden design, but does throw in some information on city chickens and livestock.


I'm a bit torn on this book. It provides some solid information, but much of it is simplified. Overall, the writing is an excellent introduction to someone new to the theories and methods of sustainable gardening, but provides minimal value to those with some experience.


The photographs are another story. While they only meet the standard in garden photography quality, they do provide a multitude of ideas and inspiration pieces for creating your own sustainable garden paradise. I personally loved just flipping through the book and examining the images. This in part could be because the small typeface used throughout was a bit difficult to read.


Overall, I recommend this book as a good intro to sustainable garden practices. If you would like some inspiration pictures, it may be worth picking up as well. But really, there are better books out there for those of us pursuing this gardening method.


Cat-Proof Your Raised Beds

I like cats, unless they are my neighbor’s.  Our neighbor has two geriatric things that can barely be called cats still, but despite their aged appearance, they are able to leap my four-foot fence with nary a trouble.  They do this so they can use the convenience of my big yard as a litter box, and they especially love my raised garden beds.  Nothing kills the mood of gardening like a big handful of stinky cat poop, I assure you. 

Since you can’t fence cats out, the best option is to create cat-proof raised garden beds, and while this takes a lot of work, extra hassle at weeding time, and certainly some expense, it is well worth the peace of mind of knowing I won’t be getting a little more than I bargained for when I bite into a strawberry.

The best solution I have found is to anchor hardware cloth to a frame made of either PVC or wood, and attach it to the frame of the garden bed.  You can create separate sections that can be pulled away like a door, or have a hinging mechanism to fold back one entire side at a time.  If you want to go super easy, use two solid pieces, one on each side, and bind them together in an A-frame design.  Then, have supports in the middle to make sure they stay up, and just fold back one side at a time when you are ready to work.

It costs money, but it saves the insanity of being suspicious of every speck on your fresh produce, and that peace of mind is priceless.