Book review: The Alternative Kitchen Garden

The Alternative Kitchen Garden - an A-Z
The Alternative Kitchen Garden - an A-Z

Emma Cooper has transformed her ‘ropey old lawn’ into a bountiful kitchen garden complete with orchard, chickens and a huge variety of fruit and veg.

This book documents that transformation, and also provides a very useful A-Z with information and tips on how to grow all kinds of fruit and veg in the modern kitchen garden.

Emma’s enormous enthusiasm for gardening shines from every page in this book, and it is inspiring to read about her journey, complete with ups and downs, successful crops and downright disasters.

This book is a great addition to the city gardener’s bookshelf.  Emma has space restrictions to contend with, as well as some very innovative solutions, including the construction of a unique ‘grow-dome’ in which she grows the plants which would be confined to a dodgy plastic greenhouse with a broken roof where a fox cub fell on it (seriously) in my garden.

It is great to read about her adventures, and she is of course on my list of heroes having successfully accommodated her two chickens, Hen Solo and Princess Layer into her garden and of course her life.  I will get there one day!

Emma’s brilliant blog and podcasts can be accessed here.

Book review: The London Gardener

The London Gardener: Guide and Sourcebook
The London Gardener: Guide and Sourcebook

There is something very exciting about London gardens and London gardening.  The gardening tends to be on a fairly small scale, unless you are really lucky, space being at a premium.  Many Londoners seem to start with a window box and once bitten by the gardening bug are forever moving in search of bigger and more flexible spaces to fill with fruit, veg and flowers.  As a garden fan, there is so much out there, hidden away in nooks and crannies around the city, but it is difficult to know where to find them.

Elspeth Thompson has compiled a fantastic book offering a wealth of inside knowledge for gardeners around the capital.  The London Gardener discusses the challenges of London gardening and points out some excellent urban gardens, from squares and churchyards to ‘secret’ gardens and parks.  The book ends with an really useful sourcebook with details of nurseries, garden centres, specialist shops, societies, designers, courses and even tree surgeons.  This isn’t just a big cluttered list, but like a section of Thompson’s personal black book of gardening, a real treat in which she explains a little about what can be found from each listed service.

It was last revised in 2006, so some of the information may be out of date.  The price of entry to the Chelsea Physic Garden is listed as £3 but it is now £8, so be warned!  Even so, this is definitely worth getting hold of if you can, for the sourcebook, and the great info on ‘proper’ London gardens which you can take your friends to and pretend you found yourself.

Book review: Worms Eat My Garbage

Worms Eat My Garbage

How to Set Up & Maintain a Worm Composting System

by Mary Appelhof

This book was originally published in 1982. Mary Appelhof has spent over 30 years working with worms, and has now released this revised guide for today’s ‘worm workers’.

The original, and definitive guide to vermicomposting, Appelhof tackles many aspects of working with worms, from where to keep your worm bin, to building one from scratch.

She looks in detail at different bedding materials, species of worm, types of waste to feed them, and even looks at other ‘critters’ you will find in your bin.

The methods of ‘harvesting’ compost from your worm bin are rather scary though, and involve making multiple piles of compost on a big plastic sheet. I’m not convinced I’d ever do that, but interesting to read about it.

This is a good introductory guide to setting up a worm bin. It doesn’t get massively scientific, it’s easy to read, and well illustrated. I suspect there may be a better worm composting book out there, but I haven’t found it yet.

Book review: Keep Chickens!

Keep Chickens!

Tending small flocks in cities, suburbs, and other small spaces

by Barbara Kilarski

This book originally caught my attention as I have always wondered whether I could keep chickens in my back garden at home. The answer to this would seem quite clearly to be no, as my garden is about 10 metres square, and is already inhabited by a shed, a bbq, a table and chairs, a raised bed and a gigantic bay tree, not to mention a load of rose bushes. But worth a read anyway I thought, just to check.

Barbara Kilarski is very enthusiastic about domestic chicken keeping. You can tell by the exclamation mark in the title. Her well researched and thorough tips on choosing a chicken, coop design and chicken care are peppered with stories about her own flock, whom she refers to collectively

as ‘the Girls’. There are plenty of anecdotes about the antics of Whoopee, Zsa Zsa and Lucy throughout. There are some full colour pages of various breeds of chicken at the back of the book, along with some egg recipes in case you find yourself with a surplus. Illustrations are chosen from a 1940’s title called Poultry Tribune, which I think would be worth a read in itself.

This is a must read if you’re considering keeping chickens in the future, and particularly if you’re going to be building a home made coop. It has some great advice about all aspects of coop design, from nest boxes and roosts to vermin control.

The only downside to this book is that it is written from an American perspective, so some of the sections on ‘chickens and the law’ may not be relevant to non US readers.

Book review: 21st Century Smallholder

21st Century Smallholder

From window boxes to allotments: how to go back to the land without leaving home

by Paul Waddington

This is a great little book which starts off by acknowledging that the dream of ‘four acres and freedom’ will now be impossible for many people.’Today, only the rich can afford to be peasants.’

The book includes sections on growing your own food; raising your own food – bees, chickens, pigs, ducks, fish and other livestock; getting the most from your home harvest; building biodiversity; making your home

more self reliant and ‘going all the way’. There’s also a year planner, setting out sowing, planting and harvesting tips for each month.Paul Waddington considers the pros and cons of each option within these sections and then sets the various possibilities out in table form for easy comparison. Compare installing photovoltaic panels with putting a wind turbine on your roof in terms of cost/hassle, payback time and ‘green’ value. Or compare meat curing with air-drying or cold-smoking, in terms of time, space, skill and kit required. Everything is boiled down for easy ‘at a glance’ decision making.

He also includes information on how to make your own compost, provide habitats for various types of wildlife within your outside space, pond building, as well as energy saving techniques from a bit of simple draught stripping, to installing ground-source heat pumps.

The book tackles some advanced concepts in an accessible format. It is beautifully illustrated with prints by Gillian Blease, published by Eden Project Books and is of course made from wood grown in sustainable forests.

Book review: Window-box Allotment

Window-box Allotment

A beginner’s guide to container gardening

by Penelope Bennett
This book is a little gem. Penelope Bennett writes with great excitement and love about growing fuit and veg from seed on her tiny roof garden. It’s difficult not to be swept along by her boundless enthusiasm. The story of her germinating parsley or tomato seeds reads like a roller coaster ride. One moment she is rushing home from a party to whisk them in from the window ledge, another racing ‘at ambulance speed’ to water them as she sees they are drooping slightly.

This book is a must read for anyone who considers themselves restricted space-wise. Bennett will dissuage any fears about not having room to do any ‘proper gardening.’ In her own 5 x 2.5 meter ‘plot’, she has grown an enormous variety of fruit and vegetables. She even finds space for a pond, compost heap, wormery, antery and mushroom cultivation.

The sections on wormeries are unsurpassed in any other book I have found. She goes into great detail about the lives (and sex lives) of the worms, and suggests that everyone should have access to one. There is even a description of a ‘desktop wormery’.

Re-reading the book now as a proud owner of a wormery, I share her pain and shame as she recounts various wormery disasters. She has cremated her worms by putting them in the greenhouse, and poisoned them by giving them cat food as a ‘treat’.

There are sections entitled ‘whether or not to talk to plants’, ‘pond confession’ and ‘bean diary’. The author’s humour and love of her subject matter makes the whole book all the more of a joy to read.