Five Best Container Gardening and Small Space Gardening Books
Top 5 Container and Small Space Gardening Books
If you ask a kid today where food comes from, you're likely to hear the confident reply "The grocery store, of course!" Many people today are so out of touch with food production that they literally believe food originates from the supermarket. Ask them how it gets to the grocery store and you're likely to be met with blank stares. If you live in the city, you may feel like food really does come from the grocery store. After all, how can you, with a tiny yard or no yard at all, possibly grow your own produce?
It is surprisingly easy. If you have a plan and a rough idea of what you're doing, it is actually possible to grow your own food, even if you don't have a single patch of ground to call your own. All you need is a good guide on small space gardening, if you have a small yard, or container gardening, if you've no yard, at all. As a life-long gardener and frequent apartment resident/city-dweller, these are my top five container and small space gardening books. Each one has specific strengths, so make sure to choose your go-to gardening book with your particular needs in mind. These books are listed in no particular order - each one is fantastic and worth owning.
Grow Great Grub Pros and Cons
A general guide, not highly-specific about most areas
Good information about various types of plants
Irreverent tone may not sit will with everyone
WItty and 'hip'
Grow Great Grub by Gayla Trail
Grow Great Grub is a fantastic primer if you want to explore container gardening. In summary, Trail's book is filled with her own beautiful photography and is perfect for people with little to no yard space who demand beauty, not just functionality. Anyone can show you how to garden on your fire escape, but Trail can show you how to do it beautifully. Founder of the ground-breaking website for non-traditional gardeners You Grow Girl, Trail is clearly a gardening expert with plenty of good advice.
Her sophomore book, Grow Great Grub, is as personality-filled as her website and first book, also titled You Grow Girl. For many, this is one of their favorite parts of the book. Her sharp wit makes it both stand apart from most gardening texts and perfect for a younger audience. If you are a very serious person who wants a gardening book with textbook-like style, this is not the book for you. It is also not for you if you're looking for really deep information on a particular subject. It is a fantastic general-purpose guide, but it is an overview. It addresses small space vegetables, fruits, and herbs, as well as ways to cook and preserve your produce, but if you are looking for highly-detailed information about any of these categories, you should purchase a specialty book. Think of Grow Great Grub as a Western Civilization textbook. It has information about the history of the western world - if you want in-depth coverage of the American Civil War, you should look in a book specifically about the ACW.
Bountiful Container Pros and Cons
Information about places you'd have never even though to grow food (houseboat roof, anyone?)
Traditional approach to gardening - may not engage a younger audience
Traditional gardening book - written by proven experts, illustrated with detailed drawings
McGee & Stuckey's Bountiful Container
This book is a fantastic resource for truly-unconventional container gardeners. McGee and Stuckey show you how to grow food on places you've probably never even imagined planting anything. The book also details how to grow plants you'd never guess could be grown in containers, as well as plants you might not even realize are edible. Even Bountiful Container can't show you how to grow corn or pumpkins in a container, but it does explain how to grow tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, beans, peas, herbs, edible flowers, and even a variety of fruits, including apples, peaches, and Meyer lemons.
Like most gardening books, Bountiful Container comes complete with tasty recipes. It also has ideas for using the same containers to grow different crops in the spring, summer, and fall for maximum harvests with minimum space. With a 2002 publication date, the book is comparatively new, but it has traditional drawn plant diagrams, not photographs. The tone and style of this book make it more suitable for an older audience that might not be amused by Trail's humor in Grow Great Grub.
Vertical Gardening Pros and Cons
You either need the time and skills to build vertical equipment or the budget to buy it
Instructions for edible and decorative plants
Does not focus just on edible plants
Instructions for homemade and commercial vertical growing options
Vertical Gardening: Grow Up, Not Out by Derek Fell
Derek Fell's Vertical Gardening is perfect for you if you have some yard space and want to minimize your weeding while maximizing your yields. If you've ever started a traditional, row-style garden, you've probably grown grown tired of weeding it. Most people plant gardens that are too big, and then abandon large portions of their crops. By using vertical trellising, Vertical Gardening shows you how to grow vertical crops up, which minimizes the ground area you need to tend, and how to plant low-lying crops beneath these raised structures.
