Book Review: The Year-round Vegetable Gardener

Let's face it--for a northern gardener, the main attraction of a book on four-season growing is the discussion on winter.

Although I have been growing vegetables for more than 25 years and practicing season extension for many of those, true year-round growing raises some questions to which I rarely find complete and satisfying answers. For instance, how do you maintain soil fertility in the winter when biological processes are slow? How do you time winter crop succession? How do you harden-off seedlings for winter planting? How late in the year can you direct-seed winter crops? Do you supply water in the winter? Which winter protection method is most effective?

Niki Jabbour's discussion in "The Year-round Vegetable Gardener" (Storey Publishing, 2011) is filled with the little details that have made winter growing possible in her Nova Scotia home garden. I was reminded, for instance, of the importance of having a year-round plan if you want to succeed. Instead of focusing on single weather solutions—either a green house or a cold frame—the book offers designs that allocate space to multiple methods of weather protection in the garden plan—from light weight row covers through moveable cloches, above- and below-ground cold frames and, finally, greenhouses. She reminded me that activities will move from place to place as the season progresses. Jabbour also makes clear that winter growing depends not only on good initial planning, but year-round practices such as garden sanitation and soil-building.

Jabbour focuses on low-cost, do-it-yourself methods that take advantage of solar orientation and microclimates. She suggests specific plant timing based on temperature and sunlight. While winter is the main source of my curiosity, the book is equally devoted to the other seasons. One particularly useful section is her discussion of cultivars of the same vegetable for different seasons. While this information is available in many catalogs, the book pulls it together with the particulars of succession planting, intercropping, and the French-intensive method. 

I have read other good books on year-round vegetable growing, most notably Elliot Coleman's eye-opening explanation of geography and climate in "Four-season Harvest" and his informative, professional-level "Winter Harvest Handbook." "Year-round Vegetable Gardener" skips most of the background discussion and focuses on the how-to details for a home gardener. The author uses vivid color photography and clear illustrations with easy-to-grasp instructions. I highly recommend the book.