Gardening is so tactile, so visceral. You smell the soil, separate tiny seeds, and get your hands dirty. It’s only natural to want a physical book to thumb through at on those rainy, cold, non-gardening days when you’re dreaming of what to plant next. This is a list of my personal favorites.
Golden Gate Gardening by Pam Pierce: This is the best, most complete and specific guide I’ve found for gardening in our climate. It features general knowledge of the area and its weather, pest and weed guides, comprehensive descriptions of vegetables and recommended varieties, and is a thick collection of first-hand knowledge and advice. If you buy only one gardening book, buy this one.
How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons: This is somewhat of an advanced gardener’s book, as it includes complicated charts about yield and seeds per ounce, and if it hadn’t been a gift, I may never have read it. However, this book taught me a lot, and made concepts like “growing” soil, plant rotation, and composting methods easier to understand. If you’re looking to truly feed your family using your garden, this is the book for you. His sample gardens are labeled things like “1-Person Mini-Garden” and “4-Person Family Food Garden” and include layouts and season-by-season instructions. If you were planning for the end of civilization and needed to farm your own food, you would definitely have this book in your bunker’s library.
Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew: While I don’t follow every recommendation of Mel Bartholomew, I did find this book helped me think about garden planning in a more efficient way. This was especially helpful in my getting more vegetables growing in a small space, and helping me let go of the idea of neat rows of individual varieties. It seemed to take some of the same ideas of John Jeavons’ concepts, but with less hard work—focusing more on buying good soil and then growing, as opposed to building the soil yourself. If you plan on garden in a raised bed, this book can be very helpful.
Farm City by Novella Carpenter: These are the adventures of an urban vacant lot gardener & farmer, and it was inspiring and humbling. I love Novella’s voice, and was thrilled to see her (and buy produce from her) at the Oakland Eat Real festival a few years ago. The methods by which they obtain food for their pigs (yes, they raised pigs in a vacant lot in Oakland) are amazing. This is an accessible story about success and failure in the garden.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver: This is my kind of “Eat, Pray, Love” right here. The author and her family move into a farmstead and learn to sustain themselves on their own hard work. She also interviews some organic/sustainable farmers along the way, and made me believe that roosters can actually count. Like a romance novel about gardening.
Mother Earth News: A classic publication that still delivers excellent news and advice about organic gardening and farming. It’s also usually really cheap to subscribe.