DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!


These days, I seem to prefer pursuits that continue to teach me something over the course of time and gardening has certainly been one of those. I’ve been a serious vegetable gardener for close to ten years now, and I think that I’ve learned something significant and new during each growing season. Of course, gardeners used to learn primarily by living in families and  communities where other people had gardened as well and were able to share the deep knowledge that comes from long experience with a particular land and climate. I haven’t had that in my life, so I’ve had to seek out my own gardening community through books and the internet.

A problem I have found in reading about gardening is regional bias. For whatever reason, many American gardening experts have historically focused on the Northeastern part of the country and, to a latter degree, the Pacific Northwest. On the surface, it’s easy to see why this should be so. There is, I think, a popular perception that the mild winters and ample year-round sunlight we enjoy in the Southeast render gardening completely problem-free. You’ve only to try your hand at growing English peas or cauliflower to understand that this is hardly the case. Advice, useful to many but not to me, abounds. “Wait to plant until the soil can be worked easily.” Well, around here the soil can be worked all year round, so when do I plant?

Some statements just flat-out don’t apply to this part of the country at all. “In August, an absolute bumper crop of tomatoes will start rolling in. You’ll barely be able to keep up with the abundant harvest. Talk about seeing red!” While I’m sure that’s true in many places, in my zip code the heat in August can be almost unbearable and mytimber tomatoes tend to shut down and wait it out. In August, my primary tomato concern is keeping the plants from dropping too many blossoms so that they’ll start producing again when the weather finally cools down.

Growing lettuce in July? Forget it! I am an inveterate lover of salads as well as all things tomato, so you can imagine my elation when I discovered The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast by Ira Wallace. If you too are a Southern vegetable gardener, I cannot recommend this book enough. The book addresses general gardening concerns such as soil quality and watering methods (and quite completely too, I might add) then moves on to provide an extraordinarily useful guide to what you should be doing, planting and harvesting every month of the year. It turns out that even lettuce can be grown through the summer with some thoughtful techniques (refrigerating seeds, cooling the soil with cardboard and planting in the shade of larger plants are some of these). The final section of the book addresses individual vegetables and makes recommendations about which tastevarieties do particularly well here. Plus, rather than lumping “the South” into one homogeneous mass, Wallace makes distinctions between the Upper South and the Lower South. This is a good thing because the growing conditions in a place like Cucumber, West Virginia are bound to be very different from those experienced in Bayou Cane, Louisiana. Ira Wallace is a Master Gardener in Virginia and helps to run the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. She is well known in the seed saving community and her book includes useful guidance on how to save your own vegetable seeds.

Seed saving in itself is a fascinating subject which carries a great deal of history. Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste: heirloom seed savers in Appalachia by Bill Best is  an absorbing history of Southern Appalachian heirloom varieties of beans, corn and tomatoes and of the people who have cherished and preserved them through time. I find the the names alone – Greasy Pod Pole Bean, Bloody Butcher Dent Corn, Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter Tomato – enchanting.

Of course, if your vegetable gardening goes well (or your vegetable shopping for that matter), you’ll have a lot of produce to cook up. Here are a few resources available from DCPL that can help you do just that.fork

Local (ish) chef, Hugh Acheson is known for his award-winning restaurants in Athens, Atlanta and Savannah as well as his cookbooks.  His latest offering,  The Broad Fork: recipes for the wide world of vegetables and fruits is full of seasonally appropriate ideas for using garden bounty any time of year. Not only will you find recipes incorporating the South’s beloved tomatoes and peaches, you’ll also find some great ideas for using veggies that may be less familiar such as kohlrabi and ramps.

Steven Satterfield is chef at Atlanta’s celebrated Miller Union and has been called a “vegetable shaman” by no less an authority than The New York TimesRoot to Leaf: a southern chef cooks through the seasons is Satterfield’s homage to the vegetables that he clearly loves. The excellent text works beautifully with the stunning photographs and the recipes appear to be delicious without being overly fussy. Check out this Miller Union vegetable plate as featured in a Southern Living magazine a few summers back.

masteringMastering the Art of Southern Vegetables by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart deals with vegetables and only vegetables and the southern spin here is undeniable. Dupree and Graubart, James Beard Award winners and long time collaborators,  have organized their book by vegetable rather than season – a plus on those days in the kitchen when you’re faced with an acorn squash or a dozen zucchini. In any case, you have to figure that any cookbook featuring lady peas (my personal favorite) along with nine recipes for okra and four for sweet potatoes must mean serious Southern cooking business.

