by Tony Orman

You can’t always believe the blurb on the dust jacket of books, but in the case of Levin permaculture expert Kath Irvine’s new book The Edible Backyard described as a “practical, step-by-step guide” you can! It is indeed a very good guide to growing great produce at home.

Growing vegetables for good health

Kath Irvine is the author of the successful book Pruning Fruit Trees: A Beginner’s Guide. She explains that she began growing vegetable for health reasons.

“My first garden was for my first baby. I was set on eating spray-free vegetables, having spent my young years covered in eczema from a chemical sensitivity. Thing was I knew nothing about gardening and I chose the worst possible place possible for my veggie patch.”

Her first choice for a vegetable growing set was poor, soggy from a nearby spring and lashed by north westerly winds. 

Kath Irvine sought advice from her Otaki Gorge neighbours but confessed to being over-whelmed as most crops flopped and the weeds flourished.

“When it all felt hopeless, I’d shut my eyes against that weedy, soggy unproductive patch and imagine my dream garden — it was just the thing to perk me up and set me on my way again.”

That epitomised her motivation to strive to achieve her goal.

 Follow your garden dream

“Know your garden dream before you begin,” she advises in her opening words. “Tuck it in your back pocket for when you feel low or need inspiration  — you’ll get there.  And it’s going to be amazing.”

That’s the encouraging words for any would-be vegetable gardener and experienced “veggie” growers. Besides author Kath Irvine is being realistic — every gardener has “flop crops.” But that’s a part of the fun of sparring with the vagaries of seasons and other variables. It’s a challenge in many ways while the end result of chemical free vegetables is very satisfying and wholesome.

I once witnessed commercial vegetable production and the spraying of potatoes with paraquat and carrots regularly aerially sprayed with other chemicals. It diminished my confidence in supermarket vegetables!

Kath Irvine has learned from “trial and error” and she’s not afraid to admit it. That’s both reassuring, encouraging and endearing to the reader. The nett result is her now years of experience and consequent qualifications to give sound, practical advice.

Sharing her wealth of knowledge

In The Edible Backyard she shares her wealth of knowledge on creating and maintaining an edible garden. Her hands-on advice covers garden design, tools and equipment, seasonal planting, soil fertility, the basics on seed-saving, managing pests and diseases, and how to incorporate organic and permaculture gardening methods into a garden.

Kath Irvine advises starting patiently and slowly, and in the first year observing the garden and recording all that goes on. The Edible Backyard is full of information, with soil fertility the foundation for success. Accordingly different composting methods are outlined while the author is suspicious and wary of the likely lack of quality in bought compost.

The book is liberally illustrated with excellent photos and diagrams.  In the latter half of the 350-page book is an invaluable month by month outline of the planting year, some recommended reading and New Zealand sources for such things as plants, seeds, natural fertilisers and composting systems.

The Edible Backyard is a superb book and highly recommended, particularly for Waikanae Watch readers since her 0.4 hectare garden is just ‘over the fence’ from Waikanae.

Published by Godwit (soft cover.) Recommended Retail Price $50