Fell's book is illustrated with 100 color photographs to help you clearly see how to plant, set up, and grow your garden. It also addresses a variety of commercially-available, as well as homemade, methods of growing vertical plants, including trellises, pergolas, and the popular topsy-turvy-style planters. I do mean plants - not just vegetables. Vertical Gardening shows you how to plant food crops, annuals, perennials, and shrubs.
Because growing up, and also down, takes extra infrastructure, this might not be the right choice for you if you have a very limited budget, time, or building experience. Also, because it deals with planting both food and decorative items, other books might be more appropriate if you only want to grow edibles.
Square Foot Gardening Pros and Cons
Shows you how to reduce your workload and improve your yields with 4'x4' beds
The square foot method won't work without adequate space
Includes suggestions for handicapped-accessible gardens
Has suggested garden layouts for 2 or 4 people
Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew
Square Foot Gardening is my first small-space gardening love, but it is best if you have a yard. The methods show you how to create one or two beds for rooftop or patio use, but this method is best for producing a lot of food in a small, easy to maintain, space.
Bartholomew utterly banishes the idea of planting in rows, over-planting seeds, and then thinning out seedlings. Instead, he instructs you to carefully plan your garden in 4'x4' plots. Each plot has 16 square feet, and each square foot is carefully planned according to the vegetable you intend to plant. For example, you might plant 16 carrots in one square block, but 4 Swiss chard in another because chard needs more space to grow. Square Foot Gardening comes with some suggested garden layouts to feed two or four people, as well as ideas on how to modify beds to be more accessible for elderly and handicapped gardeners.
If you have 16 square feet of space to spare for even one bed, I recommend Square Foot Gardening. I have loved this book for over a decade, and I don't intend to change my mind anytime soon! However, if you don't have a yard, or at least an accessible rooftop, this book will not help you.
Fresh Food From Small Spaces Pros and Cons
Shows you how to grow food anywhere
You might not like the food you can grow in a closet
Does not rely on artificial lighting or hydroponics
Some exotic plant varieties may be more difficult to find
Fresh Food from Small Spaces: The Square-Inch Gardener's Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting by R.J. Ruppenthal
Fresh Food from Small Spaces teaches you about a lot more than 'traditional' small space gardening. It is a guide to urban and suburban homesteading. R.J. Ruppenthal shows you how to grow vegetables, mushrooms, and sprouts, but branches out into producing fermented foods, keeping bees, and raising chickens. Yes, you can raise chickens in the city! I lived in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, next to a neighbor who owned chickens, so I know it can be done.
Ruppenthal's approach is ground-breaking because it doesn't rely on using lights or hydroponics to grow food indoors in the city. Instead, he shows you how to transform any space into your own private farm. You may not be able to grow tomatoes in an unused closet, but Ruppenthal demonstrates how to grow high-quality, edible mushrooms, instead. He also introduces you to more exotic varieties of edible plants that are better suited to indoor and container gardening.
If you are dedicated to growing food anywhere at all and are willing to try new varieties, this is the book for you. If you are looking for seeds you know are available at the local hardware store, you might want to try Grow Great Grub, instead.
What do you prefer to grow?
Another Hubber's Approach to Small Gardening
- Container Gardening...Grow Your Salad And Veg In A Small Space
Growing your own Salad and Veg is really easy and rewarding. You only need a small space that catches the sunlight, some containers and seed, and off you go. It´s fun and easy.
Whether you have a small yard, a patio, balcony, a windowsill, or only a spare cabinet, you can grow your own food - you just have to pick the correct book for your situation.
As a recap, if you're young, or young at heart, and have a small to nonexistent yard, consider Grow Great Grub. If you don't have a yard, but want something more traditional, choose Bountiful Container. If you've no yard and a sense of adventure, Fresh Food from Small Spaces is the book for you.
If you're lucking enough to have a yard, even if it's small, you have to choose between Vertical Gardening and Square Foot Gardening. Both show you how to maximize your yields and minimize the amount of time you spend weeding. Because of its emphasis on taking advantage of vertical space, I think Vertical Gardening is slightly better if you have a yard, but are really cramped for space. If you have a little bit more room, I highly recommend Square Foot Gardening.
I wish you best of luck, no matter which book you choose! Each of books highlighted above is well-written and can guide you to delicious harvest of fresh fruits, vegetables, and more. In an era of rising fuel and food costs, heightened awareness about pesticides, and a focus on local-first initiatives, small space gardening is likely to continue gaining popularity. Take care of yourself, your wallet, and the planet by discover why its such a popular trend.