Book Reviews

Build A Better Vegetable Garden Book Review

build a better vegetable garden

So as I look out of the window, I see grey, snow-threatening skies. The wind has decided it wants to blow so strongly it feels reminiscent of the opening scene in the Wizard of Oz. Definitely not the type of weather that motivates me to dust off the old boots and get out into the garden.

However, the life of a garden smallholder isn’t spent purely outside being at one with nature. Some time needs to be spent indoors (thankfully at this time of year) planning what you are going to do in the coming year. This is also a great time to prioritise some of those plot improvements, that need a little bit of DIY know-how, or effort beyond time in the soil.

With this in mind, I was excited to see what Build A Better Vegetable Garden by Joyce and Ben Russell could offer in terms of inspiration and guidance. The sub-title of the book demonstrates the context with the text 30 DIY Projects to Improve Your Harvest.

Whilst the book may not offer anything in terms of innovation for us in our garden, it does offer some great tips on how to put together projects that are the bread and butter of any smallholding. The way the tasks are described and presented are simple to follow and provide good steps on how to make the projects work from start to finish. The photos also show, in a visual way, how the projects should develop to help those more likely to follow images than text (me included).

If you have no DIY skills and lack the tools that you may find in any DIY enthusiasts toolbox, some of these projects could be beyond you. But don’t be put off, if you’re willing to invest in the tools and time, you could pick up some new skills.

What I love about the book is that it doesn’t only look at the functional aspects of a growing garden, such as vegetable beds or planters, it also adds some neat aesthetic ideas. The one that stood out for me was how to make a scarecrow. The images showing the author Joyce Russell looking at her League Of Gentleman style scarecrow head made me laugh, but the end result is a scarecrow that not only looks good but also does the job.

Other projects, such as the drying cabinet, feel quite ambitious for the average garden smallholder, but it could be a target for those amongst us that fancy a challenge.

Overall I think the book is presented very well. The steps on each project are easy to follow and the images really help. The variation in complexity demonstrates a good step-up for most smallholders, which should mean, it’s not a read once reference.

I think the book is definitely worth a look and I enjoyed reading it. Even the fact that it offered validation of what we had already done and backed-up some of our future plans is encouraging. But take a look for yourself and let us know what you think.

Build A Better Vegetable Garden published by Frances Lincoln. Available to purchase from Amazon.

Book Reviews

Grow Your Own Cake Book Review

grow your own cake

When publishers Frances Lincoln contacted me to ask if I’d review a book titled Grow Your Own Cake, I rather eagerly jumped at the opportunity. You see, I’m a bit of a cake fan. I imagine many gardeners are and look forward to a well-earned slice of cake with a hot mug of tea in the afternoon. Reading the press release it was clear I would be dribbling over 50 mouth-watering recipes requiring the use of my home-grown produce, so how could I say no? I mean, just look at the front cover! It’s a win-win situation, my veg patch gets a chance to be sweet and glamorous and I get to eat cake.

I digress. Back to the book.

Author Holly Farrell celebrates garden and allotment produce of fruit, veg and herbs by putting them into baked form, with seasonal recipes for delicious cakes and savoury treats. Every step in the book is easy to follow and includes stunning photography by award-winning photographer Jason Ingram. You’d be wrong to think this is just another recipe book telling you how to use your glut of courgettes, it’s so much more than that, it’s clear a great amount of detail and work has gone into producing it.

There are two introductory chapters, In the Garden and In the Kitchen. The book begins by taking you into the garden, after all, this is where the produce will be grown and picked. If you’re an experienced gardener you can just crack on with the growing year and look forward to producing the ingredients required for the delicious cakes, for the beginner gardener this section will set you on the right path with lots of advice and tips such as basic equipment needed, understanding your soil, soil preparation, digging and no-dig methods, how and when to sow seed and pruning advice to name a few. Next we skip along to the kitchen to brush up on techniques used in the book, basic procedures that are common to several recipes are explained in detail with photographs such as how to make pastry. The detailed tips on crystallizing flowers and herb foliage for cake decoration is just another good reason to include edible flowers and herbs in your veg patch.

