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What makes your region unique? Interviews with the authors of our vegetable gardening guides

by Timber Press on March 18, 2016

in Regional

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The authors of our regional Vegetable Gardening Guides share their favorite vegetables as well as what makes their region so special.

Gardeners are not all the same. But gardening advice often is. What works for one gardener may not work for another, especially if they live in different parts of the country. The Timber Press Guides to Vegetable Gardening solve that with advice from regional experts. These gardeners know what works, where. And they want to save you from frustration. Read on to find which one is right for you.

MIDWEST
Michael VanderBrug

9781604695526fIncludes Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin.

What is the most common misconception about gardening in your region?
Often people in the Midwest think that because we are in a northern climate, there are a lot of vegetables that won’t grow here, when the reality is there are very few vegetables that can’t be grown here. For example, most people think sweet potatoes can only be grown in the south, which is not true. They may have better marketing, and a growing season that makes it easier, but I know a lot of growers who produce wonderful sweet potatoes in Michigan.

What is the most common mistake gardeners make in your region and how can your book help them prevent or correct it?
I think across the board, in most regions, watering is where people make mistakes. The assumption is that there can never be too much water, and the more frequent the better. Improper watering can cause lots of problems, which I know, because I have made all of the mistakes. I see it with house plants and gardens. If there is something wrong with the plant, the first thought most people have is that it needs water, partly because watering is the one thing they know they can do. In yards, a major issue is in-ground lawn sprinkling systems. They are great for grass, but typically they water too lightly and too frequently. This causes plants to produce shallow roots, and it makes them dependent on the sprinkling. Ideally we should be striving to grow strong independent plants with deep roots so they are pulling nutrients from several layers of soil, and finding some of their own water in the soil. This means deep watering, less frequently. The old 1 inch of water a week is still a good rule of thumb to follow. Although lots of water can produce huge fruits, they tend to lack flavor. Less water tends to concentrate the flavor. Water is also a conduit for disease. Using just enough water solves all sorts of problems.

Does your region have a distinct advantage? If so, what is it?
As a region, the Midwest has a huge variety of soils and micro-climates. Its interesting to note that Michigan is second only to California in terms of agricultural diversity. What does this mean for gardeners? First, it means you have to know your soil and micro-climate before you get started. But it also means we are blessed with a huge knowledge base, and lots of resources. Michigan State University Extension offices have a wealth of information for gardeners and there are great resources in terms of purchasing supplies. Within an hour of where I live I have a place that sells potato seed, berry plants, pots, garden soil, etc. There is also a huge greenhouse industry in West Michigan which means you can buy annuals, perennials, and vegetable plants that are grown right here.

Can you really grow sweet potatoes in the Midwest? You betcha!

Can you really grow sweet potatoes in the Midwest? You betcha!

Do you have a particular favorite vegetable to grow in your region? Or perhaps a particular vegetable that reflects the character of your region?
The most iconic vegetable for the Midwest is corn, and for many gardeners in the region, it wouldn’t be summer without sweet corn. For many people in the Midwest the 3 sisters, from the traditional Native American garden, are some of the most popular vegetables: corn, beans, and squash. They define the seasons, and are always piled high at farmers markets when they are in season. For me, its not summer without the variety of heirloom tomatoes. The different colors and flavors are irresistible, and it just doesn’t make sense to eat anything but a fresh tomato. Ananas Noire has been my favorite lately.

More about this book: The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest.

vanderbrug_mMichael VanderBrug began vegetable farming in 2001 on 50 acres of his grandfather’s farm in Jenison, Michigan. He has worked with several restaurants to design and install chef’s gardens, and he consulted with Blandford Nature Center to help them start their own farm.

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MOUNTAIN STATES
Newcomer_Cover_3D-WEBMary Ann Newcomer

Includes Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, eastern Washington and Oregon, northern Nevada, and the southernmost parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

What is the most common misconception about gardening in your region?
I see this all the time. Folks move here from milder climates (OR/CA/WA/Eastern US) and are unprepared for our (yes, but it’s a) DRY heat. I mean really dry.

What is the most common mistake gardeners make in your region and how can your book help them prevent or correct it?
You must water thoroughly and deeply. You can’t just splash some water on the vegetable garden. Soaker hoses and drip are the best. A good, deep watering will suffice once a week—twice if temps are over 90°. See the first question re: lack of humidity. In a hot and dry region such as ours, the water needs a chance to soak in, say 6–12 inches deep for good root development and strong plants.

Does your region have a distinct advantage? If so, what is it?
Our very long, warm days are outstanding for all the heat loving edibles: melons, squash, fruits, etc. And believe it or not, our lack of humidity is a good thing, since it is not conducive to powdery mildew or other humid climate issues.

