I love books. All sorts of books. I love the feel of a book, the smell of the paper, and, of course, reading. My perfect holiday involves a nice quiet location with great food and a stack of books. It is no surprise, as a keen gardener, that I have a good collection of gardening books of various sorts and I still look for more. It is hard, now, though, to find something different. So many of the texts on growing fruit and vegetables follow the same formula, and although I have some good books that I would happily recommend, none is quite what I am looking for and some are really quite poor.
As I am keen on old varieties of fruit and open pollinated sorts of vegetables, I often consult old texts from the 1800s, arguably the most important period in the development of the kitchen garden and the improvement of varieties. I have several of these old texts and many more are available as reproductions and online in digitised form. I referred to them when selecting fruit trees for the kitchen garden and later for the orchard, and regularly use them to trace the history of a given variety of fruit or vegetable. I have always found these old books very interesting. Whilst it is a relatively easy task now to research a subject, with so much information freely available on the web, not to mention library access to vast collections of books, it must have been very challenging for the authors of the old books. I find the scholarship and the scope of the texts quite remarkable. Certainly some things have changed, and we now have improved understanding of such things as plant biology, yet much of what was written in these old texts is still applicable today, especially to the organic gardener. In contrast, I find that some of the modern gardening books lack the depth of their older counterparts.
Several people have suggested that I should write a book of my own, and as I do enjoy writing as well as reading, I have now begun to do so. It is very much inspired by the old books, although I do not envisage achieving their level of scholarship. I do hope, though, that it might offer something a little different from the current crop of gardening books. This is, of course, a huge project and will take a long time to complete – if ever. So far, I have sketched out the framework and contents of the book, written a chapter on the principles of organic gardening, sections on several vegetable crops, and some notes on pests and diseases, but this is just scratching the surface. At the moment I am focusing on the text, adding captions where I envisage figures and photography to appear – that is another huge task to deal with, but there is no point in worrying about that until a draft of the text is in place.
As for the content, I am aiming for a fairly comprehensive text. The book begins with an overview of the productive garden as a whole: vegetables, fruits, herbs, and, possibly, the cutting garden, as growing a few flowers for the home often appears alongside the cultivation of fruit and vegetables, although this is not yet decided. There is to be a reasonably thorough treatment of the layout and design of kitchen gardens and the principles of organic gardening. Although much of the content may be of interest to anyone with a small space – even just a few pots– the emphasis is on plots of a reasonable size, whether a modest back garden or an allotment.
There will be thorough coverage of the cultivation of the main vegetable crops traditionally associated with the kitchen garden. There is a limit to what can be covered, and some of the more exotic introductions may not appear, but I have about fifty crops on the list at the moment. As well as treatment of the general techniques involved, there will be specific cultural information on each crop, covering soil preparation, whether in a bed or a container, sowing and growing on, harvesting and storage, seed saving, principal pests and diseases, and suggested varieties.
Following on from the vegetables will be a treatment of herbs. There are many books that provide extensive coverage of this subject. Many herbs, though, are traditionally used in medicine rather than being significant in the preparation of food. I intend to cover only the main culinary herbs.
The content then turns to fruit. After a general treatment of fruit cultivation, there are four main sections. The first covers the soft fruit typically grown in the kitchen garden. The second covers top fruit, including general information on topics such as grafting, rootstocks, pollination, and growing and fruiting habits, as well as specific details on a range of fruiting crops. The third section describes how to train and prune fruit for growing in restricted forms, such as cordons, espaliers, and fans, suitable for inclusion in the kitchen garden. The final section treats the orchard, where the trees are grown in anything from small bush forms to full standards. I hope to include here the nuttery and truffiere, although not in extensive detail.
A chapter will cover common pests and diseases, their identification, and treatment under an organic regime. There are dedicated texts on pests and diseases, and the wide range of problems that might occur. However, many of these are rare occurrences, and my intention will be to cover only the main problems that are often encountered. In addition to pests will be a treatment of beneficial fauna. Most garden pests have effective predators, and identifying them, so as not to mistake them for a pest, is important, as are steps to encourage or introduce them, as a natural way of dealing with problems.
A section included in many of the old gardening texts, and some of the more recent publications, is a calendar of operations throughout the year. Such a calendar is a little tricky as the growing conditions differ between regions and the seasons are not consistent from year to year. However, I have pencilled in such a section, but will decide later whether it will be a useful addition. I may simply provide a table of typical sowing, planting and harvest seasons for various crops.
A book of this sort is certainly a major project, and the content outlined above may be chopped and changed over the coming months. I suspect that the blog may suffer somewhat as I turn my attention to working on the book. On the other hand, it might be possible to adapt bits and pieces into blog articles. Even assuming the book gets finished, there is the question of whether anybody else will want to read it. I have in mind the sort of book that I would like to read. I am not sure whether I will achieve what I have in mind, and am less convinced still that others might enjoy it. There are various options for publication. Naturally, I would be delighted if I could interest a major publisher, but, although not ideal in many respects, self-publishing is becoming increasingly popular and might be an option. At the very least I can make it available on the web. If I fail to complete the project, I will certainly look to adapt and upload what material I have already gathered to the blog.