The recipe sections of the book are in seasonal order (spring and summer cakes and autumn and winter cakes) with additional sections for afternoon tea, puddings and savoury bakes. Each crop has its own Grow page, and each recipe a Bake page. It really couldn’t be simpler to bake and grow your own cake! Of course, your home-grown produce will be the stars of the show but you should have the usual flour, eggs, butter, sugar and a few store-cupboard staples to hand. Hardly any recipes feature uncommon ingredients and you will notice the simplicity of equipment needed, from garden pots to baking tins the author has been mindful to garden and create recipes which require the very basics. Gardening and baking doesn’t have to be expensive, this book proves that.

I couldn’t review this book without sharing a recipe now could I? That would be cruel. With this in mind I have permission to share with you a seasonal recipe from the book to whet your appetite, it’s perfect for those who still have parsnips to pull from the veg garden or allotment.

Winter Parsnip Cake

Makes a single-layer cake, you will need: 1 × deep, round cake tin, 20cm/8in diameter, greased and base-lined.


  • 150g/5oz unsalted butter
  • 150g/5oz light muscovado sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 250g/8oz peeled parsnips, coarsely grated
  • 100g/3½oz sultanas
  • 50g/2oz chopped candied peel
  • 200g/7oz plain flour
  • 90g/3oz ground almonds
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tbsp baking powder
  • 2 tbsp honey


  • Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/gas mark 3. Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs.
  • Stir in the parsnips, sultanas and candied peel (by hand, or on a slow speed in a stand mixer).
  • Sift in the flour, ground almonds, ground ginger and baking powder. Fold in by hand until everything is incorporated, then pour into the prepared tin and smooth level.
  • Bake for around 1¼ hours, until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven and put the cake (still in the tin) on a cooling rack.
  • Pierce about 12 holes in the cake, all the way to the base, with a skewer, and drizzle the honey over the top. Allow the cake to cool completely in the tin, before turning out.

Credit line: Recipe from Grow Your Own Cake: Recipes From Plot to Plate by Holly Farrell, photographs by Jason Ingram. Published by Frances Lincoln (£16.99).

Of course there are plenty of websites and other cookery books with a recipe for carrot cake or pumpkin pie, this book has those classics and the more unusual recipes such as Pea Cheesecake and Fennel Cake, and as mentioned before all in seasonal order to make baking your home-grown produce even easier. If you’re neither a baker nor gardener I’m pretty confident you will be!

Grow Your Own Cake officially releases on 3rd March, it would make a lovely Mother’s Day gift. I’m delighted to offer the following discount code:

To order Grow Your Own Cake at the discounted price of £14 including p&p* (RRP: £16.99), telephone 01903 828503 or email and quote the offer code QPG415.

*UK ONLY – Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.

About the author:

Holly Farrell is a garden writer and freelance consultant on kitchen gardens for private clients. She is the author of Planting Plans for your Kitchen Garden (2013, How To Books) and RHS Plants from Pips (2015, Mitchell Beazley) and contributes to gardening magazines such as The Garden and Kitchen Garden. Holly is also a keen and experienced baker, and has a blog at

Book Reviews

RHS The Half-Hour Allotment Book Review

RHS Half Hour Allotment

Do you struggle to keep on top of your allotment? Perhaps you’re considering taking on a plot for the first time and worried it will eat into most of your leisure and family time. If so, RHS The Half-Hour Allotment is the book for you!

The half-hour allotment principle outlined in this book was dreamt up by Will Sibley, an allotment holder unwilling to give up half his life and all of his leisure time to his plot. Despite only dedicating half an hour a day to his plot with weekends off, his plot is productive and well maintained. Published by Frances Lincoln, the aim of this book is to tap into this system with expert advice from the author Lia Leendertz and the Royal Horticultural Society.

RHS The Half-Hour Allotment guides you through putting the half hour allotment principle into practise to great achieve results on as little as two and a half hours a week, perfect for those who do not have time to potter! The book also guides the reader through taking on a plot, deciding what to grow and growing the best varieties, keeping on top of your plot, wildlife and cut flowers, managing pest and diseases and targets for your first year on your plot.

