A few years ago (gosh, it was 10!), I did a list of best books for beginning gardeners, with a focus on vegetable gardening. Those books are still good options, but several more recent books are really worth adding to your collection. And, any of them would make a wonderful gift for a young gardener just starting out.
The Homegrown Pantry (Storey Publishing, 2017) by Barbara Pleasant is the perfect book for a vegetable gardener who also loves to cook (and isn’t that most of us?). It’s also great for gardeners who aren’t sure how much to grow and want to make the most of their space, their time in the garden and their time in the kitchen. The focus of this book is both on growing vegetables, herbs and fruit, and on storing and processing them. It’s full of the kind of information your grandma learned from her mom, but updated for modern homes, kitchens and gardens.
The books starts with an explanation of why it’s good to grow your own produce, then covers basic storing and preserving techniques, including useful photos and step-by-step methods. The bulk of the book covers veg-by-veg information on how much to grow, best varieties and best ways to preserve the vegetable. For instance, she recommends growing five sweet pepper plants and 2 hot pepper plants per person. (I’d half that number for each child.) Then suggests varieties such as ‘Sweet Banana’ and ‘Early Jalapeno’. She covers when to plant them, how to care for them during the season and common pests and diseases to watch out for. She then explains how to dry, pickle and make sauce with them. Every vegetable and fruit gets this in-depth treatment.
Pleasant lives in Virginia, but her growing recommendations are based on frost-dates, so it’s easy to modify instructions for a northern climate. If you think this book might be too much for your newbie gardener, consider Starter Vegetable Gardens (Storey Publishing, 2010), also by Pleasant, which includes 24 plans for a beginner’s vegetable garden. One of the plans is specifically for shorter-season gardens.
The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest (Timber Press, 2015) by Michael VanderBrug is the perfect gardener’s Christmas gift because your favorite gardener can start using it in January. The book takes gardeners, month-by-month, through the year with what-to-do-when instructions. VanderBrug is a professional gardener who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, so he knows cold. What I loved about this book is how well he explained the various climate zones of the Midwest and modified his instructions based on which zone a gardener is in. This is a basic vegetable gardening book, covering soil, watering, ways to trellis plants, seed starting and all the how-tos that go into vegetable gardening. The book also includes a helpful chart on when to plant and harvest each vegetable as well as variety recommendations specifically for Midwestern gardeners.
I did a mini-review of John Whitman’s Fresh from the Garden: An Organic Guide to Growing Vegetables, Berries and Herbs in Cold Climates, (University of Minnesota Press, 2017) about a year ago. Since then Whitman received the Gold Award from GWA, the organization of garden writers and communicators (beating out both my book and Pleasant’s). I’m a bit on the fence about recommending this book to a complete beginner, but if your gardener likes a thorough explanation of how to grow vegetables in the North and is committed to organic methods—this is your guide.
Whitman offers comprehensive information on everything from amending the soil when you start a garden to how to grow edamame organically in Minnesota. It’s the kind of book your new gardener will return to again and again as experience and love of gardening grows.