Friday, February 28, 2014

Gardening Books for Georgia - Part 1

Back in 1990, when my little family first moved to Georgia, I already knew a bit about gardening. However, in spite of having gardened successfully elsewhere (and having a degree in Botany), I had trouble growing food here. Part of the problem -- very tall trees surrounding and shading the backyard -- was resolved through moving the veggies to the sunny front yard. I needed, though, to learn more about the rhythms of planting and harvesting for this area.

To help with that, we bought a copy of the go-to guide of the time, Don Hastings' book "Gardening in the South: Vegetables and Fruits." Hastings' book contains sections for each kind of vegetable grown in the area, with timing and fertilizing information, which is what I needed. It also contains what I now consider to be "the usual advice" about choosing the garden site, planting, amending the soil, and generally tending to the garden.

Most of that basic information can be found in other gardening books, but some parts of the book still stand out as being particularly memorable. One great narrative thread is about the author's working with farmers in Egypt and the Philippines. Details relating to these adventures pop up throughout much of the book. Another is about his family's variety of corn.

The Hastings family had developed a variety of sweet corn that performed well in the Southeast. In the part of the book about growing corn, Hastings tells that his neighbors were still growing Hastings sweet corn long after his family had switched to Silver Queen, which they decided was a better variety for their purposes. There's probably a little lesson in the tale, but I still haven't figured out what that might be.

Another part of the book that I especially remember is about the author's return to Georgia after a couple of years away. His prize flower bed, which had always had the very best soil of all his planting beds, had typically been amended with organic matter a couple of times each year. As a result, the soil there was usually wonderfully dark and rich with humus. In just that short time of being left on its own, the bed had reverted to solid red clay. That story provides great incentive for continuing to add organic matter to my gardens each season!

Of course, I am sitting here writing without having the Hastings book in front of me to double check my memory; it's possible that I've gotten some details wrong. This is pretty close, though.

A newer book (2007/2008) for Georgia gardeners is Walter Reeves and Felder Rushing's "Guide to Georgia Vegetable Gardening." This book contains the same basic information as the Hastings book and adds some newer weather and pest details. All the information is solid, researched, and reasonably up-to-date, and it includes names of recommended vegetable varieties that weren't available at the time Hastings wrote his book.

What the Reeves and Rushing book is missing is the thread of personal stories and asides (such as the note in Hastings' parsnip section in which he quite honestly says that he neither likes nor grows them!) that keep a reader interested. In other words, the Reeves and Rushing book is good for reference, whereas Hastings' book is good for both reference and recreation. Also, I've just checked the listings on Amazon, and it turns out that the Reeves & Rushing book is out of print, with used copies listed as selling for $99. The Hastings book is still both readily available and affordable.

Books aren't commonly addressed on this blog, but I decided to write about books for several reasons. One is that it lets me think about gardening while it is still too soon to do much planting (it's a useful distraction!). Another is that other gardeners new to the area might be looking for a resource, like I was those many years ago, that addresses the rhythms of gardening in this area. Another is that a friend has loaned me a new book for the South - Ira Wallace's "Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast" - and I'd like to have the other basic books in my mind as I read it. A review of that book will be coming soon.

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