The book is visually appealing with beautiful photography throughout, some of which is very inspiring. RHS The Half-Hour Allotment gives you the tools to create an allotment that can be managed in tandem with a busy life, a guilt-free plot to be proud of.

About the author:

RHS The Half-Hour Allotment is author Lia Leendertz’s first book, she also writes for The Guardian, Gardens Illustrated and The Simple Things magazines.


Book Reviews

The Crafted Garden, Stylish Projects Inspired by Nature Book Review

The Crafted Garden

The Crafted Garden by Louise Curley is a wonderful book for gardeners and crafters, offering 50 seasonal craft projects inspired by the gifts of nature with easy to follow instructions and beautiful photography by Jason Ingram. The Crafted Garden encourages a connection with the seasons, bring the outside in and craft with natures ingredients such as seeds, flowers, sprigs and twigs and create beautiful ornaments and decorations for the home.

From twig and bark pots to edible dinner decorations, there’s a project to inspire everyone to enjoy and celebrate the beauty of nature from the garden and hedgerow. The book also offers great tips for seed saving, drying plants, flower pressing, preserving plants, forcing bulbs and the etiquette of foraging.

My personal favourite project is the foraged fairy, how sweet! I’m completely inspired to make these lovely little decorations for the garden and the house at Christmas time.

the crafted garden book

The Crafted Garden officially releases on 3rd September 2015, published by Frances Lincoln. I’m delighted to offer my readers the following discount code:

To order The Crafted Garden by Louise Curley at the discounted price of £13.99 including p&p* (RRP: £16.99), telephone 01903 828503 or email and quote the offer code APG355. 
*UK ONLY – Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.


Book Reviews

Plan and Build a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden Book Review

Plan and Build a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden

I’m a big fan of raised bed gardening, successfully using raised beds to grow vegetables, soft fruits and cut flowers in my vegetable garden and at my allotment for many years now. So when asked if I’d like to review a copy of Jeanne Grunert’s book Plan and Build a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden, I was happy to take a look.

Plan and Build a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden is an easy to follow guide, packed full of practical information on how to plan and build a simple raised bed vegetable garden. The authors knowledge and passion for the subject really shines through as she guides us through the following sections:

  • Why Build Raised Bed Gardens?
  • Planning a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden
  • Design and Build a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden
  • Pathways for Raised Bed Gardens
  • Importance of Great Soil

Important factors to consider for a successful and easy to manage vegetable garden are covered, such as how much light and shade the area receives and proximity of a water supply. Other considerations are mentioned too, pathway sizes and choice of path coverings (with helpful pros and cons of each), also the many materials that can be used to make a raised bed, helping the reader to make an informed choice. The author touches upon the many advantages raised bed gardening has to offer, not only for the gardener but for crops too. There’s also a section on converting raised beds to cold frame and mini greenhouses, which is simple enough to do with a raised bed structure already in place.

A great bonus of the book is the easy-to-follow instructions to make your very own 8 x 4 foot raised bed. I’m amazed at the cost of some of the raised bed kits I’ve come across, raised bed gardening doesn’t have to be expensive – I made my own by recycling an old and untreated summer-house!

Clearly written by a gardener with a passion for growing seasonal fresh food as simply as possible, I find Plan and Build a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden to be an informative guide for gardeners of all abilities.

Author Jeanne Grunert is an award-winning writer, prolific blogger, and expert marketing consultant. She left a successful 20 year career as a marketing manager in the New York City area to move onto a 17-acre farm in rural Virginia where she lives, works and writes. Today, she grows a life instead of merely making a living.

Plan and Build a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden is available to purchase here.

Thank you Jeanne for contacting me.

