Posted by patron and guest blogger Alana T.
Mr. Wong is a botanist and science writer working with the Royal Horticultural Society (the books is a RHS publication) and he writes from a British point of view. He discusses (briefly and simply) studies on growth performance, nutritional content, insect herbivory, taste perception and other related topics. He provides data to back up his conclusions, but everything is easy for a layperson to understand. The result is friendly advice about all the usual gardening topics (watering, light, soil, fertilizer, pest control, etc.), but with the goal to nudge a plant into producing crops with maximal flavor. Some of his suggestions run counter to prevailing wisdom or habit and some will actually decrease yields.
The author describes common crops and suggests varieties to try. The downside is that many of the listed varieties are not available in the American market. Fortunately, the tips for each crop will work everywhere. All the usual suspects (tomato, salad greens, corn, peas, carrots, beets and squash) are covered, as well as some less familiar (chervil, truffles). A separate set of chapters covers fruits (figs, strawberries, pears, cherries, plums, wine grapes, rasp & blackberries, blueberries, sweet potatoes). Recipes and suggestions for eating unripe and atypical plant parts are included.
As a gardener who has raised espalliered trees, I am familiar with the first brutal cut (trimming the bareroot baby to a stub about 18" tall) and can attest to a small tree's ability to grow an astounding amount the first year. After that, the author suggests that basically anything goes as long as you prune in summer and keep that tree small. She provides an anecdote that, while trying to see how far she could push a tree, she regularly trims a Santa Rosa Plum with hedge trimmers into an actual hedge; it happily produces a large harvest of plums a year. Her overall and very realistic suggestion is one of moderation. Grow a small tree (or several) and harvest a small amount of fruit that you can eat or process without waste or hassle. That might mean only 20 peaches a year, but if 20 peaches is all you can eat or pack in the freezer, then 20 is the perfect number for you. You are the boss, not the tree!
This viewpoint is a radical change from the way most gardeners view fruit trees. Many people living in suburban areas consider fruit trees to be a hassle because of the pruning and mess of the fruit (what to do with 20 bushels of apples?). Or a person might want a tree, but thinks that she doesn't have room in the yard. If you prune your tree to be the size of a large rose bush, both issues vanish.
Are you the kind of gardener that has a competitive streak? Do you have kids and you want them more enthusiastic about the garden? Do you want to grow one thing really, really well? This book is for you. Blue Ribbon Vegetable Gardening: The Secrets to Growing the Biggest and Best Prizewinning Produce by Jodi Torpey is all about growing veggies to use in competitions (such as county or state fairs), but the information is useful for all types of gardeners.
The emphasis of this type of gardening is visual perfection for exhibition. The most common competition vegetables are discussed (beans, beets, cabbage, cucumbers, eggplant, onions, peppers, pumpkins, squash and tomatoes), but the author points out that there are other categories for many types of vegetables including oddities (e.g. eggplants that resemble Elvis). Each vegetable has a chapter in which growing tips, variety selection and harvest are thoroughly discussed. If you are interested in competing for the first time, there is a lot you need to consider. Everything is covered in the book: planting dates, how to transport your harvest, competition rules and guidelines, judging methods and more. No matter if you want the best tomatoes on the block or your kids are competing to grow the biggest pumpkins, read this book and you'll be set.