Small-Space Vegetable Gardens by Andrea Bellamy is a gem of a book, one of the best urban gardening books I’ve found so far.
10 out of 10 stars for a book that will give you lots of good advice. This is one book of several to have in your urban gardening arsenal.
There are five measures I use to determine whether an urban gardening book is worthwhile:
- It addresses the limitations of gardening in a small space which often has low sunlight, poor weather resistance, and pests.
- It addresses growing vegetables in containers, because most urban gardeners wish they had enough space for a raised garden bed, but don’t.
- It addresses fertilizing.
- It addresses pest control.
- It addresses companion planting.
This book has all five which makes it a rare treat.
Few gardening books have appropriate photos. This book has four photos which show the possibilities of urban gardening. Yes, three of them are raised garden beds, but one is a container garden with trellised Roma tomatoes. Cool.
There’s a section on growing season, which is the time between the last killing frost in winter and the first killing frost in autumn or winter. The length of the growing season determines what you can grow.
Then it moves onto sunlight and how much is required to grow vegetables. Most vegetables would love six hours of sunlight per day. You can increase the time your vegetables have sun and heat by surrounding your growing area with mirrors or foil-covered boards. Anything reflective, even brickwork. Four hours of sunlight a day is considered part shade.
Succession Planting and Crop Rotation
There’s a discussion of succession planting. That’s planting successive crops. The best method is to plant a seed in the same hole you take a vegetable from, so you’re already starting the next crop.
Then there’s a discussion of rotating crops. Each vegetable requires and draws a certain number of nutrients from the soil. The next vegetable you plant in the same soil should draw different nutrients from the soil so they complement each other.
Making Your Garden Pretty
Some vegetables are prettier and more colorful than others and are usually referred to as ornamental vegetables plants. Here’s a nifty little list.
Which Vegetables to Grow
An interesting section in this book is about choosing which vegetables to grow. If you love to eat the vegetables and fruits on the high-pesticide list, then you’re much better off growing your own (for better health). Or you can grow the ones that are foolproof.
Part of the which vegetables to grow section talks about different plant families.
Alliums are great companion vegetables for pest control because they are aromatic. Chives, garlic, leeks, onions, scallions, and shallots are all in the allium family.
Nightshades grow well in small spaces and these include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, hot and sweet potatoes. Most nightshades are planted with basil and oregano for pest control.
Umbellifers attract beneficial insects that will eat up any pests in your garden. These include carrots, celery, cilantro, dill, fennel, parsley, and parsnips. Umbellifers are nice companion plants for nightshades.
How to Grow Fruit Trees
I’ve always wanted to grow fruit trees, including olives. There’s a section on growing fruit trees, staking them, and fertilizing them, as well as pruning them. Since most urban gardeners grow fruit trees in large planters, there’s even a section on preparing and planting in containers (make sure you disinfect your planter first). Don’t worry, there’s also a section on building your own raised garden bed for your other vegetables if you’re lucky enough that have that much room.
The composting section is perhaps my favorite of the entire book. It’s rare to find a vegetable gardening book that has a section on composting besides the basics. This one describes different types of composting including red worm bins (my favorite). It also talks about sheet mulching, soil pH, and different types of natural fertilizers like compost, leaf mulch, and manure. What to compost and what NOT to compost (for those idiots who think everything biodegrades at the same rate). Liquid fertilizers for container vegetables (if you don’t have your own compost) include fish emulsion, liquid kelp, and bone meal. (Apply liquid fertilizer once every one to two weeks.) There’s a discussion about coir versus peat (coir is much better for your garden).
My second favorite section would be the one on harvesting seeds from your favorite vegetables and fruits so you can plant again next season. It’s getting harder and harder (and more expensive) to find heirloom seeds without GMO so harvesting your own is really important. There’s also a section on starting seeds in little newspaper pots that you can replant directly into your garden bed outside when the growing season starts.
There are more than a dozen colorful pages filled with pests and diseases. Ew. You need to know what they look like and how to get rid of them. This book has both, but her number one suggestion is to constantly compost your vegetables and companion plant to keep pests away in the first place.
Her recipe for a natural pest control spray (only to be sprayed on weed leaves because it will kill vegetables too) is: 16 parts vinegar to 1 part salt with a squirt of dish soap added. Boiling water poured on weeds between pavers will kill them instantly, but keep it away from your vegetables.
Plants that naturally repel pests are: basil, dill, fennel, marigold, mint, sage, allium, nasturtium, and borage.
I’m one of those winter root vegetable people. I love potatoes, parsnips, carrots, and turnips. I could live off them, probably my Irish roots showing. There’s a section on winter hardiness so you can keep your vegetable garden going even in the winter and up north where it’s cold a lot longer.
Well, there’s my review. I love this book. Get a copy.
10 out of 10 stars. It doesn’t go into great detail about any one thing but overall it has a lot of content you’ll need for your urban vegetable garden.
Reviewed by Betsy.