Book Reviews

Sarah Raven’s Cutting Garden Journal Book Review

Sarah Raven's Cutting Garden Journal

Our allotment drew lots of attention and admiration during the height of summer, the new cutting area dominated and stole the show with punchy colours of wildflower cornflower and Eschscholzia ‘Orange King’, purchased from Sarah Raven of whom I am a big fan. Other plot holders would stop me from working to compliment on the dazzling display of flowers and continuous hum of bees. As luck would have it, Frances Lincoln publishers contacted me to ask if I would like to review a copy of Sarah Raven’s Cutting Garden Journal. I’m eager to extend my knowledge and confidence with our cut flower patch and having Sarah Raven’s journal to hand will be really useful, so of course I agreed to be sent a copy.

Sarah Raven’s Cutting Garden Journal is compact and easy to carry, the front cover features Sarah Raven clutching a beautiful arrangement of flowers from her cutting garden. The journal takes you through the necessary steps to design and create the perfect cutting garden, with helpful monthly sections to include jobs for the month, flowers of the month and a monthly flower project. The journal provides detailed information on dates for sowing, planting advice, propagating, forcing and cutting.

Sarah’s arranging tips and techniques along with advice on equipment, conditioning and aftercare of your flowers will see you making your own arrangements in next to no time. There are step-by-step instructions with photos to help you create a mixed arrangement and wall hanging winter medallion, which is my personal favourite. The only nit pick I have with the journal is the style of photography used for the flower displays, it’s not to my taste but that’s just my opinion and in no way spoils the enjoyment or use of the journal.

Sarah Raven’s Cutting Garden Journal will help to get the most out of your cut flower garden, creating a garden to offer plenty of interesting flowers and foliage throughout the year to create dazzling seasonal flower displays.

A hardback book and priced £14.99, I’m delighted to offer my readers the following discount:

To order Sarah Raven’s Cutting Garden Journal at the discounted price of £11.99 including p&p* (RRP: £14.99), telephone 01903 828503 or email and quote the offer code APG200. 
*UK ONLY – Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.
The journal officially releases on 4th September 2014 and is published by Frances Lincoln

About the author:

Sarah Raven is a writer, cook, broadcaster and teacher, running cooking, flower arranging and gardening courses from her farm in East Sussex.

Book Reviews

Kitchen Garden Experts Book Review

Kitchen Garden Experts

Kitchen Garden Experts combines growing tips and delicious recipes by celebrated chefs and their head gardeners at twenty of the UK’s most exciting restaurants, hotels, pubs and cafés, making this a must have book for foodies and growers too. Published 1st May 2014 by Frances Lincoln, foreword by Raymond Blanc, author Cinead McTernan is a horticulturally trained writer and gardening editor of The Simple Things magazine. The book boasts beautiful and inspiring photography throughout by award-winning photographer Jason Ingram, who has worked on numerous garden and food magazines.

This insightful book throws open the gates to the kitchen gardens of Britain’s best chefs and their head gardeners, from Terence Conran and Raymond Blanc to River Cottage and L’Enclume. Each chef and gardener welcomes you to explore their beautiful kitchen gardens through Jason’s superb photographs, and to discover the growing tips and methods used to produce the fruit and vegetables appearing on their menus.

Photographer: Jason Ingram
Photographer: Jason Ingram

Tried and trusted kitchen garden secrets are revealed from each restaurant, to make growing your own just that little bit easier. Growing information for many varieties of vegetables, fruits and herbs makes this a very useful book for gardeners, with access to 40 signature dishes and 20 mouth-watering recipes to delight the foodie in you. Try the recipes yourself at home or book a table at a featured restaurant to taste the flavour of fresh seasonal produce – made easy by the number coded regions and UK map at the beginning of the book and contact details at the back.

Raymond Blanc OBE is a chef at the forefront of the ‘gardening for taste’ revolution and has opened the kitchen garden at his restaurant Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire, for many years.

Kitchen Garden Experts is a hardback book and priced £2o.00, I’m delighted to offer my readers the following discount:

To order Kitchen Garden Experts at the discounted price of £16.00 including p&p* (RRP: £20.00), telephone 01903 828503 or email and quote the offer code APG130. 

