Book Review: Keeping Vegetable Gardeners on Track

If growing more vegetables is one of your New Year’s resolutions (it is one of mine), you might want to check out a new book designed to tell vegetable gardeners specifically when to do what. The Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook (Storey Books) by the father-daughter team of Ron and Jennifer Kujawski was just published, and is a combination calendar/how-to manual. It tells gardeners which specific tasks to do when based on the last frost date for your area — a key statistic for determining what kinds of crops you can grow and the best way to grow them.

After you determine your frost-free date, the book asks readers to back up 20 weeks, and from there, provides week-by-week tasks to prepare, plant, weed, and harvest a great vegetable garden. According to the book, my frost-free date is May 3. That’s the date for Rochester, Mn., the nearest city listed in the appendix, and it seems about right based on experience. So, backing up 20 weeks from May 3, I should have already inventoried my seed-starting supplies (check!) and inventoried and cleaned up my gardening tools from last year (double check!).  Anytime in January I should order seeds, start from seed any herbs I plan to plant, and even sow leeks indoors, if I plan to grow them.

Because Minnesota’s season is especially compressed, not every task can be done on the schedule the Kujawskis set out — but when that’s the case, they usually note it. So for seven weeks before the frost-free date (mid-March in Minnesota), they recommend gardeners sow carrots, beets, and leaf lettuce outdoors — if the soil is workable — or in containers, if it is not. It’s almost certain I’ll be sowing beets and leaf lettuce in containers.

The book is more than a to-do list, however. It offers charts and drawings that show gardeners how to do the tasks, and it provides insights obviously gleaned from years of experience. (Ron Kujawski was a Massachusetts extension educator for 25 years.) A few examples:

  • Having a shady yard doesn’t mean you have to give up on vegetables. Gardeners with as little as two to four hours of sun can grow leafy greens and herbs such as parsley and chives. If you have dappled shade, you may be able to grow small-headed cabbages.
  • If you are plagued by dry weather, some vegetables endure it better than others. While all vegetables need water as seedlings to develop good root systems, some such as asparagus, eggplant, melons, squash, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes, can tolerate a dry period.
  • Even if your tomatoes are covered with blossoms, that’s no guarantee you will get fruit. If temperatures are below 58 degrees F or above 85 F (each a distinct possibility in Minnesota in July), tomatoes will not set fruit. I wonder if this is why we had such a poor tomato year in 2010.

If you are planning on buying a vegetable garden book in 2010, this is definitely one to consider.

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of The Week by Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook from Storey Press.