Mountain states may not be known for growing melons, squash, and fruits, but the dry, hot weather is  Image: Lionel Rich

The dry, hot summer weather of the mountain states favors growing such unlikely vegetables as melons, squash, and fruits. Image: Lionel Rich

Do you have a particular favorite vegetable to grow in your region? Or perhaps a particular vegetable that reflects the character of your region?
Yukon Gold or Red Pontiac potatoes, organically of course. Why must I pick just one?

For more about this book: The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Mountain States.

newcomer_m-sMary Ann Newcomer has gained a regional following with her blog, Gardens of the Wild Wild West. She is an accomplished horticulturist, garden designer, and the former president of the Idaho Botanical Garden.
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NORTHEAST
Iannotti_Cover_3D-WEBMarie Iannotti

Includes Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The southernmost parts of Ontario, New Brunswick, Novia Scotia, and Quebec are also included.

What is the most common misconception about gardening in your region?
That we can’t grow long season vegetables, like artichokes, okra and lima beans. We may never become a growing center for these veggies, but there are varieties that do well in our climate that are perfect for a backyard garden. And fresh is always better.

What is the most common mistake gardeners make in your region and how can your book help them prevent or correct it?
Planting at the wrong time. After an interminable winter, we’re anxious to get everything going at once and the garden centers are happy to encourage this. Then a freak frost damages our plants and our enthusiasm. We need to learn to take advantage of our cool seasons, with plants that shrug off frost, then be willing to make space to get the heat lovers in.

Does your region have a distinct advantage? If so, what is it?
It may not seem like an advantage, but I think our winters are a huge plus. When the first hard frost comes, that’s it. Whatever is not under cover is gone. We get to take a break, stop stressing, and make a new plan of attack. It doesn’t matter how the prior season went, every year we get a chance to start over from scratch. And a long, snowy winter cuts down on the pest population.

Pumpkins "are like trophies at the end of a hard fought gardening season." Marie Iannotti turns her trophies into soup and enjoys them all winter. Image: Teo

Pumpkins “are like trophies at the end of a hard fought gardening season.” Marie Iannotti turns hers into soup and enjoys them all winter. Image: Teo

Do you have a particular favorite vegetable to grow in your region? Or perhaps a particular vegetable that reflects the character of your region?
Two things jump to mind, when I think of the Northeast; apples and pumpkins. Apples take a lot of care, but pumpkins will grow themselves. They are like trophies at the end of a hard fought gardening season. It’s nice to have something from the garden on the Thanksgiving table, not to mention a bowl of soup to enjoy when the catalogs start arriving in winter. You can top with more walnut pieces, candied walnuts or chopped apples.

For more about this book: The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Northeast.

iannotti_m-sLongtime Master Gardener Marie Iannotti is the former owner of Yore Vegetables, an heirloom seedling nursery. She is the former editor of The Mid-Hudson Gardener’s Guide., and her garden writing has been featured in newspapers and magazines nationwide.

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PACIFIC NORTHWEST
Forkner_Cover3D-WEBLorene Edwards Forkner

Includes southern British Columbia, western Oregon, western Washington, and northwestern California.

What is the most common misconception about gardening in your region?
Most people think the Pacific Northwest is synonymous with RAIN. Well, they’re not far off, except for summer—July, August & September—when we actually get very little, if any, rain at all. Ours is a maritime climate influenced by the largest body of water on the planet. Ours is a very moderate climate. We never get too hot, or too cold.

What is the most common mistake gardeners make in your region and how can your book help them prevent or correct it?
Most vegetable gardeners (and people who read most vegetable gardening books) fall into the trap of thinking they live in Iowa, or the California central valley. Everything is beefsteak tomatoes, and knee-high corn by July 4th, peppers, and the like. Frankly, that’s crazy talk here in the PNW and a sure path to heartbreak. For the greatest yield from their garden, PNW growers need to embrace cool season crops. I hope my book introduces readers to the rest of the growing season beyond those few brief weeks of relative sun and heat in midsummer to the abundance and productivity that’s possible during the other 9 months of the year.

Does your region have a distinct advantage? If so, what is it?
The PNW has one of the longest and most hospitable growing seasons in the country, coupled with generally healthy native soils, abundant resources, and enlightened municipal resources that encourage recycling and active composting programs and community gardens. If you want to have a garden there’s no better place to start than here.

“Any crop picked fresh from the backyard is a revelation,” says Lorene Forkner. Fava beans are one of her favorites. Image: Wikimedia

“Any crop picked fresh from the backyard is a revelation,” says Lorene Forkner. Fava beans are one of her favorites. Image: Wikimedia

Do you have a particular favorite vegetable to grow in your region? Or perhaps a particular vegetable that reflects the character of your region?
I adore FAVA BEANS! Actually, any crop picked fresh from the backyard is a revelation compared to what you can purchase at the grocery store. The smell of the plants, the warmth of the sun; it all adds up to delicious. Something unique to the PNW? That would have to be strawberries. Local berries so fragile they about burst just looking at them. They stain your fingers, your clothes, and your counters, and only last about a day before spoiling but oh what flavor and perfume. Heaven on a plate.

