In that great surge of garden books on growing edible plants, it is a relief to see one from an author who is doing more than just documenting his or her first year of trial and error, or relying on other people’s research. Andrew Steens brings experience, enthusiasm and qualifications right across the spectrum of gardening and horticulture, focussing in this case on growing vegetables. Readers of the Weekend Gardener will recognise him as one of the panel of fortnightly contributors charting activities (of the fruit and veg persuasion) in their own home gardens. That level of hands on experience does shine through. He has written a book which will pretty much tell you what you need to know about how to grow vegetables and which crops to grow and how to manage your productive garden in a sustainable way. Unusually, he has also given his personal picks for top performing selections by name which is helpful.
On the downside, it is by no means the sharpest designed reference book I have seen. It is a little busy and cluttered which makes it harder to use. There were times I felt that more rigorous editing would have sharpened the writing and cut out some of the extraneous detail which includes preaching to the converted. The author’s recent experience is from Point Wells, north of Auckland. Writing a book to cover all of NZ, which has huge climatic variation, is a big ask. He has made a good fist of it, but I think that southern gardeners may pick more holes in it than we spotted. The big problem that Mark noticed immediately is that the diagrams showing sowing times for marginal crops are way out. If you sow your melons or aubergines in December and January here, you won’t get a crop. They need a long growing season. This appears to be another design flaw. If you read the detail of the text, Steens is absolutely correct when he says they need to be sown from seed and started in small pots well in advance for planting out when the soils have warmed. But that is not what the dinky diagrams on each page tell you because they fail entirely to differentiate between sowing seed direct into the garden or using plants that you started under cover two months earlier.
Despite those reservations, this is certainly one of the better recent publications on the topic full of practical advice and a useful reference.
(Published by Bateman; ISBN 978 1 86953 761 6.)