Book review & Giveaway: 101 Organic Gardening Hacks

It’s spring (well, not quite officially, but almost…) and my mind is turning to gardening again. I had lots of plans for garden projects over the autumn and winter period, but unfortunately have managed to proceed with only one of them (to get a hotbin composting system up and running). So I definitely needed motivation to get out in the garden and feel enthusiastic rather than feeling like I am already behind! The sunny weather we had earlier in the week definitely helped, but browsing through 101 Organic Gardening Hacks – Eco-friendly Solutions to Improve any Garden by Shawna Coronado (published by Cool Springs Press at £12.99) has given me a much needed burst of enthusiasm, and also a reminder that there are lots of economical and simple ideas to put into practice whilst you save up for the more ambitious stuff!

In the introduction – Coronado describes her gardening motivation:

Hacking is the concept of breaking traditional rules to discover a creative way to accomplish something – a clever trick that saves cash for the thrifty or solves a problem elegantly. Whether the hack is for gardening, computing, cooking, or anything in between, ‘hacking’ your way through your daily challenges is fast becoming a new lifestyle choice because the best hacks are easy, smart and economical.

 

It all sounds very modern and zeitgeisty, but actually, there’s plenty of knowledge here that would be very familiar to an older gardening generation. Hacking is definitely an evolution of the Make Do and Mend philosophy, and interestingly, Coronado says that, when it comes to gardening, her grandmothers are her biggest influence.

So the book is a great mix of old-fashioned garden wisdom and thriftiness and fun, sometimes quirky, new ideas, and considering there’s 101 hacks, I didn’t find the ideas at all repetitive.

Practical and quirky – the sign says “Emergency Tools for Zombie Apocalypse”.

 

As with all kinds of hacking, there’s an open-minded approach to problem-solving. So we get veggie growing in the front garden for people who really want to max out on food growing, or don’t have the right conditions in their back gardens:

Then there’s growing a living wall for colour, insects and edible plants, making the most of the very small gardening spaces which many people are limited to:

And for those of us with a bit more space – how about growing a ground cover patio – this has got to be my favourite project in the whole book, it’s so beautiful:

 

There are ideas for veggie growing and for growing ornamental plants (not mutually exclusive obviously!) and also for supporting wildlife in your garden, there’s loads about saving water, gardening for the benefit of the community and gardening economically and ethically. There are tips for beginners (there’s lots about composting and also growing from seed etc.) but there’s also lots here for people who have been gardening for years who would appreciate some fresh ideas.

A reminder of the importance of planting spring flowering perennials to support insects early in the growing season.

Some hacks are quick and easy, others are more complex and involve some DIY skills, but all the projects seem to be clearly outlined with lists of the equipment that you need. I love this idea for making sure you can keep your seed packets organised. I can see how this can be adapted in all sorts of ways as a basis for a gardening diary:

I should say, if you are based outside the USA, a tiny proportion of the hacks won’t necessarily be relevant to you (I won’t be bothering to plant to attract hummingbirds to my garden, for example), but – I can count these on the fingers of one hand, pretty much, so don’t let that put you off, there is so much good stuff here.

Giveaway…

If you’d like to win a copy of this book, please leave a comment on this blog post before 10pm (GMT) tomorrow to be in with a chance of winning. As always, happy with a ‘pick me’ or you can tell me what you have been up to in your garden this weekend (I did some MUCH needed tidying up and weeding). Happy to post overseas!

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Book Review and Giveaway: Build a Better Vegetable Garden

build-a-better-vegetable-gardenAt this time of year my thoughts turn to planning for the veggie garden for the upcoming growing season. I love a cosy evening looking at ideas on my Pinterest gardening board, looking at seed catalogues and making ambitious plans. What I always have to keep in mind is that our budget is limited, so that’s why I was so pleased to be given the opportunity to review Build a Better Vegetable Garden – 30 DIY Projects to Improve your Harvest by Joyce Russell with photographs by Ben Russell (published by Frances Lincoln). It’s full of ideas to create garden structures, supports, containers, beds and loads more too – all of which can be made without too much outlay (especially if you already have some of the the DIY tools).

My ambition this year is to work on our fruit garden. The current arrangements for our gooseberries, blackcurrants, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries were put together as a ‘temporary’ measure about 5 years ago, and are quickly becoming unsustainable! I am so fed up of the battle with our resident wood pigeons over my gooseberry harvest… and don’t get me started on my rage with the squirrels who pick a lovely luscious strawberry, eat half, then throw the rest away! So I am excited to see that there are simple, inexpensive, projects for a fruit cage, plus a project to make post and wire supports for raspberries.

We also plan to plant dwarf apple trees – so I was excited to see this drying cabinet project:

build-a-better-vegetable-garden-drying-cabinet

Other projects that got me interested include a simple A-shaped bean frame, which look so much more elegant, practical and sturdy than my wobbly garden cane structures:

build-a-better-vegetable-garden-bean-frame

I was also excited to see ideas for creating a cold frame and a covered hot bed plus projects to create raised beds, all kinds of planters, a garden caddy, a boot cleaner, troughs for grow bags and loads more.

You can start simple with a leaf compost bin or maybe some simple cloches:

build-a-better-vegetable-garden-leaf-heap

build-a-better-vegetable-garden-cloche

Then move onto the trickier projects like these fabulous slug-proof salad beds – which have the advantage of being able to be moved nearer to the house later on in the growing season. I even have a supply of old wellies to use:

build-a-better-vegetable-garden-slug-proof-beds

I have done garden DIY projects before (putting decking in our first garden in London was a wild introduction!), but it has been a long time, so I am glad to see that there are two excellent sections on tools, materials and safety. If you are a total beginner, I think you could feel pretty confident in the advice given here. The added bonus is all the brilliant gardening tips – this feels like real value for money!

As you can see from some of the photos I have included here, each project has a difficulty grading, so you can start with something achievable, and then work your way up to something a bit trickier when you have the confidence.. And there’s also an indication of how long each project will take to complete (although, knowing me and my ability to drill holes in the wrong places – did I mention that decking in London?) I need to add on a couple of hours to every project, just to make sure!

build-a-better-vegetable-garden-shed-fit-out

My favourite project is this fabulous shed shelving and hanging system. Just need a shed to put it in…

Giveaway

I have a copy of this fab book to giveaway. Just leave a comment on this post, maybe telling me what your garden plans are this year, or, as usual, I don’t mind a ‘pick me’. I am happy to post the book anywhere in the world, but bear in mind some of the gardening information might not be quite right for your climate! Please leave your comment before 9pm on Friday 13th January to be in with a chance of winning.

Build a Better Vegetable Garden by Joyce Russell, photography by Ben Russell, is published by Frances Lincoln (£16.99)