Book review: Water, weed, and wait.

Water, Weed, and Wait – Edith Hope Fine and Angela Demos Halpin (illustrated by Colleen Madden), 2010, Tricycle Press, Berkeley. 

There’s an encouraging and inspiring trend going on in North America:  getting children to dig in the dirt and learn about food and horticultural plants through community and school gardens.  Whether parents or teachers are leading the projects, the emphasis is always on fostering community involvement:  entire families or neighbourhoods may help out with the gardening duties in fun social events that take the shape of work-bees.  I even came across a project online at City Farmer where students of an elementary school and the retirement home next door joined forces, in North Vancouver.   If the growers don’t consume the produce themselves, it may be donated to those in need, or used in restaurants or cafeterias, or sold as part of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares.   And, from start to finish, the growing season is full of lessons for both adults and children – there’s simply nothing better than an outdoor classroom!

Books like Weed, Water, and Wait celebrate the “school garden” movement in a big way.  Full of bold, bright, and extremely colourful illustrations, this children’s picture book is ideal for introducing the idea of a school garden, to get the ball rolling before actually doing the work.  In it, a master gardener appropriately named Miss Marigold leads her student charges – and a whole host of adult helpers – in building a school garden, literally from the ground up.  Along the way, a curmudgeonly neighbour named Mr. Barkley lends comic relief with his grumpy “hmmmmphs,” while Miss Marigold teaches valuable lessons about “worm poop” (her words, not mine) and beneficial insects.   Great, snappy writing and catchy repetition of key phrases and concepts (as well as a silly song about veggies and fruits, sung by a certain character in a carrot costume) make the book ideal for reading aloud.   The lessons in the book can be taken out of the context of “school gardens” and can be applied to any gardening venture, even a tiny container garden or raised bed at home, so don’t be afraid to try the book out on the little ones in your life.  (Maybe wait until spring, though, or you’ll have a whole lot of “How many more sleeps until I can plant the peas and carrots??!!”).

Book review: How to grow your food.

How to Grow Your Food:  A Guide for Complete Beginners – John Clift and Amanda Cuthbert (2011, Green Books, United Kingdom)

I know the gardening season has come to an end, at least for those of us on the Prairies (the snow is falling as I write, after all), but I believe you can never start soon enough with the dreaming.  I mean, we have ten seven months of winter – what else can we do?  Planning for next year’s garden takes longer than growing and harvesting the garden itself!

If growing vegetables and fruit is new territory for you, but you’re dreaming of having your own fresh food next year, then Clift and Cuthbert’s book is perfect for you.  This is about as basic as it gets, right down to the format of the book.  It’s a very tiny, slender volume, with information about each plant on one side of the page and excellent, large photographs on the opposite page.  Only one or two paragraphs are devoted to descriptions on how to grow, maintain and harvest each plant – this isn’t the place where you’re going to learn quirky facts or get bogged down by fancy cultivar names.  Yet…it’s just the right amount of information for you to take with you to the garden centre when you buy your seeds in the spring, or to take to the garden plot after it’s been dug out and is ready to plant.  You can grow veggies right away based on what is in this book – even if you’ve never put your hands in the dirt before.  And, considering the book’s size, there are a lot of veggies, fruits, and herbs represented (forty in all):  carrots, beets, zuchinni, garlic, onions, spinach, leeks, parsley, basil, currants, raspberries, rhubarb, potatoes, salad greens, even beansprouts.   Even if you’re not a food garden newbie, there may be some plants you haven’t tried yet, and this book will give you sufficient direction.

Track this book down and start dreaming!  The photos alone will make you drool.  And, if you have never grown vegetables or fruit before, do give it a try – you don’t need a huge garden plot, and a great many varieties can be grown in containers.  Don’t get frightened by the traditional view of straight rows in a massive bed that takes up half the yard – that’s not necessary (unless you want it to be).   With the high cost of food (and I mean that in more ways than one), it’s worth it to grow at least a few plants for yourself.  You’ll be hooked.

Related post: Rhubarb rhuminations.