How about you? Do you have a favorite southern vegetable? Are you thinking about a garden of your own?


paleoLike a lot of people my new year’s resolution was to eat better and exercise. Well, I don’t know about you, but I am not doing well. So I decided that I am going to try this new diet that I have been seeing. It is called the paleo diet or paleolithic diet. It is a nutritional plan based on the diet of the paleolithic humans. The premise is that human genetics have scarcely changed since the dawn of agriculture and that modern humans are adapted to the paleolithic diet.

The diet consists mainly of fish, grass-fed pasture raised meats, eggs, vegetables, fruit, fungi, roots, and nuts. The diet excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, potatoes, refined salt, refined sugar, and processed oils. If you are thinking about trying the diet out, the library has a few books that could help you out:

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Oct 18 2013

Earthly pleasures…all year long

by Dea Anne M

As regular readers of this blog know, I am an enthusiastic, if still inexpert, gardener. I’ve posted here before about the four raised beds in my yard and I have to say that in the year-plus since that post I’ve learned a lot about the proper use of compost, the importance of weeding (even in raised beds), and what vegetables grow best in our climate. Over the weekend, I took out the last of the summer plants—tomatoes, pole beans, and spent tomatillos and went ahead with my plans for a fall/winter garden. The traditional view of gardening is that after the early fall harvest and clean-up, vegetable gardens sit fallow, usually under a blanket of pristine snow. Well, according to the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map my zip code corresponds with Zone 8a which means that, with care, I should be able to grow something all year round. For the fall, I’m growing lettuces, radish, carrots, mustards, bok choy, turnips, and two varieties each of broccoli and spinach. I’m growing everything from seed so it will be awhile before I’ll start to see the results of my planting but I’m holding out hope for success. I’m especially curious to see what “Red Velvet” lettuce looks like as well as an heirloom variety of spinach called “Monstrueux de Viroflay” which I suppose translates as “monster of Viroflay.” It was developed in France in the 1800’s and the plants can supposedly grow to be up to two feet wide. We will see.

Are you interested in trying some year-round gardening? If so, you’ll find help with these resources from DCPL.

Eliot Coleman has long been acknowledged as a guru of year-round vegetable gardening and his book  The New Organic Grower’s Four Season Harvest: how to harvest fresh organic vegetables from your home garden all year long is considered a classic. The book came out in 1992 so it’s hardly new today but you’ll still find plenty of useful information within.

starterI’ve mentioned Barbara Pleasant’s Starter Vegetable Gardens: 24 no-fail plans for small organic gardens on this blog before. This book remains an absolute gem for any gardener, new or veteran. I mention it again in the four season gardening context because many of the garden plans that Pleasant presents are tailored to specific climate patterns, such as our long, hot summers, with ideas of what to plant during the traditional “non-growing” season. Highly recommended.

idiotsThe Complete Idiot’s Guide to Year-Round Gardening by Delilah Smittle and Sheri Ann Richerson includes information on growing flowers as well as fruits and vegetables. Topics include greenhouse gardening as well as traditional gardening and the authors even cover how to garden in your root cellar (not that many folks I know here in the Southeast have those). One element that I particularly appreciate about the authors’ approach is that they emphasize over and over the importance of soil quality. I have found through my years of gardening that starting with the best soil is the surest guarantee of quality results. Smittle and Richerson also provide expert guidance on starting seeds indoors—invaluable advice for any gardener who wants to grow a wider variety of vegetables for less money than one pays for starter plants or anyone who wants to experiment with heirloom varieties that are only available as seeds.

Finally, allow me to suggest two books that could very well provide you withtender the inspiration to grow your own. Both are cookbooks and both are penned by British authors. The first, Tender: a cook and his vegetable patch comes from Nigel Slater who wrote the wonderful memoir Toast: the story of a boy’s hunger. The second is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg: 200 inspired vegetable recipes. Fearnley-Whittingstall is a leading champion of the sustainable food movement in Britain whose books also include The River Cottage Fish Book. Both Fearnley-Whittingstall’s book and Slater’s feature wonderful writing, straight-forward recipes, and beautiful photography. Slater’s recipes are not necessarily vegetarian (though Fearnley-Whittingstall’s are) but either book will show you the stunning variety of delicious dishes that revolve around vegetables—whether you grow your own or not.


Jul 21 2010

In Case You Need a Break From BBQ

by Joseph M

Vegetarian cuisine may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Atlanta’s dining scene, but it appears that local restaurateurs are doing a brisk business feeding those inclined to avoid meat products. According to a recent article from the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Atlanta ranks as number 4 in a list of the top ten most vegetarian-friendly big cities in the US. The ranking is based on the number of vegetarian and vegetarian-friendly restaurants per capita, as well as input from PETA supporters. Atlanta ranked higher than such notable metropolises as San Francisco and New York City; the top three slots in the list were taken by Washington, D.C., Portland, OR, and Albuquerque, NM. While Atlanta is still home to a thriving culture of meat eaters, the increase in alternatives is good news, whether you’re vegetarian, vegan, or an omnivore who just craves more variety.