*UK ONLY – Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.
Book Reviews

Charles Dowding’s Veg Journal Book Review

Charles Dowding's Veg Journal

Just before Christmas I was asked if I would like to review a copy of Charles Dowding’s Veg Journal, expert no-dig advice, month by month. Charles Dowding’s mantra of ‘little and often’ in my opinion is key to successfully maintaining or taming an allotment or vegetable patch. The book is arranged into practical monthly sections, providing simple steps and seasonal checklists to plan a year of vegetable growing that you’ll want to refer to time and time again. Crammed full of expert advice throughout, the book offers what you’d expect and more such as detailed information on growing vegetables, herbs and salad leaves successfully, monthly jobs and key dates for sowing and harvesting, tackling weeds and pests, making sweet-smelling compost, understanding the techniques used to get the most out of the space you garden with and sections explaining the no-dig approach and how it works. Charles Dowding is the UK’s leading no-dig expert.

Overall I’m very impressed with Charles Dowding’s Veg Journal, the photography throughout is utterly gorgeous and the book is compact in size (210 x 150 mm) making it easy to carry around. A sturdy hardback cover and textured pages give the book a quality feel. The colour-coded pages are useful for quick reference (green pages for ‘how to’ tips on growing vegetables, herbs and salad leaves, orange pages for information on no-dig gardening and beige pages for everything else). The monthly layout ensures no activity is overlooked and there are lined pages for you to jot down your own notes. The book is suitable for the absolute beginner while still catering for the experienced veg grower. I have a lot of books that I still dip into from time to time but only a few are firm favourites, Veg Journal now being one of them.

I’m thrilled to own a copy.

Publish date 6th February 2014 by Frances Lincoln ( | @Frances_Lincoln) and priced £14.99. I am pleased to be able to offer my readers a copy at the discounted price of £12.00 including p&p UK only (add £2.50 to purchase price if ordering from overseas). Telephone 01903 828503 or email and quote the offer code APG69

Alternatively, send a cheque made payable to:

Littlehampton Book Services Mail Order Department,

Littlehampton Book Services,

PO Box 4264,

Worthing, West Sussex

BN13 3RB

Please quote the offer code APG69 and include your name and address details.

About the author:

Charles Dowding grew up on a dairy farm in Somerset. After graduating from Cambridge he worked for a hotel in the Inner Hebrides before starting to grow organic vegetables commercially on the family farm in the early 1980s. In 1990 he left behind what was by then a large market garden to live in France and Zambia. Returning to Somerset in the mid 1990s, he established a bed and breakfast and vegetable growing business at Lower Farm in Shepton Montague, Somerset. There, Charles’s salad bags were the main output from his two-acre garden of permanent raised beds and fruit trees. Charles runs vegetable-growing courses and lectures and writes books on his unique growing techniques. Since 2012 Charles has begun a new garden at in Alhampton, Somerset which he has designed using no-dig principles, and with many experiments into different ways of growing.

With thanks to Jessica at The Aurum Publishing Group.

Book Reviews

The Allotment Planner Book Review

The Allotment Planner

Recently I was asked if I would like to review a book, The Allotment Planner by author Matthew Appleby. I already have a couple of allotment planner style books that I do dip into, I was intrigued to find out what this book had to offer and agreed to be sent a copy.

Published November 2013 by Frances Lincoln and priced £14.99, The Allotment Planner is a rustic-style book with beautiful, colourful photography throughout. It has a sturdy hardback cover with elastic to keep pages under control in windy weather, obviously designed to be used frequently at the allotment plot. There’s an introduction by Alys Fowler, introducing the author with fondness, touching on the subject of his rather naughty yet refreshing and fun attitude towards allotment gardening.

the allotment planner book

The book is arranged into monthly sections with lined pages for your own notes, also pointers on what to sow, plant and harvest, and other timely reminders to get the most out of your plot. Each month offers 4 or 5 projects for the reader to ponder such as keeping chickens or bees, growing wildflowers and giant vegetables, creating wildlife / private retreat areas and dining, partying and camping. Some of the projects have been covered in other books that I’ve read, but there are plenty that haven’t. OK, so camping on your plot might push the boundaries with some allotment site rules but the book will help to keep you on the right side of the committee, with useful information such as plot-sharing if you’re struggling to cope.

