Veg Patch: River Cottage Handbook No 4 by Mark Diacono

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Veg Patch: River Cottage Handbook No 4 by Mark Diacono

Category: Lifestyle
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: An invaluable book for those setting out to create or maintain a vegetable garden on a reasonably-sized piece of land. If you are container gardening you will find the book interesting but less useful.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: March 2009
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing plc
ISBN: 978-0747595342

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At a time when the climate is changing and the economy appears to be heading south the thought of being able to produce your own vegetables is very tempting. Forget about food miles and consider instead how few minutes there can be between harvesting your vegetables and the cooking process. Don't worry about pesticides and residues as you'll know exactly what's been fed to your food. Mark Diacono, head gardener on the hallowed ground of River Cottage HQ, run by the sainted Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, tells you exactly how to go about it in this, the fourth of the River Cottage Handbooks.

If you have some ground available – a reasonable patch in the garden or even an allotment and you're enthusiastic to get started on a life free of supermarket vegetables then you'll find this book invaluable. It's free of confusing jargon, expensive equipment and the insistence that you have to break you back by double digging trenches.

Most gardening books begin with instructions about preparing the plot but Mark takes the approach that it's best to think in terms of what you want to eat, what you can be tempted into trying and then seeing how this can be incorporated into a plot. You'll learn all about the benefits of rotating your crops and maximising the yield that you can achieve, but before you get to that stage you can work your way through an A to Z of vegetables and see what it's going to be feasible to grow. It's only when you've got this far that you're going to be led through the processes of planning, creating and maintaining your vegetable patch.

And what are you to do with all this produce? Well, at the end of the book you'll find a selection of recipes. Diacono is open in saying that they come from the staff at River Cottage HQ but they're nevertheless fresh, tasty and reasonably uncomplicated. Try the curried root soup – on a cold winter's day it's very welcome. At the end of the book you'll find a directory of suppliers and useful organisations.

I enjoyed the book but I was conscious that it was primarily aimed at the gardener who has a reasonable amount of ground to devote to vegetables. If you haven't then you will find it interesting but less useful. For various reasons just about all my vegetable production has to be done in pots and in the past I've been greatly reassured by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his 'food acquisition continuum'. At one end of the scale you could have a pot of herbs on the kitchen window sill. At the other you could be aiming for self-sufficient living, but wherever you were on that scale you were aiming to produce at least some of your own food. Wonderful! It was the principle which got me started and which has kept me trying to move further along the continuum ever since. I was hoping that this book would help.

I knew that I was going to have a problem early on when Mark insisted that everyone should grow something they've never eaten before or even something which they don't like just so that they can challenge their taste buds. I struggle to find the space – and capacity to water – all those vegetables which I know we love. I have not got the capacity to move in this direction on the land we have and I was put in mind of the Victorian gardening book which insisted that however little land one had at least an acre should be put aside for trees.

This is not a book which is of much help if you are a container gardener. Yes, there is a nod to this type of gardening, but I had been hoping for a section given over to it. Instead you have to know where to look in the index and even then you won't be able to locate all the references. In an otherwise good book this would seem to be an opportunity missed.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

One of the River Cottage Handbooks which I have found invaluable is Preserves by Pam Corbin. If you're looking to be self-sufficient (or as near as possible) then we can recommend The Self-sufficientish Bible by Andy Hamilton and Dave Hamilton and for a quirky look at the trials and tribulations of starting an allotment, have a look at Allotted Time: Two Blokes, One Shed, No Idea by Robin Shelton.

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Buy Veg Patch: River Cottage Handbook No 4 by Mark Diacono at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Veg Patch: River Cottage Handbook No 4 by Mark Diacono at Amazon.com.


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