For more about this book: The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Pacific Northwest.

forkner_l-sLorene Edwards Forkner is an award-winning garden designer who lives, gardens, writes, and designs in the Pacific Northwest. Her writing has appeared in several national and regional publications including Organic Gardening, Pacific Horticulture, MaryJane’s Farm, Northwest Garden News, and Edible Seattle.

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SOUTHEAST
Wallace_Cover_3D-WEBIra Wallace

Includes Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

What is the most common misconception about gardening in your region?
That fall and winter gardening is all about traditional southern greens. With the correct timing and proper storage, gardeners can enjoy not only the traditional favorites like collards, mustards, kale and cabbage, but also a wide variety of greens from Asia and many different cultures. Root crops both fresh like carrots and parsnips or stored sweet potatoes join broccoli and winter keeper tomatoes are just a few of the less traditional items on the holiday table of  resourceful gardeners in the Southeast.

What is the most common mistake gardeners make in your region and how can your book help them prevent or correct it?
Not planning for enough successions planting of summer crops like corn, beans and summer squash, to take full advantage of our long growing season is a common mistake new gardeners make in our region. My month by month to-do list, as well as the sections on succession planting, and summer planting for fall and winter harvest for both new and experienced gardeners with timing plantings for an extended harvest.

Image: Ira Wallace

Thai Red Roselle is great for summer tea or as a substitute in jam and baking. Image: Ira Wallace

Does your region have a distinct advantage? If so, what is it?
The Southeast generally has mild winters and ample moisture somewhat evenly distributed throughout the year. Even in areas like Texas there are enough water resources for a productive vegetable garden.

Do you have a particular favorite vegetable to grow in your region? Or perhaps a particular vegetable that reflects the character of your region?
The okra and southern peas both remind me of my grandmother who first introduced me to vegetables and flowers in her Florida garden. I can’t imagine New Year’s without blackeyed peas and corn bread for good luck. Okra graces the cover of my book and is the symbol of the Southern Foodways Alliance.

Both of these vegetables fed both African–American and White southerners in the difficult years of healing after the Civil War. I can think of no better combination of tasty and resilient vegetables for gardeners in the Southeast. I really enjoy growing unusual vegetables and herbs in my garden as well as the traditional favorites. Thai Red Roselle (Hibsicus sabdariffa) also known as red sorrel in  Jamaica is one of my favorites for a refreshing tea in summer and a substitute for cranberries in jam and baking.

For more about this book: The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast.

wallace_i-sIra Wallace lives and gardens at Acorn Community Farm in Mineral, Virginia — the home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, where she coordinates variety selection and seed growers. Ira serves on the board of the Organic Seed Alliance and is also a co-organizer of the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello.

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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
Geri Galian Miller

9781604695618fWhat is the most common misconception about gardening in your region?
Probably the most common misconception is that we can’t grow veggies in winter in SoCal. They’re usually folks who have recently relocated here from a colder climate. I’m happy to deliver the good news that growing your own food here continues way passed October, actually 365 days a year. No rest for us!

What is the most common mistake gardeners make in your region and how can your book help them prevent or correct it?
Most often, and this isn’t limited to our region, it’s not taking the time to learn the needs of the specific edible you are trying to grow: requirements of soil texture, exposure, water, nutrients, pests/disease and harvest timing/methods. That’s actually my mantra: Know What You Grow! The cool thing about the Timber Press Vegetable Gardening Series is that, although you learn about the topography, geography, weather patterns and soil profiles that are specific to each region, you are taught about the needs of about fifty different edibles selected by the author in the A-to-Z section of each regional book which is pretty much the same no matter where you’re growing. That’s a HUGE resource.

Does your region have a distinct advantage? If so, what is it?
Gardeners tend to be pretty big cheerleaders of their own region and each regional ‘terroir’ will deliver it’s own plus or minus to the yield and flavor of what’s being grown. So being a native Southern Californian, I can definitely do a bit of cheering! If so, what is it? Yes, we can garden all year long which is definitely an advantage. But I also think that this advantage brings with it challenges that make us better gardeners. Our topography delivers a multitude of climatic experiences that are constantly shifting. This means that our experience here necessitates that we deepen our skill sets to be able to adjust our methods to address the changing climate. We just came out of record breaking heat in February, so out came the bolting cauliflower and in went the more heat tolerant types of broccoli. We’re watching the peas carefully. We are in a holding pattern until the weather shows us a distinct pattern. If it’s going to stay warm through early spring, then we’ll utilize shade structures for the remaining cool season crops and start moving toward the warm season planting a bit earlier.