the allotment planner book

Having an allotment is so much more than having a strip of land to grow carrots and spuds, people tend to forget that or not realise how much more there is to gain from having an allotment. A plot can be a haven for wildlife, a place to be creative or used as a retreat for quiet time, gather socially with friends and family, share produce and get everyone involved. The Allotment Planner encourages you to do all of these things and more, to make the most of your allotment plot in ways that you may not have thought about previously, and reminds you to have fun with it too.

the allotment planner book

A great read and useful book to have at the allotment, it would make a great Christmas present and would be suitable for a complete beginner.

Author Matthew Appleby is a blogging garden journalist on Horticulture Week who writes for The Guardian, Amateur Gardening and other national newspapers. He cultivates an allotment in Wimbledon, southwest London.

Special thanks to Jessica at Aurum Publishing Group.
Book Reviews

Book Review – Once Upon a Flock

Once Upon A Flock revised cover resized

I was kindly asked by Kew Publicity to review Once Upon a Flock by acclaimed illustrator and author Lauren Scheuer, I was especially excited to receive this book because I’d heard so many good things about it, and now it has arrived in the UK. Hoorah! Humorously written, a memoir full of chicken addiction. I can honestly say I found it tricky to put down.

Lauren Collage

Lauren’s memoir is a heart-warming account of her experiences raising a small flock of chickens with big personalities. The book covers the highs and lows of chicken keeping with laughs, surprises and the occasional tear along the way. Lauren’s admiration for her flock shines through in her own photographs and endearing illustrations, Once Upon a Flock is a visual delight, perfect for sharing with children of all ages. Lauren’s storytelling is warm and witty, typical of her style which is evident in her popular blog, Scratch and Peck.

Once Upon a Flock

Once Upon a Flock is not your typical ‘how to raise chickens’ style book, however, it does contain knowledge gained from Lauren’s own personal experiences and adventures of keeping these wonderful pets. A must read for anyone who already shares their life with a flock of chickens and those contemplating the idea. Once Upon a Flock will have you scribbling down chicken coop plans on your morning paper and eyeing up the perfect spot in the garden to site your chicken palace masterpiece.

Lauren scheuer coop sketch

Reading Lauren’s memoir helped to ease my own concerns of coming across as slightly chicken obsessed sometimes, it’s a relief to learn I’m not the only one to appreciate fluffy chicken pantaloons…..feathers on a chicken’s behind to non-chicken folk. But, you already knew that, right?!

Once Upon a Flock is available from 3rd October 2013 in hardback from Waterstones, Amazon, Royal Horticultural Society gift shops and all good book shops. Also available as an e-book.

Special thanks to Jane Beaton of Kew Publicity and to Lauren Scheuer, for permission to use her lovely illustrations.

Book Reviews

Book Review -Tales from the Coop

Tales from the Coop by Sophie McCoy

Edited by Sophie Mccoy, Tales from the Coop: The Joy of Ex Battery Hens is a collection of stories, poems, photos and more by ordinary people who’ve already opened their hearts and coops to rescued battery hens. From chicken friendships and a hen’s love of treats, to the first moving glimpse of freedom from the battery cage. Tales from the Coop is a must for anyone considering adopting battery hens and those who already have. All profits from the sale of Tales from the Coop will go to the British Hen Welfare Trust and Little Hen Rescue.

I was thrilled to be asked by Sophie Mccoy to contribute my photographs to the book, regular readers of The Garden Smallholder blog may recognise the front and back cover photographs, along with a few photos within the book.
You can get your copy from the following sources:

Paperback or Kindle edition from Amazon UK:

Paperback or Kindle edition from

All e-book formats:

Also available from and all the European Amazon sites too. Plus the Apple, Kobo, Barnes and Noble stores.
Book Reviews

Book Review – The Chicken Handbook and The Beekeeping Handbook

The Chicken Handbook by Vivian Head

Regular readers to my blog will know that I’m a keen chicken keeper. I have 4 years experience of keeping ex battery hens (some of which have been very needy through no fault of their own) so I was super excited to be sent The Chicken Handbook to review, along with another book, The Beekeeping Handbook. The latter I have no experience of at all but it does interest me and is relevant to my sustainable life style.

