Since I can remember I’ve always been a fan of plants; especially ones that give me food. When adults asked what I would like in return for doing odd jobs I asked for potted herbs you buy at your local nursery. I simply loved the idea that these living beings have medicinal properties that can help mankind in almost every conceivable way.
My plant fascination grew when I moved to the UK. I learnt a lot from Neil who already planted his own vegetables year after year before I came along. My enthusiasm is palpable as soon as spring starts and out comes a huge range of seeds to plant in containers. It will never cease to amaze me how a tiny seed barely bigger than a salt grain can grow into a big, strong plant with plentiful crop. When the seedlings are big enough they get transplanted to the garden. Now here’s the catch. WEEDING. This is my weakness in the whole process. Thus far I haven’t succeeded in constantly pulling out unwanted invaders on the vegetable plot and at the end of the growing season it’s like a jungle out there.
Enough of that. Soon I will take out my seeds and Neil will rotavate the garden to start afresh. Maybe this year we’ll plant fewer types of vegetables, making it more manageable to insure complete success. One thing for sure is that you should never stop reading. Anything to learn a new thing or two, which brings me to this book: Matthew Biggs’s Complete Book of Vegetables.
The book cover of bright red peppers is definitely eye-catching when placed on any book shelf. As one of BBC’s gardening experts, Matthew Biggs is definitely the man for the job to write a book on vegetables. This is the book’s 3rd edition, having been published in 2000 and 1997.
The photography is outstanding and the book’s layout is in an easy to read format. Although the main text’s font is a bit small, this book is crammed with information.
The vegetables are listed from A to Z but are unfortunately done so in their Latin names. (Does anyone know what Agaricus Bisporus is? No Googling!) Personally, I would have preferred the layman’s terms (Apples to Zucchini) to be alphabetised which would have made searches much easier.
It is a daunting task (e.g. the tomato) but Biggs has gone through much trouble to describe as many varieties of each vegetable as possible. Cultivation is then discussed which includes propagation, growing, maintenance, protected cropping, harvesting and storing, and how to deal with pests and diseases. Since this book is aimed at the organic gardener, companion planting is a very useful feature. If you only have a small porch, don’t despair because a lot can be grown in containers! (Please note you will need a green house to grow certain vegetables.)
Each vegetable’s medicinal properties and culinary uses are discussed and a recipe or two supplied by French chef Jean-Christophe Novelli. The latter left me feeling a bit ambivalent. Although it was thoughtful of the publisher to give the reader extra value, the recipes seem superfluous. There are tonnes of (not to mention vegetarian) cookbooks out there and this book is a good enough “How To” veg gardening book in its own right which doesn’t need recipes to keep up with the Joneses. Also, I daresay the food photography seems dated in places, which leads me to believe the recipes have been carried over from the book’s older edition – a letdown.
Even though the largest part of the book is about vegetables there are also very useful articles on organic gardening and tips and tricks.
Biggs is right to say that even vegetable growing has fashions that come and go. For example, right now micro-greens are all the rage, so what’s next? Most of the usual vegetables (think onion, leek, tomato, lettuce, pea) you find in shops today are featured in the book but there are new ones to me too, like amaranthus, burdock, oriental mustard, mizuna, eddoe, dasheen, cardoon, celtuce, doodhi, galangal, cassava, karela, scorzonera, chayote and asparagus pea to name a few. My point is there are so many vegetables out there but unfortunately we’re restrained what we can eat by the growers so if you want to eat something “new”, you’ll have to grow it yourself. Wouldn’t you just love to eat purple cauliflower? Well, now you can grow your own.
Good advice is given and whether you read the book from cover to cover or dip in five minutes at a time, you’ll definitely learn something. A must-have for every serious vegetable gardener and inquisitive foodie. If you have such a person in your life, this will make a fantastic present