Despite all the great restaurants, it’s rarely feasible to eat out every day, and the library has a wide selection of vegetarian and vegan cookbooks for when you’re spending mealtime at home. Two titles I’ve had good experiences with are Vegan with a Vengeance and Veganomicon, both by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, and both chock-full of tasty recipes that will satisfy a variety of different tastes.


My husband and I became new homeowners in May, and we’re big on the do-it-yourself thing.  A couple of  our goals are to plant a vegetable garden next summer and develop a plan for landscaping the neglected backyard.  Since our gardening experience thus far has been pretty much limited to flower pots on a patio, we’ve turned to the Library for more information! 

I discovered a vast number of books on a variety of topics including garden design, hardscaping, pruning, weather and drought resistant gardening, organic gardening, gardens for kitchens, patios, city dwellers, vegetables, herbs, and more, not to mention the numerous books on types of flowers and garden pests and problems. 

I found that one important thing to look for (and something we try to keep in mind when purchasing books for the collection) is whether or not the book is useful to gardeners in the southeastern states.  Many gorgeous gardening books are published in Canada and the U.K., and while the garden plans they offer might be usable in Georgia, the plants listed in them might not do as well in our warm climate.  Georgia is in Zones 7 and 8, with some variations, so make sure you check the hardiness zone before planning your garden!  Your local County Extension office is always a good place to go for more information, as well.

Here are a few of my landscaping and planning favorites:


Southeast Home Landscaping by Roger Holmes & Rita Buchanan:  Published in 2006, this expanded, updated edition is a good beginning guide for landscaping in the southeastern states.   It includes lots of ideas for landscaping different types of yards, including specific situations such as curbside strips and around decks.  Each design includes two design options, showing how the same house or yard would look with each design.  Installation information and plant profiles are also included.  An excellent guide to using the book is included.

The Dry Garden: A Practical Guide to Planning & Planting by Mark Rumary:  Published in 1995, this book is a good beginning overview to dry gardening, or xeriscaping.  There’s discussion of water sources, drainage, and planning around the lay of your land, as well as a guide to plants.  Since this book is not specific to Georgia or the southeast, you may have to do some improvising with your plant choices.  Suggested keyword searches for other related titles: xeriscaping, drought-tolerant plants, and landscape gardening — water conservation.   

Dream Backyards from The Family Handyman Magazine:  This book includes lots of clearly explainedDream_backyards_2  plans for decks, patios, gazebos, fences, and more.  The book was published in 2006, so the project cost estimates should be fairly up to date. 

Landscape Planning: Practical Techniques for the Home Gardener by Judith Adam:  Published in 2002, this book does have a Canadian author, but offers lots of good garden planning information.  Adam offers good advice on assessing your needs, creating your own four-year landscape plan, and when to call for professional help.  There’s a lot of useful info on drainage and hardscaping.

Fence_bible The Fence Bible: How to plan, install, and build fences and gates to meet every home style and property need, no matter what size your yard by Jeff Beneke:  I believe the title of this book pretty much says it all.  The book includes planning, materials needed, and construction how-to on every fencing need.

Pruning Made Easy: A Gardener’s Visual Guide to When and How to Prune Everything, from Flowers to Trees by Lewis Hill:  This is one of several good books in the Library catalog on this topic.  Try a catalog keyword search for “pruning” for more great titles.

The Weather-Resistant Garden: A defensive approach to planning & landscaping byWeather_resistant_garden_2 Charles W. G. Smith:   Think of it as disaster planning for your garden.  Learn how to plant a garden tough enough to withstand almost anything nature delivers.  While the description sounds a little dramatic, the book offers clear, readable advice on many topics including drought and ice storms, which many DeKalb residents can relate to!

Hardscaping: How to Use Structures, Pathways, Patios, & Ornaments in Your Garden by Keith Davitt:  An attractive book with lots of good photos, including before and after shots of actual garden spaces.  Includes discussion about style, structure, and focal points.

Month_by_month Month-By-Month Gardening in Georgia by Walter Reeves and Erica Glasener:  Not sure when to plant tulip bulbs?  Do you know when it’s time to prune your azaleas?  What about fertilizing your roses?  All these questions and many more are answered by two well-known Atlanta horticulturists–Reeves is a former DeKalb County Extension Agent, and Glasener hosts a show on HGTV.  The book is divided into topics such as annuals, bulbs, edibles, lawns, perennials, roses, shrubs, trees, and vines.  Each topic is then broken down by each month of the year and answers your “what to do when” questions for planting, planning, pruning, watering, and dealing with problems.

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