Naturally, The Chicken Handbook was the book that I reached for first. The book has a very inviting front cover and easy to follow contents. I particularly like how the author starts the book with the history of the chicken and then carries on to cover chickens needs such as housing and feeding equipment before naming and explaining all the different chicken breeds. This gives the reader a solid foundation of knowledge on which to build on and well-informed choices, thus avoiding the mistake of purchasing chickens before being ready to cater for the most basic of their needs. I was further impressed with the section explaining in detail the daily, weekly and monthly routine required to keep chickens happy and healthy. I feel this information is well placed within the book contents and crucial to know, particularly for those thinking about keeping a flock of garden hens. There are some tips and facts within the book to avoid problems with chicken keeping in urban areas, such as seeking permission from your landlord or checking house deeds before going ahead and keeping chickens.

If you’re not squeamish (unlike me) and wish to raise your own meat birds, you’ll be pleased to know that the book covers how to humanely cull birds for the table, including plucking and evisceration. I’ll admit, this was the one and only section of the book that I was pleased not to see photographs. For those who like to dabble in the kitchen, there’s a handy section with recipes using your own meat and eggs.

Overall I am very impressed with the amount of topics and information covered in this book. There are well detailed and clearly explained sections on choosing chickens, bringing chickens home and settling them in, A-Z of pests and diseases, behavioral problems, chicken and egg anatomy, chicken breeds, predators, showing, feeding, housing, and raising chicks to name a few. My only criticism is there are no photographs, particularly of the different chicken breeds. As lovely as the illustrations are throughout the book, personally I prefer to look at photographs to get a better idea of colour and size etc. This is merely a nit pick and shouldn’t detract from the overall quality or experience of the book content.

Chickens are not the only feathered friends to be featured in the book. I’m currently swotting up on how to keep quail, guinea fowl, turkeys, geese and ducks! This is a handy book to refer to for experienced chicken keepers and very informative and easy to follow for the new chicken keeper.

The Beekeepers Handbook by Vivian Head

I’ve been reading this book as a complete novice to beekeeping, yet, I’m surprised at how much this book has taught me about this fascinating hobby already. Whilst I admit to knowing a thing or two about bees in general, I am one of those who is a teeny-weeny bit afraid of being stung. Having witnessed a swarm some years ago in my garden it left me slightly nervous. Because of this, I’ve never considered keeping bees before but I do my utmost to attract them to my garden by providing shelter and food. I understand how important bees are to our planet, which is why I like to help them in my little way.

Reading through this book will teach you everything you need to know to get started with this hobby, it provides a wealth of information on how to set-up a hive, where to place it, how many hives to have, equipment needed including suitable clothing and where, when and how to obtain bees. Other useful topics include, understanding the honey bee, bee anatomy, swarming (ahhhh!), dealing with stings, beekeeping checklist season to season, pests and diseases and harvesting honey. If you’ve been looking for information on how to rear and breed your own queen bees then look no further, the book is packed with information including stages on how to go about it.

Although I’m not about to start keeping bees anytime soon, if you’re a novice with an interest in beekeeping I would recommend this book. It’s provided me with many more interesting facts about these amazing little creatures and I found it easy to follow and understand.

Thanks must go to Traci Niese at Fox Chapel Publishing for sending The Chicken Handbook and The Beekeeping Handbook to me for review. The author of both books, Vivian Head, is an ardent cook, gardener and author who lives in a country cottage in East Sussex, UK. When she is not busy writing she tends her allotment and kitchen herb garden, which is also home to her chickens and four beehives.

Both books will be published 1st April 2012.

