Book Review: “The Starter Garden Handbook”

Two (Hopefully) Green Thumbs Up for “The Starter Garden Handbook”

I have been wanting to start a vegetable garden for a few years now. I feel like it would be a good activity for my kids as well as a way to grow the foods we eat a lot of (carrots, cucumbers, lettuce). I have the space, I have the sun, I have the desire. What I don’t have is the know-how.

Here’s the thing… I have a brown thumb. Most of my house plants die within a month because for some reason, my presence means doom for foliage of all shapes and sizes. Potted plants on my front steps? Gone in two weeks. Black-eyed Susans in the back? Bye Felicia. The only reason my rosebushes are still alive is because I do not touch them. I leave it in Mother Nature’s hands and she is much better at this whole growing things gig than I am.

When “The Starter Garden Handbook: A Cook’s Guide to Growing Your Own Food” by Alice Mary Alvarez was offered to be reviewed, I jumped at the chance to read it because I wanted to see what I was doing wrong. I wanted to look at step-by-step tutorials on how to plant, water, and grow. I wanted to see beautiful pictures of the different stages of growth. What did weeds look like versus the actual plants? I wanted my hand to be held while I embarked on this scary journey of how to plant things and have them live. I wanted pages and pages of instructions on the how and why things grow where they do. Then I received the book. There was not a color picture to be seen. Each unit was a mere 1-page long. The Good Humor Quality drawings were black and white illustrations that barely represent the gist of the content on the page opposite. How on earth could this teach me, a person with a life-long history of killing defenseless plants, the ways to make them thrive so that I could one day actually harvest the plants instead of merely clearing out their poor departed remnants?

Then I actually read the sections. They were informative, succinct, and to the point. I think of all the books I’ve read over the years on the topic and remember how I would highlight the main points or make a list of things I should do when planting a garden, and this book just does it for you. It cuts out the filler and tells you exactly what you need to know to have a successful garden. As I read, I realized a lot of times I was overwhelmed by all the information a lot of other gardening books and websites were trying to impart. It seemed like an unattainable goal to create a simple vegetable garden. In my head, there was SO much to do and I couldn’t figure out where to start. This book essentially makes a check list of things to know and do without trying to make you an expert in all things green.

The one thing that surprised me most about the handbook is that it doesn’t tell you what to grow. It tells you how to figure out what to grow and then how to figure out how to grow them. I mean, it sounds like you have to do a lot of the figuring out, but it makes the most sense to give the reader the educational tools to grow a garden instead of telling them what to grow in a garden. I find myself comparing it to the whole “teaching a person to fish” analogy. Any seed packet can tell you what is necessary to make those seeds grow, but this book relates to you how to successfully grow them, or even IF you should try to grow them.

The bottom line this book tries to get across is that you can grow your own food anywhere and you can do it with limited chemical intervention. You can grow in window boxes, in your apartments, in containers, anywhere you have sun. It even shows you how to regrow food from your scraps!

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I appreciated what this book had to say and moreover how it was said. I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the task and feel like I can actually do this.

“The Starter Garden Handbook: A Cook’s Guide to Growing Your Own Food” is available at, VitalSource, Target and Barnes & Noble among other retailers.

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