Did your cauliflower bolt in the warm weather? Why not try a heat-tolerant broccoli, then?

Did your cauliflower bolt in the warm weather? Try a heat-tolerant broccoli instead.

Do you have a particular favorite vegetable to grow in your region? Or perhaps a particular vegetable that reflects the character of your region?
It’s less about a favorite vegetable than it is about returning to a philosophy of using all the edible and nutrition-packed parts of the plant so there is no waste. Here in SoCal we are blessed in the diversity of the 16.5 million of us who call this place home. Our diverse backgrounds give us opportunities to share and experience the multi-cultural gardening memories going back generations with our neighbors, fellow gardeners and communities. This collective “memory” of raising our own food and wasting nothing seems to have been lost in the land of plenty as we move farther from our family’s immigrant heritage. With the return of homegrown and hyperlocal produce, we gardeners are making it easier for us all to find our way back.

More about this book: The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in Southern California.

miller_gGeri Galian Miller is the founder of Home Grown Edible Landscapes, where she oversees the execution of edible and native plant landscapes for both commercial and private properties. She is owner of The Cook’s Garden in Abbot Kinney, Venice and in Manhattan Beach where she grows for chefs and has a retail nursery, greenhouse and garden shop. Geri is a certified master gardener and a member of the National Gardening Association, the California Native Plant Society, and the Theodore Payne Foundation.

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SOUTHWEST
Trisha Shirey

9781604695359fIncludes Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, eastern California, and southern Colorado.

What is the most common misconception about gardening in your region?

Many people have the idea that all of the Southwest is a dry desert-like area. There are forests, grassy plains, mountainous regions and some deserts also. Rainfall varies in the region from 54 inches to fewer than 10 inches per year. Preparation of the soil, careful selection of plant varieties and timing of plantings must be planned according to the gardener’s area. Many regions in the Southwest are blessed with growing all year round if preparations for plant protection for the cold snaps and blazing summer heat are made.

What is the most common mistake gardeners make in your region and how can your book help them prevent or correct it?

Gardeners may want to grow the same tomato they remember growing successfully in New Jersey when they start their garden in Arizona and they are not likely to be successful. This book includes suggested varieties of over 50 popular vegetables that can handle the extremes of Southwestern gardens.

Timing is especially important when planting tomatoes in spring. If planted too early, without protection, the plants can be damaged by early spring cold spells. Tomatoes don’t like to be exposed to temperatures below 45 degrees. If planted too late, the plants will fail to produce fruit if they are blossoming when temperatures have reached more than 90-95 degrees. Sometimes plants in garden centers and nurseries have already been exposed to extreme cold. I prefer to buy my plants where I know they have been protected during cold spells.

You can never have enough cucumbers! Image: Wikimedia

You can never have enough cucumbers! Image: Wikimedia

Does your region have a distinct advantage? If so, what is it?

I love the fall and winter garden in my hometown of Austin, Texas. Our mild winters allow us to grow lettuce, greens, peas, radishes, beets, carrots and more all winter long. I think we harvest more pound for pound from the winter garden than from summer crops.

We generally get more rainfall in winter, have fewer insect issues and can grow a huge variety of herbs and vegetables in the winter that will not survive our spring and summer temperatures. I miss the lush dill, chervil, cilantro and lettuce that grace nearly every meal in the winter months – but summer’s tomato bounty would not be the same without the sublime flavor of heat loving basil. If we embrace the best of each season, we can look forward to each change of season and the delights that they bring.

Do you have a particular favorite vegetable to grow in your region? Or perhaps a particular vegetable that reflects the character of your region?

I can seldom grow enough cucumbers in the summer garden to make enough pickles for my family and friends and my summer salads. From the round pale yellow lemon cucumber to the crisp crunch of tiny Green Fingers and gigantic Suyo Long, I love them all.

Kale is the star of my winter garden and I use it in soups, salads, stir fries, smoothies and casseroles. Toscano kale is my favorite and I love to make crunchy, addictive kale chips with it. It is truly amazing how many pounds of kale chips a hungry crowd can go through!

The Southwest region is known for its peppers and hot peppers thrive in summer’s heat. I am not a fan of the extreme heat of Habanero or Ghost peppers. Serrano, green chiles and mild Jalapeno peppers are more to my liking and they produce abundantly.

For more about this book: The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southwest.

Trisha_final_color © LeslieVanBurenTrisha Shirey is the award-winning head gardener at the Lake Austin Spa Resort where she teaches guests about vegetable gardening. She is also a regular guest host of the popular Gardening Naturally radio show on KLBJ-AM. She is a contributing author to Great Garden Formulas and an active speaker to garden clubs all over the state of Texas. She lives in Austin, Texas.

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