Book Reviews

Book Review – The Ten-Minute Gardener’s Fruit, Flower and Vegetable Growing Diaries

I was contacted recently by Transworld Publishers and asked if I would like to review three gardening book diaries written by author Val Bourne, covering the fruit, vegetable and flower garden. Val Bourne has been a fanatical gardener since childhood, she has worked in vegetable research and has grown her own fruit and veg for many years without chemical use. She has a large allotment as well as fruit and veg patches nestled amongst her extensive flower garden in the Cotswolds. She regularly writes for the Crocus website and publications such as Daily Telegraph, Saga, Oxford Times, Grow It, Hardy Plant Society magazine, Homes and Gardens, The English Garden, RHS The Garden and The Rose Magazine.

The books have a real vintage feel to them which I adore. Warm and attractive illustrated covers with tasteful colours ensure that these books will have key place on the book shelf. The books are packed with useful tips including Val Bourne’s own success secrets, organic tips and snippets of broad knowledge which displays the authors deep personal understanding and obvious passion for gardening. I was pleased to see tips aimed at attracting and preserving wildlife, something that is very close to my heart and I feel all gardeners should be doing.

Each book is written with time pressed people in mind, covering essential tasks and offering useful tips to keep the fruit, veg and flower garden thriving, maintained, and manicured throughout the growing year. Clearly structured with a carefully chosen plan of action covering the growing year season by season and month by month. I find breaking down the workload in this way, combined with practical tips for all abilities really gives the reader a clear sense of direction to tackle essential tasks. All too often these tasks can seem over bearing or too difficult to achieve, to the beginner it can all seem very daunting but Val Bourne simplifies the process with her easy-going approach to gardening.

The books are practically written, clearly defining time frames for planting, sowing, harvests, dividing and pruning which can be confusing to the new gardener. There are many detailed recommendations for modern and old varieties of plants, shrubs, fruit and vegetables to help the reader make an informed choice. The books are also practical to carry around with you, unlike some of my rather bulky and heavy books. In an age of digital photography you might be disappointed there are no photographs, but the illustrations are clear and easy to follow.

In my opinion all three books are pleasantly ‘olde worlde’ to the eye, but modern and practical in content to suit todays organic and often time pressed gardener.

Book Reviews

Book Review – Reader’s Digest Gardening/Allotment Book

I was asked by Reader’s Digest to review one of their gardening books titled ‘Food From Your Garden & Allotment’, since receiving the book I have struggled to put it down. As an avid reader and vegetable gardening book collector I’m shocked this book was not already part of my armoury. The book covers 5 colour coded sections which are packed with essential information on everything you need to know and perhaps didn’t know about growing, preserving and cooking food raised from your back garden or allotment plot.

  • A Basic Guide to the Kitchen Garden
  • Growing and Cooking
  • The Food Growers Calendar
  • Pests and Diseases
  • Home Preserving

Each of the above sections contain detailed and precise information over a vast range of  topics with handy techniques, in-depth explanations and illustrations. Section 1 teaches how to plan your kitchen garden, know your soil type and tools, weed identification and techniques covering how to sow, transplant and prune. Section 2 is packed with a fantastic A-Z guide to growing herbs, fruit and vegetables including tips on how to harvest, prepare and cook each crop for the table. Section 3 covers the growing seasons and what you can expect to be growing and harvesting, with handy seasonal recipes as well as easy to follow lists of jobs to complete for each growing season to get your kitchen garden off to a flying start. Section 4 covers pests and diseases, each with an A-Z guide and clear illustrations. Section 5 really is the jewel in the crown for me, there are not many grow your own books that cover preserving to this level. I was very impressed with the at-a-glance guide to freezing produce, outlining clear information on exactly how to prepare each fruit/vegetable for the freezer. There are recipes galore for jam making, bottling, pickling, relishes, vinegars, chutneys, jellies, wine making and much more.

The photography is stylish, (which is probably one of the first things that I tend to notice and appreciate with gardening books) format, writing style and step by step guides are straight forward to follow. The book would be enjoyed and useful to the beginner, enthusiast and professional, covering a wide range of topics from garden design and handy techniques to in-depth explanations of growing many different crops. The information this book contains will probably be all you need to help get started with growing and cooking your own grown produce.

If you like interesting recipes you won’t be disappointed with this book, I’m certainly glad it’s part of my book collection.